“…there was a pleasant silence, as if we were happy.” Norah Lange
Euphemus always took a shit first. After that, well, he was ready for anything. At least, that’s how he looked at it. Light on his feet, ready to bob and weave, or flee as the case may be. He’d have liked to be brave but he was a coward and comfortable with that. He didn’t let his shortcomings get in the way of confidence. Life was leavened by weather, everybody gets rained on, that’s what he thought. Though he would like more he was, in practice, a connoisseur of ‘enough’. He savored the lack of excess, a sense of proportion, of not overwhelming the context. It wasn’t something as banal as ‘less is more’ but rather what amount fits the needs of the situation. He’d never heard of Feng Shui, but he was profoundly aware of space and what could occupy it, his stomach or an open field. He didn’t have a lot of imagination.
Euphemus kept a knife in his boot. Not because he felt in danger but he’d seen it in a movie and liked the idea of being able to reach down to his boot and rise up wielding deadly force. Gut some bastard before he knew what stuck him. He’d never used the knife but once again, as with the bowel movement, he was ready even though physical danger wasn’t an aspect of his life. How could it be, he knew his way within the space and tried always to be where he fit. But Euphemus only fit in the physical world for there was no place for him when it came to others. And there were so many others.
Euphemus worked in laundry department at the state hospital for the criminally insane. It was a very large hospital for there were many. He rarely saw any, confined as he was to the steamy cellar with its great rotating machines churning and tumbling, bubbling out the dirt, sucking out the water, spinning, spinning, spinning. He could fit in the dryers. Sometimes late at night he’d climb in and rock and spin and masturbate. It was better than a carnival ride.
He slept in a disused storage room deep in the bowels of the hospital, ate in the cafeteria. There were several toilets he could use and consequently he was always ready. But ready for what? He performed the same tasks every day. Every day the same thing. He worked every day, though no one seemed to notice. He was so bereft of mystery no one wondered about him at all. Was there any record of him in the administrative offices? Was he being paid, no one thought to ask. It was such a vast labyrinthine institution of relentless pain and despair and fear that Euphemus attracted no more attention than a light bulb, one that still burned. And that was one thing for certain, the laundry department was pulling its weight, keeping up, applying hot water and detergent to all secretions. Sheets and pillow cases, towels, underwear, brassieres, pajamas, a wide variety of uniforms for the cleaning ladies, the orderlies, the nurses, the kitchen staff, the gardeners and janitors, and lab coats for the doctors, and the inmate/patients: the denim trousers and flannel shirts for the men who’d tortured their victims for weeks, shapeless frocks for the women who’d burned down their houses with their husbands and children asleep, but, oddly, nothing for the laundry room personnel. Nevertheless, they too were clothed by the hospital because they had first pick of the clean laundry. Euphemus often sported a lab coat, a doctor of suds.
He felt like he was floating on a current, a liquid churn that wasn’t wet, a gravitational rush and pour, a-gurgle-a-whoosh torrent that never took him anywhere. He was a cork, a leaf, a speck of vegetation an insect riding a twig. But it was only the great washing machines humming with their labors, hypnotically turning, flipping everything inside out.
The hours of the day meant nothing to him. He liked staying busy and consequently did the work of several. Late one night Euphemus was pushing a large cart of dirty laundry towards the machines when a hand came out of the shirts and pants and gripped his wrist. He stopped and stared at the hand, then followed with his eyes the arm into the clothing. Two wide eyes were staring out. A face revealed itself with the other hand, index finger extended, held to the mouth. He became as silent and as still as a stone. The hand tightened its grip on his wrist and the head that the face was part of slowly rose and peaked out over the top of the cart. They were the only ones in the laundry room. None of the washing machines were running and the room was full of the grumbling pipes and the low roar of the furnace down the hall. The hand released his wrist and before he could move both hands rose from the clothes, grasped both sides of his head and pulled it down to the other who kissed him fiercely.
