[I dusted this old college paper I had submitted as an exercise for developing vignettes without an explicit introduction or conclusion. Just a slice from the middle, so to speak. Anyhow, I thought it was kind of interesting, so I posted it on my blog. I may dig up more if anyone cares. Enjoy.]
The guard casually turned the old bulky key in the cage door lock and it made a deep clanking sound as it released and sprung open. He walked in to the waiting room as the guard held the door open for him. The entire facility was dimly lit and an overhead fluorescent tube was flickering as if soon it would die, but it somehow flickered on.
“Sign in, please” the guard murmured. Handing the visitor a tattered clipboard with crinkled papers attached, and a pen dangling from a knotted string. Tired from long hours inside a world without daylight, only the all-too familiar buzz of fluorescent tubes. It wouldn’t matter anyway, since it had been raining heavily for days and was still pouring down even on this darkened, early Winter evening. Outside was violent winds and rain, yet inside was an almost complete silence, as if the weather were miles away.
He scribbled on the clipboard as the guard waited. He handed it back as the guard turned to put it through the office window porthole opening.
“Wait here. He should be out in a minute or two.” and the room fell silent. So quiet, in fact, that the only sounds he could hear was the soft buzz of the fluorescent lights above and his own heart beating.
It was probably only a matter of seconds, but it seemed like hours passed in this dreary silent room. Then suddenly: the clank of a metal door opening. A clank that would startle anyone else, but not him. He was expecting it. The door was on the other side of the room, with only the simple, flat table and two chairs in between. The door swung open slowly as the guard held it for the inmate to walk in. Shuffling his feet, motion limited by the leggings and shackles which were also chained up to the chain between his cuffs. His dull orange overalls were smudged and wrinkled. Probably not changed in weeks at least.
The guard sat inmate 10040505 down across from him and the two were now face to face at the same level. The guard sauntered to the corner and slowly, tiredly, leaned against the wall and began to fumble with his keys on the large ring. He announced in a drone, “fifteen minutes.” His voice a long, spacious Southern drawl.
And they sat.
Not a word was spoken. The two men just studied the expressions on each others face. At first, the inmate looked down at the table without forcing his eyes upward. The visitor stared directly at him, but not with angry intent. His expression was almost serene. As calm and emotionless as a funeral director might have while greeting mourners to a viewing. He sat completely still.
After what seemed like an eternity, the inmate blinked nervously and alternated his focus on the table and his visitors face, only as many times as it took for him to become frightened at the incessant gaze of the visitor. His boyish yet worn face looked uneasy, compared to the stoic wrinkled face of his graying visitor opponent.
“What do you want from me?” the inmate mumbled in a half-baked defiance. “Haven’t you had enough?” and his face turned into a slight sneering demeanor.
The visitor didn’t respond. He didn’t flinch. Silence. Silence dominated for another full minute. Then he ever so calmly reached into his shirt pocket and gently removed a pack of cigarettes, tapped it against his other hand and pulled out a cigarette as if in slow-motion. Never once did he look away from the inmate’s face.
“You can’t do anything to me now.” the inmate sighed and blinked slowly as if to impress upon the visitor his over-relaxed disconcern. “I’m in here for life, you know.”
Another minute of silence. The guard coughed and cleared his throat. The inmate turned to see it himself but never committed to full eye contact before turning his attention back to his adversary, sitting calm, motionless, across the table. The guard shuffled over to the table. As the visitor put the cigarette in his mouth, an arm reached out with a pewter ash tray, he took it kindly and place it on the table to his left. After lighting his cigarette and flipping the lighter cap shut, he took a long mouth puff on the cigarette, causing the ash to glow bright and his eyes squinted. He kept his focus firmly on the inmate’s face the entire time, even as he exhaled the smoke directly towards his face, but not overtly so.
And he spoke.
“The thing is, Ned…” and he took another drag on the cigarette and exhaled, “I know something you don’t.” He exhaled an endless volume of smoke through only his nostrils. His eyes sank into a look of derision. Half-opened lids without a blink to be found.
Ned stared at the visitor’s left hand, which was slowly rotating the lighter around and around in a mantra. But Ned didn’t speak. He listened. His breathing was quicker now, but his eyes remained fixed on the rotating lighter and gentle finger movements. The movements looked like a skilled card magician performing slight-of-hand in front of a close audience.
For the first time during the entire encounter, the visitor looked down at the ash tray, slowly and deliberately, as if tracking a slow-moving bug going from Ned’s face to the ash tray, as he tapped the ash off his cigarette. He continued, while his eyes were still watching the motion, “I know when… and where… you… are going to die.” His words were sparse. Separated with relaxed pauses that seemed to make the sentence float among clouds of uncertainty, yet every word was certain. Deliberate.
“Five minutes left.” the guard droned from the distant corner. His voice was monotone and tired. It trailed off in volume with an almost haunting sound, magnified by the short echo against the bare brick walls and smooth cement floor. It enveloped the room in an aura of despair and emptiness.
Ned sat stunned and motionless, staring through his visitor’s chest into nothing at all. When the visitor finally looked back up at Ned, he could see Ned was slack-jawed and dazed. He recalled the last time Bob said those words. It led to this place, and Ned being the only survivor of the twelve desperate men who had once tried to cross Bob. Bob didn’t like to be crossed.
Bob cracked a faint smile, almost impossible to detect, “Do you remember, Ned?” His voice was soft and calming, as if reading a bedtime story to a child. “Do you?”
“Yeah.” he nodded gently. “I remember”