Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

         The Good Work of Our Lord

by Brittany Ackerman

It was kind of like Andrew had a gun so Luke wanted a gun. While Andrew was at work, Luke brought out his 9mm that he hid under the bathroom sink and shot it through the next room. Andrew didn't care for that. There’s still a hole in the oven no one ever got fixed. Andrew told me Luke was a fucking idiot. He asked me things like what did I see in him, how could I put up with his stupidity? I told him Luke was different when we met, before he got into steroids and Jesus. “Kid fucks more hookers than I do,” Andrew said once. That was something I chose to ignore.

I met Luke at the mall. He was buying a suit from my mom--she works at Macy’s-- and I was visiting her for lunch because I never had anything else to do.  He said he needed the suit for his sponsor’s wedding.  My mom pulled me aside.  She didn't really want me to talk to him; she said he looked like a hooligan.  But I introduced myself anyway while she went to pick out a tie.  He gave me his card and I put it in my purse. 

We went on a date the next day.  He told me he was a recruiter for treatment facilities, which meant he found addicts off the street or in meetings, people that had nowhere to go, kids who might be dead if he hadn’t stepped in and offered a helping hand. Until Luke I didn't know anything about the recovery world. My mom had tried over and over again to just pay doctors a bunch of money to make my brother’s problems go away, but Luke told me there was more to it than that. It was about behavioral therapy, changing your behavior. It was about changing your life.
Luke gave Andrew a lot of business, bringing him clients in the middle of the night, something we fought about because he’d leave me in bed to go pick a kid up from Orlando or Naples; he’d drive all night just to make money off of their insurance so he could afford a new video game or a fresh pair of Nikes.  One time Luke got a call from Miami and it ended up being my brother who was the “busted up junkie looking to score.”  They fought outside of a Taco Bell until my brother fell and broke his arm.  At least that’s what I understood through my mom’s incoherent sobs.  Luke gave me a hug when he came home early the next morning.  He said he couldn’t help my brother; that only God could, maybe if I prayed hard enough.  We never talked about it again.

When Luke left to “do good work,” it was just me and Andrew alone in the house.  Andrew made chicken and broccoli and always offered me some even though I said no.  I’d wear my pajamas out in the hallway and pretend I was looking for something just to get his attention.  He was much cuter than Luke, in a dark kind of way.  Luke had tattoos all over his body.  There was one that said, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” on his chest above his heart. In meetings he’d place his hand over the words. He once told me Jeremiah was his favorite book of the Bible, “After Isaiah, and Luke of course.”

Other times Andrew was gone too, at his own job, something that seemed more legitimate because he dealt with logistics rather than “herding.”  Luke often compared himself to a shepherd, like Jesus, while Andrew simply polished the pearly gates of heaven making sure everyone enjoyed their stay.  Andrew said his job was okay, it paid the bills; but he spent most of his money on guns and cybersex girls named Sabrina and Candy.  I never saw any girls over at the house for him except this one girl from Oregon named Holly who wanted to get married and have a family.  He said he met her in an online chat room.  He said she sent him a picture of her pussy the first time they talked. 

I missed Andrew more than Luke, so I pulled my laptop from the nightstand and searched for Andrew’s rehab facility, “Quiet Waters, Delray Beach, FL.” A picture of a blue building popped up, with text below telling the narrative of the center. Established in 1995, longstanding reputation in the community with young people and old alike, something about being next to Lake Ida. I clicked on the website and looked at the Staff page. I found Andrew’s image, his eyes- black, broad shoulders, no smile, black hair covered with a beanie. I enlarged the picture as big as it would go. I perused the sight and found a chat option. I clicked it, unsure of what that might entail, and a box popped up in the bottom left-hand corner of my screen.

“Hello, this is Andrew, I'm a rehabilitation technician, how can I help you tonight?”

My heart jumped. I felt like he could see me, but I knew he couldn’t.

“Hi.” I wrote.

“Are you okay? Do you need me to call 911?”

“No.”

“How can I help you tonight? Are you looking for treatment?”

