Short story contest entry
"It's going to be a cold one," a loud voice suddenly exploded into Delbert McCoy's right ear. "The high today will only reach the upper twenties, and we presently have the lowest temperature of the year so far. It's nine degrees outside, folks. So, bundle up before you go out there; we want you all to be healthy for the holidays." The noise was unbearable, but Dell forced himself to sit up in bed before he reached over to the table and shut the radio off. 6:00 was displayed in bright red numbers on the digital clock's screen, and immediately after the noise stopped, the second zero became a one. He closed his eyes briefly and thought about falling back down and snoozing for a few more minutes but managed to fight off the impulse. I have to get up; I have to do this.
It would be instant coffee this morning since he had broken the Mr. Coffee carafe the night before last. The kettle would start whistling while he was washing up for the day, and the noise would irritate him for a while; but he would finish washing before he went into the kitchen again and turned the burner off. It had been a bad night, the night before last; and a groggy, listless day yesterday. The fog in his brain had mirrored the fog in the valley. With snow on the ground and a high in the twenties, the temperature inversion would surely prevail again today. Hence, there would be thick fog outside once more this morning, and boy would his two-mile trek be a cold one. He had better bundle up. In fact, he'd better wear his long johns. Fortunately, after finally getting a decent night's sleep, the coffee helped the fog in his brain begin to lift.
Dell turned the key to lock the front door and then put on his gloves. He pulled his cap down over his ears and zipped his coat up as far as he could and lowered his chin to protect his neck from the cold. As he walked away, there was time for a rueful glance at the busted windshield and badly damaged front end of his ten-year-old Ford F150 pickup. She had been such a good truck, and it was such a shame; but at least he got her home the other night without the cops stopping him. The telephone pole was still standing. Doris, didn't I used to call her, Doris? What on earth possessed me? He vowed not to drive again until he had this problem fixed.
I wouldn't call a dog Doris now. Not even a pet rat - like I'd ever have a pet rat! Dell started walking up the sidewalk towards Third Avenue, the street that would take him over to Highland. He would be in poorly lighted residential neighborhoods until then, but Highland was a busy street full of stores and shops with street lights and traffic lights everywhere. The first mile and three-quarters of the journey would be dark, and the fog would be thick. He could barely see ten feet in front of him. His paces were brisk, and, since the sidewalks were not always well shoveled, the icy snow often crunched beneath his boots. The noise bothered him if he thought about it, so he tried not to think about it. He tried not to think about Doris either, but he was not as successful. No, he would be attached to her forever, willy-nilly, because of the kids. Still, the more he thought of her, the angrier he became; and the angrier he became, the more likely he would be to fall off the path again.
Dell had named his truck Doris when he first bought it, and he bought it when he started dating her. In fact, he had bought it in large part to impress her. She was kind of a cowgirl, and a brand-new Ford pickup might go a long way with her. He had been right about that, but wrong about just about everything else that had to do with Doris. Oh, they'd had their good times: dancing and partying at the western clubs, going on little weekend trips, four-wheeling and camping. She even went deer hunting with him once. They didn't get a buck, but they sure had fun. Finally, on one of those weekends they shot down to Vegas and came back hitched, in the marital sense, that is. That's when the trouble started - gradually at first.
It was Doris' second marriage, but Delbert's first. He had naively thought that married life wouldn't be all that different from single life, and at first it wasn't. Then after about a year the first child came, Belinda - cute little devil, but she sure cried a lot. Doris started nagging him about doing this or doing that, about what didn't get done and should have been done and about what didn't get done right. And the more she nagged, the more the kid cried. There came a point when he couldn't take it anymore. He had to have some relief. That's when he started going out with the boys - poker nights, going to the race track, and, yes, the western clubs, but not for dancing with her. He wanted to hang with the boys. He even took up golf. Golf! He didn't give a dang about golf, and he was the worst hacker ever imagined. He could hit it a mile - three hundred yards to the right but two fairways over. At least it got him out of the house. Then, wouldn't you know it, child number two was in the oven and he'd better straighten up and fly right or else his goose was cooked.
The further Dell walked up Third Avenue, the nicer the neighborhoods became and the more snow-free the sidewalks were. The crunch of the snow wasn't annoying him anymore, and he was starting to warm up a bit due to his rapid pace. He was even starting to feel a little more energetic. I must be pretty much recovered from the night before last. His mind was clearing even though it was still pitch dark out and the air was still thick with fog. At the end of every block was a street lamp, and he would make a point to notice the name of the street he was crossing at each intersection. Funny, he had driven down this road about a million times, but this was probably the first time he'd ever walked it.
