After the bar was finally closed for the night, Al retired to his little room in the back and sat down on his cot. He looked out the window at the rain, his thoughts racing. Humans were such a strange sort of people, he mused. So technologically advanced, intelligent, perceptive. And yet it seemed to him that something was missing in their makeup. For all their intelligence and sophisticated language skills, they seemed, for the most part, to be incapable of actually communicating effectively with each other—saying what they meant, for instance, really listening to each other and understanding what was said to them. “I must find out more about this paradox of their language capabilities,” he said to himself. “Maybe get up early in the morning and do some research.”
His thoughts were cut short by an urgent pounding on the back door that opened onto the alley. He got up quickly and unlocked the door, then pushed it open. There stood a young woman with long stringy hair plastered to her head by the rain. She was skinny to the point of malnutrition and was dressed in unspeakably filthy rags.
“Hi,” she said tentatively. “Are you Al? I was told I could find him here.”
“Yes,” admitted Al. “That’s me. Please, come in out of the rain. What can I do for you?”
The girl entered the room and looked doubtfully at the shabby décor. “I don’t know about this,” she said shyly. “Marjie told me you were a holy man.”
“Marjie? I don’t believe I know her.”
“You know,” she explained. “Marjie—Marjorie. The weird old lady who lives in the alley and drives everybody crazy with her meddling.”
“Ah, Marjorie!” he said, suddenly recalling last night’s visitation. “But who are you? What are you doing out here on such a rainy night? And what do you want with me?”
“I’m Suzie. Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.” She stuck out a grimy hand which Al shook rather gingerly.
“I’ll get right to the point,” she said, suddenly businesslike. “For weeks now I’ve been having these blinding headaches. They’re so bad that when I get them, it’s all I can do to keep from screaming or clawing out my eyes. Marjie sent me over here, said you had some kind of powers. Can you do anything for me?”
“Your Marjie is not as accurate in her assessment of me as she could be,” replied Al carefully. “But if you want your headaches to cease, there might be a way. What have you been doing to remedy the situation?”
“I’ve taken all the pills I could find and they didn’t help at all!” She started to cry. “I know there’s something really, really wrong with me. I can’t afford to go to a doctor and the free clinics just make me wait hours and hours for more useless pills. So, I guess you’re sort of my last hope. Is there anything you can do for me? Anything at all?” Dejectedly, she sat down on the cot, put her head in her hands, and began to sniffle.
Al handed her a paper napkin which she accepted gratefully. After she had blown her nose a couple of times, he said encouragingly, “Well, I’ll try to help. But you have to do the work.”
“Me!” She raised her head and looked at Al in astonishment. “If I could make it go away myself, don’t you think I would, in a minute. Why would I even be here in the first place? You’re making fun of me!” she said accusingly and got up as if to leave.
Al took her by the shoulders and pushed her gently down on the cot again. “What I meant was, you have to help me find out what’s wrong and then, if it’s possible, to help fix it.”
She looked up at him and silently nodded her head.
“All right, then, if you will permit me…” He parted her sodden hair and placed the fingertips of his right hand lightly on the center of her forehead. “Hmm,” he said after a few seconds. “Did you know you have some tissue in your brain that doesn’t belong there?”
“What!!!” She jumped up immediately and began to run around the room like a mouse in a cage. “Omigod! Omigod! I’ve got a brain tumor! I’ve got cancer! I’m gonna die! You got to help me, Al!” She grabbed him by the shirt. “Please, please, I’ll give you anything I got, just make it go away!”
Al gently took her wrists and led her back over to the cot. “Sit down, Suzie, and calm down. I think we can do something about this but, as I said before, you have to do the work.”
She sat back down lifelessly and looked at him with dull eyes. “OK,” she said simply. “What do you want me to do?”
While this scene was unfolding at The Last Resort, Rick the Relic was still in the East Bay. He was heading toward the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, driving as fast as he could, considering the treacherous road conditions.
