Chapter 1: Meet the Bandits
The weary and tone-deaf grandfather clock in the center of the back wall struck an erroneous hour. No one moved a muscle or batted a lash in the lounge area.
“Lounge” may not be appropriate since it would suggest a certain amount of leisure or comfort, but then, neither would the word “home” to describe this place. Words are mostly used to describe the way things should be, not what they are. The word “family”, for instance, refers to an ideally close-knit group of people related by blood who are committed to love and care for each other despite their numerous and inconvenient shortcomings. You will find no such “family” in the children of the residents in this “home”.
The stillness was broken by indistinct shouts outside. If you were to go to the window and look, you would see two old men being chased down the parking lot by what might appear to be a male nurse The one in the lead would be Jackson.
Jackson was 93 years old, living in a convalescent home against his will and this was the third time he had tried to escape this month.
The old man running down the street in his rest home issue robe like he just ripped off a pawn shop? That’s Jackson. The one behind him trying to remember how they both got outside? That’s Charlie. The attendant in scrubs? He’s just pissed off at having to chase down two senior citizens who thought they were in the Great Escape…again. He probably wouldn’t be so upset if the residents from the neighboring trailer park hadn’t gotten off their porches and started cheering the old men on or if they had simply been like all the other inmates who just forget that they don’t live on Maple Street anymore. No, these old men meant business and Steve McQueen or no they were getting better at this every time.
Jackson at least meant business.
Charlie was mostly just along for the ride. The excitement of discovering weed in the evening of his years had worn off a little and he needed a new distraction. He thrived on chaos and, whether he actually escaped or not, this was plenty of discord to satisfy.
The attendant in white was always the one to chase Jackson and Charlie down and it was the worst part of his job. Old people were supposed to be senile and/or docile and not needing to be chased down. He had let himself grow too soft recently because they hadn’t made a run for it in a while and the old men had been using more cunning methods like the laundry or the bus or hiding in the cars of families and they were getting more and more desperate forcing this guard to stay on his toes even though it took him longer this week to rein them
Jackson used to be a docile and cooperative patient or inmate or whatever you want to call it. Then, to the surprise of all of the white scrub-clad attendants, even though he was much happier than he had been and more spry, he was maliciously trying to the best he could to escape.
It wasn’t malicious at all to Jackson because he just wanted to leave. Power of attorney being given to his son and a psychologist on record saying he needed close care made it just short of illegal for him to leave.
It was harder than you would think it would be for an old man to escape from an old folks home but he wouldn’t be the first either. “Crazy Mabel” kept trying to visit her bridge buddies on thursday and since she thought it was Thursday every few days she had to be constantly watched in case she decided to go for a stroll. Most of the bridge club had been dead for a few years but if they had died before Crazy Mabel had started to earn her nickname with dementia she might have remembered that and not slipped out and forgotten her way back. Fortunately for for the Home, her children hadn’t payed attention to her since her money ran out (not that they payed too much attention before). So when she unintentionally took advantage of the flirting happening with guard in scrubs and one of the nurses by slipping out the unguarded door she walked out and got halfway to her destination of nowhere in particular and forgot where she was when she was and froze to death. The Home said it was “natural causes” and her family had one less bill to pay so nobody asked questions.
Even so it was a panic for the Home because of all the ways they would legally be skinned alive for negligence so they made sure that NO ONE escaped. They could do as much harm to themselves as they could manage on the inside but the outside you could only dream of.
This was not a major deterrent to Jackson. Think of the most stubborn, and and willful senior citizen you can think of and multiply that by the most frustratingly obstinate child you have ever met and you have Jackson. He was by no means there because he couldn’t take care of himself but he was most certainly there against his will and all the guards knew it. Some by painfull experience of either being drugged or assulted for standing in his way.
So when the attendant is almost carrying him back to the facility by the scruff of the neck to him it was just a minor setback. He would spend his time finding some way to occupy himself like throwing a bouncy ball against the wall until it was time to break out again. Then he would fill Charlie in.. no wait, Charlie wont remember long enough. He would bounce ideas off of Charlie and when the time came he would just fill him in as he went along. It was all the same to Charlie because he pretended like he remembered anyway even though he hadn’t been told in the first place Its just something you learn to do after being that way for a while. Jackson, however would never let himself become institutionalized.
