[Pages from the uncorrected proof of the novel Step Zero. To purchase the limited illustrated hardbound edition of this novel go to The Stu Store at Squareup.com. To purchase the non-illustrated ebook, go to those places where ebooks are sold.]
Image: "The Death of Self, Emmerton, Virginia" (c) 2016 Stu Jenks.
William “Bill” Monroe
Wednesday, March 4th, 2076: 8:15 p.m.
Downtown Alano Club
What in GGATI’s name is that newcomer talking about? OK, Bill. Just calm down. Remember you’re here to help and be helped, not judge and be judged, and remember what Larry used to say to you: ‘All those newcomers going on and on, and not making any sense? Well, it may be what keeps them sober tonight.’ Yea, Larry, you were right, like you were so often. I miss you Larry. Rest in peace, brother.
That girl’s kind of cute. Ain’t seen her before, and she looks around my age. Wonder if she’s a newcomer. Hope not. Maybe she’s a visitor who just got off the train. We do get some cute sober women traveling from California from time to time. Now, Bill, you ain’t here to get laid. You’re here to stay sober and help others to get sober. She is pretty though. God, I can’t remember the last time I made love to a woman.
Good to see so many new faces tonight. Must be three new men and maybe that pretty woman if she ain’t visiting. I love my home group, the Wednesday night God/Not God group of Alcoholics Anonymous. I love these people. And there’s Michael and Craig chuckling over there, and Joy and Sammy holding hands, and Josh and Melissa by the door and Roy and Robbie, and Tony leading the meeting tonight. Oh my. I’m being such a judgmental prick. Newcomers never make sense. Did you, Bill? Hell no. You didn’t stop shaking for three days and all you did was scream about fucking jarheads for your first month. And what did these people do? They loved you, Bill. They loved you. So love them back.
And there’s Artie, one of my sponsees. Good kid. I was too hard on him the other day. I need to make amends to him after the meeting. Tell him I wasn’t really angry at him going to California. I’m just scared for him is all. And he’s going to get his grandfather’s harmonium. That’s pretty cool.
Well, maybe I’ll share next. Sweet God, those newcomers are so full of shit. Now, now, Bill. Love and tolerance of others is our code. Love and tolerance, Bill.
Sounds like Roy is winding up.
“Thanks for letting me share,” says Roy.
“My name is Bill and I’m an alcoholic.”
“Hi, Bill,” says the group.
“It’s been over ten years since I’ve felt it necessary to take a drink and for that, I’m truly grateful. And if you’re new, keep coming back. I remember when I was new. I wanted this so bad, but I was so full of shit, I even scared myself.”
“But that was OK,” I say. “I was here. I was sober. I went to a meeting every day. I got a sponsor on day three. My first sponsor, Larry. Many of you all remember Larry. He taught me a lot. He had me working the Steps immediately. ‘You think you’re an alcoholic,’ he asked me after my fourth or fifth meeting. ‘I know I am,’ I said. ‘Do you believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity?” he asked me? ‘I hope so,” I said. ‘Are you willing to turn your will and your life over to the care of God, as you understand him or her or it?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said. Larry paused and then said with a big grin his face: ‘That’s OK.Two out of three ain’t bad’
“God, I miss that old son of a bitch,” I say.
I can’t talk. I start to cry. I didn’t realize how much I still missed Larry. He’s been dead a year now. I don’t know if I can share anymore. Just one more thing.
“Larry helped save my life,” I say through the tears. “If you’re new, let us help you get and stay sober, like Larry and many people did for me. We are rooting for you to live. We’re rooting for you. That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for letting me share.”
“Thank you, Bill,” say many in the room.
I look over at Artie. I see he’s crying too. He knew his grand-sponsor Larry. I smile at Artie. He smiles back. I wipe the tears from my eyes and look down at my hands. I look up. Other people are wiping away tears too.
Larry was a hell of a man.
His love saved my life.
Georgia “G” Swann
Thursday, March 5th, 2076: a little after Midnight
Her and Artie’s House
Artie’s sleeping but I can’t sleep. I hold a glass of iced tea in my hand. A slight breeze blows down our street. Tabitha, our cat, rubs against my leg.
I’m worried about this trip and Artie too.
Every since he decided to go, his nightmares have gotten worse, and just last night he yelled Bunny’s name in his sleep. He hasn’t done that since he got sober. Fucking Bunny.
