I need time, I need money, I need sleep. The train rattles me along as these thoughts thunder in my head. Just out of lock-up and released from parole I head towards my son. I can’t sleep with the sound of the tracks thudding against me. Any money I had is gone. I got extra time for not pleading guilty to something I never done. One man in a red shirt is the same as another to some people. The therapist said I couldn’t let go of my anger until I admitted my wrongdoing. Can’t admit to something I never done. Can’t help being angry they didn’t believe me when I told the truth.
Six years gone. Conviction overturned. I need time, I need money, I need sleep. I wonder if my boy knows me. I wonder if I know him. I wonder why she never visited me. I wonder what happened in all that time. I wonder if I will see wrinkles on her face and bags under her eyes. The train rolls along, steady, steady.
They gave me a pass, said I had no parole but no place to stay, no compensation neither. Just a ticket to anywhere I want to go. I go to my boy. Getting off in Wisconsin the chill wind hits me like a fist. I pull my cap lower over my ears and start walking. No money left, none for the bus ticket.
My old man was a con. Only my old man was guilty. I saw him take that money, I saw him point the gun. My boy never saw me with no gun never and ain’t going to. My legs ache from the stretch of walking, so much walking and I sit down for a minute on a bench. In the yard they let us walk. One hour every day. The only hour of the day that my body was allowed to move and feel free. The time my mind brought images of my boy. Safe in the outside world up on the monkey bars, out in the snow, laughing with his friends.
I reach the address I have written down. The paper I hold in my hand is the only letter, only sign of anything I ever got from her in all that time. One letter, one address, one bit of bad news I still can’t process. I don’t want to walk in here. I’m more afraid than I was the day they locked me up for good.
I stamp my feet and walk through the doors. They slide open automatically. The smell hits me. It’s sterile and clean. Going up to the room I pass people in scrubs. I can’t help but think how the guards look the same in their uniforms. They are the people that have access to the outside. They are the ones that can leave all this behind. Not me. Not her. Not my boy. All of us prisoners.
I reach the room and she is in a chair by the bed, a book on her lap. The machines are by him. They loom large like iron gated walls did for me. She looks up. I see the wrinkles, I see the tiredness. She gives me a crooked smile but doesn’t move.
I have been traveling for so long, unable to sleep, unable to think, I don’t know what to say. She lets out a sob. I left off crying long ago.
I wait for her to say something. She never does.
I look at the boy. The machines breathe for him. It’s worse than I had imagined. I was locked in a room but my body was always free to move. I wasn’t there when it happened. I keep thinking how he always held my hand at the crosswalk. Even when he was too old for it, he always reached for my hand.
“You thought I done it,” I say.
“It would make it easier,” she says. Then she sits silent, her eyes staring at the floor.
“All this stuff. These things keeping him from dying, how much they cost?” I ask.
“There was a settlement. Money’s almost gone now. Court says the driver paid his share. Doc says he could get better.” She looks away from me.
We sit and say nothing. The windows go dark and night falls. Still I sit when she leaves. I look at my boy with contraptions in his mouth and his chest moving up and down in rhythm. There is one that says Brain Wave Activity. It moves back and forth, rapid fire, faster than I can follow it. His mind is screaming to get out. The way I was screaming to get out. I thought I had no chance but they let me out in the end. I want to let him out too.
I think about my time in lock-up. I think about how they put me there for nothing. I think about how if I had at least been guilty I could try to make up for what happened. But for this there is nothing. I try to sleep but I can’t. My boy never moves on his own. Not once.
I start to think that lock-up isn’t so bad. I start to think about how I can survive there. I start to think what it would have meant if I had robbed somebody. I start to think how hard it is going to be to find someone that will hire a man who served time. I start to reconsider the gun. I start to think that maybe all the money I could get will help my boy live longer.
After they catch me and the doors slam on a guilty man I realize I have time, I don’t need money and I can get plenty of sleep. I just hope my boy won’t know that this time I did it.
A.I. Wright is a proofreader and sometimes writer in San Mateo, CA. He lives with his wife and son.