Slim stood on the concrete steps, his back to the building. An unpleasant wind blue in his face, causing him to squint his eyes. Over his right arm draped a worn brown jacket; Slim’s plaid shirt and plain slacks were similar in colour and the fact that they were pressed made the faded clothes look a mockery. Still, Slim was glad to be out of the uniform he’d worn the last few years and that he had convinced the soft hearted launderer to wash his only belongings.
Slim didn’t feel any different form how he had inside those walls. Sure, he was glad to be out. He’d spent seven years in prison because he’d gotten involved in a shady deal. It was almost ironic that they were caught. It wasn’t that they were set up or that someone ratted, no, it was sheer, dumb luck. Slim had been the passenger in the truck carrying a load of various drugs beneath the guise of children’s toys. Out of nowhere, a tire popped and the driver was able to maneuver the vehicle off the road.
However, that was the last of the good news. The situation quickly went from bad to worse when slim realize the other guys had forgotten to pack a jack along with the spare tire. So, one by one, he and the driver unloaded the goods to the side of the road so Slim could lift up one side of the trailer while the other man replaced the tire.
Slim had had plenty of time in prison to wonder if it had been fate or something else that the state trooper had been driving along the otherwise deserted road at that time of the night. Initially, the young officer had stopped to help a stranger in need but his good intentions quickly turned to suspicion when he eyed the cargo at the side of the road. It didn’t take Slim long to understand their new situation and he knew there was no way he could outrun the officer.
Slim’s hands were already in the air before the young man had his gun drawn. Slim tapped the driver, who was still working on the tire, in the side with the toe of his boot. Upon looking up, the driver’s fight or flight reflex took action and he dropped the tire, bolting into the forest before a word was said. Choosing not to loose the prey in his sights, the officer arrest Slim and it wasn’t long before he was sitting in court, awaiting his sentence.
Unfortunately for the driver, he wasn’t in the best of shape and he was soon caught by the backup called in by the officer. The law had tried to wedge themselves in between Slim and the driver. They paraded deals in the form of lenient sentences but Slim never bit. He had come to the point in his life where he simply didn’t care. Slim’s sentence had therefore been longer than the driver’s who had promised to aid the cops in their quest to shut down the entire ring. Of course, Slim knew he could have helped himself and he also strongly suspected that the driver had only agreed to lie to the naïve officers but Slim simply didn’t care.
Two weeks to the date of his arrest, Slim found himself in the back of a van, handcuffed and facing the city where he had spent all his life. Slowly, the buildings shrunk in size and, eventually, all Slim could see was the dust unearthed by the vehicle’s tires. He stared at the wake created by his mobile prison for several hours before the van had finally pulled up to the penitentiary doors. By the time paperwork had been signed and his guards were ready to hand him over, Slim saw that the dust had settled. The van doors squeaked open and Slim descended from the back of the van calmly to have his arm was grabbed roughly by the prison guard who pushed him forward as he grunted an order. Slim heard the van doors slam shut and the tired ground on gravel as the vehicle pulled away, heading back to humanity. As Slim stood in front of the prison doors, his future seemed bleak. But what did he care? It was just as bleak on the outside.
Perhaps that is still what Slim thought and he stood, for the first time in years, facing the idea of civilization as he stood with his back to the prison doors. Afterall, he had nowhere to go and no one to help him out. His parents had been dead for years and, the last he heard from his sister had been years ago. She used to write to him periodically to keep him up to date with happenings in the outside world. She had done well for herself and he had stopped replying when one of her letters announced that she and her new husband were expecting a baby. He was glad for his sister and felt no ill will toward her. Yet, there was no room for Slim in her life and he had decided to leave her be. She had written a few times after but soon her letters stopped altogether.
Slim didn’t know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do. He wasn’t even sure that he wanted to do something. Still, there awaited a van with its back doors open, ready to take him to the nearest town. Once more, Slim pulled himself into the back of the van, laying his jacket over his knees and stared out the back of the window as the vehicle left the prison drive. He watched the building fade in the distance and almost felt a twang of sadness. After all, it had been his home, however uncomfortable, for years. It was all he had known. If he didn’t have any direction for his life, the guards did and the routine kept him busy for most of the day.
But it hadn’t been much of a direction and Slim hadn’t made any friends for life during his confinement. He had stuck to himself, remaining quiet and spent time in the library during his free time. He had quickly read most of the books provided, improving more than just his vocabulary as he did so. Still, books were something of a mystery to Slim. While instructional guides made sense to him, he felt no empathy with fictional characters and his eyes glanced over the pages without any emotional connection to the people within the pages. Unlike other inmates, Slim hadn’t touched the newspapers which were brought in on an almost regular basis. He wanted nothing to do with a world that had nothing to do with him.
This was how he had wiled the days away: reading as long as he could before rejoining the ranks to shower or eat or exercise out in the yard. Somewhere along the way, Slim had acquired a small radio which had seen many better days. The previous owner had tossed it to him as he was making his exit from the prison and wished Slim good luck. It had stopped working years ago. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Slim was able to get the radio to pick up one station, albeit not very consistently. Every night before bed, Slim attempted to make the radio worked and the sounds of music of years past would float throughout the cell block. Slim was not a big fan music in general and especially not jazz but perhaps he acclimated to it after having no other musical option after all these years. Upon his departure, Slim had been the radio on to another deserving soul.
And so he sat in the back of the van, eyes focused on the wake of dust on the gravel road and wondering what the future had in store for him.
