Out of the Darkness

Out of the Darkness
Dolores L. Durando

August 2012 $9.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-174-6

From the author of Beyond the Bougainvillea

Even in the darkest hours he sought the light of love.

That he survived was a miracle. That he found happiness, a victory.

Our PriceUS$9.95
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Meet Marty, a young boy born into a brutal family environment where not even a shred of dignity, hope and kindness can take root. Child protective services were a thing of the future in the 1950’s, and so there was little help for Marty or others like him. He endured almost unbelievable cruelty, both from his family and at the California institution where the state placed him.

But every dark side has its opposite. Marty is rescued by the love of Joe, an old man who refuses to give up on him. Marty goes to live with Joe’s wealthy friend, Benito, who owns a vineyard in the heart of the magical Napa Valley. Benito’s large, loving family includes Rosita, a shy girl whose beauty is marred by a cleft palate.

Marty is soon absorbed into a wonderful new life; Rosita gives him unconditional love. His transformation is stunning.

For more than twenty-five years author Dolores Durando worked in the mental health field, primarily as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician. Out of the Darkness is based on events she witnessed during an era when many large mental institutions were no better than prisons run with a brutal lack of enlightenment or compassion.

Today, at 91, she is thankful to see the sweeping reforms in mental health and the positive results of publicity, education and modern technology. In addition to her writing, she is an award-winning sculptor and painter. Her previous title for Bell Bridge Books is Beyond the Bougainvillea, a historical based on the author’s experiences working among the diverse men and women who built the great California dams of the early 1900’s.


Coming soon!


Chapter 1


I heard the heavy door slam, the one that said "Suite 606,” then Clara’s ugly voice.

"When I get my hands on that damn little retard, he’ll wish he’d never been born.” Then Joe’s quick answer, "Don’t you rough him up, Clara. You hear?”

I wanted to sink to the bottom of wherever that sweet-smelling water came from and never, never come up.

I heard Joe’s voice call. "Martin? Martin? Where are you?”

"In the bathroom, Joe.”

There he was, with Clara right behind him. He bent over and put his hands under my arms and lifted me out of that tub just like a baby. I stood there, naked—well almost naked. I had my shoes on.

"Put your pants on, Martin.”

I tried to pull them up but my wet shoes got tangled in the leg. Joe knelt to help me and said, real quiet-like, "Please tell me you’ve got some of that money left, Martin.”

"Oh, yes, Joe, I told you there was a twenty-dollar bill in the envelope, remember?”

He made a face like he was going to cry. "You are in deep, deep shit, little buddy.” I looked over his shoulder and saw Clara standing by the dresser, the envelope in one hand, the twenty-dollar bill in the other. I knew I was in real trouble.

"Why did you bring her, Joe? I thought we could run away together.”

He didn’t answer. Then I thought about my car.

"Hey, what about my Lincoln?”

"See Joe, I told you he was crazy,” Clara shrieked.

"Well,” Joe said, "how did he get here—walk? I’ll go down and see if I can find it.”

"Go ahead. Retard and I are going to have a discussion.”

"Don’t you hurt him, Clara. We can get this straightened out. I’ll be right back.”

He started for the door, but then came back. "You hear me, Clara?”

I was putting on my new shirt when he closed the door. I just stood there, too scared to move. She seemed as big as a mountain. I didn’t even reach her shoulders. Her eyes were black slits in her face; words couldn’t seem to come out of the mouth that just opened and shut.

"You little son of a bitch, you’ll wish you’d never been born.”

Then her fist hit me so hard, so fast, I never seen it comin’. I just lay there on that cold, wet floor with all that blood smearin’ over my new white shirt. I seen that big shoe comin' down and I couldn’t move. I heard the bones in my nose crack and felt my lips split, but it didn’t seem to hurt.

Clara grabbed me by the hair and jerked me spraddle-legged to my feet. I just stood swayin’ back and forth, lookin’ up at her, not hearin’ the water pumping in that big tub, only her ugly voice from far, far away.

"Don’t bleed on me, you miserable retard.”

I didn’t feel her slaps as the blood spattered between us. Then she shoved me backwards. I staggered but didn’t want to fall. I knew she’d kick me again.

My hands covered my ears as this sound in my head—this hurting, unbearable voice—was screamin’ at me louder and louder, tellin’ me to put my head down and ram her in that monstrous belly and make that mouth be quiet.

Her face froze in a look of disbelief the instant before the back of her knees hit the tub and she fell backwards—all three hundred and fifty pounds wedged in water that swirled over her face, splashed down the sides and pooled on the tile floor.

I was wipin’ my bloody nose on my sleeves and shakin’ real bad, lookin’ down.

She’s screamin’, "I’m going to kill you when I get out of this tub, retard.”

I felt a slow throbbin’ pain growin’ deeper, stronger as it thudded against the back of my eyes and pounded deeper into my brain. I pushed my knuckles hard against my eyes to crowd out the pain.

"Maybe you ain’t goin’ to get out of that tub, Clara,” the voice whispered so quiet I could hardly hear it. I looked to see who said it, but it was only Clara and me in that big bathroom I looked down at her, a helpless captive of her fat in that big tub. A burning rage crawled over my fear like a live thing—that fear that had owned me for seventeen years. And now, only the gray ashes were left.

Clara was strugglin’ to turn herself. The water washed over her face. She was yellin’ and tryin’ to get out.