I take a sip of my tea. It’ll be OK or it won’t, like the Goddess says. And I’ll be going with him too. And we’ve got plenty of ammo. We’ll be fine or we won’t. Can’t let fear keep us from living.
To the east, I see an Almost-Full-Moon rise over the Rincon Mountains. At least we’ll have the Moon with us. His granddad used to love these nights, or so Artie tells me. Artie too. Me, not so much. I like New Moon nights with the Milky Way shining overhead. Not Artie. He likes the bright nights before and after the Full Moon. He walks the streets on Full Moon nights. Must run in the family.
I’m worried. He’s not walking with the Moon tonight.
I hear a moan from inside. Must be having another dream. I rub Tabitha’s head then head back to bed.
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 7:51 a.m.
San Agustin Train Station
Downtown Tucson, Arizona
This may not be such a good idea, but I meditated on it and the GGATI inside of me said a single word. ‘Go.’ So I’m going. And Harold, my boss, said go too. Can’t argue with Harold or God.
I know I should have borrowed a gun from somebody but I hate guns. If I have a gun, I’ll think about killing and I’ve done enough killing for this lifetime. And the next. Pause when agitated they say in the Meetings. I can do that if I’m unarmed. But I can’t if I’m packing. I’ve proven that.
Got my ticket, my backpack and my Martin. Paper cup of coffee in my hand. Twenty people on the platform this morning for the Sunset Limited. The smell of coal and steam in the air. I love the smell of trains.
There’s Artie and Georgia. They don’t know I’m coming. Won’t they be surprised.
“Hey, guys,” I say.
They smile at me, then see my backpack and guitar case. Artie’s smile broadens. Georgia’s mouth falls open.
“You coming?” Artie asks.
‘I am,” I say.
“Oh man,” he says, and all three of us hug. A nice group hug.
“Thank you, Michael,” Georgia whispers in my ear.
Georgia “G” Swann
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 8:21 a.m.
On The Sunset Limited
Near Picacho Peak, Arizona
The boys have broken out the instruments—Artie on uke, Michael on guitar. Michael’s singing an old Gillian Welch song. Strangest lyrics, about how “one monkey don’t stop the show.” I think the men like this song because it mentions slow freight trains and having a purpose.
I’m looking out the window of our train car. The old Interstate 10 is vacant of any traffic, just a couple hundred feet west of the tracks. Hundreds of rusty cars, trucks and semis fill both lanes, some spilling onto the shoulder. Only the occasional Flex-truck weaves its way through the abandoned vehicles and they seem to be scavenging for parts and scrap. Every once in a while, I see a white human skull or a pile of bleached bones. I’ve seen this hundreds of times and it doesn’t bother me that much, but I’ve never really gotten used to it. Picacho Peak’s anvil summit rises out of the desert, the morning light hitting its sheer walls, making the mountain shine. Saguaros stand at attention at its base. A Red-tailed Hawk rides an updraft between the train and the Peak. The light’s just wonderful this morning. Goddess is healing the planet. She’s been good to me, to Artie, to Michael, to all our friends. I’m so grateful to Her.
I open my handbag and take out a glass water bottle. I take a sip of Sun Tea, handing the bottle to Artie who shares it with Michael. They hand the bottle back to me. The boys are having a time.
“You know how all those old-timers in A.A. used to say that behind every skirt there’s a slip?” say Michael. “That you need to not get into a relationship in your first year of sobriety?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard Bill use the saying once or twice,” Artie says.
“Well, I’ve been thinking. You know most women don’t even wear underwear anymore. So I guess, behind every skirt is...crack.”
“You guys,” I admonish Michael.
“It’s just a joke,” he says, laughing.
“Yeah and not a very good one at that,” I say.
I then elbow Artie in the ribs to stop him from laughing. He does and gives me a kiss on the cheek.
“You better kiss me,” I say.
“Ah, honey,” he says, giving me a squeeze too.
“Don’t ‘ah, honey me’,” I say, but I’m just teasing him.
Suddenly, Michael stops laughing. He’s looking over at I-10. Artie follows his gaze, as do I.
Five men and two woman on horseback canter south toward Tucson on the shoulder of the Interstate. All seven wear the fire-engine red shirts of El Grupo. The last guy in line stops, letting the other six ride on. He turns his horse to face the train. He pull sout his shotgun from its holster beside his saddle, raises the gun above his head and shakes it at the train, smiling a manical grin the whole time. He then turns his horse, and catches up with his partners.
“You brought your pistols with you, I assume,” Michael says.
