Carl stood in the door, grinning at me.
Good day, Millie,” he said coolly. “Studying hard?”
I didn’t answer. Carl chuckled to himself, eyeing my entire cell before taking me in once more. Nodding his head, he disappeared back to his patrol.
I licked my lips, forcing myself to take a deep breath. My fingers shook as they turned the page of my worn book. The next time the heavy sound of boots approached, I didn’t look up.
My parents didn’t reappear all day. The glow of our window started to dim, and they still didn’t return. I should have felt worried. I knew I should have been peeking outside the cell, looking for their familiar faces. Instead, in my mind, I found myself hoping that they had done something wrong and were sitting alone in the Hole. I didn’t want to face them.
My internal clock told me that lights out was only minutes away. I finally gave in and sat up, leaning over the edge of the bunk to peer out the door. Inmates were shuffling by, pushing to get to their cells before the series of buzzers screamed at them.
The first buzz sounded. Just as it died into the static noise, I saw my mother duck into the doorway, my father close behind her. They walked straight to the shelf, jamming their dirty clothes onto the bottom shelf next to mine. My father washed his hands, running one over his tired face. I could see his hands shaking.
I stayed hanging over the edge of the bunk, carefully watching them. They always wound down the same way. Aside from the days where they just gave up and crashed into bed, there was a routine my parents did that never changed.
After turning off the water, my father drank a sip out of the metal cup, swishing it in his mouth and spitting it into the sink. Then he backed out of the way, hand coming to rest on the small of my mother’s back as he beckoned her forward. She repeated exactly what he had done, first rinsing her hands, then her face, then swishing the water and spitting it back out.
My father followed my mother to the bed. The bunk underneath creaked as they both sank their weight into it. I could barely see them from where I leaned over the edge. They slowly untied their shoes and pulled them off, my father letting out a soft grunt. Tucking their socks deep down into the toes, they carefully lined the shoes along the bottom of the bunk. I could hear my father groan as they laid down, side by side, on the flat mat. Without having to look, I knew he had his arm draped over my mother, her body nestled against him.
The only thing different today was the silence. Usually my mother would chatter about trees or dinner or, when the moments took over, her swaying repetition of ‘baby.’ It was a wind-down noise I had grown used to. I had heard it my entire life. My father would grunt and mutter single words occasionally as my mother went on and on. Then they would fall silent together, drifting into sleep.
I don’t know if it was because of work, or because of me, but tonight the cell was silent.
I sat back, realizing for the first time that my father wasn’t as inexistent as I always had seen him to be. He rarely spoke. His body was always stooped and I had seen one too many guards and inmates push him around. Those were the only things I had ever noticed before.
Tonight I saw what I had always missed. His constant following of my mother wasn’t because he was a shadow. He was a guard. His hand rested on the small of her back, calmed her shoulder, held her close against the nightmares I never knew. He let her talk instead of shutting her up, as much as that would have been appreciated.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that my father loved my mother.
And, I suppose, he was the perfect one to love her. For he was just as much of a murderer as she was.
The strange softness for my father that had overcome me quickly disappeared as I remembered the truth about him. I could see him, his large hands clamped around a defenseless man’s throat, squeezing tighter and tighter. The man fought, then finally slowed as his lips turned blue and his eyes bulged. Did my father ever think of stopping? Did he hate the feeling of draining life one second at a time from another living, struggling to breathe human being?
Or had he been like my mother, enjoying every second of it.
I slammed my head back against my pillow, trying to chase away the thoughts. I hated the anger that boiled inside. I wanted to hurt them. I wanted them to stop pretending. I wanted to see the true monsters they were.
Was I a monster too, for wanting that?
I could hear the snoring of my father rise up from the bunk beneath. Climbing down, I silently paced the floor. My bare feet softly slapped the concrete, becoming more ice-cold with every step.
They created me. I was a part of them. Was I doomed to the same insanity I saw engulf my mother and shroud my father? The thoughts hurt my head. I could feel the headache grow, banging angrily on the inside of my throbbing head. Laying down flat on my back, I let the coolness of the floor chill me. I welcomed the shivers that fought against the always present sweat.
942B, is everything alright?”
I blinked my eyes. The nurse’s voice sounded harsh and loud, causing me to crinkle my face up in pain.
Uh, headache,” I said, barely loud enough.
I heard the nurse shuffle some papers. Her foot tapped the ground impatiently as the papers flipped. “I’m sorry 942B, but you are not approved for any sort of pain medication.”
It’s just a headache, can’t you just −”
I am sorry 942B, but you are not −”
Okay, I get it.” I wiped my hand over my face, my headache flaring.
I heard the nurse shuffle outside. “Is everything else alright tonight?”
Yeah,” I mumbled. “It’s just great.”
The three cups were shoved under the door. Before I could even look, the nurse hurried away, her shadow disappearing down the walk. Angry, I swiped at the cups, spilling all three across the ground. The pills rolled into the shadows, scattering across the cell floor. Laying one hand across my eyes, I let the darkness engulf me.
Millie? You awake?”
Without moving, I reached and wiggled my fingers underneath the door. I could hear Jude crouch down outside. The light of his flashlight shot into my cell.
Is everything alright?” he asked, his voice suddenly panicked.
Rolling onto my side, I looked through the opening. Jude’s face was lit by the light, his eyes searching and worried.
I’m fine,” I said, trying to smile. “Killer headache.”
