Cool Hand Luke


By Tim Barlow

Drinking it up here, boss.  Typing it up here, boss.  There’s a world we’ve created here, full of empires and rules.  It’s a small little work camp in the middle of nowhere.  There are bosses and a blind judge to keep us in line.  And in this work camp we’ve created ourselves a little ecosystem of sorts.  We got traditions and nicknames and places where I can tell another person, “that’s my spot”, and he’ll move, because he’ll know deep down that I’m right.  It’s our place.  We work hard during the day on the roads and in the ditches.  If it’s hot, I’ll say “Taking it off here, boss” and I can take my shirt off.  And if my brow sweats, I’ll say “Wiping it off here, boss.”  Last week a hawk was darting and flying high up in the sky.  The judge with no eyes signaled to Squirrel to fetch his gun, and wouldn’t you know it, he plucked that hawk right out of the air, mid-swoop; man o’ man, that boss with no eyes can shoot.

When Luke came into our work camp, he got the usual run-down on rules from the bosses and all the ways you could end up earning yourself a night in the box.  Being late.  Not working hard enough.  Not eatin’ all your dinner.  And then Luke comes into the bunk and heard us telling the new fish about our own rules, and he heard us giving out nicknames, and you know, I don’t think he thought too much of our having more rules of our own when we was already in a work camp.  And he scoffed at the nubes all scrambling to fit in an’ earn a spot.  I don’t think Luke saw much point in the ways we managed through our little prison way of life.  He’d say give to the boss, what’s the boss’s, but with a grin, like he didn’t think the boss had anything worth havin’ in the first place.

Some men are like magnets and people just can’t but help themselves but wanna be near them, and Luke was one of those magnet types.  He ate with us, and worked with us, he joked and fought with us, and we all grew to like him quite a lot.  But it was the eggs that sealed it; most amazing thing I ever saw.  No man can eat 50 eggs, but Luke did.  50 eggs in one hour.  Finished at the last second, and we all thought it must’ve been some kind of miracle.  It was then that we all probably would’ve followed him most anywhere.  Even Dragline who pretty well ran things inside for us inmates, a rock of a man, was as happy as a lit’l kid following Luke around like a lost sheep.

Time was good, but it was a little while after then that Luke set himself to escapin’.  Some of the guys thought it was cause his mama had passed, and he wanted to pay’s respect.  But I think he just wanted to show us that these fences and bosses and rules weren’t much to worry ourselves over.  And so he’d escape, and then shortly thereafter, get himself caught.  He’d be gone awhile, but get picked up some place, out West, and brought back.  And at first Luke seemed to be having himself a time with it all, but the bosses don’t take kindly to men who won’t stay put in this here prison, and so they started to the beatings and to making him work long after the day was done, having him dig holes in the yard and then asking why he’d gone an’ dug holes in the yard and start to hitting him again.  Luke fought through much as anyone could, but he wasn’t just another inmate to us, and so when the bosses finally broke him and laid him out before us, well I’m shamed to say it, but we left him.  He was supposed to be different.  We all thought of him as the real warden of this prison, but instead he got himself broken.

We never should’ve doubted.  Luke stayed broken and buried awhile, laid low, even so the bosses dropped their guard and started treating him no different than a pet dog. But it was then, when the bosses thought he was finally beat for good, that he played his Ace from down inside his hole, rising on up to escape again.  And though this one turned fatal and Luke’s gone, us still on the inside still talk fondly about how ol’ Luke kept grinning till the very end, never lettin’ this work camp of a life fully turn him.


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