Dutchy Grieves sat alone in his apartment staring at the half-empty bottle of scotch in front of him. He’d drank the first half days ago before the beginning of the ordeal with Mrs. Abernathy.
Mrs. Abernathy’s near death experience had distracted Dutchy from his self-absorbed descent into a drunken abyss of despair and her miraculous recovery had done a lot to break the cycle of dark thoughts that had haunted him since his return from the island. He’d never be quite the same but, inspired by Mrs. Abernathy’s struggle against her own frailties, he was going to beat this…this…this feeling that wouldn’t let him go and gripped his soul like an iron vice.
But that half empty bottle of scotch -- sat there reminding him that it was still half full – wasn’t going to help him. Alcohol had become his crutch. The only problem with crutches is that if you don’t learn to stop using them you never stop needing them. And right now he needed a drink. Bad. If he was ever going to stop needing it, he’d have to stop. Cold turkey. If Mrs. Abernathy could beat her problems, then I can beat mine.
A little bit of insanity and night terrors weren’t going to get the better of him…no matter what the voices in his head say. And he wouldn’t need the booze to deal with it, neither. That was the easy way out…the road for saps and suckers. And then wasn’t the road that Felicity Anne Grieves taught her boy to take.
But the road he was setting himself on was going to be a tough road to travel and he was going to have to travel it alone now. After a month and a half, he’d have to face facts that Cyrano wasn’t coming back. His only hope was that Cyrano had somehow escaped when those vile creatures of Doctor Lazlo’s had attacked him in his apartment six weeks ago. He couldn’t bear to think of Cyrano trapped here alone with those vicious beasts. No, that thought was just unacceptable…Cyrano had run off and when Dutchy didn’t show up for weeks on end Cyrano moved on to better accommodations.
Yeah…that’s what happened.
Dutchy stared out his window at the sun setting over the city skyline. “Somewhere out there,” Dutchy thought to himself, “ol’ Cyrano is curled up in some rich old lady’s lap eating caviar and oysters. Yeah, that beats cat food out of a tin and sharing the occasional chipped beef sandwich with me.”
As Dutchy stood there in the rays of the disappearing that, for the first time since his return, he could feel the warmth of the sun and not the burning that had forced him to keep to the shadows and swaddle himself up against the light. “Who knows, maybe today marks a turning point for me in more ways than one.”
Dutchy’s reverie was cut short by a knocking on the door. The intercom system for the security buzzer at the main entrance had been broken for at least six months and the custodian’s fix for the problem was to leave the front door open and unlocked at all times. Not that Dutchy had much worth stealing but there were other people in the building to worry about and it also meant that the first warning he got for arriving visitors was a knock on the door just like this one.
“Just a minute.” Dutchy said as he walked across his living room to the front door. Dutchy glanced out the peephole before opening the door – can never be too careful – and was surprised to see the back of a head of lustrous auburn hair that Dutchy knew at once. He may have only seen her the one time, and it might have been two months ago but that image had been imprinted on him like a hot branding iron on cold butter.
“Uh…just a minute…” Dutchy said as he scrambled about his combined living/dining room area scooping up dirty dishes, discarded pizza and Chinese food boxes in his path. He looks at his already over-flowing garbage can and kitchen sink and frantically looks about him for a place to stash his trash. He starts to head for the bathroom to dump everything in the bathtub and gets as far as the doorway before thinking better of it. “What if she needs to…yeah…not a good idea.” He then looks to the half-open doorway to the bedroom at the end of the hall. “Yeah, she’s a nun...bedroom’s the best place.”
Dumping his armload of dishes and refuse on the bed, Dutch caught a glance of himself in the bedroom mirror. Pale and drawn out, three days of stubble growing out of his chin and his hair going up in five different directions in the back. Not being able to do much else, Dutchy licked his palms and did his best to get his hair to stay slicked back as much as possible. It was an old trick that he hadn’t used since High School but, what the heck, the classics never go out of style, right?
Settling on as good as he could get in six seconds or less, Dutchy jogged the twenty feet to the front door and, having arrived, took a moment to breath deep and collect himself. With a deliberately slow and fluid motion, Dutchy opened his front door and, with his most erudite tone said “Good eveni…” and found himself unable to finish his sentence. He found himself unable to do anything but to stare at the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
There, in the arms of Sister Roslyn was scruffy little two-tone cream and grey tabby mix named Cyrano de Bergerac, The Second.
“Cyrano!” Dutchy finally managed to get out.
Sister Roslyn moved to hand over Cyrano but before she could, the cat leaped out of her arms and into the arms of Dutchy who had years of practice at catching Cyrano in one of his impromptu greetings.
“Cyrano…I thought I’d never…oh, let me hug the stuffing out of you…” And he did as the contented animal made no struggle to resist. For a few moments no sound was heard in the apartment save for the sound of a cat’s rumbling purr and the jagged breath of a grown man trying to keep himself from crying.
“So, I guess I’ve brought him to the right place, then.”
“Thank you sister…thank you so much. I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to me.”
“I think you just did.”
“Yeah, I suppose I did…but, tell me, how did he end up with you?”
