Staggering at midnight on the boardwalk

He walks like a playing card: Stick legs, flat chest, and tilting backward. Three steps forward, one step back. A step forward, a stagger to the side. The cartoon man keeps losing ground.

The winter wind blows wicked against us on the wide boardwalk. Asbury Park is frigid at midnight.

We went to the film festival in the afternoon, then dinner at the bar to catch up. It’s been 2 years of broken promises to connect. Seltzer water for me, 10 White Claws for him.

After a while, he can’t go forward. He is now fourfive steps behind me. Cha-cha dancer steps, side to side. Hands buried in his coat pockets, his chest a sail, filled with a bitter wind pushing him back again and again.

He falls smack on his back and his feet wriggle in the air. How did he not whack his head? How is he not bleeding? The Jack of Hearts is flat on his back, squirming like a turtle.

A few feet above us, his angel appears. She stares down at me. Me? She seems pissed. Funny, she’s never pissed before.

I pick him up and push him like a grocery cart with my hand in his back. One last block to the hotel. He sinks into my hand, abdicating the need to walk. He’s always been a small guy. The two cancers have hollowed him. He is light and graceless as a cardboard box.

“I don’t drink anymore,” he said. The doctors demanded that. I was there. “Just a few pops when people are in town.”

He doesn’t recognize our hotel. We meet our friends near the elevators. We all talk about the film festival, dinner, and breakfast places for the morning. He is chirping nonsense and it’s hard to hear him. Throat cancer swiped most of his voice. 

I keep my arm around his shoulders, but he slips straight down, out of my grasp, hands in his pockets.

A friend asks, “Should we call an ambulance?” And I laugh and say, “No, no, he’s fine. He’s just small and can’t drink like he used to.”

Justlikethat, I am struck. What a Fool I am! I sound like an Abused Housewife or the Delusional Spouse. I stopped alcohol a year ago. Thirty years of drinking memories enswathe me. It has always been this way with my best friend, my drinking partner. 

Missed work, lost cash and cars, waking up in yards, sleeping till the afternoon. Sometimes I fell down, sometimes him. We’d laugh and laugh and learn nothing.

Nothing’s changed; just me.

A security guard sidles over and lifts him. With the guard’s arm around his left shoulder, my arm around his waist, we sway into the elevator. His feet touch the floor, but we hold him up. 

I ignore the angel standing behind me.

On the eighth floor, we three toddle down the hall, inside the room, to his bed, and drop him. He unfolds, sinks into the mattress, hands buried in his pockets, and stares at the ceiling with closed eyes. 

The guard leaves. I don’t even turn on the lights. Out the window, I watch the waves on the beach and trash blowing on the sidewalk. Even the window is cold.

He’s out for the night. His angel is on my bed. She glares, then beckons for me to sit, one enabler with another.

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