Released from the kiss and the grasping hands Euphemus staggered back, his brain misfiring. No one ever touched him. He’d never been kissed. A woman climbed from the cart and scanned the room intently. She was thirty with very short hair and darting alert eyes like an animal. After determining they were alone the woman turned her attention to the dumbstruck man before her. She stepped up to him and with one hand closed his mouth. With the other she stroked his shoulder and chest. “They’ll be looking for me,” she said. “Where can you hide me?” Euphemus took her hand and said, “Come with me.”
Yeah, he can talk.
He led her down narrow passageways, through boiler rooms and service tunnels, above them a tangle of pipes and electrical cables. Suffice to say, no one knew the bowels of the building as Euphemus did and the smell in some passageways did smack of bowels and other crud of the mad. Euphemus didn’t even notice the stench, but the woman gagged. They came to a door with a combination lock on it. He swiftly ran the numbers. He produced a flashlight and they descended a steep narrow metal staircase into a large dark cave-like room. Off the main room was a small antechamber. He lit a small oil lamp and in the soft patina of light a small domestic scene was revealed.
Medea took a short look around and exclaimed, “Damn, you live down here? You are a fucking mole.” She turned to Euphemus and held out her hand. “I’m Medea. I killed my husband and the filthy cunt he was fucking. And I’d do it again in a second.” Euphemus shook her hand and said, “I’m Euphemus and I do the laundry.” “And that’s it?” “Yeah.” “Jaysus, you must be crazier than me; ‘cept you’re gentle as a lamb, I would guess.” Medea took another look around and snorted. “Okay, this is what we got to work with. First, they’re gonna turn this hospital upsidedown looking for me. Who knows about this place?” Euphemus shook his head, “No one.” “You sure?” He nodded. “I hope you’re right. Is there a toilet down here?” Euphemus pointed to a bucket in the corner. Medea sighed, “Oh well, nobody said breaking out of the madhouse was going to be easy.”
Euphemus gave her the bed and slept on an extra mattress that was stacked against the wall. In the morning, after promising to bring her some food he went to the laundry room. Soon after he arrived security officers entered the room. There were two other employees there by then. They were asked to stand aside while the room was searched. They tipped the laundry carts over, they checked in every machine, every cupboard and closet. The other two laundry workers were befuddled, the laundry room being way out of the loop of the hospital grapevine. The senior officer addressed them.
“An inmate has escaped. Her name is Medea Stavropoulos. She’s a thirty year old woman of medium height, slight build with very short brown hair. We consider her extremely dangerous. She was sentenced to life without parole in this institution for butchering her husband and a woman while they were still alive and then feeding the body parts to stray dogs in the city. If you know anything about her escape you must tell us now. She may still be somewhere in the buildings. Be on guard and alert. Report anything unusual.” The guard walked before them. He pointed at Euphemus, “You, have you seen anything?” He shook his head no. It was his experience that the less you spoke the less trouble you had. Life was mostly about avoiding trouble. And eating and shitting, of course.
Euphemus listened carefully to the guard. He wanted to be able to report back to Medea anything that might assist her. It was exciting to have a secret. Emptiness can be filled with many things. He was already utterly devoted.
Later in the day he brought Medea a meal from the cafeteria. “Fucking finally! Damn Euph, there ain’t fuck all to do down here, is there?” He shrugged. “Okay, yeah. Thanks for the grub, anyway.” He sat down and watched her eat. She shoved the food in her mouth with vigor, then she stopped and looked up into his eyes, “Nobody saw you with this food, did they?” He shook his head, no. “Are they looking for me up there?” “Yes, they are. Guards came to the laundry room today.” “Yeah, what did they say?” “That you chopped up your husband and the other woman while they were still alive.” Medea laughed. “Yeah, I’m one crazy bitch. They’re real scared of me up there.” She mopped up some ghastly gravy with a roll. “But you, you’re not scared of me at all, are you?” Euphemus shook his head. “No, I’m not. I think you’re nice.” Medea laughed again. “Well fuck me! You must be the only one on this goddamn planet who thinks that.”
