We’ll Figure It Out


Lura Vigue startled. She’d been dreaming about food, a frequent occurrence lately, but right now, she had a more pressing problem, her bottom and her feet. Both were numb and she knew she needed to get up or her troubles would increase, possibly to a point of no return.

When she tried to stand things got more complicated and a lot more painful. Her legs were trembling so much they refused to support her and she fell backward, hitting her head on the circular concrete behind her. She blacked out.

Coming to pulled her out of yet another dream, this one about lying in a big, soft bed, covered with the thickest, softest down comforter imaginable. She shook her head, partly to clear it, but also because such a bed had never been part of her reality.

Lura edged her body up the frigid concrete until she was as upright as the four foot culvert would allow. She willed her body to stop shaking and it reluctantly cooperated, but all that did was allow her to realize how bad her left foot was. She looked at the big rip in the filthy sneaker she’d found lying in the ditch the night she’d fled. Two waxy white toes poked out. She knew without touching them that they were dangerously close to frostbite. Ignoring the tremors and multiple throbbing pains all over her body, she moved toward the end of the culvert.

She had no idea what time it might be, nor what day either. How long had it been since she fled the mess of ripped blue tarps she, her druggie mother, and whatever sketchy creep Mom had brought home lived in down by the Sclearville River? Bits and pieces from that horror show were stuck in her thirteen year old mind.

Lura flinched as freezing rain started to fall, adding more chilling pain to the parts of her that remained exposed. When she’d fled to escape what she believed would soon become a bloody confrontation between her mother and the creep, there hadn’t been time to pick up much. In fact, she’d left her shoes, tattered winter jacket and favorite book behind. The thin pants and sweater she’d been wearing were it.

There was still sufficient light so she could see to limp up to the road. She slowed her breathing in an attempt to calm enough to figure out what to do. Which way should she go? It looked like there might be more light reflecting from the low clouds toward her right, so she began hobbling in that direction.

Her exposed toes were throbbing by the time she reached the edge of town. It wasn’t Sclearville, so she must have run a lot further than she thought, East Beddington, maybe? Lura’s life had been one of survival for so long, she wasn’t certain about much. What memories she had of a time when her life was stable were few and faint, further impaired by how seldom she was able to attend school. None of that mattered right now, a reality the growing ache in her empty stomach reinforced.

The flashing bank sign told her it was just after five pm on December 24th, not an auspicious time to look for help. Lura doubted anything would still be open, but she hobbled on because what else could she do?

Even the only fast food place was dark, but she risked whatever monster might be hiding in the darkness and went around to the dumpster behind it, praying she might find something edible there.

Who puts a padlock on a trash receptacle? She asked herself as she limped back to the deserted street. It was a toss-up as to what was more distressing, her hunger cramps, or her rising sense of despair.

Lura was ready to find an alley and let the cold take her when she noticed the second hand store half a block ahead of her was still open. She hobbled toward it, her last bit of hope focused on the lighted window that featured an assortment of less than pristine mannequins modeling outdated clothing.

She held her breath as she opened the door, praying no bell would ring to alert the big bearded man who seemed to be dozing behind the cash register. She exhaled when no sound, save the man’s snoring disturbed the store. She left the door slightly ajar to ensure a silent getaway, and looked around.

The welcome warmth dulled her senses as she snuck along the back wall, looking for anything that might help her survive. In short order, she’d found three cans of outdated sardines, a jar of equally old peanut butter and some crackers with all the words in a foreign language on the package. She quickly stuffed everything in a sleeping bag featuring a Disney character on it, and snuck back to the entrance.

Lura was halfway out the door when a big hand grabbed her arm. “That’s not how things work in my store, little sister,” the now awake proprietor said. He closed the door, locked it, and marched her toward a door in the rear.

She felt her heart pound in her chest until she expected it to break free, splattering blood all over the place. Had all her efforts to avoid physical abuse, or worse, come to an end?

The area behind the door wasn’t at all what she expected. It was warm, cozy, and spacious. Even more surprising was the huge dog that got up stiffly and walked over to sniff her. Evidently satisfied that Lura wasn’t any sort of threat, the beast waited until she backed away and her knees hit a sofa, forcing her to sit before he climbed up beside her and laying his head in her lap.

As the man watched this, his facial expression morphed from disapproval to bemusement. “Thor’s my measuring stick when it comes to strangers. He either likes them, or takes a bit of their hide. That’s why I keep him back here unless the store is closed.”

Lura had very limited experience with animals and her first inclination was to shy away, but when the dog put one of his huge paws out like she was supposed to shake, she did so and felt something foreign move through her. Whatever the feeling was, it felt better than any she’d experienced in longer than she could remember. She relaxed a tiny bit and allowed the warmth to penetrate while tentatively stroking Thor’s head.

The man had been examining her loot while this was happening. “Christ almighty, kid. Was this the best you could manage to shoplift?” he said, holding up the sardines in one hand and the odd crackers in the other. He shook his head and then seemed to realize something. “You eaten recently?”

Lura shook her head, not trusting her voice.

“Stay put.” The man got up and walked through another door.

Her first inclination was to get up and flee, but the warmth was so good and it felt so nice to have a connection to something alive like Thor that she closed her eyes and dozed off.

Here, better chow down while it’s warm.”

Lura came awake with a momentary stab of terror. Where was she and who was talking. She opened her eyes and found a TV tray in front of her with hot chocolate, a bowl of baked beans complete with slices of hot dogs swimming in them, and a couple pieces of buttered toast.

“Eat what you can and please don’t barf. I know how tempting it is to eat everything when you’ve gone without, but we have somewhere we need to be pretty soon,” the man said before sitting in a well worn rocking chair across from her.

