Chapter 18 – The Cage
Michael sat in the reception area, looking at the people who passed. There was no-one familiar anymore in this town and he feared leaving this hospital. It was the only place he knew and it felt like home. Emily arrived and saw Michael sitting in reception, she had not seen him since he regained consciousness. Emily walked over towards Michael, not knowing what to expect, would he ask her why she had not visited him before and now she was here to pick him up. Ethel had asked Emily to take Mike home as he was being discharged today. It was kind of strange, Ethel had something so important that she couldn’t be here on the day her son was coming back home.
‘Michael, it’s great to see you’. Michael looked up, there was pain in his eyes but he was happy, he stood up and hugged Emily. He hugged her tightly, and she felt her own pain subside with his embrace.
The journey home was an awkward one as Emily kept glancing across at Mike, he seemed very calm or maybe he was trying hard to seem that way. ‘Mike you don’t look bad for a guy who came back from the dead’, Emily smiled as she looked across at Mike. ‘Well, I had some help’.
‘Yes, that angel, Kay helped you, right. Have you met her since the shooting’? Mike looked at Emily, he was surprised at what she said, as though he didn’t know about Kay. ‘Why do people keep saying that’? ‘Saying what, Mike maybe you don’t remember but Kay saved your life. She found you on the side of the road and brought you to hospital’. Mike looked blank and Emily realized that he really had no idea what she was talking about, ‘It’s okay Mike. It will all come back, I’m sure’.
‘Why does no-one mention Gabriel’? Emily looked at Mike, ‘Gabriel’? ‘Yes, he saved my life. He was there’. Emily was stunned, not knowing what she should say. There was something wrong with Mike. They reached home and the uneasiness between them remained, like a shield which imprisoned both of them. Emily promised Ethel that she wouldn’t leave Mike alone, so she had to stay with him. But he wasn’t right, and she almost felt scared of talking to him. He was acting weird, like a stranger and yet he had this confidence that he knew what others didn’t.
Mike walked into the house, he was taking steps slowly, like a man trying to find his feet. It was though he was walking in the dark, Emily followed him as she put his things inside the lounge. Mike walked into the kitchen and looked around, maybe trying to find his Ma. ‘Your Ma couldn’t be here, she had to go out of town’.
‘That’s okay’. Mike sat down at the kitchen table, Emily realized that Mike hadn’t even asked about his Ma before now, not even once. ‘No-one talks to me about anything, except asking me questions’. Emily sat down, ‘I won’t ask you anything, Mike. Just relax and don’t think too much’.
‘I’m not ill, Em. I’m alive’.
Emily went back in her chair in a sudden move, ‘Are you alright’? Mike looked at Emily, surprised by her reaction.
Emily stood up, ‘I’ll …. I’ll put your clothes upstairs’. Her mind was playing tricks on her, her mother’s death was haunting her. But she knew what she heard and more than that, she was seeing things and sensing something different in Mike. Yet he wasn’t different, he was Mike, maybe he was weaker, scared or just shocked because of the shooting. Something like that can affect your mind, Emily looked at Mike from the stairs, and he was sitting in the same posture. He hadn’t moved an inch.
Kay clutched Ethel’s arm as they made their way past the guards, Kay watched Ethel as she looked around at the guards who watched all the visitors carefully. Kay knew that Ethel had never been in a prison before, ofcourse she hadn’t. Kay had been several times, mainly due to a book she wrote on killers. It was a strange experience, going to different prisons across the country and meeting with dangerous men. They would never leave their steel cage and they knew it. Kay always had this in the back of her mind when she sat in the same room as them, they could do anything to her even though they had chains on their hands and feet. They had nothing to lose, men on death row were the living dead, they knew the exact moment when their story would be brought to a close. Prisons were mostly the same, there was little difference between them. The guards and inmates had similar looks and even their behavior patterns had this strange correlation. Kay stopped fearing these places a while ago, but what she feared was that night, and the abyss she had looked into. A guard walked up, ‘You come to see Jake Martyn, right’? Kay nodded ‘Yes’. ‘He’s not on the ward, he’s been in the prison hospital for a few days, I’ll take you there’. The guard said very little along the way, the prison hospital was on a different wing to the main ward. Finally, they got there, a small congested place which may have resembled a hospital but was no more than another cage for the inmates. A female took Ethel and Kay along a corridor, Ethel seemed exhausted already and they hadn’t even met Jake yet or began the journey home. The nurse opened the door, ‘He’s inside’. Ethel and Kay stepped inside the room, and there sat a man in an armchair beside the bed. Ethel stared long and hard at this man as they drew closer, just like a person seeing someone from a distance, struggling to recognize them. ‘Jake’?
