One Step at a Time
‘You saved my life.’ Whether Leonie addressed the emptying flask or the man, freshly-buried six feet beneath her knees, she couldn’t tell.
She raised the miniscule spout back to her lips and remembered, trembling.
Whether it was blind rage or the cold, she couldn’t tell.
She and Grant were engrossed, six years to the day, in the worst fight their relationship had seen. Meaning : not a word had passed between them in fifteen minutes, not since she’d bitterly accused him of tumbling off the wagon again during dessert, and his denials returned too weak; too half-hearted for her liking.
My life is unmanageable, he’d mumbled, reading from the script, down to the placeholder that substituted for her name. I have no power over alcohol, Lee.
Leonie scowled when he’d first brought it up. A man, too feeble to experience life, except through the bottom of an endless whisky glass, now cowered afresh. Hidden behind the drafted and re-drafted weasel words of a secret society that itself claimed a refuge of anonymity for its members.
Only a Higher Power can restore my sanity. Whatever or Whoever – Whomever – God is, He’s in control.
‘Yeah,’ she sneered, ‘so remember how I used to sit on top of your pedestal? What happened to that, huh? I suppose when you’re gutter-trash, a gutter-snipe, a gutter worm, anything is higher. Maybe God can put all our money back into our account, since He’s in control, right? What’s it to be, Grant? Lottery tickets, or more overtime for Leonie? Let me guess.’
The words were vinegar, and the liquid in the flask became so.
Grant swished his warm, knee-length, heavy coat around her shoulders – a gesture she’d have blushed and called gallant in their courtship, only now it passed unmentioned. Innocent onomatopoeic childlike words like ‘tipple’ and ‘flutter’ belied the very adult addictions each struggled against. Held out like fencing sabres, to wound the other, score petty points and defend themselves.
On impulse, Leonie swung them down a dark alleyway, stagnant pools of something foul remaining behind, in the distorted undulations of the footpath. Angry clouds of her mind had whipped into a tornado, ready to touch down. She took a deep breath and prepared her tirade.
Before she could begin, a junkie leapt, barefoot from an alcove, staring eyes wide, though vacant. He waved a large syringe, boasting a drop of bright-red blood on the needle-point, and snatched Leonie’s clutch purse.
Leonie shrieked and the junkie panicked, swinging the needle down, plunging it hard, into her chest.
‘It was raining, just like now,’ she challenged the grave, tucking a stray wisp of hair behind one ear. ‘I never once cheated on you, but I pissed my pants, blamed the rain and no matter how fucking angry I was with you, I grabbed your arm when that druggie turned up. Begged my parents for my inheritance early to cover my losses on the pokies. So, there. How’s that for a fearless moral inventory? I’m as weak and flawed as I’ve ever accused you of being. And I can keep a secret, much better than you.’
‘Are you happy now, Grant?’
The syringe didn’t penetrate.
Metal ricocheted off metal as Grant’s hidden shame was discovered. The junkie panicked and bolted, dropping the syringe, its needle bent. Grant, bellowing, hared after him, but Leonie’s fury erupted. As Grant raced down the street, he slipped in a puddle but Leonie had already extracted something from the secret inside pocket, hurling the small metal object.
Grant stumbled and in the split-second available, could either rub the back of his head or brace for impact.
He made the wrong choice.
‘My God, we cheated death!’ With a thumbnail she traced the narrow gouge carved in Grant’s tiny, square flask. ‘And I hung my disappointment in my own secret addiction on your shoulders, just like that coat. If I could have my time… our time again… Grant, believe me – I’d fix it. I’ve never thrown things around before. You know that! I was – am – so desperate. I’ll keep a lid on my temper. I’d do anything! I will do anything!’
Sobs racked her body and tears joined the rain, pouring down her cheeks.
Unable to arrest his fall, Grant stumbled; plunging headlong through the plate-glass of an all-hour alcohol store.
Blood gushed from his neck in hot spurts, steaming on the footpath. Leonie raced to his side, wrapping willing hands around his throat. The student serving behind the counter made a frantic call to the store owner, but not until Leonie had screamed at him to call an ambulance first.
She muttered a mantra, while Grant gaped and choked, gurgling blood. ‘Stay with me, Grant. Help me, God. Please help. Save him and I’ll do anything. I’ll doorknock if you want. I’ll give up everything.’
‘Stay with me, Grant; please stay with me.’
The store-owner beat the ambulance to the scene. The kid had given an accurate account of what he’d witnessed, and the police closed the store, whilst the paramedics finished with Grant’s body.
Leonie’s empty purse was discovered, discarded in a nearby bin.
‘If you need me to say the words, then fine, I’ll admit it,’ whispered Leonie, pouring the water out of Grant’s hip flask, her free hand pressed into the soft earth. ‘I’m powerless without you. My life is unmanageable.’