Alarm [Repost]

Prompt: Observe

 

diamond cross 2

“You have to know I would never harm you,” Marcus said.

“Setting fire to the house with me in it kind of belies that statement,” said Envy.

Twice he had tried to reach across the table to take her hand, and twice had been rebuffed, once by the guard, and once by Envy herself.

He didn’t look like a prisoner waiting for a trial date. He looked like he had just turned up from a round of golf: a little tanned, a little tired, wondering what was for lunch. In fact, an outsider who observed just the two of them, seated at a small, pine-veneered table, would have pegged Envy for the convict; her hair was tangled, she was pale and nervous, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She was still a little battered from the fall from the balcony. Never a famous beauty to begin with, Envy was not at her best.

“The smoke alarms should have warned you,” said Marcus. “Why didn’t they?”

“That will remain a mystery for the ages,” said Envy, “since they were destroyed in the conflagration.” She wore a white gold chain with a diamond-encrusted cross pendant. She was thinking of returning to the church.

“You saw how upset I was,” said Marcus.

“That I survived,” Envy said.

For the third time, Marcus tried to take her hand. This time she slapped it. She was surprised to see his face contort in something that looked like pain. Existential or physical? she wondered.

“When did you stop loving me?” Envy said at last.

Marcus fiddled with the little sign in its plastic casing, propped up on the table. No touching. it said. No item exchange. No food. No shouting. Visitors and/or residents can and will be removed at any time at the guards’ discretion. No smoking.

Marcus looked out the window to an empty field, then back to Envy. “I never stopped loving you,” he said. “That’s why I asked you to come. I need your help.”

“Carmen got the police to describe you only as a ‘person of interest’,” Envy said.

“Carmen?”

“Your lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“That is the help I am giving you,” said Envy. “Take her advice. Tell the truth for once in your fucking life.” She stood up and leaned on her crutches. “And I’ll pray for you.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Marcus.

“Exactly,” said Envy.


  • Original Prompt: Burn, July 2, 2016

smoke-detector-monitoring-system

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Cellmates Dot Com [Repost]

Prompt: Disrupt

anne-of-green-gables-anne-and-marilla

Bonnie said, “Thank you for everything Miss Fisher, and I hate to tell you this, but you are no longer my best friend.”

“Oh dear,” said Miss Fisher, who was reading Anne of Green Gables again, and was reluctantly interrupted. She was right at the exciting part where Anne was going to save Minnie May’s life.

It was that quiet —though never really quiet— time between dinner and lights out. A number of girls, as inmates were called, had left recently, either released or transferred to other institutions, so there was a general atmosphere of luxurious space combined with a niggling fear of what was to come. The “girls”, except for the disruptors who were entertaining distractions, liked their routine and served their time in peace, then got the fuck out.

Miss Fisher wasn’t the only one serving serious time. There were other murderers, Bonnie included, though no other serial killers. Most had hope of release and living with family again. Miss Fisher had no such hope, despite the recent efforts of her lawyer.

“I found someone else,” said Bonnie.

“That’s just wonderful, dear,” said Miss Fisher. “As your ex-best friend, I am extremely happy for you.”

“He is not perfect,” said Bonnie.

“Who is?” said Miss Fisher. She sighed inwardly, and set her book aside. She sat up straight and engaged Bonnie with her eyes. Perhaps this wouldn’t take too long.

“I didn’t tell you about him,” said Bonnie, “because I know you don’t like men.”

“Yes, I can see where you might think that,” said Miss Fisher.

“You didn’t notice my engagement ring,” said Bonnie. “I’ve been wearing it for a week.”

“I’m sorry, Bonnie, I’ve been distracted,” said Miss Fisher. She thought longingly of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.

Bonnie held out her left hand. “It’s white gold, with a diamond chip.”

“Lovely,” said Miss Fisher, whose aging eyes could not really make out the tiny stone in the ring. “But who is he? Why would he become engaged to someone in prison?”

“I suppose we just fell in love,” said Bonnie. “After corresponding via Cellmates-dot-com, you know, where people write to inmates.”

