Out Of This Dream
-- a work in progress --
One way or another, everyone is an orphan.
You come into the world blind and crying; you
leave the world knowing that you can't take it,
or anyone, with you. Each aspect of your identity,
good or ill, isolates you from other people. Every
word you utter is a cry rising from the human
orphanage -- where there is one child per
room, and all the doors are locked.
Tuesday, September 17th had been warm and overcast through the morning
and early afternoon with high cirrus clouds that turned the sky above Guthrie,
Oklahoma from blue to pure white.
Linden had spent the day inside, waiting for her to go to work. He knew that what he was going to do, what they had agreed he would do, would be easier if she wasn't around. No chance for arguments or second thoughts. He hadn't sensed any anger in her silence. More like resignation. We've said it all. If we talk about something else it'll just be phoney, a cover. So let's not talk at all, let's be honest in this small way. He put up with her silence, grateful that that's all there was, and waited.
Her shift started at 6:00 p.m. and she would not be back home until after 2:00 the next morning. By then he would be back too and it would be over. He knew how it would go because he knew her. She would come into the darkened bedroom and undress without turning the light on. He would be in bed, awake, watching her shifting silhouette framed in the dim square of light from the window. Then she would slip under the sheet and come silently into his arms. The night would pass and in the morning their lives would continue as they had intended, as before. He imagined that they might never speak of this again and time would ultimately prove him right; they never would.
Linden had both his arms wrapped around the cardboard box as he pushed the screen door open with his back. He turned at the top of the high flight of wooden stairs and let the spring slam the door shut behind him. He carried the cardboard box carefully down the back steps and over to their dull yellow Bel Air. He went around the front of the car, opened the passenger side door and set the box on the front seat. The flaps of the box were folded down and tied so the top would remain open. He looked up at the sky. It was 6:30 in the evening and the clouds on the eastern horizon, where he was heading, were getting dark. There might be rain by the time he got back. That would be alright. They hadn't seen any rain for awhile. And anyway, it might be appropriate in some way. Maybe things like this should happen in the rain. He got in the car, drove through the tree-lined back lane to the street and headed for the highway that would take him to Tulsa. He didn't look at the box again until he got there.
Linden had never been in Tulsa before, had never intended to go there at all. They'd been drifting south from Wichita on I-35 heading for Oklahoma City and then possibly on through to Dallas when they made their unscheduled stop in Guthrie.
Tulsa still didn't particularly interest him. It's main advantage was that it was not Oklahoma City. Anyone leaving Guthrie in north-central Oklahoma and wanting a larger urban center to get lost in would head south to Oklahoma City, not east to Tulsa. It was closer, it was easier. That's what she would think if she ever changed her mind. That's what anyone would think. And that's why he didn't do it. That's why he went to Tulsa instead.
He pulled the Bel Air over to the curb on a quiet side street across from the Woodlawn Park Baptist Church and turned off the engine. She'd left a note for him to take along. She had not made a big thing of it and she hadn't asked him not to read it. But she had sealed the note in an envelope before she handed it to him. She was clearly asking for a little privacy and he didn't think less of her for that, privacy was something he valued himself. Nevertheless he couldn't take the chance. His freedom, their freedom was more important, and it was his responsibility to safeguard it. He ripped open the envelope and read the note. "Not quite right," he said softly as he read what she had written. How people love to dress up the truth. When he was finished he refolded the note and slipped it back down inside the box. No cause for concern, she was just filling them in on some of the important details, things they might not be able to deduce for themselves for months or years, but should know, might need to know now. He should have thought of it himself. It didn't matter, this way the note was in a woman's handwriting and that was all to the good.
The drive in from Guthrie had not been a particularly long or tiring one, but it was now working in combination with the silent tension of the afternoon and he was beginning to feel weary. His eyes remained fixed on her note tucked up against the brown corrugated cardboard in the dim shadows inside the box. His vision softened and drifted. His mind emptied of thought and for a few moments he wasn't in a car in Tulsa, Oklahoma; he wasn't anywhere.
