The room is tiny.

 The window is smaller. 

 The bed is a pathetic excuse for one.  Same for the toilet.  

 Nothing to do except sleep.  Or pace.  Or watch the roaches slowly crawl across the floor. 

 The room is mine for the next fifty years.  No worry about foreclosure.  I breathe the recycled air of rapists, murderers, and the occasional child molester down the hall.  

 Hope burns in my soul because I’m innocent and the truth always wins in the end.  But when is the end?  When do the credits roll in this dreary, mind-numbing purgatory?   I didn’t kill that woman.  She was my upstairs neighbor and never made any noise!  Not a sound.  Whoever stabbed her is strolling down the street, probably with an idiotic grin on his face. 

 I know that a piece of life-saving news is on its way. 

Weeks pass, months go by.  Then the years begin.  Now I’m starting to forget my life.  Having serious trouble remembering what certain folks looked like, what made me happy, what made me human.  You can go nuts here, in a room like this, by yourself.  Hell, you could probably go nuts at the Ritz-Carlton if you’re in a room by yourself year after year after year.  All I know is that our justice system reeks with the stench of human error.  But where does that get me?  What does knowing that do for me?  Doesn’t even get me into the bonus round.  I’m out of the game.   

Thousands of days.  They don’t redecorate.  They don’t have surprise birthday parties in the conference room with cake and drinks.  Nobody comes by to tell you you’re a good inmate doing an excellent job.  

The door unlocks.  One solitary lawyer never gave up.  Just one.  One smart, caring, compassionate human on the outside working nights and weekends, sometimes holidays.  He becomes my savior.  How do you say thank you?  I guess you’re supposed to use words.  Sometimes they don’t do the trick.  

“We’re sorry,” they tell you.  Yeah, sometimes words just do not do the trick.         

Now what?  Now I’m supposed to move on like nothing happened.  How do I get all that time back?  Don’t focus on the past, they suggest.  Look ahead.  Move forward.  But those smells and tastes are still with me.  So is the mind-numbing solitude.  Even when I’m surrounded by noisy, well-meaning people, the mind-numbing solitude is still with me.  Doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. 

Part of the world melted away.  I feel like a foreigner with no passport and I barely speak the language and I’m dressed all wrong and I can’t see to do anything right.    

Everybody stares at me.  Or do I imagine that?  Tell you what I don’t imagine: that smidgen of uncertainty.  Just a morsel.  A tidbit.  A dollop of doubt.  I see that so damn clearly.  My eyes are magnifying glasses; I should rent them out.  Sometimes it’s all I see in someone.  They’re so glad I got out, but in some dark, hidden recess of their mind, they wonder if I deserved to stay in.  They go out of their way to avoid being alone with me.  Let’s join the others.  I’ll bring Jonathan with me.  You’d like to see the boys, right? Wait until you see how tall they got. 

I’m out.  

 

Out, yeah.  I walk the streets, and I try my damnest to grin.

 

 

Gathered Here Together, by Garrett Socol

Garrett Socol’s fiction has been published in The Barcelona Review, 3:AM Magazine, Hobart, Spork, Duct’s, PANK, Pear Noir, Underground Voices,  Perigee, nth Position, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and other fine journals.   His nonfiction:  Movieline, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, and the website The Nervous Breakdown.   His plays have been produced at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Pasadena Playhouse.  His first collection, Gathered Here Together, is available from Ampersand Books

 

 

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