How trite. How cinemaesque.

How like a novel.

To wake up in a car somewhere and not remember getting there.

Except I did. I was there because Althea was there. Fuck the driver’s license. I drove her there. She needed help! An adjustment in the medication, something. Hey, it takes one to know one. So I was at the hospital again, waking up at dawn in the parking deck with cars all around me, squealing around the hairpins looking for an empty space.

I brought her here because her parents worried more about the mile a minute babble that meant they needed back seat help to hold her arms while they took her in. That scared the shit out of them. But they didn’t place the same importance on the down side. That was probably normal around their place, easy to handle. Althea, more docile, more pliable, easier to live with. The new Althea: calm and manageable.

They probably thought Althea needed time. Time to heal. Maybe she needed her kids back. Her husband.

Sorry. That would be nice, wonderful, helpful. But those are all the products of a broken machine. Althea’s chin was on her chest. Her back curved, her posture bent round, the shape of a hook. She couldn’t smile like hell, at all. She needed somebody to take a look at the nuts and bolts inside.

Hell, it’s hard to get a manic person into the hospital. You can get your damn head bit off. “Go fuck yourself you mother fucking dot dot dot! I’m not going!”

Depression is easy.

“You don’t feel well, do you Sweetheart? I’ll take you to the doctor.”

That’s all it takes.

Gracie brought me in; I returned the favor – with Althea. I held her hand, gave her a few kisses on the forehead, walked with her like you’d walk an old lady across the street.

I brought her here at two o’clock, a.m. Took her to see our old friends in Psychiatric on the eighth floor.

After she was safe and sound, the paperwork underway, the parents notified, the doctors called into action, I hid in the coffee shop for awhile, caught up on the news. Then I went back to her car and snoozed.

Now, with the morning bustle all around, I dropped off the keys in the main lobby, told the receptionist who they were for – Altheas’ parents. They were in the hospital somewhere, certainly. I didn’t want to run into them. Let the nurses and doctors give them the scoop.

My duty done, I then got the hell out of there.

I left the big hospital again, back to Templetown, where all they have is a little hospital.

Dot dot dot.

Little hospitals do fine for the routine things: the sprained ankles, pneumonia, lots of various diseases, the average weekend gunshot wounds and stabbings. But not the mental shit.

Dot dot dot.

The little Templetown hospital is okay for dying in. Or, it’s as good as any place, just after dying.

Dot dot dot.

When my father died, they took him straight to Templetown Hospital. Why? He was already dead. But, then again, the doctor has to verify that, and doctors are too busy to make house calls.

He hung himself in the basement, that old, young, handsome dot dot dot. At least he waited for all of us to get a good start in life, finish school, get married, have a kid (The Wimp was just learning to walk). And what a fucking dynamo that guy was. Fixed us all up good. Had investments coming out of his ass.

But, just like Althea, he had that chin look going good in the final days. Walking around with it stuck to his chest, mumbling if he said anything at all.

Mom told him he was tired. “Get some sleep.” We all told him he was tired. Of course he was tired. He was a hard worker. Anybody who works like that needs some rest.

Well, let me tell you something, sports fans.

Rest is good, but it will only get you so far. Rest is not all it’s cracked up to be. A lazy weekend, breakfast in bed, sitting around with the Sunday paper – that’s rest.

When you love to talk and go days without saying anything that makes sense, blow people off, fall asleep at the wheel going 65 miles per hour down the freeway, so that you have to grab it and punch him in the arm, shout in his ear – that’s not rest. Hanging from a goddamn beam in the basement, in the middle of the night, with every light in the house turned on, classical music blaring away – that’s not rest.

So, I felt good about myself, with Althea deposited right where she belonged. I went to see Gracie, in her restaurant, her feet propped up, having her noon coffee before the afternoon prep rush.

“Where’s The Wimp?” I said.

She couldn’t believe her ears. Me, the changed man, so unchanged.

“That’s got to stop!” she said. “I like seeing you, wish you’d come more often, but you can’t keep calling her that. It’s a wall you put up between us.” Gracie shook her head, breathed, calmed herself. I waited patiently, had a seat. “She’s at school,” she said. She ignored me for a minute and looked into her coffee cup. “Want some coffee?”

I went behind the bar and fixed myself a cup.

“I love that wall shit,” I said. “You always were good at that poetic psychological stuff.” I sipped the coffee. It wasn’t quite hot enough. “You missed your calling.”

“How’s this for poetic?” she said. “Fuck you.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. No conversation would be complete without it. Nice to get it over with.”

Hey, a habit is a habit. Bipolar or not.

She still wasn’t looking at me. I had blown my chances for civilized acknowledgment. “Get out,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said. “I was in the mood to play.”

“Well I’m up to my eyeballs in shit today,” she said. She held her hand above her head. “This is my time, and I don’t have much of it.”

“How about if I come over tonight and see her?”

“Not tonight,” she said. She sighed, shook her head, looked like she was gathering a little forgiveness. “Tomorrow.”

“Dinner at my place?”

Gracie cut her eyes my way and laughed. See, she’s not all business, this loving ex of mine. I just have to meet her half way. Crack one on myself once in a while. That’s what they say, n’est pas? It takes two.

“Come over at seven,” she said.

“Maybe I can help her with her homework.”

She smiled again! She still wouldn’t look at me. But I looked at her, and a smile is a smile.

“Maybe,” she said.

So there you have it, mon amie. My cast of players. Alienation strikes often, and it strikes hard, here in the land of the living. Dinner at sevenish. How, how, how invitationish. How adultish. How dinnerish. Who knows, maybe even spaghettiish.

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