She opened the door and told him, in lieu of hello, that she must be out of her mind letting him come over like this.
And he stood there in the hall, hat in hand and did his level best to look contrite and he told her, “What you said on the phone. That I wouldn’t be apologizing if I didn’t want something. Well, I’ve been thinking about it and I get totally why you would say that and I certainly can’t deny that I want something but hopefully not in the way you’re thinking. All I want is that you listen. And it may well be that that’s asking too much and if you’ve changed your mind I’ll go away and never bother you again. But know that I’m not hoping to get something out of you by apologizing. And I also I’ve got something a bit more to offer than just an apology because an apology is the bare minimum of what you’re owed.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Peter, if you’re talking about your penis, just save it because –”
And Peter waved his hand out in front of him. “Oh God no. Please believe me, this isn’t about trying to do you. Although, don’t think it isn’t because you’re not highly do-able. Any man would want to do you if he had a chance but that’s not why I’m here. I, um, like respect you as a person.”
Alice’s mouth briefly dropped open and then flapped half-open and half-closed as she struggled to find the words that would bring her thoughts to fruition. At last she said, “What the hell is this, Peter? Because so far it’s like aliens stole you, completely rewired your brain, and dropped you back on earth.”
Peter smiled sheepishly. “Funny you should say that. In the book they say not to lead with this but the thing is, I’m in the process of having a spiritual experience that’s completely revolutionizing how I see the world and the people in it and how I react and, yeah, pretty much everything else.”
Alice said nothing. Instead she stood there holding the door to her condo open and tried to digest this amazingly improbable disclosure. I’d have an easier time believing that aliens stole you, she thought to say but didn’t. She stepped back, making room for him to enter.
Before he did Peter looked both ways down the hall and leaned a little closer, as if confiding a secret. “I’ll say this also. This building is pretty fucking nice. Good to see you doing well for yourself Alice.”
“Thank you. Come in. You want something to drink?”
He reached down and began pulling off his work boots and only then did it occur to him that maybe he should have dressed more upmarket. His boots were clean at least as they had only been recently purchased for a job he was starting Monday. Clean socks. Everything about him was clean. He hoped Alice had noticed.
“Ah, yes please. You got 7-Up? I’m really into 7-Up these days.”
“No, sorry. I don’t think so. Let me look. If you just want to keep on following this hall. It leads to the living room.”
And Alice herself disappeared through an open archway to the right that led to the kind of kitchen you see in magazines at doctor’s offices. Not just any doctors. The kind of doctors you have to wait a least six months for and who only know everything there is to know about one little particular part of the body. The eye doctors. The ear doctors. The butt doctors. Peter noticed stainless steel appliances and copper pans hanging up and a coffee machine that looked like it could also launch itself into space and provide a home for an international team of astronauts.
Peter hovered in the door and let out a low whistle of appreciation. “Holy shit Alice. This is class, woman. I already knew this but I must be the biggest dildo there ever was for fucking things up between us.”
Alice, who was walking towards her Smart fridge, turned her head and shot him a wry smile. “Well, civilization’s really been going to hell these past few years. Lots of work for lawyers.”
“But you only help the good guys, right?”
And she then was tapping the touchscreen display attached to her fridge. “No 7-Up,” she announced. “But I have a couple of bottles of Thai-style limeade.”
“I don’t know about that…”
She turned to face him again. “It’s good. You’ll like it. Trust me.”
And Peter shrugged. He didn’t care so much what he drank. He was just happy that the atmosphere between them seemed to be thawing. She was looking good but kind of severe. All the lines that composed her seemed somewhat sharp-edged, kind of like she’d been cut from a block with lasers. Was she happy? Peter wasn’t sure. She was rich though and that would have made the Alice he once knew very happy.
Then it occurred to him to ask, “It doesn’t have booze in it, does it?”
Alice shook her head. “No. I’d sooner eat a big bowl of steaming shit than ever give you booze again. Thanks to several thousand dollars worth of therapy, my enabling days are over.”
Peter looked away. “Ah, yes. Sorry.”
Alice now had two glasses in hand. “That part wasn’t your fault. That was daddy. Come. Let’s go to the living room.”
Peter was expecting more largesse and was not disappointed. From the hall the living room opened up like a vast, resplendent teak and leather flower. Objets d’art, each more expensive-seeming than the last, liberally dotted the wide-open, light-flooded space and paid silent tribute to Alice’s exquisite taste. Peter stopped to stare at one.
He pointed. “Is this?”
“A replica of an Upper Magdalenian piece of a phallic art. Carved from genuine reindeer bone just like the original stone age artist used.”
