They had gotten through the worst of it, the cutting through metal, the bartering for supplies, the flirtations and later the sex with that demanding woman—oh, she was insatiable. Before their escape, they had joked about their exhaustion, their muted orgasms, mouths stuffed with discarded cloth from the tailor shop. They had laughed about her to disguise their jealousy and the shame they felt in not knowing who the jealousy was directed at –the guard who smelled like cigarette smoke and hair spray and ivory soap or the man standing next to him. A few moments ago, when the fatter man had emerged from the pipe, his trousers fallen to his thighs during the escape, the other man smiled at the sight of his friend’s exposed ass. “I didn’t know you cared,” he said, trying to make a joke of it. Where did this longing come from?
Yes, they had gotten through the worst of it, their palms and fingers wrecked from the hacksaw blades they used to cut their escape (one of them had hacked a man to death years ago and the other had nicknamed him Hacksaw because of the past or the present, he couldn’t say, and it didn’t really matter), the shimmying through the pipes, the worry that the sound of their hearts pounding in their chests would ricochet and echo through the chambers of those steam pipes, that their own, unruly bodies might sound the alarm to the guards who, it turned out, weren’t even there to hear them. “Shawshank took 20 years; we’re going out in 10,” they boasted to disguise, yes, their fear, and perhaps also their second thoughts (one of them had really fallen for the guard and had gotten used to his access to free art supplies and homemade stew; things might be harder on the outside).
They had gotten through the manhole cover and to freedom—just barely. Despite the late hour, a man had been driving home, his headlights shining onto their emerging shadows. When they fled toward the trees of this man’s house, he came hollering after them—they were trespassing on his land—but the calmer, well-spoken one, the thinner one, the one the guard really loved if they were to be completely honest about the whole thing, even though the plumper one had fallen for her and knew his paintings were better, more skillful than the thinner ones, and that the art was what had really gotten them out of that godforsaken prison, the paintings and what they were able to exchange for them, but it was the thinner one who said, quietly, “We’re sorry; we were just taking a short cut.” The man saw the guitar case and figured they were wandering home late from a gig, perhaps from Fuzzy Ducks, though the bar was a pretty long ways away, and left them alone to get going. Everyone in town was asleep, and this man wanted to be too; it was late, after midnight, and the neighborhood was especially dark for a night in early summer.
They took to the cover of trees and shimmied out of their prison clothes and exchanged them for what was in the guitar case. They ate some granola bars and pretended they were hiking, though neither of them had grown up doing that sort of thing, and the woods seemed menacing and promising both, and they kept walking into them, feeling the damp earth under their feet, occasionally remarking at how different the ground felt out there, soft and forgiving compared to the concrete their feet had known for the past seven years, more years, actually, for the thin one even though he was the younger of the two. Even on that first night after their escape, they bickered. The younger, thinner one boasted that he could steal anything he wanted; in fact, he had stolen many things before he had landed in prison—an RV, drugs, a girl’s necklace, money from his mother’s purse. If they ever got out of the forest and into a real town, the thin one could steal everything and anything they could possibly need. Food, money, shoes. The bigger one tried to keep his mouth shut—he was as good a thief as anyone—but each time he thought about interrupting, his mind drifted to the last thing he stole, those 300 dollars in a border town bar’s bathroom. He didn’t regret killing that man for his walletfull of cash, but he did regret getting caught and the last thing he wanted to think about now were regrets, so instead, he said, “It’s easy to steal in small town New York. At least I’ve been to Mexico. I’ve seen things you’ve never seen. The only roads you’ve traveled are between Binghamton and Dannemora, and most of that road you spent traveling in a transport van with your hands and feet in shackles. You haven’t seen anything.” The thin man tried to think of something mean to say, but he knew he had to be careful. He had killed someone with a gun, sure, but his friend had killed more than one man with his bare hands. He didn’t know where those makeshift hacksaws had gone and he didn’t want to find out, so he kept his mouth shut and eventually murmured, “We’re going to keep looking out for each other. It’s us versus them and they’re about to come looking.” The big man nodded, but the darkness kept the thin man from seeing, so they walked on in silence, each nursing a kind of hurt they both wished they could ignore.
