From “Street Life”
Something was wrong. Even the painting sensed it, its cool smooth surface tense, like a brittle breakfast glass waiting to break. Sammy blinked away the tears and stared hard at the thing, at the colors that had already faded for the day, the ink black forming where red and yellow had just been. The twinkling pin points of brightness came, like stabbing little knives. He hated them. But he hated the feeling more. He remembered them from somewhere, from some time before their was a painting, that painful thin time of stark images glaring at him with fires and dark-faced men. His heavy brown hand touched the glass, drawing up its coolness. If only it could help him escape. What good was a magic changing painting if it did not help him at need?
Footsteps echoed from outside the door, sharp, regular heals clicking like a soldier's against the tiled floor. He turned, his heart racing as liquid bubbled from his eyes again and through the smear of wet lashes, Nurse Jones appeared.
She was tall and thin, her pale face unflattered by the stiff white collar of her uniform. She wore little make-up and no lipstick-- though she was pretty without it, pursing her lips as she entered, looking up startled when she saw him.
"Sammy!" she scolded and rushed forward. "What are you doing out of bed?"
He grinned. He brown skin crinkling around the eyes, a teddy-bear grin. His large arms lifted to engulf her. "You promised me a story, Nurse Jones," he said. "You said if I was a good boy you'd tell me a story."
The woman rubbed her forehead and eyes with her finger tips, both hands pausing over her mouth. "I forgot," she mumbled through the fingers.
"Forgot? But you promised."
She glanced towards the door and sighed. "I know I did, Sammy. But it's going to have to be a very short story tonight."
His eyes watered again. Her sigh deepened into a moan.
"Oh, don't be like that, Sammy," she said, coming quickly forward to let him embrace her. "And don't squeeze so hard. You don't want to hurt me do you?"
"Hurt you? Did Sammy hurt you?" he asked, his arms unclasping in a frightened jerk outward.
"No, no, but you could," she said, looking at his arms. "You a very strong, Sammy and it wouldn't take much to crush me. Now come to bed. I won't tell you a story unless you are under covers. Do you hear me?"
His wide face broke with a pout, but he climbed into bed, the springs squeaking beneath his bulk. He buried himself in their warmth, as Nurse Jones tucked him in-- her smiling face floating above his as her dark eyes studied him.
"You're so big," she mumbled, "And yet so fragile." She looked incredibly sad, then annoyed. "Damn them. How can they expect you to survive out there-- the way you are now."
"I don't understand, Nurse Jones."
Her expression softened, the eyes refocused again on him. "Of course, you don't," she said. "And that's the problem. I wouldn't worry half as much about you, if you understood anything at all."
His frown grew more intense. Her sad smile gave way to something a bit less bleak.
"Oh never mind, Sammy," she said. "What you don't know right now, won't hurt you. And Dr. Meyers is pushing ahead with therapy. Maybe that will help."
At the name of Meyers, Sammy stiffened. "Is Doctor Meyers here, too?" he asked, looking out from under the covers, with only his wide frightened eyes and pudgy nose exposed.
"Sammy," Nurse Jones mumbled. "You're going to have to get over your fear of Dr. Meyers. If anything he wants to help you more than I do."
"He hurts me," Sammy said in definite tones.
"Not like the others want to," Nurse Jones said, then stopped, apparently thinking through her next words with care. "He hurts you in a good way, a way that will help cure you."
"Cure me? I don't feel sick."
She sighed. "Never mind."
She told him the usual story, one of which Sammy never grew tired, about a black man who for some reason could remember nothing about his past, not name or age, acting as if he was a small, small child.
"As small as me?" Sammy interrupted, his dark eyes bright like the glittering spots from his painting.
Nurse Jones smiled, sadly, putting her hand on his, which floated on the outside of the blanket, large and clumsy, like an over-friendly puppy.
"Yes, Sammy," she said softly. "Just like you."
She went on to tell him how this man-child had wandered the streets of New York, no one quite knowing just how he survived, perhaps eating trash, or begging, though none of the predictable matters of violence seemed to befall him. Drugs dealers and prostitutes, street gangs and junkies all seemed wary of him, or respectful of him, keeping their distance from him, not helping or hindering him, but letting him wander where he wished, into and out of the most terrible neighborhoods of the city, wandering as a child would, staring at people and buildings in an amazed fascination, looking for something which even he did not know or comprehend.
In time, he found himself in the company of strangers, huddling with others not so different than he, living off park land, sleeping on and under benches or when lucky, in one of the various make-do shelters for which the homeless have become infamous. He seemed to like this, to revel in some secret community of hopeless that sang and drank and cursed and squabbled, suffering cold and hunger in some savage communal bond. The others protected him from the unnatural ravishes of the street, Police and drunken white men cruel enemies that roamed the night seeking to destroy their way of life.
Of course, this man-child understood none of this. He ran when he was told to run. He hid when he was told to hide, understanding only fear itself, but seldom its cause. Then, one night, while living in a park, the police came, with dogs and helmets and sticks, rushing in on the little park village from all sides, knocking cardboard houses down, knocking people down, throwing people into paddywagons and ambulances and cars. Rocks and bottles flew through the air. And in the midst of this, the man-boy was hit, falling into a strange blackness that did not allow him to run or hide.
"And Sammy, he woke up in a hospital ward just like this one, in a bed much like yours," Nurse Jones said.
"And then what happened?" Sammy asked, with the same expectant look he always bore, always waiting for the next event which would complete the story.
Nurse Jones sagged. "No one knows yet," she said softly. "The good doctors and nurses studied the man-boy. They did their tests and discovered odd things about him, but not what had caused him to be as he is, or what they might do to bring him back. For it was clear that the man-boy had not always been like he was, that something had happened in his life that had sent him running into his own mind, seeking a time in his distant memories where he could be safe."
"But if he's safe, then why would anyone want to bring him back?"
Nurse Jones bit her lip. "It's not as simple as that, Sammy," she said. "What appears to be safe, really isn't. A person like that can't hide forever from his problem, it seeks him out no matter where he hides and makes him very unhappy in the end."
"Will the nurses and doctors help him?"
"If they can," Nurse Jones said, again looking rather distant and sad. "If they are given time."
"I don't understand."
Nurse Jones blinked and shook her head. "Never mind. That part of the story is too complicated, even for me to understand completely. We'll just say people are trying new things in hope of curing him before...."
Nurse Jones shivered and rose. "Before nothing, Sammy. It's time to go to sleep. I've been off duty for a half hour already."
Sammy's eyes watered again. "I don't like this, Nurse Jones," he said. "It's better when you stay here during the dark-- then at least, I still have my painting to look at after you're gone."
"Don't be silly, Sammy. You have to sleep. That's one reason why I don't work the overnight as often as I used to. You would stay up all night following me on my rounds. In the morning, Dr. Meyers would have a deuce of a time keeping your up for the treatment."
Again, Sammy's face screwed up at the mention of the doctor's name. Nurse Jones smiled again, patted his hand and rose from the edge of the bed. "Goodnight, Sammy. I will see you tomorrow."
Then, she was gone, the sound of her clicking heals fading into the distance, stopping to the jangle of keys and slamming of doors, then more distant still, a muffled, terrible walk in which she seemed to shrink into nothing, the way some of the things did sometimes in his painting.
He sobbed, but kept the sheet and blanket close to his mouth. If the other nurses heard him, they could come with their cold hands and stinging needles and put him into darkness.
He hated darkness. It was always filled with odd shapes and strange feelings, and people who he did not know-- or at least, remember knowing, their dark eyes and mouths always tinged with some sense of recognition, as if he should have known who they are and what they wanted. But he felt from them only fear, like a hurt throbbing from some ancient wound.
The lights went down. The soft glow of hall lights fell into the room. But the window had brightened, the glittering spots of light grew more intense. Nurse Jones had called them stars. He stared at them. They looked like blinking eyes. Tonight, there were cold and hard, and hurt him to look at, and yet he stared more intently at them, his eyes bubbling, his mouth making strange cooing sounds.
"Sammy!" One of the other nurses barked from the hall, pausing at the door with her wheeled drug tray. In her hand was the white paper cup with his pills in it.
"Nothing," Sammy said, hurriedly pulling the blankets up over the bottom half of his face. "I'm not doing anything."
"Like hell you aren't," the woman said, her stiff white uniformed shape marching across the room and around the bed to the painting. She tugged the cord and a curtain fell across the glass, like a heavy eyelid blotting out the glittering stars, leaving more darkness inside the room.
"My painting! My painting!" Sammy cried, casting the sheets and blankets from him, pounding the bed with both hands. "I want my painting."
"Don't you start that with me again, mister," the nurse scolded. "I'm not Miss Jones. I won't put up with this silliness of yours. Imagine leaving a window this high up with no bars. This is a mental ward, not a nursery. And you, your hardly a child, despite the way you carry on. Here! Take this!"
She thrust the paper cup forward.
He stared at it, but his jaw had set in an ugly angry way. He shook his head stubbornly from side to side.
"Don't do this, mister," the nurse warned. "You know what happens when you carry on, don't you? I call the men from downstairs and they strap you up in that room. You don't want to spend the night in that room, do you?"
The fear came, rolling up through him with one long shudder, settling into his bubbling eyes with a single, horror stricken expression. Again, he shook his head, but less stubbornly, his heavy hand rising to take the paper cup from her hand.
"That's it, Mister Sammy," the nurse said more kindly, giving him another cup with water with which to swallow his pills. He swallowed them and the water with a single, pitiful gulp, then fell back into the pile of pillows, stricken, staring at the ceiling and the face of the now-smiling nurse. "Now go to sleep, Mister Sammy."
He closed his eyes. Darkness came. And so did the strange faces.
Nurse Jones was angry. "She said that to you?"