Chapter 2: Cerberus
When The Warden of the establishment returned from her extravagantly long lunch, she found two troublemakers sitting in chairs outside her office. Her slow gait did not change at all as she knew exactly what had happened despite her absence. Since this was a regular occurrence, there became a certain ritual to it: escape, capture, lecture punishment.
After she opened the door barely acknowledging the congregation outside her door he big man in scrubs that foiled the attempt ushered the two of them in from the chairs outside the office where they were waiting like two delinquents about to see the principal.
“Jackson.” she acknowledged his presence like a principal would a problem child with the familiarity an actor has with lines spoken too many times.
“Cameron” Jackson acknowledged her in the same way. She preferred to be called “Cam” and Jackson knew it. There weren’t many ways to get under her skin and get a way with it so he had to take what he could get.
“And Charlie, what a surprise to see you here.” Charlie had been in here more than Jackson. His kids pay good money for The Warden to put up with him but even she doesn’t think its enough especially at moments like these. Charlie never told Jackson that his “short-term memory loss” wasn’t real since his memory comes and goes at the most convenient times. Poker, for instance, never seemed to be a problem to him.
“What happened to the candies that were in here? I mean, theyre not good for a real snack but…”
“No candy for you old man!” She snaped. Charlies face changed and he becomes a helpless old man. At least to an untrained eye.
“Young lady you are in need of some character adjustment! Yelling at a poor helpless old man!” She rubbed her eyes in that “subtle” dramatic way hoping to move the process along so she could take a nap.
“You know what? I cant deal with you today” that’s a lie. She had just got back from a three-hour lunch. “If you say one more word I will confiscate EVERYthing in your room besides the bed.” She knows about his excessive “herbal remedies”. She even makes sure he gets plenty. He’s much less trouble to her in a sedated state but shes the kind of woman who would deal with it just to hurt him. He stared at her a moment, weighing the options before he surrenders.
“You, on the other hand..” and she turned to Jackson and delivered the lines he’s heard too many times to care.
Charlie, being the people person, sits down at a table and quickly conscripts a group of suckers for a game of Blackjack faster than Randle Patrick McMurphy. This was the forgetful mans sort of game. Not that Charlie relied that much on memory because he kind of went more by instinct. It was his way of adapting to the spontaneous memory loss. Once you somehow get it in your head that you forget things you start to adapt to it.
Jackson, on the other hand, was a planner. His wife always told him he thought about things too much especially when it came to people. Sometimes he would notice that people in his life were chess pieces. His idea was that raising kids you have to play mind games. His wife said that if you don’t play the game with them you can’t lose. Maybe that was true for kids but not in here. Either you are playing the game or you rot away into decaying obscurity so if he wasn’t planning something he would just rot away in stagnant laziness. He meant to escape but the planning helped keep him sharp.
The last plan involved two other inmates Grant (who was incarcerated in the home for beating his kids) and Chesley (whose crime was spoiling his). The former grew up in a town not far from New York but that made no difference to the latter. Chesley was born into a semi-wealthy family not far from Natchez and in this family the Civil war never ended. It was always the fault of some Yankee that they weren’t actually wealthy. So when Chesley was first admitted it was like the feud was already there just waiting for him to show up. He didn’t even speak to Grant for a month even though fate (commonly known as the warden) had cruelly assigned them to sit at the same table. Actually, the table situation just made it worse. Chesley would just stare at him Grant would just ignore it because he really didn’t know what was going on. In his younger day she would have started something but the stagnant decay was starting to get to him after only a few months of being there. It all hit the fan when someone asked for the salt and Chesley said something like “Ask that nigger-lovin’ son of a bitch ovah theah”
The second Chesley had spoken he could no more the maimed face that was coming to him any more than he could escape death. It was the first time Grant had been out of his wheelchair in months and his body was not able to keep up with his wounded pride. They were both in special care for a few weeks.
After that everything was a bitter contest from bingo and card games to racing to the dinner table or elevator and every contest had the fury of Gettysburg.