“Yep,” I say, craning to see the last of the riders as they disappear from view.
“You?” Artie asks Michael.
“I don’t own a gun anymore,” Michael says.
“I forgot,” says Artie.
Artie holds my hand for a while. Michael stares out the window. We don’t talk.
Deputy U. S. Marshal Magdalena “Mags” Gutierrez
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 8:27 a.m.
On The Sunset Limited
near Picacho Peak, Arizona.
I’m fortunate to be a civil servant. I have a Sat-phone. Well, anyone can get a Sat-phone, but they cost a fortune. The Richie Riches and the Mormon Tea growers have Sat-phones of course, as do all government workers but most Americans only have Flex-phones, which are much cheaper but you can only get coverage in cities and big towns. Most people hate phones, texts, and computers. I need it for my job and lucky me, I got my mama an old out-of-date Sat-phone and we can talk and text each other.
Speaking of the devil, it’s a text from my mother in New Mexico. Asks how Stephanie is. Says the river is high and the snow is melting. I miss the Rio Grande, but I don’t mind that they transferred me to Tucson two years ago. Tucson kind of reminds me of Albuquerque except hotter, but the people are just as friendly. But ABQ doesn’t have a huge Tea problem. Some Brigham, but not like here where they grow the damn stuff. No, I miss my family but this is where I need to be.
The Chief is sending me to San Francisco to pick up a prisoner and transport him back to Tucson for trial. Not my favorite job. I could fly but I’m not. The train will add a few days on the trip but no sense using oil resources for some scumbug in the Tea trade. Plus I like trains. No, I love trains. My favorite thing to do is to sit in my backyard at night, drink some iced coffee, and listen to the trains whisper through town. Second favorite thing to do, actually. Favorite thing is to be kissing and touching Stephanie.
I put away the Sat-phone and look out my window. Picacho Peak looks pretty this morning. And I get paid for this.
Then I see them. Seven of them.
Shit. Red shirts.
What are they doing here? They’re not doing anything illegal that I can see, but damn. Well, look at that. I think that’s Bunny Ortiz at the head. There’s a warrant out for his arrest. Double murder. Damn it. I’m on this train and there’s no law enforcement on The Sunset Limited, except me and three railroad dicks. And what can I do? Stop the train and then run after them on foot?
Well, they’re gone now. Just have to get Bunny when I get home. Like I wish.
I open up my Sat-phone again and dictate a quick text to my mother.
“Dear Momma,” I say into the phone, “I’m off to San Francisco for a few days to pick up a prisoner. You know I wish I was with you and Papa, looking at the Rio Grande flow, and eating your chile rellenos, but I’m a hard working woman these days. And if Stephanie was here she’d send her love. I gotta go. I love you Momma. Kiss Papa for me. Love, Magdalena.”
I send the text and close the phone. I gaze out the window again at Picacho Peak. Then I think of Stephanie’s breasts. I shake my head. Stay frosty, Mags. No time to be thinking about having sex with your girlfriend.
Arthur “Artie” Saum
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 10:10 a.m.
On The Sunset Limited
Outside of Casa Grande, Arizona.
Standing between cars, smoking a clove cigarette. I don’t smoke many. Can’t afford them, but seeing El Grupo messed me up. Actually, it was seeing Bunny for the first time since I got sober that did it.
“Mind if I join you,” says Michael exiting his car.
“Hey, Michael. Sure. Want a clove?”
“Can’t stand ‘em, but thanks.”
“I forgot,” I say.
“You all right?”
“Yeah, sure.” I say, looking at him and wonder why I’m lying.
“No, I’m not,” I say. “That was Bunny back there.”
“Yeah,” Michael says.
I take a long drag off my clove. I need to quit these.
“Don’t tell Georgia but I really want to use right now,” I say. “I can taste the Brigham in my mouth. That’s why I’m out here having a clove. I haven’t been this triggered in months. Jesus fuck.”
My hand shakes as I bring the cigarette to my lips.
“You prayed about it?” he asks.
“To have God Goddess All There Is remove the obsession to drink and use.”
That brought a smile to my face.
“I didn’t even think about that.,” I say. “Geez. Do I feel dumb.”
“You’re not dumb, Artie,” says Michael. “You’re just an addict. I forget to pray all the time.”
“But I bet you didn’t forget to pray when El Grupo rode by just now,” I say.
Michael looks down at his feet, then looks out toward the desert barreling by.