“Uh huh,” said Miss Fisher, though she had never heard of it.

“We spoke on the phone, and he’s visited twice.”

“And he knows you poisoned your boyfriend?” asked Miss Fisher.

“No secrets,” said Bonnie. “You taught me that.” Bonnie gazed at her white gold and diamond chip ring. She rubbed it against the sleeve of her tunic, as if to polish it. “He is not exactly handsome, but very clean. He says I make him feel important. He tells his friends about me. They think he is crazy. Will we have conjugal rights, Miss Fisher, do you know? Gregory has asked.”

“Oh, I should think so,” said Miss Fisher. “Now Bonnie, you won’t go giving your heart away again, and be disappointed, and want to slowly murder Gregory as you did with Norman?”

“Oh no, Miss Fisher. I know killing is not the best solution,” said Bonnie.

Not the best solution, thought Miss Fisher. But often a good one.


  • Original Prompt: Tiny, October 24, 2016

anne-shirle-main

The Cave-Dweller [Repost]

Prompt: Provoke

Tropical-Vacation 2

Miss Fisher was giggling. A guard, passing her cell, paused and sighed. They often giggled. They did all kinds of strange things when in solitary. Some people said it was inhumane. The guard, personally, had seen enough to make him agree with that assessment. Some of the inmates never seemed to recover from even short stays in solitary confinement. Others simply did not survive it. They had to be shipped out.

And someone like Miss Fisher? The guard shook his head. She was elderly, frail, quiet. He had been in her class for half a semester, grade four. He remembered her as strict, but kind and encouraging. She’s the one who diagnosed his dyslexia, and saved him from a lot of problems down the road. A good teacher, was Miss Fisher.

Sure, she murdered some people. Inmates weren’t at McKinnon for their health. But –as the joke went– she wouldn’t be around long enough to serve her life sentence, so why not cut her some slack?

He wasn’t sure exactly why she had been tossed in the cave, something to do with an incident in the cafeteria; no doubt something violent. People never took into consideration that violent people were often provoked. He’d seen it happen many times, it was not unusual at all.

He himself had been provoked many times. That’s what happened, they told him, when you marry a pretty girl. He was no better than half the females in this institution. Just luckier, that’s all. You know, like his friends held him back from a fight, or authorities smoothed things over. It was a small community. There but for the grace of God, and all that.

He would put a banana on Miss Fisher’s tray tonight. Strictly forbidden, but it’s not as if anyone was watching…

Miss Fisher stretched out on her bunk. It was narrow and the mattress was thin and hard, worse than the one in 177D, and the blanket scratched and wasn’t warm enough.

Still, it was fantastic to be alone. She was good at shutting out the noises around her, so after the first night, the crying and shouting that disturbed all the other cave-dwellers were not an issue for Miss Fisher. She could gather her thoughts, run some personal home movies in her head, enjoy her solitude, revel in being away from the crush of people who were always around, and be refreshed and ready when she returned to reg in a week. She giggled. They thought this was punishment. It was a fucking vacation.


  • Original Prompt: Solitude , April 28, 2016

Blessing

Prompt: Compass

pecans

Isabel didn’t like lesbians, but that didn’t stop her allowing them to join the Union. In fact, she had developed a degree of sympathy with their rejection of men; she longed to marry and have more children, but if given a chance, would happily strangle her ex-husband to death.

In any case, the lesbians buttressed up the Union, which now stood at forty-plus girls and recruitment was still and always a priority. Before long, they might control over half the prison population.

It was necessary for Isabel to make her way through her daily routine with an entourage, not just for personal protection but because there were always errands, persistent supplicants, spontaneous ideas that needed recording; and, of course, to maintain the aura of authority among Union members and potential recruits. In this crumbling castle with plaster walls the colour of ice-crusted leaves, where the shrillness of voices was amplified by wide empty hallways and panic, and where dullness and soul-destroying monotony were dutifully embraced, the sight of Isabel with her brightly dyed red hair and completely illegal red fingernails, surrounded by hand-picked and deferential subjects, all looking well-fed and alert and alive, was memorable and aweful.

