Written for the "Five for Six"
The hospital is bright, too bright. Too much light, everywhere, and Tobias
closes his eyes, fighting back a wave of nausea.
It’s bad enough that Genevieve had refused to let him drive the car,
taking the keys away from him right there in the driveway, right in front
of their neighbors, as if he was some degenerate who couldn’t be
trusted to take his own son to the fucking E.R. Now he has to deal with
insurance forms, co-pays, and the desk nurse with her fucking clipboard,
and Tobias is certain he’s not imagining the way she keeps glancing at him
with censure in her eyes, as if he had pushed Gary off the skateboard with
his own two hands.
He tries to focus, he really does. But between the round of drinks he’d
had after work -- it was a rough day, goddamn it, he’s not going to
apologize -- and the memory of his son's fine blond hair crusted with
blood, it’s all he can do just to keep himself upright, to keep from
puking right there on the nurse’s squeaky, pristine-white shoes.
Beside him, Genevieve is babbling, nervous tension streaming from her in
the form of words that lash Tobias like whips. Gary had gotten the
skateboard just two months ago, she says. She’d known he was too young,
she’d told Tobias not to buy it for him -- who gives a skateboard
to a six-year-old? Tobias says nothing, just stares down at his own
expensive shoes, dull and brown against the shiny white tile, remembering
the day he’d brought home that skateboard. The way Gary had clutched at it
as if it were a gift from the heavens and not just a half-assed
consolation prize, a bribe from a father who is never home, and is never
sober when he is.
Closing his eyes again, he begins to pray.
Please, God, don’t let him die. Don’t let my baby boy die. I’ll do
anything you ask, anything you want, I’ll even --
But another voice filters through the nausea, cuts through the thick
alcohol fog. A broken wrist, the doctor is saying. Some black and blues
here and there, but nothing too serious -- Gary is going to be fine.
Tobias opens his eyes and laughs aloud, a totally inappropriate sound
which earns him another suspicious glare from the nurse -- but he doesn't
give a fuck about that now. Not with his heart thudding wildly in relief.
Not dead, he thinks, again and again. Not dead, not brain dead,
not anything dead, and he grabs Genevieve’s hand and squeezes it hard,
all trespasses instantly forgiven as they turn together to go see their
son, the promises he’d been about to make already forgotten, now that the
danger has passed.
They keep Gary overnight, just for observation. Genevieve stays with him,
settled into a chair by his bed, while Tobias reclaims his keys from her
purse, heads home to relieve the babysitter and tuck Holly into bed.
He stops at the liquor store on the way. It’s been a really rough
It takes four nights.
The first one is little more than a blur: long, dark hours that go on and
on, a prolonged nightmare of fear and shock and pain. Beecher has no idea
when the tears start or even when they end, only realizes they’ve been
shed at all the following morning, when he wakes with swollen eyes, a
pounding headache and the lingering taste of salt in his mouth.
It’s even worse the second night. Having a hard dick shoved into his ass
had barely pinged his radar the night before -- the pain inside
barely registering after the piercing agony of being branded like a cow --
but this time, without the pain of the branding to distract him, there’s
no escaping from it. Beecher knows and feels everything Schillinger does
to him, every last torturous, horrific, humiliating thing, and he can’t
stop the tears any more than he can stop Schillinger from doing what he
wants -- taking what he wants. Vern laughs at him then, claiming
the tears as a reward, a payment for services rendered, but by then,
Beecher is too wrecked, too wrung-out to care.
By the third night, he thinks maybe he can keep it under control, but he
miscalculates. He’d honestly thought that nothing could be worse than
getting fucked, but it turns out that Schillinger’s cock actually is
almost as big as it had felt inside him, and when Vern rapes his mouth,
thrusting in and pumping mercilessly, Beecher chokes and gags and feels
his eyes begin to sting, welling and filling and spilling over.
But the fourth night is different.
The fourth night, Schillinger demands a strip-tease. Beecher balks at the
command at first, shrinking away in instinctive protest, but the shank in
Schillinger’s hand makes it crystal-clear what the punishment will be for
defiance, and something inside Beecher settles, falls still.
This is what he is now. This is all he is -- he’s lost everything,
every last thing that mattered. Pain and humiliation are all he has left
to claim, and it’s nothing more or less than he deserves.
There’s a sudden, unexpected freedom in knowing it’s out of his hands.
Closing his eyes, he slowly strips off every last piece of clothing,
swallowing thickly around the symbolism as he exposes himself to whatever
perverse, sadistic procedures Schillinger will choose to inflict on him.
Eventually, when Schillinger grows tired of just watching, Beecher goes
down to his knees without protesting at all. His eyes remain dry the
He gets the papers on a Tuesday, less than one month after coming to Oz.
