He can’t keep it zipped. He’s tried. He’s worked the program. He bought these jeans from GAP with the fly buttons. Fredo’s idea. Fredo is his sponsor. Fredo says those buttons can work wonders. You have to fight those buttons, Fredo says, they’re some kind of steel. A steel trap. Fredo says those buttons were dreamed up by another guy who couldn’t keep it zipped.
The buttons don’t help. It takes a bit longer but the wait just makes him more excited. When he explains this to Fredo, it doesn’t really go over. Fredo squints then says he might be one of the incorrigibles. Those people that never get enough. No matter how many meetings they attend. Fredo says it might be time for prayer. Not the program prayer, but real hard core prayer.
“The Blessed Virgin,” says Fredo.
He rubs his eyes. Then takes in the red and green Christmas garland some other addict strung along the walls sloppily.
“The Blessed Virgin?” It doesn’t strike him, somehow. It feels strange. He tells this to Fredo. He tells Fredo he doesn’t do virgins. Then laughs at his joke. Waits for Fredo to join in.
“Didn’t you get my little joke?”
“She’s your only hope,” Fredo says.
His only hope. Sobering.
It’s dark by 4pm. Darkness makes him horny. He generally goes out for a pint after work. Always. He always goes out for a pint or two when he’s horny. He’s not bad looking. Women glonk onto him like flies to the paper strip. After a few pints there’s always someone to bring back home to his flat.
He’s tidying his desk about to leave work when his mobile rings. “I’m at a meeting,” Fredo’s saying.
Outside he pops his umbrella hailing a taxi. The old slate stairs down to the church basement are wet and slippery. The guard rail gone missing from its brackets. He wonders if someone like him ripped it off one night in a sex fit.
Fredo’s hanging by the coffee set-up. Someone covered the table in white plastic with scenes of Santa and his mighty team of reindeer.
“Come Dasher, come Prancer, come…”
“Chill,” says Fredo.
“Does it have to be The Blessed Virgin?”
Fredo, holding his coffee, is adamant, starts yelling.
“You don’t have to raise your voice,” he says looking around. “People will get the wrong idea.”
“Normal speech doesn’t penetrate you.” Fredo’s hand holding the cup shakes a bit.
Did Fredo have to use the word penetrate? Was that necessary? It makes him nervous. He rubs up and down the buttons on his fly to be certain they’re all intact.
“Stop rubbing your dick,” Fredo says. “Let’s sit down.”
“Well what about Mother Teresa? Can I pray to her?”
Fredo doesn’t answer.
“It has to be The Blessed Virgin?”
“Do you want to end up like me?” says Fredo.
“You don’t have it so bad.”
“You think so? What do you know? I’ve got the blonde, the classy one with the Prada boots, but I also have the pregnant one. Not so classy. The tummy and those little black glasses that slide down her nose. Two in the oven.”
“Marge? Marge is pregnant? With twins?”
“Two generally means twins.”
Surprised, he takes a step back and bumps into someone. “Sorry,” he says automatically.
“You should be, you’re one sorry asshole.”
He turns around. This dame has a familiar sounding voice but her face doesn’t ring any bells with him.
“You don’t remember me?” Also at high volume.
What’s with all the yelling? First Fredo, now this one. “I meet a lot of people,” he tells her.
“You need help,” she says, and moves toward the front of the room.
“She obviously needs help, too,” he tells Fredo. “Otherwise what’s she doing at this meeting?”
Fredo shrugs and indicates they should sit down.
He doesn’t want to sit down. The metal folding chairs are always cold. They don’t supply heat in this church basement. How can people overcome their difficulties if they’re too busy trying not to freeze their asses off?
“I’m not staying,” he tells Fredo.
“Think twice, my friend.”
He did. He thought about The Blessed Virgin. He thought about Mother Teresa. Nix to both. He can’t pray to women. Dead, blessed, or any other form.
Susan Tepper’s new road novel What Drives Men is out from Wilderness House Press. She loves Oddball, and finds most odd things appealing.