It was at that point that I gave up trying to leave the place.…”


by laine perry




She jerked her left shoulder a little throwing her arm into a half circle. It was the dramatic effect of her uneasy resignation to failure.  She grabbed at my hand again- pressing my fingers against the glass- rolling them one by one and checking her machine. The numbers were not good. She looked at me with unnatural disdain as she began the process again- this time to get a read on me for future use. By the time she was on her sixty-third roll she did a half body turn away from me.  My hand still obliged to lay on that glass uncooperative- I began to wonder how she had come by this position. She was wildly tattooed and skinny like an addict who no longer deliberates between food and drink. Had she come in the way I had, by mistake?


“Let me do the work.” She said, as she turned back toward me.


She could have been a boxer the way she kept retreating to her corner and on some noiseless bell came at me again with her useless paws.


I was uncomfortable watching her.


My shoulders wet at the curve and the moisture ran down both my back and chest. She called out to a young man dressed in a uniform more formal than her own. He proceeded toward us. She wasn’t getting anywhere with me. The young man looked at her screen and shook his head. He looked at my cooperative hand. I did not choose an expression. Still, the woman was determined to see one on me. She jerked my hand again- offering it to the young man as if it was hers to get rid of.  He took my hand and pressed and rolled consulting the screen for the proper numbers.  Some time went by with a couple of memorable expressions on his part. His last look was one of amusement. He looked at me to determine whether I might exist at all.


It was at that point that I gave up trying to leave the place.


“What’s the problem?” I asked.


She rolled up my sleeve as if the fabric itself might be a real impediment.


“Still nothing!” she complained, after giving it several furtive tries.


“Look at these numbers Jim.”


Jim came off of his sub sandwich long enough to agree. They had nothing on me.


Jim lifted his big shoulders and let go of them. They settled back onto his frame.

The woman watched Jim fail her. She let go of my hand. “Come with me,” she said.

I walked behind her down a long hallway. A door opened on the left. “Go in.” she said.

The door shut behind me. A dozen women focused their dull curiosity on me.


“What are you in for?” they asked one by one. “DUI?” I shook my head. “I’ll take your food if you don’t want it,” a heavy woman said. “Why wouldn’t I want it?” I asked. “When you’re new, you don’t eat.” “I’ll let you know.” I said. “Choose a bed,” another woman said. I moved to an upper bunk and climbed on top of it. “You don’t have to sleep up there. Most people want a bottom bunk.” “I’ll stick with this.” I told her. She was fluffing her unruly hair and pretending to read a faceless novel. “You like to read?” she asked. “Yes.” I said. “I like it better than talking.” “I have some books here if you want one.” I pulled one from between the wall and her mattress. It looked good. It was a collection of short stories written by artists who had been incarcerated. It took me about two hours to finish the whole thing. I asked her for a piece of paper and began drawing on it immediately.


Unnoticed by me the entire room of prisoners had formed a line near the door. I wasn’t hungry. I joined the line anyway. I still had my drawing in my hand.


A very beautiful young girl was in front of me. She asked me if I was an artist. I asked her if she would stay here long. She started to cry. She had a baby at home. The line started to move. She took her tray and sat down at a table by herself. No one was angry.


We were all just sad. “Do you have kids?” she asked. “No,” I never found the right man for that. “Really?” she asked. “No,” I just didn’t trust the way things work. I don’t agree with the way the world works- the way people do things- the things people value. I just knew that would make it hard on any children I would have. I didn’t want to end up on Ruby Ridge, if you know what I mean.”


The same woman who had offered to off load any food I didn’t want was sitting with us. “I’m eating it.” “Okay,” she said, “But if you have anything left, can I have it?” I told her I would give her whatever I had left. She got up and sat at another table. I looked at the clock again. That’s how new I was.


After dinner I climbed back up in my bunk. I pulled a blanket over my head not wanting to wait for the lights to shut down. I started to think about the way my fingerprints would not be read. I thought about the real reason I was in jail. I thought about the way my father had stopped going to visit my Grandmother, as if it was nothing. I don’t remember breaking his computer. I just remember wanting to know why the most beautiful woman in the world didn’t matter anymore.



Originally published:
Issue Seventy-Eight
September 2018


(illustration: john richen)

Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more Smokebox stories from Laine Perry can be found here.

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