Peter kept on pointing. “A bone boner? Fucking awesome.”
Alice sighed. “Why don’t you have a seat Peter?” she said indicating a cream-coloured couch opposite the swiveling, cocooning brown suede chair on which she settled. She reminded Peter briefly of a Bond villain and half-expected her to start revealing the details of a fiendish plan to achieve world domination. It was suddenly such a plausible idea that Peter’s heart started pounding.
“You need a cat!” he blurted.
Alice’s eyes narrowed. “Just what the fuck are you talking about Peter?
“A cat to stroke. While you’re sitting there. It’s just that – well, I had this idea…now don’t take this the wrong away –”
Alice waved dismissively and looked away with a sigh. “Forget it Peter, OK? Forget I asked. Now come on. I have a training session soon.”
Alice reached towards a nearby end table and picked up a framed image, which she passed to Peter. Peter gasped. There was Alice, wearing a sports bra and a pair of form-fitting shorts. She was snarling, her blonde hair in French braids, and she was pummeling some fellow lady-fighter into bloody submission within the confines of a mixed-martial arts octagon.
Peter swallowed thickly. “It’s good to have a hobby.”
“Hobby?” asked Alice sharply. “MMA isn’t a hobby. It’s my friggin’ passion. Actually thinking of quitting the lawyering game and going pro.”
Peter searched for the right words. For the moment, there were none. But lest his silence be misinterpreted as disinterest – some old fleck of self-absorbed, active alcoholic Peter resurfacing – he managed to blurt: “Good for you!”
Then he applied himself to his limeade like it had the power to obviate. Old alcoholic habit. Inside he was starting to panic and drinking had so often been about dousing that particular fire. His face was red, he knew it. His sponsor had said Step 9 of the Alcoholics Anonymous program – this unprecedented step of seeking out the victims of the past and making amends – was very difficult but absolutely crucial. The literature promised that if he was “painstaking about this step of [his] development, [he] will be amazed before [he] is halfway through”.
Then followed promises so appealing that Peter was able to remind himself that any amount of discomfort was worth it.
Alice meanwhile raised an amused eyebrow. She’d never seen Peter so uncomfortable. This was absolutely marvelous. Should she show him her nunchucks and explain to them she fashioned them herself after visiting Okinawa and studying with Master Zafu? Should she show how they were optimized for her grip and how, with a flick of her wrist, she could crack an almond without shattering the glass-topped table it sat upon? No, that was too much. Even the wrath of Alice had its limits. Besides, what she felt when she looked over at Peter, all awkward and choking back limeade and looking as incongruent in the setting of her luxury apartment as a Goth would shopping at the Gap, was mainly pity.
The silence between them had now stretched into awkwardness. Peter took a deep breath and carefully placed his now-empty glass on a leather coaster.
“I’ve come to try and make amends.”
Alice half-smiled. “I gathered.”
“First off, you know, thanks for your time.”
“Cut to the chase Peter.”
Peter produced a crumpled list from his shirt pocket, smoothed it against his thigh, and cleared his throat.
“I’m so sorry,” he read. “Really very sorry. Specifically I am sorry for the following things: I am sorry that I slept with your sister on our honeymoon. I am sorry I created that fake profile for you on Tinder and that said you were a recently released convict into nose-sucking and David Cassidy’s solo stuff and willing to do anything with anyone. I am sorry that I slept with your sister on our first wedding anniversary. I am sorry that I slept with your mother that time you called me a fucking drunk and went to stay with your friend Karen. I am sorry for sleeping with Karen. I am sorry for throwing up on you that time at the awards dinner when you won that ‘Woman of the Year’ thing. I am sorry I told all my buddies that your queafs smell like bacon. I am sorry I never paid back all that money I borrowed. But I’ve been working a lot since getting sober and start an even better job soon so here –”
Peter stood and rummaged in the back pocket of his jeans. He plonked down a substantial wad of cash on the table as he sat down.
“That’s about half of it, by my reckoning. You’ll get the rest within six months. I’m sorry it’s taken so long. I’m sorry that I blamed everything on you. I’m sorry for all the stress I must have caused. I was a very sick man but that’s no excuse for the damage I inflicted on you.”
Peter, for the first time since he started reading, looked up from his paper. He noticed his hands were shaking. Alice looked quite unmoved. Was that a good thing? You never could tell with women. She might be ok; she might be plotting to karate chop him and throw him out the window.
Eventually she sighed. Then chuckled drily. She looked over his head and played with a strand of her straight blonde hair.
