Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Great Escape

Yesterday, while I was nibbling on a piece of cafeteria-style sausage pizza in the lunch room, I noticed one of our new eighth-graders as she stood in line. She was oblivious to the squeals and smells around her, the jostling for a spot two inches closer to the food, and the inane banter which inevitably rises from young humans forced to be still for more than a minute. Her eyes and all her being were absorbed in a book, and she seemed pushed along the queue, oblivious, alone with her adventure. It took me back...

...to a day when I was that girl in the line, holding my book, hardly daring to breathe, not eating even after I had set my tray on the table, because the danger was profound and nothing else mattered. The author was Francis Clifford and the book All Men are Lonely Now. My hero was a double agent, undeserving of any mercy, allied to the wrong side and worthy of scorn, fear, and retribution...and yet...I couldn't stand to see him discovered. For although I knew exactly what the author had done--made me love his main character before he showed me that fatal flaw--and although I resented him for having done that to me, an innocent reader only escaping from the overwhelming crush of high school triviality, I still couldn't help but pity the agent. He was a gentleman; he had a girl, and he treated her like any man treats his adoring beloved. Surely for her sake, he would defect. He would walk into that building and confess his double allegiance, and life would truly begin for the two of them. They would move to Tripoli or Managua and start a simple life of bliss. But it wasn't going that way. They were going to find him out. Right there, while I postponed eating the creamed peas and fish sticks. They were finding him out. It was like a blow to the stomach. I was shaking and I wanted to run for him, faster, over the fence....escape! escape! you beloved rat!

But I knew the guns were waiting, and I feared that his own beloved had set them on him. She too, it seemed, was an agent-- his nemesis--and all her love was a sacrifice to a just and righteous cause. If he discovered that, they wouldn't need a gun to silence him. Poor man. Poor, miserable, wrong-sided, creature.

I couldn't bear it. He needed an out. I gave it to him.

Slamming the book, I ate my cold peas in silence, and he turned around. He fought his way through the darkness, back to the dock, onto the ship to safety. He had escaped. And I, well I had been forced back into the light world of sophomore silliness, but I bore my punishment with a smile, convinced that I done the right thing in freeing a villain before the blind jaws of justice had snapped upon him.

That was thirty-five years ago. I own the book. It sits quietly on my bookshelf...still daring me to finish it.


This is an entry in Scribbit's Write-Away.

21 comments:

Scribbit said...

It's so nice to "meet" you--and I love your profile paragraph :)

Scribbit said...

I also just noticed how fresh to blogging you are--nice to meet a rookie! Hope you find blogging as fun as I do.

aftergrace said...

I remember a certain cousin who would read while washing dishes (with book propped up against windowsill), under the covers with a flashlight, and just about everywhere one could imagine. I also remember long car trips with all of us reading different books at the same time, and swapping stories about them.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that takes will power to not finish a good book...whether you like the ending or not! Don't think I could do that, I'd have to finish it!
Michelle :)

Scribbit said...

Hey could you please email me at scribbit at gmail.com? I've lost your email address.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Oh, how I wish that I had been so daring, so brave, so willing as to sacrifice the end of a book to save a soul. I'm hopelessly romantic when it comes to literature and I find this post a treasure. Thank you for the extra romantic ending.

angie said...

Hopping over from "Scribbit". Congratulations on winning the write away contest. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed your piece!

Lori said...

Congrats on winning the essay contest! I remember my little sister begging me to play "office" with her and me stalling her with the promise of just "two more pages."

Summer said...

Just popping over from scribbit. Congratulations! Wonderful piece of writing!

Melissa Markham said...

Great story and I can relate, but I have never been able to not finish the end of a good book...to sacrifice like you did to save the character:)

Babystepper said...

I have literally been angry at authors for killing off someone that should have made it. I don't think I've ever had the nerve to not finish, though.

Lilibeth said...

I was going to be all dramatic and post a picture of the book as it sits on my shelf taunting me... but it wasn't there. That's odd; I know it was there a month ago because that's what prompted the train of thought that led to this entry. Maybe it escaped to the attic. Hmmm.

jeanie said...

Congratulations on winning Scribbits January write-away - and I loved this piece!

I admire your fortitude in putting it down and carrying your own ending. I remember reading Nevil Schute's "On the Beach" and bawling my eyes out, not understanding why all my classmates were noncholantly wandering around.

I will check you out some more!

Stan Ski said...

Food for thought - nice one!

gs batty said...

nice take on this prompt. nice writing,

linda may said...

Oooh I don't think I could do that.

oldegg said...

You dared not to finish a book. That was brave indeed. I just haven't got the guts for that! Well done.

ojanna said...

yeah i've got alot of books on my shelf daring me to finish them.. I just don't have the time.. or the heart! but nice view point though.

:)

Linda Jacobs said...

Such an enjoyable read! Your writing flows so well and really captures the reader's interest!

Dee Martin said...

Love love loved this. I would not have been able to stand it. I almost can't stand it now. I want the name of the book so I can go read it and find out what happened :)

Lilibeth said...

All Men are Lonely Now, by Francis Clifford. He also wrote The Naked Runner--another thriller that I read several times during high school.