Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chapter III: This Ain't the Ritz Carlton

“Breakfast is served,” the voice of a young man said.

Bill sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. A thin beam of muffled sunlight poured into a room obscured by a dingy window caked with years of unwashed dust. There were bars on that window. Bill looked around and saw the room surrounding him was made of cinderblocks painted an industrial puke green.

Bill looked to the source of the voice, towards the door. Through the bars, he saw a pale white face grizzled by several days of unshaved growth. The eyes of the young man were a pale green. The face smiled, but those eyes did not. “Eat up, sir. You have a big day today. Lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions.” This stranger laughed a tiny laugh but did not sound amused.

Bill looked at the tray of food which had been pushed through a small rectangular opening in the metal cell door. He shuddered. The plate contained sausage, eggs, and toast. The eggs and toast he knew he would be able to eat. They were harmless enough in their preparation and progress towards his mouth. Their stories were benign. The sausages on the other hand were just about the least appetizing food imaginable. The story they told was one of primal animal fear and grinding gears and organs and the putrid stench of various byproducts. Because of his expanded sense of touch, Bill found it easy to live a vegetarian lifestyle. The story of meat was too sad and painful. To eat meat would mean he would have to envision that horrible trip to the slaughterhouse. Understandably, he chose to stay away from meat.

The young prison guard’s smile faltered. He gave away his true feelings though he tried hard to hide them as he turned away. It sounded in Bill’s mind like the young man spoke under his breath. Bill received a clear message: Damn baby killer! The words may not have even been spoken aloud. Bill knew the harsh words were most likely just a thought, but Bill felt those words and the feelings behind them clearly. Bill understood how the prison guard felt about him. Despite their distance and the metal door between them, Bill could still touch the prison guard. The touch of people surrounds them like an unseen aura. This was yet another reason Bill tried to stick to himself and stay alone as much as possible. Even the pain of strangers, filtered through touch, could be too disturbing to face. Luckily, this telepathy – if that’s what it could be called, that’s what Bill knew they would call it in a bad science fiction novel even though it wasn’t telepathy as he understood it, not really – was a fragile link as easily broken as it was forged. Once Bill realized this extended touch was working, he could usually find ways to turn it off.

Bill sat up carefully, keeping his hands clenched together in his lap, and tried with all his might not to touch anything. He remembered the jail cell now. He remembered the feeling of the cold tile and concrete, the unyielding touch of steel. He remembered the stories this cell told. There was resentment and anger and depression and degradation and hatred and remorse and guilt and suffering and loneliness and – somehow worst of all – helplessness. The horror stories were everywhere in that cell, on every surface.

“Wait!” Bill called after the guard. “Can I get some gloves?”

The young grizzled face returned in the tiny window. He was visibly disgruntled and did not even try to hide it. “What is it with you and the gloves, huh? You get a uniform same as anyone else. It ain’t all that cold in there, what you need gloves for?”

“I don’t like the way things feel.”

The young man’s eyes narrowed a fraction. “You’re in jail, sir. It’s not supposed to be pleasant. I don’t understand why I have to explain this to every new John that does some crazy shit and ends up in here. This ain’t the Ritz Carlton.” He smiled another fake smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other patrons who are waiting for their breakfasts.”

Bill nodded his head. The sarcasm hit Bill like a punch to the face.

The guard nodded back. A hate-filled thought emanated from the young man and smacked Bill's brain: So long as we understand each other, you sick mother fucker. The guard plastered on his best fake smile, let out a surprisingly cheerful whistle, and walked away.

Bill stood and tried to ignore the stories screaming at him as they emanated from the cold floor. There was frustration and anger and simmering suicidal thoughts that sometimes were acted out. There was death in this room, and those deaths were mostly self-inflicted and terrible and extremely lonesome. Those stories were written on the floor as clearly as if written on flashing neon letters in a dark room.

Bill slipped on a pair of slippers that had been left at the foot of the hard slab of padded concrete which served as a bed in the prison cell, and he was relieved by the feel of cotton threads against his toes. He imagined white puffy blooms unfurled under a lazy and humid afternoon as the sun set over a low ridge of pines. He sighed, grateful for the comfort the cotton slippers offered.

Bill walked over to the door and ate from the plate with his fingers, careful not to touch any surface. He knew better than to touch the spoon. It seemed possible such a utensil could have been used as a makeshift shiv in the past, and he did not really want to find out if this was the case or not. It was too risky. Bill used his thin and greasy toast as a utensil to sop up the slippery, wet, undercooked eggs.

The guard had been right. This food was not up to the Ritz Carlton’s standards, but compared to what had become his standard diet – rummaging through dumpsters outside restaurants; sneaking up on the empty loading docks of grocery stores to rummage for stale bread, rotten fruit, and aged vegetables – it was as close to a five star meal as anything he had eaten since leaving what had once been his home three months ago. He used the soggy toast to wipe the plate clean except for the sausages. Those greasy links remained untouched, their horrible stories untold.

