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Mountain View

"Archie, look! It's Jesus! Jesus Christ! Get up, Archie. Jesus is right outside our window. I think he wants to tell me something."

Probably gonna tell you to lay off the hooch. The thought occurs to Archie but he keeps it to himself.

Garrety trembles with a combination of religious fervor and the good old fashioned dts.

"Archie! Get up! You don't want to miss Jesus."

Second day of rehab and this is what he has to deal with, a delusional room mate. He feels his own sickness squirming just below his skin. Archie pulls the covers to his chin as he did as a child when the bogeymen were extraneous. He feigns sleep.

Garrety looks like his face has been wiped down with gun oil. Eyes bulging like tumors, his lank hair hangs across his shiny forehead.

"Holy shit, Jesus, I knew you'd come. I knew you'd be here in my darkest hour. My garden of Yosemite."

Garrety stands before the room's sole window. There's only the moon, sickly yellow ringed with a pus-colored, pollution- induced halo.

Archie imagines a throng of white-suited thugs rushing in, swinging the rubber hoses indiscriminately.

"Hold on, Jesus, I'll take care of that goddam window."

Garrety grabs the back of the simple wood chair hunkered beneath the gouged and pitted desk separating their cots. He wrenches backward, taking two stumbling steps, empty-handed. Perhaps due to the Savior's frequent visits here at Mountain View Treatment Center, every piece of furniture is bolted to the floor.

"Jesus Christ, these people think of everything."

Archie expects him to fling himself against the Plexiglas next. Nothing would have pleased him more at the moment than to see Garrety bounce his melon off the window a few times. Garrety is one of those scrawny drunks. A couple precious inches north of five feet tall, maybe ten, twenty pounds over the century mark. He keeps his hair parted down the middle like a high school student. Skin red and leathery from passing out in the lawn chair in the summer and passing out on the tanning bed in the winter. Archie can't quite remember what Garrety said he did for a living. Supervision sounds right.

Garrety surprises him by giving up his chance to pal around with Jesus. He collapses on his Eucharist thin mattress, squalling, his sobs punctuated by a litany of "oh Jesuses".

Archie watches the drama from his cot. If I can just make it through the night without seeing Jesus, he thinks, I oughta be all right.

The next morning, Archie sits at the vanilla walnut desk separating his cot from Garrety's.

My name is Arthur Obcowski.

He reads the sentence he's just written with blue ball point pen across unlined stationery. He knows the next sentence he's expected to write is: I'm an alcoholic.

This is Mrs. Reba's idea. As a counselor here at Mountain View, she has all sorts of great ideas about breaking the cycle, exorcising personal demons, and the usual slush pile of medical jargon meant to simplify the task of knocking addiction off whatever list of problems each client harbors.

More than anything else, Archie dislikes the meetings. Not that he's shy. He's well aware of his easy way with people, a bar room politician if ever there was. He fails to see anything cathartic about discussing his short comings, his self loathing, with a bunch of jokers who only want to brag about how much booze they drank, how much coke they snorted, and all the fabulous possessions they had lost.

Mrs. Reba's answer is write what you're not willing to speak.

Last night Garrety thought he saw Jesus outside his window.

Archie smiles. This morning, Jesus forgotten, Garrety wanted to talk about the 2001 Blazer he drove before the repo man took it away. Garrety wanted to talk about the fine little brunette mistress his ex-wife somehow found out about before the prefix took effect.

Archie's sure Mrs. Reba has a clinical phrase to hang on this sort of boasting. Archie calls it the Rock Bottom Strut.

His pen hovers above the cheap paper. He could fill a page writing about those assholes. The braggarts and the broken- spirited men trading their sad stories like dog-eared baseball cards. Doubtful that's what Mrs. Reba has in mind, though. For a brief moment Archie considers playing connect the dots with the flecks of wood pulp pressed into the paper.

I've been married to Julie fourteen years. I have a thirteen year old son. His name is Vic. And a ten year old son. George.

And a daughter who would be about eighteen. His hand freezes. Jesus Christ. When was the last time he thought about her?

He couldn't recollect for certain what her name had been. Amanda. Cassandra. Miranda? Maybe Samantha. Damn. He'd never seen the baby and couldn't call forth a mental image of her mother, Joy. Joy: Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, red hair and a body he had enjoyed one drunken night.

