Thursday at midnight, George climbs the tunnel ladder to the top of the lookout tower and settles on a lattice pattern for the spotlight. He hasn’t tried the lattice for months, but he feels up to it tonight.
As George weaves the light back and up and forth and down across the prison grounds, he imagines his wife Susan laying strips of dough across a boysenberry pie. Under a sliver moon, his eyes sometimes register golden-brown crust where the spotlight has just shone.
The other lookout men think the warden’s crazy, but George understands. You have to keep the prisoners guessing. There’s only been one successful escape attempt at Appaloosa, but all the unsuccessful ones ended with dead prisoners. The warden says he’d rather they not even try to get out.
So the lookout men have to change their spotlight patterns every night, and not on any kind of schedule. The prisoners have nothing but time, the warden says. They’d notice if the third Monday of every month was Spiral Night on the lookout tower.
At first, like everybody else, George tried not to use any patterns at all, to just move the spotlight willy-nilly. But on his first night, not fifteen minutes in, he had already started making concentric squares. The patterns came, he thought, from the part of his brain that was afraid of unknowable things, like God or the bottom of the muddy pond behind his house.
Just before dawn, the chirping crickets and the gurgle of Appaloosa Creek become the roar of the crowd at Fenway as George paints the outfield onto the grounds. He remembers Susan crying at Game Four of the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox finally broke the curse. “At least I got to see them win one,” she said through her tears.
They diagnosed the Huntington’s just after Spring Training, and by the time the playoffs started, the idea of taking two decades to die was too much for Susan. One morning in December, George came back from a shift making a chain-link pattern with the spotlight and found her in the bathtub, her lips blue and her eyes open and foggy. In her letter, she told him that she didn’t want to steal the next twenty years from him, from his next wife, from the children he would have someday.
As dawn breaks over the plains east of the prison, George decides not to try the lattice pattern at least until till next season.