By Richie L. Nelms

The bars on my window were put there to keep me from getting through. I canít go out, and no one comes in. But itís not true for the noise. Noise comes and goes as it pleases. Bars donít stop the noise. Rain, birds, cars, and sometimes the voices of people--they all make noise that comes through my window. For eleven years, Iíve been listening, same room, same sounds, same bars.

The United States government does a lousy job of subsidizing its sanitariums. Eleven years Iíve been here, and not once during that time has anyone come in to paint or repair my window. It started weathering during the first three years I was here. After five years there were cracks, and just recently, I noticed the mortar around the bars had started chipping away one piece at the time.

I never saw anyone check on the window. I didnít complain about it, so the material began to crumble. Fact is, it made some of the bars loose. I found out late one night when I was listening to the night sounds, crickets, night birds, owls maybe, moths and other insects buzzing around. Then, on this one night, I heard voices from the highway. Two girls were talking to each other. They were a ways off, but the voices sounded familiar, maybe like someone who had come to visit one of the other patients here. I had to strain to hear, but they must have broken down on the road and were trying to fix a flat tire. From what I could make out, neither one of them knew what to do. So they just talked, and I listened. First it was about the tire. Then it was about people they knew, girl talk about things they were doing or boys they were seeing, who they liked or didnít like. Gossip. I never got to hear gossip. No one came to see me. Hardly anyone ever comes to see someone in a sanitarium, but those voices were familiar. "Makes you mad doesnít it?" I heard a voice say.

At first I didnít reply. I tried to ignore the voice. Thatís why they put me in here in the first place, because of the voices.

"Iím not talking to you," I said.

"Yes, you are," the voice responded. "How else could you tell me you werenít talking to me?"

"It doesnít matter. Just leave me alone."

"Now is that any way to treat a friend?" he said. "I come in here to give you company since no one else does, and youíre going to treat me like that? Iíve a good mind to just turn around and leave."

"I wish you would," I told him. "You go away. Youíre trouble, and I know it."

"Itís not me whoís trouble; itís those girls out there. Theyíre the ones who cause trouble," the voice told me.

"What do you mean? They didnít do anything. Theyíre just talking," I told him.

"Sure, just talk. First about the car, then the weather, then boys. Itís always about the boys, us boys. Did you hear them mention your name?" he asked me.

"No. Theyíre just talking about stuff," I answered.

"Youíre right," he said. "Stuff about you. Werenít you listening?"

"I told you already. I didnít hear them say my name. Theyíre talking about someone else."

"Youíre kidding, arenít you? Itís in code. They wonít say your name because they donít want you to get mad at them for talking about you."

The voice was bothering me, and he wouldnít go away.

"Leave me alone," I said. "What are they saying?"

"Theyíre talking about the sanitarium, where the crazies are. That would be you. Canít you hear them? Doesnít it make you mad when someone talks about you when they donít think youíre listening?"

"I am listening," I told him.

"So you are. Youíre right, you know? They sound familiar because they were here earlier this week, talking with the nurses. Poor little girls, out there all alone with a flat tire and no one to help them. So what are you going to do about it?" he asked me.

"What do you mean?" I said.

"Youíre not just going to let a couple of silly girls stand around on the highway making fun of you are you? Thereís whatís right and thereís whatís wrong, and its wrong for little girls to gossip about crazy people who are locked up," he told me.

"What am I supposed to do? I am locked up. You expect me to start yelling at them through my window? The nurses will come in and jab a needle in me and put me in the Ďquiet room.í Iím not yelling," I told him.

"You donít have to yell. Just go out there and have a little talk with them about being nicer to people they donít know. You might even help them with that flat tire. Be the good Samaritan. Theyíll like you if you do, and maybe theyíll stop by later to visit with you here," he suggested.

"But the bars, Iím locked in," I told him.

"Oh come on, donít be a baby. Give them a firm shove. Theyíll come loose. Theyíve been falling apart for years. Nowís the time for you to take a little stroll, go out and meet some nice girls. Show them they have nothing to be afraid of."

