The basement of the church smelled of damp and dust. Jim looked around, wiping the sweat from his palms onto his pants. People gathered in clumps of two and three around the room. A man about forty-five was unstacking folding chairs. He was clean-cut and wearing clothes just a little too formal for the meeting, shiny dress slacks, and a button-collar white shirt that screamed Salvation Army.
The last chair’s legs scraped across the asphalt tile with a tired screech and everyone sat down in the circle.
The clean-cut man stood up. “Hello, my name is Mark.” Everyone said hello to Mark, Jim included.
“I want to thank you all for being here,” continued Mark. “If you’re new, we welcome you to the circle. The circle is a representation of strength and we are strong, strong enough to come here to this place and take the first step.”
A shoebox with a hole cut in the top passed around the circle. Jim folded up a dollar bill and slipped it inside. The group was mostly men, just two women. Everyone looked tired.
“Who would like to start?” asked Mark. A man with dark glasses raised his hand. He was old and apparently blind. A lab mix lay down behind the chair, his paws folded under his nose.
“My name is Larry and I am a miracle survivor,” he said.
Everyone said hello to Larry.
“I asked for it and I received it. No one else was to blame. It’s not okay, but that’s okay. I take it one day at a time. This week I had some anger issues, mostly due to the weather, I think. It’s hard to get around the city this time of year. I had some regrets, but . . . I don’t regret the past, I accept my decision, and I’m feeling more at peace now.”
“Thanks for sharing, Larry,” said Mark.
One of the women stood up. “My name is Marion and I am a miracle survivor.”
Everyone said hello to Marion.
“This is a bad time of year for me too,” she said. “Everyone wishes me a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year. That’s a hard word to hear. I get so mad, I want to shake them and yell, ‘Don’t you know what you’re saying?’”
Jim looked around the room, confused. Other heads were nodding.
Marion smiled ruefully and sighed. “I don’t ‘wish’ for serenity, I work hard for it. Every day.” She sat down.
“Thank you, Marion,” said Larry.
A heavy-set man with long, curly hair raised his hand. His striped T-shirt barely covered his large belly.
“My name is Ted and I am a miracle survivor,” he said.
Everyone said hello to Ted.
Ted shuffled his feet. “It’s been three days since I transformed . . .” He cleared his throat. “I had been static for almost a year . . .” He sat back down, crying softly. The man on his left passed a box of Kleenex and laid his hand on his shoulder.
“Thanks, Ted,” said Mark. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Jim raised his hand, uncertainly.
“We have someone new,” said Mark.
“Um, my name is Jim.”
Everyone said hello to Jim, even Ted between loud snuffles.
“I think I may have made a mistake.”
Mark smiled. “We all make mistakes.”
“I don’t know if I belong here,” said Jim. “I’m an alcoholic.” There were a few sharp intakes of breath.
Mark smiled. “I’m sorry, but the A.A. meeting starts in an hour. This is a Miracle Survivors Support Group meeting.”
Jim rubbed the back of his hand against the stubble on his face. “Miracles? Like ‘water into wine’ miracles?”
Mark nodded and looked around the circle. “Yes, would anyone like to share?”
Larry stood again. “It’s been 51 years since I got my miracle. I wished on a star for X-ray vision. It was real big in the comic books back then.” He took off his glasses and looked around. “The problem is X-ray vision doesn’t let you look at girls in their underwear, it lets you see X-rays. And there isn’t much X-ray light anywhere except at the dentist and when you pull apart sticky tape.”
Jim shook his head, “But . . . that’s incredible.”
“Miracles are incredible,” said Mark. “But they’re not for people.”
“But what about asking for a million dollars or living forever?” asked Jim. “I mean, there has to be some good miracles?”
“If you asked for a million dollars, would you care where it came from?” asked Mark. “Would you care enough to make that determination in mid-wish?” He shook his head. “Even a miracle isn’t above the IRS. And you look pretty silly trying to explain it to an auditor. I can vouch for that.”
“I wanted to be able to turn into animals,” said Ted. “But I didn’t wish for the ability to control it.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” said Mark.
“Because it might come true,” answered the group.
Jim’s ears were ringing slightly and his hands were trembling. More than ever, he really felt like he could use a drink, or two, or all of them.
“You’re more than welcome to stay,” said Mark. “We hope to teach others from our examples.”
Jim stood up and walked over to the gigantic coffee urn at the back of the room. There was a long drip on the stainless steel side. Jim wiped it off and was surprised when purple smoke poured out of the spigot rather than decaf. He took a step backward. A large dark man appeared, dressed in what appeared to be satin pajamas.
“What is thy desire?” said the man in a booming voice. “You need but say it and it is yours.”
Jim bumped into a folding chair, navigated around it and sat back down.
“Maybe I will stay,” he said.
Bob Francis was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. He’s the Director of Information for In Print, the Producer of In Print Radio, a member of the Chicago Writers Association, and a member of In Print’s Prompt Club. You can read more of his work at The Bob Files (radioflyer1980.wordpress.com).