New York in the summer has to be like Charles Dickens described France during the revolution, "It was was the best of times, it was the worse of times." The heat during the day is unbearable in late August and by then it has so soaked into the surfaces of the concrete pavement and bricks and stones of the buildings that the nights can be like living inside a toaster oven. It is also the time when there's the most to do in the old city. Softball leagues, Shakespearean plays in the parks, dinner parties, theater outings, outdoor concerts, and sidewalk cafes are just a few of the many things that make the grand-old dame along the banks of the Hudson liveable in spite of the oppressive heat.
Monica held her Niemann-Marcus bag tightly in her hand as she waited for her friend Phoebe to finish her work day in the masseuse parlor across the street. She'd just been engaged in another of the things to do when in New York - shopping. In spite of the heat which was sending trickles of sweat down her neck and back, she'd decided that she'd rather wait outside for Phoebe than inside the reception area where it was air conditioned. The last time she'd been in there she'd received three propositions for the evening from men without any teeth. She shuddered. How could Phoebes go to work every day in a place like that? She knew they only gave therapeutic massages and the fact that half the men entering left within less than two minutes without availing themselves of the services said the business was legit. Still, it had to be a pain in the ass to keep shoving the would-be perverts out the door.
She shook her bag, happy at the weighty feel of it. It was nice to have some money to spend again after being out of work for so long. Around her milled the New York rush hour with its blaring horns and swirling snatches of half-heard conversations. She leaned back against the tree and wiped the sweat from her brow. She hoped Phoebes would get done soon.
"Hello, Monica" A familar voice said.
She opened her eyes and stared. It was hard to see the figure against the setting sun, but she knew that voice. "Bobby?"
"Yeah, it's me." He stepped over into the shade of the tree. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Yes." She said cautiously. The last thing she wanted to do was to hear another boring, one-sided conversation on trying to find a hammer in the Village after hours. He didn't say anything but his eyes took in every detail and she felt herself blushing under his direct gaze. To break the moment she asked. "What've you been up to lately?" She hoped this would not be a mistake and encourage him to be as boring as he'd been the last time.
He smiled slightly. "Keeping busy. I think I'm finally getting my problem under control."
Which one? She wondered. The drinking or the boring conversations? Out loud she said. "I'm glad to hear that."
"How about yours?" His eyes sought hers with a deep concern.
"My problem?" Then she remembered that she'd started drinking to be able to stand how boring he'd become and then she'd allowed him to think that she had a problem too so that she could painlessly break off their relationship. She found she couldn't tell him this. "I got over it."
"You're lucky. I'm glad you made me aware of my drinking problem, but I can't take credit for the internal strength that you showed in overcoming yours. Last winter I almost started drinking again. I remember that I was sitting in a bar down in Saint Louis, staring at a full glass counting the bubbles. Do You know how many bubbles form on the sides of a glass in an hour? Let me tell you it's lots. They just keep creeping up and down the sides."
Monica shook her head. Same old Bobby. How was she going to break this off?
Bobby shook himself. "Sorry. I seem to slip back in to bad habits so easily. I know how boring all this sounds. As I was saying I was sitting there wondering whether I would drink it or not. Fortunately, I met a very kind man who'd had a similar problem, a Mister Hemmingway. He introduced me to the AA and they helped me a lot."
"AA?" It was Phoebe who'd come up behind them. "What does the American Auto Club have to do with drinking problems? I know they oppose drinking while driving."
Bobby turned and smiled at her. "Hello, Phoebes. Alcholics Anomynous and not the triple A. I've been a member for five months now. In fact I was just heading home to clean up for a meeting tonight." He looked back at Monica. "Even if you think you have your drinking problem under control, it might help if you went sometime. The support they give is tremendous."
Phoebe looked with concern at Monica. "Gee, Mone. I didn't know you had a drinking problem."
"That's because I took care of it." She winked at Phoebe and then made motions to tell her to drop the subject. They were ignored.