As they walked deeper into the forest, they occasionally reminded each other what they had pulled off. They bragged about what they had left behind—the notes on their paintings (You left me no choice but to grow old and die in here. I had to do something! Time to go, kid! Have a nice day! Are you trying me punk?), the tape measure that had kept track of the big man’s waist during recent weeks to make sure he could fit through the steam pipe, the sheet they had wrapped around the big man who was claustrophobic and couldn’t or wouldn’t budge without pulling and prodding by the small man, and back in their beds, dummies stuffed with cloth from the tailor shop where their guard was probably crying broken-hearted tears for one of them or both, who could be sure? or maybe crying for the trouble she was in now, thanks to them. And all of those paintings they had had to leave behind, the big man regretted those a little bit too, the one of Tony Soprano that he had refused to barter, the one with the moonlit bridge illuminated by the soft glow of street lamps and cozy houses. He had seen Van Gogh’s paintings in the prison library, and he had tried to find the same colors, those blues and yellows. Once they got to Canada, maybe he could find work painting images on vans or murals on school walls. Or maybe he’d just paint some graffiti onto an overpass. One day, he’d be commissioned for his art, that’s what he focused on as they walked blindly, deeper into the forest.
While the big man was thinking about murals, the thin one was thinking about Apocalypse Now and Platoon and Deer Hunter. He had watched all those movies in his childhood, and later, on the honor floor of the prison, where the guards would let them watch movies, the thin man had paid attention. He had read books. While the big man had been painting his silly landscapes, the thin man had been doing his research. He knew that black pepper would keep their scent hidden from dogs. He knew how to chart their direction by looking at the sky. He knew that people kept cabins in the Adirondack woods that would be stocked with food and booze and beds.
They tried not to let their minds wander, but of course, their thoughts drifted and strayed. Though neither would admit it, in their imaginations, they were often alone and they didn’t think much about where the other might have gone in this future world they were mapping. They had made a pact to escape together, and together they had, but what was their obligation to one another now? The big man was too slow and clumsy and still too fat despite the weight the thin man had urged him to lose; the small man was too confident and reckless and too afraid of the big man and his murderously large hands. But they walked all through the night in those dark woods, west and a little bit north, according to the small man’s calculations. They stopped occasionally to eat pepperoni sticks and peanuts. They found a hunting platform nestled into the trees and they slept, taking two-hour shifts, before moving on. They did this night after night, following snowmobile routes and transmission lines that made the trudging easier, but the big man was often out of breath and the small man felt impatient at their frequent stops and wondered how long it would be before he had to leave the big man behind, this friend and burden, who made too much noise, even when he was sleeping.
By the fifth day, they had found an abandoned camp near Mountain View. It was a Tuesday and they felt confident that the owners wouldn’t return until the end of the workweek, so they rummaged through the cabinets, finding weed and moonshine and boxes of spaghetti and iodine tablets that made the water from the nearby stream safe for drinking. They boiled water and ate their pasta, crumbling saltines into the Ragu sauce they had found in a storage trunk. They shaved their scraggly beards and found a deck of cards and played gin rummy as the sky went dark and the big man grew drunker. The small man said things like easy now and save some of that shit for later, but the big man ignored him and kept drinking while the small man smoked the weed and remembered his teenage years when he had sold the stuff with his cousin. He didn’t like letting his guard down, but he remembered that even the soldiers in those Vietnam movies smoked weed every now and then so they could laugh and dull out their senses and escape their worlds for a moment or two. Escape, the small man said out loud and giggled. The big man giggled too, even though he didn’t know what the small man had been thinking. They would have real beds to sleep in that night and maybe the next, and they allowed themselves to feel good about that small comfort, and they were able to pretend they were on a hunting trip. The mountain air grew cooler in the evening and the mosquitoes came out, and even the itchy bites they received made the men feel content, a reminder that they were on the outside. They fell asleep smiling at each other.
