This short story is the first entry of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers.
- Clouds from the Pacific blow over the desert
When Hank Merril got out of rehab, all he had to do was show up: show up for meetings, show up for work. But he didn’t want to show up. He wanted to be left alone.
They’d saved his spot for him at the science lab where he’d worked as a technician, but he didn’t want to go back. He couldn’t stand to face them after what had happened during his last few months there, that spiral down that had led him to get checked into Bright Days Recovery Center.
His caseworker helped him secure a rental and a job in a new town where he didn’t know anybody. Until he went to his first meeting, that is.
“So, then,” said his sponsor, “this is like a new start.”
Hank didn’t like Johnny at first. All those shiny slogans: First things first. One day at a time. Easy does it. Keep the plug in the jug.
“It’s not easy for any of us,” Johnny said. “Life’s not easy. But then, it’s not always hard, either. And sometimes, when it’s easy, that’s when it’s the hardest.”
Hank chuckled. Maybe Johnny got it.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Hank said. “I’ll show up. I’ll work the program. I won’t expect to be happy, and I’ll learn how to tolerate boredom. And in exchange, you think maybe I could get a little time alone, now and then?”
“You know we don’t make deals,” Johnny said. “You got my number.”
When Hank showed up for his first shift as an orderly at Valley Hospital, he thought maybe it won’t be so bad. The lobby was empty, save for one of the doctors on duty and the receptionist.
He just about lost it during his orientation, though.
“This is where we keep the prescription drugs,” Melody, the receptionist, said, showing him a locked door. “Only doctors and nurses have access, so, you know, you won’t need to…”
By the end of the tour, Melody was joking with him. She led him back to the break room.
“It’s usually pretty quiet here,” she said. “This is where I escape to when it gets to be too much and I just need a minute to find my head. I’ll leave you here. You can start your duties after you’ve had your break.”
When she left the room, a wave of calm blew in. He listened to the song over the speaker: Neil Sedaka. That was ole-timey. It felt good, though.
He liked the neutral colors, too. Calm.
Don’t get too happy, he told himself. Pleasure was a sharp knife–too intense and it just kicked in, and he had to have it.
Nothing too good–the chocolate pastry was just stale enough to work. Easy does it. First things first.
The day was long and he was tired when he got home. He’d done it. The first day of thousands. One day at a time.
Maybe he should go to a meeting.
He took a shower instead. Every slogan he’d told himself that day made him feel dirty.
Show up. He washed it away.
Work it. He let the water caress him.
A new start. He felt warmth reach deep inside him.
Hope was a dangerous thing: it broke his resolve. It made him soft. He wouldn’t hope. He’d just be there, in the downpour of the moment, suspended between pleasure and pain, hope and despair, slogans and truth. A razor ran between two poles, and he was gonna walk it.
He was gonna make it, right?