Steve Carr has a new book out called Sand. It’s a collection of shorts stories. With this entry he is well on his way to starting a new collection or two. Hit him up on Twitter and like him on Facebook. It’s great to see a RBY artist prosper–it’s also great when they submit to the weekly! Enjoy 🙂
LOVE IN A MICROBURST
In this place where noise is relentless I am awoken by it again. Opening my eyes, the pale green paint on the ceiling reminds me of watered down pea soup that has been vomited up. It’s barely sunrise and hazy sunlight is coming through the rectangular screened window in the middle of the wall near the head of my bunk. It gives me the feeling that the cubicle is filled with fog. I recall awaking in my bed in San Francisco and having the same feeling. Even after almost a year, waking to the pungent aroma of bleach used on the floors, mixed with body odors and the acrid scent of urine, my nostrils still feel assaulted. I roll onto my side and see Derrick’s bare ass sticking out from under his green blanket. He’s turned toward the wall along his bed on the other side of the cubicle and is snoring loudly. I push aside my blanket and sit up on the edge of my bunk.
I lean over and pull open the drawer in the stand at the head of my bed. I take out a picture of Laurie. It’s taped to a sheet of red construction paper. Absolutely no picture frames are permitted and nothing is allowed to be tacked or taped to the walls. I handle it carefully. There is a tear on one corner of the photograph. In the four months that I’ve had it, I’ve changed the construction paper six times. The edges of this sheet is bent and tattered. In the photograph she is smiling. Her long black hair is pulled back from her face and a pony tail droops over her left shoulder. She’s wearing a pink blouse and a pair of white shorts. There are nine plastic multicolored bracelets around her right wrist; I’ve counted them many times. I hold the photograph to my nose, pretending I can smell her perfume. Rose scented. The only writing on the back of the photograph is her name and phone number. I press the photograph to my chest and hold it there for a moment, then put it back in the drawer.
I get off my bunk and stand at the window and watch a cat chasing a small red paper cup being blown down the street by a breeze. The screen over the window is bolted to the wall and the window can’t be opened. I close my eyes and try to imagine the aroma of fresh early morning air. Hooking my fingers on the screen I am simultaneously reminded that I am a prisoner and that in twenty-four hours I will be set free, my sentence comes to an end. I get my toiletries bag from the lower section of the stand and leave the cubicle.
As I pass the cubicle where Jared sleeps I look in. He’s on his bunk, on his stomach, his large arms wrapped around his pillow. I walk by quietly.
I stop at the urinal and take a piss then grab a white towel from the cart. There’s only one other inmate at the sinks that are lined up opposite the shower stalls. I know his name is Mark, but know little else about him. His face is covered with shaving cream and he’s standing perfectly still as he looks at his reflection, as if he’s trying to recall who he is. Suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, he runs the disposable razor blade down the left side of his face, then deposits the glob of shaving cream and beard stubble into the sink. His hair is dripping wet; he’s already taken a shower.
I place my toiletries bag on the counter next to a sink and turn to a shower stall. There are eight stalls. Each one has a plastic shower curtain, each one with long thin rips in them, as if inmates tried to claw their way out of the stall, or claw their way in. I push aside a curtain and remove my white prison issued boxer shorts and drape them and the towel over the curtain rod. Before stepping in I reach in and turn on the knob and tepid water begins to flow out of the shower head. Inside the shower I pull the curtain closed and put my head under the water. I close my eyes as water cascades over my body.
Suddenly, the curtain is pushed aside.
“You dream about me?” Jared says with a salacious smile. He’s naked.
I wipe water from my eyes. “Please, Jared, leave me alone,” I say.
“Why ever would I do that?” he says, licking his lips and staring at me like I am a food to be devoured.
All muscle and about sixty more pounds than me, his body entirely blocks the opening of the stall. He steps into the stall, pushing my body against the wall, my face against the dull gray tiles. He closes the curtains.
He uses my body. In most places it’s called rape.
When he’s done he pushes the curtain aside and steps out and takes my towel and wraps it around his waist. “Thanks, sweetheart,” he says as he turns and leaves.
I close the curtain and try to wash the assault from my body. The rage I feel inside can’t be washed away. When I step out of the shower two inmates are standing at the sinks. They glare at me knowingly. Everyone in the open cell block knows that Jared rapes me regularly. Most believe it’s my fault. I put on my boxer shorts and grab my toiletries bag and grab a towel and leave the showers.
Sitting on the edge of my bunk I dry myself then change into a fresh pair of boxer shorts and put on my orange uniform, socks and shoes.
Derrick turns onto his other side and stares at me with amusement. “You sure are in a hurry this morning,” he says. “Your release isn’t until tomorrow.”
“It won’t come fast enough,” I say. “You better get up, they’ll be serving breakfast in a few minutes.
The queue to the phones is long. The line of inmates stretches down the hall all the way to the pharmacy window. One of the guards strolls up and down the hall making sure we stay near the wall. A large cockroach climbs up the wall and is smashed by the hand of the inmate in front of me. The roach’s remains stick to the wall. The inmate wipes his hand on his uniform. There’s little talking among the inmates in the line. I imagine, that like me, everyone else is saving their words for whoever is being called.