That next morning, after their first real sleep, the thin man nudged his friend in the ribs, but the fat man just snorted and rolled over like a St. Bernard. The fat man smelled chemical, almost like gasoline. The empty bottle of moonshine leaned against his bunk. The thin man moved away and sat at the table. While the drunk man slept, the thin one thought about what was happening out there. He thought about the dogs that would already be tracking their scent. He thought about the police and the guns on their hips and the blockaded roads and the border they still had to cross. When he started to feel a panic welling in his gut, he shifted his thoughts to the newscasts that must have been blaring through the North Country. Maybe the kids had been taken out of school; maybe some working folks were claiming sick days until the threat passed. For a moment, he let himself believe they were heroes. The kids watching cartoons all day even though their summer vacation was still a couple of weeks away might think of him as a hero, wouldn’t they? The teachers even? A free day of rest. The thin man let himself think about Bonnie and Clyde, about John Dillinger, about Baby Face Nelson. He thought about the movie that could be made about him, about them. He let himself feel proud, then, for a moment as he watched the sunrise through the tree line. His belly was full and he felt strong, even though his head was still a bit dulled out from the pot. No more weed, he told himself. No more booze. He walked away from his friend’s snoring, outside and into the morning, and found a patch of flat earth where he did 50 pushups and 100 sit-ups until he felt the sweat gathering at his temples and dropping down the small of his back.
While the thin man exercised, the still-drunk man dreamed. Though he tried to push her away, he dreamed about the guard in the tailor shop. He dreamed about the way she had grabbed at his waistband while looking directly into his face, not hating what she saw. He kicked away at his pants in his dream, but struck his foot against the bunk’s frame in real life, which shifted his dream to the other guard who used to watch the drunk man as he painted portraits and landscapes and places the drunk man had only dreamed about. The drunk man was a good dreamer. That other guard had brought food to the drunk man, food the guard’s wife had cooked—stews and baked chicken and cookies and pie—in exchange for the paintings of the drunk man’s dreams. He had eaten well on the inside, and he had fucked pretty well on the inside too, and he started to feel angry in the dream, angry at the measuring tape the thin man had made him carry around, angry about the time the thin man took the cookies away and said, not today, fatso, think of the steam pipe and now think of that gut of yours. The drunk man kicked again, and this time, the crack against the bedframe woke him up and he looked around the small, dark room, and believed he was still in a dream. He scanned the room—card table with a half-finished game of rummy, a couple of stools, two gas burners, an empty bunk. His stomach groaned and his head pounded and he realized he was, in fact, quite awake. He leaned over the side of his bunk and let his insides spill out onto the floor. The puddle smelled like gasoline, and then he released more and more until all he could do was lay his head back onto his too-flat pillow and try to find his way back into his dream.
When the thin man came back into the cabin, he was almost knocked down by the stench. He saw the pool of waste near his half-conscious, no-longer good friend, and, without a word, he grabbed two buckets and headed for the stream. As he walked through the woods, he started making conditions in his head. If the drunk man didn’t wake up and apologize, the thin man would leave him. He would set off on his own and leave the drunk man to his fate. If the drunk man didn’t clean up his own puke, the thin man would grab the drunk man’s mattress and roll him out of the bunk onto his own sick. But the thin man considered—he could not roll the drunk man onto his own stink because it would make it easier for the dogs to track them. He could not leave the drunk man behind to be captured because that would increase the police’s confidence and they’d come after the thin man with more bounce in their step. He hated thinking about how smug the officers would be, the ones who might find his fat friend, as if it was hard work to catch a man sluggish from booze, tripping over his own foolishness. The thin man counted to 100 and then he counted again. He felt the numbers move across his tongue as he watched a bluebird in the trees taunting some smaller larks. He felt his anger retreating. He watched the young, still-small trout silvering down the stream and he smiled at the idea of how far they had come.
