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Direct From the Journal of May Calister
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, examining my face. The sickly yellow light that emitted from the electric bulbs on the ceiling illuminated the chocolate brown of my hair, the green streaks in my eyes, and the sunken shadows of my cheeks.
The bruises were healing though. Before, they had seemed all but eternal; my face and arms and body blotched with shades of green, black, and blue. Now, after a whole month, they had begun to recede into my skin, the color fading back to a natural pinkish hue.
I sighed and turned away from the mirror. I stepped onto the scale that stood next to the end stall, and weighed in at 110 pounds.
A month had made all the difference. When I was admitted, I weighed 85. My ribs and spine had jutted out whenever I moved or bent. Now, I felt as if I might actually be able to keep my feet if the wind was unusually strong.
Suddenly, Toby came into my mind. My heart ached, and it was all I could do to stop myself from crying out.
His last letter had wrenched at my heart more than any of the others. He sent them usually two or three times a week, in response to my seven. Even though he was really only four and a half, and all his letters consisted of were a few elaborately colored pictures, they had come to be the only thing I ever looked forward to. In the last letter, a picture of me, Nathan, and Toby stared happily out from under a rainbow.
“Calister! Time’s Up!”
Striding out into the hallway, I met Rena leaning against the wall, arms crossed and staring suspiciously at the inmate across from her. Lesley, another guard, had her hand on the woman’s shoulder, and as soon as I had stepped away from the doorway she roughly steered her charge into the bathroom. Rena grunted and we began walking down the long hallway back to the F wing.
“Just came in this morning. From what I hear she got twenty to thirty; and that was a favor from the judge. I didn’t get all the details, but you can be sure, it was real grisly what she done. “
I nodded absentmindedly. She had had the look about her; no matter what she had done, she was in no way resenting it.
“I told Genine she shouldn’a put Lesley on her. Lesley herself’s only been in here six months; she ain’t got the experience yet to handle one o’ them. But, o’ course, no one listens to me anyhow…”
Rena noticed my blank look, and nudged me in the ribs.
“What’re you thinkin’ ‘bout?”
I smiled apologetically and shrugged. Rena gazed at me meaningfully. Ever since I got in, I had never been able to keep anything from her.
“I’m just thinking of Toby,” I replied softly.
Understanding dawned in her eyes. She nodded slowly, and continued walking; I was grateful she didn’t ask me to elaborate.
We slowed to a stop as my cell door came into view. Rena pulled at the key strung to her belt, and unlocked the steel-barred door. Before I could go in, she grabbed my shoulder, gently but firmly, and turned me to look at her.
“Don’t worry, honey. He’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine.”
Even though the words did absolutely nothing for the black pit in my stomach, I smiled painfully at her, and she let me go. The door slammed on my back.
The day I got in, Rena had been assigned to me. She was tough in many ways, but she had been the one to show me the ropes inside. She didn’t judge me, or fear me, and she understood what I’d gone through. In the month that I had been here, we had grown closer; well, at least as close as a guard and her charge can get. In a way, she was my one remaining friend; my one tie to a remotely normal life.
I took the few small steps to my bed, and flung my body down on its stiff frame. I closed my eyes, even though I knew what I would see. This was the way it was every night, and the tears came before sleep did.
I first met Nathan in the coffee shop I worked in my freshman year of college. Large coffee. Black. He joked with me while he was ordering, about the generic “black coffee” thing. He said he didn’t like sprucing it up. He went and sat down to wait, and I went over to the coffee machine.
Carrie was there filling a cup, and she raised her eyebrows at me with a grin.
“Hey May, who’s the guy?”
I looked over at him sitting in the corner, and back to Carrie.
I rolled my eyes at her. Ever since I started working with her, Carrie had been trying to set me up with every moderately hot guy who walked into the store. She and her boyfriend had been together since high school, so she most likely felt as if no one could feel remotely happy without someone by their side. As for me, I wasn’t planning on focusing on my love life for a while longer.