Phoebe shook her head. "The way you got yourself plastered after Ross had his latest baby, I'm not sure it's under control, Mone."
If looks could kill, then Phoebe was sliced, diced and marinated.
Bobby said ernestly. "I'd consider it a personal favor if you'd come tonight, Monica. They can really help you."
Monica shook her head, trying to put the right amount of sincerity behind her lie. "I'm afraid I'm going to be busy tonight."
"But Mone, you were just complaining to me this morning that you had nothing to do tonight. Maybe your problem is causing you to forget things. Gee, it sounds like you'd better go."
No. Monica thought. Slicing and dicing was too nice. She should be pureed in a blender.
"Good. Then, I'll pick you up in an hour and we can get something to eat before the meeting." Bobby strode off down the street.
Monica glared at her friend. "Thanks." She snarled.
"That's what friends are for, Mone. To help us with our problems. Gee, when did you start drinking any way?"
"Starting right now." Monica stormed off down the street and Phoebe had to hurry to catch up with her. As luck would have it they missed the J-street bus and had to wait nearly half an hour.
II. Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes
"Aren't these beautiful?" Chandler held up one of the empty bottles for Ross to inspect.
"If you happen to like imported beer bottles. Where did you get all these any way?" The sweep of Ross' hand took in the seven or eight boxes that now cluttered Monica's living room floor.
"A fellow at work has been collecting them for years but his wife finally laid down an ultimatum. Either she went or the bottles went."
"I can see which way the decision went." Ross hefted one of the cases. It was quite full.
"Well, he ended up sleeping on the couch for a week when he didn't respond right away. That kind of softened him up. He then told her he could stand the pain in his neck better than the pain in the back from sleeping on the couch. That was when she began tossing the boxes out the seventh floor window. These were all he managed to save."
Ross shook his head. "Who'd want them and besides what're they doing over here?"
"Well, I already have six boxes in my appartment and since Taneka spends all her time down there lately, there just isn't very much room. I thought I'd give Monica a crack at them since she's always using bottles for decorations or putting cooking sauces in."
"But seven cases? That's a lot of sauce even for Monica."
"Well, then she can select the ones she wants. Here. Help me unload the cases and she can take her pick of the best ones."
Ross complied, muttering to himself. "I think this is going to be a mistake."
Twenty minutes later as they got the last box unloaded, they stepped back to admire the results of their handiwork. Every shelf and ledge was crowded with bottles. Tall ones, thin ones, squat ones, and even curly, twisted ones. Ross sniffed. "Didn't he believe in washing them out? It's starting to smell like a brewry in here."
"Hey," Said Chandler. "There's a couple of full ones here." He picked one up and tossed it to Ross who almost dropped it. "Have an Irish draft."
"Thanks." Growled Ross, eying the rolling bubbles at the neck of the bottle. Was he seeing things or was there a small gold chain floating inside the bottle?
Just at that moment Monica was getting out of the elevator and she was steaming mad. It had taken her nearly an hour to get home thanks to the rush-hour traffic and the transit workers' strike. On top of that she had only a few minutes to get ready for a date that she didn't want, to the AA of all places. And Phoebe hadn't helped a bit. She glared at her friend, ready to bite her head off. "For the last time, Phoebe. I don't have a drinking problem. That was something I let Bobby think the last time just to get rid of him. You were there." Maybe she could convince him when he got there that this had all been a mistake. That was what she'd do.
She opened the door to her appartment and stopped as if someone had glued her feet to the floor. "Surprise." Chandler said.
"And you say you don't have a problem." Phoebe admonished her.
"What do you think you're doing?" Monica shouted, hurling her shopping bag to the floor.
This so surprised Ross and Chandler that they dropped the bottles that were in their hands and they struck the floor almost simultaneously. Now what happens to a well-shaken bottle of beer when it's been sitting in a superheated car all day, bounced around over what passes for street repairs in New York, and finally gets undignifiedly slammed to the floor? The caps exploded and beer sprayed everywhere, all over the walls of the appartment, over Chandler, over Ross and of course all over Monica.
