A Fresh Start
Three hours later she was moaning, sweating, shivering. She was more alert---took
herself to the bathroom. Paced until she fell down. Tried to go out the door more
Took me a while to realize she wasn't just sick.
I only saw the D.T.'s up close a coupla times when I was a kid. Not my old man---
one set of foster parents was on the sauce. (My old man woulda never let things get
to that point-he woulda robbed somebody first.)
I didn't know if it was the same kinda thing with junk as liquor, or whatever LeRoy
was giving her, so I wasn't sure which I was seeing, but I guess it didn't much matter.
When midnight came around, she was just sitting on the couch, crying and moaning.
I sat down with her.
At three, she was cuddled on my lap under a blanket, quiet, still shaking, and I was
"Wendell," she breathed. Her eyes were closed.
"My big handsome boy." She smiled. "I remember."
"I'm gonna die."
I began to think maybe she might. She was so thin, so pale……..fragile. Maybe she
wasn't strong enough for this.
"I can't buy you any heroin."
I had a half a bottle of Scotch up in the cupboard.
If she wasn't dying, and I gave her some, we'd have to start all over.
If what she needed was heroin, or the stuff Schmitt gave her, maybe it wouldn't do
her any good, anyway.
If she was dying, and the liquor was what she needed, but I waited until she couldn't
drink any of it……
Better drunk but alive, than sober and dead.
I put a coupla shots in a glass and helped her drink it.
By midmorning the next day, Marly was sleeping actual sleep. She had some color in
her face, and she was breathing deep and even. The half a fifth of Scotch was half
gone. She ate another piece of chicken and it stayed down. I was beat. I covered
her up, dragged myself to my bedroom, pulled my clothes off, and was asleep before I
hit the mattress.
I had a terrific dream. I can't tell you about it. You know, one of those. Really
great. I woke up in the middle of it.
It wasn't a dream.
"G'morning, sleepyhead." I used to love to hear that giggle in the morning.
It wasn't morning. It looked like just after sunset. Wasn't sure it was particularly
good. Sure, it was good 'cause Marly felt better, and 'cause we hadn't made love
for years, and that was always good with Marly…….but I'd really wanted to take her
to a doctor and make sure she was healthy before we did that…….
Pretty unromantic, I suppose, to notice that your woman probably had syphilis.
Unromantic to wanna make sure you didn't catch anything.
Too late for that now.
I kissed her. "Good morning."
She snuggled her head on my shoulder. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too."
I kinda feel like a jerk, when I think about it now. I feel like if I loved her
as much as I thought I did, the dark circles under her eyes, and her bony hipbones,
and the liquor on her breath, shouldn'ta made any difference. Or, I guess, the sores
around her mouth. I shoulda wanted to make love just like I did when we were both
younger. Which was all the time.
But when she started touching me again, and nibbling, I grabbed her hand, said, "Why
don't we wait on that for a while?" and sat up.
She giggled. Her eyes took a couple seconds to focus. They had that hazy look…..
she was drunk.
I don't know why I wasn't expecting it. I didn't put the bottle away before I went
"You've been awake for a while, I see."
She giggled again.
"Do you even know who I am?"
She tilted her head and looked up at me. Sorta.
"You don't fucking know who I am."
"Sure I do." She grabbed my hand and tried to pull me down. "You're my man."
"Shit." I was upset, but not so upset that I forgot to grab her around the waist
and carry her into the bathroom with me. Good thing, too---it happened while I was
carrying her. I suppose I mighta squeezed her a little tighter than I should've
under the circumstances, but hey, we both had our clothes off; it was easy to clean
up. I was a little pissed about it at first, but I was a little pissed to begin
with. It coulda happened in bed, though, so I guess I should feel lucky.
The bottle of Scotch was empty, like I figured. She also found a bottle of wine I
forgot I had. It was empty, too.
I made toast after I got dressed, even though it was nighttime. Felt like morning..
Made her eat some. Put one of the dresses I bought on her. It was too big, but it
had a belt. I cut another hole in the belt and cinched it up.
Cleaned up. Tried to find things to do to keep busy. Washed out what clothes I
could in the sink, and hung them in the bathroom on the clothesline I'd nailed up
yesterday. Worried what I was gonna do with Marly when my three days home was up.
She sat on the couch and watched me. Didn't say a word.
When I got hungry again, I made sandwiches and canned soup.
"Marly, do you have to use the bathroom before we eat?"
"You're angry with me."
"Come on, let's go in the bathroom."
"Wendell, don't be angry."
"Oh, you know who I am now?"
"I'm sorry, I forget things sometimes."
"Right. Get up off the couch---"
"I don't have to go. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."
"I'll get over it."
"No, you won't."
I put her sandwich and soup on a chair in front of her. "Eat."
"I'm not hungry."