I turned the TV up. I knew if she couldn’t get up, she could never hurt me again. Thought I could go live with Joe, he was always good to me.

I was watchin’ the bubbles float all the way to the ceiling. They seemed to be playin’ games as they chased each other around the tub. They turned every which way, and oh, they were so beautiful as the colors shined through them. I could watch forever. My mind, freed from that constant fear, seemed to float and play among them.

Clara was kickin’ around, yellin’ and makin’ such a racket I could hardly hear how pretty the water sounded as it flowed over the sides of that tub. I turned the handles on high, then the water just gushed out. She grabbed me but I twisted her fingers back and she let go mighty quick.

"Martin,” she said, "please, please help me out of here,” and her voice sounded so different.

Her fingers were clawin’ at the side of the tub.

"Martin? Martin who?” I asked. "There ain’t no Martin here. Only retard and you, Clara.”

I looked right into her face with a big smile.

The hand with the cigarette burns reached out and got a handful of her greasy hair that was floatin’ all around, and pulled her face under the swirly water for awhile. Boy, did she kick then—water went everywhere.

Big purple veins crawled like worms on her thick heavy legs—looked like they wanted to get away from Clara and all that water, too. They kicked as high as they could, but I told them they’d have to kick higher than that. I had to laugh at my own joke. Pretty soon they didn’t kick so much.

Her dress went way up and I saw her baggy old bloomers. Her shoes came off and went whirlin' all around.

A steady throbbin’ in my head began like a thousand little feet stampin’ out a forever cadence. I got to shakin’ real hard. The edges of the room disappeared and only the movement in the tub mattered. The room blurred, but I could see real plain the little moustache hairs beneath her nose before the hands that fit so perfect over her face pushed it down and held it there. I couldn’t look any place but at the big bubbles that came out of her mouth and floated to the top.

Then the hands pulled her face up for awhile. She coughed and coughed, tried to pull the hands away, but the hands were so strong they pushed her face under again. I couldn’t take my eyes off them; it was like watching TV. I could see her eyes were open and bulging out. Her face was a funny color. The little bubbles at the corners of her mouth were almost gone and she wasn’t kickin’ and splashin’ water all over everything now. She was real quiet. Her eyes were lookin’ up but she didn’t see me lookin’ down. I never knew I hated her before, but now there was nuthin’ left to hate.

I sat down in my big chair in my wet, bloody clothes to wait for Joe. Guess I dozed off because I didn’t hear him come in.

"Oh my God, Martin. What happened? Where’s Clara?” Joe looked so scared.

"In the bathroom.”

I closed my eyes and leaned back. I was so terrible tired.

Joe was screamin’, "Martin. Martin. Dial the operator. Hurry—tell them there’s been an accident. Northwood Inn, Room 606. Turn the water off—hurry.” He was holding her head up and pulling the hair out of her face.

Before I could dial, I had to pull away the long gray hair that somehow got tangled up in my fingers. I looked at it and it seemed exactly the same color as the scum on the slop bucket at home.

"Martin, for God’s sake, hurry.” Joe was almost cryin’.

Joe was holding her face out of the water as it drained away. His face was almost the same color as hers. I didn’t know he thought so much of her.

"Martin, tell me what happened. Hurry up—we don’t have much time.”

So I told him she had hurt my face real bad and she said she was going to kill me and how she just kinda stepped back and fell into the water.

"Yeah, I think she broke your nose all right. It’s all over your face. That bitch—I told her not to be rough on you.”

I didn’t understand Joe. First he was upset because she was dead and now he was callin’ her names.

"Martin,” he said. He was lookin’ at me real funny. "How did you get her in the tub?” So I told him just like it was. I said, "Honest, Joe, I didn’t do it. Them hands did it. They didn’t hold her under the water long, just ’til she stopped splashin’ that water all over and coughin’. Honest, Joe, I really didn’t do it. I never saw them hands before, although one had cigarette burns on the back, just like mine. Don’t you believe me, Joe?”

"I believe you, Martin. Now listen to me good. When these other guys come in, you tell them you were with me looking for your car, and when we came back, we found her just like this. Do you understand? Don’t say anything else, Martin. Promise?”

"Okay, Joe, if you want me to, I promise.”

Well, some men came from the fire department. It took three of them, with Joe helpin’, to pull her out. They rolled her on her stomach and pushed real hard on her back for a long time and the water just ran out of her. Finally, one man said she had a real weak pulse and then they breathed their breath into her. She started to move a little.

"Thank God,” Joe said. I don’t know what God had to do with it—the firemen did all the pushin’.

After awhile, she sat up and started to cry. A fireman said, "You sure are one lucky lady. You musta bumped your head when you fell in.”

"I didn’t fall in,” her voice kinda croaked out the words like it was hard for her to talk. She pointed her finger at me. "He tried to kill me—he pushed me in and held my head under the water.” She had to cough some more but she kept pointin' her finger at me. "Don’t call me lucky. That crazy little retarded bastard tried to drown me. He pushed me into that tub and held my head under. He’s crazy as a loon and needs to be locked up forever.”

Joe laughed real easy-like and said, "He’s a hundred and twenty pounds and she’s pushing three-fifty—how far do you think he could push her? Anyhow, he’s been down at the garage with me looking for his car. Lucky for her we got back when we did—she’s been drinking all day and she’s unsteady on her feet, to say the least.”