"I guess this Buds on you." Chandler ducked as Monica swept up one of the bottles in her hand and started to advance on him.
She stopped and grabbed one of the boxes. "Get this stuff out of here. Bobby's coming over in a few minutes and this place smells like the inside of a beer can." She crammed several bottles in the box and started out the door for the trash room.
It was here that Bobby met her, soaked with beer and carrying a carton labled. 'Her Majesty's Best Stout'. She swallowed. "Uh, Bobby. It's not what it looks like."
"Hey, Monica." Called Chandler. "Where do you want us to hide the rest of these bottles before he comes over." He pulled up short, his arms filled with empty bottles. "Too late, huh?"
Monica set the case on the floor and sat on it. "Oh, the hell with it."
Bobby took in the appartment and the walls lined with bottles. How could it have gotten so bad so quickly? He put his hand on her shoulder and said tenderly. "It'll be all right, Monica. I'm here for you."
"Aw," Said Phoebe around her arm load of bottles. "I just love a happy ending."
III. Irish Eyes
A shower had never felt so good to Monica. She was glad to get rid of that awful beer odor. She'd finally sent Chandler packing with his damned bottles and the others had cleaned up the apartment. The funny thing was that Bobby seemed to accept her story, especially after Chandler had explained.
The problem she realized was what was she going to do with Bobby? He was still boring and was insisting that she come to the meeting with him and meet his assigned partner, a Mr. Timothy Finnigan.
She sighed. The only saving grace for the whole day had been that small gold chain which had appeared out of nowhere in her blouse pocket. It seemed to be pure gold and no one knew where it had come from. She had a feeling that it was worth a lot. She stepped out of the shower and started to dry herself off with a towel.
"Now, ye be a fine figure of a lass." A strange voice said admiringly.
Monica whipped the towel around herself and spun around. There was nobody there.
"Are ye one of them spinning dirvishes that I've heard tell of?" She looked down and saw a small man dressed in orange sitting on the toliet seat. He was wearing both orange pants and a shirt. His hat was a bowler with a band and a silver buckle on it. His hair was dark black, his eyes were like two small shining stars, and his sideburns melded into a beard that went clear around his chin.
"Who in the Hell are you and what're you doing here?"
The little man who was only about three feet tall slid down from the seat and made a full bow, sweeping off his silver-buckled black hat as he did so. "The name is Franklin and I'm a leprachaun by trade and inclination."
Monica gulped. "I thought you wore green and had Irish names." Was it possible that in some way the beer fumes and spills had made her drunk?
"That be the other side of me family. I'm from the protestant side. As to why I'm here. That be a long story. The short of it is that you have something of mine. and I'm here to see about getting it back.
"I don't believe this. Such things only happen to Phoebe." It had to be the gold chain. He wanted the gold chain.
"If by Phoebe, you're meaning the fetching blond lass, she's nice in her own way but it's too crowded around her. I don't mind sharing me territory but when it comes to pookas, I draws the line."
"Phoebe has Pookas?"
"Just one. Harvey always seems to find the good ones. He tells me he's been acting as her muse the last couple years, helping her compose her songs."
Monica made the connection with the old Jimmy Steward movie by that name. "Harvey is a giant rabbit?"
"Aye, that he is and he's already claimed the young lassie as his own.
Monica pulled the towel tighter. "And you want something from me?"
"I knew you were a smart lass. It's that gold bracelet that you have."
"Why don't you just take it? I certainly couldn't stop you."
"That not be how it works, lass. I'm not like most of me bretheren who would steal you blind with blarney and the like. I was forced to take an oath to deal straight when I joined the Church of England. Now I must give you something of value in return or allow ye to keep it."
"Something of value? Like what?"
