by John Young
The car stopped at the gate, and the two male occupants stared ahead—as though instead of a mere conjoined unit of hinged wood, the obstacle were some farmyard sinkhole newly visible in the first hour of dawn.
After a minute, the suited passenger stepped out, looked over the fence, examined it by removing his Ray-Bans—and, a moment later, pushed it open with his foot since it was neither latched nor chained.
Both in the car again, they continued their crawl: over the cattle grate—as though the sound it produced were out of the ordinary—and past the little native wooden bridge that spanned a sprawling stream—and they continued at this pace down the quarter-mile dirt drive that lead to the casita.
Heavy foliage and big trunks lined the drive but became less and less dense as they stretched away from the drive on either side and opened into fields of pre-ripe produce that could have been lettuce heads. The fields—no simple squares—went for thousands of yards; they were parches and patches, surely drawn with an intent, although indiscernible from here: dappled and spotted like an old fish flesh and rusty tackle. Fronds and palms and tendrils lolled out like a serpent’s tongue onto the drive, across fields, sprouted from streams, and ran alongside the drive, flouncing all the way up to the house, where it splashed a leaf or two on the concrete stoop.
After crunching these tendrils beneath the tires, the car stopped near the house, and the two suited men, again after having sat for a minute, exited the car and said nothing. They passed two vehicles: a sun-blistered Taurus and an ancient tractor ludicrously parked next to it, as though both of the same species—with a metal seat, headlamps with yellowed glass, and an exhaust pipe that stuck up like a massive cigarette, charred and chipped at the tip. Fresh mud coated the hind wheels.
They walked quickly to the door.
The driver knocked loudly. The other immediately rang the doorbell.
They waited, saying nothing. The driver knocked again. The passenger then put his hand on the knob, and with his body away from that of the driver, he twisted it—all in less than twenty seconds.
Just as soon as it opened an inch, a loud “Ahoy!” boomed from some distant place outside. Although, had it been any closer the two men who jumped like cats may have done worse.
The one who’d opened the door immediately closed it, and along with the other, pulled away.
The voice called again. “Hello! If there’s someone there, I’m out back!”
The two looked to each other and then hustled to the edge of the miniscule house and rounded it as though ready for a fight. But as they spotted at a hundred yards a bent old man with cane and limp, they stood as rigidly as they had on the stoop, smoothing down where they had rumpled their lapels.
It was on a dirt path the old man walked and placed his cane without looking down. Only the path was cleared in this arboreal explosion behind the house. Hallows perhaps had been cleared in the distance, well into the distance (and likely had been), but lines of trees obfuscated all but faith. Especially near the path’s edges were creeping vines and kudzu and ivy that lolled out melons and dropped them (in some cases) into the marshy land and the pond to which it gave way. Where—in this Eden—land ceded to water was anyone’s guess except for him who had survived enough time here to be able to place the cane so surely. And as though growing on the water, there were walls upon walls of flowing and fruit-bearing plants. The fronds of palms met the old man at either shoulder as he walked, rocking back easily into the mass of foliage that did not come under the man’s cultivation but seemed to bleed so perfectly that it did not any less belong to the man than he to it.
From beyond the heaven-ascending clouds shot beams of iridescence, and from a million miles in the sky, these tangible beams found a welcomed rest on the infinite surfaces of flora and dirt and skin in the matutinal color of vermillion.
And it was windy!—a solid wind that made the whole creation dance in step—tendrils and vines and fronds and man—almost as though it would sweep the dirt from the ground if there weren’t so many roots holding it down—and almost as though it would sweep man into the air if he didn’t have so many vines to hold onto.
And starting at the house’s rear shoulder and running somewhere deep into the forest where it was evidently being eaten up by time and the elements, was a wall of cardboard boxes, shoulder high, replete with paper manuscripts. Tops torn or blown off exposed the publications; sides corroded away in the wet season had weakened the wall and brought it down. Its existence was not that of any normal wall, except for that wall which is built only to discharge of a surplus of bricks. In the distance, toward where the wall was obliterated from view, the mildew and critters had carried whole disintegrating sections out into the wet.
Far, far down-field was a burro, eating either the wall or something near it.
“Hello gentlemen. What can I do for you?” He was still on his slow pace, nearing.
The old man breathed easily. His skin was baked in the tropical sun; he wore no glasses at all, and upon removing his brimmed hat, he revealed white trim and a bald head. He wore overalls and no shirt—footwear indiscernible through the mud.
“You are Faustino Mateo Adams?”
He chuckled. He paused, obviously contemplating—then said: “That was the name I was born with. But it’s not the one I call myself by now.”
The two men looked at each other.
“It doesn’t matter what you call yourself,” said the passenger. “It matters what your birth certificate says.”
“Well—then——if you’re looking for the person who belongs to Alexander Adams’ birth certificate . . .” He held out his hands, palms up.
“Do you know who we are?”
He said nothing.
“Mr. Adams, I am Agent Nort and this is Agent Glenn,” and they said the name of their agency. “You’re under arrest for the 1961 prison escape of the Columbia County Correctional Facility.”
Only as he was neared within a dozen feet, as they were reading him is rights, did he slow his pace and then stop, leaning on his cane.
The passenger had handcuffs in his hand, although he made no move.
“I had hoped,” he said when they had finished speaking, “to die out here. But that is okay.”
“Well, no matter what you do, you won’t be doing it here.”
“Before you smile, friend, don’t think you can take this away from me.”
“I sure can.”
“Obviously,” said the old man.
“You don’t seem to be upset.”
He looked at them, squinting because of the low eastern light. There was a lengthy pause.
“Well,” added the driver, “you never would have gotten caught if you hadn’t claimed to have been operating disposal service for federal publications. They never would have found you if you had just laid low.”
Now the old man rocked back on his cane and laughed. “It was only because I claimed such a ludicrous thing that I was able to live here. It took you almost fifty years to catch on, and the only place that would have me was one of the dumping grounds of the people who wanted to imprison me. But I diddo what you were paying me to do: I was destroying them—as you can see—slowly, very slowly. I promise you I didn’t read any. And more than that, I made good on a promise I made to myself and God when I escaped from that place fifty years ago. Enough remained then. Enough remains now. Enough will, always.”
“You act like you’re the victim,” said the driver. “Even if it was fifty years ago, you committed a very serious crime.”
He turned to face behind, closed his eyes, lowered his head, and bent on one knee. In the instant he did, the men startled. But with his hands on the ground, the old man only took a breath, enjoyed listening to almost nothing, and, smiling, leaned over and kissed the grass sweetly. Sitting, standing back up, he put his hands behind his back.