The men looked around the room and saw all the bottles, read the lipstick stuff on the cracked mirror that was hangin’ all crooked, and grinned at each other. "Musta been some party.” They left, shakin’ their heads and laughin'.

"Joe, you are one lyin’ son of a bitch. You know damn well what went on here. Don’t you ever show your face at my house again. He’s goin’ straight to the state institute for the crazies.”

"Yeah, that’s the best place for him. I told you some day you’d push him over the edge. I don’t think you know how damn close you came to buying it today, Clara. Well, whaddaya know. Here’s a bottle of champagne, half full. Our lucky day, little buddy, let’s polish it off.” Clara sat in my favorite leather chair wrapped up in that big white robe they found behind the bathroom door. She cussed us both and coughed a lot.

I guess the hotel manager saw the firemen and he came bangin’ at the door. Boy, did he have a fit.

"What in hell happened here?” He was so mad he couldn’t hardly talk. "What’s all this blood? On the carpet? On the wall?”

Then he saw me. I guess that answered his questions.

"Water everywhere—the carpet is just ruined. We’ll have to repaint the walls. Those were good down pillows.”

I faintly remembered somethin’ about a pillow fight.

Then he saw the broke mirror. He stepped closer to read what that girl had written in lipstick: "Martin is a cute little devil but he can’t screw.”His face got red but he didn’t finish. He just kinda stuttered, "Damn degenerates.”

Joe and I fell back on that big bed and just howled. We couldn’t stop laughin’.

"Don’t think that Lincoln is going anywhere until every last penny is paid—and I can assure you it won’t be cheap. Eight bottles of the best champagne, steak and lobster for four last night, room service. I’ll own that fancy car,” he ranted.

"Kiss my ass, you cheap bastard,” Clara screeched.

"Madam, that would take the rest of my life. You damn drunks get out now or I’ll call the cops.”

So we walked out, me in my old run-over wet shoes, squishing with every step, bloody clothes and my nose all over my face.

"I’m charging for the robe you’re stealing, too,” the manager yelled after us.

Clara just cussed him some more.

Joe and I kinda held each other up and tried to get in step. Clara lumbered along behind. When we got to her old stinky car, she said to Joe, "That drunken little degenerate rides up front—I don’t trust him behind me.”

Joe whispered, "Tell her she’ll have to teach you how to do it the doggy way.”

I didn’t know anything about dogs, but I did what he said. He had a big smile on his face, so I knew it was a joke, so then I joked, too.

"How did you like your bubble bath, Clara?”

Joe laughed so hard the tears ran down his cheeks so he couldn’t see the turn. He ran that old car up over the sidewalk and had to back off somebody’s lawn. Wish I could back my Lincoln that good. I asked Joe if he would learn me to back like that. He said, "Sure little buddy, any time.”

Later I remembered my new suit and two-toned shoes. I’d never even gotten to wear them, except for the white shirt. Now there was blood all over it.

"Can’t we go back and get them, Joe?”

"We can’t. The cops would probably nab us for sure. That damn bellhop probably hung them in the closet. That’s why you couldn’t find them. You’d have been a good-looking fellow in a blue suit, little buddy.”

I fell asleep right away, but Joe and Clara were yellin’ at each other so loud I woke up. It was dark and Joe was cussin' Clara, and the bright lights of the other cars seemed to be comin’ right at us.

"Why in hell don’t you go to sleep, Clara? Don’t you ever get tired of bitching?”

It got quiet after awhile, then we could hear her snorin’.

Joe stopped once for gas and got us some candy bars. It was nice, just Joe and me ridin’ along in the dark. He looked over at me, waited to light a cigarette, took a puff, and then he said, "Martin, tell me, how in hell did you get that car? And that must have been some party. I knew you were smart but it must have taken some real planning to get girls, lobster dinners and eight bottles of champagne. Didn’t know you had such expensive tastes,” he laughed. "That bubbly sure beats Red Mountain Vin Rose at a buck fifty a gallon all to hell. And a Lincoln Continental yet. I’m proud of you, buddy.”

I’ll never forget Joe was proud of me—I felt ten feet high. He laughed all over his face and pounded his hands on the steering wheel, but easy, so he didn’t wake Clara.

"Well, I’da told you sooner but I was afraid you’d be mad at me for stealin’ Clara’s money.”

"Hell, no. I’m damn glad you had fun. It was your money by right anyhow. Just wished I’d been with you. Can you remember how it all happened? Here, have another candy bar. It isn’t lobster, but we probably won’t be seeing much of that again.”

"Where are we really goin’, Joe? Aren’t we almost home?” I was so tired.

"Martin, you know you’ll have to go to the institute for awhile. Clara is just crazy mad. And especially since you almost killed her in that tub—not that the old bitch didn’t have it coming. Hell, I would have helped you myself if I’d been there.”

"Joe, I didn’t do it. Did I really do it, Joe?”

"Forget it for now, little buddy—tell me about your car and that party.”



Chapter 2

"Well, you remember when Clara got that phone call? She called you to take her downtown. It was late afternoon. I remember when she got back she was wavin’ that old black pocketbook around and stumblin’ all over herself. She shook it right in my face and said, ‘Well, they finally sold that old shack you and your Ma lived in.’

"You said, ‘Sit down, Clara, before you fall down.’ So she did.

"‘Hurry up and pour me a glass,’ she said to you.

"‘What am I—your damn servant now that you got two nickels to rub together?’

