Home » A Wasted Life » Short Stories » The Question – Chapter One

The Question – Chapter One

As April Drummond looks at her etiolated image reflected in the dirty, almost opaque windows of Craggy Prison, she counts the steel bars that separate her from the outside world, and waits.  She waits for the monthly visit she desperately wants, but knows will never come.

She is inconsequential.  She is unimportant, insignificant, irrelevant, nonessential, meaningless.  She is picayune. She was just a number.

She is also a murderer.

There are no words of comfort from the guard, who watches her every move, as she sits and waits.  There is only a slight look of fear when her visitation time is up, and no one has come.

April has a look in her eyes…the kind of look that unnerves you.  The kind of look that makes you shudder.  The kind of look that makes you question whether she is predator or prey.  The kind of look that foments the common reaction of fight or flight, when confronted by fear.  For those reasons, other inmates don’t bother her, but those aren’t the only reasons.

A one time interaction with another prisoner named BB, aka Big Bertha, aka Big Bitch, who invited April to join her “family,” became folklore legend.

BB, an unsympathetic bully, was born in this very prison, and as if written in a playbook, found her way back “home” when she was just 23.

Her mother, street name Jasmine, was a drug addict, who got pinched for prostitution after she solicited an undercover police officer.

Jasmine told BB that she didn’t know who her father was, and winked as she said, “but whoever he was, for a minute or a month, he was surely a happy man.”

The day before Jasmine was to be released, she was stabbed to death by another inmate.

It was well known that BB ruled the prison, had a few guards in her pockets, had her defenders, her enforcers and her family, which included several “daughters,” and three “wives.” She was not the kind of prisoner you ignored, challenged, or turned down.

Although BB wasn’t a large woman, she was powerful and intimidating. April, being diminutive, was mistakenly considered an easy mark by BB and her family.  When she refused BB for the last time, the family gathered around her like a pack of angry wolves.

April grabbed BB’s left breast and twisted it like a corkscrew.  BB screamed in agonizing pain, and dropped to her knees.  After she surrendered, she attempted to smile as she said, “I forgot that you were a murderer.”

April leaned over and whispered, “don’t forget it again.”

At 38, she is three years into her forty year sentence, which carries the possibility of parole after ten years, or possibly sooner if she is a model prisoner, or overcrowding becomes an issue.

Everyone who is incarcerated declares their innocence, but not April.  She is the only guilty inmate in the prison.

Six years and two parole hearings later, April Drummond, Inmate #11124721, now 44 years old, was notified of a third upcoming hearing. That’s when she would be asked…the question.

During that time, she acquired a cellmate, an unlikely sidekick named Roberta Nix.  Roberta was 60 years old, and was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for accidentally shooting her husband five times.

The day she arrived in her worn-out orange scrubs and matching flip-flops, carrying equally worn-out sheets and the paltry amount of toiletries provided, Roberta immediately recognized the hierarchy, as she listened to the cat-calls and heard the intimidation tactics used by BB and her family.

April didn’t participate in the usual initiation and barely glanced up as Roberta strolled into her new “home.”  Like April, Roberta wasn’t interested in joining BB’s family, nor was she interested in having to service the other inmates.  At her age, she felt as though she had already paid enough dues.

April seemed to be protected by some invisible shield.  Roberta wasn’t sure how or why, but noticed that the other inmates stayed clear of her.  Being smart, she knew that April could by association, provide insurance for her own safety, if she played her cards right.

Their collaboration started slowly; each testing the other’s loyalty, each divulging only the minimum amount of information about their lives before, and neither ever discussing the details of their crimes.

It was a year before Roberta began talking.  She married a man named Roberto when she was 16 years old.  His real name was Robert, but he thought Roberto sounded a little more exotic.  Everyone used to call them “the Robbies.”

Roberto, 10 years her senior, was a successful businessman who loved to make money, and loved to spend it even more.  He found Roberta at the local cafe, serving “a meat and three” to the local blue collar workers; workers with names like Bubba, Cooter, Josephus, Homer and Rufus.

The delicious homemade cooking wooed Roberto into the cafe week after week, and week after week he arrived, accompanied by a different young woman who was easy on the eyes, and appeared overly eager to please their older companion with public displays of affection.

Roberta knew women like them, and she knew men like him.  He had definitely caught her eye, but she played it cool. “The ones who don’t pay them no mind, will lure them in every time,” her daddy once said, and she paid attention.  The more she ignored him, the hotter his pursuit became.

She let him chase her until she “caught” him, and entered into a lifestyle she never dreamed possible.

He shaped and molded her into a perfect lady.  He showered her with luxury and she slowly emerged as the queen of the castle; the lady of the lounge; the consummate hostess, and the personification of the ideal wife.

Their union produced no offspring, of which she was disappointed, but also almost equally grateful.  Roberto was a selfish man, and through the years she had learned to accept the fact that her world revolved around him.

When he was 70, he was stricken with a mysterious illness that left him almost bed-bound.  Having been the epitome of healthy living, his affliction was puzzling, and left the doctors scratching their heads.

Roberta was his angel of mercy, devoting all of her time to his care.  She fed him, cleaned him, read to him, and did her best to keep up his spirits.  She didn’t want him to give up, and made it clear that she hadn’t married a quitter.

He slowly began to recover, thanks in no small part to her dedicated steadfastness.  His doctors were again, scratching their heads.  Roberta had pulled off a coup. Whatever she did had worked, and the doctors expected him to make a full recovery.  After being told that he could go home, the discharging doctor asked what she had done. She smiled and said, “all I did was love him.”  The doctor patted her on the back, smiled and said, “well, that was enough.”

Roberta was hoping that it had been enough. She was hoping that he would pay a little more attention to her.

A week later, Roberto was out on the veranda, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  Roberta smiled, excused herself and went inside with the promise of a quick return.  She had an idea.

She was going to look for old cards that she had given him throughout the years; birthday cards, anniversary cards, silly cards and of course, romantic, suggestive cards.  She thought they might elicit smiles and laughter and bring back good memories.

What she found was not what she was looking for.  There, among all of her cards, were cards and letters from a woman named Lisa.  Lisa? One of her dearest friends was named Lisa.  As she was gathering them, she was shaking.

She picked up the telephone and called Lisa.  When she answered, Roberta dispensed with the niceties and said, “how long have you been fucking my husband?”  Lisa was silent for a few seconds and said, “I want you to know that we never meant to hurt you.”  Roberta raised her voice and repeated, “HOW LONG?”  Lisa quietly said, “for about ten years.”

To be continued_________________________

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