“No, I didn’t,” he says. “Didn’t think so,” I say. “You’re the most spiritual man I know.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” he says. “I just have a daily reprieve from my addictions, contingent on my spiritual condition or something like that. You too.”
“I know,” I say.
“Life still sucks sometimes,” says Michael. “I can’t be helped.”
I exhale some clove smoke.
“I’m glad you came out here,” I say. “I needed to talk with another addict, about how I just want to jump off this goddamned train, steal a horse in Casa Grande, catch up with Bunny, and completely ruin my whole fucking life.”
“One addict helping another, and all that shit,” he says.
“Yeah, all that shit,” I say. “I do feel better talking with you. Not a lot but a little.”
“You’ve listened to me talk about all those murders so many times,” says Michael. “About time I listen to you talk about wanting to leap from a moving train, leaving the love of your life, so you can get high one more time.”
“True,” I say. “You have killed a shit load of people, and listening to you talk about that, Michael, plum wore me out.”
Michael punches me in the arm. I then grab his shoulder and give it a shake.
“Seriously,” I say, “Thanks for coming to look for me.”
I take a last drag of my clove, and flick it off the train.
Damn it. I forgot to stub it out. I hope I don’t catch the desert on fire.
Jesus “Bunny” Ortiz
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 10:15 a.m.
On Interstate Ten
Near Red Rock, Arizona.
“Chuckie, get your ass up here.”
“What do you want, jefe?” says Chuckie, galloping up on his horse.
“You fucking pendejo,” I say. “What the fuck were you thinking, shaking your rifle at that train?”
“Nothing.” says Chuckie. “Just letting them know we owns this goddamned road.”
“Really?” I say “So you were just fucking with them?”
“Yea, pretty much, Bunny.”
I pull out my .357 Smith and Wesson and shoot Chuckie in the head. He falls from his horse.
“Roberto, grab the reins of his horse.”
I look down at Chuckie’s body. He’s missing the top of his head. Cool.
“Chinga tu madre, asshole,” I say.
I turn to the other five.
“Let’s get off this road, so none of you find it necessary to screw with any more customers. We’re the good guys remember.”
“OK, jefe,” I hear a couple of them mumble.
We’re trying to win the hearts and minds of the people, goddamn it. And make some serious dinero for Christ’s sake.
Mary save us.
I need to get home to Santa Rosa.
I look one more time at Chuckie’s body and shake my head. A waste of a perfectly good bullet. I should have just sliced his throat.
Deputy U. S. Marshal Magdalena “Mags” Gutierrez
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 11:20 a.m.
New Union Station
Good to stretch my legs, and get a cup of coffee. Interesting assortment of individuals on the platform. Old dirt-poor desert rats. Young people going to California. Of course, government officials, and some business men and women. Funny, you can always tell business people. They don’t wear sensible shoes.
Looks like Marshal Piehole over there, from Phoenix. Or what’s left of Phoenix. Guess I’ll have to say hello. He’s such a jerk, always looking at my tits.
“Hello, Marshal,” I say.
“Why hello, Mags. How are you?” saying this directly to my breasts.
“Good. What brings you down to the station?” I ask.
“Business, says Piehole.
Thanks for being specific. Jerk.
“You?” he asks.
“Going to California to pick up a convict. How’s life in The Valley of The Sun?”
“Same old, same old. Protecting the farmers along the Salt River. Busting some Brigham dealers. The occasional murder.”
“Anybody still living in Phoenix?” I ask.
“Just a few crazies is all,” says Piehole “Most everyone else lives along the Salt and Gila Rivers you know. Growing corn and beans. Making babies. Making pots and furniture. Some damn fine Mesquite tables and beds being made along the river now.”
“I have a Mesquite chair at home, made on the Gila,” I say. “It’s beautiful.”
“They are pretty,” says Piehole.
Then I see Artie Saum on the train platform. Well, I’ll be.
“Got to run, Marshal,” I say. “I see one of my old wards over there. My love to the missus.”
“Oh. OK, Mags,” he says. “Safe trip.”
“You too.” Pompous ass.
“Artie!” I yell.
Artie turns his head to the sound of his name. He smiles.
“Mags!” he says. He walks up to me and give me a hug before I even ask for one.
“Artie, how’ve you been?” I ask. “It’s good to see you.
“Thanks,” says Artie.
“So who this?” I ask, looking at the pretty blond woman standing next to Artie.
“This is Georgia Swann, a very girlfriend,” he says. “Georgia, this is Mags Gutierrez. The Fed who arrested me, and went to bat for me, so I didn’t go to prison. Mags also is a killer harp player. She came into the store just last week to buy two more Marine Bands. A and D, right?”
