In Redemption, Jane is struggling with her need to stay sober while she tries to get her own private investigation firm off the ground. But that’s proving harder than she expected. After attending an AA meeting one snowy night, she meets a woman outside the building who will prove to be one of her greatest challenges as well as one of her greatest lessons.
The group was silent. Jane sat stone-faced. She’d heard plenty of stories over the last few months from group members, but this one drove deep into her core. A swell of emotion inexplicably crept up on her as her thoughts shifted onto that winter night almost 22 years ago. She remembered stepping out of herself and looking at the battered and blood-soaked body that lay lifeless on the dirt floor of her father’s workshop. But for Jane, there was no compassion or love for that girl on the floor. There was only the desire to die so the pain would cease. The taste of salt brought Jane back into herself as she furtively wiped a tear off her face. A second later, the cut on her lip throbbed. She knew the only way to temporarily short circuit her pain was via a strong dose of nicotine. Jane quietly stood up and made her way to the stairs that led outside.
Thankfully, the snow had ceased, leaving a dry layer of caked, white powder on the black asphalt parking lot. The orange streetlamps cast a distorted glow against the world. She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Jane looked around the parking lot as the stillness enveloped her. She figured a gentle walk might help, so she drifted toward the front of the brick church. Once away from the glare of the streetlamps, she stopped, gazing into the black velvet December sky.
“Hey,” said a soft voice from the darkness. Jane turned quickly to her right. A round-faced woman in her mid-60’s sat on the cement steps that led to the church’s front door. “Sorry,” the woman said. “I thought I should say something so you knew I was here and didn’t freak when you saw me.”
Jane’s first thought was that she’d never heard a woman in her mid-60’s use the word “freak” unless she was using it to describe someone who she considered weird. “Okay,” Jane said. There was an awkward silence between them as Jane drew two drags off her dying cigarette, blowing the smoke away from the woman. The woman shifted her backside on the cold steps and wrapped her long, wool coat around her chest. “You know, it’s warm downstairs. And there’s hot coffee if you want it.”
“Oh, I’m sure. Thank you,” the woman replied, not moving a muscle.
Jane regarded the woman out of the corner of her eye. She appeared slightly plump under her heavy purple coat. Her lilac suede boots rose above her calf, under what appeared to be a violet wool dress. On her head, she wore a jaunty, multi-colored bouclé hat. What really caught Jane’s observant eye was a thick, single braid of salt and pepper hair that reached to the middle of the woman’s back. The words “well dressed Bohemian” rang in Jane’s head. This woman was no road-ravaged drunk, she thought. This was a woman who lived well, albeit alone, and swigged a bottle of good red wine every night as she watched the Arts & Entertainment cable channel. For some unknown reason, Jane decided to do what she hardly ever did: strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
“I remember my first time coming to a meeting,” Jane offered, flicking her cigarette onto the curb. “I hung right around these same steps, sucking down a half pack of Marlboros before going down in the basement and meeting the folks.” The woman turned to Jane with a nervous smile. “My name’s Jane.”
The woman looked into Jane’s eyes. “I’m Katherine Clark.”
“Oh, no, no,” Jane admonished Katherine in a joking manner. “No last names. It’s like the hotel marquees on the Vegas Strip. “Liza.” “Elton.” “Siegfried and Roy.” I’m Jane P. and you’re Katherine C.”
“Kit,” the woman said, an undercurrent of nerves still below the surface. “Everyone calls me Kit.”
Kit peered at Jane’s beaten face. “Looks like you got smacked pretty hard.”
Jane shrugged it off. “I just had a little run in with a pool table.”
“And the pool table won?” Kit quickly replied.
“Fuck, no! It’s a goner!”
“Okay,” Kit said, with a smile.
Jane eyed Kit. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you, mid-60’s?”
“I’ll be 68 next year.”
“One thing I’ve noticed talking with the Basement People here—”
“The Basement People?”
“That’s what I call them. I’d rather say I’m going to see the Basement People than I’m going to a meeting. Personal preference. Anyway, I’ve noticed a definite distinction between your generation of drunks and what’s out there today. There was a certain dignity to your group that you just don’t see anymore. Your liver could be the texture of pâté, you might be perambulating around on two legs that look like thick dowels, you could fall asleep on the kitchen floor clutching a drained bottle of scotch, but you still managed to get up every morning and make it work. Goddammit, I respect that!” Jane slid another cigarette out of her pack and lit up. She handed Kit the pack of cigarettes.
“No, thank you.”
“Oh, come on. You can’t give up one addiction without starting a new one.”
“No, thank you.”
“Suit yourself,” Jane slid the pack into her coat pocket. “But understand that meetings are sponsored by R.J. Reynolds. We gotta numb the pain, right?” Jane said with a nervous edge to her voice.
“I need to feel my pain,” Kit said, her eyes trailing across the ground.
“Running is always a popular one. That’s what I do now. I run in circles around my block like a fucking nut. And coffee. I’m a coffee expert. Gourmet coffee, not the cheap shit. I bet I’ve got close to 20 pounds of coffee in my freezer. If one’s good, 20’s better. That’s the alcoholic creed.”
