To Love and To Fall

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FIVE

After killing a couple of unthinking hours at a diner drinking coffee to let the maid clean the debris of perfidy, I returned to my haven locked away from reality. I did not move from where I was for the rest of the day, grateful for clean pillows without the smell of booze, sex or Carla on them. I double-bolt the door to lock the real world out. I see no reason to go home. I think of this morning and of how I wanted to leave. I still didn’t want to be here, but the prospect of dealing with anyone at this point was worse. Then I see the blinking light on the phone. Nervously I call the front desk, wondering who the mystery message is from.

There was not one mystery message, but two, according to the precise hotel clerk. The first was from Serena. There was no phone number, and the message was succinct and vague, only saying that she was somewhere safe and that I should not worry. That kind of message made me only worry more. I wonder if she is at safe at Mario’s house or whatever guy’s house has the Maxima. Next was a message from my sister Denise, an occurrence rare enough in itself. Her message indicated that I should call immediately, anytime. The receptionist relays this in a tone that implied that he thought I have something kinky going on. If only he knew. I wonder if the cleaning people procured Carla’s bra for his voyeuristic pleasure as well.

I sift through my address book to find my sister’s number. I wonder if her calling has anything to do with Serena’s whereabouts. I sincerely doubt it; my sister and Serena, while more decent to each other than the Cisellis are with me, are hardly more than cordial to each other. Denise has always thought Serena to be a bad influence on me. This is coming from a woman who has been married three times before the age of thirty-five.

On the second ring, Denise’s third husband, Nigel answers the telephone. “Hullo? comes his British pique. “Is this Tom?” he surprises me with his instant recognition of me.

“Wow, you’re good.” I offer. It is rare that I am impressed with my brother-in-law.

“Not that good. Denise has been waiting all day to hear from you. How are you? How was your interview?”

“Good,” I offer suspiciously. “I start in October. How did you know about it?”

“Serena told us.” At least I knew this was about Serena. Relief flooded me followed by a new anxiety. I wonder why she is with my family and not with hers. I hardly hear Nigel as he continues, “Listen, let me give you Denise. She’s nudging me. And old fellow, congratulations.”

Good old Nigel, without a bad word for anyone. I never trust someone like that. “Thanks.”

There was a pause featuring fumbling noises as the phone changed hands.

“Tommy Boy!” Denise exclaims like we were long lost drinking buddies, which we are whenever she falls of her wagon. At present, she was on the wagon. That was why I had not heard from her lately. “You’re up in Albany! I hope you’re not getting yourself in any trouble.”

“Now why would I do anything like that?” I banter with mock sincerity.

“Well,” she quips, “we know the answer to that. But your secret’s safe with me.” I am left to wonder if she was joking or if she knows something I don’t, or something I did, for that matter.

“Do you know something about Serena?” I want to get to the point, sick of pointed pleasantries.

“Yes I do,” Denise turns matter-of-fact. Her MBA voice. “She called me. She needed help. So I got her and brought her back here. She decided to go to a detox.”

“A detox?” I nearly scream, sure I have heard wrongly. “Detox? What happened? Is she okay?”

“Calm down, calm down. She’s fine. She’s at Belmont U. She got in the night before last.”

The night before last would be Sunday night. My thoughts race wildly. Last night, my lover was suffering withdrawal in a hospital and I was out getting laid. My throat constricts, and to my bafflement, I felt enraged.

“I left several messages on your machine. Then Serena let me know today that you were in Albany. She said you had an interview. Poor girl, she was in such bad shape this was the first day that she was coherent.” There is a pause. I am perplexed by this guilt trip she is laying on me over someone she barely talks to. It must be the inexplicable bond of recovering drunks. “So how’d it go?”

I am caught off guard. “How did what go?”

“Your interview. How’d it go?”

“Oh, good. I think I have the job. I have to get back to him.”

“Great! So you’ll be living around here.” She suddenly sounded less than enthused.

“Yeah, I will.” I wonder how she can make small talk at a time like this. Then again, it isn’t her lover. They haven’t been close. Which brought me back to wondering why Serena called Denise and not me. I thought I was her soulmate. “How is she?”

“Like I said, today is the first day she’s been coherent, so she’s doing better. She was in bad shape when I got to your house, bottles lying everywhere. She was passed out on the couch. I was afraid she had poisoning, but she was okay. She seems to be coming out of it now.”

I am silent, too numb to speak.

“Listen, Tom, this isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s probably good that she got a little scared. People don’t get sober when drinking makes them feel good.”

Spoken like a true recovering alcoholic. I try to remain polite. “How are you doing with the drinking?”

“Good. Three months yesterday,” she informs me like a five year old announcing her birthday. Last time she made it to eight months before she fell off the wagon. “Look,” she continues, “Serena’s going to be in the detox for three more days. She wants to go to a rehab afterwards. Do you think you’ll be able to visit the detox before she goes to the rehab?”

Being that I was only half hour away, I would be a jerk if I didn’t go, even though the idea of visiting a detox gave me the creeps. I had visions of zombies walking around doing the Thorazine Shuffle. I think of Serena being amongst them. I shudder. “I’ll be down tomorrow. I’ll check in at the Owl Motor and swing by your house. When are you going to be there?”

“Come by anytime. I’m on vacation. And, Tom, don’t go to Owl Motor. That place is such a dive it should be condemned. You could stay here on the couch. You know, sometimes I like to see you, too.”

I smile into the phone, grateful that she couldn’t see. Despite our differences, I miss her too. She was my only family. “All right.”

“Try to get here by eleven. The hours only run from twelve to two. No exceptions. Afterwards we’ll catch a bite to eat and up on each other. It’s been too long.” Too true to disagree over that one.

I can’t sleep that night. I go to the university library at eleven, hoping I will stop thinking of Serena, and stay until it closes at two, trying to find the data for the suburbs that Arbuckle wanted. I am still wide awake. I go to an all-night drug store and buy a bottle of Ny-Quill. When I get to my hotel room, I guzzle the bottle, hoping it will kill the curse of insomnia. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I take the last drop. I look like a homeless lush from Penn Station. Disgusted, I throw down the bottle, and make it to my bed just before I collapse. Soon I am asleep, and I get to escape reality for awhile.

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