American Contemporary Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

 “You can’t recover until you know what you are recovering from.” And once you recover, complaining doesn’t help change anything. “It’s like trying to turn a pickle back into a cucumber. You are a pickle now.”


David wouldn’t have believed that he had become a pickle, but he was certain that he was in one. He had been confined to a psychiatric hospital, given Thorazine and other powerful drugs that laid him flat out on the floor, unable to move except for his eyes which would roll up and see the doctors in their white coats as they stroll buy him in their satisfaction with themselves. When the doctors decided he was no longer a threat to himself or society, he got discharged and then promptly robbed a pharmacy of a bottle of quaaludes, got stoned, and then found himself in an addiction treatment center talking with some idiot who had no clue what to do with him. To say that he actually “found” himself while there was a gross over-statement of the situation. Yes, he was there, didn’t remember how he got there, but to say that he ‘found himself’ while there was, to put it simply, ridiculous. He went to lectures where he heard the story about the Velveteen Rabbit becoming real after it’s fur was rubbed off and its eyes had fallen out, attended group therapy which was kind of fun so long as the therapist didn’t call him out, but was busy getting other’s to talk. It was, he was told, talk therapy. David didn’t feel like talking.

And then there were the addiction anonymous meetings. They were once or twice a week and involved some guy in recovery telling his story. David fell asleep in those meetings, and wished they would just give him a quaalude or two. It was then that he could talk and feel normal. It had always been this way. Since young, maybe twelve, it was alcohol or later, drugs, that made him feel normal, and people seemed to like him better that way anyway, so what the fuck.  

So one night he got on the elevator and left. At least he was no longer on a locked unit. When he hit the streets, he calmed down a little and began to look for something, anything, to deal with the boredom in his life. As luck would have it, the treatment center was close to a bus stop that took him directly to what he called ‘shit street’. Every big city had one. It was for people with, as one famous singer had sung, the subterranean homesick blues. Street people, panhandlers, bums, prostitutes, pool halls, bars, all night massage parlors. All of his favorite things, and people, were there. And drugs of course. This is where he felt at home.

The problem now was that he had no money. He needed to think, so he panhandled a couple of bucks and bought a ticket to a porno theater where he sat in the back and watched and listened as other men groaned and moaned, came, and went. The dark air reeked and the floor was sticky. It was during this time that another man came into the theater and sat down in front, but off to the side, of him. David was curious about this one. He looked familiar somehow. All of a sudden it came to him. He was one of the doctors from the addiction unit. It seems that David wasn’t the only one looking for some action. After the x-rated feature had ended and the lights came on, the doctor got up and David followed him out into the street.  

“Hey Doc. How ya doin’?”

The doctor jerked his head around and looked at David, but didn’t recognize him. Why would he? David had only been on the rehab unit for a couple of days. “Who are you?”, the doctor asked worriedly as he walked quickly over to his car — a shiny black Cadillac Eldorado of all things. When David saw the car, he figured this guy was loaded, probably had a beautiful blond wife waiting for him at home on the hillside of an upscale neighborhood and was none too eager to be confronted by some psycho outside of a porno theater who knew that he was a doctor. Why, David wondered, would such a person drive a shiny new Cadillac to an x-rated movie, especially one on shit street?  

David couldn’t believe his luck, and began to smile. “I was on your addiction unit.” And, feigning offense, asked, “Don’t you remember me?” Dr. Ado didn’t remember, but it didn’t matter, his heart was pounding and his arm pits were sweating as the stranger knew who he was and had seen him in a porno theater watching topless women play volleyball and file their nails while sitting in skimpy lingerie. This was in the time before porn got hardcore and went online. It was just a run down theater for lonely men who wanted to whack off just one more time.

David had been living on the street long enough to know that the doctor was a prime target for him. The question was how hard to play it. How much money could he get, and what else might be in store. After a moment’s thought, David said, “No worries Doc. Your secret is safe with me.” And, almost in the same breath, asked if he could bum a $100 bucks to get him through the night. The doctor seemed relieved, went for his wallet and gave David $200. “There you go. All the best to you…”, ran over to the Cadillac, climbed in and sped away. The thing of it was, the doctor had one of those vanity plates, with this one reading DRADO. Bingo. David could remember it, the Cadillac would be registered of course, and all sorts of information could be obtained, especially if he knew the right people, which he did. The street was full of people who knew how to work the system.

