(Note: This is an excerpt from From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a work in progress. You can also catch me reading from this novel HERE. This is a first draft. Please keep that in mind if you come upon a clunky sentence or a misspelled word or two…and if you like it, please consider backing the publication of my debut novel HERE).
There was silence in the bus as we drove towards New York City. The full morning got on like any other passenger right after the Bear Mountain Bridge. The Hudson appeared out my window every so often, my traveling companion going in the same direction.
My father, his eyes closed and his head resting, was seating next to me. He was wearing the same light blue, short-sleeve shirt in which he had been buried.
I got closer to see if he was breathing.
“I’m just resting my eyes. I’m awake, if you want to talk.”
“Where were you coming from?”
“What were you doing up there?”
“I wanted to see if Tony Oliva was going to get in this year. It was the first year he was eligible since he retired.”
“No. This was also the first year for Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. Those two sucked up all the votes.”
“Maybe next year.”
“Yeah, there’s always next year. How about you, where you coming from?”
“Graymoor. Saint Christopher’s Inn. It’s a detox for homeless alcoholics. Alejandro and Ernan from the Spanish AA meeting drove me up yesterday. It’s a twenty eight day program. Is the only place I could go into because I don’t have any insurance anymore. Why are you smiling, Dad?”
“Why are you going home already, if it’s supposed to be twenty eight days?”
I looked out the window. The river was reflecting the gray sky now that the sun had taken a mid-morning break. I didn’t know the answer to the question. I only remembered the desperation I had felt the night before. When I made a collect call home, my sad voice convinced my mother to give me another chance. I called my girlfriend Louise then and managed to convince her as well that the worst was over. Two promises made that got me a bus ticket back to civilization. I meant it both times.
“I’ve made promises before not to drink anymore or do drugs. I had never made them from a detox. I was ashamed to be there, with all those guys. Most of them had been to Graymoor before. One guy was there fifty three times before this one time. He was proud of his record. His ankles were as thick as tree trunks. He said he didn’t have a problem with booze, just with the cops that kept locking him up. The priest was very nice, he treated the man very kindly. He knew him well ’cause he had seen him so many times. The priest said he was becoming part of the family.
“The priest was telling us the story of the Inn, just after supper last night. He said that people had been coming to this place for almost a hundred years, looking for a meal and a warm bed. It was started by nuns. He said the only payment they asked from the guests was that they fill a couple of buckets with water. I didn’t get if they had to go down to the river to fill up the buckets, but that was the only thing they accepted as their compensation. He said that a young man had come in asking for a meal and looking so sickly that the Mother Superior had told the other nuns not to ask him to fill up the buckets. After the man ate and left, the empty buckets were found filled with water. The priest mentioned the words in the Bible about entertaining strangers without being aware that they could be angels in disguise. That’s how the priests that run the Inn look at all those that come up here looking for help. That was the message of the talk at dinner but I don’t feel like no angel in disguise.
“Do you know what the drunk with the fat legs said after the priest left? He said that he prayed to Saint Christopher when he was down at the Bowery to refill his empty vodka bottles the same way, but it hadn’t worked yet. Everyone at the table cracked up at the joke. The way this guy told it, you could see that he had made the same joke at least forty times before. To tell you the truth, I didn’t laugh but I understood what he meant. I’ve felt desperate enough to pray for money to appear in front of me to buy booze….”
The bus stopped to pick up passengers. The sky was still sunless.
“I am sorry, Dad. I’m making a mess of it. I feel like the last two years have been the most two difficult years of my life. Like I’m a passenger in a car that is going so fast that looks like it’s going to crash and maybe kill me but I know that if I jump out I will die for sure. Either way I’m fucked. When I am drunk is the only time that the car slows down. I’m sorry about the cursing, I didn’t mean to….”
“It’s OK. You can talk to me but there isn’t anything I can do or say to help. Just listen, I guess. Sorry, but those are the rules, son.”
“Don’t be sorry. It isn’t you fault. And listening helps. I’ll give it a try, like I told Mom and Louise. I’ll stay out of trouble this time because I don’t want to end up back up here again like those guys I met last night, a waste of a life. I promise. Do you mind if I rest my eyes like you? I couldn’t sleep much last night with all those strangers around.”
“No, not at all. Go ahead. Rest will do you good.”
I didn’t know how much time had passed when I opened my eyes again. The voice of the driver over the bus loud speaker woke me up. He had announced our arrival at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. “Last stop,” he had said.
When I looked out my window, I realized we were in the same ground floor area where the bus had pulled in a decade earlier carrying our family from California. I thought of asking Dad if he remembered, but the seat next to mine was now empty.
I had no luggage to claim. Instead of entering the Port Authority building through the door right in front of the bus, I walked around towards the Forty First Street exit. I walked west until I reached Ninth Avenue and I turned south. On the opposite side of the street I spotted the familiar face. I pulled out a dollar bill and had it folded three times before I approached him.
“Cuba, what will it be? You look like you could use a smoke to cheer you up.”
I place the bill in his hand as I pretended to shake hands.
“Just a joint today, brother. I’m low on funds and I still got to get back to Jersey.”
“You’re lucky man, Cuba. You got people waiting for you back home.” He place the joint in my hand, and then repeated: “You’re a lucky man.”
I asked for a book of matches at the corner bodega, then I went looking for a secluded place to smoke my joint.
Of all of the things I was feeling as I walked around the neighborhood, lucky wasn’t one of them.