Here,” Jude said, fishing into his pocket. He pulled out a little plastic container, dumping a white pill into the palm of his hand. I reached out and took it. Without asking, I threw it into my mouth and swallowed.
Jude.” My voice came out even and solid. “My parents are criminals.”
I could hear Jude laugh. “And you just realized this?”
No, Jude, really. They are crazy. They should be in here, and they should never leave.” I swallowed hard. “They are monsters.”
No response. I could hear Jude breathing, so I knew he was still there. I let the silence grow between us. I wanted so badly to voice the fears that now ran rampant in my mind. I wanted to scream out my anger. I wanted to cry in heavy tears my utter disappointment.
Instead, I just lay there.
Jude finally cleared his throat. In a weak voice, he tentatively asked, “So… have you been studying?”
I nodded, then realized that he couldn’t see me. “Yes,” I said simply.
Good.” I could hear him squirm in his spot. Something was wrong. He cleared his throat again. “Millie, they changed my schedule. This is my last night on night patrol. I had been hoping… you know… to catch up a bit before you disappear into the Nation. But, well, it looks like tonight is it.”
Oh.” I suddenly felt empty again. My headache was disappearing thanks to the pill Jude had given me. Now I just felt numb.
You be good, okay?”
And you better pass that test with some crazy flying colors.”
I felt a chuckle tickle my lips. “You know I will.”
Jude took in a deep breath, leaning his head against the door. “I’m going to miss you, Millie. You’re a good friend you know… Jail Baby and all.”
I’ll miss you too, Jude. GF and all.”
In the distance I could hear the sound of boots. Jude sighed, then sat up. I could hear him part his lips to say something, then snap them back shut. Without another word, he stood and began to walk away. I pushed up against the door, trying to catch a glimpse of him through the small opening along the bottom. I only saw the beam of his flashlight as he swung it back and forth, pausing at each cell to shine it in.
Just as he disappeared from sight, I faintly heard his voice, lightly humming.
I crawled back into my bunk, my eyes suddenly heavy and burning.
I begged for the fog to take me. As if to spite me, it hid out of my reach. Everything was messed up now. I should be feeling elated to be so close to my release day. Instead, I had found that my entire life I had been sleeping above monsters. I would never talk to Jude again. Orrin was only a cell or two away, but always unreachable. Every one of the people I had let in as friends I had always kept at an untouchable distance, and now they were about to disappear.
Tears stung my eyes and I angrily wiped them away, turning on my side to face the dark wall. Crying wouldn’t get to get me anywhere. Letting out a shuddering sigh, I felt the words of Jude’s song form on my lips.
And any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain. Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders…” I softly sang into the wall. I could feel my voice crack, but kept going, the words burned into my head from the time Jude and I had laid on the ground just the other night and played it over and over.
Before I knew it, I was asleep.
| | |
I wish I could say I was strong. In the world I grew up in, a person had to know how to act strong. I knew how to throw on the tough face, how to push through the crowds, how to put the glare in my eyes that warned others to leave me alone. But inside, every time I found myself forced to act strong, I shook in utter fright. My heart sped and my eyes threatened at any moment to leak the tears that built so strong behind them. I could only act for so long.
The next day, I decided that acting strong was the last thing I wanted to do.
I could see the worried looks on my parent’s faces as they got ready for their new jobs that morning. I still hadn’t spoken a word to them. As they dressed and prepared to go, I just laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling. They kept glancing at me, obviously trying to decide if talking was even worth the try. I hoped that my cold presence gave them the answer.
Maybe I was acting immature. I was sure that is what Dr. Eriks would have said. She would say that even though they were convicted criminals, they were my parents, and blocking them out mere days before I would leave was causing more damage than good. I didn’t care about damage. At that moment, as I lay frozen on my bunk, I didn’t care about anything.
That was my day. I didn’t bother to eat. Or even stand. I just laid on my bed and listened to the prison. Everything was ticking, every footstep and thud another second gone. There was no music. Just the clock of prison life ticking slowly until I was finally gone.
I fell back asleep before my parents even returned. No dreams came to me, nothing but blackness and silence. When I woke up again, the prison was already awake and moving. My body hurt worse than ever before, the entire day spent laying on my back on the cement bunk causing my muscles to lock up in pain.
I slowly climbed down off the bunk, willing my knees to bend and my back to straighten. Standing in the center of my cell, I squatted up and down a few times, feeling the joints pop and protest with every bend. My neck felt stiff, my eyes suddenly throbbing.
Realizing that my only other set of clothing was still dirty, I pulled on my old sneakers and bent down to the bottom of the bookshelf with a groan. All of the dirty clothes were gone. My mother hadn’t done the laundry at all for the last year, if not longer. My breath caught in my throat. I knew I should have felt relieved. The woman really didn’t need me. Instead, I felt a sudden sting of tears threaten my eyes.
My notebook sat near the edge of my bunk, its worn pages hanging over, threatening to fall out and scatter across the cell floor. I grabbed it and flipped it open to my schedule.
Crap,” I hissed, looking at the scribble of writing telling me that today was my last appointment with Dr. Eriks. And it was about to begin.
I shoved my journal under my pillow, ran my fingers quickly through my mess of hair, then booked it down the walkway. A few inmates, lounging along the walls or in their open cells, glanced up at me as I hurried past. No one ever hurried here. There was nothing ever worth hurrying for, aside from the lock of your cell door at lights out.