When You Have People

From the Rumpus:

May 5, 2005, Houston Southeast City Jail.

The blankets are “at laundry,” the guards say. Some of the other inmates grouse at the news. “Like we just animals,” one girl says and then slams the fleshy side of her fist into the Plexiglas opposite the guard picket, leaving a sweaty hologram like one of those baby feet prints Josh and I used to make on the inside of Dad’s frosted hatchback. I am tempted to walk over and dot five little toes in an arc over the print before it fades, and the thought forms a sad lozenge in my throat. The guards ignore us, but it’s a studied nonchalance, sadistic and mirthful.

“Shhhhhhh!” I scream inside, thinking it can’t be good to piss them off, better to be sycophantically polite. I am so white.

We are in a communal holding cell, where about fifty of us sit at a cafeteria table in front of our middle-of-the-night breakfast trays. We are in mini-skirts and stretchy knits, in soiled jeans and Goodwill t-shirts: we are bloodied, stricken, wigs akimbo—all of our night-filth naked to florescence. The table is god’s waiting room: here we sit together, passing stories and powdered eggs. The meaty part of my upper arm oozes blood from a two-inch gash, what will later be the one physical scar I sustain, and my thighs and knees ache from the crash, the blood now a dark syrup that stiffens my jeans. From my tray, I drink thick fruit punch from a disposable cup with a foiled lid, but avoid the pale spitballs of scrambled eggs. A lanky black girl, who reminds me of Big Bird with her fried blonde-turned-yellow hair and her huge Muppet hands, asks what happened.

“I dunno,” I offer. “Car accident,” I say, then tell her I was arrested for drunk driving.