"You get a wish but you must agree after experiencing the wish that it gave you full value or I take it back and try again."
Monica smiled. "I'm going to have to think on that." She pulled her bathrobe on and closed it, enabling her to drop the towel.
He grinned. "Go ahead. I'm an immortal and I've got time."
"Well, I have to go get dressed." And maybe as the beer got out of her system the leprachaun would vanish as well.
The leprachaun shoved the door open and bowed. "After you, my fair lass."
"No. You're staying here. I don't need your help getting dressed."
The leprachaun just grinned. Doors and walls were no barriers to his kind, but since she hadn't asked, he wouldn't tell her. He sat back on the toliet seat and began whistling something that sounded like a jaunty roving tune.
Monica hurried to the living room where her brother and Bobby turned from their conversation to face her. "There's something wrong with the toliet." She told them. She wasn't about to declare that she'd just had a conversation with a protestant leprechaun.
"Is it that damn flush mechanism again?" Ross asked. "I keep telling you to have it replaced."
Bobby opened the door. Over his shoulder Monica could see the leprachaun grinning at her. "The toliet doesn't seem to be running now."
"Don't you see anything?" She asked the two of them.
Ross entered the room and jiggled the handle while the leprachaun stuck his tounge out at him and started making silly faces. "It seems to be fine now."
Monica looked again. The leprachaun was gone. She sighed with relief. A halucination. "Just give me a couple of minutes and I'll be ready, Bobby." He nodded as she shut the door.
She went in her bedroom and began pulling clothes out of the closet. "You know they can't see me." The leprachaun said from behind her. She whirled and saw him sitting on the bed. "Only you and the pure of heart have that privledge."
"Get out of here."
He grinned impishly. "I might only turn invisible and then I'd still be here but ye wouldn't see me, but I'd see you. No, lass, until ye make your wish I'm your constant companion and admirer."
"Oh yeah?" Monica turned out the lights. "I can get dressed in the dark."
A minute later there came a soft whistle. "I say it again. Ye are a fine figure of a lass." Monica repressed the urge to scream.
Monica turned back on the lights and glared at the leprachaun. "You can see in the dark."
"Of course, lass. After all I am a spirit."
"Well, I have a date, so you can wait here."
The imp smiled. "I suppose I could find something to amuse myself with in your bed chambers." He picked a bra out of one of her drawers. "Now, is this some type of sling for casting large stones?"
Monica snatched it from him. "For a leprachaun, you're down right nasty."
"Did you ever hear tell of one that was filled with the milk of human kindness? And the reason you don't is that we would've drummed him out of the union for it. Face it, lass. Where thou goest, go I until the wish be made."
Monica gritted her teeth and marched out the door with the little man following right behind her. Bobby got to his feet and smiled at her. "Let's go." She said trying to ignore the leprachaun.
"Have a good time." Phoebe called out as they headed for the door. She frowned and turned to something unseen beside her. "I don't remember Monica having an orange friend before." She cocked her head as she listened to the reply. "Oh, I see. He's a leprachaun. By the way, Harvey, that reminds me. Can you tell me a word that rhymes with orange." The air beside her became quite agitated.
IV. The Single Wish
Monica tried to ignore the leprachaun as he skipped down the sidewalk in front of them. Twice she thought they'd lost him in the evening crowds but each time they stopped at the next intersection he was right there with them. Each time he disappeared there would be an outburst of screams or profanity, followed by shouts and altercations. She resisted the urge to turn her head and see what was happening behind her. She didn't want to know.
"This is a most amusing time you live in, lass. But your fellows fail to have a sense of humor." The leprachaun told her as they paused beside a tar mixer parked where the street repair crews had left it after half-filling pot holes. What was unusual was that they had at least half-filled them.
"This is New York." She snapped. "It's not known for its sense of humor."
"Monica, who are you talking to?" Bobby looked puzzled.
"I was just mumbling to myself." The leprachaun grinned at her.