This man looked at Ethel and tears began to flow from his tired eyes, it was a sudden release of emotion, they came from a man who may have spent years holding them back. Ethel walked slowly upto Jake, he was a mere shell of someone he had once been! He looked like a pale shadow of ‘Big Jake’, like an amateur artist’s feeble attempt to paint the picture of a ‘West side’ legend. ‘Ethel, you came’. He held out his hand, Ethel took it as she also acknowledged his tears with her own. She had hated this man, despised even the mention of his name for so many years. Yet today, she felt a relief knowing that she forgave him. ‘Jake, I can’t believe it’s you’.
‘It’s me Ethel, but you, look good even now’. Ethel smiled, ‘I don’t look good, I look old’.
‘Old is good, at least you’re alive, but me ….. ’. ‘Why are you in the hospital. Are you okay’? This question people often ask has many different interpretations, each answer is based on whatever their ‘okay’ actually means. To someone, ‘okay’ may mean to be happy and well but then to someone else, that word may mean just to be alive.
‘I got a brain tumor, its terminal. A time bomb ticking in my head’. Jake looked at Kay, ‘you from the paper’? Kay nodded as she gave Jake a brief smile, ‘Yes, I’m Kay Winters’. Kay held out her hand as Jake raised his hand to shake it. ‘If you are dying, why didn’t you apply for parole’? Jake looked at Kay, pausing for a moment, ‘I chose not to, lived here so will die here too’. Ethel felt a sense of grief for Jake. She felt sorry for him and she would never have thought she would ever feel that for a man like Jake. He was a brutal man, a hunter and a tyrant and today forgiveness for him may have come out of pity rather than mercy. Ethel sat there thinking about what had happened to this family and how death had seeked out each and every one of the ‘Martyns’ in the cruelest way.
’When I go Miss Winters, then I can finally say ‘Fuck off’ to this place’. Ethel recognized him now, yeah it was Jake.
‘I heard about Michael’.
‘Why did he come to see you’? Ethel asked the question with that tone, a familiar contempt for her convict relative. ‘He wanted to meet his Uncle, what happened to him has got nothing to do with me. I heard some guy shot him who worked with him. Something to do with his lady’.
‘No, that’s what the police told us. Hugh would never shoot Michael’.
’How about Becky?
‘That was Kevin Cunningham’. Jake looked away from Ethel, ‘let me out for one day and give me a gun, man, I could take a couple of them down even in this state’. Jake sighed, it was grief and Kay had seen this before. She had seen it many times in the words and in the eyes of convicts, murderers who would always turn to killing, it was in their blood but knew they could never do it again. They were accustomed to taking another man’s life and that’s why people like that should not be allowed to walk the streets again.
‘Do you know who shot Michael, tell me’,
Jake looked up at Ethel, he had a blank look and genuinely didn’t know what happened to Michael. ‘I don’t know except what the police already told you. But I’ll find out from the guys on the outside’. Kay was quick to interrupt the conversation, ‘Which guys do you know’?
‘I know a few people, even today’.
‘Do you know who the seekers are’? Jake looked at Kay, it was a puzzled look, Kay knew she had mentioned something he hadn’t heard in a long time. ‘They still exist’?
‘I don’t know, you tell me’.
‘Them people were just crazies, guys who followed fanatics’.
‘Was your brother involved with them’?