“Well, it was all just a matter of timing, really. I had come by to discuss the possibility of you donating some cab rides as secondary prizes for one of our mission raffles. This must have been the morning after you were…well, the morning after you disappeared. Your door was wide open and some of your furniture was overturned. I looked around trying to find you but the only thing I found was this little guy hiding on the top of the kitchen cupboards. The poor thing was trembling like a leaf. I asked around at your neighbor’s doors but no one seemed to know or care about where you were. I called the police. At first they didn’t want to take the case too seriously until they punched your name into their computer. It seems that they were red-flagging everyone that day that had anything to do with the Doctor Lazlo case. I guess I don’t need to tell you why.”
Dutchy didn’t say anything, he just stood there nuzzling his cat like a little kid cradling his favorite teddy bear.
“Anyway, I wasn’t going to leave your cat here alone and your neighbors didn’t exactly seem like caring and concerned types, so I took him back with me to the mission. He’s become quite popular there; he’s become the unofficial mascot at the mission and just having him around has done some people a world of good. I would have brought him back sooner but I was away for the past two weeks at an ecclesiastical retreat. I only returned this morning and once I found out you were back…well I knew it was time for this little guy to come home.”
“Thank you, Sister. You want cab rides for your raffle? I’ll give you a whole dam…errr…a whole cab.”
Sister Roslyn laughed at that, her laughter like the tinkling of bells, and she said “No, that’s quite all right. The raffles gone by now but I’ll keep that in mind for the next one.”
“Anything I can do for you Sister, anything at all. You just name it and I’ll get it, get it done, or get rid of it for you.”
Sister Roslyn smiled and started to say “That’s all right, really…I…” but then, glancing past Dutchy at the half empty bottle of whiskey on his table, she thought better of her self. “Actually I could really go for a coffee if you could manage it.”
“Coffee? Sure, I think I can manage that.” And, with a move practiced a thousand times over, Dutchy shifted his arms and Cyrano seemed to flow uphill until he was draped around the back of Dutchy’s neck like a fur stole. The cat remained perfectly balanced there as Dutchy navigated through his kitchen area, puttering about the kitchen loading the coffee maker and trying to scrape up two clean cups.
As he pulled a milk carton out of the fridge, Dutchy took one look at the expiry date and took a tentative whiff of the contents. “Uh, how do you take your coffee?” Dutchy asked in a nervous voice.
“Black, two sugars.” Came the reply from the other room.
Dutchy let out a deep breath as he tossed the milk carton aside on the cluttered kitchen counter. Without much further ado, Dutchy finally managed to wrangle up two cups of coffee and had seated himself, and Cyrano, in his old wingback armchair while Sister Roslyn had settled herself in on the couch.
“So, Dutchy,” started Sister Roslyn, “how have things been since, you know, you’ve been back.”
“Oh…uh…things have been okay.”
“You know Dutchy, it’s a sin to lie to a nun.”
“What? It is?” Dutchy asked with a start.
Sister Roslyn laughed out loud. “No, Dutchy, it’s not. But I can tell from your reaction that you’re not being completely honest with me.”
“No, I guess I’m not.”
“Why don’t you tell me how you’re really doing.”
And with that, Dutchy began to talk. He talked about his feelings. He talked about his fears. He talked about the horrors of seeing things a man should never have to see. He talked about his contempt for Mrs. Abernathy’s nephew, who felt that a game of pool was more important than his aunt’s life. And he talked about Mrs. Abernathy’s miraculous recovery and the fact that it had renewed Dutchy’s belief in…well…something. Whether it be a higher power or just the human will to survive, it was enough to inspire Dutchy to try and get his life back on track.
But mostly he just talked.
He talked and Sister Roslyn listened.
He talked for hours until he realized that it was past midnight and offered to give Sister Roslyn a ride back to the mission. He escorted Sister Roslyn to the black shiny new limo (that Jimmy had polished every day that Dutchy was “away”) and held her door open for her with the flourish of a 17th century footman. Sister Roslyn gave a curtsey as she stepped into the limo.
And then she listened some more as Dutchy continued to talk as he drove across town to the mission. As they neared the mission, however, she finally took an opportunity to speak.
“Dutchy, every Wednesday night I host an impromptu discussion group. It’s mostly people, like you, that have been through some trying experience in their lives and how they are trying to put their lives together.”
“Oh, I dunno Sister. Doesn’t sound like my kinda thing.” “Dutchy, a few hours ago you were asking if there was anything that you could do for me. Well I’m calling in my marker. You show up for one meeting and I’ll call us square. Deal?”
“You said ‘anything’ Dutchy. Are you a man of your word, or not?”
“All right, Sister, you got me. I’ll be there. What time?”
“Get there around 8:00pm.”
“All right, Sister, I’ll be there.” Dutchy said as he pulled to the curb in front of the mission.
“Good. You won’t reqret this, Dutchy” she said as she got out of the car. Before she closed the door, she held it open for a moment and said “Dutchy, I can’t begin to fathom what you went through for those five weeks…but I do understand a little something about putting your life back together. I wasn’t always a nun, you know.”
And with that she slammed the door and walked away towards the mission doors.
As Dutchy watched Sister Roslyn walk away, he couldn’t help but say aloud “Now where was I back then?”
“Mrowr!” came a voice from the passenger seat next to him.
“Yeah, you’re right Cyrano, I’m better off not asking questions like that. So, home Cyrano? Or once around the park?”
“Home it is, then! But I gotta warn you, the place has kinda fallen apart since you went away…I think we’re going to have to fire the maid.”