Authors: Lisa Moore
Also by Lisa Moore
Degrees of Nakedness
The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore
The Penguin Book of Contemporary
Canadian Women’s Short Stories
(Selected and Introduced)
Twenty-Four True Stories about Childbirth
(Co-edited with Dede Crane)
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Moore
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Distribution of this electronic edition via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal. Please do not participate in electronic piracy of copyrighted material; purchase only authorized electronic editions. We appreciate your support of the author’s rights.
This edition published in 2013 by
House of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
Toronto, ON, M5V 2K4
All of the events and characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Moore, Lisa Lynne, 1964–
Caught / Lisa Moore.
Issued also in print format.
PS8576.O61444C39 2013 C813’.54 C2013-900410-6
Cover design: Alysia Shewchuk
We acknowledge for their financial support of our publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
Slaney broke out
of the woods and skidded down a soft embankment to the side of the road. There was nothing but forest on both sides of the asphalt as far as he could see. He thought it might be three in the morning and he was about two miles from the prison. It had taken an hour to get through the woods.
He had crawled under the chain-link fence around the yard and through the long grass on the other side. He had run hunched over and he’d crawled on his elbows and knees, pulling himself across the ground, and he’d stayed still, with his face in the earth, while the searchlight arced over him. At the end of the field was a steep hill of loose shale and the rocks had clattered away from his shoes.
The soles of Slaney’s shoes were tan-coloured and slippery. The tan had worn off and a smooth patch of black rubber showed on the bottom of each shoe. He’d imagined the soles lit up as the searchlight hit them. He had on the orange coveralls. They had always been orange, but when everybody was wearing them they were less orange.
For an instant the perfect oval of hard light had contained him like the shell of an egg and then he’d gone animal numb and cringing, a counterintuitive move, the prison psychotherapist might have said, if they were back in her office discussing the break — she talked slips and displacement, sublimation and counter-intuition, and allowed for an inner mechanism he could not see or touch but had to account for — then the oval slid him back into darkness and he charged up the hill again.
Near the top, the shale had given way to a curve of reddish topsoil with an overhang of ragged grass and shrub. There was a cracked yellow beef bucket and a ringer washer turned on its side, a bald white.
Slaney had grabbed at a tangled clot of branches but it came loose in his hand. Then he’d dug the toe of his shoe in deep and hefted his chest over the prickly grass overhang and rolled on top of it.
He lay there, flat on his back, chest hammering, looking at the stars. It was as far as he had been from the Springhill penitentiary since the doors of that institution admitted him four years before. It was not far enough.
He’d heaved himself off the ground and started running.
This was Nova Scotia and it was June 14, 1978. Slaney would be twenty-five years old the next day.
The night of his escape would come back to him, moments of lit intensity, for the rest of his life. He saw himself on that hill in the brilliant spot of the swinging searchlight, the orange of his back as it might have appeared to the guards in the watchtower, had they glanced that way.
The Long Night
Slaney stood on
the highway and the stillness of the moonlit night settled over him. The evening thumped down and then Slaney ran for all he was worth because it seemed foolhardy to stand still.
Then it seemed foolhardy not to be still.
He felt he had to be still in order to listen. He was listening with all his might. He knew the squad cars were coming and there would be dogs. He accepted that there was nothing he could do now but wait.
A fellow prisoner named Harold had arranged a place for him. It was a room over a bar, several hours from the penitentiary, if Slaney happened to get that far.
Harold said that the bar belonged to his grandmother. They had a horsehair dance floor and served the best fish and chips in Nova Scotia. They had rock bands passing through and strippers once a week and they sponsored a school basketball team.
Harold’s place was in Guysborough. The cops would be expecting Slaney to be going west. But Slaney was lighting out in the opposite direction. A trucker would be heading for the ferry in North Sydney, bringing a shipment of Lay’s potato chips to Newfoundland.
Slaney could get a ride with him as far as Harold’s place in Guysborough, then backtrack the next day when things had cooled down a little.
He bent over on the side of the highway with his hands on his knees and caught his breath. He whispered to himself. He spoke a stream of profanity and he said a prayer to the Virgin Mary, in whom he half believed. Mosquitoes touched him all over. They settled on his skin and put their fine things into him and they were lulled and bloated and thought themselves sexy and near death.