He was right. There was nothing wrong with my going out there to help the girls. I knew how to fix a flat, and they needed me. It seemed selfish not to do what I could for them. I grabbed hold of the bars and started to push them back and forth. They gave a little and then broke completely free. Two bars came loose, and I climbed out then headed for the highway and the girls in need of help. When I got free, it must have been after 11:00. They donít allow patients to go outside at night. The number of staff is reduced on the last shift, the graveyard shift. Weíre required to stay in our rooms with lights out after ten. I was where I wasnít supposed to be, and it felt good. The night air was crisp, and the walk through the woods leading up to the road was easy. The full moon illuminated the grounds so that I could see.

"What are your plans?" another voice asked me. This one was female. "What do you mean, plans?" I said.

"Youíre going up to those girls. What are you going to say when you get there? You donít want to scare them, do you?"

She was right. I didnít want to scare them. It was very late at night, and they were out on the highway with a broken-down car. How would they react when I walked up out of nowhere?

"Youíre right," I told her. "Iíll be nice. I wonít sneak up on them. Iíll speak from a distance and then walk up like an old friend. That way, they wonít be afraid."

"That sounds great," the first voice said. "But whatever you do, donít look into their eyes."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know," he told me. "When you look into someoneís eyes, itís a window into their soul. What they say is one thing, but if you look into their eyes youíll know if their telling you the truth."

"What truth? Heís just going up there to help the girls. Thatís all heís doing. What are you talking about truth for?" the lady asked him.

The lady was angry. I didnít know why, but I didnít know what he was talking about either.

Then he said, "Truth. You know, Ďsay one thing, think another.í When he starts talking to them, what will they be thinking? Itís in their eyes."

"Why donít you leave him alone? He doesnít need you to tell him where to look or what to think. Youíll only make it worse. Let him do his good deed, and then he can go back to the sanitarium and get a good nightís rest."

She was right. The night air felt great. Iíd do the right thing by the girls and then go back to my room.

"Okay, Iíll stay out of it, but you watch. Theyíll be telling him what a nice guy he is, but if you look into their eyes theyíll be saying, ĎWhoís this freak? Whatís he doing outside on the highway this late at night?í"

"No, they wonít. You just leave me alone. Iím not talking to you," I said.

"Whoís there?" one of the girls called out. They had heard me talking to myself.

"Hello," I said walking into the light from the woods. "I was just out taking a walk in the night air, and I heard the two of you talking. Looks like youíve got a flat. Can I give you a hand fixing it?"

"We wouldnít want to put you out," one of the girls told me. I had heard her friend call her Cindy. She was a cute little dark-haired girl in jeans, tee shirt and sandals. She might have been twenty, but no more than twenty-five. Her friend was black and about the same age.

"Look into their eyes," the voice told me.

"Donít listen to him," the lady responded. "Just give the girls a hand and go on back to the sanitarium."

"No," I said to the voices.

"I beg your pardon?" Cindy responded.

"No... problem at all," I said and took it for granted they wanted me to help. The spare tire and jack were already out, near the flat tire. After raising the car enough to get the tire off, I loosened the lug nuts and put them in the hub cap. Cindy and the black girl stood and silently watched me the whole time.

"Makes you mad doesnít it?" he commented.

"Leave him alone," the lady told him.

"Iím just trying to make a point. He comes over here to help these girls. Theyíll take the help, but wonít even make a little friendly conversation with the guy. Now you tell me: is that right?" the male voice said.

"Theyíre just scared. Heís a stranger to them. Theyíll thank him when heís finished," she told him.

"Look at them, over there talking. Did you see that? One of them looked over here and laughed. Theyíre making fun of him again. How would you feel if you did something nice for someone and thatís the way they treated you? Bad, right?" he told her.

"Maybe so, but how do you know they were talking and laughing about him?" she said.

"Look in their eyes, I told you. Thatís how you know the truth," he said.

"This isnít going as well as I hoped it would," the lady said. "Just finish up fixing the tire, and letís go back to the room."

"I donít want to go back," I whispered too softly for the girls to hear, but I could tell they were still looking over at me.

"Not go back? What are you saying?" she asked me. "I like it out here. The air is nice. Iím not locked up," I told her.