“I’m serious! You should ask him out.”
“Carrie! I’m not going to ask some random guy to go out with me!”
She sighed dramatically and turned away to finish sprucing up her order. I walked over to his table and set the coffee down on the marble surface. I swung around to go back to the counter, but my hand strayed from my side, and the lid popped off the cup, spilling hot coffee all over the floor.
I ran to the counter and raided the napkin machine, streaking back to the growing puddle on the floor. I frantically scrubbed at the liquid, and I was vaguely aware of a second pair of hands helping me. Once most of it was soaked up, I looked up to put the napkins back on the table, and found myself staring into the eyes of black coffee guy.
It took me a moment to focus in on his eyes, and I was dazzled by the brilliant green I found there. They were so open, so deep, and it took me even longer to tear my gaze from his face. He took my hand and helped me to my feet; his fingers left a lingering buzz on my skin.
“I am so sorry sir!” I stumbled on my words, trying to shake off the moment.
“Oh, no, really, don’t worry about it. An accident’s an accident.”
I dared to look up into his eyes again, and I saw a gentle friendliness in them. I smiled tentatively.
I refilled his drink, and he waved at me as he walked out of the shop. I stood behind the counter, and I could feel Carrie’s attentive eyes glued on me as my heart rate slowed.
Sophomore year, I saw him a second time. In this science class I was taking.
The first day I woke up slightly late, and made it into the room about five minutes late. The teacher, Mr. Heller, was notorious for starting strictly on time, so when I walked in a silence spread through the room and hundreds of eyes turned to glance at me.
I drew a sharp breath as I recognized one pair of brilliant green eyes near the front. His eyes were coupled with a knowing smile, and he nodded to me ever so slightly. I ducked my head and took a seat near the back.
At the end of class, I hurried out the doors first. Just as I reached my car, I felt a hand close on my shoulder. The same buzz as that day in the shop zapped through my skin.
“Hey, remember me?”
“Um…oh yeah. Black coffee, right?”
He laughed. The sound filled my heart with something I had never felt before, and still can’t describe. It was as if that one laugh created a link between the two of us, a bond that I didn’t quite understand yet.
“Right. Actually, it’s Nathan.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Well, I’d better be going,” I said, and opened the door to my car.
Nathan stood next to the car as I put the key in the ignition, but put his hands on the car before I could get in drive.
“May, do you think you would want to go get some coffee with me sometime?”
The memory of spilled coffee everywhere popped into my mind, and it must have into his at the same moment, because he chuckled a little.
“Wait, scratch that. Um, dinner, sometime?”
A whirlwind of emotions whipped at me, and I stared at the emblem on the steering wheel. I glanced up at him, and then looked down again.
A big grin broke out on his face.
I wrote my number down on a napkin, and drove away from him, constantly looking through the rear view mirror until I turned a corner.
Nathan Calister and I dated for two years, through all my years of college. He ended up being a junior, so he was already well into the law practice by my last year. I moved in with him at the beginning of the second year, much to the horror of my parents.
Even though he would get up two hours earlier than me for work, he never seemed to forget the morning kiss. Every Friday I found a plate of eggs on the table with a rose. When he got home from work, I would already be there from class, and we would cook dinner together.
At the end of the third year, I became Mrs. May Calister. It was the perfect wedding, the one I had been looking forward to since I was a little girl. It wasn’t really his style- Nathan still wasn’t into the “sprucing” thing- but he put on the smile I adored and said, “Whatever makes you happy, love.”
Around nine months later (completely coincidental), we got Toby.
Toby was the completing piece in my life. Ever since we got married, Nathan had been the main worker between the two of us. Now, with Toby, we decided that I would be one of those “stay at home” mom’s. My mom discouraged it with a passion, but I thought it was a pretty well-thought up plan.
Somewhere in a house on the corner of Drears Road, a box of home videos sat forlornly. I can almost see the contents in my mind; hours and hours of watching Nathan play with Toby, Toby on the playground in the park, Toby and I coloring on the kitchen floor. There was even a video of marking his height on the bedroom door, along with mine and Nate’s.