They got in his mouth and he spit and they dotted his saliva. They were in the crease of his left eyelid. He wiped one out of his eye and found he was weeping. He was snot-smeared and tears dropped off his eyelashes. He could hear the whine of just one mosquito above the rest.
It was tears or sweat, he didn’t know.
He’d broken out of prison and he was going back to Colombia. He’d learned from the first trip down there, the trip that had landed him in jail, that the most serious mistakes are the easiest to make. There are mistakes that stand in the centre of an empty field and cry out for love.
The largest mistake, that time, was that Slaney and Hearn had underestimated the Newfoundland fishermen of Capelin Cove. The fishermen had known about the caves the boys had dug for stashing the weed. They’d seen the guys with their long hair and shovels and picks drive in from town and set up tents in an empty field. They’d watched them down at the beach all day, heard them at night with their guitars around the bonfire. The fishermen had called the cops.
Slaney and the boys had mistaken the fishermen’s idle calculation for a blind eye and they had been turned in.
And they’d mistaken the fog for cover but it was an unveiling. Slaney and Hearn had lost their bearings in a dense fog, after sailing home from Colombia. They were just a half-mile off shore with two tons of marijuana on board and they’d required assistance.
There were mistakes and there was a dearth of luck when they had needed just a little. A little luck would have seen them through the first trip despite their dumb moves.
Now Slaney was out again and he knew the nature of mistakes. They were detectable but you had to read all the signs backwards or inside out. Those first mistakes had cost him. They meant he could never go home. He’d never see Newfoundland again.
Everything will happen from here, he thought. This time they would do it right. He could feel luck like an animal presence, feral and watchful. He would have to coax it into the open. Grab it by the throat.
Slaney had broken out of prison and beat his way through the forest. He’d stumbled into a ditch of lupins. The searchlight must have seeped into his skin back there, just outside the prison fence, a radioactive buzz that left him with something extra. He wasn’t himself; he was himself with something added.
Or the light had bleached away everything he was except the need not to be attacked by police dogs.
There was the scent of the lupins as he bashed through, the wet stalks grabbing at his shins. Cold raindrops scattering from the leaves. Then he was up on the shoulder of the road. He batted his hands around his head, girly swings at the swarms of mosquitoes.
The prayers he said between gusts of filthy language were polite and he had honed down his petition to a single word: the word was
. He had an idea about the Virgin Mary in ordinary clothes, jeans and a T-shirt. She was complicated but placid, more human than divine. He did not think
, he thought ordinary and smart. A girl with a blade of grass between her thumbs that she blew on to make a trilling noise. He called out for her now.
His prayers were meant to stave off the dread he felt and a shame that had nothing to do with the crime he’d committed or the fact that he was standing on the side of the road, under the moon, covered in mud, at the mercy of an ex-convict with a transport truck.
It was a rootless and fickle shame. It might have been someone else’s shame, a storm touching down, or a shame belonging to no one, knocking against everything in its path.
His curses were an incantation against too much humility and the prayers pleaded with the Virgin to make the mosquitoes go away.
Then the earth revved and thrummed. He jumped back into the ditch. He lay down flat with the lupins trembling over him. The sirens were loud, even at a distance, baritone whoops that scaled up to clear metallic bleats. The hoops of hollow, tin-bright noise overlapped and the torrent of squeal echoed off the hills. Slaney counted five cars. There were five of them.
Red and blue bands of light sliced through the lupin stalks and the heads of the flowers tipped and swung in the backdraft as the cars roared past. The siren of each car was so shrill that it pierced the bones of his skull, and the tiny hammer in his ear banged out a message of calibrated terror and the rocks his cheek rested on in the ditch were full of vibration and then the sirens, one at a time, receded, and the echoes dissipated and silence followed.
It was not silence. Slaney mistook it for silence but there was a wind that had come a long distance and it jostled every tree. Some branches rubbed against one another, squeaking. The leaves of the lupins chussled like the turning pages of a glossy magazine.
Five cars. They would go another three or four miles and then they’d let the dogs out. They had taken this long because they’d had to gather up the dogs. Slaney listened for the barking, which would be carried on the wind.