"Well, I'll see about this," she said, staring towards the door. "It won't happen again, Sammy. I promise."
He nodded and smiled. She touched his hand and sat on the edge of his bed again, the way she had the night before.
"This mean you'll stay after dark?" Sammy asked.
"No, Sammy," Nurse Jones said. "I thought I explained that all already. "The schedule's set, and Dr. Meyers is firm about it."
Sammy fell into a sulk.
"What about your dreams, Sammy? Have you had them lately?"
His head shook with a disinterested jerk. She frowned, her fingers brushing back a lock of curly hair that fell across his forehead.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"No dreams," he said, his voice squeaky, the way it always got when he wasn't quite telling the truth.
But to admit the dreams was to subject himself to even more horrors, darker than the room in which the men sometimes strapped him. Even then, the veil of Dr. Meyers' chamber fell across his face, the great ugly machine waiting like a torturer's chair, with hanging wires and frightening clips.
He'd been attached to it several times. He'd felt the jolt of it, rocking through his brain like a pounding hammer, chipping away at the stone-like-ice exterior that made this world so solid and safe, chips of it crumbling into visions of people in dreams. He hated them, hated the chips, the jolts and the people.
And Dr. Meyers promised more.
"If there's any hope that this will shock him out of it, we have to try," Dr. Meyers once told Nurse Jones.
"But it seems so brutal," Nurse Jones complained.
"It is brutal. Everything is brutal. The drugs. His being here. Even the street where we picked him up. But damn it, Mary. They want to put him back there the way he is. Nothing can be more brutal than that. How long do you think he'll survive out there in his condition."
"I don't know," Nurse Jones said, doubtfully. "It seems he did well enough before he came here."
"Living like an animal?"
"Some animals live good lives."
"You're a romantic, Mary," the doctor said. "You still believe in the noble savage. I don't. I think the street will kill him over time, when the wrong elements finally come together. Damn this city and its goddamn cut backs."
"But what are we going to do? We can't keep shocking him," Nurse Jones said. "That's cruelty, especially if it doesn't show signs of working."
"I know," Dr. Meyers said. "Which is why we have to watch him closely. If there is any sign this works, then we must keep it going. If not...."
So Sammy kept quiet. He did not want to visit that room again, or feel the jolt through his head and chest-- or worse, vanish the way others had after visiting the room again and again. He had kept track of them, or talked with the old ones who knew of such things. "People fade away in that room, Sammy," old Russ whispered once. "First they change. A little each time, till one day they are different are a different person, talking different, thinking different, vanishing the way different people do."
Then, Darkness came again and Nurse Jones came, kissing his forehead. "No stories tonight," she said in an excited voice. "I have someplace to go-- with someone special."
Sammy's eyes watered, but his protests could not dampen Nurse Jones' mood or make her change her mind. She faded in a click of heals, jingle of keys, and a lilting hum of hers that sounded both sad and happy at the same time. Even after the lights had dimmed, Sammy stayed up, pressing his nose to the cold painting as the light below shifted in the growing blackness. Rows of orange lights dotted a square around him, glowing round bulbs which marked the perimeter of a space Nurse Jones called a parking lot. In the distance, a low silver, snake-like shape moved along a narrow path, tooting its horn, a single glowing eye illuminating the space before it.
He giggled silently into his fist, pressing his fingers tight against his teeth to keep the noise from attracting attention. But a the squeaky wheel of the medicine cart stopped in the hall before his door. Cloth swished.
"So you still are up, Mister Sammy," the other nurse said, charging in with all the abruptness of the train below, grabbing roughly at his arm. "Get into bed like you're supposed to. And no lip with me tonight. I'm not in the mood for it. Not after the talking I got this afternoon."
Her brown face was shattered, deep and angry lines shooting out from the edges of her eyes and mouth. She yanked again. He blubbered. Pain erupting from his fingers were she clutched them.
"Don't start crying neither. I'll just have the men up here if you do that. Tell stories about me, will you."
She yanked the cord, drawing the curtain down across the painting. I ought to have the men up here anyway, fixing this damned window so you can't sit there staring out, drooling all the time. You ought to be in the day room with the other loonies." She bent close to him, her crooked finger under his nose, her dark eyes studying the facets of his face. "What makes you so special anyways? You King Tut or something?"
But Sammy said nothing, whimpering into the covers till the woman went, his throat scratched from swallowing his pill. He stared at the dark ceiling, his heart thumping hard in his chest-- like someone inside knocking to be let out. After a long struggle, his eyes closed despite himself, bringing darkness down upon him the way the curtain did over his painting.
He saw the fires first. The tin-can line along the gravel path with flames roaring from their tops and dark and grim faces huddles around each, rubbing hands together, sharing cigarettes like peace pipes, mumbling and grumbling, humming tunes to the blaring music boxes hidden in the darkness beyond their light. They circled each can like planets, waiting for something, looking down at Sammy with sad eyes.
"Poor Fool! What you doin' here anyway?"
But beyond them, there were other faces imbedded in the darkness, wrapped in the pattern of warped tree trunks, grumbling, gnome-like faces with twisted mouths and dark thoughts, waving angry limbs at each others, talking to Sammy in words that none of the others could hear, saying they would devour him, and in the flickering flames their shadows rose and shrank, seeming to come closer with each gust of wind-- coming at him with hooting whistles and shimmering helmets, thumping at him and others with their clubs.
"Come on, Sammy! Come on!" the others shouted. "Can't stay here no more. Gotta hide."
But even as he ran he heard the voices calling at him, begging him to cease his run, give up to them and their hungry faces-- his legs growing limp as the clubs rose and fell above him, bringing on him darkness and-- terror.
He woke with a scream, his voice filling the void of soundlessness that filled the night-time ward, a shrill hawkish cry lingering longer in the dusty air than the original, stirring things in the dim halls and the octopus of rooms. Whispers came. There were always whispers, day and night, the undercurrent beneath the hustle and bustle of daylight hospital, the predominant harmony of night time music, rising and falling with the breath of the sleepers, night-talkers and midnight walkers, mumbling, grumbling half-drugged minds banging with words at invisible bars.
But it was the annoyed face of the other nurse who appeared in the door, her flashlight beaming a sharp arc across Sammy's still disturbed face, blinding already heavily watered eyes.
"What's wrong with you now?" she asked sharply.
He shivered and shook his head, unable to put the experience into words, wishing that it had been Nurse Jones who had come with her soft hands and gentle voice, soothing out the wrinkles of his aching brain the way she did the bedsheets.
Yet he could not have told Nurse Jones anything either--- not about the dreams or the faces in the trees, or the people clutching his arm to run, or the silver helmeted men with clubs, beating at everyone who moved.
"Well, if nothing's wrong, then go to sleep, damn it," the angry nurse said. "I don't need you disturbing the ward tonight." She shivered and looked around her. "This place has a bad enough feel without your antics."
He whimpered, curled in his bed like a beaten dog, nodding his accent to her as the beam worked its way over his face and clutching hands.
"My God, Mister Sammy," the woman said, compassion creeping back into her voice as she stroke forward. "You've got yourself all tangled up in your sheets. Your lucky you didn't strangle yourself. Let me help you."
She freed his legs and spread the sheet and blanket over him again, clucking her tongue as she did, sighing when he was finally tucked in again.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do with you, Mister Sammy," she mumbled. "Sleep now, I'll have someone talk to you in the morning."
He nodded, and whimpered, but did not close his eyes again, waiting and watching as he did many night, as the light shifted across the ceiling, changing darkness back into to day.
At one point, he slipped carefully out of bed and drew open the veil from across his painting, sitting sideways and staring at it as its colors grew again, a blazing fire rising from its lip, not like the flickering weak beams alive in his dreams, but strong, mighty beams that seemed unquenchable, drawing strength from some deeper source that throbbed beneath his bare feet as they touched the cold tiled floor. His temples throbbed with the change, his heart pounding faster and faster as blue turned yellow and finally into a searing, painful-to-look-at red, a fire that lifted itself higher and higher into the painting, spreading color into everything it touched.
He never missed the event-- though on some days, the sun-- as Nurse Jones called it-- did not appear, leaving a sulking grey, the colors of day dimmed by the lack.
"It's called morning," Nurse Jones once told him, sitting with him during those nights when she worked through the darkness. And yet, the word did not fit the experience. Wrinkled Father Pennington perpetually chanted of God from his bed, bellowing of creation and Biblical verse, warning of always of doom to come because of sin in the world. Sammy sometimes sat and listened to the man for hours, staring at the waving arms and contorted face till he could do nothing but giggle. But there were times when the greyness came when those words seemed to fit, as if the rising brightness was god and the dark grey the doom to which the old priest spoke.
But if it was god in his painting, why did it not save him from this place, from the angry nurse and the machines of Dr. Meyers, and from the deeper, more dreadful things of which Nurse Jones hinted at times, talking of `them' beyond the powers of nurses and doctors. There was always a grey haze hanging over the ward, waiting to drop upon them at any time. Why didn't God save him the way Father Pennington said he could? What was this thing called `sin' which promised doom?
But today, no doom could survive the fiery rise of color into his painting. Even tired and bleary-eyed, Sammy sat riveted as the distant and intricate features of his painting revived, from the haze on the horizon, to the slowly winding columns of smoke rising from tall brick stacks, the silver one-eyed train remained, tooting across the center, dividing small squares from large, houses and factories, according to Nurse Jones, who also claimed they contained people.
He leaned closer to the glass, peering down at the closer buildings, as the dark shapes moving along the streets, beeping and squealing like metal bugs, their surfaces shimmering and changing with light and shadow, turning, parking, losing themselves in the deep maze of intricate streets that weaved through the boxes like strands to a web.
