#94 A Lifetime Job

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Joe made his rounds as a security guard at the California State Hospital. He came upon a tiny young lady who knelt on the ground with her face close to baby’s breath flowers nestled beneath birds of paradise plants sprouting orange buds. They in turn were surrounded by blossoming pink carnations.

He stopped to watch and said, “Be careful, danger lurks among those flowers.”

“They’re not dangerous at all. Inside my head, waving white petals say hello.” The young lady put her face so close to red dahlias, yellow daisies, and orange zinnias that a kaleidoscopic bouquet of colours washed over her.

“I didn’t mean the flowers were dangerous. I meant those pollinators, the honeybees and bumblebees that make their daily delivery as faithful as the U.S. mail. They’re better than UPS and faster than one-day express.”

She turned and looked at Joe. “You’re a funny man, but I wonder if you understand that my neurons are like these flowers. Inside my head, they’re growing among a forest of dendrites that absorb spectacular aromas and textures. They’re responsible for this colourful array inside and outside of my head.” She smiled as though Joe understood what she had said.

Joe never understood too much. A slow learner and tagged as developmentally disabled. The judge he had appeared in front of had two choices, hire him as a security guard or send him to this hospital as a patient. His I.Q. sufficed to pass the security guard exam, so the judge made the economical choice.

Joe lived and worked on the hospital grounds. He ate hospital food, had his laundry and cleaning done by hospital patients. Joe’s entire world was the hospital. After a few years,

he couldn’t remember ever having been anywhere else.

All that his job required of him was to walk around in uniform so visitors could see uniformed security patrolled the hospital. The director told him not to allow any patients to leave the grounds. So, when the tiny girl stood and walked to the gate, Joe rushed to her side. “You weren’t planning on leaving, were you?”

“As a matter of fact, I was. Please excuse me.” She tried to brush past Joe and go out the gate.

“Sorry ma’am, I can’t allow you to leave,” Joe took her by the arm and forced her back toward the flowers.

“Aaaaaiii,” she screamed.

Hearing the scream, other patients came to watch. Joe picked her up and carried her to the flowerbed and dropped her onto it. “Go ahead and play with your flowers, but don’t attempt to go out the gate,” Joe warned her.

He walked away and turned in time to see her running for the gate. Joe caught her just as she was about to go through it. “I will take measures to see you don’t leave.”

Joe took her to the building that contained padded cells. He told the nurse in charge that the patient he was restraining had tried to escape. The nurse didn’t listen to the girl’s protestations and took Joe’s word for it. She locked the girl in a padded cell for a week.

As soon as she was released, she ran through the gate. Joe saw her running up the street. He ran after her, and when he caught up with her, they struggled until a police car pulled up. Joe had his guard’s uniform on, so he figured they were there to help him. The girl he held yelled, “Daddy, this nut has kept me locked up for a week.”

“Daddy?” Confused, Joe didn’t know if she hallucinated and saw the cop as her father? Joe put his hand on her arm. “I’ll take care of her, thanks for y . . .”

The cop’s club smashed onto his head and then his back, then his legs, then his head. This went on until the cop’s partner said, “Stop, you’ll kill him.”

“Son-of-a-bitch deserves to die for holding my daughter for a week.”

“His daughter?” Confused again. Joe thought she was a patient, wasn’t she? He figured it out; she was the cop’s daughter, and she was also a patient. He slowly rose from the ground; put his hand on her arm, and said, “It’s okay; I’ll bring her back to the hospital.”

When the club hit Joe this time, he fell unconscious. The next thing he remembered was standing in front of a judge who was furious.

“Kidnapping, unlawful restraint, sexual assault . . .”

“What’re you talking about?” Joe shouted at the top of his lungs. “I only did my job by not letting that girl leave.”

“That girl, as you call her, is my niece, and she was never a patient at your hospital. She was simply admiring and smelling the flowers on the grounds when you assaulted her.” Something was terribly wrong. How could she not be a patient? Joe couldn’t figure out why the judge was angry. He had only done his job and done it well.

“Twenty years to life,” the judge shouted as his face turned red with rage.

Taken to prison, Joe was still wearing his security guards uniform, when he arrived.The other prisoners stayed far away from him because he looked a lot like the guards at the prison.

The warden called Joe into his office. Joe explained what had happened. The warden’s face lit up.

“I can use a good man like you to patrol the yard every night to be sure no one leaves, and I promise you, you’ll have a lifetime job.”

His spacious cell and three new uniforms made in the prison’s tailor shop put a smile on Joe’s face. He couldn’t have been happier, three meals a day, free rent, and a lifetime job. How good could it get?

The end





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