The Meeting – A Short Story by Josh Burt
But for the grace of God etc…
You could feel the bizarre cocktail of emotion in the room. The anxiety of speaking about it for the first time, in public, of owning up, the relief of being there, just getting through the door was the big first step to a new journey, the awkwardness that comes from being with new people. There were seats arranged in a semi circle, uncomfortable plastic chairs, then one in the middle where Martin would sit.
Martin was the man in charge, the ringmaster in this circus of emotion, or more likely the calm voice in the inner storm that was raging in all of them. His job was to set the tone and the mood, to make everyone feel comfortable enough to open up and not to feel judgment towards the people around them. Life can be a cruel beast, and these people, these poor victims, had been clenched in its jaws for far too long, squirming and wriggling, unable to find a proper foothold.
Martin had been in their shoes, he’d walked half a lifetime in them, so his brow may have been beaten, but his spirits had been lifted. He’d seen rock bottom, he’d wept in bewilderment as the women he loved left him in a crumpled heap like an old blanket. There were times when he felt like he was trapped outside in the rain banging on a window, trying to get his life back.
He was a new man now, but not a completely new person, because you are the person you are, a mix of good, bad and indifferent. He’d found his positivity, he’d surged upward, discovered an inner resolve he never knew was there, and where his hand had been held, he was now the one offering that hand. Taking the hopeless and giving them hope, speaking to the souls you ignore on the street, looking for the inner child who just wants another chance, another go at getting it right.
It was going to be a busy night, with a roomful of new faces, all from different walks of life. They all had the same tentative air about them as they entered the church hall, most of them godless but not closed to the idea of an epiphany. In that room, they were equal in their suffering. It didn’t matter what they did outside, how successful or unsuccessful their façade, in there they exposed their inner workings. They were unmasked yet unknown. For now anyway.
They pottered about at the back, all milling around and offering polite half smiles to one another. Some looked like they might have been crying, their eyes puffy, their journeys were etched on their faces, you could spot the signs a mile off, and there weren’t enough polystyrene cups of bad coffee in the world to reinvigorate a broken spirit.
“Please,” said the calm voice of Martin, gesturing with one hand to the semi circle of seats, gently encouraging his new flock to sit down and get comfortable. They slowly took their places amongst the tense quiet of the room, each one looking at one another hoping to find a face that would ease their nerves, just a twinkle of kindness, something to give them enough oxygen to blow away the fog clouds. Their collective palms damp with sweat, their legs bouncing up and down almost in unison.
The process was known to all, there would be no surprises here. Martin looked to the man on his right, who would be the first to tell his story because of his geographical positioning in the room. Over the course of the next few hours they would all get their turn. The man took his cue and gripped his hands together, looking downward to find his resolve as he took a deep breath, ready to look his reality in the face.
“I’m Peter,” he said, his voice trembling, “and I’m an alcoholic, but with, like, chocolate.”