The whole morning experience lifted Sammy's mood. The dreams faded, shrinking into whispering elves dangling in the back of his head, then into wisps of smoke, bearing the form of their previous fear, the eyes of the gnarled wood still contained within them, though lost, dissipating, growing thinner and thinner as the light grew.
Dr. Meyers grumbled at he paraded through the door, his white jacket wrinkled as if he had slept in it. He was not old, but looked tired, especially around the mouth, set in a gruesome expression that pulled taunt the rest of his face. His hair needed combing and feel to one side, baring the patches where it was most thin.
"Hummm!" he said, fingers flicking over the chart at the foot of Sammy's bed. "How do you feel?"
There was no warmth in the voice. No sense of personal care which always emanated from Nurse Jones when she asked.
"I feel good," Sammy said, through his teeth ground together as he spoke.
The sharp gaze of the doctor rose, the eyes bloated by his round spectacles. He looked like a fish floating in a round bowl, breathing in a slow, steady rhythm that matched his analytical pattern of thought.
Sammy's head shook, though his gaze stayed steady upon the doctor at the end of the bed, upon the clipboard with its mysterious writing, the jottings of the nurses who came and went, bringing medicines and other instruments of measurement, poking and prodding him, even sometimes before the darkness lifted from his eyes.
"No?" the doctor mumbled, looking baffled and disappointed, fingering the chart. "That is odd. I was almost sure the treatment would bring them on this time. Maybe you just don't remember them, eh, Sam?"
"No dreams!" Sammy said more firmly.
The doctor's mouth puckered, his long fingers stroking his rounded chin, eyeing the chart then Sammy, as if debating some new strategy. Eventually, he sighed and let the chart fall back into place, and marched out-- an air of the unfinished lingering behind him.
Sammy eased out of the bed and to the ledge of the painting, pressing his nose against the cool glass. Outside, things moved, a progression of shiftings and turnings that was never quite so busy other times of day, small shapes slipping into larger shapes as they moved from one point in the painting to another, sometimes fading altogether, sometime appearing out of nowhere.
But even the painting did not hold his attention long. It was Wednesday. Nurse Jones would be in early today. He knew her schedule the way he remembered knowing other things in his dreams, the drop of the morning bundle of papers, the clank of milk bottles rattling in the truck, the ritual of morning waking, yawning men and women, crying babies, hunger aching in his belly like a hole.
He shivered and dressed, pulling on his hospital gown over his pajamas, his slippers were worn with the backs broken down, barely containing his heavy brown feet. He shuffled in them, bent and straightened their backs around his pale heel, flowing out into the hall before any of the others were up. The noise of their rising came from the other rooms, groaning men and moaning women, laughing hysterical fools like Lazarus, or peeping, mouse-like Lorian. Each room was a symphony of their voices, flowing out with demands for attention. Hospital workers rushed in an out of the rooms, calling each others, cursing the patients, eyeing Sammy with startled, but not unpleasant surprise.
"Hey, hey, Sammy!" the black attendant named Joseph said. "You're up early today. Miss Jones must be coming in, eh?"
Sammy grinned, but continued his march down the wide pink-painted hall towards the double doors through which the woman would appear, the line of patient's rooms ending into the more practically placed services rooms, the smell of cleaners and bleaches curling out of the room with the mops, the softer, more friendly scent of linens coming next, with the empty, silver-sided medicine cart in a third room. Nearest the door was the room crowded with food carts and plastic trays, dishes washed and stacked in the corner, waiting for the delivery through the double doors from someplace called the Kitchen.
Behind Sammy, the others appeared, one by one stumbling into the hall, like a line of drunks, each staggering in his or her own private way, some barely able to walk at all, clutching at canes and walkers and wheel chairs, or the long, padded rail that ran along either wall. Their faces were grim, and their eyes still dripping with darkness and drugs, too-bright eyes squinting against the florescent lamps and glittering reflected sun from silver carts and chrome chairs.
Sammy knew them all, though not their names, the way he remembered knowing others like them, the staggering park people who haunted his nightly dreams, wearing the same baffled morning expressions. He associated with few of them, the whispered warning from his dream always in his ear, "Trust no one, Sammy."
The others were always too happy or dazed for him to know well, ranting in the hours before medication time about dream-like things he did not understand, their faces contorting into shameful shadows of their former selves, till pills and paper cups fell into their palms, and they swallowed, and fell back into their dazed selves, no longer ranting or interesting enough, floating along through the hours like pedals of a flower, faces as blank as the walls.
Sometimes Sammy hated them, seeing them as the gnarled tree-faces of his dreams, with their open mouths seeking to devour him. He turned instead to the nurses and doctors and attendants who moved through the halls with a distinct crispness, like the snake-train or the beetle-cars moving through the various portions of his painting, self-assured, knowing where they were going and where they are coming from, even as they fade away.
He huddled in the arch of the doorway, listening through the crack. Beyond it, the sound of feet and voices echo as if in another long hall, many trays and carts and carriages rattling like mysterious ghosts, and other sounds to which Sammy had no name, hums and clicks and swishes of rising and falling things, sending smells through the crack to his curling nostrils. But his ear and nose were attuned for a special sound and smell. He knew Nurse Jones in all of his senses, smelling her flowery perfume sometimes at night, where she had just touched his bedsheets, listening to the retreat of her clicking heals-- no other set of feet made such noise here, or held that steady a rhythm.
"Hey you!" one of two attendants said, drawing out the food carts, plates and utensils.
"Oh leave him be," said his companion. "He's a harmless one."
"Harmless? Look at the size of him. That's like calling a grizzly bear harmless. What is panting for?"
The other attendant grinned. "He has a thing for one of the nurses. The lucky dog. Just leave him be."
They went on with their business, shoving metal against metal, making it almost impossible for Sammy to hear the distinctive sounds beyond the door, he cringed and craned, but could only hear the brunt sounds of squeaking wheels and crushing metal on the far side, where other attendants perhaps prepared other patients for breakfast.
Without warning, the locks of the double doors snapped and the doors spread wide, revealing the big bulging silver belly of the breakfast cart-- the accumulated scents of its contents spewing out into the hall with the steam. A cool breeze blew from beyond the door. Visions of a long corridor with a multitude of door ways and side passages and moving people was suddenly cut short as the door closed.
But where was Nurse Jones?
He started to babble and squawk.
"What is it?" the attendant to the first food cart asked. "I thought you said he wasn't dangerous."
"He isn't, he's crying. His nurse hasn't come yet. Hey, big fella," the second attendant said, bending closer, smelling of cigars and alcohol, scents stark and frightening from Sammy's dreams. Sammy yanks away from the friendly touch, screeching at the man.
"See! See!" the other man said. "I told you they're all dangerous. You'd better get one of the nurses for him before he starts killing people. Look at those damn arms will you?"
"He's not gonna kill anybody, man. Just get that stuff out of your head if you want to work here. Loonies aren't all killers. But I suppose your right. I should get a nurse."
He hurried off as the attendant to the second food cart spoke softly to Sammy, saying that breakfast had come, and wouldn't that be good enough, eating vitals on the city for free and all, living in a place as comfortable as this. "No having to work like a dumb slob like us, pal. Just sitting here looking a pretty nurses all day, and look at them all..."
But Sammy crying had reached a horse level. The clatter of another nurses feet sounded rushing down the hall. He looked up. The blond hair of the day nurse floated around him, cooing at him in her high-pitched voice.
"Calm down, Sammy," she whispered. "Calm down. People are late for work all the time."
He sniffled, his crying easing into something more manageable. He could breath between sobs. "But Nurse Jones always comes..."
"Yes, I know, I know," the blond nurse said. "But crying isn't going to make her come any faster. Just come with me we'll got check out the chart at the nurse's station. Would you like that, Sammy? We'll go find out if Nurse Jones called. All right?"
Sammy snuffled and nodded. With help from two of the attendants, the nurse drew Sammy to his feet, taking her large hand in hers.
"Everything will be fine, Sammy," she said. "Really."
Again he nodded, and shuffled down the hall beside her, the other `loonies' staring at him as they passed, their blank gazes fresh from their dose of medicine, each drifting slowly back into that soft-sided haze of medicated happiness.
The nurse's station was a square of counter space in the exact center of the ward, dividing the east wing from the west, a brightly lit place full of papers, charts and computers. A phone was always ringing. A nurse was always shouting over the line as some invisible distant soul. When the nurse and Sammy arrived, two phones were ringing unanswered with the one busy nurse shouting into a third.
"Louise?" the blond nurse said. "Have you heard anything from Mary?"
The other nurse waved her to silence, but grabbed up a clipboard from under the counter, flipping through the pages. Then, with a hand over the mouth piece she said. "She called saying she wouldn't be in today."
It was only after the sharp cry from Sammy that the busy nurse realized her mistake, moaning as she slammed down the phone on the still-talking voice.
"What the hell's he doing here?" she demanded.
"He was by the door crying because Mary hadn't come. How was I to know you were keeping it a secret."
"From him, it's a secret," the busy nurse said, lifting part of the counter to let herself out. She came around the counter to where Sammy had fallen in a lump. He was crying and trying to grip his legs. "Help me! If he rolls into a ball we'll never get him back to his room."
Between the two nurses, they managed to get him to his feet, staggering under his immense bulk like broken crutches. The blond nurse cooed into his ear, telling him everything would be all right. His eyes were shut tight, squeezing out tears that wet both nurse's uniforms. His hands clutched their shoulders as they staggered with him towards his room.
"He'll be all right when he gets to his window," the busy nurse assured the other as they weaved around the dreamy-people who stared now, not quite able to comprehend, laughing or crying in unison to Sammy's voice, forming harmonies of disharmony that spread through the ward.
