Soon they landed back in court. Virgil had lost a very lucrative business deal due to some the client’s daughter. Now his business was in trouble and he tried to reclaim his two thousand dollars and to prevent Cindy from using a shared savings account (one set up by them for the window seat and alcove installation) to pay for the repairs. Virgil lost this case, but it did not matter much to Cindy. The check and the account together still wouldn’t cover the initial window cost, let alone the window seat/alcove addition and now she had more attorney’s fees on top of it.
Cindy’s workplace had luckily hired a temp while she was out, so her job awaited her when she left the hospital, but long hours sitting at a desk were hard on her back. Her manager tried to accommodate her with an ergonomic chair, which helped, but not enough. Finally, despite her manager’s objections, she quit.
Debts began to pile up. Past due and over due notices appeared in her mailbox.
She had gone to a religious school as a child and some of the lessons still surfaced in her mind: things about loving your neighbor and keeping the Sabbath day holy. But these lessons had long parted ways from her life, and the words ceased to have meaning for her. Till she came across a muddy flier that attached itself to her shoe on her way home one night.
She had nothing to lose, so she went to the church soup kitchen down the street from her apartment.
She’d done her hair and makeup, worn a dress, so she didn’t fit the profile of someone in need. They did not turn her away, but the disapproving stares of several of the older ladies made her want to vomit. She left without eating.
How would not working on Sundays help her now? How would picking up a beaten man on the side of the road help her now? She had been beaten and left for dead, and just like the story, the clergy, the people who were supposed to help, just passed on by.
A steady clip, clop, clip, clop sounded in the distance.
Cindy got up from her kitchen table, went into the living room and turned off the TV. A Western had begun to play in her absence.
That night Cindy went the one place she swore she’d never go again.
“Been a long time,” the bartender said.
“You remember me?” Cindy asked.
“I remember your tips,” he said with a smile.
Cindy blushed, unsure whether she heard him correctly.
“It’s not every day a lady gets sloshed the way you used to, cleans up for a couple of years and comes back,” he continued. “Most are only gone a month, some just a day, if they make it to a year I almost never see them again.” He smiled. “Except at the grocery store.” He let that sit a minute then added, “You’re also quite pretty.”
“Thanks,” Cindy said. She smoothed her hair and sat a little straighter on the stool.
The bartender picked up a glass to wipe and looked out into the smoky atmosphere.
“You sure you want to be here?” he asked after a long pause.
Cindy stayed quiet for a long moment before sliding a twenty across the bar, her last twenty. “My usual please.”
“Rum and Coke, hold the Coke?”
Cindy nodded and waved off her change when he brought her drink. It was the last bill she had, but his comment and her pride stopped her.
Above the blaring music she heard an odd, high-pitched noise, when she asked the bartender he apologized. “It’s the squeak of one of the belts on the air conditioner, doesn’t last long,” he said.
“That’s alright,” she said. “It sounds kind of like a choir. Like the one at St. Luke’s when I was a girl.”
“That it does,” the bartender said. “That it does.”
After the bartender moved on to other customers, she just stared at her drink. While someone was around she could make light of her circumstance, but when alone she struggled to hold back the tears.
She never drank any of her Rum “and Coke” that night. She sat and looked at it for three hours straight, unable to take the first sip, but unable to leave.
Just before closing, she picked it up and put the glass to her lips. She paused there for a long moment, then put the glass back down on the table without a sip. She looked at the glass, at the alcohol still settling in it and the ice cubes slowly diluting it, spreading its potency and making her wish she could pound it down now like she used to. Let that alcohol rip and burn her throat all the way down till it stoked a fire in her belly and filled her up so full that it pushed her life, her worries, her stress, her fears out through her finger tips. To let her feel for just one moment what it’s like to be free, to be held in her Virgil’s arms, to know that he loved her, cared for her and would never again balk before death-did-them-part. But she sat there till closing, heart burning, throat unirritated, an eviction notice peeking out of her purse.