traced the highlighted section of freeway out with one very dirty
thumbnail and tried to remember which exit had that diner with
the homemade ice cream. I ate the entire bag of cheetos during
two binge episodes and wiped orange hands on my slacks. I giggled
intermittedly, too. Once, I laughed when I thought about the getaway
car leaving to get a sprite. Another time, I snorted out loud
when I thought about Ronald, the fat security guard with the bulbous
eyes, five-o-clock shadow, and spearmint gum wadded in his cheek.
I imagined the way he would waddle down those cinderblock halls
in a few hours, consternation oozing from his pores, muttering
how the hell did somebody bust out of this place. I put personal
bets on the quantity and quality of curse words he would fart
out before he had to face a formal reprimand.
I guess I hadn't counted the waiting into my plans, though. The
thrill of escape can take you only so far and after that, you're
on your own. I'd been praying to the gods of adrenaline and caffeine
for four straight days and they were slow to listen tonight. My
head kept slipping on my shoulders like a bobble-headed dashboard
toy and before long, I was forced to rely on half-remembered John
Denver lyrics to hold the eyelids aloft. I kept looking at my
watch like it would urge the night along.
Finally, the waiting was over. I woke myself up with 'leaving...on
a jet plane..." and a cheekfull of slobber. I heard something
that sounded like cracking ice. As a pillow, the steering wheel
had imprinted a sweaty groove into my forehead. I rubbed at the
spot and peered anxiously into the gloom beyond the windshield.
There he was: Jacob, my hulking goliath. He stooped gracefully
in the dim light, half draped in shadows, brushing woodchips and
dust from his arms and moving slowly as though time waited for
him to pass. Shovel-sized hands still gripped pieces of the splintered
door. No bells. No alarms. God, this place was easy! He'd shattered
the gate like it was kindling and not a single soul would know
until the sun burst over the horizon and shone on the jagged lines
of our escape.
Jacob barreled towards me now with great loping strides and I
turned the key in the ignition. If his encounter with the gate
wasn't enough to rouse the security, I wasn't one to fuss about
the growl of the engine. I'd keep the lights off until we'd cleared
the parking lot, though.
I placed a finger to my lips. Just in case. "Very quiet,"
I mouthed. He nodded and opened the door.
Once in the car, Jacob smiled at me. I remembered that smile from
the courtroom: Cro-Magnon brow and an enormous underbite like
some deep-sea fish. His eyes glistened like polished marbles in
the dim light.
I liked the smile but the smell gagged me. The reek of urine and
sweat seeped from his pores and made the small space tighter.
Since Jacob fit into the Civics' passenger seat in the way a rhino
fits into a poodle's kennel, this was a problem.
Oh well, I thought. What did I expect? Everything in that god
forsaken, court ordered hellhole smelled like sewage. The odor
permeated the air and the food, the thoughts, and the souls, a
Pavlovian reminder to behave like an animal. If somebody wasn't
a "danger to themselves or others" when they went in,
it became an acquired trait after breathing that stench.
Not Jacob, though. I had chosen him especially for his gentleness,
his size, and the way that life still shone in his eyes. Somehow,
his humanity had been preserved through the psychiatric evaluations,
the forced treatments of haldol and adovan, the screeches of fat
nurses with rough hands, and the altruism of pro bono lawyers.
His eyes were still wide, not low lidded and empty. I thanked
god for him when I finally saw in him what I had been waiting
for, when I saw the soul in his gaze. He wouldn't have lasted
another month in that place. His eyes would have dimmed and turned
inward, his face grown twisted and hard.
Stagnant air would have leached into the secret places of him
and carved out deep, resonating hollows. His hands would tremble
when he ached with the emptiness.
But here he was: alive, and glowing from exertion. He would never
have to succumb to the darkness. He would never be only a shell.
"Don't have a dime," he whispered hoarsely now. "Not
even a dime." The deep chuckle was infectious and I found
myself laughing for the first time in months.
On a level stretch of highway, Jacob finally relaxed. "It
happened just like you said it would," he told me. I nodded
and watched the yellow lines paint themselves on the asphalt in
front of the car. He laughed out loud, throwing his head back.
"Man, you know that place. I mean, you know it. The timing
was down to the second."
Leftover adrenaline had given way to satisfaction long ago but
a wash of disappointment rose in my throat as the distance between
us and the asylum grew. The journey was nearly finished.
I signed the title of the Honda over to Jacob at a rest stop.
The atlas had been highlighted months ago but I pointed out the
back-roads and better restaurants along the way.
"Good ice cream at the diner on exit 32," I remembered
finally. I made sure to write that in as well.
"Don't stop until you reach the state line," I told
him. My hands trembled as I pushed four sweaty hundreds into his
He finally asked the question. "How long did they keep you
I shrugged and shoved my fingers into the empty of my pockets.
"Too long," I said.
I watched the red glow of the taillights become smaller and finally
vanish over a rise in the snaking road.
~ * ~