"It's going to be a rough day after this," the busy nurse grunted, shifting a little weigh off her shoulder. "Once this one gets the others started, there's no stopping it. Hurry."
They managed to dump him on the bed, half seated before the window. He stared at his painting, panting slightly from lack of breath, the sobs and moans subsiding for a moment as his face took on a puzzled expression.
"See, Sammy," the blond nurse said. "There's your painting with all its nice colors."
But the painting had changed. Something white had streaked across it on an angle, slashing the traditional view. He reached forward, pointing at the violation.
"My painting! My painting!"
"It's frost, Sammy," the blond nurse said.
"He doesn't understand," the other nurse said with a clear note of panic in her voice. "He thinks someone damaged it. Look, he's starting to cry again."
"Oh no, Sammy," the blond nurse said. "There's nothing wrong. Come here and look."
She lead him to the glass, pushing his hand against it. The cold shot through his hand and up his arm. He yanked it away. But his gaze was lost on the outside again, lost in the shapeless world of white which had suddenly stolen the boxes and squares, like a huge bed sheet drawn across the whole painting-- leaving only vague lumps where the other shapes had been.
Again came the scream. He stepped away from the painting pushing his fists into his eyes. "My painting! My painting!"
"That's it!" the other nurse said. "We're not going to handle him like this. I'm getting help."
She rushed out of the room, his heals clicking sharply as she turned towards the nurse's station. Minutes later, gruff voices sounded in the hall, as two large men in green hospital uniforms appeared in the door.
"It's him again, huh?" One of the men said. "I thought they were getting rid of him."
"They are supposedly," the nurse from the station said. "But who knows when? Just take care of him will you please. He's got the whole rest of the ward up in arms."
"Hey big fella," one of the men said, advancing slowly along the side of the bed farthest from the window. "Why don't you just lie down and make this easy on yourself."
The other man advanced near the window, one hand stretched out as if to calm Sammy, the other holding something bright and sharp, which Sammy stared at for a moment before recognizing.
"No, no," Sammy moaned. "I don't want no darkness."
The first man leaped, grabbing Sammy by the shoulders, tugging him back onto the bed. "Get his legs, quick."
But Sammy yanked his arm free and kicked at the other man. Both stepped back, breathing heavy.
"Damn! This one's in a mood today," the man with the needle said. "Why don't they just chop off his lobes and save us all some trouble."
"Don't know," the other man said, wiping spit from the corner of his mouth. "They say he's got favor with Dr. Electro Meyers."
"That's sad. Better he get operated on then keep getting jolted like that. Ready on three, okay."
The first man nodded. Both leaped at the same time. The first man pinned Sammy's shoulders. The second threw his body over the legs. A minute later, the needle pierced Sammy's arm.
"Done!" said the second man rising from across Sammy's legs. The first man let go, too.
Sammy sat up, already his head swam and his eyes took on the patterned after-effect of the needle, something dancing deep in his brain, a whisper of movement, dull, weary, floating up into his nostrils with the scent of medicine. Then, darkness came. An abrupt and violent darkness that fell across his eyes even as he sat. He felt himself falling, but never felt contact with the bed. And the dreams started immediately.
The tin-can fires again, though now without song or solidarity, just screaming people running back and forth in front of him, stark silhouettes against the flickering flames, and the helmeted shadows rising in flashes of uniformed rage, casting bodies down on the ground, beating at the heads, faces and backs of those who had fallen.
Whimpers of pain come from everywhere. Crying babies unanswered by mothers. Moaning men crumbled into the gutters with bleeding skulls. And a wandering Sammy moving along the gravel parkway paths as if still asleep, staggering like the morning people in the ward, feeling a vague pain in his head, his fingers reaching back, coming up covered with blood.
He screamed and opened his eyes. The dimmed lights of the ward said darkness had again, the more recognizable darkness with the murmur of the night-time ward.
"Everything's all right, Sam," the night nurse said, pushing another needle into his arm, patting his shoulder before his eyes closed again. This time, there was no blood, just the burning tin-can fires and the gnarled tree-like faces beyond them, waiting with opened mouths to devour him.
Nurse Jones swept through the ward like a summer squall, her eyes rippling with streaks of lightning, staring around at nurses and patients as if each was to blame. She found Sammy sulking on his bed, a humbled bear with head rolling somewhat on his shoulders, a spinning top slowing into its final tumble. His eyes were still thick with the drugs, and when he tried to speak, incoherence came out in babbles about weeds and dreams and strange tin-can fires. But he knew her. His hands reached for hers the moment she was near the bed, straining to yank her closer into those terribly strong arms.
"I'm sorry, Sammy," she said in a soothing voice. "I didn't mean for this to happen...."
But again, her face became clouded. Her attention wavered from the man/boy to the wrinkled sheets and her own arms still covered with flakes of unmelted snow. They faded quickly on her sleeve like dreams, leaving only the wet fabric behind.
"Don't talk now, Sammy," Nurse Jones said, putting her hand carefully down on his arm, feeling the throbbing undercurrent that moved beneath him and his words. What had Doctor Meyers called it? A frustrated volcano.
But it eased with her touch. His head rolled towards her with the look of a beaten dog, the pain easing from his eyes as the drug effects drained. He was slowly shifting out of the twilight world back into the ward. She smiled. His lips quivered a smile back.
"Nurse Jones," he cooed.
"Yes, Yes, Sammy," she whispered. "But don't stand. I have something important to tell you."
He looked puzzled and confused. The haze had not lifted and the words only played like refracted light inside his skull, bouncing back and forth across his still glazed eyes.
"Perhaps I shouldn't say anything now-- with you like this, but...."
Her voice cracked. An excitement brewed behind her bright blue eyes, bubbling up, not in tears but in a strange glow. Her whole face possessed it, her hold body sparked with private electricity, making her unusually jittery, even as she sat on the edge of his bed.
"It's something personal," she whispered, glancing over her shoulder towards the door and the hall and the figures of nurses and orderlies and patients that paraded past, an unmoving flow of whites, and greens and gray uniforms. She shuddered. "And I need to tell everyone-- especially you. Dr. Meyers said I shouldn't say anything to you. But why shouldn't you know? After all, it's the happiest moment of my life. And you're so very special to me."
She had his attention now. The drugs were fading and he stared at her moving red lips as if plucking the words off them before they made a sound, cocking his head, trying to make sense of them.
"I'm getting married, Sammy."
He stared, his head turned side to side like a bird trying to look at her with eyes on either side of its head, dissecting her and her words as if a wiggling worm.
"Do you understand what that means, Sammy?"
The head shook.
She sighed and looked around the room, her gaze dancing over things which might be used as explanation, but the room was bare of things so complicated, with flat lines and untwisted shapes. Even the arms to the chair were unentwined, without angles or connections more complex that perpendicular or parallel.
"Someone's going to share my life, Sammy," she said. "I'm going to..."
Sammy's expression changed. Maybe it was the drug fading, or sudden inspiration, but he looked at her and grinned and said he understood-- the dreams boiling up with visions of couples curled in battered tents, holding hands and bottles of cheap wine, slurping and gurgling and laughing. But Nurse Jones smelled different, cleaner, more like the plants and earth than the unwashed and perfumed bodies his dreams suggested. He touched her arm.
"You see, Sammy," she said, "Sometimes, when people feel real good towards each other, they want to grow closer, too, and never be parted. That's when they marry."
"Could I marry you, too?" Sammy asked.
Nurse Jones sat back, jolted, looking at Sammy, at his long arms and thick chest, at his hands clenching at hers like large brown crab-claws.
"Th-That's very nice of you, Sammy," she said finally. "But I don't think that's quite possible."
Dr. Meyers appeared, humming as he marched through the door, his face absent its usual grim expression. His eyes seemed less sad behind their thick lens. He looked up from the pad he was carrying and actually smiled.
"Well, well," he said. "Aren't we the cute pair this morning."
A kind mockery danced behind his words as he circled the bed, and paused near Nurse Jones. He glanced at her, his eyes softening, as he smiled, then turned towards Sammy-- a bit of the friendliness remaining as he picked up Sammy's wrist.
"So how are you feeling this morning?" he asked. "I heard you had a rough night last night."
Sammy's voice shattered into something of a sob. He looked towards Nurse Jones, cocking his head sideways again, a deep pained expression speaking of loss in his eyes-- a confused loss that didn't make sense to him. Why did he feel as if Nurse Jones was not there when she was sitting there before him?
"No dreams?" Dr. Meyers asked.
Dr. Meyers sighed and seated himself between Sammy and Nurse Jones, his cold hand clamping down where Nurse Jones' had been. "It's all right, Sam," he said in a calm voice. "I read the reports about your crying out last night. It's all part of the process of curing your ills. I've written it all up for the board. Perhaps they'll see the progress and delay your release. God knows it would be murder to put you out after we've come so far with you."
Sammy's head twisted around, turning this eye forward then that, bobbing in bed like a pigeon. "I--I don't understand."
"It's the treatment, Sam," Dr. Meyers said. "Between the drugs and the shock treatments we seem to be shaking things loose inside of you. Already, you're acting much your own age with many things. With a little luck, we won't have to resort to anything harsher."
"Harsher?" Nurse Jones said in a startled voice. "What could be harsher than electro-shock therapy?"
"Mary," the doctor said, great impatience in his voice. "Not in front of the patient."
"Where then? In the back room like some cheap abortionist? If anyone has a right to know about things, Sammy does. After all, we're doing this to him."
"For him," Dr. Meyers said. "It's the system that wants to put him back on the street, remember."
Nurse Jones sighed, her chin falling forward to her chest. "Yes, I know. They seem to think that unless he wants to kill himself, he doesn't belong here."
