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The grayness of the Jacobs County Jail was suffocating. It poured in through his mouth and caught in his throat, like sticky cough syrup. Thank god for those orange jumpsuits. Although their fluorescence was obnoxious, verging on nauseating, they splashed a little color onto the sullen jailhouse.
Seymour had never been an unhappy person. In fact, he was generally content. Even as he wobbled towards his solitary confinement, his long, thin, body, convoluted like bent electrical wire, twitching and curving down a long hallway, a smirk was anchored low into his chin. What a day he had had, though. Men met behind bars were certainly unlike any others, and he would miss them wholeheartedly. Stevie had staggered yellowed teeth, and some gaping holes where teeth should have been, his mouth laughing like old crooked piano keys. The eyes of Slayer’s skull tattoo slathered on his left bicep seemed to follow any viewer, like an old painting in a haunted house. Barry barely fit in his orange jumpsuit, but flooded his cell walls with prison haikus, like,
Thirteen metal bars
Line my cold prison front yard
Seymour greeted these men and their eccentricities with enthusiasm. He knew that after solitary confinement, the current destination of his feet, these men would become but memories, a cacophony of grunts and the banging of metal in the back of his head.
Cell number 139 had thirteen greasy bars, liberally spaced. Seymour wondered if he could slither through those bars. But maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Remember what happened last time? No, better just wait out the sentence. More time is not an option. Seymour jumped suddenly, taken aback by the presence of a jail mate in solitary confinement. They could be friends. Best friends! How bad can jail be with a best friend? Seymour’s ruddy face beamed like a Christmas light as he sat down and the guard who’d escorted him swung the door shut. Seymour glanced around the room. The walls arched over like weeping willows, mouse or man made cracks replacing the tree’s usual furrowed knotholes. It was summer outside, in the real world, and heat had snaked its way under the roots of the weeping walls. It dawdled up near the ceiling. Spider webs, nature’s little dreams catchers, beaded with pearls of stained glass condensation, hung from the one window.
The roommate stared, small pupils swelling.
“You know”, Seymour began, his voice, once guttural and full, seemed to have been put through a taffy-pulling machine. It seeped out through his lean lips, diluted and thin.
“I was once a really great kid. Parents loved me. I could cook. And bake. Crème Brule even. I made my mom’s wedding cake, for her third marriage; I even made those little icing rosettes you see on the food channel these days. And, oh, I was a craftsman too. I made the prettiest rocking horse you’ve ever seen, I’m sure.” Seymour’s looked down at his hands. Unlike his weathervane body, they were huge. Gargantuan, with long, fraying ropes of lifelines and love lines tied across the desert of his palm. These hands had minds of their own, flailing like freshly captured salmon when excited. They were curious, digits prodding, poking; vortex-like palms and whirlpool fingertips seemed to suck in objects. Yes, they could construct; those walnut knuckles could build up little castles and trinkets and bake cakes. But these wandering fingers and palms were much more interested in taking things than making them. Sometimes Seymour didn’t even realize, but his sweating hands would be fingering a Victorian perfume bottle, coveting gold earrings, toying with crystal encrusted anything. Women even.
The roommate sighed and cocked his head.
“But here I go running my mouth about the past- you don’t even know my name”, the husk of his voice grinded away, “I’m Seymour. From Oklahoma- the plains, the heart of the country, you know.” He paused. Those small black eyes dropped down to inspect his rusty fingertips. He swung his arms near the floor in lanky, sinuous rotations. “You’re probably wondering why I’m in here.”
The roommate, shrugging, smiled softly. He was no bird brain.
“ Truth is, you know, I got ignored a lot. Not too many friends. I ended up working on a farm, while my mother drifted about. She would come in, a sandstorm, stinging your eyes and mouth. And afterwards, everything would be drowned in sand.”
The roommate, winking, assured that this tale would not be for the birds. Refueled by this glint of recognition for his story, Seymour’s corroded old voice box cranked out more of his history.
“I picked apples at the farm. I harvested them, but I wasn’t allowed to eat them. And these big hands of mine would pick and pick, but I could never eat those apples. But one day, I swear I didn’t even realize, but I was doing it, eating it. I swore that I would never go and do that again; I’m solid on promises, you know. Really, I am. But is that ever the end of these things? It was easy to stop with the apples, sure, they gleam and all, but they don’t truly shine. Not like silver, or gold. I felt like a bird, attracted to anything that sparkled, anything that had some gleam. I worked at these nice places at the Salisbury Mall- I told people about ‘once in a lifetime’ $9.99 deals and offered to spray them with peach breeze perfume and whatnot. Nobody trusted me. I wouldn’t trust me. This body stuffed into a suit! But I swear, it wasn’t me! It was those impish hands. They seem shy, but they’ll sneak in and grab anything that with some sparkle.”
The roommate remained silent, or so it seemed, inundated by the confession. This particular roommate was not very responsive. However, just having somebody to listen, somebody to acknowledge without judgment- that made all the difference. Because the truth is, there’s a criminal in all of us. And there’s always room for innocence.
“I think I took all that stuff to gild over my life. Like, if I had a diamond, people wouldn’t see that I had nobody. “
The roommate stared with kindness and chirped, as if he were truly taking in all that Seymour was saying. As if, by listening to Seymour, he could change his life. The best friend. Seymour, smiling with real enthusiasm for the first time in years, continued his story.
From afar, a car sped along the highway parallel to the morose jailhouse fortress. A little girl, who had swinging pigtails, sat in the back seat, red cheeks plastered against the car window. Waves of heat rippled across the dusty stretch of land between the car and the jailhouse. But still, the little girl could make out a stretched-out man in the window of the jail, gabbing away to a bird sitting on the windowsill.