“Man!” he said to himself. “I’m in trouble now. I promised Wanda I’d pick her up at The Last Resort at one-thirty and take her home. It’s after two now and I’m not even across the Bridge yet. Fucking rain!”
A short time later he came to a stop in front of the bar. The front lights were off and the place looked deserted. “Shit!” he said. “Well, as long as I’m here anyway I’ll have a look around. She might be in the back, helping Al clean up or something.”
He got out of the van and walked slowly around the bar towards the alley, looking in each window as he went for signs of life. As he approached the alley entrance he saw a dim light coming from the window and heard a woman scream.
“Holy shit!” he cried out. “What’s going on in there?” He cautiously approached the lighted window and looked in. He saw a young woman running around the room screaming and grabbing at Al’s shirt. “Fuck! What the hell is Al doing to that girl?” He danced around the window for a minute, trying to decide whether to go in and confront Al, call the cops, or mind his own business and pretend it never happened. He had just about decided on the third alternative, when he heard a voice. It seemed to him that it was inside his head, but what it was saying made him pretty sure that the voice wasn’t his.
Rick, it said calmly and expressionlessly, like a radio news broadcast, Open the door, come in, sit down on that crate over in the corner, calm down, and don’t say a word. Everything is all right.
For some reason, he did what the voice told him to do, without protest.
When he was seated, Al nodded at him approvingly and turned his attention back to Suzie. “Are you ready?” he asked.
“Who the hell is your friend? He sure doesn’t say much, does he? Is he a zombie or something? Am I going to end up like that?” She began to get agitated again.
“Don’t worry about him,” Al reassured her. “He sort of, uh, needs help, too. I’ll attend to him later. Now, just free your mind of all fear and worry and concentrate on the problem at hand.”
“OK,” she agreed, settling herself comfortably beside Al on the cot and closing her eyes. “Do your stuff, holy man!”
Once again, Al placed his fingertips lightly on her forehead. “Now,” he began in a low, soothing voice, as if trying to put a baby to sleep. “I want you to imagine being in a beautiful place. There is no pain there, only peace and happiness. Concentrate, and when you have this picture firmly in your mind, describe it to me.”
In a few seconds a smile began to form upon her lips and the pain lines around her eyes began to smooth, making her look quite a bit younger and almost beautiful. “I’m in a meadow,” she said wonderingly. “I’m barefoot and the grass beneath my feet feels ever so soft! I’m wearing a beautiful peasant dress. It’s springtime and warm and the flowers are so colorful and fragrant that I just have to pick a bouquet.”
“All right,” said Al, his eyes narrowed with concentration. “You’re warm and happy and free of pain.”
“Oh, yes,” she said in a childlike voice. “Nothing can hurt me here.”
“But something can,” he said menacingly. “There is an intruder, an invader! Look around, and tell me what you see!”
“Oh, shit!” said Suzie, her face once again contorted in pain. “It’s my ex-boyfriend. He’s wearing his stupid leather jacket and his fucking boots. He’s stomping all over my flowers. Make him stop!”
“Suzie,” asked Al calmly. “Do you want him to go away and never come back?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied vehemently. “Stupid fucking men, always getting in the way!”
“OK, I’m going to put a little more pressure on your head. Think of this as giving you the power you need to get rid of him.”
“Right!” agreed Suzie, really getting into it now. “Smash that fucker!”
As Al gripped Suzie’s head, she began to scream almost orgasmically. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” she yelled. “Get out of my head, you bastard, you don’t belong here.” She suddenly jumped to her feet, breaking Al’s grip and putting her own hands to her face. She opened her eyes cautiously. “Yes, yes, I can feel the pressure going. I can feel the pain going. I can see! I can think! It’s like I’m reborn!”
Slowly she began to relax, the tension being visibly released from her body. She went over to Al, knelt down, and put her head in his lap. Neither of them moved for a long time.
