Stanley Jenkins

I'm back on the Prairie, just a few miles south of where I used to live, where way back in 1934 they gunned down Dillinger in that alley beside the Biograph theater in Chicago--on that night when he was looking good in his "gray slacks, black socks, red Paris garters, and white buckskin Nunn Bush shoes" --but this time, today, George, my father-in-law, is in a hospital bed in his den with diapers and an old tee shirt, stuck between two worlds, all hopped up on morphine--man they aren't ever going to take me alive!--take that copper!--and he's all gaped mouth because he lost his partial somewhere in the bedclothes--got one foot on the platform, one foot on the train--and he's making wild, defiant gestures. He's having conversations with dead people . He's neither here nor there. I mean, he's nowheresville, man.

"George, are you in pain?"
"George, do you need your morphine?"
He's clutching at the bedclothes. He's grimacing.
He's reaching for things I can't see.

Last night with his broken femur he tried to crawl out of bed--clawing at the bed railings--there was a train accident, he said, and he had to get to the trolley so he could help--Cleveland in the 40's--but they never gave him a chance--all those laws and g-men and cycles of life--we had to hold him down--me and the hospice nurse--he reached for his pistol--he was strugging to get out--but the fix was in. Blown away in a filthy alley. And all the pretty ladies--Mary Rhinehold called today to say she loved him--dipped handkerchiefs in his blood that just pooled there in the alley beside the Biograph and dreamed of good time johnnies. But Dillinger is always already gone, boys. Out of range. You ain't getting out of this world alive, George. No sir.

Yeah, you can watch little Georgie making his mad dash. Little Georgie who played the violin in Cleveland when they beat up kids for hearing something they didn't. You can watch it happen in real time. And tonight, I swear I'd carry a cross, harbor a fugitive, and smuggle one more wooden gun into the Crown Point Jail if only George could just make it this time. One more escape. One more last breath. Just gone.

There is evidence of a terrible struggle. Jacob and the angel. You can watch peace being born. George is going out in style. He's going out on his own time. Like a man. Like a musician. Or a killer. It's enough to bring you to your knees. It's enough to make you believe. Hallelujah.

What is there to do but to bow at the passing of a living man? And to fear God? Mountains must tremble at such a moment. And surely there is great rejoicing in heaven. Little Georgie is coming home, boys.

Yeah. And all we get is this body. This body that lies twitching and drooling. This body that shits on itself and babbles stupidly. This thing that will be consumed and turned to ashes. This boat. This raft. This thing that we will find burnt and abandoned on the shore--like a salt and pepper shaker you find on the lawn after a tornado and the house is gone. Just like the obscene corpse of John Dillinger lying in an alley beside the Biograph theater in 1934.

Yeah. Even so. They can shoot us in the back, George. They can pretend like we weren't ever here. And erase our names and write other names over ours, pretty as you please, as if the writing weren't indelible. All those laws and g-men and cycles of life. They can make out like a man never lived. Well they can just kiss my ass, George. Because I was here. And I know you were here. And I'm going to remember for a long long time.

I'm going to remember your last great escape, George--and thumb my nose at all the laws and g-men and cycles of life--and just fucking live. Like some outlaw. Just keep riding. Just keep moving. Just keep doing it until I suck all the juices out of it and lay trembling beside you in my own hospital bed, mindless, incontinent, drooling--all used up--like a snake that swallowed something big and just lies there in a stupor all fat and senseless. That's what I'm gonna do. God willing. Yeah. That's what I'm gonna do. Until I make my own last great escape.

Because, I mean, what's the alternative, George? You just leave us with little choice.

It just can't end this way. There ought to be fireworks.


At 6:10 this morning as the sun came up over the prairie, George passed. It was very quick. Three short breaths and he was gone. The birds were making a commotion.