I muted my TV even though he couldn’t hear me.

“What’s your name?” He asked, in lieu of my response.

“Holly,” I said, without thinking.

“Holly, where are you?”

I imagined Andrew sitting at his desk, taking off his auto-responses and leaning in, paying closet attention to our chat box on the screen.

“Oregon,” I said, playing along.

There was a long pause, but it said he was typing.

“Please don’t do this shit again, Holly.”

He left the chat and signed off. A few moments later another name came up on the screen. Jeff. A supervisor. I signed off and closed my laptop.
 
My mom set me up on a date with this guy, Craig.  He was bald and rode a motorcycle.  My mom hated Luke and even though I stressed to her he was my boyfriend. She said the same thing every time- “It remains to be seen.”  Craig was thirty-six, ten years older than me, and she met him at Macy’s too.  He was buying an outfit to go on potential dates, even though he didn't have any.  My mom showed Craig my picture, an old one from college, a sorority party where I wore a camo-print leotard and no pants.  We went out a few times, mostly to drink beer at dive bars or go shoot some of his guns at the range in West Palm.  He was nice, but I couldn’t see him becoming my whole world.

Craig took me to this place on the water one night in Boynton, but I told him I’d meet him there because the motorcycle made me feel sick.  It was actually the only thing I liked about him, but we hadn’t slept together yet and I didn't plan on that ever happening.  I took my mom’s car and realized after a few martinis that I shouldn’t be driving.  I didn’t want to go home and I didn't want to hitch a ride with Craig.  He kept calling me his baby, and I wanted to die.  He had a beard and was sort of a redneck.  He was the kind of guy who ate sticks of meat from the gas station and believed a dip in the river was a shower.  “That’s a shower from God,” he’d say.

I told him I had to get home and remembered I was close to Andrew and Quiet Waters in Boynton Beach.  I drove with such purpose, such great ambition; the kind of spirit one has when they’ve had too much to drink and know they’re doing something wrong, something sort of off the rails.  It must have been around two or so.  When I got there I sat in the parking lot. I couldn't get out of the car. There was a train coming. I was right off Dixie. I’ll get out of the car when the train passes, I thought. I sat in the car for another thirty minutes and I saw Andrew come out front to smoke a cigarette. He started walking toward the car and I realized I had the lights on.
           
“What are you doing here? Are you okay?” He asked.

“Yeah! I just wanted to see where you worked.”

“Uhh, okay. Are you sure you’re all right? You seem kind of manic. Is this about Luke?”
           
“Oh, no. We haven’t even really been talking.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Is it okay if we go in and just talk or something? I mean I'm already here.”

“I'm not really supposed to have guests while I'm working, but no one gives a fuck. I just need to feed the alley cats.”

He threw his cigarette in a puddle and walked me around the back of the blue building.  He took cat food out of his pockets and placed it in an empty dish outside the back door.  All of a sudden, a bunch of cats came out from under dumpsters and behind walls to have a snack.

“I'm the only one that feeds them,” he said.

“That’s nice of you.”
           
“Eh, they’re all gonna die, diseased and shit, but it’s the least I can do.”

One of the cats, a small grey one, nestled up against his bare ankle and he kicked
it away.

We walked inside the back door to the building.  The halls were lit but his office was dark.  There was a wide-open space in the middle and the desks were all around the perimeter.  It looked like someone could stand in the middle and give a talk about booking addicts into the facility, or like the employees might have a death match in the center.

Andrew brought an extra swivel chair up next to his in the cubicle and we sat in the dark with only the glow of his laptop screen emitting any light.

“Sorry, I have to keep the chats open in case someone wants to kill themselves or something.”

“I understand.”

“So what’s going on? Luke’s being a fuckhead?”

“I don't know. I'm just in a strange place.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I know I'm not supposed to be with him, but I don't want to be alone.

And I think it could work if he just...”

“If he just what? Was a completely different person?” He laughed.

“Ha! Yeah, right.”

There was a ding coming from his laptop.

“Hold on,” he said. “I gotta respond to this.”