Three months after Toby’s fourth birthday, Nate’s older brother died. Tom had been driving drunk, and wrapped his car around a tree out in the country. Tom had been Nate’s whole life, his friend and shoulder to lean on for every up and down. He had been his inspiration and role model, had practically taught him everything he knew. Even though he was only five years older than Nate, Tom had acted like a second father to Nate.
Nathan had never really had the taste for beer before that day, but he definitely developed a liking for it over the next few months.
I tried to help him. I couldn’t even pretend to understand what he was going through though; the closest relative I had ever lost was my great grandma, and that was when I was ten. The first few months I overlooked the growing number of bottles lying around the house, the smell of alcohol on his breath every time he leaned in to kiss me.
I caught Toby making a tower out of the bottles, and I couldn’t stay quiet anymore. That night when he came home from work, I stood next to him while he was doing the dishes.
“Nate, I know that this has been really hard for you. It’s been really hard for all of us-“
“You have no idea how it is. You can try, but you just can’t.”
I started at the interruption. His eyes we still downcast, staring intently at the plate in his hands.
“I know Nate. But this has to stop. You need to move on. It’s what Tom would have wanted-“
The plate clattered to the floor and Nate’s hand closed on my arm. His grip was ice, and his eyes glared into mine with a fierce intent.
“Don’t you dare talk about what Tom would have wanted. You don’t know anything.”
We stood there for a few seconds. My insides had frozen, and my body involuntarily trembled under his wrathful stare. Suddenly, the world had gone quiet, as if someone had hit the mute button.
Finally, I wrenched myself from his grasp. He let go, but the same raging fire flared in his eyes.
“Nate. I do know one thing. This has to stop.”
My voice came out a lot stronger than I felt. For a moment I thought he might lunge at me, and I was astonished that it had even come into my mind.
A breath of wind, and he was gone. The kitchen door banged as he headed out into the night. I heard the sound of the car staring as I walked into the living room, where Toby was contently playing with his beer bottles.
The next morning, I woke to the kitchen door opening and closing softly. I stiffened as footsteps climbed the stairs, and the door to my bedroom creaked open. I pulled the covers closer.
The brush of his lips touched my cheek, and I streaked out of bed and away from him. I stood at the other end of the room, and he stood next to the bed, arms held out harmlessly.
“Whoa, May,” he whispered soothingly. “It’s ok. May, it’s all right.”
I stood there like a block of ice as he walked slowly to my side of the room, all the while whispering his soothing words. When he stood within a foot of me, he reached up and meant to touch my cheek. I flinched.
“Oh baby,” he whispered, and took me in his arms.
“I’m so sorry.”
The rest is too painful to fully recall. We reconciled, and all went the same as before. But the bottles stayed.
One night, Nathan came home later than he usually did. He smelled of boos again. We argued. And he hit me.
The sting of his hand stayed on my skin, like that buzz he had given me when we first met. My left cheek looked slightly pinker than my other that whole day.
It kept going like that. Every night, he would come home late; I would try and stand up for Toby and myself. But the end never changed. I lay in bed, by myself, curled up in a ball, blocking out the world, and Toby pulling at my sleeve.
I didn’t get it. We were in love. We had been through so much together; he had been with me through everything. He had never been violent before either. To anyone. Except, now it was different.
Night after night, he came and left. Concealer became my favorite makeup. After I showered, I looked at my black and blue skin in the bathroom mirror and cried.
Toby was oblivious the first week. He thought mom and dad were just talking in the bedroom. But he walked in once, and I was on the floor, and it was the worst moment of my life. I crawled over to my son and held him, looking defiantly up into the brilliant green eyes of my husband. At least he had enough sense to not beat me in front of his own son.
I took to hiding Toby when his father came home. The closet, the den, his bedroom, it didn’t matter. As long as he couldn’t see what was really going on. But I was sure he could hear everything. I tried to keep myself from screaming, but Nathan had no censorship over his voice.