In this hallway there’s a slight breeze that enters through an open office window. It brings the scents of freshly cut grass and automobile exhaust. Maybe later I’ll take a last stroll around the yard and say goodbye to the guys I play basketball with. I only know their first names and very little else about them. On days when the weather permits or the guards allow, playing basketball on the outside court has helped me forget for the hour of recreation where I am. I consciously block out the guard towers and the tall fences with circles of razor wire on the tops that surrounds the yard.
The line moves very slowly. I have detached the picture of Laurie from the sheet of construction paper and hold it in my hand. I glance at it frequently, at the tender way she is smiling. I’m hopeful that when we meet for the first time tomorrow morning she will smile at me that same way. At last stepping up to the phone, I put my card into the slot and dial her number. After several rings, she answers.
“Hey, babe,” I say. “How are you?”
“Hi, sweety,” she says. She always calls me sweety. “I’m doing fine.”
“Less than twenty-four hours and I’ll be out of here,” I say.
“I know, sweety,” she says. “You must be excited.”
“I’m excited to see you,” I say. “You’re going to pick me up in front of the prison, right?”
“Of course, sweety, just as I said in my last letter to you,” she says.
In the background there is commotion.
“What’s all the noise?” I say.
“I forgot to tell you, I’m moving,” she says. “I’ll tell you all about it when I see you tomorrow.” Breathlessly, as if in a rush, she says, “I have to go now.”
“Okay,” I say. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she says, then hangs up.
Derrick is lying on his bunk reading a Superman comic book. He’s on his back and holding the comic book up above his face. Comics are the only thing I’ve ever seen him read, some many times. The library has a stack of them. Like the one he is reading, most are old, and the pages are yellow and torn. He’s shirtless and in the glare of the fluorescent lighting above the bunks the multicolored tattoos that cover his arms and chest look fused together, one image indistinguishable from the next. Between turning pages he eats an Oreo cookie from the package I bought for him at the commissary as a goodbye present. There are cookie crumbs on his face.
In my lap are the sixteen letters I’ve received from Laurie since we became pen pals. I untie the shoestring that holds them together and set it aside on my bunk. Taking the first letter she sent me from the envelope I put it to my nose. There’s still the faint aroma of perfume. I unfold the letter. She tells me I’m the first prisoner she has ever written a letter to and that she works in a nursing home and tells me all about that, and that some day she would like to get married and have children. At the bottom of the letter there is the imprint of red lips. I put the letter back in the envelope.
Derrick lowers the comic book and looks over at me. “I have something for you,” he says. “I should have given it to you months ago, but it would have only created bigger problems, but since you’re getting out it won’t matter if you use it, as long as you’re quiet about it.”
“What is it?” I say.
He gets up from his bunk and puts the comic on his stand, then opens the drawer and pats around the underside of top of the stand. When he withdraws his hand he’s holding a long nail with duct tape wrapped around one end. “Working in the maintenance shop has its advantages,” he says as he hands me the nail.
“A shiv,” I say, somewhat astounded. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
“You can have one last shower in the morning,” he says.
Passing by Jared’s cubicle I drop my toiletries bag. The sound of it hitting the floor is surprisingly loud. I glance over to see if its awoken Jared. It has. He stares at me as an evil grin spreads across his face. I hastily pick up the bag and on the way into the showers grab a towel from the cart. After removing my boxers I place them and the towel over the curtain rod and push the curtain aside and step into the shower. With the curtain closed I turn on the water, and wait.
When Jared pushes aside the curtain, he already has an erection. “I’m going to miss that ass of yours,” he says as he steps in.
Before he can touch me I use the shiv.
Stepping out I take one last glance at Jared. He’s kneeling with his hands between his legs. Blood is flowing between his fingers and being carried down the drain.
“I guess you thought a petty thief couldn’t do that to you, did you?” I say.
I grab my boxers and towel and on my way out of the showers I drop the shiv down the drain of a sink.
Signing the final papers as I’m being released, the guard on the other side of the counter says, “It’s kicking up quite a storm out there.”
I turn and see flashes of lightning illuminating the dark clouds. Thunder is making the glass in the doors leading to outside rattle.
“You have someone picking you up, right?” he says.
“Yeah, my girlfriend,” I say. I pull Laurie’s photograph from my shirt pocket and show it to him.
“She’s very pretty,” he says.
“We’re going to get married as soon as possible,” I say.
“Congratulations,” he says as he gives me ninety-eight dollars in cash and a manilla envelope with copies of the papers I signed. “Good luck,” he says.
The guard at the door unlocks it and holds it open as I step out. Holding Laurie’s picture, I run from the door to the prison gate as I’m pelted by rain. I open the gate and go out and look around. There’s no vehicles, no one near the sidewalk where I’m standing. I get drenched, waiting, but she never comes.
As golf ball sized hail begins to fall a sudden tornadic gust of wind snaps the electric wires from a nearby terminal and knocks me to the ground. Sparks are shooting from the downed wires. The wind causes a limb from a nearby maple tree to break off and crash to the sidewalk. As I reach out to grasp onto the gate, Laurie’s photograph is swept from my hand and carried away.
Then all is calm.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 150 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published recently by Clarendon House Books. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960.