Issue January 23, 2012

Literary LEO 2012

Short Fiction — Honorable Mention

A Long Day’s Night

BY GAIL CHANDLER

In dorm six of Kentucky State Prison, Andre Lacy lay on his single bunk staring at the ceiling. Twenty-four years, thirty-seven days, and a wakeup before he would meet the parole board. He’d be forty-three. That didn’t count the years remaining on his old sentence, the parole he was serving when he committed this crime. He recalculated for the hundredth time and then added a flop — which the board was certain to give him — and some weeks to process the paperwork. With luck and good behavior, he’d be on the streets by the time he was fifty-two.

He hadn’t cut his wisdom teeth; he’d grown an inch last year.

Lacy thought about Saturday’s visit again, grateful he had managed to get back to his room without breaking up — screaming or crying or something just as weak and stupid. Chiquita, that bitch. Did she really think all he wanted was a little friend? Little. He might only be five-one but he was a man with a man’s feelings. His stomach hurt when he thought about it. And he’d never had sex. Might never. When they opened the gate for him, he’d still be a virgin.

Here he was in his room killing another evening. No wonder they called it doing time. His brain went to where it went every day, several times a day — to his father. Did the old man ever cry? Ever feel like crying? For sure, he wouldn’t have cried over a woman unless it was something like his grandmother dying. Women loved his father, stood by him when he was in jail. Sent him cookies and packages of good westerns. Lacy closed his eyes and swam back to reality.

That father was pretend. He had no idea who his real dad was. His mother wouldn’t tell him — if she knew— and it was possible that she didn’t. He might be a trick baby. A rape baby. An incest baby. His father might be famous — Ray Charles or somebody. But then Lacy couldn’t sing worth a lick, and he was about as athletic as a porcupine. He did have a flat boxer’s nose. Maybe his old man was a white gangster named Bruno De Luca. Or a Mexican or a Cherokee. Whatever. It didn’t matter. He’d never know, anyway, and his father was probably as worthless as his son, the jailbird. The fresh meat in Unit D. The one everyone wanted except Chiquita Jackson, who thought he was a cocker spaniel.

Now sitting on his bed, he felt only cold rage. Chiquita Jackson. His mother. The father who didn’t exist. The guy in Unit D who called him Sweet Pea and leaned too close. He hated them all.

He got up and flipped on the television. It was tuned to one of those movie star gossip programs. He hated it, but this was the only station that would come in with rabbit ears. Why should he care if the group Milli Vanilli lip-synced and had to give up their Grammy. They were both tall, good-looking, rich, and not in prison. Lacy hated them, too.

He stared past the TV and up the wall. A steam pipe. A sheet with a noose over the steam pipe. It would not be a loss to anyone. Not to his family who had to visit and send him deodorant and coffee money. Not to Chiquita Jackson. Certainly not to the taxpayer who had to support him for the next twenty-five years.

And for that time, he would not eat at a restaurant or shop at a mall or sleep with a girl. He should just get it over with instead of dying an inch at a time like that dog’s tail his mother always talked about.

Why shouldn’t he? For the possibility that Chiquita would realize that she loved him? The parole board would bring him up twenty years early? The governor would give him a pardon? Less chance than Chiquita changing her mind.

A bank teller had been killed, and it didn’t matter that he didn’t shoot her or that he begged crazy Hershel not to do it. Or that he would sell his soul to have it undone. She was dead. And white, and worse for him, she was from Portland where they could raise the devil because a cloud passed over the sun. No, if he lived, he would serve every minute of this time and more, even if he saved the life of a guard or the warden. He might get a plaque and his name in the paper but he’d keep his twenty-five.

For everyone’s sake, he should do it. He looked at the pipe again. It might fall. He’d get no more than a bruise and wake up tomorrow on suicide watch, in the hole wearing nothing but his birthday suit. On a bare mattress. Half the windows in the cellblock were busted, and it was December, almost. Maybe he should wait until May. Or flip a coin.

He looked at his watch. Five-thirty and this was late night at the library. He should read up on suicide. What works best? Religious books to see if he’d still qualify for heaven. If he was going to do this, he might as well do it right.

<BREAK>

Behind the library desk, a slight young man in state clothes perched on a stool. He had black features in a pale face, long wavy auburn hair, and reminded Lacy of his bi-racial nephew. Lacy wondered if the guy had as much trouble here as he did.

Two inmates in jeans and T-shirts stood over by the westerns. Even from twenty feet away, the paperbacks in that section looked tattered. Another inmate pored over the card catalog.

The inmate librarian looked up at Lacy and smiled. “Can I help you?”

Lacy crossed his arms, tried to appear self-assured. He wished he had on glasses. “Just looking.”

“The westerns are over there,” he said, pointing.

Heat escaped from Lacy’s collar. “I ain’t interested in no horse operas.”

He shrugged. “Sorry. Louie’s our most popular author.” He glanced toward the two men, then back to Lacy. “Would you like another type of novel?”

“No. Where’s the place you look stuff up?”

“Reference?”

“Yes. Reference.”

“The first two rows.” He pointed. “Anything in particular?”

Lacy could smell his own sweat. “Uh. No.” He turned and soft-shoed to the first row. He searched for a few minutes until he found a section that looked a little interesting: The Criminal Mind (He didn’t need a book to understand), The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome (How did that work?), and Guilt Letting Go.

On the next shelf, he pulled off On Death and Dying and flipped the pages. No, this wasn’t what he was looking for. But in the next section, he saw three books: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One, A Healing Guide for Families, Stories of People Left Behind. He examined each carefully, often reading pages, once even an entire chapter, before moving on.

“You won’t find it,” a voice said behind him.

Lacy started, dropped the book, then turned, his fist involuntarily clenched, and stared into the blue eyes of the librarian.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Lacy picked up the book and slammed it onto the shelf. “This is a prison or didn’t anyone tell you.”

“I’ve been here a lot longer than you. Two years ago, I was standing in this same section, looking at these same books. I couldn’t find it either.”

“What’cha talking bout?”

The guy laughed. “You know, and you know that I know.” He sat the book upright, pushed the black metal bookend against it, then glanced at his watch. “The guard will be around soon to close up for the night. Before he gets here, there’s a book over in fiction I think you might like.”

“I should tell you to mind your own business and leave me alone.”

“Don’t.” The guy turned and started to walk away.

“Why?”

He turned back. “Because that big thug bothering you in Unit D is a jerk, maybe a rapist, and he’s going to mess up your mind.” He peered into Lacy’s eyes. “Because there’s only two of us here with the same sentence and unless we get shipped to the castle, we’re going to be in this place together for at least the next twenty years. And I’ve already learned some things you don’t know.” His voice was soft and confident.

Lacy crossed his arms as the guy’s face fell into place. He was the one who’d killed his old man and made all the papers for weeks. The one who testified for three days about his father’s abuse. “You’re Eddie Parsons,” he replied almost in a whisper.

Eddie nodded and looked away.

“I believed you,” Lacy said.

“Thanks.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Show me the novel.”

They stopped in front of the Bs. As Eddie reached up and took James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room off the shelf, the hairs on their arms brushed.

Lacy took the book and read the back cover. The story of a young American involved with both a woman and with another man . . . “I don’t go in for this.”

“You don’t have to. Just read the book.”

Lacy walked to the desk to check it out and as he did, he knew with a dead certainty that he would read it, that he would not kill himself. Then he wondered if there were any more jobs in the library, jobs on the same shift as Eddie Parsons. 

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