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FICTION / Slips / Don Robishaw

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Leaving the darkened shelter I go three blocks, pause on top of a bridge over a bottomless river for a whiff of a cocktail of dirty icy water mixed with smells from the inner city. I continue on and enter a heated yellow brick building on the other side. Dressed in an old leopard-skin print coat, lavender ribbed beanie with fake fur pompoms, olive-green mittens, black and gray baggy striped slacks, and white tennis shoes, I stare out at a red-faced crowd at Saint Michael’s Church Hall.

Oh yeah, got a buzz going on from a double shot of Kentucky Bourbon. Stop drinking! Sobriety is a bitch. The worst thing, nobody believes how hard I try, except for the women and men in this massive hall with wrap-around stained glass windows.

Now I get to tell my story:

Gazing down at the well-worn hardwood floor, I mumble, “They call me Sister Kathleen. I’m an alcoholic.”

Shaking my head, most people tell their story sober, Kat. With arms folded, slide my hands back and forth on leopard-skin. Next, remove beanie and mittens, place them under the wooden lectern, chin up, and stare into the crowd.

More forceful this time, Kat. “Always wanted to be a nun — thought it be my destiny. After all, we live in a city called Providence.

A Providence parish priest encouraged me from time to time. ‘You’re like a daughter, Kat.’ Father William liked to hug. Daddy never did. Never hugged mama either, but liked to hug Jack, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey that is. I’d sneak a sip once-in-a-while.”

One hundred people attend the Alcoholic Anonymous meeting. I had to have at least one drink. You can call it a well-planned slip.

“That tall handsome father got assigned to a different parish before senior year. My real dad died on my eighteenth birthday. If I had my way, it wouldn’t have happened on the day I graduated magna cum laude. They transferred Father William to the Brotherhood Convent during my second year. Happy and excited to see him, I thanked God for answering my prayers. He became the dad I always wanted. We also became best friends. During the second year our relationship matured. Not every girl that enters the Brotherhood Convent loses her virginity there. The last thing I thought, I’d fall in love with a priest. Nineteen, and forced to resign. Never met William again. Blamed God for taking him away for a second time.”

I raise a hand to the top of my dirty-blond head and squeeze. Kat, what happened next? “Ah, became used to the disciplined life and joined the army, where I combined drink and sex too often. I was out of control. Got kicked out with a Bad Conduct Discharge. That was the day I stopped believing in God, swapped Him for the devil, and learned the devil don’t go away that easy.”

Everyone gets a hand when they share their story at AA. Tears in my eyes I nod, look up at the American flag, and step away from the lectern, down three steps, and off the stage.

I see my sponsor Eddy Reynolds — they call him Fast Eddy — over by the refreshment table. Sometimes he’ll even pull up a chair. “How ya doing, Eddy?” He hugs me, of course. What am I gonna say?

“A day at a time. Sober twenty-one years. How you doing, Kat?”

“Six days, but who’s counting.” I laugh, but he doesn’t. Gee, these folks are so serious.

“I got liver issues, like my mother. Don’t know what to do. She’s real sick. I need five dollars for bus fare to visit her.”

“Get to the clinic right away, kid. You’ll need to see a specialist. Tell em you know Fast Eddy. Tell your mother I’m praying for her. If you have a slip or an urge, call me.” He hands me his sponsor card. “I had twenty of em before I got this string going.”

“Will do. Thanks Eddy.” Nice guy. He’ll give you the shirt off his back. Not the same guy twenty years ago. You couldn’t trust him any further than you could throw him.

Fast Eddy Reynolds slips me a fin, “You’re in like Flynn. Let the games begin.” You’re no rapper, Eddy. I stuff the five-spot deep in a pocket. He shuffles off.

Kat, you know you’re not going to see mom. No time for coffee, donuts, or chit-chat. I put mittens and beanie back on and hit the road — to where? I’m not sure.

* * *

Four blocks down, cross Purgatory Road, pass over the Three Rivers Bridge, and on the other side is the old Dew Drop Inn. I peer over the railing. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Not the first time . . . could be the last time, I cross this bridge. ‘Girl voted most likely to succeed, found on the bottom of a muddy river.’ I can envision my obituary.                  

Step over the railing of a rusted out bridge. Frigid weather up here on this old span. Watch, as beanie falls into the river. Perched here half-standing, listening to the wind blowing, holding on for dear life and afraid to jump, but I am at peace. “Please forgive me father--”

Foot slips and I’m not ready. I stare into the muddy river. Sister Kathleen here’s getting off. Falling, the bitter cold air whistles past as my story passes before my eyes.

A tug boat towing a barge covered by canvas goes under the bridge. I bounce and land flat on my face. Don’t know what’s beneath the sheet, but it’s soft enough to break my fall. Blood dripping from my nose as I slip over the side, fingers grabbing for a port-side cleat. I haul myself back onto the tarp. I search the stars for a sign.

My battered face aches, back hurts, and I’ll be sore in the morning, but I’m alive and loving Jesus again. Looking skyward for angels, but they’re gone. 

I’m still drawn towards those moments at the bar. After the miracle of falling off a bridge and living to tell about it, wouldn’t anyone want a drink? Another slip, and tomorrow it’s a-day-at-a-time, all over again. The worst thing, nobody will believe how hard you try, Kat.


Before Don Robishaw stopped working to write, he ran educational programs for homeless shelters. His work has recently appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Literary Orphans, Crack-the-Spine, Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, Flash Fiction Magazine, O’ Dark Thirty, The Remembered Arts, and others. Many of the characters he developed have been homeless, served for periods of time in the military, or are based upon archetypes or sterotypes he's met while on the road. Author's Page: www.facebook.com/donrobe1/