The guards tolerated her with good grace and by the convenience of bribes, usually drugs or favours, but sometimes too because they were no more immune to spectacle and the mysticism of hierarchy than the girls were.

Isabel’s first feat of magic was the curtains she negotiated/ battled for in the main toilets, a victory she insisted was successful because of the support of certain fellow inmates, the girls whom she dubbed the Union. And as she continued to serve her time, she struck a secret deal with Armando, a senior guard, for the safe and consistent import of various narcotics, the most popular of which was not cocaine or heroin but Xanax, and the siphoning of profits to an external account. She set up an inmate-controlled medical emergency system, so her girls would not die of the drugs she smuggled. She petitioned small, independent operations with the prison walls to amalgamate with her Union, less by threat than by luxurious coercion.

You would almost, Miss Fisher said of her one day to her friend Wendy, believe that Isabel had been a powerful businessperson and negotiator in the real world. Perhaps her crimes had been of the corporate variety?

Oh no, Wendy had told her. Wendy was intimate with Tricia, who was one of Isabel’s closest aides and confidantes.

Isabel was the daughter of illegal immigrants who were deported, though not before they abandoned and entrusted their child to the care of a friend, who turned out to be a notorious madame, Wendy told Miss Fisher, who raised Isabel to be a pampered and prized virgin ready for auction, until Isabel was raped by her English teacher and subsequently booted from the brothel.

Homeless for years, Isabel fell in with a pleasant and shy man who imported cocaine from Colombia. They married and had two children before he turned federal witness, at which time they were banished to a small town in Minnesota, where he continued to import cocaine with a new set of suppliers until he was arrested again. Isabel and the children moved to Miami but as homelessness loomed and she was unable to otherwise support the children, she began a short-lived career as a drug mule.

Her husband divorced her while she was in prison; and after being released again, he took custody of the children and moved them to the American Virgin Islands, where he continued to live as a roofing/ drug importer.

“Fascinating,” said Miss Fisher. “It would make quite the story, if true.”

“Even if it isn’t,” said Wendy. “Anyway she’s always had to scrabble and scrub for a living. She had nothing yet lost everything. Hardly a corporate or any kind of power.”

“She wants my blessing,” Miss Fisher said. Wendy wasn’t sure if Miss Fisher was still talking to her. Sometimes her aging mind wandered, these days.

“Your blessing?”

“Oh yes, for her Union. She imagines I have some kind of influence,” said Miss Fisher.

“She wants you to join?”

“She does, indeed. And you too. And all my little friends.”

It was a Sunday afternoon early in November, but so sun-lit and warm that they’d removed their old woolen coats and scarves and basked in the unexpected glow. Their bench backed against the stuccoed utility building and faced a tall chain-link fence, beyond which was a sparse forest of spruce and fir; the closest to a view location that was available anywhere on the grounds.

“She could probably source some pecans for you,” Wendy said. She leaned back and closed her eyes, pretending for a moment she was enjoying a supple, warm day anywhere else.

“Do you think so?” asked Miss Fisher.

Wendy nodded, hoping Miss Fisher was watching. She felt deliciously drowsy, and probably could have dozed off, if she hadn’t felt the pierce of a frozen droplet on her forehead.

She sat up. The sun still shone, but the air had turned bitterly cold. Miss Fisher was pulling on her jacket again. All around her the air was filled with ice rain— tiny sharp pellets of ice that sparkled in the sunlight like shards of tinsel.

“Amazing, isn’t it,” said Miss Fisher. “How things can change in an instant.”

A Good Man

Prompt: Denial

pot boiling over

Cleveland Russell was 58 years old, serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of one of the students in his high school chemistry class. His first two years were spent mostly in solitary, because the girl was young, pretty, and white, and Cleveland was none of these things, and that did not go down well with certain elements of the prison population.

Now his cell was part of a grouping of accommodation for non-violent offenders and aging criminals of various backgrounds, and he was taking a correspondence course in Deep Learning with Python, and alternately worked as cook and kitchen cleaner, depending on the whims of Garrett Sommerkinder, another murderer who had run the B South kitchen and passively terrorized his associates for almost three years.