“Good memory, Artie,” I say.
“It’s my business,” he says.
“Nice to meet you, Georgia,” I say, shaking her hand.
“Pleasure’s mine,” she says
“And this is Michael Dollaride.” Artie says. “Another good friend. He’s coming with us to California.”
“California? What’s in California?” I ask.
“My grandmother. My Dad’s mom. She’s in a nursing home in San Francisco. I’ve never met her. Talked on a Sat-phone with her twice and we’ve exchanged lots of letters, never laid eyes on her.”
Artie pauses. A weird pause.
“I think she is dying, Mags,” Artie says.
He looks really sad. His face is so open now. He’s changed so much.
“So I want to meet her while I can,” he says, “and she says she has my grand dad’s harmonium, and she wants to give it to me.”
“No kidding, an old harmonium. Does it still play?” I ask.
“I think so,” says Artie “And if it doesn’t, I can probably fix it. At least I hope so.”
“And you’re going right to San Francisco proper?” I ask.
“Yep, a little west of downtown in what’s called the Inner Sunset district.”
“What?” Artie asks.
“I’m going to the Federal complex, in Downtown San Francisco,” I say.
“No shit.” says Artie.
“Far out,” says Michael.
“Thank God,” says Georgia. All three at the same time.
“Yes, sir,” I say.
“Hey, want to be one of our road dogs?” asks Michael.
“Can we call it something else?” I say.
“You can call it anything you like, Mags,” says Artie. “We’re just happy you’re on the train with us.”
Georgia lightly places her hand on my arm.
“Come sit with us,” she says. “We have some food, some Sun-Tea, and Michael brought his guitar,” she says.
“Please tell me, Mags, you brought a few harps,” says Artie.
“I did,” I say.
Then Artie does a little dance right on the platform. Funny kid.
Monday, March 9th, 2076: 6:40 p.m.
“Yuma,” yells the conductor through the intercom.
“Dinner break. We’ll be resting at the station for a couple of hours. Keep your tickets with you if you decide to get off, even though I’m pretty good with faces.”
The conductor laughs, then coughs. Guy’s a comedian.
“We’ll be leaving Yuma around 8:45 p.m.,” continues the conductor. “Arriving in San Bernardino around midnight. If you get off the train, be sure to be back in your seats by 8:30. Enjoy your visit to Yuma, the hottest town in Arizona. Temperature-wise, that is.” The conductor chuckles again and then clicks off the mic. Bet he’s used that joke a hundred times.
“Want to hit a meeting?” I ask Artie.
“Well, I was thinking of just staying on the train,” he says.
“Go ahead, honey,” says Georgia to Artie. “I’m going to stay on the train and get to know Mags better. And maybe she’ll tell me some dirt about you guys, from back in the day.”
“I won’t say a thing,” says Mags to Artie.
“She already knows everything, Mags.” Artie says.
“Everything?” I say.
“Most everything,” Artie says, shrugging his shoulders.
“Don’t worry, boys,” says the Marshal. “It’ll mostly be girl talk. Mostly.”
Both women laugh. Wonder what the Marshal knows about my past? Christ, I’m being paranoid. I’m not that damn important.
“Let’s hit that meeting,” I say to Artie.
“OK,” he says. He gives Georgia a kiss.
“Don’t forget. Be back on the train, a little after 8,” says Mags. “The train waits for no one.”
“Time too,” I say.
“Smart boy,” says Mags.
Least she’s a law-woman with a sense of humor.
Grijalva Station is a weird wood and steel thing they built a few years back, since there was no train station left after the 41 Nights. It has an open lobby and new wooden benches, the windows have no glass, only shutters to ward off the sun and rain. A nice wraparound porch and tamale and taco vendors everywhere. It smells like home. Hotels and brothels and mixes of both. Then I see the new St. Paul’s Episcopal Church across the street. I pull out the Arizona M.T.A. schedule from my backpack. Yep. Meeting’s been going on since 6:30. As long as you make it for the prayer at the end, you aren’t late for a meeting. That’s what my sponsor used to say.
“Meeting’s over there at the church,” I say.
“Cool,” says Artie.
A small ‘M.T.A. is here’ sign leans against a door jam to a classroom that faces the street. We walk in.
“...I want my wife back, but my sponsor keeps telling me that I need to stay sober for myself. But I miss her so bad. And my kids. My mother-fucking kids...”