"Thatís the spirit," he told me. "About time you stuck up for yourself. When we finish we can go for a walk down the highway as long as those girls donít turn you in."

"Donít turn me in?" I asked.

"Sanitarium. Didnít you read the sign? They know where youíre from. You recognized them from earlier this week, and you know they recognized you. Youíre a crazy," he told me. "They know it, and when youíre finished they might go to a phone and report you."

"Stop it!" she told him. "Leave him alone. Let him finish his good deed and send the girls on down the road."

"Kill them!" he said.

"What?" I asked.

"Kill them. If theyíre dead, they canít report you. You wonít have to go back to the sanitarium. Kill them, and you get to keep this nice car. Youíd like that wouldnít you?" he asked me.

"Stop it!Ē I said.

ďYou canít do that. Those girls didnít do anything to you. Fix the tire and go back to your room. Do it now! If you donít, you are crazy," she said.

The lady was making me mad.

"Iím not crazy," I told her. "Stop saying I am."

I was getting confused about what to do. I noticed I was sweating in the night air. The girls werenít talking to me, but they were laughing and looking my way. That was wrong. What if I was crazy? What if I was here to kill them? How could I do it?

He heard me thinking. "Put the spare on, get the hub cap back in place, and put the old tire in the trunk. Get the jack and put it in the trunk, but leave the tire tool. Leave the trunk up and say, ĎOh, I forgot the tire tool.í Then go get it. While the trunk is up, use the tire tool to kill the girls. Dump them inside, and then we can drive to the river and throw their bodies in. After that, weíre home free." "You canít do that," she said. "Donít be crazy!"

"Stop calling me crazy! Iím not listening to you any more," I told her.

I followed the plan exactly as he had told me to. The spare was on, the hubcap replaced, and the jack put in the trunk. The girls had come over and stood near the front of the car while I was putting everything away.

Before I had the chance to speak, Cindy came around, closed the trunk, and said, "Thank you for fixing the tire. I donít know what Tanisha and I would have done if you hadnít come along. Here, take this for your trouble."

While I was looking at the five dollars in her hand, the male voice said, "Well will you look at that? Five bucks. You come along to do a favor for somebody. You donít expect to get a dime, and she offers you five bucks. If you were going to charge somebody, youíd expect at least twenty, but she offers five. Is that all youíre worth to her? Look into her eyes. She thinks youíre trash on the highway. Tell her to open the trunk. Youíre not done yet, remember?"

I smiled and said, "No thanks. Glad to help out, but I need you to open the trunk again. I forgot the tire tool."

While she was putting the key in the trunk I decided Cindy was the one to kill first. The five bucks was insulting. The trunk popped back open just as I was turning around. The other girl, Tanisha, had already picked up the tire tool and said, "Here it is, Wacko." Her eyes were the last thing I saw. They were filled with hate. The tire tool came at me like a baseball bat, struck me across the temple, and crushed in my face. My nose and other facial bones were shattered, and blood went everywhere. Drifting out of consciousness, I felt them pick me up and carry me to the trunk. Then I heard the slam as it closed. Darkness. The pain was beyond description. Life was spilling out of me.

Muffled voices were laughing in the front of the car.

"That was too easy," Tanisha said. "How did you know he could get out?"

"Dad told me," Cindy answered. "Heís the facilities inspector for all of these sanitariums. Heís been dumping lye on those bars for weeks. Makes the mortar breakdown. He hates the crazies more than I do, hated them since one of them killed my baby brother before I was born."

"Where do you want to dump this one?" I heard Tanisha ask.

"Thereís a bridge about three miles up the road," Cindy answered. She must have been looking at a map. A few minutes later I felt the car stop and the girls got out. The trunk was opened again. Unable to respond, I felt them pick me up and carry me to the concrete bridge barrier.

Then I heard Tanisha ask, "What about tomorrow?"

They lifted me up and put me on the support.

Cindy told her, "Dad told me thereís another sanitarium in West Lake."

The last thing I heard the two of them say was, "Bombs away!" There was the sound of laughter in the air before I fell into the river below.