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September 26, 2022

The Borrowed and the Borrower

By Terry Petersen

Morgan Devon rehearsed the call she would make to her mother after she had passed the state border. She wanted to avoid eye contact, or ploys, such as a request to open a jar because Mama's arthritic fingers just didn't have the strength anymore. She wanted to move away from her brother's double-the-limit DUI and Mama's plea to the judge that Ricky was a good boy who had a bad-example father and needed help.

Mama should have gone into drama. Ricky had entered an inpatient treatment facility. Morgan gripped the steering wheel tighter than necessary. She honed her argument knowing it reeked with as much resentment as it did truth:

Mama, you're reliving Ricky's pictures in family photos as if he had died. He wrecked MY Toyota and HIS perfectly good chance to go to college. He didn't even hint that he had a responsibility to pay for damages. On any level. Don't you get it?

The man in the car behind her honked his horn. She noticed the green light and waved back at him. "Sorry," she murmured. But of course he couldn't hear her. She didn't look back. She needed to pay attention to the road, to the room a friend had offered her in Vermont, a twelve-hour drive and new life away. No, she hadn't considered finding a job yet. But, she would.

Ricky should have been driving his own truck when the accident happened, Morgan thought. But he treated his Ford pickup as poorly as he treated himself. It sounded as if it could self-destruct at any moment, red metal bleeding oil. She knew; she had driven it when Ricky had borrowed her car without asking for permission, as if he would have considered asking when her extra set of keys hung on the hook in the kitchen.

The only reason she had moved back home was to help Mama. It had been Mama's idea. She wanted Morgan to help her through her divorce after Papa had taken off.

"Maybe he will eventually find himself," Mama, the expert in denial, said. Morgan could have answered that one. He was inside a body made of beer, powered by a brain that only understood the word me. Funny, Morgan thought his leaving had more to do with the fact that Mama finally got the courage to report his abuse -- and then file a restraining order.

Dad had never beaten her the way he did Mom and Ricky. She could stare him down, even at a young age. Whenever the cops were called, it was Morgan who made the call. Dad usually passed out before anything too serious happened.

Of course Ricky hadn't always followed in dear-old-Dad's liquid footsteps. But when Morgan thought about earlier times that pain was worse than the misery of her anger.

A sign along the route leading to the expressway read: Road Construction Next 50 Miles. Traffic had already begun to back up. Morgan stepped on the brake harder than she had expected. Something slid from under the seat and hit her right shoe. When the line of cars came to a halt, she put the car in park and picked up the small black rectangle -- Ricky's cell phone. The line of traffic stopped.

Her brother had borrowed from her without asking. Why not see what he was up to? She turned the phone on. A fraction of battery remained. He didn't have a code.

She opened his messages.

A construction worker waved the line of cars forward, his sign, SLOW, a serious understatement. After no more than two minutes she was stopped by another worker with another sign: STOP. Morgan had plenty of time to find a phone number, and then search for a totally different route on her GPS ...


The typed page in Ricky's hand could have been someone else's grocery list or an ad for a mall on the other side of the county. He felt too numb to notice. He sat in the back of the room and stared at the rows of utilitarian metal folding chairs and the miscellaneous figures seated on them. Some in the group appeared to be intent. Others slumped or remained as rigid as the chair.

Ricky wondered where he had lost his cell phone -- along with his mind, possibly. He knew it happened after he wrote unsent apology drafts to a few close friends and family. However, sending a message instead of facing people seemed cowardly now, even ridiculous. Besides, I'm-sorry seemed as effective as tossing ice chips on a house fire. Sis, if only I could start over.

His sister had been his friend. At one time. The person who put a chain on the inside of his bedroom door so that Dad couldn't get in when he came in drunk and wanted a punching bag. She used her birthday money. She was only fourteen. Morgan was something of a mechanical genius. How could he have taken her for granted?

The ex-drunk leading the meeting, a volunteer, droned on. Ricky had met him on his first day at the facility, a man with African-elephant sized neck, ears, and body, as well as a voice to fit the frame. He had been through rehab three times before he got it. And he let the group know that twenty percent of the inpatients in the center would make it. Maybe. "So don't be so cocky," he told them when someone rolled his eyes or made fun of outdated language in the Big Book, from a story written more than fifty years ago.

Ricky squirmed.

"The Promises, okay which one of you yahoos has the Promises?" Ricky suddenly remembered the paper in his hands. "Oh yeah!" He introduced himself as newbie ex-drunk and began to read. "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development ..."

The middle-aged man next to him rolled his eyes when he came to: "we will know a new freedom and a new happiness."

The man groaned, shaking his head. Ricky was afraid he would start trouble. Instead he dropped his head almost to his lap.

A girl behind Ricky tapped him on the shoulder and handed him a hastily printed note: He hit a tree -- his kid died. She yanked the paper back, wadding it. Ricky could not see what she did with it. And he didn't bother to look.

He left the room feeling more shaken than he had been when he had entered, yet more in touch with some kind of hidden shadow -- his vague image reflected in a window as he passed through the hallways. He needed an ally. But he had never felt more alone.

As he rounded the corner heading toward the dining room an employee stopped him. "Hey, you're Richard Devon, aren't you?"


"You've got a visitor. She's been okayed. Front desk. Follow me."

Ricky shrugged. Maybe the shadow he saw as Ricky Devon was the reflection of a real person. Maybe. Someone who wasn't just like his dad. All he saw at the moment were scuff marks on the floor and wall, the chubby back of an employee he scarcely knew, and a past he would love to deny. He realized he suddenly walked taller, for no real reason at all.

Article © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-06-22
Image(s) © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
3 Reader Comments
11:25:13 PM
A nice "family" story. There are things you just can't walk away from.

I would like to more...what happens when Morgan and Ricky meet? Is it "happily ever after," or a painful encounter? Change comes hard for some, and the group leader mentioned, only 20% can affect that change.

02:20:16 AM
Anonymous, after the meeting I am imagining the change is neither happily ever after nor a moment too painful to endure. Morgan and Ricky become realistic allies, accepting themselves as flawed individuals capable of beginning to work together, as they say...one day at a time.
03:58:29 AM
Ah! Then might we hope to see this part of their story any time soon? Morgan turned around on the basis of one apology, does she feel that deeply or was it something about the apology? Ricky has bottomed out -- has he changed, or does he just feel trapped?

There's some good stuff here is you care to pursue it, and I would hope you do.
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