I watched him press a few buttons and answer the chat that had popped up. It was a guy, Tim from Dallas, and he was looking for treatment. Andrew pressed a few buttons to elicit ready-made replies that he shot back out. I saw how impersonal the whole process was.

“Oh Jesus fucking Christ this guy wants me to call him. I gotta get my headset. Hold on. Sorry.”

“It’s okay, I’ll wait here.”

Andrew stepped away from his desk and began talking to Tim. His voice was robotic as he went over dates and prices, the logistics of getting Tim from Dallas to Delray.  I saw a text message pop up on Andrew’s phone that he left beside his computer.  It was a message from Luke.  Luke was asking if he wanted to see the new Tarantino movie the next night.  I checked my phone.  Luke hadn’t texted me.  Another message popped up: “Carly is coming, she can bring a friend for you.”  

Andrew came back to the cubicle and looked frustrated.

“What happened with Tim?” I asked.

“Fucker hung up on me. He was probably high.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.  This is the shit I deal with every day.”

Andrew grabbed his phone and glanced at the screen. 

“How late are you here tonight?”

“I'm doing a graveyard, which blows because Luke just asked if I wanted to go see a movie tomorrow but I’ll be so tired and probably fall asleep like a jerkoff.  Sometimes if there’s no activity online for a while, I’ll sleep under my desk or something.  But it’s been busy lately.  And remember Holly?  The girl…”

“From Oregon?”

“Yeah.  She’s been contacting me, a lot.  She messaged my work chat.  You’re lucky you’re not bat shit crazy.”

“I'm not going to see Luke anymore,” I said and wasn’t even sure why.  I felt like I needed to make a statement, a declaration of independence or something.

“You deserve better,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“What’s going on with your brother?  Did he ever agree to go into treatment?”

“Luke told you about that?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.  He kind of tells me everything.  I'm like, kind of his mentor.”

“My brother was Baker Acted last week.  He got out of the hospital but no one’s heard from him.  I'm kind of used to it by now…”

“I'm sorry.  And really, I mean it.  I used to be such a fuck up- I still am.  I was homeless for a while, used to spend every single cent on heroin.  I didn't shower for a month once, and when I finally got to take a shower at my next rehab, I stood there in the shower for long time, letting the dirt and crud wash off my body.  There was a big pool of black around my feet.  It wasn’t until then I realized I needed to get clean.  Maybe that needs to happen for your brother, that low point…”

“Rock bottom.”

“Yeah, exactly.  But damn, I'm sorry.  I hope he’s okay.”

I could feel tears rising, and I breathed in deep to keep them at bay.  I leaned over in my swivel chair and waited for him to move in close and kiss me.  He put his hand on my thigh and moved it up my skirt, felt the wet between my legs and began to kiss my neck, bite my ear, nuzzle his nose in my hair and smell me, deeply.  His lips never touched mine.  He pulled away and looked down, like he had just shot a dog by accident.

“I have to get back to work. I have some stuff to file and I just realized that the cameras might be working and if someone sees you I'm fucked.”

“Are you going to tell Luke I was here?” I asked.

“No. I think it’s best for the both of us if we don't say shit about this.”

Andrew walked me back to my mom’s car. I waited for a moment to see if he’d offer a hug goodbye, but that didn't happen. I drove all the way to A1A and took that back home instead of the highway. I pulled in across the street from my mom’s apartment on the other side of the Intracoastal.  The sun was just coming up over the horizon.  I walked out to the beach and took my shoes off, held them in my hands. I put my feet in the water, something I seldom did, even though I lived so close to the ocean. I said a prayer for my brother, like I did every night, and wondered if God could hear me.
    
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York.  She earned her BA in English from Indiana University and graduated from Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing.  She teaches Critical Studies at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA.  She was the 2017 Nonfiction Award Winner for Red Hen Press, as well as the AWP Intro Journals Project Award Nominee in 2015.  Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, Cosmonauts Ave, Fiction Southeast, and more.  She currently lives in Los Angeles, California, with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in November of 2018