“Euph, I gotta get out of here. I can’t take much more time here in the dungeon.” Euphemus threw a sad face at her. “This isn’t a permanent arrangement, man. I’m escaping, in case you forgot.” She gave him a stern look. “Now then, you told me there’s a discreet way to the outside.” “Yeah, you can take service tunnels all the way to the service entrance that the gardeners and janitors use. It’s where they pick up the garbage and make deliveries, that sort of thing.” “Alright. You have access to all the uniforms, don’t you?” “Yeah, what do you want?” “I think gardener would be best. Remember, it’s got to be a small one. And, hmm, let me see… and a pair of jeans and a shirt like the male inmates wear. That way, when I get out I can change. And some shoes would be nice.” “There’s a room of discarded things off the laundry room, stuff that’s been left by patients. There’s quite a few shoes.” “Great, a pair of sports shoes, 37, if you can. Could be larger, but not smaller. You never know, I might have to do a little running.” She thought for a moment. “Oh, and a hat, like a baseball cap. I’m thinking I’ll pretend I’m a guy when I slip out.”
Medea patted the bed she was sitting on. “Come on, Euph, sit over here next to me. What, you playing hard to get?” Euphemus dutifully got out of the chair and sat on the bed. “Not all the way over there, dude. Come on, I’m not going to chop you up for dog food. Promise.” She put her hand on her heart. He scooted over closer. She reached over and caressed his shoulder. “I just want to thank you, Euph. Without you I’d already be back upstairs on Ward 7B. That’s the one for the really wacko bitches. The women up there, man, some of them are right out of a horror movie. Except they got ‘em drugged up to their eyeballs. But you see, that’s where I beat ‘em. They’ve got us doing all sorts of stupid kindergarten crap, like working with modeling clay. So one day sitting there poking my finger in the clay it came to me. I could hide the fucking pills in the clay. I practiced for weeks, there ain’t nothing to do up there. I put a small amount of modeling clay, white like my teeth, in my mouth between my cheek and gums. Then when I received my pills I’d use my tongue to push it into the clay while swallowing the water and when I opened my mouth for them to check they didn’t see anything!” “What will happen to you if they catch you?” “Not a fuck of a lot, really. Life without parole in the nuthouse, this is the bottom. There isn’t anything worse than this. They can’t execute me, so if I’m caught they just bring me back. Maybe a little solitary but really, there’s no downside for me. So of course I’m making a break for it. Fuck this shit. And, thanks to you, Euph, I’m almost there.” She reached over and cupped his testicles and penis through his pants in her hand and gently caressed. He stiffened immediately and ejaculated moments later. She thought, what was the equivalent of ‘cheap date’ if the verb was manipulate… ‘easy money’, no, ‘child’s play’, that’s it.
Two days later just before sunrise they made their way through the service tunnels. Medea was dressed as a gardener and wore a hat that said: ISTANBUL on it with the spires of mosques rising behind the lettering. They got to the door to the outside, and peered out. No one was about. They heard a rooster announcing the dawn.
Medea reached down and pulled the knife out of his boot and said, “Ya know, Euph, I might need this whereas you’ll never use it.” She looked into this face, a face she would never see again, the face of a man she didn’t give a shit about, but who would remain devoted to her forever. She shivered, it gave her the creeps. “Remember, stay cool. You can’t even remember that there was an escapee. It’ll blow over. They think I’m already gone.” With that she patted him on the chest and turned and walked down the steps to a parking lot carrying a small bag with her change of clothes. Euphemus watched her go. She was trying to affect a masculine walk with exaggerated shoulder movement and little hip motion. She reached a small out building and disappeared behind it.
Euphemus didn’t have any experience with what he was feeling. It hurt, it was empty and yet there was a sweetness, a residue of something that lingered at the back of his thoughts. Inside his head he was lost, but that wasn’t unusual. He knew where he was and closed the door and walked back through the hospital to the laundry room. It was too early for his co-workers. He went to one of the dryers and struggled to pull out a great ball of brassieres that was held together by static electricity. He put it on a table and grabbed a strap and pulled. It wouldn’t come. He tried another with no success. Nothing would give. Picking up the great globe of bras, a planet of support, he brought it down hard on the table to no effect. He did it again and again, grunting and emitting small curses as he did.
In 1990 Mark Sargent moved from Portland, Oregon to a small village in the mountains of southern Greece where he still resides. He writes poetry and prose in a variety of forms. His latest book is Serbia By Night from Last Word Press.