Bad Road Ahead: the Story of Willie and Sister Fran

read the suite in order

by Don Robishaw

IV. We Almost Made it Hon

Along the River Charles, ten homeless men and women sit around a fire rubbing their hands, waiting for me to say something. I stand on broken glass, back against black tank, wearing a navy peacoat with collar up, and a charcoal toque. 

An old red-faced vet, rubs his arms up and down. “Come on, Willie. It’s cold out here, ya bastard.”

I grin, ease my hands out of my pockets and point my thumbs to my chest. “During my first tour in Nam I was an interrogator. Took an intensive course in Vietnamese after boot. Got out with good paper — an honorable discharge, even though I was a junkie. A year later reupped. Assholes gave me bad paper. I was a good soldier, though. Never drank or did drugs before Vietnam. Volunteered twice, for Christ’s Sake!”

   New girlfriend Fran, with pain in her face, nearly passes out into the fire. I bend and shake her again and again. “Baby, don’t tell me you mixed downers with wine. Get up.” She donated blood today, too.

***

Two boys lift, drag, and carry her up the rocky embankment. A bit tipsy, they drop her several times along the way. We hit the streets, hail a cab, and head to Boston General. Friday night, place is crazy. The men who helped, split. 

They pump her stomach and fill her with drugs that heal, not hurt. I sleep in the waiting area. 

  Next day she’s ready to process out. She takes my hand, turns it over, stares at the lines, cries, and says, “Bad road ahead, Willie.” Man, hate when she does that. I touch her hands.

  A hardened ER nurse enters Fran’s suite. “Do you remember me?”

  “No.”

  “Were you paying attention to the doctor this morning?” 

  “What doctor?”

  “The one who stabilized your heart rate and brought your blood pressure down to a manageable level. If you don’t quit drinking, you’ll end up dead.” We’re forced to listen to her spiel. We’ve heard it all.

  Fran’s discharged and persuades me to attend Alcohol Anonymous meetings with her. Hate those talks. Guess it’s love. “Okay, baby.” 

  “Haircut and shave, too.”

“Not the beard, sister.”

“Yes, Willie.”

  “Okay, okay. Where do you wanna go now?”

  Rubbing a bruise above her eye, “Get me out of here. Hospitals give me the creeps.” 

***

Fran and I are guests at the dry shelter. Luck’s on our side. She gets approved for Social Security Disability Insurance with the help of a lawyer. 

The staff works hard to find us an apartment. We move in and continue to attend   meetings. Fran’s on my case to find work. “I stopped drinking, quit smoking, and got a haircut and a shave. Isn’t that enough for ya?” I have no skills, except for interrogating people. 

I take a second shift job washing dishes at a restaurant. Three weeks later, I have a slip and show up drunk. Management gives me two weeks off to attend rehab. 

Fran attends church on Sundays, gets her teeth fixed at Tufts University, and never misses a meeting. She’s had a moment of clarity.

***

Sometimes we go to the shelter to eat and hang with friends. My AA sponsor works the front desk. He’s outside on a break. 

  Silent Jim, spent two years in the brig for assault, is also outside. He’s his usual drunk and belligerent self. Stares at me, but is busy arguing. He yells, “You’re a prick, Sonny.” The two have been at each other for several weeks now.

  “Told you three times it’s the policy. Can’t come back for a week.”

  Fran blesses herself, “Be careful.” 

Confident, Sonny turns towards her. Jim pulls out a switchblade, cuts my friend twice from ear to ear. Fuckin’ blood everywhere! Sonny grabs his throat, blood drips between his fingers. He falls to the ground.

  I try to stop it with an old rag. It’s no use. I check his pulse. He’s flatlined. You should have protected him. You should have stopped it, Willie. Time  stops  . . . not in Boston anymore. Back in Nam. Mom told me to take care of my brother Malcolm, who’s MIA in Vietnam. I should be dead, not Sonny. Can’t even help my friend or my brother.

  Police arrive and find that motherfucker inside a dark green smelly trash-filled dumpster in the courtyard. I’m on the top. They knock me off with a 2 x 4 in my hand. I hope to never meet that bastard again. Police drag him away. The shelter beefs up security for the next month. 

  Fran becomes too friendly with her SSDI lawyer. He attends AA, too. We fight. I tell her, “Stop going.” I suffer from PTSD and can’t sleep because of recurring nightmares and flashbacks, since the attack. I take it out on Fran.

  We’re penniless, jobless, homeless, and back on the streets. Fran quits the meetings and abandons sobriety. We break-up. Even give the pup back to the animal shelter. 

***

I’m at the blood bank again, making a deposit. Another lucky day. They give fifteen dollars. Hang around, drink all their orange juice.        

“Thank you, Sergeant Robinson for your donation and service, but you can’t stay here.”

“Come on, mam. Just Wille, please.” I turn, walk away, hit the streets, and cash the check at the packy. I’m not in a good mood. Don’t even think about it, Louie. Can he read my mind? There’s no check-cashing fee. Luck’s changing. Got a few dollars. Should I go back to the horse track? I buy scratch tickets. 

  Young clerk with sad eyes, the one who reminds me of that lost daughter in Vietnam, touches my hand. She turns it over, scans the lines, and shakes her head. “Have a nice day, Willie.”     

  “If I were a young man . . .”  She laughs and hands me my coffee and a paper sack.









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