"Which is about as harsh as anyone can get. What I meant is a serious level of Electro-therapy, not this occasional treatment, but a regiment over a prolonged period of time. Frankly, I thought so all along and I'm surprised at the progress he's already making. We're fighting time here. But I'll wait and see the results of this therapy before pushing on. Now, Sam, tell me about your dreams."
Now, in the full light of day the dreams seemed insignificant, even unreal, the way the painting was unreal, full of smoke and illusion, full of changing images none of which made the least bit of sense. There were no tin can fires on the ward, or helmeted figures charging through with clubs and curses, not pain raging through his brain, or visions of people bleeding on the ground, their faces struck in frozen visions of horror.
Sammy remembered little of them, only that he was scared, scurrying between the hands and legs of the charging people, keeping away from the falling clubs and breaking bottles and screaming, mad-people that danced their mad dance before the flames like so many horrid witches seeking spells of revenge. He could tell the intent doctor little, save that he had missed Nurse Jones and wanted Nurse Jones never to go away again.
"When we're married everything will be all right," he said, looking over the doctor's shoulder to the suddenly crimson face of the nurse.
Dr. Meyers looked up sharply, startled. "What's this?"
"Sammy asked me to marry him, doctor," Nurse Jones said in a weak voice. Her eyes were a mixture of pain and pleasure, dividing her down the middle. She shivered and glanced, smiling at Sammy.
"You didn't say anything-- about us?" the doctor asked in a low voice.
"Oh no," Nurse Jones said her smile spreading to include them both. "I only told him I was getting married, and that I could only marry one man at a time."
Strangely enough, the doctor looked relieved.
That night, Nurse Jones stayed late with Sammy, sitting on the edge of his bed as the painting changed, the grey and white shifting back into sharp shades of red and yellow that dominated the fluffs on the horizon, as beneath them all, trains and cars moved in silhouette, like tiny insects that had lost their hives, searching through the rubble of holes for the one that was theirs.
Sammy watched with delighted eyes, till darkness claimed it all and the ward lights blinked and dimmed and the other nurses bustled from room to room, putting out cigarettes, tucking the wandering, walking sleepers into their beds.
Nurse Jones was in a rare mood, too, happy, yet sad, pointing to things in his painting and giving them names, like railway station or factory, like church or school-- Sammy taking each thing in, marking it forever in his growing list of names. But even this faded over time, Nurse Jones falling into a strange silence, staring at the painting with watery eyes, staring down into the thick twilight with a bemused twist to her lips. The darkness had not yet claimed it all, though the lines of lights formed their criss-cross pattern in the growing grey, like non-twinkling stars.
"I grew up down there," she said, pointing to the left, to a series of streets surrounded by factories and smoke stacks and ramps for the highway. "I used to walk around down there all the time, looking into this place and that. I'm not sure what I was looking for, but I never found it. I was always so lonely, thinking then I would never find a place that would fit me. I knew I didn't belong down there."
Sammy studied her face. It had crinkled under the eyes and around the mouth, making her look different and older, and immensely sad, like some of the old women from his dreams, sitting around tin can fires.
"Why didn't you belong there, Nurse Jones?" he asked, his voice so simple and sweet that she looked up, smiling again, erasing for a moment those lines. She shook her head and several strands of brown hair tumbled out from under hat, escaping the dark bobby pins that kept them in place.
"I don't know that either, Sammy-- It's like this place sometimes. People always seemed more asleep than awake, walking around as if they were living in some sort of dream. They never acknowledged anything or anybody that didn't conform to their little world. Few of them could see beyond their miserable lives, while I was always reaching for things I thought I couldn't have, always wanting to see things and people and places that I read about in books. I wanted to go to Europe, dance in Paris clubs, or climb Swiss Mountains. I wanted to meet people who had actually read a book or written a poem, or seen a play."
She looked at Sammy again and laughed.
"Oh, I know you don't understand most of what I'm saying-- even if you're different from most people in this place. I guess I just need to get it out of me, to have someone listen to me for a change."
Sammy smiled, though his expression was perplexed, his shinny eyes still lingering with dreams and drugs like two deep pools thick with mud, containing depth beneath the murky surface not quite reachable. And yet, he seemed almost to understand, as if he should have been able to understand, as if that understanding was just beyond his grasping fingers-- like the brass ring on a carnival merry-go-round.
"Anyway," Nurse Jones said. "I used to look up at this place sometimes, always thinking how different it might be inside this place, with intelligent people working here-- I know that sounds silly. But then, I was quite a romantic girl in those days, thinking that if only I could get a job here I would meet someone I could spend the rest of my life with-- someone who would have the same dreams as me."
Sammy giggled, drawing Nurse Jones out of her reverie. Her thin brows fell as she frowned.
"What is it, Sammy? What your laughing at?"
"I know someone I would like to spend the rest of my life with," he said, and his eyes were so trusting and hopeful that it hurt to look directly into them. But she wasn't looking at him now, but off to the side of the bed into space, nodding slowly, missing his point.
"That might be possible for you someday," she mumbled. "There are plenty of good people out in the world that would love to know you-- once you are better. If people give you a chance to get better."
She stared back over her shoulder at the open door, cringing slightly as if someone might have overheard. She shivered.
"I don't understand how people can be so cruel, how they can just push people like you out onto the street, knowing that there isn't any place for you to go, making you live parks and doorways like some kind of freak-- then arresting you for being a public nuisance. Is it any wonder people try to kill themselves?"
She shivered again, the slipped off the bed, straightening her skirt, looking up at Sammy's face, her expression now completely sad. She tucked him in, kissed him softly, then smiled.
"Sleep well, Sammy," she said. "Don't let my talk give you bad dreams."
Then, she was gone, floating back out into the hall, her footsteps echoing like pained cries as she fled through the double doors into the world beyond them, leaving a snuffling, frightened Sammy curled in his bed.
This time there was a face floating in the tin can fire light like a chunk of wrinkled wood, deep set eyes and a toothless smile, and a sense of weariness, staring and smiling, whispering words in the darkness that Sammy didn't understand, his hand patting Sammy's shoulder with an odd mixture of affection and pain-- his words hurrying with the start up of the sirens, competing to be heard over the shouts and cries as around them both fists were raised and mingled pale faces screamed at Sammy "Go away!" White faces with clean teeth and polished shoes, stockings and suits, pointing at the tin can people. "Go away!" And his own thin voice competing with their hatred and the sound of the sirens asking "Where?" as he was swept in the panic of dirty flesh who stood firm screaming back: "Why?"
He woke screaming and kicking, froth foaming at the corner of his mouth, around him a flurry of white uniforms and dim night-time ward lights-- the distant sparks of firelight and white snow dancing in his painting, while panting, heavy-handed men pushed down hard on his chest, poking his arm with their needles, his own mouth emitting groans and curses he did not mean or understand.
"Hush, Sammy," one of the nurses whispered from the other side of the room. "Everything will be all right."
Eventually, the dreamless darkness came crashing down over his eyes like a curtain.
Yet when daylight came, the vision of the tin can fires did not fade, floating like so many candles around him in the room, with the walls of white faces screaming at him to go, with the one, dark, wizened face whispering for him to run.
" "Quick, Sammy, don't let them get you, too."
He sat up whimpering, a silver food cart rolling into his room. The attendant in a green uniform looked at Sammy, then retreated again, his voice calling for the nurse in the hall.
Several nurses came to the door, eyeing Sammy with a slow shake of their heads.
"Something's still wrong with him," one mumbled. "Better get the men up here."
It took a few moments, but more green uniforms appeared, not with needles this time, but with a heavy white coat. It seemed to have sleeved that had no opening for Sammy's hands. They advanced slowly with it.
"Don't worry, boy," the taller of the two men said. "No one's gonna hurt you."
But he could not distinguish them from the vision of tin can fires and jeering suit and tie spectators calling for him to die. They seemed all part of a single growing thing wanting to suffocate him. He cried threw out his arms, then heard Nurse Jones' voice calling from out of their midst.
"What the hell is going on here?" Nurse Jones said, thrusting her way through the green and white uniforms, her face angry and red. "What are you people doing to Sammy?"
"He's been acting up, Miss Jones," one of the other nurses said. "Last night we had to stick him to calm him down, this morning he woke up screaming and kicking. We just figured to put the jacket on him so he doesn't hurt anybody."
"Sammy? Hurt someone? Don't be ridiculous. Put that damned thing away. I'll take care of this."
She eased through the men slowly, her face of mask of mixed emotions, a wavering smile underlying uncertain eyes.
"Sammy?" she whispered. "Are you all right?"
Her voice had stilled the worst of his screaming. He legs twitched rather than kicked, like independent creatures seeking escape.
"Dreams," he mumbled. "It's the dreams."
She frowned and slipped closer. "What dreams, Sammy?"
"All around me."
He waved his hand. It seemed to pass through the vision of fire light and darkness, through the gnarled park bench people coughing over half empty bottles and packages of found food. The screaming, fist waving suit-and-tie people had gone again with the helmeted men in blue. What remained was broken bottles and broken heads.
Sammy blinked. The wavered and faded, bringing into focus more clearly the smooth, pale face of Nurse Jones. He grinned and pushed his hand out to touch her. It did not pass through. She took it and gripped and looked as if she might cry.
"Just stay calm, Sammy," she said. "Let me call Dr. Meyers."
She vanished back into the sea of hospital gowns, green and white and blue, her sharp heals clicking in the hall they way they did often at night-- unhampered by the normal noise of the day. Most of the other nurses parted, too, herding the other patients away from the door, the medicine wagon with its wobbly wheel stopping before their doors, issuing additional cups and pills-- an emergency dose to keep them calm, to send them back into their walking sleep.
Sammy clung to his pillows, pressing them against his chest, staring down the hard-faced men who stood across the door like a gate-- their green uniforms lacking only the polished helmets and the long black clubs. Their expressions were the same, grim and unreasonable, hands jerking nervously at their side, as if they were in danger.