They arrive in an ordinary brown envelope, along with a renewal for his
subscription to The Wall Street Journal and a perfumed letter from his
grandmother. He sits at a table in the common room, sits there for a very
long time before finally opening the clasp and sliding the sheaf of papers
out into his hand.
The documents are filled with the formal, detached legalese unique to his
former profession, words like plaintiff and defendant,
settlement and judgement filling up the pages. There’s nothing
even remotely personal about it -- everything is fair, just, and
equitable, after mature consideration, and by mutual agreement -- but now
that he’s sober, for better or worse, Beecher is much better able to read
between the lines.
Genevieve would have been sitting at the desk in the den, the polished
mahogany antique one his parents had bought for him when he passed the
bar. Staring down at the gold band on her finger, or maybe she’d already
taken it off. Beecher can almost see the invisible stains from her tears
on the pages, the faltering strokes of a signature written with a
trembling hand, and for a moment, he wishes he could have been there to
hold her, to tell her everything would turn out all right. It would have
been all lies, of course, but he’s lied to her with less motivation, and
for much less noble reasons, a million times before.
There’s a whole lot of bitter irony in the knowledge that he might be a
better husband now than he’d ever been during their marriage, but that’s
something he isn’t going to dwell on -- not now, not in this place, where
every vow he’s ever made has been broken, and every emotion he's ever felt
has been twisted and warped into something beyond human recognition.
His hand is steady when he signs his name on the line. It may be, he
acknowledges silently, the first truly unselfish gesture he’s made in
He doesn’t recognize Mrs. Rockwell at all, can’t find a single reference
to her face anywhere in his brain. It’s a shock at first, but then he
figures he really shouldn’t be all that surprised. The first time they'd
met, he'd been all bundled up in self-pity and drugs and what Sister Pete
calls post-traumatic disassociation; in short, he couldn’t have
cared less about the Rockwells’ pain -- or anyone else’s, except his own.
He’s no longer the man he was then, but there’s no way to begin to explain
the changes to them, and he’s not even sure it matters, so he doesn’t try.
In the end, it doesn’t make a difference; they’re better people than he
would have been. He just nods, and tries to be grateful for that.
Later on, in his pod, he thinks about the possibility of parallel
universes. There’s an overabundance of inherent guilt in receiving this
second chance -- something their daughter will never have -- but he’s
already carrying more guilt than he can handle, so he pushes that thought
aside. Instead, he thinks about the dozens of lives he might have lived --
and the dozens of lives he might have saved -- if he’d just made
different choices somewhere along the way. There are hundreds of points on
the timeline of his life he could single out, could say “there, right
there, let’s back it up—that’s where it all went wrong.”
He stumbles out of the bar. In an uncharacteristic moment of prescience
he realizes he’s way too drunk to drive, so he hails a cab instead,
fumbling with his wallet and tossing a handful of bills at the driver
before shuffling into the house and promptly passing out on his bed.
Across town, Kathy Rockwell delivers the rest of her newspapers and heads
for home. The front door slams as she enters; her mother calls “Wipe your
feet!” from somewhere deep inside the house. Kathy watches TV and then she
has dinner, finishes her homework and goes off to bed. Soon she is
graduating from high school, then going off to college, and one day she
has kids of her own and she teaches them to be careful when they go out on
their bikes, just like all good parents do. And she lives out her
perfectly happy, perfectly unremarkable life without ever truly knowing
about the dangers out there, the ones you never see coming.
Toby rolls to his side on his narrow bunk and closes his eyes. It comforts
him to think that maybe, somewhere out there in the cosmos, things have
been already been put to rights.
They line up as instructed, and Toby finds himself standing behind Alvarez
once again, while up ahead of them Murphy is barking out orders, reminding
them to stay in line and to follow the rules. It’s deja-vu, but not quite:
five years have made a difference, have taken their toll in more ways than
Toby is willing to count.
There are ghosts standing in this line; even his own. The Tobias Beecher
who’d come into Oz had been a different man: naďve, indignant, wallowing
in resentment and woefully unprepared for life in Oz, clinging to the idea
of justice the same way he would soon learn to cling to drugs, to guilt,
to self-loathing -- even to Keller.
But the indignation is gone, along with the drugs, and Toby gave up on the
idea of justice a long time ago. Many more people are dead, some he
accepts the blame for and some he will never lay claim to, but he’s paid a
price for each and every one. He continues to pay, even if it’s not in any
way they can see.
Justice, he realizes now, isn’t really blind so much as dumb.
Finally, the line begins to move. For a moment or two, there’s blue sky
above him, a breeze in his hair, but Toby keeps his head down and stares
only at the steps with their ridged plastic treads, rising one after
another in front of him. It’s a change, he tells himself as he boards the
bus, finds his seat; just another change to adjust to, adapt to, and
somehow he’ll keep on going -- because somehow, somehow, he always does.