Finally Al said gently. “All better now?”
“I think so,” she said, shaking her head gingerly to and fro. She looked up at him with awe. “Al, you are some kind of miracle man. What did you do to me?”
“Nothing. You did it to yourself. I only helped you focus your energy a little. Now, you said you’d give me anything.”
“What…what do you want?” she asked him apprehensively.
“Just go in peace and don’t talk about this to anyone,” was the reply.
“OK. If that’s what you want.” She smiled at him shyly. “But thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Al brusquely. “Please don’t mention it.”
He opened the door and watched her go out into the alley. She was skipping through the rain screaming ecstatically, “Free! I’m free!”
He shook his head, closed the door, and turned his attention to Rick who was still sitting in the corner motionless in a druglike stupor.
Al clapped his hands. “So, Rick,” he began, as if continuing a conversation between them, “as I was saying before you nodded off, you just missed Wanda. I think she got a ride with Tim and Simona. So, how did it go with your art project?”
“Oh, wow!” murmured Rick, rubbing his eyes as if trying to wake up. “I think it went OK. If I’m lucky I should make some serious bread out of this deal.”
“Glad to hear it! But it looks like you’re really falling out. Why don’t you go home and get some sleep? I’m sure you’ll find Wanda already there.”
“Yeah,” agreed Rick, getting up and yawning sleepily. “I guess I should go now. But wait,” he said in confusion, as if trying to recall a dream. “Didn’t I see you just now with some young girl? What was all that about?”
“Oh, you must mean Suzie. She just came to see me about her tension headaches. I know a bit about that sort of thing, and I’m always glad to help whoever I can. You know,” he continued, going over to Rick and putting his arm gently around his shoulders, “I have a confession to make. You’ve done a lot for me, picking me up in the park, and getting me this job and all. And I feel as if I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”
“Yeah,” Rick’s face brightened. “I have been wanting to ask you about yourself.”
“Well, let me just say this. When I first met you I didn’t know whether or not I should let you in on my secret. But now that I know that you’re a spiritual dude yourself, I see no reason not to tell you the whole story.”
“Wow, this is so cool, Al!” Rick excitedly began to pace about the room. “I knew there was something going on with you! I mean, I don’t want to pry into your personal life or anything, but in the last couple of days I’ve seen you do some pretty amazing things.”
“Well,” Al replied, sounding like a man with a heavy burden on his conscience, “I came here to San Francisco because I had heard it was a really far-out spiritually heavy place. I’ve just returned from Tibet, you see, where I was initiated into the holy mysteries of their spiritual leaders. That was how I could help this girl with her tension headaches. That was how I could convince Crazy George to leave Wanda alone. It’s all due to mystic teaching. And I pride myself on being a good student.”
“Yeah, man, yeah! I figured it was something like that.” Rick stopped his pacing and grinned at Al. “This is so fantastic, bro. I wish you’d told me sooner. I mean, I can really relate to that spiritual stuff, you know. I have read every book by Carlos Castañeda, plus I used to be really tight with the Maharishi…”
“But you know how it is,” Al interrupted. He smiled bashfully at Rick. “This is the 90’s, after all. People are much more materialistic these days, and most of them seem to have no interest in spiritual matters any more. So I was a little embarrassed to admit that I had spent all that time learning what most people would consider a waste of time. At least here in the West, that is.”
“But I can dig it completely, man. You got to follow your own drummer, do your own thing. Don’t let all that material stuff bring you down…”
“There’s just one thing,” Al interrupted him, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, and leading Rick to the door. “Don’t tell anyone about what I just told you. This is just between you and me, OK?”
“Gotcha, bro!” Rick went happily out the door.
Al closed the door with a sigh of relief. “And now for some sleep,” he thought gratefully, “and not a moment too soon.” He sank onto his cot fully clothed and within moments was snoring blissfully.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022