MICHAEL SIGN POST 4
Michael stumbled through the dank alley, drinking generously from the bottle he carried with him. He kept it wrapped in a brown paper bag, wrinkled and torn, that hid the label. One might have assumed it was a bottle of bourbon or whiskey--something with some kick to it that would leave a satisfying burn as it flowed into the belly--but one would be wrong.
Wrapped in his own brown jacket, wrinkled and torn, Michael did his best to hide himself from the world. He was homeless and had been for some months now. It had been a long, slow burn to homelessness, but when it happened everything seemed to implode at once. He lost his job. He lost his wife. Shortly after he'd lost his house. He'd gone to a few friends looking for help. One of them had given him a couch to stay on for the night but had sent him away when his friends wife said she didn't want him there. Another had said he wished he could do something, and then tentatively handed Michael a few rolled up bills with a look of what Michael was sure was disgust. Michael had thanked his friend for the bills and stuck them in his pocket. He didn't count them until he was out of sight and was disappointed, but not surprised, to find nothing but ones in the roll. Eight of them. Michael had lost everything, and the people he thought cared about him, that he thought he could count on, were good for one night on a couch and eight bucks.
The ache in his bladder as he stumbled drunkenly through the darkness told him it was beyond time for a release. He'd been going in alleyways and dark corners since he lost his home, but still couldn't manage a drop, even while drunk, without some pretense of privacy. He scanned the alley for a corner to go in, found an old dumpster. He made for it while carefully but ineptly attempting to slide the bottle back into his jacket pocket.
He leaned into the nook formed where the metal corner of the dumpster came against the brick wall, resting his head and shoulders into the corner. There was a small gap between the dumpster and the wall where Michael unzipped and let loose.
There was a sound of splashing like rain drops and Michael looked to the darkness of the
night sky. It did indeed appear that rain was imminent, but there was none yet falling. That's when he realized it was his own stream splashing into a puddle behind the dumpster. He began to laugh drunkenly at himself. When he was done, he took care to zip up and began stumbling on his way again.
A weight in his jacket pocket thudded against his hip as he lumbered along, a reminder of its presence. It was a weight he was very familiar with, a weight he had carried for years. It wasn't the weight of the bottle or the liquid in his pocket drawing his attention, but the weight in his belly--the weight in his mind--that called out to him. It was the same weight that caused him to spend the eight bucks his friend had given him not on a couple of value items down at the McDonald's, but on a small bottle of liquor.
He pulled the bottle out again without a thought and lifted it to his lips. The taste of peach Schnaaps flowed over his tongue and to the back of his throat. It was by no means his first choice--he didn't care much for the taste of peach--but when one is in his position, one often doesn't hold out for first choices. Besides, he didn't care if it was peach Schnaaps or mouthwash as long as it did the job.
He felt the drink go into his belly and felt a bit of the weight slip away momentarily before starting its slow build up again. He was taking a few moments to relish the feeling when he heard a sound. Some sort of scuffling. He might have assumed it was a rat in the trash if it had stopped at that, but it didn't.
He walked to the edge of the alleyway and peeked around the corner. There was a woman there with a very scared look on her face as a man stood behind her, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other holding a small knife to her throat. Even at his distance he could see the sharp point of the knife pressing into her skin, ready to open it up at any moment.
He felt the icy cold fingers of fear suddenly gripping him, running through his veins. He started to run, but his legs wouldn't carry him.
As he stood there quivering and trying to clear his mind of the fear and inebriation, he heard the woman say something. It was a single small word squeaked out in a desparate plea.
"Help" it said.
He was sure she hadn't seen him yet, that she was just trying to call out to anyone passing by, anyone at all. He could still leave, pretend he hadn't seen it and keep moving. He felt himself turning back to the alleyway, one hand groping shakily along the bricks, cold and wet, and he was suddenly aware that it had begun to rain. Not a quiet drizzle, but a downpour.
He heard her voice again calling out in choked croak.
And it suddenly began to feel real and he knew he couldn't leave. He was that woman's only hope, he told himself. If he left now, who knew what would happen to her?