The next thing he did, after scoring some nice dope, was to rent a room on Hotel Street that catered to men, and a few women, looking for a place to stay for a few hours, or the night. No questions were asked, unless one of the customer’s got bed bugs from the dirty mattress, which usually caused a stir. Other than that, and despite the moaning and bumping from the other room, David had his best night sleep in weeks. He was free, no one much cared where he was or what he was doing, and he had memorized the license plate of the doctor. 

As Dr. Ado sped away, he looked in the rear view mirror and saw the stranger claiming to have been on his addiction unit staring at the car. Had he seen the license plate? If so, this wasn’t going to be good, and he knew immediately that more money would be spent as he tried yet again to cover up his secret life. He was an addict, just like David, but being a doctor on an addiction unit might have been a perfect cover, but it was not exactly a good idea. The truth was that he also needed more money. The house on the hill, as it turned out, belonged to his wife, something she was quick to remind him of when she was upset with him, like when he bought the new Cadillac. “You’ve got one in the garage already dear, don’t you know.” “I know. I just love those cars.” “Well just be careful with it. A car like that gets attention and not always the kind you may want.” Truer words were never spoken. As he thought about it more, and nothing else happened, he tried to squelched the desire of going back to the x-rated cinema. It was a powerful addiction, as were the all night massage parlors in the same area of town. It had something to do with the night, the lights, and, of course, the girls. The ones from foreign countries who might as well have been indentured servants, as they not only did the owner’s business but also slept there and were moved around from one city to another so no one would count on them being in one place for very long.  

All the while, his wife sat and wondered. When her husband said that he had a night appointment at work she was afraid to ask any questions. She thought that some things were better left unsaid, or at least un-asked. Especially if the work situation was at night. Her father had also been a physician, and would tell her mother that he would be home late because of the need to see clients, so she was used to that now. But still…there was something. Something was going on, she just couldn’t imagine what, at least at first. As might be normal with women, she thought there might be another woman, but one night after her husband came home she hugged him and there was an odor. An odor, and a slinkiness to him. Like a slug she had found on the dark floor of her kitchen and which was moving inexorably toward the underside of her refrigerator. It grossed her out as she bent down with a tissue paper to snatch it away and throw it into the toilet trying to pretend that it hadn’t really been there. What a strange image to have after hugging her husband she thought, who promptly went upstairs to take a shower and go to bed. A few minutes later she found him lying in a fetal position looking very much like a small boy. The questions returned. Who or what was she looking at? As she laid down next to him on the king sized bed, she couldn’t bear to touch him for some reason, so, looking out the window at the moon hanging in the brilliant dark sky, tears came to her eyes and she prayed.

Meanwhile David was running out of money again. The flop house was cheap enough, but the drugs were expensive. He began to think of his doctor friend again, and even went to the x-rated theater down the block to see if he might be there. No luck. He figured, probably correctly, that the doctor was leery about coming back to that place and may have found a new venue to ease his tensions from the day. The next morning he went to the DMV to ask a friend if he could tell him the owner of the vanity plate. The friend could, but didn’t want to. “Hey man. I could lose my job if I revealed that kind of information. What’s in it for me?” The answer was drugs. David could get most anything with enough money, so they made a deal. His friend would get the information in exchange for some really nice weed, like Maui Wowie or something. “Comin’ right up my friend. How bout an ounce?” It was done. David was back in business, and the doctor became his ATM. 

Dr. Ado didn’t like being an ATM. His wife would be sure to notice eventually, which would set off a whole series of questions that he didn’t want to answer. He needed help. But from where? It was a good question, and one he needed to think about. Who could he trust that wouldn’t reveal his cover, tell his wife, his employer, or anyone else for that matter. The answer came one night after his addiction had been satisfied and as he sat in his leather chair watching the flames in the fireplace and holding his favorite cat. He needed an attorney. One who might know of a way to get rid of David and his growing desire and ability to get the doctor’s money. The next day a sign at a local post office caught his attention. He had been looking at the wanted posters, as was his habit after checking his private P.O. Box. The ad was placed there by an attorney, and said, ‘We help you find the magic bullet to your case.” Interested, he called the phone number on the poster and asked what it meant. “It means that we will help you get out of your problems. It isn’t a real bullet. It is a secret, sometimes buried very deep, that, once found, is the answer to your problem.” Dr. Ado liked that answer in a number of different ways, but realized that carrying it off, that is hiring someone like this attorney, would also cause attention, at least with his wife.  

