The tip of my foot catches on a branch and I stumble, but am able to hit the ground with my palms and push myself back up without missing a beat. My heart’s racing in my chest, my breath panting, my legs cramping and shaking, but I know they won’t dare give out on me now. I feel a sharp, fast shot of air blow past my left ear. It isn’t until I see it land in a tree trunk, that I realize it’s a bullet. They’re shooting goddamned bullets at me now! Holy shit. They must have gained. I start zig-zagging my run and hear the mechanical translation of whispered voices coming out of walkies. I start laughing maniacally- the adrenaline too large inside of me to keep in. I might die soon, I think, but at least I’ll die trying and running free! The thought of freedom, narrow and splitting as it is in this moment, strikes me with such a gust of laughter I think I might actually propel myself off the ground.
This is more living than I’ve done in the last 4 years on the row. I duck to clear a branch and feel another whiz blow past my head. Thank you, branch, I think, and swerve right towards the underpass. We’re getting close to suburbia. They won’t dare let bullets fly so freely there, with children playing in the street? Perhaps I can find a sweet hiding spot or lift a car to Timbuktu. Do children still play in the street, I wonder?
I clear the underpass and slip behind a shed where my hand happens to brush up against a blue hoodie on top of a woodpile. I slip it on without a second thought and start speed walking across the lawn to the street behind their house. I can’t hear the walkies and the siren’s sound farther away. Maybe I'll get lucky and lose them? I spot a black Cadillac. I can’t believe my eyes. It’s a ’69 Cadillac Eldorado, just like the one my old man had when I was growing up. I throw a “thanks pop” up to the heavens and jimmy the door open. Once inside, I see the keys are in the goddamn ignition. Then, I see this guy come running out of his house on the phone and the goddamn AAA in my rearview. I turn the keys and push the gas peddle until it wouldn’t go down any further and she flies off down the road in a cloud of grey smoke- her owner cussing and coughing and punching air on his lawn.
I know I have to be smart. The cops are still near enough to gain and within minutes they’ll be looking for this exact car. I’m near the freeway, but skip it and instead jump over to Oliphant Street, then Doobey, Morris, and across to Howel Avenue which circles out to what most people think is a dead end, but if you know where to look, you’ll find there’s a small (really small) dirt road that skirts around the lower-east side of town and then down into Maperville. The Cad is just barely too wide for the road, but I figure a few scrapes and scratches are the least of her troubles. Heck, it’s 2014- she’s had a good run.
I freestyle it after that, turning wherever my gut nags me, until I reach Sudderstupe, which is just left and north of Maperville; it’s a small town of about 350 people that is known for its Red Salt Sugar- or anyway, that’s what the handwritten and misspelled “Welcohm sign” says. I don't recall ever seeing this town before. I pull into the bus stop and assess the schedule. There’s a bus coming by in about 15 minutes to St. Louis. I can take that and then hop, skip, leap on up to Chicago, keep north and eventually cross the boarder into Canada. That is, if I can find a leak; there’s always a leak in things, if you know where to look. First, I’ll have to dump the Cad though. I drive three blocks north and find a rundown K-Maht. I park the Cad, and inspect the inside for cash. I get lucky with a twenty, get out and kiss her hood, then I’m back on the run to catch my bus. I think of Sam and tell the vision of her in my head that I'm coming. I laugh again, so overwhelmed with freedom and joy and anticipation.
I make it back just in time to walk right on. The first thing that strikes me is their faces. There are 12 or so on the bus, plus the driver. Granted, I’ve been in solitaire for a while and have only seen the occasional guard or prison mate, but I could swear to you these people look different than I remember people looking. Their eyes are kind of purple and turned down and their hands seem much too large for their bodies. I don’t know if it's all the Red Salt Sugar or what, but they definitely seem to be moving slower than a person normally would and all of them have impressive guts. Their skin seems flakey and irritated, and they smell of sulfur. The driver growls up at me while I’m staring at them and says, “Mehr, yerh gonnehr puttehr ierhn?”