When the thin man began his walk back to the cabin with the two buckets now filled with water, the sun had risen high into the sky. It was nearing midday, and he was already making peace with the fact that they’d most likely spend another night there. He continued to lay out his conditions. If the drunk man was still asleep, he would splash him awake with one of the buckets. If the puke was still on the floor, he’s splash the drunk man awake and then hand him the other bucket and say, get to work, you lazy, stupid fool. The drunk man had to be warned—the thin man could leave him, just like that, and then where would he be? The thin man worked himself up as he walked. I would have been better off alone, he muttered. I still could be.
But when he opened the door to the cabin, the no-longer quite as drunk man smiled at him with a big, stupid grin. The puke was gone and the fat man had straightened his shirt and had tidied the table. There was a drawing of the cabin etched onto a scrap of paper, a chewed pencil at its side next to the stack of cards. But the most surprising thing of all was the other voices suddenly in the room, chattering over static from a transistor radio. “They’re talking about us,” the fat man said. “Listen.”
“How did you clean everything up,” the thin man asked as he listened.
“Water pump out back. Where have you been?”
The thin man stuffed away his anger—he had been expecting a fight; he had been preparing to dump water over his friend, and he regretted the missed chance even as he was relieved—and turned his attention to the voices. They were excited, they were alarmed, and the thin man could tell they were grateful for such a big, local story to share with their bored public. The thin man smiled. Yes, the voices were relishing the story, happy to be useful, happy to be relevant. The wanted men are armed and dangerous. Violent criminals. On the run. Do not pick up any hitchhikers. Keep your doors locked. Avoid your family camps. Police are searching the following areas: Erwin, Lindley, Friendship.
“Ha! Friendship,” the fat one said.
“They’re not even close, the fuck-ups,” the thin one said.
“Look what else I found,” the fat one said. He held up a shotgun. “Think about what we can do with this. We could find a house and take whatever we want. We can find a road, point this fucker at a driver and take his car.”
“Won’t get far drawing attention to ourselves like that,” the thin one said. He eyed the gun warily.
“We can get one of those troopers right between the eyes.” The fat man listened to the radio. He could hear the dogs barking and the police breathing hard as they ran. “It’s like we’re already in a movie.”
The thin man sat on a stool. He turned the cards over in his hand and then started dealing out a new hand of rummy. “We’ve got one more night here, and then we’ll have to get moving.” He looked at his friend’s empty bottle and hoped they wouldn’t find any more booze in the cupboards.
The fat man rested the rifle against the bunk and sat across from his friend. The cabin still smelled rough. “There’s some oatmeal on the stove if you want any. Tried eating but can’t yet.” He felt bad about the stench. He picked up the cards. It was as much of an apology he could offer.
The next day, they packed up some clothes they found in the trunk, some granola bars, the iodine pills, a couple of canteens, and the shotgun. The thin man took most of the load and offered to carry the gun too, but the fat man said that he was happy to hold onto it for now. The thin man pointed to the sky. He thought to himself, the search is to the south of us, so let’s keep in this direction. West. Malone will be that way, and then just north of there, we can find a way to the border. The fat man looked up at the sky and then at the direction his friend was pointing, and all he could see were mountains in front of him, and he had a sudden desire to sit down in the moss and rest for a while. Instead, he tripped over a log and ripped part of the sole of his shoe clean off. His toe was bleeding and the shotgun had tumbled out of his hands. He rubbed his foot and looked at his ruined shoe and wished for a drink. When he looked up, his friend was extending his hand; his other hand held the shotgun. His friend was trying to smile, but underneath it, the fat man saw a look of impatience, maybe even disgust. “Give me back the gun,” he said, as he reached for the thin man’s hand.
When the fat man was back on his feet, the thin man handed the gun to him. “Maybe you can use it as a walking stick.” He tried to make his voice light, joking, but he looked at his friend’s bloody sock and thought: dogs and the police who follow.