“Well,” she softly to herself. “Never thought I’d ever hear anything like that come out of your mouth.”
Peter tried a chuckle. “Well, yes. The old Peter was never sorry for anything. But really I am now. Really, really sorry.”
Alice shook her head. “Well, none of that was news, was it?” She let loose a raggedy exhale. “I dunno. What am I feeling? Surprise I guess…surprise that none of this makes me mad anymore.”
She looked him square in the eye. “Peter…I guess it would be all too easy to blame you for everything. But I had my part I suppose. So I forgive you. I suppose I already had. I wasn’t perfect during those years myself. I just didn’t drink like you did so it was all too easy to see you as the problem. Can you, can you forgive me my part?”
Peter smiled. “Of course! But I’m not so sure there’s anything to forgive. As the literature says, ‘Years living with an alcoholic is sure to make any wife or child neurotic.’ Seriously, Alice. It really was my fault and I’m sorry.”
Alice was still fiddling with her hair. “Hmm? Is that what it says? Well, I suppose that’s true. Well, OK Peter. I forgive you. Thanks for the cash. You don’t need to pay me the rest. I absolve you. Save it for rebuilding your life, OK?”
Peter could have cried he was so relieved. Alice was taking this so well. He remembered that line from the Big Book: ‘In nine cases out of ten the unexpected happens. Sometimes the [wo]man we are calling upon admits [her] own fault, so feuds of years’ standing melt away in an hour.’
Peter shook his head. That crazy book. The more he lived it, the more it came true. He looked up. Alice was looking at him quizzically.
“What is it Peter? You seem somehow amused.”
“Just happy. This has gone much better than I could have hoped for. You sure are a classy, A1 sort of lady.”
“I know. Was there anything more?”
Peter checked his list and then laughed. “Oh yeah. There was one last thing. It’s so…nothing compared to what you’ve already forgiven me for. I feel a bit silly even mentioning it, it’s such a petty little thing.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Well, go on then. Might as well be complete.”
Peter chuckled. “OK, remember that hideous Japanese cat statue with the raised paw that I always hated?”
Alice immediately stiffened. “You better not be referring to my maneki-neko.”
Peter missed his warning, as he so often did. He was smiling broadly, looking elsewhere. “OK, well one night when I was drunk obviously Zach and I found these tennis balls and we bet on who could go the longest throwing the balls against the wall and catching them without letting them bounce or drop. Well, you know how competitive guys can get. I got pissed that Zach hadn’t dropped his yet so I threw mine kind of hard and my aim was off and hit the manitsu geko or whatever thing and it fell off the mantlepiece and just sort of shattered.”
Peter was laughing now. He slapped his knee. He was still looking elsewhere and so missed the information that Alice’s lips had gone so thin as to disappear. Her eyes were bulging. A vein on her forehead twitched. She was gripping the armrests of her chair so hard that the suede would be permanently damaged. Blood was rushing to her face.
“Well, anyway. I’d figured you’d be pissed so I swept up the pieces, hid them down the garbage chute, and played dumb when you mentioned it. But no big deal, right? I mean, if you can forgive me for humping your mom that time she was living with us after her thyroid surgery, I’m sure a little broken cat statue isn’t…”
But Peter never got to finish his sentence – a thumb throat strike aimed directly at the weakest point of his trachea saw to that.
Next thing Peter knew he was waking up in hospital, his broken body encased in a cast that started at the soles of his feet and ended at the crown of his head. The only flesh showing was the lacerated and bruised acreage between his blackened eyes and the bottom edge of his split lips. He was unable to focus, he was so doped up that sometimes he thought he was Jesus, and three times a day a frowning nurse arrived to spoon-feed him applesauce.
He spent his few lucid moments trying to piece together exactly what had happened at Alice’s. As the days passed, more details surfaced. He’d been talking to her about that cat statue and then Alice, without any warning the crazy bitch, had leapt on him. Punching, kicking, grappling…and then the part with the nunchucks. Peter shuddered. The nunchucks had been the worst. Why on earth had she been so upset? Ah yes.
She’d loved that cat. Her dad had bought her that when he was stationed in Japan. About the only nice thing that bastard ever did for her. When she’d discovered the statue missing, she’d been heartbroken. She’d taken him at his word – that part was her own stupid fault and she wasn’t sure she’d ever forgive herself for that. Ultimately, she’d blamed Bianca, their part-time housekeeper. Poor Bianca! How that poor woman had protested her innocence. But Alice had been so pissed she’d not only fired Bianca, she’d reported to immigration that Bianca’s work permit had expired. Bianca had been deported! For something that was your fault Peter!
