Is it bad that I love my own work? Maybe, but this is one chapter that wrote itself as I went along, I had no idea what was going to happen until it did.
Dorothy stood at the door of the Fisherman’s Cafe, smelling the sea air and feeling the sun on her face. On her drive this morning, the mist slowly cleared as the sun came up, and the bluebells in the woods seemed to be singing the hope of a new beginning. She really loved the spring, and the promise it held of new beginnings, and new hopes. Maybe people wondered why she bothered to open so early in the morning, and it was correct that she often did not get many customers until later in the day. She did it because she loved the coast and the sea and the woods, and this was her time. And it helped her remember.
Fifty years ago she had been a rebellious teenager, who knew everything. No one would tell her what to do, where to go, or how to spend her life. She started smoking when she was 12, and it wasn’t long before she was drinking too. Her Mum shouted at her, telling her not to be so stupid, and that she was throwing her life away. Maggie just laughed it off; she was young and invincible, and it was fun.
After one enormous row, she had packed a bag and started to live rough around the beaches and resorts in the area. It was a long summer of hazy memory, composed of booze, drugs, and sex, fun at first, then just normal, but eventually she discovered that she didn’t actually like the person she had turned into. She decided to settle down and get a job, so she came home, made peace with her Mum and started looking around for work.
The first job she found was in a pub. The Feathers was just a couple of miles from her home, and it offered the sort of hours she liked to work. As an added bonus, it seemed, all the older men in the bar liked her and kept buying her drinks. The even offered to drive her home after work, and if sometimes they had wondering hands, well Dorothy could look after herself, and it was a small price to pay for not having to walk.
The first time the landlord took her aside to talk about her drinking, Dorothy was outraged. How dare he, she thought, how dear he suggest that I have a problem! She decided to prove him wrong and only accepted soft drinks from the regulars. That lasted about a week, and then she found herself taking “just one drink,” and soon she was getting as high as she’d ever been.
The next time the landlord said something to her she was more worried than angry. She remembered her resolve, and how it had come to nothing. Also, it was made clear to her that if she got drunk on the job again, she would be out of work, and so she decided to go on the wagon for good. Two days later she was drunk at the bar, and the landlord made good his threat: she was out of a job.
Over the next 5 or more years the pattern was repeated. She would get sober, find a job, but then lose it because of her drinking. Dorothy just didn’t understand it; she was a smart kid, and yet she could not stop herself from repeating the same mistake over and over. Her health deteriorated as her drinking got worse, and when her periods stopped, she refused to acknowledge what it meant. Then one morning she got out of bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was haggard, the skin fell from her bones, but there was an unmistakable bulge around her middle. For the first time in years, she started to think of someone other than herself, as she realized that she had an unborn baby that was dependent on her.
In her purse she had been carrying the number of her local AA meeting for a while, so she rang it, and went to a meeting that night, and every night for the next month. One of the ladies at the meeting persuaded Dorothy to go to the health clinic, and she was soon under the supervision of a doctor. As her time approached, she was desperate. She had been sober these last few months but had no job, no money, and no prospects. How was she to bring up a child? She made the only decision that seemed to make sense and put the child up for adoption.
Her sweet baby daughter was born in the first week of April. She still remembered the ride into the hospital, and the bluebells in the woods as she passed. She remembered as if it were that very morning holding her daughter in her arms and gently singing to her, as the baby made soft cooing sounds back to her. Then they came and took her away, and Dorothy cried for a month. The only things that got her through were her AA meetings and the fellowship she found there, and eventually, the hurt was covered by scar tissue. It still hurt, every day of the year it hurt, but it was bearable. Except on days like this one, days where the mist cleared and the bluebells sang welcome to a new beginning.
Within a year she got married to Tom, who she met at a meeting, and they had two sons. When Tom went back to drinking and left her, Dorothy brought up the boys on her own. She carried the memory of her first born with her everywhere she went but spoke about it to no one, and few even knew she had been blessed with a daughter all those years ago.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her phone ringing. She didn’t recognize the number that came up and answered cautiously: she had got a lot of sales calls recently, and it annoyed her. “Hello, this is Dorothy, who’s calling?” She said into the phone.
There was a long pause, and Dorothy was about to hang up when she heard someone take a deep breath on the other end of the line, as if they wanted to speak, but couldn’t. Using a gentler voice this time, she said “Are you OK m’dear? Can you tell me your first name? Do you have a problem with drink?”
This time there was a definite sigh, and then a young woman’s voice came on the line. “Oh God, I can’t do this, I‘m sorry, I just thought, I don’t know what I thought, I’m just so fucked up, and I don’t know where to turn.”
Dorothy had taken many AA calls in her time; they were never routine, but she knew the drill. She also knew from experience what it took to get to the stage where you were so desperate, you were ready to try anything, even AA. She talked and listened, and before long had calmed the girl enough that she had agreed to come to the cafe later, and Dorothy was hoping she could get the newcomer to go with her to that night’s meeting.