Bill returned to his little cot and sat and stared at the room. Water dripped from a steel faucet into a water-stained sink. The toilet occasionally made a running noise as other toilets in other cells were flushed. There was a small mirror above the sink. Bill saw his reflection. His hair was long. A thick beard flecked with grey covered his face. His eyes looked sunken into his gaunt skull. His reflection appeared saggy and broken and entirely too skinny in his pinkish-orange jump suit.
He took his eyes away from his reflection and stared down at his open hands. They were pale and much too clean. They offered no protection.

He flexed his pale hands and fought to remember the chain of events that led him here. The hard bed beneath him sent shivers of guilt and pangs of remorse and tempests of anger up along his spine. He stood up, tried not to touch anything, closed his eyes, and prayed to remember.


Bill remembered the police car in the field, being picked up by officers and tossed into the backseat of the cruiser before being taken to the hospital. He remembered the feel of that vinyl under his back. There were families torn apart, dreams dashed, and lives deserted. These stories were written all over that back seat and the sadness of these tales pained him.

Bill remembered the hospital – the sterility, the false sense of calm. He remembered being washed and poked and prodded. With that contact, there arrived the stories of the nurses and doctors who cared for him while he was in the hospital before being transferred to the prison. He remembered the transgressions and hatreds and untold desires of the hospital staff and felt their simmering remorse and guilt. He had been near unconscious at the time, but his skin retained its sense of touch and could remember the ghosts of their life stories.

Upon regaining semi-consciousness, Bill had been told he was in shock. He remembered the concerned look on the doctor's face as the man waved a tiny penlight back and forth in front of his eyes. Bill saw through the penlight and saw that the good doctor was not so good. His concern was insincere. Everything about him was insincere, even the outward perfection of his seemingly picture-perfect family life. The doctor was having an affair with a care manager. The care manager, like the doctor, had a separate family and kids. Bill knew there would be long-lasting repercussions: arguments, broken homes, and even a young teenage daughter committing suicide after the double-whammy of the announcement of her parents' divorce and her own ugly break-up with a basketball player from the local community college.

The doctor – blissfully unaware of the broken future reverberating outwards from his own inconsiderate actions, only thinking about taking his little case manager from behind in a few sweaty moments of pleasure – smiled. Bill wanted to spit on the man and rose up. Then the world wavered, and Bill fell backwards onto the thin hospital bed.

The doctor talked to a nurse in the room. She turned up a drip leading down to his arm, and a sudden fog enveloped Bill. He went to sleep.

Then he awoke in a fully conscious state in a jail cell which was not the Ritz-Carlton as his guard had so kindly pointed out.


Bill remembered the vision of the severed foot and shuddered to himself. He wrapped his arms around himself and felt way too cold, way too exposed in the pinkish-orange jump suit. He was here, now, in the cell, and everything around him was cold and hard and all too real.

He sat on the thin bed, afraid to lay down, afraid to move, worried that his jumpsuit might ride up on him and expose bare skin. The thought that Bill might inadvertently touch an unfamiliar and painful surface terrified him. Bill sat as still as possible and looked around the room and watched the pale sunlight slant against the floor. He watched the light until he imagined he actually saw the beam move across the floor like the crawl of the slowest slug. He thought about watching paint dry and smiled to himself. That might prove more entertaining.

Eventually, there was a clack as the lock of the door moved. The young guard from earlier entered the cell and said, “All right, let’s go. Some folks have some questions for you.”


Bill was taken to a small room. He looked inside and saw the legs of a woman obscured behind a hulking presence. This presence was a very large man who towered over Bill. The large man had broad shoulders, no neck, and a bloated white face like that of a toad. He was wrapped in a chocolate brown suit a size or two too small. Bill felt tiny and insignificant beneath this large man and his frozen hazel gaze.

The big man moved aside, and Bill saw the rest of the room. There was a one-way mirror on the back wall and a well-dressed woman in a folding chair next to a plain metal table. Looking at her, his jaw popped with a subtle twitch. His eyes widened a fraction.

“I don’t believe it,” Bill said under his breath. His heart fluttered in his chest and it became difficult to breathe. "Gloria?"

The well-dressed woman looked up and recognition crossed her face. She raised an eyebrow. It was a look Bill knew very well. “Oh my Lord… Bill? Is that you?”

The hulk of a man grunted. “Well, at least the mystery of this creep’s identity is solved. You know this freak show?”

Gloria just shook her head. She looked down to the aluminum table and bit her tongue. She shook her head and tilted it to the side while a puzzled expression stole across her face.

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