by Samantha Chan
James opened his eyes to a concrete ceiling. It had holes and fingernail scratches imprinted on its surface, the paradise view he has woken to for the last 5 years. His bed was springy, but there was nothing he could do about it. Orange jumpsuits roamed the halls; ghosts of society. He put his hands on his head, the slippery feeling of skin. Breakfast was porridge, like every other day. He spooned the slop of food into his mouth, slowing down enough to make it last. The spoon was dented but it did the job. When the bell rang, all the orange jumpsuits gathered together outside, chests puffed up, their hands curling into fists. Tattoos rolled down their necks, bitten on bare biceps. They hissed when James looked at them for too long. He himself did not own any tattoos. His stick arms were unsoiled, an atypical look here at Creekside Correction County.
The sun was hidden behind clouds, terrified of making a sound. He prodded through the sea of inmates, struggling to not aggravate anybody. Craning his neck, a guard was already there, standing between two prisoners. The guard’s hand rested in his back pocket, fingers wrapping around the neck of a trigger. James hurried to the back where he had been standing.
He stood there, observing interactions between orange and orange. In the corner of the graveyard, there was a huddle together. They kept their voices low and hushed whispers until one of them turned around.
“Hey! What th’ hell you looking at?” someone shouted. “Get an effing life! Jesus Christ!” Laughter arose.
James instinctively raised his hands above his shoulders while his ankled tied together. Cold sweat ran down his arm. His spine uncurled as if there was a straightener ironing out his posture. He looked down at his torn uniform. There were holes in between seams.
The same man who yelled raised his arm to give the very simple expression nothing but his middle finger.
That night, James dreamt about an outside world. A place without concrete walls, and buzzers, and secret weapons in every pocket. He fantasized about that life, a reality buzzing with civility, good intentions, healed flesh; days full of glory. James opened his eyes to a concrete ceiling. It had holes and fingernail scratches imprinted on the skin. He scrambled in his bed, put his hands on his head; his palms rubbing against raw skin. Snatching his keys, he slipped out of his room. He tapped in the keypad, buzzed the door open. His first steps outside were on eggshells. Then, his muscles in his thighs, and abs began to clench. His strides elongated, his sprint as graceful as a horse catching the wind. As he ran, the badge fastened to his navy uniform glinted in the streetlights until he dissipated into the shadows.