“I haven’t heard that one.”
“We Basement Folk have a pithy saying for everything. ‘Fake it ‘til you make it.’ ‘One day at a time’. And of course, ‘Let go and let God.’”
“That’s a good one.”
“It’s one thing to say it, Kit C.. It’s another thing to actually do it.”
“You don’t sound as if you enjoy being here.”
“Who in their right mind would enjoy this? Regurgitating your past in front of people with initials for last names. ‘Naming it and claiming it.’” Jane peered off into the distance. “I used to hang out with drunks in bars three or four times a week. Now, I get to hang out with these drunks, drink bad coffee, eat crappy candy and listen to stories of redemption. You know, Kit C., there’s nothing more tedious than listening to drunks prattle on about redemption! It’s like paying a whore to read you the Book of Revelations. What’s the fucking point?”
“You don’t think a drunk is worthy of redemption?” Kit asked, really studying Jane’s face.
“Sure, why not? Let’s hand redemption out to everybody!”
“You always use sarcasm to skirt an issue?” Kit asked with a penetrating stare.
Jane turned to Kit. There was something different about this woman—a quiet intensity. At once, it attracted and repelled Jane. “Well, yeah. It usually works.”
“But those who know you don’t let you get away with it,” Kit declared.
The conversation had turned far too personal for Jane. She felt the need to either buffer her well-built wall and change the subject or return to the dank basement. Jane chose the former. “So, have you started your personal inventory?”
“My personal inventory?”
“Oh, right, this is your first time. Step #4: ‘Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.’ According to the Big Book, “We search out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure. Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.’”
“You memorized that well,” Kit responded.
“I could memorize a phone book. It doesn’t mean I know the people in it.”
“I think I have,” Kit said, looking off to the side.
“Made a moral inventory. I had to. I had to understand why I did things that in retrospect, were careless and responsible for destroying others.”
“I think ‘destroying’ is a bit over the top.”
“Not in my case. I’ve spent years in ‘moral inventory.’”
“Well, good for you,” Jane said, taking another drag on her cigarette. “They’re just words to me these days. A million questions but no answers.”
“What if the answer is that there is no answer? Just faith?”
“Faith? There’s a fucking dark pit if there ever was one!”
“Don’t you believe in God?”
“In that power greater than me? Sure. Why not? Better to believe than not believe and be caught with your pants down when your time’s up, right?”
“But you still can’t let go and let God?”
“Well, Kit C., therein lies my daily struggle.” Jane’s stared aimlessly into the night sky. “I’d let go and let God if I thought He knew what the hell He was doing.”
Kit stared at Jane in a probing manner. “Do you really mean that?”
Jane thought about it. “Yeah. I do,” she said as the realization hit hard. “I guess that makes me the ultimate control addict. I want finite answers to infinite questions. I want black and white solutions to gray problems. Today is something I just gotta get through. And tomorrow is full of apprehension.” She felt herself slipping into the void. Jane Perry would never allow herself to be so vulnerable in front of a stranger but there she was, standing in the shadows and saying things she had only thought about in these last few months. “You know, Kit C., we think we’ve got it all figured out and that the dark night of the soul is behind us. We become aware that we have a problem and we think that’s the beginning of the light shining into our lives. But it’s just the beginning of the rocky ride. It’s the first layer of the onion after you dig it out of the ground. It’s full of dirt and you peel that layer away and the layer underneath is still a little dirty but as you continue peeling, the onion gets cleaner. But you know what happens when you get to the center of the onion, Kit? There’s another fresh, dirty onion waiting for you. It never ends.”
Kit pulled herself up with the help of the metal rail. “Enlightenment is a life long process, Jane P. Just a whole lot of fresh onions waiting to be peeled.”
Jane came out of her daze and looked at Kit. “Well, that’s fucked.”
Kit smiled broadly. She picked up her purse that looked more like a tapestry carpetbag than the typical purse a 68-year-old carried. “I’ve got something in here that’ll help take the pain away and make your face heal faster.”
“You got a bottle of Jack in there?”
“No, but I have this,” Kit said, handing Jane a small, amber glass bottle.
Jane hesitated as she took the bottle. Using the reflected glare of the orange streetlamps, she made out the words on the label. “Arnica?”
“It’s a homeopathic remedy for bruising. Take four pellets under your tongue every 15 minutes for the next couple hours and then take four every hour tomorrow. You should see marked improvement if you get on it right away.”
Jane regarded Kit with a puzzled look. “You a doctor?”
“Oh, God, no. A doctor wouldn’t know what the hell those were!” Kit zipped up her purse and carefully moved off the steps and onto the snowy pavement. “See you soon.” Kit started off into the darkness, away from the church.
“You’re not going to the meeting?” Jane called after her.
Kit turned. “Not tonight, Jane P.” With that, she turned the corner and disappeared from Jane’s sight.
Laurel Dewey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we’re offering sensational deals on all of her books, including Redemption. You can learn more about it here. Laurel will be participating in a Facebook chat this evening at 3:00 pm MST (5:00pm EST). Please join us and get to know Laurel on a more personal level!