Lura’s curiosity about the ‘we have somewhere to be pretty soon,’ got lost as soon as she tasted the beans. They had to be home made. Nothing so delicious ever came from a can. She should know after all the times she and whoever else was in the makeshift shelter had to share a can of cold beans.

It was hard not to devour every last bite, but she heeded the man’s advice, leaving half the bowl and one piece of bread uneaten. She surreptitiously studied him while finishing the hot chocolate. He looked kind of rough with several tats on his arms, along with several scars and part of one ring finger missing. Even so, he gave off what she felt were survivor vibes, not the total creep ones she’d come to associate with the men her mother brought home. This insight caused Lura to relax so she dared ask a question. “Where do we need to go?”

“It’s Christmas Eve, one of the hardest nights for people like me, so we’re heading to a place where folks who need some spiritual sustenance hang out on holidays. I think you might need some of what you’ll find there.” He got up and moved the tray so she could stand. “Help me take this stuff into the kitchen and then we’ll load my car.”

Lura waited until he went into the other room. This, she felt, was a turning point. She could do something that felt completely foreign and trust this stranger, or she could grab the sleeping bag and run out the front door. She closed her eyes, hoping for some kind of divine answer.

Instead, Thor licked her hand and uttered a soft whine.

Ten minutes later, Lura, wearing boots that were a size too big, but were made comfortable by thick wool socks, plus a puffy pink winter jacket, was sitting in the back seat of the man’s car with Thor curled up beside her, while the smell wafting from the big crock pot on the floor by her feet filled the air.

She watched as they drove by houses decorated with colored lights and small Christmas displays, her hand kneading Thor’s thick coat. Lura felt some of her accumulated tiredness and despair leave her and for the first moment in ages, she felt a hint of peace and safety.

They passed through two small towns before arriving at some kind of meeting hall that was brightly lit. After pulling into a nearly full parking lot, the man turned and looked at her. “Guess we should know each other’s names before going inside. “I’m Lawrence, but you’ll hear some folks in there call me the Red Ax Man. I answer to either.”

Lura took a moment to process that. Red Ax Man should sound scary, but she could tell there was a story behind it, so she simply nodded and told him her name.

If Thor wasn’t right beside her to offer emotional support, Lura would have been terrified by the appearance of some folks inside. One woman had a black eye patch and was stick thin, another would have made three or four of the first one and jiggled every time she moved, but it was the man who embraced Lawrence as soon as they came inside that was the most intimidating. He was Native American and close to seven feet tall. Like Lawrence, he had numerous scars on his arms as well as one that ran from his hairline down one cheek and disappeared under a black sweatshirt.

“Hey Ax, who’s this little feather?” The man’s voice was surprisingly gentle as he gave her a warm smile.

“Lura’s one of us, Bax,” Lawrence said. He looked at Lura. “This is my friend and sponsor Baxter. I owe him most of my sanity and possibly my life. Let’s get the beans to the table and I’ll introduce you to some of the others.”

With Thor walking along so she could keep one hand on him for steadying purposes, Lura followed Lawrence as he moved through the crowd. Once the beans were on the table, he began pointing out various people to her. The woman with the eye patch was Crabby Annie, the very large one was Slim Sue. It wasn’t long before she realized several things. While many people in the room were marked by scars or injury, everyone seemed happy. In fact, laughter was the predominant sound in the room. She was also the youngest person there by far.

The next couple hours seemed to pass by in a blur. Lura paced herself as best she could at the food table, but when it came time for dessert, the blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream called her back twice.

She was enjoying her first ever food coma when everyone moved folding chairs into a circle and began some sort of meeting. Lura didn’t understand much of what was said, but sensed an undercurrent of positivity fill the room.

When she heard someone use the word gratitude, she realized that was how she felt, maybe for the first time in her life.

When the meeting ended, Lawrence took one of her hands while Crabby Annie latched on to the other, Everyone formed a circle and began saying some sort of prayer. Lura didn’t recognize it, but felt like it was the right way for all these odd, but friendly people to end the gathering.

Some people left right away, but most stayed to stack chairs and clean up what remained after the meal. Lura helped pick up trash and sweep the floor. When she looked up, she saw Crabby Annie, Bax, and Lawrence looking at her.

She froze, wondering if she’d done something wrong, but when they motioned her to join them, she did.

Bax spoke first. “Would I be right in thinking you’re on the run from a bad place and bad people?”

Lura nodded.

Crabby Annie waved at the empty chair beside her. “You got any idea what we were doing here tonight?”

Lura shook her head.

“Thought as much,” Annie said. “Pretty much everyone you saw tonight is in some form of recovery, either from alcohol, drugs, gambling, you name it, there wasn’t anyone here tonight who never wasn’t scared outta their mind, experienced violence, or came face to face with the devil. Sound familiar?”

Lura nodded again.

Lawrence nodded. “Thought so when I sawytour face and what you tried to take. It was like watching myself in the mirror, but I was a few years older. Think you’d be okay going home with Annie. I know you and Thor have a connection, but you should be with another female, at least for tonight.”

“I guess,” Lura was wrestling with a mix of unfamiliar feelings, gratitude being among them.

“I’ve walked your walk,” Annie said. When I think you’re ready, I can tell you all my war stories, but it looks like you need a shower, clean clothing, and a warm bed. I got all three at my house.”

“What about…?” Lura began, but was interrupted by Bax who pointed at two signs on the wall. One said ‘One Day At A Time.’ The other said, ‘Welcome to the We’ll Figure it Out Group.’

As she followed Annie out to the parking lot after learning she was a retired social worker, Lura realized just how prophetic the two signs were.




  1. What a great short story for the holiday. Hope still springs eternal.


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