And Peter, lying prostrate, remembered he’d attempted to shield himself from her blows and point out it wasn’t his fault that she, Alice, had made a racist assumption.
And that was when the nunchucks had made their first appearance. After a few agonizing moments of that, all had gone black And Peter, in spite of months of therapy for the resultant PTSD, was never able to plumb that blackness for its gone-for-ever details.
That was probably a small mercy. Once every couple of days a doctor appeared at the foot of Peter’s bed, flipped through his chart, frowned dramatically, and shook his head. Once, he’d been accompanied by a team of eager-seeming and extremely young-looking interns. Together they’d studied Peter’s x-rays and clucked in amazement. The attending doctor talked about the paper he was writing. Or possibly there was enough here for a whole textbook.
And then, on the fifth day, he was allowed visitors. Al, his AA sponsor arrived, with another of one of his sponsees and a couple of others from their home group. Peter was unable to say much and when Al suggested they have a meeting, Peter’s ‘fuck off’ was too raspy and weak to be heard.
Al took the lead. He appointed who would read what. He introduced himself and asked for a moment of silence. Then they prayed.
“Fuck you…” tried Peter once more but to no avail.
Charmaine, an RN who wore her glasses halfway down her nose and attached to a faux-crystal chain, read aloud from ‘How It Works.’ She passed the book to Ted, Al’s other sponsee, who read the 12 steps with the vim of a true missionary. Ming read the 12 traditions. Al thanked them all and then qualified. He told the same fucking story Peter must have heard a hundred fucking times by now. It was utter bullshit – he’d even heard other men tell the same implausible story.
“Go…fuck…yourself…” gasped Peter. No one noticed.
Al was in full raconteur mode. One January night he’d been pulled over and was performing a roadside sobriety check. The cop turned his back a moment to make a note in his pad. Then Al got back in his car – or so he thought – and took off for home. The next morning, his long-suffering wife woke him and told him there was something in the garage that he should really see. So off he went, hungover as shit, and there in the garage was parked a cop car, lights still flashing, no word of a lie.
Ted, Charmaine, and Ming laughed like drains.
Al smiled. Fucking dick, thought Peter. This was all his fault. Telling him if he didn’t make amends and make them thoroughly, he’d be drunk in no time and either dead or in jail or in an institution. Apparently, the irony of the situation was completely lost on him.
Fucking AA. Fucking spiritual program. Fuck them.
They droned on and on. Completely unaware of his feelings on the matter, they discussed Step 9. Halfway through Step 9 was when Charmaine had first felt the undeniable presence of God. Ming was still on Step 8 but couldn’t wait to reap the Step 9 promises. She had complete faith in the AA program and was extremely grateful for all the miracles that had occurred in her life so far. Ted talked about being reconciled to his estranged father. Ted talked about being able to once again walk upright, at peace with the world. Then Al blathered on about Dr. Bob, one of AA’s two co-founders, who’d been able to find no respite from his alcoholism until the moment he got in his car and started his amends. Step 9 was that important.
The frowning nurse interrupted halfway through the meeting and jabbed a syringe of morphine into Peter’s catheter. After she left, Charmaine smiled a little twisted half-smile and patted Peter on top of his cast.
“You know, Peter, the still sick part of me is actually a little jealous. Thank God for AA, sponsorship, and the Steps! And God.”
“Eat…my…shit…” tried Peter.
Charmaine leaned in. “What’s that dear?”
“I think he wants us to pray for him,” offered Ted.
Charmaine sat back and clapped her hands together in delight. “What a lovely idea! I for one can’t get enough of praying. Who’ll lead? Can I?”
Peter groaned. Al nodded his head. They stood, joined hands over Peter’s broken body, and began to pray. But happily at that moment, the morphine hit Peter’s brain. He was up, up and away. Alice was in his waking dream. He could have sworn she snuck a look at his package while he was in her apartment. And she’d been looking hot. Maybe now she’d had this chance to vent her anger, they might get back together? He thought he’d like that. He’d have a lot more time on his hands now that he wasn’t drinking and that AA shit was over for him. He smiled dopily at the thought of it.
Those assembled mistook that as a sign that Peter was responding positively to the healing they were halfway through asking God for. “Praise be,” murmured Charmaine.
Peter didn’t notice. He was thinking of Alice in her French braids and leotard. A lawyer. A lawyer with limeade and enough spunk to nearly end his life. He giggled. He couldn’t wait until he was well enough to call her.
Or maybe he’d just hump a nurse.