For Jackson it was like the chess pieces were already in place for him. All he had to do was whisper the idea in both of their ears and when an opportunity for contest showed itself he could just shout from the crowd the idea of a wheelchair race down the hall and the both of them would be ready to go in seconds. It didn’t take long for that to happen and Chesley who, for a self-proclaimed “southern gentleman” fought dirty and stuck his cane in Grants wheel. With the few still capable of arguing in a full-on debate about what the rules were and the staff occupied Jackson alerted Charlie and the both of them made a break for it.
With the two old men running down the street being chased by a guard is where you came in but now all Jackson wanted to do was to stay in a corner somewhere. People were nice to watch but he didn’t want to be seen. Charlie was a good distraction for him. He could watch him soak up all the attention and remain, for the most part, invisible even though there was always a certain pair of eyes that grew only more curious about the old man the more quiet he became.
Chapter 4: Therapy
It’s only 5:03 and Jackson is already looking for and exit. Only a place like this could take something as wonderful as food and turn it into a bland nothing. It was worse for him because he felt he should be out of this dump but instead is waiting for my food so he can pretend to try and eat it. Meanwhile he’s stuck there looking at the clock on the wall.
Charlie isn’t bothered. The talk wit the Warden was nothing more than him stretching his legs. It was more of a game to him.
Now its 5:06 and he’s still flirting with Marilynn. They always did that. She kind of started it as a joke said it was therapeutic like a shower and he played along (because Charlie can’t resist a game of any sort) and they’ve been playing around ever since. Marilynn was in the Home for neglecting her children. She was always more interested in the attention that men always seemed to give her until one day her husband had enough and let her go. She never looked back and it wasn’t long before she found another husband. Rinse, lather repeat. Her children give her as much attention now as she did them.
The food comes out at 5:08. Great. Officially it’s lasagna but baked glue would be a more appropriate title and it’s about as hard to get down. Charlie has already finished his and is looking around at something to distract him. Not that he needed it. Marilynn is trying to be that distraction but he’s already played that game tonight.
There’s a disturbance at 5:10 over on table 6 for the third time tonight. It’s Janine. She usually complained about something every night but tonight she is on a rampage. Her entire assigned table is so scared of her that they aren’t much more than her lackeys. She has a talent for doing that to the people around her. Charlie and her have a small feud ever since she yelled at him for 20 minutes straight for clearing one of her puzzles to use the table it was one. The puzzle hadn’t been touched for days but Janine takes her arts and crafts very seriously and tries to run the place anyway. Charlie has bad memory but he hasn’t forgotten that.
At 5:13 Jackson gives the rest of my food to Charlie. He sometimes forgets that he ate and starts wondering why everyone else has their food. At about 5:15, about halfway through his seconds he’ll start wondering why he is so full and ideas will start racing around his head about what to do with the food. It’s usually the same idea. Charlie is an artist with the spoon.
His eyes are wandering to the guard at the wall-a favorite target of his-and at 5:17 his vision drifts to another would-be victim. He would have to save the guard for later. Marilynn is still playing that cleansing therapeutic game but he is focused. There is a different game occupying his mind and it’s far more therapeutically cleansing than hers.
His eyes drift from target to target until at 5:21 he opens fire. A piece of broccoli flies across the room and lands directly on its desired plate at table 6.
Janine is furious. Almost instantly her high-pitched wails alert everyone to the serious crime that has just been committed. The guard ignores it seeing as how this is the fourth time she’s complained tonight. He can’t hide the small cringe he makes when her shrill siren of a voice goes off. Charlie waits till everyone calms down and Janine goes back to talking about the horrible way Edna from table 3 wears her sweaters. A piece of cauliflower, this time makes its maiden flight to table 6. Rinse. Lather. Repeat therapy.
This time Janine is on a warpath. Her screams are more like a Banshee which, in this place would be welcome, and the guard gives in and walks over just to make her stop. He stays there for a while and Charlie is getting antsy. He has to wait for the guard to go back but along with his memory his patience is growing thin like there’s a candy bar in the fridge and you can’t have it until you are done with work but your self control is getting weaker and weaker ‘till you just eat the candy bar.
Another vegetable flies over to her table and this time all the other tables cheer except for table six. Those are too afraid of her to go against her like that. It would be vile treason. The guard starts interrogating the other tables as to the disturbance and Charlie lies low and his mind is looking for a new activity.
At 5:43 he notices the disappointment in Jackson’s face even past the slight smile about his recent prank. His gifts extend much farther than target practice. He also knows how to take your melancholy and give you some measure of joy in return. You could say Charlie is Jacksons therapy.