"‘Nickels, hell. I cashed a fifteen-thousand-dollar check to make sure it was good and I’ve got fifteen thousand cash right here in my hand.’

"She’s wavin’ that pocketbook all around.

"‘I’m gonna know what it’s like to sleep with fifteen thousand big ones tonight. I’ll put it in the bank tomorrow when I go to bingo.’

"I wondered if she was gonna put it in her pillow, or maybe just slip it under the covers. As I watched her through the crack in the door, she stuffed it under the mattress. You told her that would keep her in booze for awhile, then you said, ‘How about springin’ for a fifth of Jack Daniels to celebrate? I’d love a shot of good whiskey for a change.’

"And she said, ‘Good idea. Here’s ten bucks, run down and get a bottle—and I want change.’

"I blurted, ‘I’d love a hug.’—the words just fell out of my mouth. I didn’t know where they came from. We were all surprised, weren’t we, Joe? Clara almost choked when she said, ‘Well, will you listen to that? Who’d like to hug an ugly little retard like you?’

"You said, ‘I hate it when you call him a retard, Clara. You know what his name is. It’s your S.S.I. check she loves to hug, little buddy.’

"You laughed at Clara, remember Joe? You said, ‘Nobody could ever accuse you of being little, Clara. Three hundred and fifty pounds of lard on the hoof. You sure as hell wouldn’t win any beauty contest unless they held it in the cow barn at the county fair.’

"Boy, did she get mad, but you just laughed at her. I laughed, too, but not so she could see me.

"‘You moochin’ old bastard. Gimme back my money and get the hell out of my house and don’t come back,’ her voice ugly. ‘Retard, get the lawn mower out and get to huggin’ those weeds.’

"It was dark when she yelled at me to come in and warm up some macaroni and cheese. ‘And you damn well better not burn it.’

"Well, she ate it all. I didn’t get anything to eat, but I wasn’t hungry. All I could think about was that money. I just lay awake on that old army cot, smellin’ that slop bucket in the corner, listenin’ to them rats chewin’ on somethin’ and thought about those big ones she was sleepin’ on. I was thinkin’ so hard how I was gonna get that money so I could run so far she’d never find me.

"It was real late when she yelled at me to bring the bedpan. I hated that worst of all, Joe. I was scared to even bring it in, afraid she’d look at me and know what I was thinkin’.

"She said, ‘Pour me a glass so I can get to sleep. That money must be burnin’ a hole in my brain.’

"I reached in my pocket for two of them pills. Joe, you showed me how to hold ’em under my tongue and spit them out when she wasn’t lookin’. You said I didn’t need all that poison, that Ma and Clara just gave ’em to me to keep me out of the way. Said they got them pills at the institute and that the techs didn’t have to sign for anything, specially since Clara was good friends with the man at the admitting place. You told me they didn’t have to sign for the other pills, either—or even pay for them. Anyhow, I chewed them pills real easy, spit them in her glass and poured the wine and handed it to her. I hurried out with that bedpan and when I came back the glass was settin’ on the night stand empty.

"I didn’t need the blanket when I lay back down. I was wet with my own sweat. I didn’t even hear the rats or smell that slop bucket.

"At daylight I was up early. I looked in on Clara and she was snorin’ so loud I thought it would scare the rats away. I thought she’s gonna have to dress herself today and miss her bingo game, too. I almost laughed out loud.

"I slipped my hand under the mattress real, real easy-like and slid that pocketbook out. My heart beat so loud I thought she’d hear it. I took the envelope and stuffed it in my jacket, pushed the pocketbook back, tiptoed out of that room and didn’t even close the door.

"It’s almost three miles to town, ain’t it Joe? I was runnin’ all the way. I was really puffin’ hard when I got to that car place. You know the one right next to the market I used to take Ma to?”

"You mean the Lincoln-Ford dealership on Fairview?”

"Yeah, I think it said somethin’ about Ford on the sign. I was just standin’ there tryin’ to catch my breath, with my nose almost on the window for the longest time. Just lookin’ at all those beautiful new cars. They were shiny and big. A man came out. He had a big smile on his face.

"‘Whaddaya think, shorty? Gonna buy one of these babies today?’ He laughed. I didn’t see what was so funny. I pulled the envelope out of my jacket and showed him the money and he stopped laughing.

"‘Let’s go inside, mister. Which one are you gonna drive out?’

"I knew right away which one I wanted. I walked over to the biggest, blackest shiny one and put my hand on it. Joe, I wish you coulda seen it.

"‘Well, you sure got good taste. That’s top-of-the-line, Lincoln Continental. Get in,’ he said. ‘Feel these leather seats. Turn the radio on, and the heater.’ He talked so fast my head was spinnin’. Talked about all the gears and showed me how everything worked. All I really needed to know is where the gas and brakes were.

"Then he said, ‘Let’s go into my office and we’ll write this up.’ He introduced me to his boss. ‘What was your name again?’ ‘Martin,’ I said. ‘Well, Mr. Martin, we can make you a fabulous deal on this for eight thousand down, and carry the rest on paper. Yeah, for the rest of your life,’ and they laughed.

"‘Okay,’ I said. So they did a lot of talkin’ and writin’.”

Joe rolled the window down—I could see he was sweatin’.

"‘Sign here, Mr. Martin.’ So I wrote my name real slow and big and gave Clara’s address. I still had a bunch of money left. They shook my hand again and one guy said, ‘It’s full of gas and ready to go.’