Outside the door, voices rose and fell. Nurse Jones' clicking heals came louder, stopping as one of the other nurses stopped her.
"Are you really leaving? I mean for good?" the nurse asked.
"Nothing's absolutely decided yet," Nurse Jones whispered. "But it looks that way."
"Oh the doctor and I both feel having both of us working here professionally might put a strain on the marriage."
"But where are you going to go?"
"I have other offers," Nurse Jones said. "I'll let you know more later. Let me get back to Sammy."
She eased back into the room, her face flushed.
"You people can leave now," she told the men. "We won't need you anymore."
"Are you sure, miss?" one of them said. "I mean You can handle him by yourself."
"A lot better than you can. Just go."
They paraded out, looking back over their shoulders at Sammy, shaking their heads as they disappeared down the hall. Nurse Jones came to the edge of the bed and sat, taking Sammy's hand in hers.
"Everything will be all right," she told him. "Dr. Meyers just got in, he's on his way up right now."
He shivered and would not meet her gaze.
"What's the matter, Sammy?" she asked. "Did I say something wrong?"
"You're going away."
She glanced sharply at him, then over at the door, muttering under her breath. "Damn. I shouldn't have said anything yet. Look, Sammy, that's all up in the air right. I'm with you now and that's all that matters."
"But you're going away," he said, the tone carrying a note of forlorn and despair, his gaze rolling around the room, making him look more idiot than child, stealing away his innocence.
Dr. Meyers came, dark hair and professional manner, pausing at the foot of Sammy's bed. He lifted the chart and read it slowly, letting it slap back down as he circled to the other side. Nurse Jones rose and stood stiffly, but still held Sammy's hand.
"It's gotten out of hand," the doctor said, lifting Sammy's eye lid and looking in the eye. "I expected dreams, but not explosions. I wish to hell I knew what was going on inside his head."
He stood back and looked at Sammy's face, his cold gaze working over the large shoulders and broad face.
"I don't understand," Nurse Jones said. "Isn't he making progress?"
"I don't know. All this is unintentional, and I don't know whether or not it's safe to leave him in an open ward like this."
"You don't mean to isolate him?" Nurse Jones said, shocked and concerned, her gaze shifting worriedly towards Sammy.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean. At least until I have a better idea what's going on."
"But he's happy here."
"Happy and possibly dangerous."
"To himself-- I think. Maybe others. When the police brought him in, they said he had tried to kill himself. I was suspicious then. The wounds on his face and back were hardly self-inflicted. But perhaps there was justification. Perhaps he went crazy and they had to stop him...."
"Stop it!" Nurse Jones growled. "That's not Sammy and you know it."
"How many times do I have to tell you, Mary. I don't know anything of the sort. These fits he's having are unpredictable."
Sammy shivered, withdrawing his hand from Nurse Jones'. It felt cold in the room, and the painting had shifted white again, with its great vision of shapes now thick under its blanket. Things moved within it, but slowly, crawling from one place to another. He was crying and looking and wishing that he could be among them, wandering through those colors, blending into the shadows with the trains and cars.
Why didn't it save him?
"Frankly," Dr. Meyers said, circling the bed again to the chart. He drew a pen from his jacket pocket and scribbled orders onto the bottom line. "I never thought it a wise idea to have him around an unguarded window. And right now, I think its downright foolish."
"My painting?" Sammy said, looking up startled at the implication of the words seeped through the haze of white that had filled his head. "You want to take my painting away?"
"Only for a little while," Nurse Jones assured Sammy, though cast a doubtful glance at Dr. Meyers.
"No!" Sammy shouted, throwing his feet over the side of the bed, landing on the cool tiles with a slap. He staggered slightly, a pain shooting into his chest-- something reminiscent of the dreams, a stabbing, fire-like pain that drew him to a stop. He breathed with difficulty.
"See!" Dr. Meyers said, stepping back from Sammy, looking a bit startled as if he wanted to run. "Already he's changed, more violent. When did you see this kind of behavior before?"
"When was the last time you tried to take away his window?"
"His window?" Dr. Meyers said, his eyebrows rising above the rims of his glasses. "So now it's his window, is it? That's like saying the park they pulled him out of was his park."
"You know what I mean," Nurse Jones said impatiently.
"I'm not going to argue with you, Mary. I want him isolated before he hurts someone."
"I don't want to go into that room," Sammy said suddenly, drawing the attention of both doctor and nurse.
"Now look what you've done," Dr. Meyers said. "Call the orderlies back before he causes all of us trouble."
"I can handle him," Nurse Jones said, turning towards Sammy, her weak smile rising slowly as she advanced. "Calm down, Sammy. Everything will be all right."
"No!" Sammy said, his voice louder, booming into the hall, echoing slightly. "I don't want to go into that room again."
Nurse Jones looked up helplessly at the doctor. "He seems to remember something. Didn't you have him put there early on."
"I don't care what he remembers. If you won't get the orderlies, I will."
The doctor turned, and as he did, Sammy charged, shoving nurse and doctor out of his way as he raced for the hall.
"No! No! No!" he yelled, stopping just beyond the door, looking both ways as green and blue and white uniformed people perked up, staring in his direction.
"Sammy!" Nurse Jones cried from the room behind him. "Come back, please!"
But a shudder moved through Sammy's shoulders, like an earthquake, shaking loose some bit of blockage, the vision of the tin can fires leaping into his head. The wrinkled brown man leaning towards him, shaking him, insisting that he run.
"It's the cops, damn it," his creaky old voice muttered. "And it looks like they mean it this time. Run, boy! They're beating heads."
Sammy ran, down along the pink-walled hallway, over polished-tiled floor, around the corner where patients sat at tables smoking, their startled gazes rising at his sudden appearance-- like a large, lumbering bear thick in the midst of cigarette fumes and card playing, wheelchairs and walkers parked around each table in an oddly familiar pattern of the park.
Behind him, Dr. Meyers voice shouted commands, an incoherent babble of a frightened man, echoed more sensibly by Nurse Jones. Sammy backed out of the room and ran again, along the short hall to the opposite hallway. There were nurses and breakfast carts scattered along its length, but none of the heavy-setted men from downstairs. Down at the end of this, the double doors loomed like a great gate out. Sammy charged towards it, passing the nurse's station and shouting doctor and the crying Nurse Jones.
"Let him go!" Dr. Meyers shouted at Nurse Jones as she tried to grab at Sammy. "Let the orderlies take care of him."
Then, he was free of them, pounding on the doors with both hands, the boom of his blows echoing in the hall beyond like cries for help.
"They want to take my painting away," Sammy whimpered as his blows grew softer and he seemed to melt against the door, falling to his knees before as if it would open if he begged. When it did open, the green clad men were there, staring down at him with grim and angry faces, dragging him up by the arms and elbows, shoving him into a jacket and then a wheeled chair.
They wheeled him back to the nurse's station.
"Where do you want him, Doc?" they asked.
"Oh Sammy!" Nurse Jones moaned, rushing to him. Dr. Meyers yanked her back.
"Stay away from him, for God's sake, Mary! He's dangerous."
"He's not dangerous. He's scared."
"Take him to isolation," Dr. Meyers told the men, still holding Nurse Jones as the men rolled Sammy away.
The room had no painting-- no chair, bed, dresser or lamp, just the door through which the heavy-handed men dragged Sammy and soft walls and floor. A grate-protected lamp imbedded in the ceiling cast a white glow over the white room, blinding Sammy as they stripped the jacket from him again and pricked his arm with their needle, mumbling over him, cursing his squirming arms and legs.
"Damned, Loony!" one of them mumbled after missing with the needle once. "When are they going to get sick of this garbage and just start cutting. The man obviously needs a lobe-job."
"Not according to the Doc," the other man said, holding Sammy's arm till the needle pierced. "He's got him on that shock shit."
"Maybe after this he'll change his mind. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of coming up here all the time for this son of a bitch."
"Well don't count on anything so dramatic," the other said, drawing away from the now-sheepish Sammy laying on the floor. "They cut him up, they'll have to keep him. And their ain't no money for keeping Loonies any more. They rather put them out on the street."
"God help us all," the first orderly said, closing the door behind them as they left, shutting the light off, leaving Sammy in darkness and eventually a dreamless sleep.
It might have been hours or days that passed, people came with trays of food and cups of pills at intervals, looking over Sammy through the door slot for a time, like a feature exhibit in a zoo, staring, frighten-eyed, curious, their pug noses sniffing as if there should have been a scent, the way the suit & tie people sniffed passing the park, or the helmeted men sniffed, mumbling about the stink.
Eventually, however, the door opened onto the unexpected visit of Dr. Meyers, his white coat wrinkled and his face drawn and pale, a sad, half-lost expression hidden partly by his thick lens.
He lingered at the door for a moment before closing it, eyeing Sammy who sat in one corner, arms around his legs, his own face wrinkled from pressing it against the walls.
Was there a painting behind these white panels of softness?
"How do you feel?" the doctor asked, finally letting the door click closed behind him.
"I don't like this place," Sammy said.
The doctor nodded and circled around the room, keeping distance from Sammy, his gaze studying the large, drooping arms. "What about the dreams. Do they still bother you?"
Sammy gave a curt nod. Dr. Meyers eased closer, fishing in his pocket for his light. He pulled up Sammy's eye lids and looked deeply into the eyes, the beam playing across their brown surface like flashlights over a murky pond-- like flashlights waving in the night over the park of tin-can fires, followed by helmeted men with clubs.
Sammy jerked his head back.
"Take it easy, Sam," Dr. Meyers said. "I'm not going to hurt you. In fact, you're looking better than you did."
"Can I go back to my painting?"
