I arrive in Bellville, which is south of San Antonio, after a few drab hours. I’ve never had to pick up a released prisoner before and don’t know what to expect. Everyone is curt, if not hostile. I sign some papers, they give me several prescription bottles full of meds. I wait for several hours.
Doors clang with metallic urgency. At last a haggard figure is rolled out by one of the guards. The red hair is going gray and the face looks like an old baseball glove. The only thing I really recognize is the John Lennon-style rims of his cracked glasses.
“Keith, God bless you, man!” I declare, genuinely glad to see him. But his appearance ignites my spleen. “What, they couldn’t at least get you some new glasses?” I ask verbosely, looking around the room at the stagnant prison employees. “Why didn’t you put this in your letters?”
“Save it, Mason,” Keith demands, under his breath.
But I’m not finished. “What the hell am I paying taxes for anyway?” I ask angrily. The guards have turned and are looking at me hungrily, like wolves on a hill surveying an outcast. “I guess to pay your salary!” I say, looking right into the eyes of some bitch with a badge.
“Get me out of here, Mason. Please, let’s go,” Keith pleads. There’s a genuine fear in his voice.
“Don’t worry, bro, they can’t hurt you anymore.” And with that comment, the guards start laughing as they look at each other.
Once out to my car, I discover a problem: I’ve never had to get someone crippled into an automobile. It ain’t easy.
As we head east towards H-Town, Keith and I sit silent. We listen instead to the Drive-By-Truckers, a favorite of his. When he doesn’t respond I throw on Son Volt. Still nothing. I roll the volume down after we pass Sealy.
“I got that Butterscotch Strat out of hock several years ago. It’s been sitting in my closet for quite a while. I bet you’d like to sink your fingers into that fretboard, huh?”
“Yeah, maybe. My hands burn all the time now. Nerves.” Not only do I not know what to say but I feel guilty for even bringing it up. Luckily, Keith continues. “I remember you telling me about that. I really appreciate it, Mason. I really do. You’re the only real friend I have. You really are…” Keith starts to tear up and now we both start feeling really uncomfortable.
I stop at a liquor store and buy the sad bastard a cheap bottle of vodka. We continue to my place in silence.
Getting into my apartment is our next challenge, as I’m on the second floor. There is a ramp, but it’s difficult to negotiate. The doorways of my apartment are not cut to accommodate the handicapped.
Keith sits up all night listening to music and quietly weeping. I have to get up for work in the morning so I go to sleep. But before I close my eyes… I worry about how I’m going to tell him about Ann. He thinks she’s away on business. He’s really looking forward to seeing her.