He crawled out of the ditch to meet the next vehicle and he stood straight and brushed his hands over his chest and tugged the collar of the coveralls. He couldn’t wait for the truck that had been arranged. Anything could have happened to that truck.
He was getting the hell out of there before the dogs showed up.
A station wagon went by with one headlight and he could see in the pale yellow shaft that it had begun to rain. The station wagon had a mattress tied to the roof. It had slowed to a crawl. There was a woman smoking a cigarette in the passenger seat. She turned all the way around to get a good look at him as they rolled to a stop.
Slaney would remember her face for a long time. An amber dashlight lit her brown hair. The reflection of his own face slid over hers on the window and stopped when the car stopped, so that for the briefest instant the two faces became one grotesque face with two noses and four eyes, and there was an elongated forehead and a stretched mannish chin under her full mouth and maybe she saw the same thing on her side of the glass.
The cop cars must have passed her already and she would have known that they were looking for someone. She exhaled the smoke and he saw it waggle up lazily. She reached over and touched the lock on the passenger door with a finger. They paused there, looking at him, though Slaney could not see the driver of the car, and then they sped up with a spray of gravel hitting his thighs.
Slaney had become aware of how small he was in relation to the highway and to the hills of trees and the sky. He felt the unspooling of time.
Time had been pulled up tight as if with a winch and somebody had flicked a switch and it was unspooling with blurry speed. He expected it to snag. If it snagged, it would not unsnag.
Four years and two days. Time moved evenly in prison without ever hurrying or slowing down. It was jellied and unthinking. He had timed the break so he could be out of prison for his birthday.
Slaney’s sister had visited him in prison over the last year, and they’d spoken about the break, using general terms and a kind of code they made up as they went along.
She’d let him know that Hearn was planning a new trip and was expecting him. His sister was in contact with Hearn. And she was the one who told him the transport truck would pick him up on the side of the road.
The gist of it was that there would be a ride for him at the appointed time. Most escaped prisoners get caught on the first night out. Slaney had to get himself through the first night, and then he’d head west
across the country, to Vancouver, where he’d meet up with Hearn. He was heading back to Colombia from there and he would return with enough pot to make them both millionaires.
There were two
pinpoints of light in the distance that dipped down and disappeared and bobbed back up. Slaney prayed to the Virgin that these were the lights of the transport truck with the driver who had turned his life around and had accepted Jesus into his heart, and had attended Alcoholics Anonymous, believing in the twelve-step program and the ancient, sinister advice of one day at a time.
This trucker had, according to Slaney’s sister, gone to work in a diner on Duckworth Street where ex-cons were welcome because the owner was also an ex-con, and he’d met a nurse there and they’d married and had a child and bought a new house on the mainland.
Slaney’s sister had put in a call and the trucker said he would be passing through and he would pick up Slaney if he saw him and drop him at Harold’s.
The lupins on the side of the road were spilling forward, rushing through the ditch in the reaching headlights as if a dam had broken. Spilling all the way down the sides of the vast dark highway in a lit-up river of sloshing purple, trying to outrace the reach of the pummelling lights. Then the transport truck was upon him, deafening; the long silver flank dirty and close enough that Slaney could have touched it. Behind the truck the lupins tumbled back into darkness, unspilling, snuffed out.
The truck had passed him and Slaney was covered in a film of wet grit. The exhaust smelled sharp in the ozone-laden air. He wiped his face with his sleeve. Slaney knew the minute he had seen the headlights in the distance that if it didn’t stop he would be caught. Two possible lives formed and unformed and one of them had to do with the truck stopping and the other had to do with being caught within the next hour.
There would be the walk back down the corridor to his cell. He could summon the image of a crack in the concrete floor near his cot, or it came to him unbidden. This was a sign that the prison had got inside him. When he opened his eyes he saw the red tail lights of the truck stopped a ways down the road.
He ran hard; he was afraid the driver would change his mind and take off. Slaney opened the door of the truck and climbed up into the cab. The vibration of the idling engine passed through the seat under Slaney into his thighs and ass and shoulder blades. There was a Virgin Mary statuette on the dash. She was ivory-coloured, her arms were held out, tiny palms upward. Her pale longish face tipped down, eyes closed.