"No, I don't think that would be a wise idea. Maybe it never was. I'm having it sealed up properly in a couple of days. You can go back after that."
"They'll be installing bars. God knows why anyone left them off the damned window in the first place. It'll be safer all around that way."
Sammy didn't whimper. He didn't even properly understand, things twisting in his head, visions of shouting people and flaring fires, and falling clubs, beating, beating at things but without any pain or sound or reason.
"I don't like it here," Sammy said.
The doctor sighed and sagged, leaning against the wall, shaking his head. "No. I imagine not. Poor fool. You don't even really have the luxury of being unhappy about it, do you? We stuff you with so many pills that life for you and the others is more limbo than hell. Maybe Mary's right. Maybe you aren't dangerous. It gets so confusing around here, dealing with some many of you, shipping you in, shipping you out, filling out the reports for the police as if all this was some sort of bureaucratic game show."
Sammy looked at the man oddly, his questioning gaze drawing a laugh from Dr. Meyers.
"Don't give me that hound-dog look, Sam. I'm not your Nurse Jones. But I am human, despite what she thinks, and I don't like having you cooped up in here any more than you like being here. Maybe if you promise to behave, I'll let you have your old room. I would have kept you here a day or two more, just to be safe, until the window was blocked. But we do need the room."
He touched Sammy's brow again.
"The drugs seem to be working well enough. Okay, Sam. Come on. I'll take you back myself."
He extended his hand and drew Sammy up, leading him through the door to an outer office, partitioned in racks with glass beakers and test tubes and cabinets for medicine. But even as they exited, the men in green uniforms came barging in the other door, snarling and cursing as they dragged behind them another patient-- a young woman with bright red hair and sharp nails with which she scratched at them.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed in a voice so shrilled that it shook the glassware and drew Sammy's hands to his ears.
"And what the hell is going on here?" Dr. Meyers snapped.
"A patient, Doc," one of the men said, avoiding the snarling mouth of the girl which tried to bite his hand.
"Not one of mine," the doctor said. "I've never seen her before."
"Up from emergency," the other attendant said. "They didn't know what to do with her."
"Damn fools! They're just lucky I have some place to put her. All right, put her in the room. Come on, Sam."
But Sammy did not move. He stared at the woman, at her billows of hair that looked the way his painting sometimes looked at sunset, stark and grand against her pale milk-white skin. Her green eyes glared back like the furious gaze of a wild cat.
"Who you looking at, nigger!" she screamed, leaped free of her captors, both hands aimed for his face.
It was the doctor that caught her, dragging her down to the floor before she reached Sammy, giving the other men time to scramble after her, dragging her hand and foot into the other room. Yet even as she disappeared, Sammy stared, watching the movement of the men through the tiny window of the door, dumping her and retreating.
"She's a little tiger," one of them said, once they had closed the door. Inside the girl screamed and bang and leaped against the walls, making a ruckus despite the soft paneling.
"Someone's going to have to go in there and give her a shot," the doctor said. "Or she'll have a coronary."
"We'll let her wear herself out a little before that, Doc. You don't know what it was like getting her up here."
"Fine. Do what you have to. Just let me get this one back to his room, before he catches it, too. Come on, Sammy. Sammy! Come on."
He tugged at Sammy's sleeve, drawing him away from the door and out of the room and down the long hall-- Sammy looking again and again at the way they'd come, thinking of the red-headed girl, seeing in her face the gentle and kind features of Nurse Jones.
"Put him to bed," Dr. Meyers told the staff nurse, depositing Sammy before the nurse's station.
"His own bed, Doctor?"
"Of course, he own bed. Where else would you put him?"
The nurse did not replay, despite the look in her eyes which said she might have had an answer. She wasn't pleased to see Sammy and when the doctor had gone, took up his arm roughly and dragged him down the hall.
"So we have you back again, do we?" she snarled. "Well, I'm warning you, Mister Sammy. I'm not going to take any of your usual crap, you hear?"
He nodded, distractedly, and entered his room-- the painting gleaming with the last vestiges of sun, the white having vanished again into brown puddles and faded colors. But the sky was everything he remembered-- the sky was alive with the image of the girl's face, a snarling, terrible, yet wondrous face, blinding Sammy, drawing tears from his eyes the way tin-can fires used to, smoke and pain and sparks and rages, spurting and bubbling.
"What's wrong with you now?" the nurse asked sharply. "You're not going to start crying again, are you?"
"No," Sammy mumbled and climbed into the waiting softness of his bed, watching the painting change.
He did not scream this time when he woke, though around him, the ward had shrunk to a small glowing light at one end of the room where the door should have been. The darkness was filled with tin-can fires and wrinkled men, with bag ladies and naked children dancing in the shadows of fire light, singing and screaming to a thousand different strands of music, from rap to rock-- voices of the distant city wavering in and out with honking horns and wailing sirens.
A walnut-colored hand touched his shoulder, and the face eased up to his ear. "When they beating starts, you run like hell. You hear me, Sammy."
He nodded. Around the perimeter of the park the men in helmets waited, forming a line of silver and blue, police cars chanting whispered dialogues to which Sammy and the park were not privileged. Beyond them, lines of spectators stood, their pale faces and business suits like wall paper, their mouths tight and grim, waiting, shouting at the park as if anyone was listening.
"Now you're gonna listen! Now you're gonna see whose side the law's on."
The park seemed to wait as well, the old man's grip tightening on his shoulder as more sirens came and more police cars appeared, and more men with helmets and clubs lined the streets.
"Just run when they start, Sammy," the old man said. "And don't stop until you can't hear them any more."
But Sammy was no longer listening. He was staring at the shadows and the figure that seemed to danced between the trees, barefooted and happy, with red hair streaming around her shoulders, crinkled like the clouds were at dusk.
He blinked. The park faded away. The room returned with its sharp corners and pale paint. The painting's curtain was nearly closed, through the twinkling eyes of starlight peered through at him.
It was hot in the room, and his bed clothes clung to him like a pealing skin, choking at the throat. The covers had been tossed off in some mid-dream convulsion, leaving his legs unhampered as he slid them from the bed.
He feet slapped on the dry tile, leaving their print in sweat stain. He felt for his slippers but they were far under the bed, eluding his reaching foot. He went without them, easing through the door to the hall. The nurse station glowed to the right, but all else was dim, and the white uniforms of the nurses sat at their desks, bent over paper work, chatting in sleepy comfortable manner that often filled the early morning hours.
He pressed himself against the wall-- the way he sometimes did, sneaking to the front door in the morning to wait for Nurse Jones. They could not see him in the distorted round-faced mirrors. Nor did they look up, their chatter filling the empty silence in which the sound of Sammy's feet might have been heard.
They didn't see him stop at the break in the wall where the nurse's station began, or when he ducked and crawled passed them like a baby, hands leaving their perspiring mark on the tiles right under them.
Sammy slipped into the room of glass, the beakers and test tubes rattling ever so slightly to the pound of his heavy foot on the floor. The reflected, refracted lights from the nurse's station danced in each as he passed them, poking his nose up to the little square window in the door, wire-mess implanted inside it like cracks.
A soft glow came from the room inside, though dimmed lights did not bring darkness to the woman. She was curled into a corner, glaring at the door, glaring at the face that sudden appeared there, leaping at the glass with both hands, the nails scraping harmlessly down the smooth inside as she snarled.
"Let me out of here!" her voice came, and though she was screaming, Sammy heard it only as a whispered, muffled and sad, like a poor animal trapped, pounding on the padded door again and again.
"Didn't you hear me, nigger! I said let me out!"
He blinked at her and touched the glass with the tips of his fingers, her red hair glowing slightly even in the dull light, looking like the sunset in painting, glowing with the fire light from his dreams.
"What were you doing in my dream?" he muttered.
"What? I can't hear you?" the girl yelled. "Let me out!"
He shook his head. He didn't know how to open doors. It was a magic he'd never learned.
"Get the keys," the girl said.
He frowned, recalling the ring of silver keys which Nurse Jones sometimes carried, that was kept behind the nurse's station. Were they the things that opened door?
"Get the key!" the girl said again, louder, more insistent, her voice rising loud enough through the thick door to rattle the glass.
"I can't," he said.
"You won'!" the girl barked. "You're just as bad as they are! You want to keep me here."
"No, I hate that room."
"Then get the key and let me out. NOW!"
This time the glass rattled and her voice echoed slightly in the hall.
"Be quiet," he implored. "They'll hear you."
"I don't care," she said. "They can't do much more to me than locking me in this place."
"I have to go now," Sammy said, backing away from the window.
"Go! See if I care! Nigger! Nigger!"
He crept back the way he had come, listening to the sighing nurses-- the smoke of the cigarettes curling out from under the bright work lights like fog across his painting, stinging at his eyes the way the tin-can fire smoke from his dreams did. He paused before rising again at the end of the station, where the door into seated region showed the racks of charts and legs of chairs and rolling files. There, inches away from his hand, rings of keys hung on little hooks. He shivered, but did not reach for them, hurrying away to the cough of one of the nurses.
Someone beat a drum. Its beat throbbed through park, perking up the heads of people huddled behind make shift shelters and tents. Trash cans had been piled across the walk ways. Men and women squatted behind them, handing each other sticks and stones and bottles.
"We're not gonna let them throw us out this time," some said, hefting their make-shift weapons.
Sammy kneeled near the old man, feeling the old man's shoulders tense.
"It's no good," the old man said. "People are gonna get killed like this. I don't want you dead, Sammy. You got me? If they come, you run, you hear?"