Before Bobby could form a reply a scream broke out in front of them. "Stop him!" A middle-aged woman shouted. "He's got my purse."
Bobby made an ineffectual grab as a skinny youth ran by them. In a few seconds he would've made his escape but he had never got those few seconds. One moment he was running free and in the next he was flying through the air, seemingly tripped by his own feet. He landed with a splut in the cooling tar inside the mixer. As he tried to pull himself free, the top fell down and knocked him completely into the mixture. He flung himself from the mixer and crashed into a large trash container which upended itself on him. He gave an incoherent scream and fled, covered with tar and assorted trash. Miracalously the purse was left lying untouched on the sidewalk.
Everyone on the street stared and then broke into cheers or gales of laughter as the lady recovered her purse.
"I was wrong. They do have a sense of humor." The leprachaun observed. "They just don't get a chance to use it as often as they might like."
Monica smiled slightly. There might be some advantages to having a leprachaun around after all.
There was no problem created by the leprachaun at the grill where they stopped for dinner except for the obnoxious woman who got a horseradish salad after she cussed out an Irish busboy for coming too close to her with his tray.
However, by the end of the meal Monica had decided that no matter what she was not going to the AA with Bobby. It had been a horrible half hour listening to him describing his life in all its pathetic boring details. He was still Boring Bobby; he hadn't changed a bit. She considered all her options and finally decided to do the one of last resort, to tell the truth.
It went bad. She didn't think she was going to forget very soon the look on his face when she told him what she felt and why she would get a drinking problem if they ever went out again.
He hung his head. "I guess it was too soon for us to get together again. I'd hoped but I guess hopes can mislead you."
"The thing we had was good, Bobby. But it isn't there anymore." She was conscious of the leprachaun frowning at her.
Bobby took the check from the table and rose. "I guess you won't be coming tonight." His voice and eyes indicated he still hoped she would say yes.
To a whole building of Bobby the Bores? No way. "I'm sorry, Bobby." She watched him leave like some sort of pathetic puppy. She almost changed her mind but then decided that it was better. This way the break was clean.
"That was a cruel thing, lass. Would it've done ye any harm to have spent just one evening with the poor lad?" The leprachaun asked.
Monica gritted her teeth. "It would've driven me insane."
The leprachaun shook his head. "Your problem, lass, is that you don't know what he's going through. If you did, you might change your mind."
"I doubt that. I wish I could understand, but I can't."
The leprachaun leaped to his feet and slapped his hands together. A wave of thunder washed over Monica. "Granted." He shouted.
"No, I didn't mean." Her protests were washed away by the blast of sound as she was sent whirling through space and time. When her ears stopped ringing she found herself back in her appartment and Ross was leaning over her while Rachel stood in the background, wringing her hands together.
"Sis, you've got to stop this!" He grabbed the empty bottle from her limp hand. "You've been binging for the last six months."
"Leave me alone." She growled and staggered to her feet. Her reflection in the mirror was horrifying. Her hair was straggly and greasy and her once trim body was showing signs of deterioration. What was even more horrible was that she found that she didn't care. If Ross hadn't been her brother she would've offered him her body for a drink.
"And where's your rent money?" Ross took her purse and shook it out. There was nothing inside. "You spent it on boose didn't you and you took Rach's money too?"
"I needed a drink." As she said it she realized how true it was. Her body was aching and crying for another drink. Every pore and cell seemed to demand that she supply it with alcohol. Her hands were already quivering with the need for another drink.
"Monica, you didn't?" Rachel shook her. "We needed that money to pay the rent. We're two months behind. They're going to evict us if we don't have it tommorow."
"I don't care." The only thing she wanted was another drink. With that inside her she could face the world.
"You, stupid bitch." Rachel flung her away, crying in frustration. "First, you start drinking, then you lose your job at the restaurant and now you've used up your umemployment check on boose and stolen all my money too."
"Leave me alone."
