The Red Letters p.4

Smoke break.  It was the highlight of everyone’s day, and if you came in saying you weren’t a smoker-you sure as hell were now. You couldn’t have salt, caffeine, or anything else that even remotely resembled something good; but you could smoke like a  goddamn chimney. Beside this and a number of other withheld ironies, the cliches truly have nothing on the truth.

Smoke break was fifteen minutes, three times a day on an entirely caged-in makeshift basketball court with a low hoop and no net. It was also open during visiting hour-which was on most days of the week- because it was the only near suitable place for visiting in. Suitable was an overly generous assessment however; but I sure wouldn’t wish the oppressive yellow lighting of the bomb shelter dayroom on anyone either.

The concrete was littered with hundreds of cigarette butts, though there were two clearly designated receptacles for them right next to the graveyard of cigarettes. There were two rebar tables, with an attached bench of the same. I was accustomed to cages, but somehow the sun shining on this one seemed hotter and more draining than I ever remembered it being; and with a chronic fever, unbearable. I hated the sun, but never got out of the sunshine State; yet most people I came across thought it suitable to dub my fucking delightful disposition “Sunshine”.

I pulled a clove cigarette out of my front shirt pocket,  and handed it to Pelican Bay Derrick. Like everything else far before a paperclip, lighters were under lock and key, but there was usually some teen intern wandering around with a lighter. I always felt like an asshole every smoke break because most people were too broke to afford cigarettes, or had no one to bring them; but I eventually had to mostly stop giving them to anyone but Derrick in exchange for his watching out for me, and the occasional diversion from whatever petty crime of the day either of us had mind for.
There was an old lady who I noticed had been sitting out here this time of day, alone in her wheelchair in the sun. I didn’t recognize her from our dark hallway or desolate dayroom. I guess the fresh interns had been bringing her over here from the ward across the way- where the “crazy crazies” were- because they wanted to get her out of their hair for a bit. She didn’t look up much at all, with her head bent looking to the ground or in her lap, always muttering angrily and nonsensically in what I was pretty sure was just gibberish. All I caught was something about wanting a Pepsi. I didn’t think she could otherwise speak lucidly.

I finished my cigarette and threw it out, along with a few others from the ground. Was it that fucking hard? This place was already shitty enough.  I had brought my guitar out with me; it was the only thing beside a black leather- bound journal and a red ink pen that I wanted sent after to me after my blurry 3am admission with nothing but the same burgundy shirt still on my back. I didn’t need clothes, I needed music. Besides, they didn’t permit even belts- much less any buckles, studs, strings, or anything you could in any realm of fantasy hurt yourself with.

I have long said that music was my mother, brother, sister, and lover. It was the only thing that could meet me where I was at or make me feel anything at all- but somehow I never thought that I would learn to play an instrument; It had always seemed daunting and overwhelming because of the countless times Caden had tried to explain “music theory” to me. But it was the end of that 3- year serious- albeit my first and last- relationship. It had seemed like a night like any other: he would hold me while I traced the veins in his forearm and listened to the every minutia of his workday. Then I never saw him again, until I much later found out that he had married a girl up the street from me.  But that night he forgot his guitar, and I never bothered to give it back. Yet It was how it was meant to be- for I already knew that I would never be closer to anyone or anything than what music could convey, often without a single word.


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