He was thirty-eight years old at the birth of his son, Vic. He'd done a lot of living before that point. Julie knows nothing of his daughter. His sons know nothing about her. She is a ghost of a memory who will never solidify into a real live person. He had heard from someone who knew somebody who thought the girl had died young. Cancer or car accident or some small catastrophe that had erased the mistake of her existence.

Mrs. Reba had requested complete disclosure. And though Mrs. Reba swore no other eyes would read his words, Archie can't shake the feeling the paper will somehow find its way into Julie's hands. He don't know why he never told her. She was likely dead before he ever met Julie. Some thought, fear, that he could no longer remember had held him back. Continues to hold him back.

He leaves out mentioning the girl with the name ending with "a" who may or may not be living.

Vic liked to find my mostly empty vodka pints stashed under the seat or in the glovebox of the station wagon and leave them out on the dashboard for me to find so that I'd know he knew. I think maybe the wife put him up to it.

He figures Mrs. Reba will enjoy this little tidbit. He has her pegged for a glutton for other people's misery.

Actually, this writing project is something Vic would get a kick out of, Archie thinks. Reading and writing horror stories are Vic's pastimes. He doesn't know how much talent the boy has. Being sensitive to criticism, Vic keeps his stories secreted like pints of vodka in the bottom of his desk drawer.

Archie remembers his casual remark when Vic, not much older than eight, had shown him a picture he'd drawn.

"Nobody stands like that. Heel to heel. Toes pointing in opposite directions."

The comment had sent the artist stomping away, the crudely drawn werewolf cradled to his chest.

The kid needs to toughen up. Be more like George, a boy who knows how to appreciate a good game of football. A kid as sensitive as Vic, the world will chew him up. And Vic's aversion to sports and fishing is downright alarming. When Julie found that Playboy under Vic's mattress, Archie wanted to cheer.

The kid could still be an asshole, though.

I was thirty eight years old when Vic was born. Up to that point I hadn't worked a real job my whole life. I ran a book out of a tavern in Cal City back when El Taco ran things in Chicago. I made the choice to give it up when Vic was born. I didn't want my son to have a crook for a father.

Instead, Vic got a janitor for a father. It's a hard fact of life, the better factories, mills and plants hedging Northwestern Indiana are not and have never been clamoring to hire a forty year old man with no work record. He considered himself lucky he found a night time janitor position at Zayre, a job which finally led to the slightly more lucrative career flopping a mop at Marshall Medical.

The boys, he thinks, would have preferred a crook over a janitor, the green visor of a bookie less shameful than the navy blue monkeysuit of a toilet cleaner.

Seeing the shame in their eyes is enough to make a man want to tip back a pint of three dollar vodka.

He lets the pen drop onto the pad. Eventually, he's going to have to give an account of the accident that landed him in Mountain View for twenty eight days of alcohol withdrawal. He cringes from the memory. How do you explain to a stranger that you drank a little too much on the job. That you passed out sitting on the toilet in the Cardiology bathroom and fell down, cracking a rib in the process.

He doesn't want to relive the pitying glances and baleful stares of the people he's worked with for close to a decade.

This is where he writes the testimonial. He's seen the error of his ways. He will never drink again.

Archie knows this to be bullshit. He'll have to be more cautious is all. More eyes will be watching.

"Hey, Archie. Your family's here. They're in the common room."

Archie jumps at the sound of the voice. Saul, the heavyset Mexican orderly who patrols the gleaming Mountain View halls during the day, crowds the doorway.

"Thanks, Saul."

"A good-looking family you got there. Boys looking like they want to play some ping pong. Want me to sign some paddles out for you?"

"Yeah and tell them I'll be right out."

"I can do that. But you might want to hurry your roll. Visitation's only half an hour."

"I hear you."

Archie hides the paper in the desk drawer away from Garrety's prying eyes. A jolt of guilt brings tears to his eyes. It's not the sort of guilt he can explain away or write out of his system. The only means he's ever known to compartmentalize the guilt comes courtesy of Smirnoff.

He swipes a sleeve across his face. Not a moment's gone by these last two weeks he hasn't wanted to embrace his wife and sons. Apologize for every wrong he's committed. Apologize to Vic for leaving him in the rain at the park while he stopped at Barney's Tap. Apologize for watching George's little league ball games from the station wagon where he thought no one would notice him take nips from the pint. And Julie...

A half hour.

The thought of looking into their eyes, seeing his failures reflected, paralyzes him.

He wants a happy ending to hang on the few loose sentences of his life.

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