The Drink coverThe Drink is a short story about Andrew Frery, a recovering alcoholic and a politician at the end of his career. He’s moving out of his county commission office when he gets a visit from an unexpected visitor delivering devastating news. But an opportune encounter the day before may save Andrew.

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Andrew stood, almost upending the metal folding chair with the back of his legs. He flinched with a half attempt to grab the chair, but it remained upright. With his usual timid nervousness, he turned to face his small audience circled around him. He yet again stumbled over his introduction.

“Hi.” He paused to wipe his forehead with a kerchief then fidgeted as he placed the white embroidered cloth back into his front jeans pocket. “My name is Andrew and it’s been 8,401 days since I had my last drink.”

He greeted the soft applause of the dozen familiar faces with flushed cheeks and his usual half wave. “Thank you,” he whispered. “It hasn’t been easy for me. You guys keep me grounded, especially since…since–” His face tightened as two tears, one down each cheek, escaped from his squeezed eyes. He wiped his face with both hands as he sat back down.

Andrew’s been a part of the local Alcoholics Anonymous group for 23 years–the longest any one has attended by at least 15 years. Every week he says the same thing, nothing more. But everyone in the group knows just about every move he’s made since he is a sitting county commissioner–albeit a lame duck commissioner since he was defeated six months earlier in the primary election. This would be his last week in office. His friends in the Republican Party thought the appointment just 18 months earlier to the vacant commission seat would be the jump start he needed. The public thought otherwise.

Members in his AA group have come and gone over the years, either because they were required by court and their sentence ended, or they came on their own volition–or on the forced volition through an intervention–and felt they were “cured” after not touching a drink for a few years. But not Andrew. He promised his ex-wife Janet he would go for her and their son, and he had been religious in his attendance in hopes to rekindle their relationship. It’s been five years since she died. He stayed for her, and Wesley.

Wesley died a year ago tonight when he was killed by a drunk driver. He had the light when he was crossing High Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard during a lunch break from the courthouse. He was a clerk for Judge Keith Spaeth and was heading to McDonald’s when a rusted silver pickup truck barreled through the red light, hitting him head on. The truck didn’t stop till it crashed into a lamp post on the other side of the intersection. He survived while Wesley was killed instantly.

Everyone in town knew he almost abandoned his sobriety five years ago when Janet died, and that promise to Janet would have been broken if Wesley hadn’t caught him alone in his office with an unopened bottle on his desk and a glass in hand. So when Wesley died just a year ago, the county sheriff came to break the news to his old, dear friend. He sat with him all night.

AA group members appreciated Andrew’s troubles. They knew, either through town gossip or the sordid adventures of his problems that were laid out, often in great detail, in the local newspapers. His alcoholism became part of the public discourse when he was a city councilman, and everything that followed. His drunken outrages, sobriety and divorce–and Janet and Wesley’s deaths all made the front pages.

“You know we’re here for you, Andrew,” said Sammy, a 30-something redheaded woman who had been sober 13 months. “You’ve done so great for so many years, considering….” She faded off before continuing, “Considering your circumstances.”

Ever since Sammy began attending AA, she sat across from Andrew. Something about seeing her red curls and soft, pale white skins soothed him. Sammy’s presence just reminded him of Janet, though he didn’t quite know why or how because she looked nothing like her, but he liked that feeling. He briefly closed his eyes before he nodded his head once and mouthed, “Thank you.”

***

Snow began to fall as Andrew walked out of the Presbyterian church on South Front Street in downtown Hamilton. He popped his coat’s collar and walked toward his car in the lot around back. A familiar woman’s voice echoed behind him as he reached for the handle of his car. “Andrew, wait up a second.”

He turned around to see Sammy. Her curly red hair tried to escape her gray knit wool cap. She jogged the dozen or so steps that Andrew was ahead. Slightly winded, she said, “I know it’s your birthday tomorrow, and well, I got you a little something.”

She reached into her coat pocket to pull out a small box, presenting it to him in a leather gloved hand. Andrew widened his eyes, hesitant to take the gift wrapped in a simple shiny silver paper with a small matte silver bow. “Thanks, Sammy. You shouldn’t have.”

“I know, but–but you’ve been such an inspiration to me. I think of you when I’m tempted and–well–you keep me grounded.” She blushed, looking at the snow melting on the paved and salted parking lot.

“Thanks,” he said as he smiled. “You guys do the same for me. But how did you know it was my birthday?”

“I read the newspaper.” She smiled as she held in a laugh. “Well, I read it online.” The redness in her already blushing cheeks brightened. “I just remembered because, well, you know–Well, happy birthday.”

Andrew was about to open the box, but she stopped him. “Wait until later, if you don’t mind.”

Andrew leaned to give Sammy an awkward hug. “I appreciate it. Really I do.”

Sammy smiled and walked away toward her car, Andrew looked at the gift and then at the woman at least 25 years his junior. He tucked the present in his coat pocket and shook his head and smiled as he opened his car door and sat inside.

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