Well the second kid was born, Jennifer, another girl; and this one didn't have the colic - peaceful baby. But mama wasn't peaceful at all. Seemed like she was always on a war footing. She had quit her part-time job at the grocery store to be able devote the needed time to the two babies, and that change did not make her a happy camper. She kept saying they needed more money. He needed to work overtime, get a raise, and quit going out with the boys and spending money they did not have. Delbert made a decent wage as a union welder, but it was getting hard to stretch the money from paycheck to paycheck. That's when Betsy came along - not another baby, mind you, well at least not of the aforementioned kind, not one that needed diapers anyway. And she could two-step a lot better than Doris. And treated him so much nicer!
Betsy and Dell were carrying on for about a year; the kids were growing. The little one was walking, and the big one was talking. There was still trouble in paradise, so he stayed away as much as possible. Then somebody must tipped off Doris or something. Somebody ratted him out. Because one Friday night at The Chaparral Club at about nine-thirty, Doris comes stomping in, fit to be tied, and slams her fist down on the table where he and Betsy were sitting with a bottle of Jack and a couple of shot glasses. Spilled whiskey everywhere. "You lousy good-for-nothing, blankety-blank. I thought you said this was your poker night? I got kids at home that never see their dad. The big one's crying all the time. I keep worrying we're not going to be able to pay the mortgage some month, and here you sit drinking with some floozie."
"Floozie!" Betsy gasped.
"Don't give me that! You've got to know he's married, and I'm sure this ain't your first rodeo, bi..." She started to say it, but she restrained herself.
"You don't need to come home tonight, Delbert McCoy. And not tomorrow night neither. By Sunday me and the kids will be gone. We're going up to Billings to stay with my parents, and I'll make sure you get the divorce papers when they're ready."
At that, Doris stomped out of the bar as decisively as she had entered it. Dell just sat there stunned. Everybody in the place was looking at them. What a scene she had caused! Betsy had her hand over her chest, her eyes wide open and her mouth agape. "Floozie," she repeated with astonishment.
Well, that was almost three years ago now, and Dell had no idea where the time had gotten to. He had seen the kids a few times, and he had kept up on the child support; but it seemed like the day before yesterday when Doris made that big scene and left him. Betsy was long gone and long forgotten. She was barely even a memory at this point. Somehow he had managed to keep his job - until the day before yesterday, that is.
The lights of Highland Drive pierced the fog now. The sun must have risen because it wasn't so dark anymore, but the streetscape was an eerie gray with neon lights leaping out at him as he strode on up the street. There was an other worldliness to the scene, but his new beginning lay just a block or two ahead.
Dell felt like he was gliding through the air when he arrived at the Highland Social Hall. He paused briefly at the door, opened it, and entered. It was his first time in this building, but he had been in the establishment next door, The Tap Room, on a few occasions. He walked through a short hallway before he entered the meeting room. It was well lighted and there were chairs lining the walls. A few people were milling about, and there was a freshly brewed pot of coffee sitting on a table just inside the door. Next to the coffee was a box of pastries.
A man about ten years his senior greeted him, offering his hand. "Hi. My name is Bill. I don't believe we've met."
"It's my first time," Dell replied. "I'm Delbert McCoy."
"Well, we're glad to have you, Delbert. Get yourself a cup of coffee and a donut or a bagel. Or a donut and a bagel, if your hungry." Bill laughed amiably.
"I don't mind if I do," Dell said and helped himself. "I'm happy to meet you, Bill."
Within a few minutes Dell had finished his coffee and donut, and the meeting was about to begin. It was a small group, only eight or nine people this morning. They stood in a circle at first, held hands and recited a prayer that Dell had heard before, but which he did not know well enough to repeat himself. Then the people sat down, and this day's leader took charge of the proceedings and welcomed everyone. After a few announcements they went around the group and each member shared his thoughts and feelings with the others. It was eight in the morning, a new day had dawned, Dell's head was clear now. It did not matter if it was foggy outside. When it was his turn, he knew what to say.
"Hi, I'm Delbert, and I'm an alcoholic."
Word count: 1997