Fiction · 09/23/2020

Anonymity

Remember that alcoholic you tried to help, the one you took to those meetings, those meetings you were attending yourself because you needed help to stop drinking and the only way to get it, they said at those meetings, was to give it? Remember those boxes he asked if he could store in your garage because he’d just lost his apartment and was basically homeless now? Remember how you made a place for them in a dry corner near the bicycles and Christmas decorations, how he promised he’d come back for them soon, but then he stopped coming to the meetings and months went by and then it was winter, the boxes huddled in the dark against the cold? Remember how you made it through the holidays without a drink, then asked around at the meetings but no one had seen him? Remember how you thought of looking online for an obituary, but you didn’t even know his last name — because anonymity, they said at the meetings, was the spiritual foundation of all their traditions? Remember when you decided to open the boxes—just to look for his name, you told yourself — and (Merry Xmas!) what you found were hundreds of albums and CDs: oldies rock and jazz and folk and blues, many of them rare and out of print? Remember how you carried them into the house and took them out one by one and made a list of the titles and listened to them all over the next sober weeks and months, and by the time you celebrated a year clean and sober his record collection had merged with your record collection? And someone at the meetings said he was dead. Are you sure? you asked. Yeah, they found him frozen to death last Christmas in a snowbank. Remember the brief shock, then the sweet relief you felt washing over you, thinking only of the records and yourself, how you got home that night and went through them again, counting like a miser, listening, touching, admiring, sniffing? Remember how that sweet relief began to turn sour, how it burned, how pretty soon you couldn’t even listen to the records anymore, the pleasure gone now? Remember how you ended up selling them all for a thousand bucks, then ended up picking up a drink, then ended up spending all the money on booze and drugs, then ended up back at the meetings, where the help was, the help you got by giving it away?

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Paul Hostovsky’s latest book is Deaf&Blind, forthcoming from Main Street Rag. He has won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, and the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. Visit his website at paulhostovsky.com.