I turn back to him and see his teeth are yellow and scarce; his eyes dart back and forth in his head almost like they're not really attached. I start looking around, like you do when you think something is a joke and there’s an audience hidden somewhere watching and laughing, but no one is laughing. I get kind of scared in the pit of my stomach. I try to think back- the Cad guy looked normal enough, the cops were masked and uniformed but they ran fast and their mechanical, muffled voices in the walkies came out more discernable than whatever this driver just said. He is still looking up at me expectantly. I hold up the twenty, like a question, and he slowly pulls it into the bucket next to him and shifts gears to go. I jolt with the bus’ forward motion and try to ask about change, but the eery fear in my gut grows, leadens and stifles me into submission, so I just shuffle to the back.
There is one aisle with no one sitting in it, so I sit there and shift my gaze to the country-side. I can’t focus on these freaks or I’ll get side-tracked. I have to stay focused on the mission at hand. Firstly, securing freedom. Second, Sam. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Sam. That was my favorite, virtually my only, activity on the row. I can’t wait to see her, to touch her, to smell her, to feel her smile fill my body with sunshine. Sam was my rat. She’d fed me to the snakes, but I forgive her for it. We were the ones that threw the grenade in the park and if she hadn’t given me up then she would have been the one who stayed locked up until they injected the death into her veins and I couldn’t have lived with that.
Sam. Oh, Sam with her golden hair, blue/green eyes, tall as clouds, and lithe, lithe, lithe. Sam with purple, upside down eyes, with gut as wide as- wait, what am I thinking? Sam with purple, upside down eyes- NO. Sam with golden- very large hands. Stop it! Sam with belly like buddah and mumble speech. Sam with yellow teeth. Sam so slow she don’t know whah shah gohhhhhhhh.
I start feeling something. Woozy. Something I feel- not right. Clumsy. Like. Brain not working. Gohhhhh fahhhstehr.
Drool drop drips on my hand. Hand seems grand. Large. Large hands.
Look out. Bus stops. Look up. Bus dumb-dumbs look at me with red lollipops. Some dumb man with truck hat says, “Red Salt Sugar Pohp?”
Bus driver shouts back, “Lick it. Lick it now.”
Tweedle-dee lady with pig-tails turns around, “Ya better lick it or else die!”
My god. I understand them now. Must mean. I think. Must mean. I am. One of-
Truck hat puts Pohp to my mouth. Tongue shoots out- my tongue. Stick. Lick. Stick. Lick. Stick. Lick. Stick-Stick-Stick. Pull! Ouch. Still stuck!
Bus dumbs laugh. HA HA HA
Tongue still stuck. Bus dumbs hold out their tongues. All red and spots missing on some. Tweedle-dee lady grins, “You one uh us now. Ah ha.”
“Ahhhh!!!!!” I say back, but it sounds dumb. There’s no fight in it. “Ahhhh!” I try to say again. I try to say, “Shit. Fuckers. Leave me alone. I go to Sam. I go- I- You dumb. Me. Smart. Fahst.”
But me too dumb/slow to speak. Shit. I think. Cops must near now. Cops will catch me. Where leak. Leak. Piss. Shit. I think. "Rip" goes tongue. "Ouch" goes mouth. HA HA goes dumbs. HA HA HA. Sounds like tear in universe. Like perverse merry-go. Like HA HA. HA HA HA.
Jokes on me now.
This- what I get. Momma said, "Dreamers die twice. Once inside and once outside."
HA they laugh. My tongue starts to twizzle. I try to think SAM. I think SPAM. I think purple eyes, not blue/green- NO. Purple eyes, upside down. NO! Spam. I think of Spam and think of Spam. I think of Spam.
HA HA HA.
Spam? I luh you. I truh tuh couhm toh youh.
Wooh-wee-wooh. Sirens buzz-scream. Wee-wooh. Sirens buzz.
HA HA. Scream bus dumbs. HA HA.
Freedom was nice. I think. Freehom wah nih…
BLACK HEAT SINKS IN.
“Weeek” goes walkie talkie, “Errrr, we gottem surrounded, over.” “Errrr, target acquired, over.” “Errrr, take yer shot if yer gotter.” “Errr, forgot to say over, over.”
Freedohm wah nice foh a while.