"Fine." I'm leaving with Ross. We're moving in together. You can destroy yourself but I'm not going down with you. And Joey and Chandler said don't bother asking them for money because they won't lend you any until you quit and go to the AA."
"Get out! Go whoring with Ross. That's what you're good for." Rachel reeled back with a look of horror. Ross took her hand and with a shake of his head led her from the room. Silence descended as the door slammed.
Monica was immediately filled with remorse and wanted to run after her friend and appologise but then the pains rose again and overwhealmed her. She clutched at her stomach which was trying to tie itself into a hooked rug and staggered into the kitchen. She flung open the refrigerator door and began throwing containers out in a search for boose. Finding none, she staggered around the appartment looking everywhere. Finally, she found a partly full, stale bottle with dark stuff floating in it behind the couch. She was just putting it to her lips when once again space and time swirled.
She found herself sitting on a park bench near the Central Perk with the bottle and its contents in her hand. With a cry she hurled it from her. She ran her hands over her clean dress and tears began running down her cheeks. "Oh, thank God. It was only a nightmare."
"But for Bobby, all it takes is one drink to start down the road to making the nightmare real." The leprachaun said. "Do ye understand now, lass?"
Monica glared at him. "That was a dirty trick."
"And what ye did to the poor lad was nice?"
She bit her lip and finally mumbled. "What you showed me wasn't realistic. My friends would've helped me."
"What I showed you was the final stages when all help had been rejected. Aye, they would've helped you but by then only if ye asked for it. Did not Bobby indirectly ask for your help? Were ye a friend to him?"
"You're a dirty little bastard."
"And that, lass, is the truest definition of a leprachaun I've heard tell." He smiled up at her. "How did you like your wish?"
"I hated it."
"For some reason, they always do. Well, I can try again."
"No, wait a minute." She dug in her purse and flung the bracelet at him. "Once was enough."
He grinned as he caught it. "They always say that, too."
"I have just one question. Why couldn't you just have taken the damned thing from the bottle yourself?"
"Me cousin Angus put it there, knowing that I couldn't get at it because I'd sworn off liquor. I'm so bad off that to even touch the stuff would mean damning meself to that hell I showed ye. Take it from one who knows, lassie. It's all too real. But as to young Bobby I can tell ye this. The lad's boring ways are not going to be permanent. They will pass as he recovers." He puffed into nonexistence.
Monica frowned and thought of Bobby and how she had treated him. She had been a bitch she decided. One night was not going to hurt, especially if it kept the nightmare from becoming real. She hurried down the street. It was only ten minutes until seven. She could still make it. However when she got to the AA building they told her that Bobby had never arrived.
As she stood there in front of the building it struck her that Bobby just might have been asking for her help tonight but had been too proud to come right out and say it and she had driven him away because he bored her. As her own memory of the alcoholic's hell came back to haunt her she began to run frantically down the street to the nearest phone booth. A quick phone call showed he had not gone home. But where?
Monica realized in that moment as she looked frantically for Bobby that there was a worse hell, the one she was doomed to if Bobby was lost because of her. In that moment, she prayed to the God of her childhood. "Please, help me. I'm sorry."
As if in answer at fifteenth street out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of orange. When she turned there was Bobby standing outside the window of a bar, gazing inside. She ran up to him wondering if she was in time.
He turned as she approached. "Monica? What're you doing here?" His breath was alcohol-free.
She laid a hand on his arm. "Bobby, I'm sorry. What I should've told you was that in spite of the fact our love affair is over, I'm still your friend. I'd be honored to go to the AA meeting with you."
Tears came to his eyes. "You don't know how much this means to me."
As they began to walk back towards the AA she replied. "Maybe, just maybe, I do in a little way." Amongst the crowd on the sidewalk she had another glimpse of orange but when she turned to look it was gone. 'Thank you, Franklin.' She thought. 'It was a good wish after all."
(This story is dedicated to a friend whose father lived the alcoholic's hell.)