She picked at her sandwich.
"Don't be mad at me, Wendell."
I couldn't eat either. "I'm not mad."
Neither of us said anything for a while. Finally I started putting the food away.
"This is your apartment, isn't it?" she said.
"And you made lunch."
"And I think you were washing my clothes. Why are you doing all that?"
"I'm just….trying to take care of you."
"You shouldn't do that. You know you shouldn't."
"I want to."
"You're mad and I don't think it's because I forgot your name."
"I'll get over it."
"It's not fair for you to be mad at me when I don't know why."
I took a deep breath. "When you crawled in bed with me last night, did you know
it was me?"
She didn't have to say anything, I could see the answer. "You don't even know.
You don't remember doing it."
"I can't help it. I forget things."
"Wendell…..do you know why I do the things I do?"
She reached for her sandwich and began to eat. "I think we've had this talk before."
Her mouth was full.
She gave me a look that said, You're not paying attention. "When Benny came back.
And you had to leave."
"That was different. I was just a kid. I couldn't take care of you. I understood
She shook her head. "You're still a kid."
"What're you talking about? Look, I've got a good job, I've got an apartment---"
"What do you do?"
"I'm a cop."
"Wow. I never woulda figured on that…..But it doesn't matter. That wasn't it."
She picked up her cup of chicken soup and drank some of it. Then she had another
bite of her sandwich.
"So what was it?"
She thought for a minute. "I've only been here a little while---I think---and already
you're mad at me. Do you think that's right?"
"I'll get over it."
She shook her head. "Are you ready to be mad at me for the rest of your life?"
"What're you talking about?"
"Even when you were a kid, you always thought everything and everybody was gonna
change. You always thought we all wanted to be different……Can I have some milk?"
I got her a glass of milk and sat down next to her.
"Wendell…..sweetheart…..I am who I am. You know? I'm not ever gonna be what you
think I should be."
"We can work it out." I was just being stubborn now and we both knew it.
"This is the same conversation we had before. And you didn't pay attention then,
And that's all she would say about that. She finished her sandwich and drank her
soup. I don't know if she could tell how confused I was.
Later on, when she got that look on her face, I went out and got her a pint of Kentucky
bourbon. Just a pint.
She raised her eyebrow, but didn't say anything. I sat with her. Stayed up with
her for a long time. I probably should've gone to bed. But I didn't understand.
It bugged me.
"You like drinking."
"You like eating?" She let her head fall back against the couch. "My daddy was a
bootlegger. He used to make whiskey, corn liquor, gin. We never could take a bath
cause there was always a batch going in the bathtub. Us kids used to taste the batches.
We used to drink what was left after putting it in the bottles. I've been drinking
my whole life."
"You could still stop."
"Wendell----it's not the drinking you don't like. It's me."
The sun was coming up. The light came in through the window and made her face look
pink and gold.
"Sweetheart……you and me are just about the best friends there are…..don't be mad at
me." She climbed on my lap and hugged me around the neck. I put my arms around her
and hugged her back.
She kissed me on the cheek. "I gotta take a nap now." She laid down with her dress
still on and pulled the covers up.
I went to bed. Didn't figure I'd be able to go to sleep, but I did, almost right away.
When she got in bed with me later in the day and woke me up, I just kept my eyes shut.
And imagined it was the old Marly with me; the one with no problems that I knew of.
Giggly, jiggly Marlene. Pretty, funny, sweet. The woman I loved.
When I stopped talking, Lynn tilted her head back and looked up at me. "What happened?"
she said, real quiet.
"I had to go back to work the next day. When I got home, she was gone. I think I
knew she would be. I looked for her. Couldn't find her. Too long since I was on
"Did you have to ride with LeRoy?"
"The Captain gave me some paper work to do for a while."
We were both silent for a while.
"Bud…." Again in that careful, quiet tone of voice, "……did you ever find out what
happened to Marlene?"
"Couple months later, I was riding with Anderson, one of the beach routes. We got
the call to check out a report of a body on the beach."
"Oh---" Lynn reached up and put her hand on my face. "I'm so sorry."
"They ruled it a suicide, 'cause there was water in the lungs, and she didn't look
beat up. I don't know if that's what it was or not. But it was her choice. She
coulda stayed with me. I thought we coulda started over, since I wasn't a kid anymore,
figured stuff out together. But I guess we couldn't do that. She decided she'd rather
live in a doorway, in a box; rather live like an animal than with me-"
Lynn laid her fingers on my lips. "Shhhh----hush. There was nothing you could do.
Some people just won't let you love them."
"I think she was trying to tell me I didn't love her. But it felt like I did."
She kissed me. "I wish I could go home with you tonight. I wish I were well. I'd
let you love me."
I had to smile. "Baby, I can love you whether you're well or not. I'm doing it now."
And I kissed her back.