The trip to the nearest was only 30 minutes but those minutes felt like an eternity to the anxious Slim. The time only helped to exemplify how removed from society the prison – Slim – had been for recent years. Slim didn’t know why he was going to the town; it didn’t have anything to do with him. Yet, the van would only take him there and there was no reason to head back to the city. Indeed, it would probably be folly to do so. Slim was sure the driver, who had already been out 2 years, would have incriminated Slim in their predicament. Slim knew the boss would find him and exact punishment for fouling up the deal and he was not exactly looking forward to dealing with that again.
It wasn’t as though Slim had seen the light in prison. Yet, it had changed his mind about some things. On a daily basis Slim had seen individuals who had committed crimes far worst than his – rape, murder, child abuse – and for reasons far more devious. Yet, these criminals were far less remorseful over their misdeeds than Slim had been. Slim hadn’t found God in prison but he’d found that he had simply let himself fall into a bad position one too many times. The drugs had been little more than a delivery to earn a couple bucks to him and incarceration had suggested that maybe, just maybe, there might be something more.
But if there was something more, Slim had no idea and as the van entered the town and buildings began to take shape as the dust settled behind the van, Slim was still clueless. He had never been to the town and didn’t know anything about it but Slim was hocked to realize just how small it was. It seemed as though this was a town which had been untouched by time and while he didn’t want to head back to the city, Slim was unsure whether a place this small would be a good place to try to make a life. Originally, Slim had intended on finding some factory work but it quickly became obvious that there were little more than farmers, gas station attendants and waitresses existing in this tiny hole-in-the-wall.
As the van pulled up to the local diner, Slim exhaled slowly and rose in the back of the van. His height and bulk filled the interior and when the driver unlocked the door from the outside and it swung open, it almost seemed as though a giant was departing from the back of the van. Slim grabbed his coat and departed the van, gazing curiously about the town. There was nothing more to it than what he has viewed through the tiny window. Some folks milled about doing their business and a half burnt out neon sign flickered above him, announcing the town’s only diner. Slim stepped away from the van, onto the curb and the driver returned to the seat in which he spent most of his life, made a U-turn and began the journey back to the prison.
If this was civilization, Slim wasn’t sure he was any better off than he had been, lying on his sinking cot the day before. He didn’t know what he would do or where he would go. Even more so, Slim didn’t know how he would get anywhere. As much as he would like to leave this one horse town as soon as possible, Slim hadn’t had a lot of money in his pocket when he had entered prison. Furthermore, he was sure it would stretch even less than it had seven years ago. No, Slim would have to find work in this town, like it or not.
Resigning himself to his fate, Slim entered the diner. His eyes met that of a motherly woman behind the counter and the look on her face suggested “I know you’re not a local and I know why you’re here.” Still, she smiled as she presented Slim with the piece of pie and cup of coffee he ordered.
Slim ate slowly, savouring the taste of home made pie. It was the first slice of pie he’d had since he couldn’t remember when and Slim wasn’t in any hurry. He had nowhere to go. Slim examined the diner: it was run down and he wasn’t alone. A couple, not much older than himself, but aged years form hard work, conversed quietly in the corner. An older man sat at the other end of the counter, reading the day’s paper.
The waitress’ voice interrupted his thoughts, “Welcome to the real world, darling. You have any plans now that you’re out?” Startled, Slim looked up and almost dropped his cup but managed to right it without spilling too much coffee on the counter.
“No Ma’am. Thank you for the pie, Ma’am. It’s delicious.” It felt strange to be talking to someone who wasn’t giving him orders or trying to start a fight with him. He wasn’t sure what he expected.
“There’s a bus every week to the city. Stops right in front of this diner, where you did but you just missed it. You’ll have to wait another 6 days. The only motel has been closed since last summer but you can probably find a room to rent with one of the folks who lives outside of town. We don’t like folks who sleep on the ground.” The woman motioned in the direction opposite of the prison, her voice sounding reproachfully. Slim guess the town had its fair share of trouble from the recently released.
“No Ma’am. I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ll have to try to find a room, I guess, until I can catch the next bus. Do you know how much it costs?”
The woman’s face seemed to soften as she considered the Slim was willing to pay. “It’s ten dollars, son, and it ain’t no fancy coach bus but it runs and it will get you away from here. Not that it’s so bad here. Most of us have stuck around because our families have lived here since before anyone can remember. It sometimes feels like the world has forgotten about us but that’s not always a bad thing.”
She wiped down the counter in front of Slim with a rag as he gulped down the last swig of his coffee. She reached for the coffee pot but he cut her off, reaching for his wallet and depositing a few coins on the counter, enough for the pie and even a tip. As she turned, after replacing the pot, she saw the tip on the table and frowned.
“Listen, there’s a couple about a mile out of town in a yellow house. The Smiths. Mr. Smith just suffered another stroke and I know the Misses could use a strong arm. She’s getting up their in age. Maybe if you’re willing to help, she’d offer you room and board.”
Slim paused on the way to the door, turning on his heel as the waitress offered this tidbit of information this way. He smiled, nodded his head and turned back toward the door, holding his jacket over his shoulder. Slim exited the diner and made a right, beginning his journey to the yellow house down the road. He hoped the waitress was right but, even if she wasn’t, there wasn’t any reason to stay in the diner. The sun was setting in his eyes, making Slim squint again. At least the wind had let up; it was bad enough as old cars rattled down the road past him, leaving him caked in dust.
As Slim continued on down the road, the traffic grew less. Cars pulled up to houses and farms on either side of the road and soon Slim was the only moving being in sight. After some time, Slim wondered if he had somehow missed the yellow house. How long was a mile anyway? As the thought crossed his mind, he thought he spotted a yellow house in the distance and quickened his pace. It wasn’t a direction for life but it was a direction. Slim only hoped the waitress was right.