She started to get on with the day at the cafe, always on the lookout for the newcomer, who had given her name as Mary. Soon she spotted a young girl, maybe in her mid-twenties, in an old and tattered overcoat standing in the drive outside the cafe. She had that defeated air that Dorothy had come to know over the years, and from her dirty looks, it appeared that she had been sleeping rough for at least a few days. Dorothy poured tea into a take-out cup, added milk and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, and took it out to the woman.
“Mary? Here, this is for you.” Dorothy said, handing her the hot drink.
The girl took the cup, wrapped her hands around it, and seemed to relax as she sipped the drink. They talked about nothing much until Dorothy brought up a subject that had been worrying her since she had seen Mary’s appearance. “So,” she said, “Where have you been sleeping?” She saw Mary’s defenses come up again, so she went on, ”only I have a spare bed if you need one for a couple of days m’dear.”
As Dorothy suspected, Mary had been living rough, and she jumped at the chance of a warm room and agreed to go to a meeting that evening with Dorothy too. As customers started to arrive for lunch, Dorothy became busy, but she said that Mary could hang around the cafe until later if she wanted. While she worked, she was thinking about how to tell Maggie about the new house-mate she was going to have. Maggie knew that Dorothy went out to meetings a couple of times a week, but they had never really talked about why. The fact that Dorothy occasionally helped other alcoholics get back on their feet had not been something they discussed and had not come up in the last three months.
Over the years Dorothy had acquired a good sense of people, and she felt that Mary would not be one to take advantage of her. Even if her instinct was wrong, and it sometimes was, for herself she felt the risk was worth taking. There were enough success stories for her to continue with this outreach. In any case she made it clear that any of her guests were welcome on two conditions; first that absolutely no alcohol was allowed in the house, nor were they allowed to turn up drunk; and second that it was temporary while they rebuilt bridges. It wasn’t ‘tough love,’ as such, Dorothy was too kind-hearted for that, but she also knew that it was important these girls took responsibility for their lives and moved on.
Maggie was different, and Dorothy had at first been concerned about taking in a different type of guest. She was not an alcoholic, for one thing, although she had certainly been affected by alcohol in her life. Dorothy had even turned a blind eye when Maggie came home after having a few drinks, but now that she was helping another alcoholic again, and things needed to be discussed.
Lunchtime was a busy one, and Mary helped with the cleaning up of the tables and stacking the used dishes in the washer. As the lunch crowd left, Mary said she would go for a walk and meet Dorothy at her home later before going to the meeting, and the afternoon went on in its regular routine.
Dorothy had just closed up the cafe and took out her phone to call Maggie when to her surprise the phone started ringing, and she saw that it was Maggie calling her. What a coincidence, she thought, but was shocked when the first words Maggie said were: “Dorothy, do you know someone called Mary?”
“Oh, well, yes m’dear, actually I was about to call you and talk about that…”
Before she could continue, Maggie went on “Well, she’s at The Feathers, and they were about to call the Police, when she mentioned your name and the cafe, and something about staying with you? She’s been getting drinks off some of the men here, apparently. Anyway, she’s horribly drunk and… “
There was suddenly a lot of shouting in the background.
“Oh God” Maggie’s voice was quivering as she spoke. “She’s just thrown up all over the counter, sorry Dorothy, I have to go.” The phone went dead, and Dorothy, shaking with anger at the stupidity of it all, jumped in her car and headed off to The Feathers.
When she got there, an ambulance drove away, and Dorothy noted that one of the local police cars was parked outside the door. She went in and saw Mary sitting at one of the tables, with Police Office Davy to one side. He looked up as Dorothy came in.
“This one of your lot?” He said.
“I had hoped so,” Dorothy replied, “but maybe she’s not ready yet.”
“Well, I’ve run her information, and there aren’t any warrants for her. I could lock her up for Drunk and Disorderly, but I’m willing to let it go this one time if you can make her go to AA.”
It was a conversation they had gone over before, and Dorothy did not bother to explain that no one was made to go to a meeting, they had to want to. Instead, she sat the other side of Mary and spoke to her as gently as she could.
“Hi Mary, do you remember our conversation this morning? How you wanted to get better from all this? Well, the meeting is in a couple of hours, and if you want, I can take you in my car. And the offer of a place to stay still stands, but only when you’re sober, understand? I will not have this sort of thing in my house, not anymore.”
Mary mumbled a few words of agreement, and then Officer Davy read her a formal warning and put his notebook away.
“OK,” he said, standing up. “You are free to go this time, but next time I’m called to you being drunk in a public place it won’t be so easy. Understand?”
Mary nodded. Officer Davy turned to leave, then turned back to Dorothy and said “Good luck with this one,” before heading out the door.
The landlord, who had been hovering in the background until the police had gone, came up to the pair. “You going to be OK Dorothy? She made a right mess of the carpet over there, I’ll need to call in my cleaners before I open up again.”
Dorothy wanted to tell him it was his own damn fault. Why hadn’t he noticed Mary’s state before it got that bad? He must have seen her getting drinks from the locals, why had he let it get that far? But she knew that voicing that feeling was pointless. Instead, she said, “It’s OK Sid, I’ll take it from here. Only do me a favor, call me if she ever turns up here again?”