Garrett Sommerkinder had taken a liking to Marcus, possibly because of his good looks and laid back demeanour, his obvious harmlessness, and his talent for acquiescing to authority without appearing to be weak or frightened. And attempted murder was not a crime to be sneered at, even among killers. So he had Marcus chop carrots and peel potatoes and cut celery into sticks and also put him in charge of the soup pot, a weighty responsibility that Marcus took very seriously.

That’s how Marcus and Cleveland found themselves working together, alone, cleaning up after Monday late meal. Cleveland was mopping the floors. Marcus was straining inedibles from the soup pot, things that couldn’t be properly blended smooth, like rinds and seeds.

Cleveland had a mop and a bucket. The bucket was full of clean, hot, soapy water. He was proud to clean the floors of the dining area and kitchen of B South. It’s how he looked at life now. There were good things in life, like hot, soapy water. There were bad things, like germs and grime. Cleveland was doing his part to do right, as best he could, and he didn’t care if it was in a small way.

“Take out the skins,” Cleveland advised Marcus. “But keep the leaves.” By “leaves” he meant herbs, if by chance the sad little garden in the clay soil by the generator ever produced a bit of thyme or parsley.

“So you got life,” Marcus said, as he picked out skins. It was a common early conversation. Never about the crime, just about the time.

“No parole,” said Cleveland, without pride, as some killers did.

“Didn’t do it though, right?”

“Well I did kill the child,” said Cleveland. He wasn’t a big man, but had a stocky, immovable frame. He moved the raggedy mop across the floor like a masseuse, with care, knowledge, and just the right amount of pressure.

“That’s too bad,” said Marcus. “I didn’t try to kill my wife.”

“No?” said Cleveland.

“No. I loved her. Still do.”

“So it’s a mistake.”

“Yes, a mistake that they thought I tried to kill her. I only wanted a bit of cash,” Marcus said. “I wouldn’t hurt her.”

“No,” said Cleveland. “But you did?”

Marcus said nothing. He ran his hands under the hot water tap, and dried them with a faded yellow striped cloth. “I didn’t think it would play out the way it did,” he said.

Cleveland was finished with the floor, and went to the sink too, and washed his hands, and dried them on the same cloth.

He said, “Nothing plays out the way you think it will.”

“I shouldn’t be here,” said Marcus.

Cleveland didn’t chuckle, or shake his head, or wonder at the denial that fuelled so many wrong-headed and futile attempts at self-understanding. He picked up the bucket and mop and moved towards the door leading to the main utility hallway.

“Marcus, is it?” he said. “Let me tell you, this place where you are at? It was your choice.”

Marcus shook his head. Obviously this Cleveland person didn’t understand. Marcus was not a criminal. Maybe he didn’t love in the conventional way. Maybe he made a few mistakes. He was a good man, really.

When Cleveland left the kitchen, a strange silence fell. Marcus could feel it. He made sure all the burners were off under the stove. He waited a few seconds for the floor to dry, then made his way to the door. He was tired.

He was a good man, really.


  • Image: Shutterstock

Like No One’s Watching

Prompt: Construct

sand-castle-palm

“Time is just a construct,” said August, at the weekly Search Inside Myself meeting. Dr Whitley was pleased to have August in the group, since she often started off the conversation before the doctor had time to officially open the session, which was good because Dr Whitley was never quite prepared for what the inmates had to say.

“Bollocks,” said Bonnie, whose new romantic pen pal was from Manchester, England.

“Language,” said Miss Fisher kindly, as if Bonnie was one of her long-ago third grade students.

“Sorry Miss Fisher,” said Bonnie, “But it really is bullshit.”

Miss Fisher sighed.

“You don’t even know what it means,” August said to Bonnie.

“I know I’m doing twelve years worth of time here, and it’s no construction. It’s real.” Bonnie put the little balsa wood dowel that substituted for a cigarette, into her mouth. She scowled and inhaled deeply.

