Window Pane

by by Michael Mount

illustration by by Annika Finne

When we were driving they caught us. When I was doing nothing but looking straight through the glass and watching the road slide under us and Tommy decided to open a can of beer in the driver’s seat they caught us. When we were in a box of aluminum in the summer they caught us.

I am wearing my overalls, the big ones that show the world my chest. It’s hot on the highway and we are sweating in the car. Tommy cracks a beer and there’s a state trooper, sitting in a little patch of shade by the highway. Blue lights come on instantly and Tommy edges the car into the gravel.

“Where are the doses?”
“On my chest.”
“What about the crystal?”
“Right here.”
“Get rid of it.”

When you swallow three grams of meth at once you feel like a woman who learned she is pregnant, who learned that the conception and waiting and birth are all happening a bit ahead of schedule. Slow down and breathe. The baby will be fine. Breathe and slow down and relax and you will make it through this just fine.

We are sitting beside each other like dolls in the crash test. The door slams somewhere behind us and step by step the officer comes to the door. I can hear sweat. There is a little pocket on the front of my overalls close to my heart. A mother keeps her child close to her heart. Tommy’s pupils are so still they might roll out of his eyes. The cop comes up to his window, mustache fluttering.

“License and registration.”

Those are the words that end us. The officer finds empty beer cans and a burnt out roach. His eyes are the color of limes. He tells us to step out. I let him handcuff me, hanging my wrists behind my back and not even feeling the touch. He shepherds us into the backseat of the car and he slams the door. He grabs the six pack from our car and brings it to his own.

“What’s that for?”
“Can I have one?”

He probably thinks I am trying to trick him.

“You know drinking and driving is against the law?”
“You know that car is not registered in your name?”
“Where’d you get it from?”
“A friend.”
“Well you’re friend might not be too happy.”
“I’m not too happy.”

He does not ask about the sheet of windowpane taped to my belly. The road is sliding under us in the police car now, as we cruise into infinity.

“Where are we going?”

The fender of the police car eats the long yellow line.

“When can we go home?”
“That’s up to the judge.”

The officer chews the edges of his mustache. I feel my throat drying up.

“Can you turn on the radio?”

Jail is a very unpleasant place. I can feel the new sweat starting to crawl out of me over the old sweat. Tommy gets his mug shot and then I walk to the wall to get my mug shot. Something about a stolen vehicle. They hand me a sign and the crown of my head rises up to the six-foot notch. Flash goes the bulb.

F•L•A•S•H and my brain rattles. Sweat squeezes its way through my skin. That must be gram two. The world is cut into individual frames and the reel slows down and the film flutters. One box slides away to make room for another over and over, like the film was spinning on the reel too slowly.

“You’re clear,” the man behind the camera says.
“I know,” I say, “I’m going home, I’m going home.”
“You’re clear,” the man behind the camera says.
“I know,” I say, “I’m going home, I’m going home.”
“No, you’re turning clear,” the man behind the camera says.
“I know,” I say. “I’m going home.” And I look at my skin, which is the color of a soap bubble. “Just relax,” he says, and his lips are cut off of his face and spliced into every slow frame unreeled of his face.

I make it to the changing room and I can almost feel the windowpane sliding down my belly. The walls laugh and shake. The white grout between gray tiles is widening and voices are leaking out. I am alone. I turn the water on and pull the windowpane off my belly and tape it to the wall. I am alone. The shower comes down like a waterfall, one hundred feet above, cold and sharp. The cold crawls over my skin like millipedes. My teeth are cracking, the way that glass cracks under water. The waterfall is high and I am ready to drown in the little lake of tiles.

But soon the lake evaporates, leaving me like a grain of salt on the bottom of the tiles and I am breathing air again. Breathing hard. The insects fall off of my skin, into the drain. I am cold. I am sweating again and the salt swims into the last drops of cold water. I am dry as a desert and then I put the windowpane on under the orange suit, like it’s my skin.

I hand the guard my clothes and he leads me to the end of a hallway, a hallway stretching out forever like the inside of an accordion. By the time I reach the end of it, I am three inches tall at the base of the castle door. The door opens and I am face to face with Tommy. His eyes are open so wide that I am falling right through them.

“Hello Tommy.”

In a jail cell there is no time. No seconds, no ticking hands, no melting clocks covered in ants. Only when the lights in the hallway slam into extinguishment is there a closure. A single line drawn around the frame of day. I do not remember going to bed. I remember standing there until I wake up in a puddle of sweat.

A thousand waves of light in my eyes. I am cold and hungry. The windowpane sticks to my belly. It’s Sunday so not a single judge in the county is on his velvet ass. There is a room where prisoners wait. We walk in. A slow and rumbling hum.

“Look we got a whitey!” someone calls.
“What’s up whitey?”
“How’d you get set up here?”
“You look scared.”
“What’s the matter?”
“You ain’t comfortable here.”
Voices melt together. Then:
“Don’t touch him. He’s the magic man.”

A big black man walks out of the crowd. He puts his wrinkly hand out to me. I lift my shirt and show the doses. The windowpane is damp on the edges. I pull it away and break it just as Jesus may have done in the last supper. I break a piece and hand it to the black man. No one says anything. The hum gets louder and the black eyes narrow on the paper on my chest. Deer hungry for the salt lick.

Then, it’s time to go. Before leaving the room they shackle us all together like a sleigh team. The door to the outside opens and the first sunlight crawls inside. Across the lot we march, climbing into the big bus with grated windows.

It peels my eyes apart so that colors are smeared lengthwise and then heightwise and then I am moving through the traffic like an arrow. I turn to a man next to me and moustaches are growing out of his eyebrows and his face is turning paisley. Everything is bright, bright and twitching. We are in a candle. I turn to another face beside me and he smiles and the corners of his lips swing away from his face like licorice, writing cursive all over his face. We are having quite a ride! The guard at the front hollers at us to be quiet but his words congeal into orange flowers that are sucked into the barrel of his shotgun. Everyone is laughing and the laughter is ringing so hard that the entire bus frame is shaking.

They have a hell of a time getting us untangled. We are vomited out of the bus and onto the parking lot and fall to writhing in one big clattering mass. I am swimming in this bucket of hot molasses trying to rescue my buddies from drowning and the guards just kept kicking at us. It is just like them to ruin a good time, and I feel ready to vomit at their vulture behavior. Somehow we are all standing again and walking like a drunk caterpillar to the courthouse. Someone behind me is chanting Magic Man, Magic Man.

I am there all at once. All the props and pieces of the set have been arranged as a courthouse and I suddenly wake up in the middle of the stage. The judge is a large black gumdrop with a lollipop hammer. Behind me rows of folks sit waiting, waiting to hear God knows what. Most of the faces melted together like syrup but one stands out clearly, crystal clearly. Holy Jesus, it’s my mother. How does she know I am in jail?

The judge starts talking. His words crack and rain on me like cracker dust. Silence falls and I can feel the weight of the courthouse pushing me in the back of the neck, waiting for me to say something.

“Your honor,” I say, “I’ve been a good boy.”

The rest of it was quite simple really. He said that they didn’t have any charges to hold me under, so they let me go.