Jake looked away, Ethel held his hand, ‘Jake I blamed you for alot of things but tell me what got Gabriel killed, was it them’? ‘No, it was your husband’. ‘What do you mean’?
‘Shane was crazy, he said he had visions of killing people and entering paradise, people believed him and he went after everyone’.
‘Who did he go after’? Kay looked in Jake’s eyes, his eyes were a faint colour of red and they were full of secrets. ‘He wanted to kill me, and maybe even his own son’.
‘What are you saying, he would never hurt Gabriel’.
‘He did hurt him, more than I did. Yes, I got him into things that was no good for him. But that’s because Gabe wanted to be in with me. If I wasn’t there to protect him, he would have gone with someone else and got hurt’. ‘He did get hurt, he was killed’.
Jake looked at Ethel, he had more to say but he stopped. ‘He should never have taken out those cops, he believed his father would protect him, some angel would take care of him. That’s what my brother told him, maybe he believed it’. Jake looked up at the ceiling, ‘I wanted to find those people, who did this to our family. It was all of them, the Cunninghams and men from our town. They all killers down there, I met better people here in this hell hole than all those men where you live’. Jake looked at Ethel, it was a look of pride and even victory as he was tearing down Ethel’s self-righteous exterior. ’Call em ‘Seekers’, police men or anything else, they’re all the same. Ethel I am in my grave, so I will tell you why I am in here. I was convicted for murder and conspiracy and those crimes were not mine, they were your husband’s’. Ethel moved away, her mouth was open as she looked at Jake in disbelief. ’I never wanted to tell you but they had him, but he couldn’t go down. So I took it all on myself, I was ‘head’ of the seekers, and was convicted’.
‘Why didn’t you let Shane take the punishment’? Ethel asked Jake as he shed tears again, ’He had his punishment, worse than mine. He sacrificed his son, in those hills. He killed his own son, it wasn’t the cops’. Ethel slapped Jake across the face, Kay grabbed Ethel, ‘How dare you, how dare you say that’! Jake looked back at Ethel and Kay, ‘I’m sorry, but I face the truth in my prison cell every day. I ain’t scared anymore don’t need to go to church because I know I’m going to hell’.
Ethel stood up slowly, and walked towards the door. Kay stood up and followed Ethel. Kay wrote nothing down, there was no story, her assignment was over. Yet the truth was far deeper than what her words could ever explain. Words could not capture what happened to this town and the people who lived in it.
Ethel thanked Kay for taking her to see Jake, even though it was Kay who really wanted to meet Jake. But Ethel was glad that she met Jake before his imminent demise. She entered her home, expecting Mike to be asleep and Emily to be in the lounge but there was no-one there. The house was deserted, it had seemed that way ever since Becky left it. Ethel made her way upstairs to check up on Michael, she opened his bedroom door and saw Emily sleeping in the bed. ‘Emily, Emily are you alright’? Ethel shook Emily gently, she opened her eyes and got up quickly. ‘It’s okay Emily. You are probably tired. You can go home now unless you want to stay’. ‘No, I should go’.
‘Thanks Emily for picking Michael up. He’s okay isn’t he’?
‘Yes, he is’. Emily brushed her hair back and looked at Ethel sheepishly as she walked out of the room. ‘Emily, where is he’?
‘Michael, he isn’t downstairs’. Emily looked down, ‘I don’t know. Maybe he popped out’. Emily went downstairs and left the house.Ethel was confused and felt a large weight on her shoulders. Everything Jake had said, could it have been Shane who killed Gabriel. After all, no one actually knows who killed Gabriel, the police never said they found him, it was what the town believed happened. Shane went into this deep depression, not even accepting that Gabriel was gone. Was it grief or guilt? Ethel heard noises, and the cellar door opened, Michael came out and stood in the hallway looking at Ethel. Michael never went into the cellar, there was nothing in there. ‘Michael, what are you doing in the cellar’? He looked at her, his face was blank, ‘Just looking for something’. Michael walked past Ethel and went upstairs.