“Don’t worry. We can handle that part. Is there a way for you to create an account that is separate from your other accounts which we can draw on as needed?” More money. “I think so, but it will take me a week or so. I need to sell one of my cars.” “No problem. We can wait.”

Selling the older Cadillac did the trick. His wife was happy to see it leave, and the $8000 dollars went into a newly created account, with the receipts and other communication going into his P.O. Box. So far, so good, but Dr. Ado began to imagine a time when he could just leave this area and be on his own. He was too well known. He wanted to be more like David in fact, he just didn’t know it yet. Like in a dream in which he was dancing in the lights of a street full of places like the porn theater. 

                         Part Two

            “Tip the world on its side and everything

             loose will land in L.A.”

                          Frank Lloyd Wright

The outcome of Dr. Ado hiring an unknown attorney, especially one who posted a flyer on a wall next to wanted posters, remained uncertain. But he liked the sound of the idea of finding a magic bullet, and the attorney sounded rational when they talked, so he hired him. He was hopeful. His wife noticed it, and was also hopeful, thinking that her prayers had been answered. The old Cadillac was gone, her husband’s mood had improved, and the slime creature, while not forgotten, was at least not visible. 

The first thing the attorney did was hire a private investigator specializing in uncovering dark secrets. What he found was a bit startling, but not totally surprising either. The doctor had a secret life involving prostitution, pornography, some of which he created himself, and cheating on his wife.  David was even worse. That guy needed to be disposed of rather quickly was the report back to the attorney. “Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem”, the attorney said. Can’t you just dump him in the river?” “No. Don’t be ridiculous.” Sometimes the private dick as he like to be called, had to shake his head in wonder at the crazy schemes his employer had in his brain. “Well how then?” Well, we know that he lives on skid row, uses drugs and has already been convicted of possession after breaking into a drug store. All we need is one more thing against him and the cops will take him away. End of story.” “But what about his knowledge of my client’s behavior?” “That’s your problem, but I would think that him going into treatment and coming clean of his addiction would certainly help. That way there is nothing to hide.” “Good idea, let me think about that.” “Yeah, you do that and let me know fairly soon. I’m thinking that we will give David a dose or two of acid. That’ll make him crazy, no one will believe his story and he will just be taken away.  

At the next meeting with his attorney the secret bullet was revealed. It was called honesty. He had to come to terms with his addiction and get into recovery. That way, if David ever did say anything that made any sense, he would be able to say that, yes, he had been at the theater in his desperation, felt terrible about it, but was now in recovery. “You know that you will also have to tell your wife the truth, don’t you”, said the attorney. He knew, but it might be the hardest thing he would ever do. Addicts don’t like being honest. But he did it. The risks of not coming clean were just too great. As he told her one day while sitting together on the couch in the family room he cried like never before and she hugged him, and they both thought the problem was solved.

     Someone told him in recovery not long after, however, when Dr. Ado was bragging about his recovery, that the person who thinks he is now a different person is not. “I don’t know if that person is ever gone,” the woman had said. But it was a good beginning, and as he began to slowly unwind his secret life he had to admit that the meeting at the theater may have saved his life.  

May 24, 2022 16:46

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Wally Schmidt
19:26 Mar 01, 2023

Love the quote you started off with and the story was equally engaging. I think the story would be improved with some more editing (new paragraphs for dialogue and making the paragraphs shorter). Editing is something I am working hard on in my own writing, so if I am projecting, I apologize because your story is a good one.


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Jim Cowles
22:43 Jun 01, 2022

Outstanding! While I would have liked to have more character conversation, you did tell us a lot about the main characters. You made me anxious to see how Dr. Ado was going to handle his problem. Good writing!


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