The Escape of Harvey Goldfether

By Michael Hawkins


            "It's a damn shame, ain't it Maggie?  We coulda been so good, you and me.  I'd a loved to buy that cottage, you know?  Down at the beach, just you and me, walkin' the shoreline.  God, it'a been good."  He was laid back on the adjustable bed, letting her button his jammies in the front.

            She smiled, reflecting back on days when they were shorter in the tooth.  He had to go and bring up that cottage again.  Always holding it over her head he was.  Every time she came to see Harvey Goldfether, he reminded her of that proposal ten years ago.  He said he was going to take her in his arms, sweep her away, and carry her off to some little white cottage by the shore where they would wither away together.  She had turned him down.  Now he was withering away with dozens of people in Rolling Hills, all alone.

            She straightened him up and pulled the cold nylon sheet up to his neck.  "You want the bed lowered down?"

            "No, I'm fine there, Maggie.  You just go on home now.  Don't wanna see no bags under them pretty little eyes of yours."  He was grinning like a little kid, made her wish he had gone ahead with those dentures years ago. 

            She turned off the bedside light and leaned down to his ear, felt him tense at her touch.  "Back when you promised me that cottage, I shoulda said yes.  Good night, Harvey ."

            Old Harvey was paralyzed with delight, couldn’t budge an inch.  He hadn’t felt his spine tingle like that in thirty-five years.  By the time he worked up the strength to sit up, Maggie was gone, nothing left but a thin line of light under the door.  He looked around the room, reached for his walker, and pulled it toward him.  She had changed her mind and by damn, he had a promise to keep.

            Harvey poked his bald head out the door and looked back and forth from left to right like a bad driver at a four-way stop.  Inching out the door, he stopped and popped a Ritalin to get the old juices flowing.  He more liked it than needed it, but he had convinced a pretty little nurse to round him up a bottle.  It helped him focus when he needed to.  Right now, he had to focus on getting the hell out of Rolling Hills.

The hall was filled with the buzz of the florescent lights, not another sound.  Harvey picked up his feet like a farmer in a cow pasture to make sure his slippers didn’t squeak.  His walker moved with complete silence.  He had made the nursing home staff oil his walker wheels every other day for over five years.  He told them the squeaking wheels drove him bonkers.  Truth was, he wanted stealth when the time came for him to go.

When Harvey pulled up to the side door, he stopped and stood there for a while as if waiting on a ride, glancing behind him as a couple of passing nurses forgot to look his way.  He had practiced his escape countless times since he arrived here years ago.  This side door was always unlocked for between twenty-three and thirty minutes after visiting hours, depending on who was working night security.  It had been eighteen minutes since Maggie left.  Unless tonight was different than every other night for the past half-decade, Harvey was almost home free.  He pushed the door handle and sighed when it gave way, bathing him with a whiff of the cold night air. 

After clearing the sidewalk, the driveway to Beckley Street dipped as steep as a ski slope.  Harvey Goldfether had to sink back on his heels to keep from tumbling down into traffic.  He inched down, feeling the weight of the walker as it tried to get away, checking behind him for baby blue nurses coming to run him down.  He had worked out his escape hundreds of times in his mind every night to get to sleep.  Most nights he recited the whole thing and had to start over.  He never dreamed it would be this easy.  The hill finally leveled off and he saw his destination a few feet away across the street.

Maggie O'Malley had broken his heart ten years ago.  They had been dating for three years, both widowed by kind spouses not built for the long haul.  They went to dinner, went to the movies, went shagging, spent four or five nights a week together.  Harvey Goldfether walked her home every night and gave her a goodbye kiss on the front porch.  He was courting again and loved every minute of it. 

One Monday night in June of '91, he decided to pop the question in his own little way.  They were sitting on the front porch swing watching the sun go down.  The sky was glowing purple, orange and white.  He put his arm gently around her shoulder and let it all out.

-Maggie, I tell you, I didn’t ever think I could be this happy again.  It's like bein' a teenager.  I want you to know that I love you.

-I love you too Harvey, and you look like a teenager.

-No, I'm serious.  I feel like a crazy kid.  I'll prove it to you.  Get in my car with me, lets drive up to a chapel in Gatlinburg and get married.  After that, we'll head for the coast and get us a cottage on the beach all by ourselves."

- Harvey !

-I ain't kiddin'!  Let's go.

- Harvey , you old fool.

-Are you turning me down, woman?

She looked at him and raised an eyebrow.  -You're serious.

-I have never been any more serious in my life.  I'm gonna take you up, sweep you away, and carry you off into that pretty sunset.  All you gotta do is say I can.

She smiled and a tear swelled up in the corner of her eye.  –Oh, Harvey , I wish I could.

Harvey stood up.  -Well why can't you?

-It just don't feel right, Harvey .  I'm old, you're old.

-So let's be old together.  Come on, Maggie.

She pulled him back down beside her.  - Harvey , it about killed me when Frank died.  I never saw it coming, and I had never even imagined life without him.  For two years I was a walking zombie waiting to die.  I didn’t want to live and wasn’t about to try to.  Then you came along and that all changed.  You put life back into me when I thought it was gone for good.  I can't take a chance on goin' through that kind of loss again, Harvey , so let's just keep it like it is, OK?

He squeezed her hand, hoping she couldn’t see or hear his heart breaking.  Harvey bit his bottom lip and nodded.  He was still stifling tears as she took his head and held it on her shoulder.

They sat there like that for ten minutes, not saying a word.  Harvey finally managed, -so we gonna just keep it like it is?

She held his hands.  –For now.  I might change my mind one day.

Harvey looked up at her expectantly.

-Maybe.  I'll let you know.  But we have to make a deal.


-I might be right there with you, or I might be somewhere and call you on the phone.  Wherever we are, we leave and go straight to the phone booth in front of the Beckley Street Market, right on the outer edge of town.  From there we'll call our families and tell 'em the news, then ride off into the wild blue yonder.

Harvey Goldfether dreamed of that meeting for ten years.  In his mind they were passing the phone back and forth excitedly crying tears of joy.  They hopped in a convertible beetle and rode off into an orange sunset.  A minor stroke took his mind off of it for a few months, but when Maggie brought him to the Rolling Hills Retirement Home five years ago, he was happy to see that their phone booth was right across the street.

The same phone booth he was standing beside now, shivering in silk jammies, leaning his walker against the booth.  Maybe he had made too much out of what she said.  Maybe she wasn't coming.  ‘I shoulda said yes’ wasn’t a dead giveaway.  It was by far the strongest tease she had given in ten years, but maybe that's all it was, a tease.  Harvey looked up at Rolling Hills across the street.  Even if he could make it back up that hill, he was sure to be caught trying to get back in.  After that, the baby blue nurses and green orderlies would make sure the door was locked right after visiting hours and he would never have the chance to escape again.  If Maggie ever changed her mind for real, it would be too late. 

Unmistakable headlights crested the hill.  Harvey Goldfether trembled with joy as the red Volkswagen convertible pulled up to the curb.  The door flew open and Maggie took him in a tearful embrace.  She kissed his lips and disengaged to put change in the payphone.  When she was done with her daughter and sister, she put more change in and gave the receiver to Harvey .  He called his son, told him the news, and hung up a minute later. 

She embraced him and looked adoringly into his cloudy blue eyes.  "Come on, Harvey ," she said, "I wanna be at the shore by sunrise."