But who knows what will happen to you? another voice in his head asked. You're nothing but a drunken hobo, it said. What are you going to do? Clobber him with your bottle of Schnaaps? He'll kill you.
Michael stood frozen in the cold rain wondering what he should do. If he left, he told himself, the woman would die. If he stayed, if he tried to help, what would happen? The voice was right. He didn't have anything on him but a near empty bottle of alcohol. He was drunk and didn't know how to fight on a good day.
You're just an old, drunken hobo, the voice continued, cast out of society like the trash in the dumpster you just pissed behind. That same woman has probably passed you a hundred times while you sit on the sidewalk wondering where you would find your next meal and never so much as handed you the change from a five dollar cup of coffee. Why help her out? You're nothing but a hobo.
"No," he said to himself. "No, I'm not."
And despite the icy fear that still flowed through him, he took the step out from behind the corner. He stood there in the orange glow of the sodium lamp, not really sure what to do next. But it didn't matter. The mugger quickly spotted him.
"Stay back," the mugger ordered. It was hard to hear in the pouring rain. "Stay back or I spill 'er guts."
Michael still wasn't sure what to do. So many thoughts raced through his mind. He couldn't catch hold of any of them.
But he could feel something stirring deep inside of him. And it pulled at him, tugged at him, like a weight. And without thinking, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the bag of Schnaaps, still wrapped in it's brown paper sack. He put the mouth of the bottle to his lips and turned it up letting the liquid inside flow down his throat like the rain rain over his shoulders, letting it flow until the bottle was empty.
"Please, mister, you gotta help me," the woman pleaded as she reached out to him with one hand. Michael wanted to reach back out to her.
"Aw, he aint nothing but a bum," the man told her. "He ain't gonna help you, now quit squirmin and give me ya damn pur--"
Michael didn't hear anything after that. The cold fear had turned into a hot anger and suddenly he was rushing at them. The mugger looked up, shock on his face. Now HE was frozen in fear, Michael saw. Now HE didn't know what to do. And the feeling it gave Micheal was a good one. He raised his empty bottle over his head as he ran. And just as the mugger was remembering that he held a knife and was trying to turn it toward Micheal, Micheal brought his arm down in a hard arc that ended with a dull thud as the bottle connected with the man's skull.
The mugger did not go down instantly, as Michael had expected, but he did let go of the woman who ran a few yards off before turning to watch, her hands now clasped firmly over her mouth.
Michael looked at the mugger who had been momentarily knocked senseless. He was shaking his head. It reminded Michael of the nights when he got lucky and was able to get his hands on some good hard liquor. The kind that left his head spinning and made it hard to focus. But Michael wouldn't give the man time to focus. He lifted the bottle and brought it down again and again until the mugger lay on the ground, motionless, his face covered in lumps, his skin broken and bleeding.
When he was sure the man was no longer a threat, he kicked the knife out of his hands and looked up at the woman who still stood there, eyes wide and hands over her mouth and found himself once more not sure what to do.
He stepped forward, raising his right hand to offer her a handshake before being on his way, but she yelped and took a quick step back.
"Leave me alone," she said. "I don't have any...anything." She started quickly fishing through her purse, found something, and threw it on the ground at her feet.
"That's all I have, I promise," she said.
Michael looked at the ground at the wads of green paper laying there, slowly moving away on tiny streams that flowed over the pavement.
"Thirty seven dollars. That's all I have," she repeated.
And for just a split second, Michael thought about bending down and taking it. Thirty seven dollars, after all, was more than his friends could scrape together for him when he had gone to them for help. And it would buy him a couple bottles of peach Schnaaps. Or hell, it could buy one bottle of something good.
"I don't want your money," he said. "I--I was just tryna help." He took another step forward, but stopped when she yelped again.
"Just take it," she said, almost a scream. And it wasn't fear he thought he detected this time, but anger. "Just take it and leave me alone," she screamed. And she turned and ran.
And Michael stood there in pouring rain, wondering where his buzz had gone, not sure if it was the rain running down his cheeks or his own tears as he bent bent to pick up the womans money.