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Laura Lippman

The Most Dangerous Thing

© 2011

For Georgia Rae Simon

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,

For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

– JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, “MAUD MULLER ”

Go-Go

They throw him out when he falls off the barstool. Although it wasn’t a fall, exactly, he only stumbled a bit coming back from the bathroom and lurched against the bar, yet they said he had to leave because he was drunk. He finds that hilarious. He’s too drunk to be in a bar. He makes a joke about a fall from grace. At least, he thinks he does. Maybe the joke was one of those things that stays in his head, for his personal amusement. For a long time, for fucking forever, Gordon’s mind has been split by a thick, dark line, a line that divides and defines his life as well. What stays in, what is allowed out. But when he drinks, the line gets a little fuzzy.

Which might be why he drinks. Drank. Drinks. No, drank. He’s done. Again. One night, one slip. He didn’t even enjoy it that much.

“You driving?” the bartender asks, piloting him to the door, his arm firm yet kind around Gordon’s waist.

“No, I live nearby,” he says. One lie, one truth. He does live in the area, but not so near that he hasn’t driven here in his father’s old Buick, good old Shitty Shitty Bang Bang they called it. Well, not this Buick, but the Buick before, or the Buick before that. The old man always drove Buicks, and they were always, always, crap cars, but he kept buying them. That was Timothy Halloran Sr., loyal to the end, even to the crap of the crap of the crap.

Gordon stumbles and the bartender keeps him steady. He realizes he doesn’t want the bartender to let go of him. The contact feels good. Shit, did he say that out loud? He’s not a faggot. “I’m not a faggot,” he says. It’s just been so long since his wife slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, so long since his daughters put their sticky little hands around his neck and whispered their sticky little words into his ears, the list of the things they wanted that Mommy wouldn’t let them have, but maybe Daddy would see it differently? The bartender’s embrace ends abruptly, now that Gordon is out the door. “I love you, man!” he says, for a joke. Only maybe he didn’t. Or maybe it isn’t funny. At any rate, no one’s laughing and Gordon “Go-Go” Halloran always leaves ’em laughing.

He sits on the curb. He really did intend to go to a meeting tonight. It all came down to one turn. If he had gone left-but instead he went straight. Ha! He literally went straight and look where that had gotten him.

It isn’t his fault. He wants to be sober. He strung together two years this time, chastened by the incident at his younger daughter’s first birthday party. And he managed to stay sober even after Lori kicked him out last month. But the fact is, he has been faking it for months, stalling out where he always stalls out on the twelve steps, undermined by all that poking, poking, poking, that insistence on truth, on coming clean. Making amends. Sobriety-real sobriety, as opposed to the collection of sober days Gordon sometimes manages to put together-wants too much from him. Sobriety is trying to breach the line in his head. But Gordon needs that division. Take it away and he’ll fall apart, sausage with no casing, crumbling into the frying pan.

Sausage. He’d like some sausage. Is there still an IHOP up on Route 40?

Saturday morning. Sausage and pancakes, his mother never sitting down as she kept flipping and frying, frying and flipping, loving how they all ate, Gordon and his brothers and his father, stoking them like machines. Come Saturday morning, I’m going away. Hey, hey, hey, it’s Fat Albert!

When he moved back home six weeks ago, he asked his mother to make him some pancakes and she’d said, “Bisquick’s in the cabinet.” She thought he was drinking or whoring again, assumed that was why Lori had thrown him out. It was easier to let her think that. Then it turned out it was easier to be that, to surrender to drink and bad habits.

When it comes down to it, drunk and sober are just two sides of the same coin, and no matter how you flip it, you are still your fucked-up own self. It sure didn’t help that his current AA group meets in his old parish school, now a Korean church. It’s too weird, sitting on the metal chairs in an old classroom. Drink and the line gets fuzzy. Get sober and the line comes back into sharp relief, but then everyone starts attacking the line, says he has to let it go, break it down. Take down the line, Mr. Gorbachev . Boy, he’s all over the place tonight, tripping down memory lane in every sense of the word. Funny, he has a nice memory associated with Reagan, but it feels like he was really young at the time. How old was he when Reagan made that Berlin Wall speech? Sixteen? Seventeen? Still in high school and already a fuck-up.

But to hear everyone tell it, he has always been a fuck-up, came into the world a fuck-up, is going to leave as a fuck-up. Then again, whoever followed Sean was destined to be a disappointment. Sean-the-Perfect. You would think that with three kids in the family, the two imperfect brothers would find a bond, gang up on that prissy middle fuck. But Tim has always taken Sean’s side. Everyone gangs up against Go-Go, the nickname Gordon can’t quite shake even at age forty. Go, Go-Go. Go, Go-Go. Go, Go-Go. That’s what the others had chanted when he did his dance, a wild, spastic thing, steel guitar twanging. Go, Go-Go. Go, Go-Go. Go, Go-Go . GoGoGoGoGoGo.

Give Sean this: He’s the one person who consistently uses Go-Go’s full name. Gordon, not even Gordy. Maybe that’s because he needs two full syllables to cram all the disappointment in. Actually, he needs four. “Jesus, Gordon, how many times can you move back home?” Or: “Jesus, Gordon, Lori is the best thing that ever happened to you and you’ve got kids now.” Jesus, Gordon. Jesus, Gordon. Maybe he should have been Gee-Go instead of Go- Go.

He thinks about standing up but doesn’t, although he could if he wanted to. He isn’t that drunk. The beer and the shot hit him fast, after almost two years of sobriety. He was doing so good. He thought he had figured out a way to be in AA while respecting the line. They don’t need to know everything, he reasoned. No one needs to know everything. There would be a way to tell the story that would allow him to make it through all twelve steps, finally, without breaching any loyalties, without breaking that long- ago promise, without hurting anyone.

He gets up, walks down the once-familiar avenue. As kids, they had been forbidden to ride their bikes on the busy street that essentially bounded their neighborhood, which should have made it impossible to find their way to

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