They continued walking, stopping far too often so the fat man could catch his breath, swig from the canteen, and complain about his foot. The thin man didn’t admit that his own feet were hurting too; the soles of his prison sneakers were thinning out and he could feel every pebble, every stick under his heels, poking at the arches of his feet. One of them, though, had to refrain from complaining and keep them on a schedule. He hoped they might find another cabin in these woods, but by the time the evening rolled around, they had to make do with a damp clearing. They ate some granola bars and didn’t risk making a fire, even though they shivered from their drying sweat and the cool breeze coming off the mountains. They huddled close to each other as the sunset. One of them asked where he thought their guard might be—the woman from the tailor shop, not the other one—so they’d both know their thoughts were on women and not on the warmth of their friend’s body. She’s fucked, they both agreed, and laughed and tried to sleep, but the night wore on long and chilled, and when morning came, their bodies were stiff with cold; their feet ached when they stood.
The thin man again looked at the sky, and the fat man looked away because he knew where his friend would be pointing. Up the mountain in front of them. His toe was throbbing and he was hungry and he wished his friend would, instead, point them toward a road where he could take the shotgun and point it at something or someone useful. Why not take over a house and drink beer from a cold fridge and prop up their feet and sleep in a real bed? What was all of this walking good for? The more they walked, the more the fat man wondered if they were actually moving farther away from what he had thought was their destination—freedom, comfort, privacy, time, hamburgers and margaritas, someone else’s money in their pockets, some diner waitress to flirt with. He let his mind wander to a roomy booth, a table sticky with syrup, a napkin on which he could sketch a quick portrait of the waitress and then offer it to her along with a generous tip and maybe get on with something good, something new. He could curl up against a soft body that smelled nice instead of his friend’s bony shoulders and jutting knees. When he shook himself out of his daydream, his friend was already several feet away, pushing his way through the trees into the morning.
They walked up this mountain and then down again, across some untended pastures, and then back up and down another mountain that the thin man insisted on calling a hill. Both men’s feet were bloody when they stopped at twilight in front of another abandoned cabin. They didn’t say a word, but they hugged each other, punched a shoulder, smirked.
When they entered the cabin, the fat man immediately went for the fridge while the thin man found a radio and turned it on to the local news. When he heard his name come over the static, he smiled and waved his friend over. “Listen to this. They’re saying we don’t have a chance out here. They can’t catch us, but they’re saying we’re not woodsmen. What a fucking joke.” The thin man liked hearing his name echoing from the radio; he liked the way it sounded coming out of a stranger’s – a woman’s — mouth. She was saying it with respect and fear, he thought. He liked that she was calling him a fugitive, an escape artist. He wanted his friend to feel the same exaltation he felt in his gut, in the pulsing of his tired feet, but the fat man was at the fridge, his back turned toward him, a sad thumbs up silhouetted by the refrigerator’s light.
“We can celebrate with these!” The fat man turned toward his friend, holding up a 6-pack of beer. All he wanted to do was sit for a little while, drink these cold beers, and then sleep. They had been walking for days, and he still felt angry that his friend wouldn’t let them head for a road, a house, a place where his gun could get them some real comfort.
The thin man eyed the beers distrustfully. He was hoping they could stay sober in this cabin. If the radio told them the cops were getting closer, they’d have to be ready to run. They needed rest and some decent food, but the beer would only slow them down. Who knew how long they could stay this time. Who knew when the owners of those beers might return despite the radio’s warnings. He turned to the cupboards and pulled out some soup and crackers and a can of sardines. He rummaged for some pots and pans, a can opener, and refused to accept a beer. He hoped his silence would communicate his disapproval; he didn’t want to argue with his friend, not right after they had arrived and felt some relief. He heard the whoosh of the beer from across the kitchen and his shoulders tensed. He would not drink any. At least one of us will stay alert, he thought. One of us has to remember that we’re not away at boy scout camp.