Sammy woke with a start-- it was still dark in the room. For a long time, he stared at the painting, the lights blinking from something which he could not see, first red, then blue, then red again. He slipped out of bed and pushed open the curtain to fit his face. Below, he could see wide stretches of darkness filled with flickering flame light, stretches of darkness that in the daylight seemed blank and unused. Now, the flames rose and fell with flickering blue and red lights coming from small shapes around their edge. The fires flared again and again, with shadowy shapes almost visible around them, gnarled old brown men, blowing on their hands and fingers, pushing them deeper into the flame than was safe.
No Sammy, don't touch the fire! Don't touch the fire, you'll get burned. See! What did I tell you, boy? Don't you ever listen? Can't you get things through that thick skull of yours? You'll never survive sticking your damned nigger hands into no fire. Watch it! I said Watch it, boy!
But in this darkness, they looked odd-- like brittle reflections of the glittering stars overhead-- a sky full of tin-can fires, each of them encircled by cold, black hands, and moaning voices and lonely eyes, pushing their fingers deeper and deeper into the flames.
Were those stars really fires in the sky?
He wanted to ask Nurse Jones, but it would be hours yet before she'd come and the stars would be gone. Who knew when the next time they would come again?
He wanted to show someone the stars on the ground, and the shadowy faces circling around and around, warming themselves, waiting for the flashing blue and red lights to stop and leave them be. Were there lines of helmeted men, waiting around the park sides to charge in. Was there someone like Sammy seated, waiting to run.
Was that where he had gone? He had searched and searched for himself in that painting, looking across the train tracks and road sides and squat black factories, eye looking for a single bear-like little boy among their madness.
Was he there now around the fires? He peered, but his eyes watered, streams of it drooping down his cheeks to his chest. He needed another set of eyes to look. Nurse Jones? No.
What about that girl? She might be able to see him among the tin-can fires, to see the old black man and his heavy hand upon Sammy's shoulder.
She needed to see the beauty of his painting, too, a single treasure among these bland walls. And she angry in that little room, banging as he had banged that first time, screaming as he had screamed. It was the painting that had calmed him, the painting that had made him less afraid.
He went to the door and peered out. The bustle of early morning activity was beginning at the far end, women in green had come up with their mops and buckets and scrubbed at the floors. The nurse's station stilled glowed, but without the white hats leaning over their work. Only one nurse remained, sitting, weary looking, sagging in her chair.
Sammy followed the wall to the edge and waited, leaning down, not crawling yet, just looking, watching the nodding head of the nurse as if fell closer and closer to her chest, snorting up, shaking, only to nod again.
And on the hook the bundle of keys waited, glowing silver and stark in the bright light as he dark hand reached towards them as if into the flames.
Slowly, they reached, expecting a jolt of pain or shout of discovery, expecting someone to strike him saying: No, Sammy, no. But the nurse's head continued to nod, touching the stiff white surface of her uniform. His fingers hit the keys with a subtle ring. He stiffened, but nothing changed. Even the voices of the washwomen talking seemed distant and unconcerned. His fingers closed around the bundle and brought them quick to his chest.
He did not bother to crawl this time, but ran passed the bright lights of the station and into the darkness of the hall beyond, hurrying towards the room of glass and the door beyond it, keys jangling slightly as he ran.
The beating drum rose in his head.
They're coming, they're coming! People shouted and screamed and threw their paltry glass and stone and sticks, watching them bound off the shields and helmets, crumbling between the wall of blue uniforms and falling sticks.
Run, Sammy, run! the old man's voice screamed in his ear, shoving at the big black bear with both weak hands. Just go!
But where did he go? He turned round and round and saw the wall of blue closing in from every direction, their clubs rising and falling, and beneath them crumbling figures, screaming, bleeding, hurting silhouettes of fire people, crying at the clubs to stop, begging not to be beaten or driven away.
His voice blurted out a cry and it echoed down the hall. Not loud, but solitary, drawing up the heads of the washwomen.
"Was that one of those loonies?" a harsh voice asked.
"Na! They're all drugged." another said.
"Well, it was something. Maybe we should get the nurse."
"Don't bother. One of them's probably having a nightmare, that's all."
"This place is a nightmare," the other said. "A nightmare full of loonies."
The glass shivered and the keys jingled as they dangled from his hand, as he waved them in the window for the girl to see, the ranting, panting, fist-beating girl who shouted louder and louder for him to open the door.
"Let me out of here before I die," she screamed.
But he looked at her blankly.
"What's the matter now?" she asked.
"I don't know how."
"To open the door?"
"Use the key."
"For God's sake, it's simple, just fit one the lock." She jabbed a finger downward towards the handle of the door. Yes, he'd seen people using keys to open such things, sticking one end inside, turning it. But which end and which key. There were so many keys.
"Do it!" the girl screamed. "Open the door."
This time, her voice carried, jangling glass, echoing in the hall.
"That was definitely something," one of the washwomen said. "I'm gonna get the nurse before something gets me."
"Quick!" the girl yelled again. Sammy fumbled with the keys. Pushing one in. It fit but would not turn.
"Try another," the girl screamed, her face pressed against the glass at an odd angle, trying to see what he was doing.
He tried another. It didn't work either. And another. And another.
Voices rose from the hall, the harsh voice, the softer voice of the nurse.
"Down there," the cleaning lady said. "I heard something down there."
Another key failed, then more after that-- his fingers fumbling in separating the keys, pushing one after the other until one clicked, and the door opened.
The girl leaped at him, landing on his chest, driving him into the stand of glass, beakers and test tubes fell with a crash. The sound of it went on and on like screaming, beaten people, moaning down to the last fragment of breakage.
"Show me the way out!" the girl hissed, with her arm across Sammy's throat.
He swallowed and staggered his feet thick in the broken glass.
Run, Sammy, run! the old man screamed, but he was ankle deep in broken glass and tree limbs and bodies, a moaning forest of broken people crying to him to help, and helmeted men charging down upon his tin-can circle, striking at the old man first, once, and then again and again.
"What the hell is going on here?" the night nurse asked from the doorway into the hall, the two green-uniformed cleaning woman huddling behind her with frightened eyes. "Sammy? What are you..."
But the nurse's eyes drew wide when she saw the open inner door and the red-haired girl perched at Sammy's side, snarling and snapping with her red nails stretching to strike. "My God! I've got to call for help."
She rushed away, the cleaning women in tow. The red-haired girl laughed hysterically.
"Run, you bitches! Run! We got the keys. All right. Show me the way out of this dump."
"But I can't. The doors are locked."
"Silly, idiot. You've got the keys, remember?" She indicated the bundle still clutched in Sammy's hands. "Come on, big boy. Show me the way out."
The nurse's voice bellowed over the hospital PA withering with its own hysteria, drawing a panicked look from the girl.
"It's now or never, pal. Come on. Which way."
She grabbed his hands and pulled. He followed and then, shook his head.
"I can't go."
"I have to say good-bye to Nurse Jones."
"Nurse Jones is calling the cops, pal!"
"That's not Nurse Jones."
"Goddamn it. You don't have to leave. Just show me the way. That would be all right, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"Then come on. Which way?"
He pointed down the hall towards the double doors. The girl, gripping his free hand, started to run.
Run, Sammy, run!
Sammy ran, too, passed the cringing washwomen and the panicking nurse at her desk, passed the buckets and mops, and the line of silent, sleeping rooms, his own room and its painting, the utility, food room and medicine room to the double doors.
"Give me the keys, I'll do it," the girl said, snatching the ring from his hands, fitting one key in after the other in a mad, manic repeated pattern till the lock clicked and the door opened and they were free.
Only they weren't free. There on the other side came men in green, heavy faces grunting at sudden recognition.
"It's the loon again," one of them said.
Sammy moaned. The girl cursed and grabbed Sammy's arm.
"Is there another door?"
Sammy shook his head. The girl slammed the door again and relocked it, turning around, looking more angry and desperate than before. Outside the men pounded on the door, jingling keys of their own.
"There has to be another way out of this place," she said. "Stairs or something."
He shivered and shook his head. "Only my painting."
She frowned. "You're painting? What good is a goddamn painting going to do me."
"Come see," he said, pulling her by the hand, dragging her back down the hall the way they'd come, the door behind them swinging open with the appearance of the men in green, cursing men whose muffled voices might have been those under the helmets in the park.
Did these men have clubs, too? Sammy hadn't noticed and dared not turn around to look, dragging the girl into his room, where the dim lights just barely showed the glass through the gap in the curtain. He pulled the curtain aside. The fires in the sky were gone, as were the stars on the ground, though spires of black smoke rose from the place where they'd been, and the darkness had faded into the first pink colors of dawn, a spreading hand across the center of his painting, shimmering on the moving cars below.
"A window," the girl cried amazement. "That's it. That's all we need."
She grabbed up a chair and heaved it at the glass, just missing Sammy's ducking head, shattering the glass with the same ugly sound as before, only this time a gush of cold come crashing in, swirling around Sammy's face and shoulders, bringing pain to his wet cheeks and bleeding skin. Cut again, the way he had been falling on the glass in the park, with the hammering of the helmeted men above him, calling him "dirty nigger" and wishing him to die.
Run, Sammy, the old man's voice said. Run!
In the swirl of light and cold, the girl leaped, following the chair out into the light. Sammy screamed, his voice like a pale echo to hers laughing, his gaze following her red hair down until the figure shrank into the oblivion of color and shadow and back drop of moving trains and lights.
The men in green growled from the doorway.
"All right, pal," one said, circling around, trying to make Sammy move from the painting, his heavy feet crunching glass-- the way the helmeted men's feet did.
Run, Sammy, run!
Sammy shoved the groping hands away from him, sending the large man tumbling. The other leaped, but Sammy seemed to push him back away, wrenching himself free of their falling clubs and angry voices.
Run, Sammy, run!
And Sammy ran, feet sliding over the glass as he took his leap, following the red-haired girl into his painting.