He gives Marilynn a playful wink and we head off to my therapy session which starts with a sleeping Chesley in the next room.
Chapter 5: The Gentleman and the Bean Sidhe (Banshee)
The target Charlie had in his mind to distract Jackson from the disapointment of another failed escape was the same as it had been all evening: Janine the Banshee.
Janine really was a pleasant person if you could get past the relentless nagging, professional bullying, the high-pitched scream, the fixed expression of sour discontent on her face and the constant pssibility that you might get shanked by one of her knitting needles. It would be safe to say that everyone in the Home, from the guards in scrubs to the prisoners in slippers was afraid of Janine.
Once, not too long ago, a young gaurd made the decision that something had to be done and that there was no reason she should have knitting needles because “they could cause someone serious harm”. The other guards should have warned the kid but they were too busy taking bets on how long he would last. He was the kind of kid that thought relieving people of thier issues was easy.
First he tried with a passive aggressive plan of attack that even Nurse Ratched would have been proud of but no matter how much he argued with her to give up the needles, he couldnt get past her unwavering insistance that she had a right to her arts and crafts.
After that he tried getting her distracted by another project. He should have known better. She gad been knitting for years and wasn’t about to give it up.
The last attempt was to steal them in her sleep. The next morning the kid had never been more afraid for his life. The spiteful old woman burst out of her room when she realized they were gone and grabbed her extra pair which had escaped the notice of the kid. Between the shreiking and the waving of a very sharp weapon in his face he was terrified. What he didnt understand was that she was kind of attached to her needles like she was to her spite and gall.
That particular gaurd quit two months later. He never fit in anyway because he was actually trying to help.
The warden didn’t care because, as long as no one was seriously getting hurt and she wasn’t getting sued then there wasn’t really a problem.
All this aside, Jackson had a hard time seeing her verbally abuse Charlie to the equivalent of 39 lashes. The old man was delicate in many ways so to see him beaten down like only Janine could sparked a holy anger in Jackson. This was more than a welcome oppourtunity.
He did feel a bit of remorse for the way they were about to use a sleeping Chesley they found in the game room but from what he had heard, the “southern gentleman” played a little dirty earlier and it always got under Jacksons skin the way Chesley called Charlie a “kike”. The only problem was getting a sleeping old man up the stairs without waking him up. Charlie just rolled the wheelchair straight for the elevator but Jackson stopped him. Sometimes Charlies instinct doesn’t serve him so well. The loud beeping it would make at the second floor would most definetly wake the victim. No, they were stuck with the stairs.
Jackson tried pulling from the top and then Charlie. They tried both pushing, both pulling and both pulling. After almost five steps and as many scares with waking the victimthey started to argue in wispers about how they were going to get him up there.
Jackson was about to give up anyway when he heard the voice of a guard ask him what he was doing. He had already been in trouble once that day and didnt feel like getting into any more. Charlie, on the other hand, wasn’t paying attention. He was still trying on his own so Jackson tried to give the guard some bs about helping Chesley up the stairs but the gaurd wasn’t buying it mainly because Chesley was still asleep. Thats when Charlie finally figured out what was going on and told the guard all about thier plans.
“Charlie,” he thought, “this is not one of your Sean Connery moments”
(and by “Sean Connery” he meant “Bond”)
But to Jacksons surprise, they weren’t in trouble. In fact, the guard was helping tem carry the victim up the stairs.
See, no one liked Janine but there weren’t a whole lot of people in the Home that loved Chesley either, least of all Joe. No one really knew why they called this gaurd Joe but he didnt mind. What he did mind was Chesly calling him a Mexican. Joe was Savadorean-Honduran.
So no, Joe had no problem helping the two of them take Chesley upstairs, place him in front of where Janine left her precious knitting project, unraveling it and leaving it in the sleeping Chesleys lap for Janine the Banshee to find and sure enough after everone was done with dinner and starting to file back to where they were before dinner-provided they could remember what they were doing before- the two bandits accompanied by a guard were sharing a shot of bourbon (courtesy of Charlies contacts) and bit of uneasyness about the possibility of the Banshees howl actually heralding someones death but that couldn’t take from them the one moment they could have