"Joe, he was such a nice man. Called me Mr. Martin. Nobody ever called me that before. His shirt was snow white and his pants wasn’t all rolled up like mine. Don’t know where Clara gets my clothes. Musta got these from you ’cause they’re so long. The man’s shoes was so shiny, like they was bran' new. I saw him look at mine, all run over and a hole in one of them. He patted me on the shoulder and said real nice, ‘You got lots of money, Mr. Martin. Why don’t you stop at the Sears store down the street and treat yourself to some nice clothes to wear in this fine car? You’d look like a real sport in a white shirt, a blue suit and a pair of those two-toned leather oxfords.’

"I felt the tears before they started to roll down my cheeks. I turned my back like I was lookin’ at the tires. He was a real nice guy, Joe. My voice sounded funny, even to me. I said, ‘That’s a good idea, I know where that store is. Would you back my car out, please?’ You know I never could back out straight, Joe.

"‘Sure, where are you off to?’

"I had to laugh at myself; I didn’t know where to go. Then I remembered that TV ad that said the Northwood Hotel was the best, it was in Sacramento. ‘I’m stopping at the Northwood Hotel ’til I know where I’m running away to. Which way is Sacramento? I’m all mixed up.’

"The man laughed and said, ‘I wish I was going with you—sure sounds like fun. The Northwood Hotel is on the outskirts of town and it’s a five-star rating. Beautiful place, I hear. I’ve never been able to afford it. Just stay on 101 and then take the I-80 to Sacramento. Stay in the slow lane—that’s on your right. It’s only about a two-hour drive. All kinds of signs, you can’t miss it. I know I don’t need to tell you to have a good time. Take care.’ He waved goodbye.

"I drove real slow and careful down to the Sears store and parked as close as I could get, in a place where I didn’t have to back out. My heart was beatin’ so hard I was afraid I was goin’ to be sick. Everything was whirlin’ around. There were so many people, I was scared. I wished you was with me, Joe.

"Then a lady came up to me and asked if she could help me. ‘I need a suit and shoes,’ I said real quick. I was afraid she could tell I was running away. I had to hurry. What if Clara woke up?

She measured me. ‘Five feet even. Let’s go to the boy’s department. Here, try this one. Do you like blue? That looks so nice on you. How about a shirt?’

"‘Yes, that shirt.’

"Well, it didn’t take long at all and I even had new shorts and socks, some fancy shoes. ‘Two-toned,’ she said. She wrapped them all up in two bags that said Sears & Roebuck. I got in my beautiful car and steered it to the freeway and got in the slow lane.

"No one in the world could be as happy as I was, Joe, driving slow in the right lane. I tried out all the buttons. The windows went up and down. The radio was awful loud, but I couldn’t find the right button to turn it down, so I just let it be loud. A couple of times, I couldn’t help myself, I pushed the go pedal to seventy. It was like having wings. I wished you could see me now. I honked and waved at the other cars; they waved back, so happy and friendly.

"I almost had to pull over to wipe my eyes and blow my nose, but the salesman said not to stop on the freeway, so I just let it drip off. There was a big sign that said ‘Sacramento’ and then a sign that pointed to Northwood Hotel. It wasn’t very far and when I got there, I hadn’t hardly turned the key off and this guy comes up and opens the door. Joe, you shoulda seen his fancy suit. He said, ‘Can I park your car, sir?’

"Well, I got out. I didn’t like to give up my keys. He held out his hand so I gave ’em to him, but I told him, ‘No funny stuff with my car.’ I’d be keepin’ my eye on him.

"I went inside. It was so beautiful, just like on TV. Rugs on the floor, pretty furniture like I never saw before, fancy lights and flowers everywhere—real flowers.

"There was a man behind the counter lookin’ at me so I went over there and said, ‘I want to buy the best room in this place for a week.’ He looked at me real funny and I pulled that envelope out and showed him my money. He took some of it and I signed my name. ‘There you go, sir, you’re here for a week.’

"Some young guy came over and said, ‘May I carry your luggage, sir?’ He broke out laughing when I handed him my Sears & Roebuck bags. I sure didn’t need him to carry them two little things. The man behind the counter said, ‘Billy,’ real loud and he stopped laughin’ real quick and said, ‘This way, sir.’

"I followed him into a little tiny place. He pushed a button and it went right straight up. I couldn’t get my breath for a minute.

"‘Haven’t you ever been in an elevator before?’ he asked.

"‘No,’ I said. ‘We don’t have any where I live.’

"When he opened the door, I was almost afraid to go in, Joe. Thought they’d made a mistake. That room was as big as Clara’s whole house.

"He said, ‘I’ll hang your things up.’

"I asked, ‘Where’s the toilet?’ He pointed to a door, but when I opened it I saw a big TV and a telephone. I backed out. He said, ‘C’mon, I’ll show you.’

"So we went in and sure enough there was a toilet.

"He said, ‘When you want to take a bath, just turn these handles.’

"All we had at Clara’s was a tin shower. I used it sometimes. Joe, you always said Clara took a PTA bath, but we sure didn’t have a tub so how could she?

"I was so hungry, and tired, too. I’d been up all night figurin’ a way to get that money. I asked Billy, ‘How do I get somethin’ to eat around here?’

"‘Just dial that "0” button like this and ask for room service and tell them what you want. They’ll bring it up, but I’ll get it for you. What would you like?’

"I said, ‘A big hamburger and a double order of fries and a great big piece of apple pie. Oh, and a chocolate milk shake.’