I started losing weight. There was the factor of depression. My beloved husband had betrayed me. But, more than that, Nathan had begun spending all his money in the bars and liquor stores. The little that he did drop on the counter before he came upstairs went to feeding Toby. I told myself I could live off whatever was left.
The evening after a particularly bad night, I decided it was enough. I packed a backpack full with my belongings and a backpack for Toby, too. He insisted we bring his stuffed elephant; I swallowed hard and smiled, and agreed that we couldn’t leave him behind.
When I was convinced we had everything we needed, I hustled Toby out onto the driveway. Just at that moment, the headlights of Nate’s car blazed down the driveway, and I froze in its beams. I knew I had only seconds before he barged out of the car; I threw Toby onto my hip and dashed for the house door. I threw it open and slammed it shut, locking it quickly.
Nathan screamed, banging on the door, and I ran with Toby to the back bedroom. I set him down on the couch.
“Toby, everything’s ok. Mommie will be right back, ok?”
Toby nodded. I closed the door to the bedroom and headed to the closet by the door. I couldn’t hear Nathan at the door anymore, but I suspected he would find another way in.
In the closet, I found Nathan’s hunting rifle. It was heavy in my weak and bruised arms, but I held it with a steel grip and crept back to the bedroom. I stood in front of the door.
The sound of shattering glass filled the night air. Something thudded on the floor of the house. Slow, deliberate steps.
“Nathan, stay back.”
His eyes traveled from the gun to my face, shock and rage mingling in his expression.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
“Protecting our son.”
Nathan’s eyes hardened into lumps of jade.
“Me? You’re crazy, b***h. Let me see him.”
My fingers cocked the trigger. His stride faltered, and his eyes momentarily flashed with fear.
“Stay back, Nathan. I’ll do it.”
He put up his hands, the same way he did that first night.
“Whoa, take it easy, May. I wasn’t gonna do anything.”
“You’re drunk Nathan. You’re drunk every day, and every night. I’m done with it. I’m taking Toby, and we’re leaving. You can’t stop us.”
His face contorted into a look of pure hatred. That look will stay with me for the rest of my life.
He lunged at me. Spur of the moment action. Stupid action.
My finger flexed, and the bullet hit him in the chest.
For a second, I almost saw the old Nathan, the one I loved, looking at me as he fell back onto the floor. But then his face was blank, and his eyes were glazed, and his body was slack. And it was over. And Nathan was dead.
Toby was taken from me. Child protective services. I was charged with second-degree murder, and a forty to life sentence. I was sent to the corrective facility for women in Pennsylvania, and Nathan was buried in New Jersey.
Sirens woke me from my pained sleep. I sat straight in bed as guards ran back in forth in front of my cell. My legs swung around and I walked slowly to the door, put my hands on the bars. Red light pulsed through the jail, and the screaming of the sirens partially deafened me in a matter of seconds.
I saw Rena running toward me through the darkness. I put out my hand to stop her, and she halted next to my cell door, holding my hand tightly.
“What’s happening Rena?”
“Nothing at all, Hun,” she replied urgently, scanning the corridor as she spoke. “That newbie got out just like I said she would, and now everyone’s looking for her. No need to worry. The alarms will shut off in a few minutes.”
I nodded deliberately, and she released my hand, hurrying down towards the bathrooms.
I sat back down on my bed and picked up the piece of paper laying on the nightstand. It was crumbled where he had folded it, but Toby’s crayon had not smudged yet.
I gazed at the picture, my eyes hovering over Nathan’s overly-green face. I would never see that face again in this life.
Tears clouded my vision, and I curled up on the mattress, clutching the letter to my chest.
I tried to imagine getting out. The sun would be shining. Toby would be there. He would run to my arms, and I would pick him up and hold him close to me. Everything would be better now, I would tell him.
“It’s okay baby. We’re gonna be fine. We’re gonna be fine…”
Soooomers., New York
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