Prose Header


by Bill Kowaleski

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


Monday mornings were a slog of routine, pointless meetings that kept me out of my office until almost noon. When I walked into our area, I noticed that Glen’s cube lacked both his hunched form staring at the screen and the small cooler bag for his lunch and snacks that was as much a part of him as his ill-fitting eyeglasses. I turned to the cubicle opposite.

“Eileen, did you hear from Glen this morning?”

“No, and I just checked the logs. He hasn’t been on the network at all since Saturday.”

I flashed to Gina’s words about the Oregon woods, ran into my office, and called him on my cell so he’d know I was the caller. It rang six times before a sudden rush of noise filled my ear. Faintly behind it I could hear his voice.

“Bill, sorry I didn’t call.”

“Where are you, Glen?”

“Alex and I are going camping. Not there yet, still driving.”

“I see. Does this camping involve going to Oregon?”

He said nothing for a long time. The rushing faded and grew, faded and grew. Finally he said, “So she talked to you. Did she come to your house? Did she wear those shorts?”

Damn! He’d never said a word to me about Oregon, and he was much too smart not to know how I’d found out.

“She did. She said she was worried that you’d do something rash with Alex.”

“And she tried to get you into bed, didn’t she? It worked with Javier.”

“So she told me. But no, it didn’t work with me. She’s sexy, I don’t deny that, but there’s something evil about her that really put me off.”

The rushing again, then, “You understand her. That’s the thing I like about you, Bill: you understand people.”

I almost said something, almost told him how ridiculous a statement that was, but instead I said, “Look, Glen, what about your job? Things need to get done. Who’s going to update the IPS tables? Who’s going to—”

“Javier can do it. He’s screwing my wife, so he ought to be able to do my job too. Listen, I’ll call you when I can talk.”

The rushing stopped, the speaker was silent.

Gina called later, asking if I knew where they were. I told her about Glen’s call. She said she was on her way to the police station with a lawyer to swear out a child-abduction charge. We agreed to keep each other informed. Short and to the point, thank heavens.

* * *

I never do anything on Monday evenings. As I sat at the kitchen table, staring at the place that was always set for Kim, the plate, glass, and cutlery that would stay there until the day my grieving finally ended, the cell rang, announcing a call from Glen.

“Hey, Bill, Alex is in the tent playing video games. I told him I was making a work call, which is sort of true, actually.”

“Glen, she’s filed child-abduction charges. You need to let her know what you’re doing.”

He laughed. “She’ll never find me. We go off the grid tomorrow. Going to live off the land. I was teaching Alex how to shoot his dinner today. He’s going to be quite a marksman. That’s what I wanted to tell you. You won’t be hearing from me again for quite a while.”

I couldn’t remember a time he’d been so articulate, so animated. This had to be something he’d dreamed of doing for a long time, but was it Alex’s dream too?

“Is that really fair to Alex, Glen? What about his life? Doesn’t he want to see his friends? What about his education?”

Silence, then, “I had to do something. Friday, when I got home, he told me that she came into his bedroom naked, said that it was time for him to learn how to have sex. He said it grossed him out. He ran all the way to Isidro’s and hung out there until he knew I’d be home.”

“My god! You’ve got to go to the police, get whatever state agency that handles these things involved. They’re professionals, they know what to do.”

His laugh was a sneering snort. “They’re bureaucrats. They fill out forms, they hold hearings. She’d convince them it was some Oedipal fantasy. No, this is better.”

“But you told her you were thinking about Oregon.”

He laughed again. “Right! Do you think I’m actually headed for Oregon? Bill, I appreciate how you’ve stood up for me, I’m so sorry that I’m leaving you in the lurch, but this is the only way. I’ll let you know how we’re doing from time to time. Don’t worry about us.”

It took all my resolve to put the call out of my mind. This was not my problem, not my life. But I worried for Alex, and for Glen too. I wondered whether either of them could last a week living off the land. I wondered whether he’d ever come back to his job.

* * *

Tuesday morning. Had it really just been a week since Glen’s life had so suddenly crashed into mine? I hadn’t even had my second cup of coffee when my cell rang.

“Bill, he ran away! He got up this morning and said he wanted to go back to school. I tried to explain why we needed to be here, but then he said I was weird, all the kids thought I was weird, and then he just ran.”

“Glen, you need to get the authorities to help you find him. He might get lost in the woods, he might get hurt.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. We’re close to the highway, there’s a convenience store just down the road, you can almost see it from here. That’s where he went. They’re going to come and get me. They’re going to say I kidnapped him.”

“I see. You’re right, that will probably happen, and then you’ll get a chance to tell your side of the story. Stay calm, handle it like you’d handle a network outage.”

“This isn’t some equipment malfunctioning! This is people, government agents. They’ll put me in an asylum. They’ll shoot drugs into me.”

“Glen, they’re not going to do that. I won’t let them.”

“What can you do? No, I won’t let them get me. Nobody cares about me, I’m on my own. Nobody’s going to help me. They’ll take him away, I’ll never see him again!”

“I’ll help you. Why don’t you come and live in my spare bedroom until this all gets sorted out?”

The line stayed silent a long time. Finally I ventured, “Glen, still there?”

He spoke so softly I could just make out the words. “Who are you anyway? Why did I involve you in my messed-up life? You’ll turn on me too.”

“Glen, please, just come back here and we’ll talk this out. I’ve got to go to work now. My offer stands. Anytime you show up at my door, you’re welcome to stay here.”

I could hear him sobbing. I was torn, disgusted by his self-pity, frightened about what he might do next. I wanted to inspire him to do the right thing, to snap him out of his depression, and then I thought about the rope.

“Glen, remember what you told me? You told me it’s easier to untangle the knot when you were the one who tied it.”

Silence. Finally, “Yeah, I said something like that. There’s always a way.”

“Right! You’ve got to figure out the way.”

I pictured him shaking his enormous head. “But I don’t know the way. I need time to think. I gotta get out of here before they come for me. Bill, thanks, gonna hang up now. I’ll be in touch.”

* * *

By mid-morning I’d heard from Gina. Alex had led the police to their campsite, but Glen and his truck weren’t there. She didn’t seem too concerned about Glen, never even asked me if I might know where he was.

For weeks I kept my cell phone turned on beside the bed every night. At first I thought he’d surely call me, but of course he knew all about how a cell phone call could be traced. I told myself that I’d helped him, but how could I know whether that was true?

I waited a month, until Javier told me he couldn’t handle both jobs any longer. I hired a replacement.

It’s mid-winter now, and the rope still sits on my desk, the knot still tied, the puzzle unsolved. In the rare quiet moments I like to imagine him somewhere deep in the woods, living in a cabin by a stream, skinning a deer next to an eye-high stack of cut logs carefully protected to last him until spring.

He hears movement from the forest, turns, pushes his glasses up his nose, sees me trudging through the knee-deep snow carrying some wine, waves and smiles, invites me in for venison steaks, tells me how much he likes it out there. Yeah, I want to believe that, I really do.

If only he’d let me know how to reach him. If only he’d let me know he’s found a way.

Copyright © 2015 by Bill Kowaleski

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