While the thin man poured soup into a saucepan and refused to look at his friend, the fat man lit the lamp on the card table and started sketching an image onto a paper bag. He drew the outline of a car, its frame dark and menacing. In the driver’s seat, he tried to draw his own face, clean-shaven, smiling. He drew a steering wheel and then put his double’s hands onto it. He kept the fingernails dirty. While his friend found plates and twisted open the sardines, the fat man drew the thin man’s face and shoulders in the passenger seat. His friend was looking out the window with a smirk on his face. The fat man imagined that the car’s radio was playing some old rockabilly tunes. The shotgun was propped up in the backseat. The sketch was coming quickly now. He wished he had a postcard or some magazine photo of Ontario—he always drew better when he had a copy—but he layered in maple trees bending in the wind, blurry in their outlines to give the sense that the car was moving fast. The fat man grabbed his second beer and pulled on the tab. He would never get tired of that popping sound. The guards hadn’t been able to smuggle booze in for them.
When the thin man sat down at the table, he looked at his friend’s drawing. He recognized his thin face and wide-set eyes, his large forehead. The half-smile seemed just right. Some of his anger muted. “Chicken noodle soup. Saltines. Sardines. KitKat bar. A three-course meal for the famous artist,” he said to his friend. “Where are we going?” He didn’t ask about the car. He knew what his friend kept fantasizing about.
“To Ottawa, I think,” the fat man said and pushed a beer toward his friend. “I’ve never been to Canada. I don’t really know what it looks like.”
The thin man pushed the beer away from him. “It probably looks a lot like here. It’s not that far away. How about we go easy on the beers tonight? We don’t know how close they might be.”
The fat man slurped at his soup and ignored the thin man. He opened the beer he had offered to his friend. The refusal had felt like a slight, and even though he knew he shouldn’t have, he chugged the beer down in one quick gulp and reached for another can. “What’s the use of freedom if we can’t drink a beer?” He tried to smile. “They have no idea where we are. You heard it yourself on the radio. A bunch of small town idiots.” He pushed the sketch toward his friend. “Before long, this is going to be us.” He stifled a burp and tried to ignore the disgust on his friend’s face.
They didn’t talk much more that night. The fat man kept drinking his beers and the thin man stretched out on a cot and looked at the maps he had found on one of the shelves. The maps were marked with good fishing spots, but more importantly, they showed the utility roads that led up to Malone. They weren’t far away at all, which was both good and bad. The border was close, but certainly the cops and border control would be looking for them up there. The thin man tried to clear his head of the hunting dogs and police cruisers and the uncertainty of what would happen even after they crossed into Canada. Certainly, the Mounties would be looking for them too. He would have to find some new clothes, some hair dye, a good pair of shoes. If he cleaned himself up a bit, he could find a lonely woman somewhere, surely, who would be all too happy to put him up for a little while, who could keep her mouth shut in exchange for some company. When his friend crept into these thoughts, the thin man pushed his image away. The sketch he had drawn was tucked inside the thin man’s pocket. He could feel the paper crinkling as he shifted the maps in his hands, but he tried to ignore the sound of its rustling.
The fat man was slumped into a chair, six cans crumpled and empty around him. He was already dreaming. In the dream, he told the thin man to hide in the overgrown grass while he stepped onto the road, the gun raised and aimed at the driver of a car that looked a lot like the one from his sketch. He liked feeling in charge again, feeling the weight of the gun in his hands, feeling like there were other important things besides being able to read the sky for directions. He knew what it took to escape just as much as his friend did. While the thin man warned him that the dogs had latched on to their scents, that they were just a few miles away now, the fat man put the barrel of the gun against the driver’s head and thought about pulling the trigger. Instead, he cracked the gun against the man’s temple and left him on the side of the road while he and the thin man sat on the leather seats and rolled down the windows. In his dream, the driver had recently gone grocery shopping, and the thin man rummaged through the bags, offering the fat man first an apple and then some fresh bread and then an Oreo cookie. In the dream, the fat man turned off the road and into an alfalfa field. The car was heavy and strong in hands and pulsed through the crops without even a hitch or a clank. On the far side of the field, the trees opened up, making space for the car and for the friends. Without looking at any maps, the fat man knew they had reached Canada. The air felt colder; the trees seemed older. They passed a homemade sign fastened to a tree. The sign was written in French, and in the fat man’s dream, he could read and understand it. No Trespassing. “We made it,” he said to his friend. He patted him roughly on his chest as his friend stomped the floorboards and punched the door and shook from head to toe with giddiness at the thought of their freedom.