"Joe, remember, that’s what you got me for my birthday?

"‘Coming right up,’ he said and went out.

"I didn’t hardly know what to do with myself. All this stuff happened so quick. I walked all around and looked at everything. A big, big bed with pretty pillows all over it. The cover was all different colors. I never saw anything so beautiful. A soft chair, big enough even for Clara. Leather, like my car seats. Pictures on the wall and a big bunch of flowers on a table. A little refrigerator full of fancy little bottles.

"Billy came back with a tray, took a big silver lid off and there was my hamburger and fries. I just gobbled them down I was so hungry.

"Billy stood there and watched me eat and then said, ‘How about a tip?’

"‘A tip?’

"Money,” and he rubbed his fingers together.

"Sure,” I said with my mouth full. I got my envelope out and handed him a bill. He looked at it and his eyes got big.

"Wow, you must have won the sweepstakes.”

"So I showed him what was in the envelope and then put it on the dresser.

"He said, ‘That big Lincoln belong to you?”

"Sure does, ain’t it pretty?”

The phone rang and I jumped. My heart just stopped. Could Clara have found me? I got that sick feelin’ in my stomach. Billy answered it and he said the manager is sendin’ up a complimentary bottle of champagne. ‘I’ll get it,’ he said, and came right back with a bottle in a bucket of ice and two glasses. He was foolin’ around with it when the cork just flew out with a big bang. That stuff spilled all over. He poured two glasses; it bubbled so pretty.

"A toast,’ he said. ‘Here’s to you, friend, you’re a big spender.”

"So then I said, "A toast. Another toast,” and it tasted so good and I was so thirsty. We toasted ’til the bottle was half empty and he said, "I gotta go or I’ll get fired.”

"Joe, did you ever drink any of that bubbly? I was tired but I was so happy. Already I had a friend. I turned the big TV on. There were some people dancin’, so I just picked up a pillow and danced, too. Then I bounced on that big bed—never even took my shoes off—’til I was too tired. I sat down in that big leather chair and fell asleep.

"Billy came back and woke me up. ‘C’mon, let’s finish that bottle.”

"I was awful tired and sleepy but didn’t want to hurt his feelin’s so I had a couple glasses, too, and then the bottle was empty.”

"Hey, I’m off tomorrow. Let’s have a party, friend. I’ll bring the girls. You’ll like Tami. Ever been laid?”

"Laid? Laid where?”

"He laughed ’til I thought he’d bust.

"‘You sure are somethin’ else, friend. You better go to bed and rest up for Tami.’

"I just stumbled over to that big leather chair and curled up.

"The clock on the table said ten-thirty when I opened my eyes Saturday morning. I went into that fancy bathroom and looked at them towels in every color and hung just perfect. I didn’t want to mess ’em up so I just scooped the water up on my hands to wash my face and over my hair and slicked it back. The soap was so pretty and the bottles said somethin’ about bubbles.

"I thought after awhile I’ll take a bath in that big tub and try on my new suit, but first I’ll get somethin’ to eat so I just pushed that button like Billy said and told the man I wanted pancakes with lots of syrup. It was so good I ordered it again with a chocolate milk shake. I was so full I thought I’d never eat anything this good again. I turned on the TV and sat down in that big chair and didn’t wake up ’til the six o’clock news came on.”

Martin paused to ask, "Joe, we been drivin’ an awful long time, where is this place? Maybe we should just go home. Let’s go home, Joe. I don’t want to go to that institute. You won’t be there and I won’t ever see you again. Clara says if you make them techs mad they stick you with a big needle or lock you up in a little room and throw the key away. Maybe Clara will get over bein’ mad. C’mon Joe,” Martin pleaded.

"We got about fifty miles left, Martin, and you have to do this. Clara will never get over being mad and she’ll hurt you really bad. The hospital is the best place for you right now. Later maybe you can come and live with me, but Clara has to say. Tell me about the party. Did you have fun?”

"Well, the food was sure good. I was still tryin’ to find my suit when I hear all this talkin’ and laughin’ at the door and Billy comes in carryin’ a couple of bags with two pretty girls. He said, ‘Martin, this is Tami,’ and pushed her toward me. ‘She’s yours for the night. Treat her nice, sport.’

"You know I don’t know nuthin’ about girls, Joe.

"‘This is my girl, so hands off,’ Billy laughed and pulled his girl close to him.

"Tami came right over and put her arms around me. I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there.

"Billy said, ‘Martin, call downstairs and order four steak-and-lobster dinners and a couple bottles of that bubbly stuff for starters and then we’ll get down to some serious partying. I’ll mix us a martini.’

"I remember that ’cause it sounds like my name. We was drinkin’ them martinis when this guy knocks at the door with a table on wheels just loaded with stuff to eat. It smelled so good and I was so hungry. I guess we all was ’cause I had never even seen Clara clean a plate so fast.

"Billy’s girl said, ‘Why don’t you roll us a smoke?’

"I never saw anybody make a cigarette—did you, Joe? Your cigarettes always come in a pack. Billy couldn’t have done a very good job because it didn’t look like yours.

"‘Here, Martin, you can have the first drag, then pass it around.’

"I didn’t want my girl to think I didn’t know how to smoke so I puffed on it like you do and I choked and coughed. They thought it was funny, I guess.

"‘Have another drink, honey,’ Tami said. So I did, and started feeling real dizzy. She put my arms round her and got real close and said, ‘Let’s dance.’

