Others decide things for me, because whatever I decide turns out wrong. It’s all about knowing limits, and I can’t stop at the edges. I associate mainly with other sullied, stigmatized transgressors. I spent two years at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital for the Criminally Insane for trying to burn down the Austrian Club. I had a reason — I told them I was Hitler’s grandson. They kicked me out, and I vowed revenge. I splashed a can of gas up against their front door in broad daylight, then lit it on fire. That’s what got me committed “not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.”
I’m out on a conditional discharge. My parents pay for my apartment’s rent. They’re my heroic supporters. I’ve stayed away from illegal drugs and taken my medications. Now I must test myself yet again. Sitting across my kitchen table is escaped Forensic Hospital patient Jared Morriseau. He’s shivering and squirrelling down from a cocaine high. “You’re my only friend out here,” he says.
His face is all over the T.V. after he didn’t return to the hospital from his “Back to Work Program” day job. The stupid staff trusted him. He took his wages and taxied downtown to get high. The hospital notified the police. The police told the press. Jared, who hammered his two roommates to death in their sleep to prevent the end of the world, drinks the coffee I pour and asks, “Can I stay here a few days ’til the heat goes down?” His voice shakes. “I’m so scared, Luke. The police are gonna shoot me.”
I’m surprised they’re not watching right now. My biggest fear is that they’re going to burst in with their guns drawn, Jared’s going to freak out and bang bang bang someone’s dead. Even if I’m not hurt, it’ll ruin my progress. I’ll be sent back to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital or worse.
I have to act cool. Underneath I want to stampede away and abandon Jared to his fate, but he’s my Forensic friend, and there’s an inmate code among us, “Do not rat.”
“You need to go back to the hospital,” I say.
He raises his fluttering fingers to his face. “I’m sick of being out here.” His eyeballs resemble pinpoints. His hand jerks and he spills his coffee. “Shit,” he says.
I mop up the coffee mess with my foot, using an old shirt I had lying on the floor. “Call a taxi,” I tell him. “Get the driver to drop you at Forensic. Then walk to the gate and ask to be let in.” I take the shirt and throw it in the sink. “I’m gonna go for a walk,” I say. “So that the police won’t get suspicious. They’ll be following me if they’re out there.”
“Thanks,” Jared says.
“No problem,” I tell him. “I don’t mind being a decoy.”
“Who’s gonna pay the taxi fare?” he asks. “I blew all my money.”
“The hospital will. Go to the security guards and tell them the driver needs a big tip.”
“You can’t lend me twenty?”
“I’m broke,” I tell him, and it’s true. I spent my last money on the pack of cigarettes I’m about to smoke on my walk away from Jared.
I hand him a spare cancer stick and he grabs it, fumbles the thing into his mouth.
“I’ll think about what you said,” Jared says. “Can I use your phone?”
I leave it on the table. It’s another gift from my heroic parents. I’m humbled by my failures, yet Mom and Dad stick by me. All I can do now is give advice to an escaped psychotic killer. They’d want me to run out to the park and call the cops.
I walk down the apartment stairs and into the fresh air. No sign of the police. I smoke cigarette after cigarette and hike along the edge of the river. I stand and hear the sound of the flow over the rocks. A couple of rusted shopping carts stick out of the water. I keep walking, out to the highway and all the way to the airport. It’s two hours of slogging, but it’s a distraction to hear the planes soar overhead, and more relief yet to be in the terminal, to watch them take off and land. I cadge some money for bus fare and coffee off a backpacker waiting for a flight to L.A., then make my long way back.
I hike up the apartment stairs and open the door. My phone sits on the table and there’s no sign of Jared. I hear a knock and it’s my neighbour Gillian. “The police came by,” she says. “They were looking for you.”
“Thanks,” I tell her and close the door on her inquisitive face.
I turn on the T.V., with the sound off, and wait for the news. At six, I see Jared’s sallow, black whiskered mug and the subtitles for the hearing impaired running along the bottom. “The Hammer Killer is back in custody,” say the words. “He arrived in a taxi.”
I’ve done my part. Maybe paid back some of my debt to society. I handled the situation with mercy, without being a rat and calling the cops.
I miss my highs, the rush of feeling omnipotent, the way I did when I thought I could burn the houses of those who dissed me. I take my medication because it brings down my thinking. Normal is drab, grey, and gaining weight. I’m living within these limits because I don’t want to hurt anyone else.
“Don’t let today get to your head,” I tell myself over and over.
There might be a meaning beyond my sick existence, perhaps this coolness in the face of crisis, that I can reach and touch and know, and be absorbed by. I will keep it close.
Harrison Kim lives in Victoria, Canada with his wife and editor Sera T. He worked twenty-nine years at a Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, and is on a five-year writing plan. His stories have been published at various webzines and magazines.