When the thin man woke the next morning, the paranoia hadn’t left him. He was certain the dogs were pressing in close. The radio had told him nothing useful, and he worried that the police and the press were starting to get smarter about what they were revealing about the chase. He found a duffel bag and stuffed it with supplies—a poncho, the crackers, a few canteens, more iodine tablets. He tried hard not to look at the fat man who had fallen asleep in his chair, but he could hear the man snoring and imagined there was drool falling from his chin. The thin man used the outhouse; it was barely morning, the sky still lavender, and everything felt damp. He thought that if he could stay in the forest through the day, making progress to Malone, then he could cross the border that night, using the shadows. He was already picturing making this crossing alone.
When he returned to the cabin, the thin man half-heartedly kicked the fat man’s shoes. He nudged the fat man’s shoulder, gently, almost imperceptibly. He told himself he was trying to wake his friend up. But his friend did not stir. His friend kept snoring. Later, he would remind himself that he tried. In the moment, though, he felt very little regret. He could hear the dogs coming, he was sure of it. “I kept my part of the deal,” he whispered close to the fat man’s ear. “I got you out.” Then the thin man walked out of the cabin door. He left the fat man behind, along with the gun and the pepperoni sticks which were the fat man’s favorites. He left one of the maps with a route circled (not the one he was planning to take, but one that could also take the fat man to the border), but he kept the fat man’s drawing and he tried to believe that maybe, one day, they would drive together in that car once they were really free.
As the thin man left, the fat man was still dreaming. He was still driving. In the dream, he knew the way.
Three days later, the thin man will be walking through an alfalfa field. He will feel the border close by, but it will not be dark the way he would have preferred it to be. For a moment, the field will look like the jungle, and then it will look like a river or the sea that he has never seen. He will think of the soldiers from his favorite movies, navigating a lush landscape. But then a voice will call to him from behind. “Come here,” it will say, and the thin man will know immediately that it is the voice of a cop. “No, I’m good,” he’ll say and he will keep walking through the field, his arms above his head so the cop will know he is unarmed. He will start to walk faster, and that is when he will feel the first bullet in his shoulder. His left arm will fall and then the second shot will hit his back, maybe his lung.
The thin man will not know—not yet—that his friend is already dead and has been for two days. Back at the cabin, the fat man had woken late, alone, and blinked his way into the early afternoon. He carried the shotgun and a pack with pepperoni sticks and another pack of beer. He couldn’t bring himself to leave them behind. He looked up at the sky, thinking of his friend, but the clouds and sun refused to reveal their secrets. Instead, he used the map as best as he could to take him toward the border. When the cops came, he had a gun and didn’t lift his hands up into the air, because he wouldn’t go back to prison, not after he had remembered the taste of beer and built some dreams out of school murals and fast-moving cars. He was shot three times in the head, the border just out of sight.
The thin man will fall into the sea of alfalfa. All he will see is the color green. He will feel like he is drowning. He will think of the fat man, his friend, for a moment, and wonder what he could have painted with this color. He will imagine them standing on an overpass painted with graffiti, an image of forests, thick and green, as they look down to a rush of cars blurry with movement, humming with escape.
Joanna Luloff’s short story collection The Beach at Galle Road was published by Algonquin Books (2012) and was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her novel Remind Me Again What Happened, also with Algonquin, came out in June 2018. Her stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including The Missouri Review, Western Humanities Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Bennington Review, and New South. She received her MFA in fiction from Emerson College and her PhD from University of Missouri. Joanna is an associate professor of English at University of Colorado Denver, where she also edits fiction and nonfiction for the journal Copper Nickel.