A large Hispanic man talks. We find our seats.
“...she’s a goddamned whore, fucking...”
He starts to cry.
Artie and I settle into our seats and pay attention. No one touches the man. No one says anything. He has all of our attention. It’s what we give. We give our attention.
“...she’s not a whore. She’s a good mom,” continues the Hispanic man. “She just hates me, and for good reason. I was hanging out with El Grupo, running errands for them, making some good money, then I started spending all the money, and she left me and is back living with her mother. She doesn’t want to see me until I have a month clean. I have 15 days today.”
A smattering of applause. Neither Artie and I clap.
“...so I guess I have to make it 15 more days. Or just tonight. And then another day. One day at a time, right?”
No one speaks. Many of us nod.
“Yeah, one day at a time,” he says. “Thanks. That’s all I have to say.”
“Thanks, Chuy,” a number of people say.
About twenty of us in the room. I’ve never been to this meeting, but I feel welcome. It’s always that way.
“My name is Sally, and I’m an addict.”
“Hi, Sally,” says the room.
“I’ve been sober almost a year now,” she says. “I came in here to get my kids back. I didn’t get them back. Jack took them to his folks in Blythe. He went too. I was three months sober when that happened. I miss them so much. I went to visit them around Christmas. It was great. His folks still don’t like me very much. I don’t know. Maybe it had to do with me, stealing their shit. I only did it once.”
“All right, three times.”
The room erupts.
“I gave it all back,” says Sally. “Well, some of it.”
“Seriously, I don’t mind that they don’t trust me. I don’t fully trust myself. I only think about using about once a week now. And I pray to have Goddess remove the obsession, or I call my sponsor on the Flex, or I get to a meeting or all three. And it’s a hell of a lot better than it was when I came in. I thought about Mormon Tea all the time then. All the fucking time...”
Ridden hard, hung up wet, with mad-dog blue eyes. Easy to love now. Hard to like when she was using.
“So I have a good job at the food co-op, and I’m learning to play the banjo...”
No one laughs at her learning the banjo. Music was fun before the shit hit the fan, the old timers say, but it wasn’t sacred back then. It’s holy to play an instrument now.
“...I have a good teacher. Big Mike from A.A. Y’all know Big Mike? Been sober ten years, works for the Marshal Service as a computer mechanic. Good guy. Hell of a player. He’s teaching me on one of his old Gold Tone banjos. Teaching me now this sweet little old claw hammer tune called ‘More Bad Weather On The Way.’ by Steve Martin. Tells me if I stay sober a year, he’ll give me that old five string....”
She starts to cry, not out of sadness or frustration like Chuy, but out of joy.
“...I can’t tell you how much I feel GATTI when I play, and when I think about Tea, I just pick up that loaner from Mike, and practice my scales or just play something in G. I’m so grateful to be sober. And I kind of lied before. I think about Tea a lot.”
A couple of chuckles. All smiles from us. All of us have tried to pretend we’re more sober, more sane than we actually are.
“Yeah, I miss my kids just awful,” she says in the direction of Chuy, “but I have to get myself right, or at least righter than I am if I’m going to be any good to my kids. So I pray, and I talk with other addicts and alcoholics, and I come to meetings and I play that old five-string of Mike’s...”
She cries through all of this. She transforms from a middle-aged woman who has been beaten down by about a half dozen things to one of the prettiest girls in the world. She just shines. Makes me smile. She’s my gift of sobriety tonight.
“...so if you’re hurting just keep coming back. And maybe pick up the banjo. That’s all I have.”
“Thanks, Sally,” says the room.
“That was a great meeting, wasn’t it?” say Artie as we walk back to the station. “That Sally woman talking about the Goddess and her banjo? That’s just how I feel when I play my old Martin, or when we play together. It’s so sacred. Like with each note, we are breathing a little more life into The Earth, that God Goddess All There Is grows with each tune we play. With each note I strum. We’ve talked about this. I know you feel it too.”
“I do,” I say.
“It’s better than booze, better than Brigham,” he says.
“It is,” I say.
“Almost better than sex,” Artie says.
“I won’t say that,’ I say. “Then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve even kissed a girl.” Artie puts his arm around my shoulders as we walk back to the station.
“Well, maybe we can change that on this trip.”
“I ain’t looking to get laid, Artie,” I say.
“And that’s just when you meet the girl of your dreams,” he says.
“Or my nightmares,” I say.
“Ah,” he says, and pushes me away.