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Entrances and Exits
by Phil Geusz and J.(Channing)Wells
Another day's work had ended, and I was absolutely beat. It had been a long one, a day of incessant fighting against SCABS and its scarring legacy. As usual, SCABS was winning. I had danced and skipped from side-to-side and ducked and weaved, but rarely ever seemed to land even a jab to counter the sledgehammer blows that the Martian Flu was beating into the lives of decent, good people. Folks were counting on me, trusting me...
But as always, I was failing. Making thing worse. Sticking my wiggly nose where it didn't belong. I wasn't a trained counselor, I was a phoney. Sighing, I caught a ride to the Pig. There, at least, I could get a little peace, and screw up my courage just a little bit more.
Splendor wasn't gong to like it when I quit my job. It wouldn't be tomorrow, or even the day after. But in my heart I knew it was coming. Soon.
It was quiet at the bar that night, and Donnie came right over when I hopped up onto the barstool that was just beginning the lifelong process of adapting itself to my behind. It was fully night outside, and the small crowd and dark windows gave the place an intimacy it rarely knew. I ordered my usual Strafford, and the bartender busied himself while I mused over my failures. Presently, Donnie came back with my drink, but there was something odd about the paw cup that I had come to know so well. As the drink was placed before me, I saw what it was.
The old, adjustable one-size-fits all cup had been retired. In its place was an expensive pewter custom job, with handles molded in my size, at just the right angle. Engraved on it were two simple words.
It was a magnificent and thoughtful gift.
"Who..." I asked, but before I could continue Donnie shushed me. Clearly, I was not to know. And before I could press him further, he headed back to a dark corner of the bar on some errand or another. Leaving me alone with my new cup.
Who could it be from? My mind raced as I wondered. It was so expensive, so thoughtful that I simply HAD to acknowledge it somehow, repay the generosity and square the debt. But who in the world was my obligation to?
Bix, maybe? It was possible. He wasn't a bad guy, just immersed in his own problems. Now that he had a found a little success in his life, a few good things to sustain him again he might well be capable of such a gesture. Probably it was Bix...
Then again, maybe not. It could have been Sarah Cohen, in cahoots with any of several Pig regulars. I had just gotten a note and picture from her in Israel. The letter thanked me for offering her a new direction to take in life, an option she had never considered. The picture showed the family visiting Aaron in a clean, modern facility light years away from the Colonies here in America.
Sarah could have sent the cup... I looked closely, but could find no evidence of Israeli manufacture on it. Hmm...
Then there was Sharon the mouse SCAB I had treated recently. Her new glasses from Dr. Coe had brought her quickly back to her senses, giving her mind a familiar way to interpret the universe once again. The grateful family had written a mass letter with 27 signatures apologizing for the way they had treated me and expressing their extreme gratitude. And, most touching of all there had been a tiny pawprint at the bottom, circled by a loving relative and simply marked "Sharon".
Yes, the cup could have come from there...
As I thought back, I realized there were others, too- people I had tried to get through different aspects of SCABS and back on their feet. It could have come from many people indeed...
Damn there were a lot of possibilities! I would never work it out on my own. And Donnie, well, he would never help me out either. Secrets were safer with him than anyone else I knew.
I thought on it some more. There were a lot I could rule out right away, fellow SCABS who I had worked with and benefited to various degrees who simply didn't have the money for such a fine present. Jane Doe, for example, my first cage case, who still didn't have her memory back but was at least talking to people and thinking of herself as human again. It was a good thing I could rule these folks out- there were so many that I'd NEVER...
Then it hit me. How many people had I helped enough that they might send a gift?
I had helped dozens of people deal with SCABS. I really had, credentials or no.
Wow! Somehow, I had never realized it before. The failures were so frustrating, the pain of the victims so intense, the victories sometimes seeming so small to me, that I had never counted the victories. Never tallied the true score.
No wonder I was depressed!
All my life I had suffered from a poor sense of self-worth, a terribly weak self-image. I knew this academically, but knowing it didn't cure it. Even when human I had been plagued by pointless depressions and vague feelings of directionlessness. And going in for the long-whiskered look courtesy of the Flu hadn't helped me a bit. Rabbits are not known for strong personalities.
Only this gift, this present from an unknown benefactor had let me see the truth. The cup was only a symbol- the true meaning of what had been given to me would probably never be known to the giver. Whoever it was had made their entrances and exits, left their footprints in my life never knowing the impact they had made.
The gin and carrot juice sloshed warmly around inside me, but not nearly so warm as my feelings. It had all been worth it- every heartbreak, every tear, every last minute of quiet desperation as I scrambled for new ideas to help my clients adapt. I'm not usually given to big displays, but just that once I had to speak out.
"Friends! Fellow SCABS and friends of SCABS," I shouted as best as my limited voice would carry, "Tonight you will drink on me!" And merriment ensued...
Quietly, during a little break in the impromptu party Donnie took advantage of a moment to discreetly dispose of the little cardboard box Phil's new cup had come in. On it was plainly written the name of a bartender's supply company, the one Donnie always used...