"There wasn’t even any music. Billy was still mixin’ drinks and the air was so smoky my eyes hurt.

"The guy came back for the table and dishes. He said to Billy, ‘How about I join the party? I’ll bring my own girl.’

"Hell, no. We don’t need company. Close the door on your way out.”

"The guy looked kinda mean. He said to Billy, ‘You sure been flashin’ the greenbacks the last coupla days—looks like you found a live one.”

"Mind your own damn business and get the hell out.” I could tell Billy was mad. The guy left then.

"Well, Tami kinda pushed me down on the chair and sat on my lap. She started messin’ around down there and I got real nervous and pushed her hands away. Clara said I would die if I ever touched myself there.

"Hey, Billy, I think I got a virgin here,” she giggled.

"I should be so lucky. Do whatever—that’s your job, ain’t it?”

"I can sure use a slow night; I ain’t complainin’.”

"Joe, what’s a virgin?”

"Tami took her lipstick and wrote somethin’ on the mirror real big—said "Martin is a cute little devil but he can’t screw.” I didn’t understand the rest of it but I was glad she thought I was cute. Billy put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Boy, you sure are a fast mover.” Then he said, "You better pay me now before you fall asleep.”

"I said, ‘What for?”

"For the party. And I’ll just take care of the room, too. It’s three hundred and fifty a night so I’ll just save you the trouble.”

"I said, ‘Oh, I already paid for the room, Billy.”

"But he said, ‘Oh, no, that was just for parkin’ your car.”

"So I handed him the envelope. While he was gone, his girl put her arms around me and called me a high roller.

"Tami said, "Hands off, bitch. I got the one with the do-re-me. You party with your bellhop.”

"Billy’s girl picked up a bottle and threw it at her. It hit that big mirror and broke it right down the middle. Billy came in just then and the girls said, ‘We was just playin’ catch and that damn bottle got away.’

"Billy said, ‘There’ll be hell to pay over that mirror.’

"That bubbly stuff was goin’ fast, the corks poppin’—every time it spilled all over. My eyes was still hurtin’ from all the smoke and the place got so noisy. Nobody was watchin’ the TV, but when I got up to turn it off, I couldn’t hardly walk. The room started to whirl and I quick sat back down. Everybody was talkin’ so loud, then the phone rang.

"Billy answered it and said, ‘Hey, we gotta quiet down. It’s one-thirty. Bedtime anyhow. Martin, are you okay in that chair?’

"‘Okay,’ I said.

"Tami said, ‘Well, I’m sure as hell not gonna sleep on the floor,” and jumped into bed with Billy and his girl. I just went to sleep before my stomach got any sicker.

"When I woke up in the morning, everybody was gone and my pretty room was a terrible mess. The ashtrays were full, glasses and bottles all over. The bedcovers all tangled up and the broke mirror. I felt real bad to see it. I went back to sleep for awhile because I didn’t feel good. I thought when I woke up I’d feel good and then I’d call you so we could run away and Clara would never find us. So I dialed ‘0’ and gave them your phone number and asked them to call you. I looked in the envelope on the dresser and all that was left was a twenty-dollar bill. Where did all the big ones go? I got really scared. How could I run away now? You answered the phone and I was sure glad to hear your voice. Remember how you asked me where I was and how I got there?

"I told you all about my car, bran’ new, leather seats, radio, everything. I felt good then. It was real quiet for awhile. I thought you had hung up, but then you said, ‘Martin, did you spend all that money?’

I said, "No, I told you there’s a twenty-dollar bill in the envelope.”

"You said, ‘Twenty dollars? Twenty dollars? Oh, my God. Clara will kill you. You are in deep, deep shit, little buddy.’

"You scared me, Joe. I let the phone drop and barely made it to the bathroom and threw up everything. After awhile I felt better, but I didn’t smell so good. I looked at that tub. All I gotta do is turn those handles. I can do that easy, I told myself.

"So I took my clothes off, never did get to put my new ones on for the party. Never could find ’em. Billy put them someplace. I bent over to take my shoes off but my head hurt so bad I just left them on. I turned the handles on that tub, the water just came gushin’ out and went swishin’ and swirlin’ round so fast it made me dizzy. I got real scared, thought for sure I’d broke it, but when I saw it didn’t run over, I emptied all the stuff in those pretty little bottles right in there and then there was bubbles everywhere. I quick got in and scooted down.

"Joe, did you ever have a bath in a tub like that? That water was deep, almost came over my face. The bubbles floated everywhere. I just watched them as I lay there. The water was so warm and smelled so good. I looked down and saw my shoes. I laughed because I hadn’t really meant to leave them on. ‘I’ve got new shoes,’ I told them, ‘so get as wet as you want.’

"I held on to the edge of the tub, watched the bubbles play and just kind of floated. It was so much fun to pretend I was a big fish or a submarine like I saw on TV. I felt so free I never wanted to get out.

"Then the door opened and you came in and there was Clara right behind you. I’m gonna sleep awhile, Joe. I’m so tired.”

I woke once to hear Clara talkin’, but then I just closed my eyes and went back to sleep for awhile until I heard voices again.

"That murderin’ little retard has passed out—drunk as a skunk. Tell me the truth, Joe, didn’t he damn near drown me in that tub?”

"What if he did? You’ve made his life a living hell. Look at his hands—scars where you put your cigarettes out on him a few times. You’ve used him like a slave. I should have done something about it years ago. He’ll be a hell of a lot better off in the state institute.”