“But it means that you don’t have to look at it like it’s twelve years,” said August. “There’s no such thing as months and years. I mean, who invented them?”

“The judge,” said Agnes. “What do you think, Miss Fisher?”

All eyes turned to the rather thin, elderly woman whose uniform hung more loosely on her frame of late. She straightened up in the grey folding chair, and pushed her glasses up from the bridge of her nose.

“Time is real enough, I think,” said Miss Fisher. “It sometimes helps to dissect it into manageable pieces, like when you eat a layer cake. It is easier to eat a slice of cake than grab a hunk with your bare hands.”

“Mmm, cake,” said Tricia, who usually only contributed once per session, so this was the one thing.

All thoughts turned to cake, and there was a pause.

“So what?” said Agnes. “So what if time is a construct? What difference does it make? I’m out in a few months, Bonnie has a decade left. How does grabbing chunks of cake in her bare hands help her?”

Dr Whitley felt the conversation was straying and cleared her throat as if to speak. She was ignored.

August said, “Well, that’s how I would eat a cake if no one was looking.”

“A chocolate cake?” asked Bonnie, tapping imaginary ash into an imaginary ashtray.

“Definitely,” said August.

Cellmates Dot Com

Prompt: Tiny

anne-shirle-main

Bonnie said, “Thank you Miss Fisher, and I hate to tell you this, but you are no longer my best friend.”

“Oh dear,” said Miss Fisher, who was reading Anne of Green Gables again, and was reluctantly interrupted. She was right at the exciting part where Anne was going to save Minnie May’s life.

It was that quiet —though never really quiet— time between dinner and lights out. A number of girls, as inmates were called, had left recently, either released or transferred to other institutions, so there was a general atmosphere of luxurious space combined with a niggling fear of what was to come. The “girls”, except for the disruptors, who were entertaining distractions, liked their routine, serving their time in peace, and getting the fuck out.

Miss Fisher wasn’t the only one serving serious time. There were other murderers, Bonnie included, though no other serial killers. Most had hope of release and living with family again. Miss Fisher had no such hope, despite the recent efforts of her lawyer.

“I found someone else,” said Bonnie.

“That’s just wonderful, dear,” said Miss Fisher. “As your ex-best friend, I am extremely happy for you.”

“He is not perfect,” said Bonnie.

“Who is?” said Miss Fisher. She sighed inwardly, and set her book aside. She sat up straight and engaged Bonnie with her eyes. Perhaps this wouldn’t take too long.

“I didn’t tell you about him,” said Bonnie, “because I know you don’t like men.”

“Yes, I can see where you might think that,” said Miss Fisher.

“You didn’t notice my engagement ring,” said Bonnie. “I’ve been wearing it for a week.”

“I’m sorry, Bonnie, I’ve been distracted,” said Miss Fisher. She thought longingly of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert.

Bonnie held out her left hand. “It’s white gold, with a diamond chip.”

“Lovely,” said Miss Fisher, whose aging eyes could not really make out the tiny stone in the ring. “But who is he? Why would he become engaged to someone in prison?”

“I suppose we just fell in love,” said Bonnie. “After corresponding via Cellmates-dot-com, you know, where people write to inmates.”

“Uh huh,” said Miss Fisher, though she had never heard of it.

“We spoke on the phone, and he’s visited twice.”

“And he knows you poisoned your boyfriend?” asked Miss Fisher.

“No secrets,” said Bonnie. “You taught me that.” Bonnie gazed at her white gold and diamond chip ring. She rubbed it against the sleeve of her tunic, as if to polish it. “He is not exactly handsome, but very clean. He says I make him feel important. He tells his friends about me. They think he is crazy. Will we have conjugal rights, Miss Fisher, do you know? Gregory has asked.”

“Oh, I should think so,” said Miss Fisher. “Now Bonnie, you won’t go giving your heart away again, and be disappointed, and want to slowly murder Gregory as you did with Norman?”

“Oh no, Miss Fisher. I know killing is not the best solution,” said Bonnie.

Not the best solution, thought Miss Fisher. But often a good one.