“Don’t worry,” Sid said. “She’s barred from now on.”
The rest of the evening was full for Dorothy; she took Mary back to the cottage and helped her clean up a bit, took her to the AA meeting, then home and a late supper for the three of them. She was just sitting down with a mug of cocoa when she realized that Maggie had been unusually quiet all evening.
“You OK m’dear?” she asked.
Maggie looked at the older woman, not sure exactly what the question was that was bothering her.
“When Mary started being load and obviously out of control, a couple of people mentioned your name, and when you turned up you were marvelous, and that policeman obviously trusted you, but,” Maggie paused, unsure of what to say. “It’s great of you, but I don’t really understand how you can work with those drunks.”
Dorothy smiled gently. “It’s because I am one of those drunks m’dear.” She said simply.
Quietly, as if she was talking about everyday events that had happened that morning, she told Maggie about her drinking career, her wanting to stop but being unable to, about finding AA and how she got sober, and about her firstborn child. As she talked she gently started to cry; not in a dramatic way, just that the memories came out that way.
“Don’t you wonder what happened to your child?” Maggie asked her.
“M’dear, these not one moment of one day when I don’t wonder about Misty,” Dorothy replied. “Oh the day she was born there were Bluebells in the woods, and the mist was coming up from the ground in the early morning, just like today. Her birthday is April 10th, so in 2 days she will be 42, probably married and with kids of her own, maybe grandkids too. I’ll go to the church and light a birthday candle for her, like I do every year, and pray that she is surrounded by family and friends, and having the time of her life.
“In AA we are told we need to help newcomers to keep our sobriety. Well, that’s true, but I also help them because someone once helped me. I can’t help Misty, but I can help those who come along. I hope that if my Misty ever needed help, someone would be there for her too. I don’t know if Mary will stay sober, I sure hope so, but it’s not my journey. All I’m responsible for is my actions, and I’ll keep helping these girls as long as I’m able.”
They sat in silence for a while, Maggie trying to integrate this new knowledge about Dorothy with the grandmotherly figure she had always seen her as. She was coming to realize that people were not always what they seemed.
“Now m’dear,” Dorothy got up from her chair, came over to Maggie and rested her hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “It’s late, and I need my beauty sleep before getting to the cafe tomorrow. It will all be OK in the end, you’ll see. And if it’s not OK, well, it’s not the end yet.” She lent down and gave Maggie a kiss on the cheek.
“G’night m’dear, sleep tight, and rise refreshed.”
Dorothy woke and checked the time; 4:30, and her alarm didn’t go off until 5:00, so what had woken her? Then she heard it again, the sound of someone in her kitchen. She pulled her robe around her and headed downstairs.
“Good morning m’dear!” She greeted Mary, who looked shocked and guilty.
“I couldn’t sleep anymore, and I thought I’d make some tea, you did say I could.” She had on one of Dorothy’s old nightdresses, much too big for her small frame, and making her seem even tinier.
“That’s fine m’dear,” Dorothy wanted to wrap the young girl in her arms and tell her that everything would be OK, but she knew she had to respect boundaries, so she contented herself with a smile and a gentle hug. “But you sit down, and I’ll get the kettle on, and what about some breakfast? We have eggs, bacon, sausages, and what about some toast and marmalade to be going on with?”
The voices had roused Maggie, and she joined the others in the kitchen, and soon all three were enjoying tea as the smell of cooking bacon filled the house.
“Now Mary,” Dorothy said as they sat down to eat breakfast. “There’s a noon meeting over in Bishopstown, you can get a bus from the village, it leaves at 11, so you’ll have plenty of time to get there. Do you have money for the bus fare?”
Mary checked and said that she had enough to get there, but not back, so Dorothy got out her purse and handed over some money. “You’ve enough there for the bus, and to put a couple of pounds in the collection at the meeting. You’ll get tea and a snack there, so that should tide you over. Then get a bus back into the village and come see me at the cafe and I’ll get you a late lunch.”
With Mary’s day planned out, Dorothy went to her bathroom to get ready, leaving the younger women sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea.
Mary’s recollections of the day before were muddled. She knew she had seen Dorothy at the cafe, and that she had been so happy that there seemed a way out of her problem. Then on her walk into the village, she was cold, saw the pub, and thought that maybe she could just rest for a bit, get warm, maybe have just one drink, nothing more. Then there were men and offers of drinks, and somehow it all escalated. She knew she had seen Maggie there, and then suddenly it clicked.
“You were serving at the pub, is that right?” She asked.
“Yes,” Maggie replied. “I have a couple of part-time jobs, and I work in The Feathers 3 lunchtimes a week. I hope to do more as the summer comes along.”
“Are you a relative of Dorothy’s?” Mary asked.
“No, I’m,” Maggie paused, not sure exactly what to say. Then she remembered something that Leo had said once, something that had sounded strange at the time but was making more sense now. “I’m just one of the waifs and strays that Dorothy looks after, just like you.”