"Kiss my ass, Joe,” Clara sneered.

"You’re sure affectionate lately, just glad to be alive, I guess,” Joe laughed.

I fell asleep again and didn’t wake up until the car stopped. It was dark and the big brick buildings were all lit up. They scared me. Then I read the sign sayin’ "Forrest Hills State Institution.”

"Joe,” I said, "I don’t know this place. I don’t wanta stay here. Can’t I stay with you?”

"I wish you could, little buddy, but I only rent a room. Clara has guardianship over you. I can’t do anything else. The hospital isn’t so bad. They’ll feed you well and you’ll have a good bed and lots of friends.”

"I don’t care, Joe, I’m scared of this place. Please, please don’t leave me here,” I begged

"Who’s laughin’ now, retard?” Clara taunted. "Get out.”

"I’ll run away again.”

"See them chain-link fences? You ain’t goin’ no place. Your Ma and I worked here for over fifteen years as psych techs—we worked all them wards. The administration building and admitting office is right over there, Joe.”

"Come on, Martin, I’m going with you,” Joe said.

He took my hand, so I got out. As we walked, he said real quiet-like, "Martin, straighten up. Don’t let her see you scared. She loves that. Act like you’ve decided you want to be here. Don’t take any shit off her—not off anybody. You already put the fear of God into her. Do it again—be a man. This is the only way for you right now. Promise me, Martin,” and he gave my hand a squeeze.

"I promise, Joe.”

But I was still scared. I walked on ahead, then I called back. "Hurry up, Clara. I think I’m really gonna like this place. I won’t hafta sleep with the slop bucket anymore. Nobody will break my nose or hurt my mouth either. Who’re you gonna put your cigarettes out on, Clara? Who’s gonna bring you the bedpan at night?” I kinda skipped along.

Joe opened the door that said "Admitting.” Clara walked up to the man behind the big desk with a sign on it that said "Dean Sullivan” and started talkin’ loud. I got real nervous and started walkin’ up and down. Joe looked at me and shook his head, so I calmed down, but my heart was beatin’ so hard and I thought I’d die. The sweat just ran down into my eyes.

Then the man got real loud. I heard him say, "We can’t take him on such short notice. We’ll have to run some tests first and a lot of other medical work. You can’t bring him here and just drop him off. It will take at least a month, maybe more.”

"The hell I can’t, Sullivan. He ain’t goin’ home with me—he’ll kill me the first chance he gets. Are you and me gonna have to have a private talk?”

I made a quick little step toward her and she moved faster than I had ever seen her and stood behind Joe. I looked at her and laughed and laughed. I wasn’t a bit afraid of her anymore. I said it right out, "Yes, I will—I will kill you, Clara.”

Joe reached out and put his hand on me.

She got about the same color as she was when they pulled her out of the tub. Guess it was the water that put the fear into her that Joe was talkin’ about. Then I was walkin’ fast, up and down again and couldn’t stop laughin’.

The man behind the desk never took his eyes off me. Finally he said, "What happened to his face?”

"Fell down,” Clara said. "Well, I don’t give a damn what you do with him, but he ain’t goin’ with me. I’ll just turn him loose in the yard. Deal with it any way you want.” She turned to leave.

"Well, maybe under these unusual circumstances, we could keep him in isolation until we can evaluate him.”

"That’s a good idea, do that,” Joe said. "He really is a decent kid and he sure needs some help.”

The man picked up a phone, talked a minute and pretty soon two guys in white suits came in. One shook my hand and said "Hello, how are you?” The other guy stuck a needle in my arm. Joe put his arms around me and I said, "Joe, don’t cry, Joe.”

"Thank God this front seat reclines. I’m gonna sleep on the way home. Better stop for gas.”

"Well, I’m tired, too. It’s been a long day, Clara, but we’re only a half-hour from home. My God, I hated to leave him there. He took it like a little man.”

"Oh for God’s sake, stop blubberin’. I hate a maudlin drunk. You said yourself the institute was the best place for him. I’da killed him with my bare hands. All that fifteen thousand pissed away—he’ll get what’s comin’ to him there all right. Better’n I could do it. I sure got screwed on that deal. Fifteen thousand shot to hell, and now not even the S.S.I. check. "Old Sullivan thought he was gonna give me a bad time, but you noticed he didn’t want any private talk. We go back a long time. I know where all the bodies are buried and believe me, that ain’t necessarily a joke.

"He used to hang around me like I was a bitch in heat—maybe I was. He knew damn well what happened to retard’s face. Why in hell don’tcha blow your nose and stop that snifflin’—you’re drivin’ me crazy.

"I’ll have to admit he was pretty smart. Of course, before his Ma got boozin’ so bad, she spent some time with him. She taught him his ABCs and to write a little. He could count to a hundred. She showed him how to drive so he could take her to the market, but when he hit the gas instead of the brakes and ran over my mailbox, I held him down and she put the cigarette on him to show which hand was right and which one was left. A couple more lessons like that and he learned fast. Yeah, I’d say he was pretty quick—with the right teachers, of course,” she laughed.

"Clara, for God’s sake, shut your mouth—I can’t stand anymore of this. I’m going to stop and take a little walk.”

"You sure as hell ain’t gonna let me sit out here in the dark on this damn freeway.” "You’re a born loser, Clara—want to bet?”


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