The Escape Artist

Amy Silverberg

I’m sitting on a bench in Central Park, waiting for my mother. The sky looks as though it has been cracked open to reveal a newer, bluer sky. I watch a man run through the park in a three-piece tuxedo, his coat over his arm, his vest flapping in the wind. The vest is silver and it shines in the sunlight like the metal of a car. The man’s tuxedo makes him look like an out-of-style groomsman. Or possibly a groom.
            If so, I wonder if he is running to a wedding or away from one. I wonder if he is making an escape. I would like him to turn and look at my face as he passes, in the split second when our faces align. I would like him to make eye contact with me and indicate, somehow, whether or not he is happy, whether or not he is on his way to a better life, with or without someone.
            If the man running by me in a tux were to stop and ask for my advice, I would tell him I have a history of making escapes. I would tell him I once had a husband, but I escaped that husband to join the circus, and then I escaped the circus to live alone, and now I’m trying to escape myself.
            The man in the tux might ask, “What are you doing in Central Park?” And I would tell him I am here to meet my mother, who is happily married, who does not like to move even from one house to another, nor travel, and therefore worries about me.
            “I wouldn’t escape if I didn’t have to,” I have told her. It is pathological. I cannot help myself. She has begged me to see a doctor, to allow a specialist to explain me to myself.
“You need to find your place in the world,” my mother says. “Another person is like a sign post, or a star—a way to locate yourself.”
            I, for one, have never liked maps.
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The man in a tuxedo would be very handsome up close, with the faintest crow’s-feet and teeth as white as eyeballs. He certainly looks handsome from far away. Probably he would want to know what my husband did to warrant my escaping. Here, my relationship with the man in a tux would already become fraught. Here is where I would be tempted to make something up in order to seem like the hero and not the villain, but I wouldn’t make anything up, because maybe this man in a tuxedo running by is my soul mate, and maybe he can only fall in love with the truth. Maybe if I did lie, if I retold a story I once watched on the Lifetime channel about a women escaping her insanely jealous husband or if I just uttered one, weighty word like “infidelity” and then looked away, maybe even if I said it convincingly, and even if I made my voice go watery with emotion and I made my eyes turn soft, the man in the tux would still say, “I’m not sure you’re telling the truth.”
            Maybe I would jump up and begin to run alongside him and this is when the conversation would take place. He would be on his way to catch a cab to the airport. I would offer to accompany him. “Why not?” I would say. He would say, “Don’t you need a suitcase?” and I would laugh at the idea of all of my worldly possessions fitting neatly in a box with tiny wheels fastened to the bottom, and I would say, “I’m unattached in every way.” Secretly, of course, I would worry briefly about my apartment and my job as a paralegal, but I would allow myself this adventure, and I would say that out loud. “I’m allowing myself this adventure,” I would say.
            By now, the man in a tux would be panting from how far and how fast he’s run, and I would be gliding along smoothly because suddenly I’m a very skilled runner, hardly out of breath. I might even turn around and run backward, clap my hands a few times to encourage the man to run faster.
            After we’d thrust ourselves into a cab and tapped once on the plastic divider and shouted (not unkindly), “Airport, please!” he would ask again, breathless, and this time softly, “Why did you escape your marriage?
            And I would say, so as to show my attentiveness, which was an issue with my ex-husband who said I barely listened to him when he spoke, “You go first. I love to listen.”
The truth is simple—the ordinariness of our life together became unbearable. We had become a box, half-closed.
            Here, the man in a tux would take a second to loosen his bowtie, and I would notice the sweat stains coming through his shirt, but I would not be repelled, in fact, quite the opposite. I would inhale deeply. He would tell me that his bride-to-be had been his high-school sweetheart. He would tell me that she’s very beautiful and I would assume he meant not more beautiful than me and this would be correct. He would tell me that she is his best friend, still, even now, while he’s running away. He would say it all a little sadly.
            This would make me think of my best friend, the man who trained animals for the circus. The truth is, I did not escape my ex-husband to join the circus, I only started dating an animal trainer, an event in my life I now refer to as “the time I joined the circus.” The man in the tuxedo would find the turn of phrase charming. “Lies are merely turns of phrase,” I would say, and he would throw his head back in laughter.
            “The circus?” he’d ask, his face still animated from laughing. “Was it really that bad?” And I would correct the man in a tuxedo, that it was actually quite lovely, though the apartment often smelled of large animals and sawdust, because the animal trainer would bring them there, to house them for a night or two.
            “If it was lovely then why escape?” he would ask me.
            This is a reasonable question. Happiness evaporates as soon as it’s acknowledged. The circus trainer had bills to pay and a child to please. And he was not the only person trying to please someone. I have a mother, after all. “Come home,” she said. “Please come home.”
            Here, again, I would urge the man to tell me more about his fiancée whom he is in the process of escaping.
            He would say something vague and kind about being with someone for so long that you begin to forget why you ever got together in the first place—it becomes very difficult to stop your progress, like sledding down a hill.
            “There is more to the story,” I would say.
            “There is,” he’d say, “but I’m giving you a summary.”
            Here, a beat of silence would pass between us, as cool and refreshing as a dip in a pool. Here, I would think the man in a tuxedo might be about to kiss me, but really, he is only waiting for my side of the story.
            “Why did you escape?” he would ask again.
            Here, I would say something vague, both true and untrue: “I don’t like the world to feel small.” Though, to address the counterargument, when you’re alone, the world can feel far too big, and this is when I might lean closer to the man in the tuxedo to indicate we should kiss, to indicate this might be the beginning of something new. I have always liked beginnings.
            “Why should I trust you?” he would ask, before he kissed me. “Why should I trust the woman who always escapes?”
            Kiss me quick, I’d be thinking now, before permanence sets in, renders this—whatever it is or could be—stale and problematic. That’s the thing about time; that is its one true function.
            But before I can answer, and before he can kiss me, my mother arrives. She is laying out her tablecloth printed with zebras. She is taking out her tuna fish sandwiches. She is asking me how I’ve been. She is asking me what I’m looking at, as I search out the blinking silver vest of the man running in his tuxedo. He is long gone by now. He has already escaped.

Amy Silverberg is a Doctoral fellow in Fiction at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in The Collagist, The LA Review of Books, Joyland, The Tin House Open Bar, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She also performs stand-up and sketch comedy around LA.