The next thing he was aware of was a dull thud coming from somewhere above or behind him. He raised his head up, still a little dopey from his momentary trip to neverland, and looked around the inside of the car. Another thud, then two more in quick succession. He turned and looked at the windshield. Rain. The first few heavy drops of rain were beginning to fall.
It was 10:30. Linden looked up and down the dark street and the sidewalks. No one was around. Then he turned in the front seat and looked at the church across the street. It was a solid-looking little building made of light-colored brick. The main front door was at the top of a short flight of stone steps. This entry area was illuminated by lantern-style electric lights on either side of the large wooden doors. There was another, smaller door on the side of the building, three-quarters of the way to the rear. It was sunk into the wall and had a small gabled roof which extended about three feet out over the walkway. This area, too, was lighted by a lantern-style fixture which hung down from beneath the small gable.
Apart from the front and side doorways the only other light Linden could see on the church was a floodlight shining upward to illuminate a white cross on the roof. He looked up at the cross for a few moments and fixed his eyes on the intersection point. He stared at this point until the darker-colored support section below seemed to disappear leaving the cross floating in the dark night sky. Bright white, pristine. A beacon. Here is hope, safe haven. Come. And he had come. They both had.
Linden looked down at the building again. The side door looked like it would do. It was lighted but it was also partly hidden from the street by a hedge that ran along the sidewalk. And there was a low wooden gate in the opening of the hedge where the walkway came down to meet the street. He would make sure that gate was closed when he left.
He reached over, pushed in on the top of the glove compartment door and let it drop open. When they bought the car there were a few odds and ends left in the glove compartment. A ballpoint pen from the Big Chief Service Center in Springfield, an unused window decal from the Mark Twain National Forest, a condom -- We go over these cars from top to bottom, the salesman had said -- and a write-your-own name badge that Raul Silva had worn at a Million Dollar Sales Club banquet at the St. Louis Hilton. Linden took the name badge, flipped it over to look at the back and dropped it into his shirt pocket. He flipped the door shut and reached down under the dashboard. He felt along with his finger until he found the ignition by-pass switch and flipped it over to the OFF position. He'd installed the switch himself to foil the attempts of any would- be car thieves who were interested in an old, beat-up gas-hog.
He took one more quick look up and down the street. Then he opened the driver's side door, got out and pushed the door closed to the first click. He went around to the passenger side, keeping a lookout for any signs of life as he went. A light rain was still falling; the street was deserted. The neighborhood he'd chosen was old and heavily treed and many of the windows in the houses were obscured by foliage. Similarly, much of the light from the street lamps was blocked from reaching the sidewalk by low- hanging tree branches. Linden opened the car door, pushed the twine down that was holding the box flaps and folded them over the top of the box to keep the rain out. Then he pulled the box out and pushed the door lightly shut with his hip. He carried the box across the street, went through the wooden gate and up to the side door of the church. He crouched down as soon as he got there and ran his eye back along the top of the hedge to see if he was in the sight lines of any of the windows of the houses across the street. He wasn't.
The little gabled roof over the doorway was sheltering the area below it from the rain. He folded the flaps on the top of the box back down and repositioned the twine to hold them open. He slid the box over and centered it in front of the door so the light from the overhead lantern was shining down directly into it.
He paused for a moment and listened. There was nothing, no sound except a slight rustling of leaves and the soft, muffled hiss of the rain.
He reached into his shirt pocket and took out the name badge. There was a sharp, brass-colored pin on the back held in place by a loop catch. He released the pin and bent it out from the back of the badge. He held up his left hand and looked at his knuckles under the light from the lantern. Then he turned his hand over and examined his finger tips. Finally he took the brass pin on the back of the badge and pushed it into the soft flesh at the tip of his little finger. He squeezed the finger just below the knuckle and a small, shiny bead of blood appeared. The glass in the lantern above him was made of blue glass and the cold light made the droplet look black, a tiny, gleaming black sphere resting on the blue-white flesh of his fingertip.
Linden glanced around the small churchyard once more and then back down toward the cardboard box in front of him. He extended his little finger, lowered his hand into the box and carefully inscribed a bloody, inverted cross on his son's forehead.
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