Art by Dan Reece
He made a cup of tea with the three packets of sugar he’d
saved from his breakfast. Filling the hot-pot, he took a good
look at his eyes in the mirror and decided that they were yellower and markedly more bloodshot than
they had been before. Hero’s head swooned and his body no longer seemed
to be caught up in gentle waves – now the invisible force
was a blob of magnetic energy which began around his calves,
where it was heaviest, and gradually diminished as it rose
on a bungee-cord hooked to his tailbone. He filled out a
sick call slip while he drank his tea.
Hero tried to nap but his feet were cold and so he barely
nipped until Slamdoo, the P.M. porter, woke him up, “C’mon,
man, look at this – you got mail on your gate ,.. “
Sham was someone that Hero liked. He was straight-up. Sham
didn’t bullshit and he’d sold him the best bag of dope he’d
ever had in Attica. Most of the junk was either weak or
cut with mysterious bitter powders that his liver couldn’t
clear so that his high was always short-lived
and he’d usually end up spending the next day coping with
an incapacitating migraine headache and vomiting yellow bile.
Sham put a feed-up tray in the gate slot which contained
three mealy hot dogs lying in a small portion of congealed
white beans, a sporkful of sauerkraut , and some chopped up
strawberries in syrup
“Want milk? Get ya cup.”
Sham always filled Hero’s personal jug – that
was 16 oz but not that night; the unpackaged milk was way
too thick with fat. Hero studied his mail. An oversized envelope
addressed to him with a computer label – he recognized
the return address it was from “The Patriotic Liver Foundation,”
and removed the staple the cops had re-closed the envelope
with after they’d checked inside for all manner of contraband
including any propaganda deemed inappropriate by the Media
Review Committee. Correspondence would flag any questionable material and forward it to the MRC.
The MRC would send the inmate a letter informing him that he had received such and such literature
and that he had ten days to respond and convince them why they should let him have it. Who were the
MRC you query? A panel of three NYSDOCS C.O.s, the Captain of Security and the head librarian –
who did whatever the other one or two told him to including writing the denial.
Hero often wondered how he was supposed to develop any
kind of defense if he’d never seen the material in the first
place? In the one and only battle he almost won against
the MRC, back in ’86, friends in Montreal had sent him a
copy of The Fifth Column, an anarchist newspaper printed
in Canada that advocated prisoner work strikes and recognized
the unconstitutional aspects of coerced labor that was habitually
described as “voluntary” until a prisoner refused and
was punished and or penalized.
The Big Lie, baby. Singularly semantic. Pedantic.
Catch them on their day off and they may even be: romantic.
Shit from shineola if they didn’t think so- the rat bastards.)
He’d almost won, too. His vocabulary alone scared the shit
out of the MRC members and so with a big black magic marker
they blacked out the portions they’d deemed a threat to Hero’s
Well, Naomi Judd, the PLF spokesperson wasn’t too much
of a threat” except for the fact that she was always asking
for fucking money. Also enclosed was a “Words For Hope” poster with quotes from such stimulating
and inspiring people as
Mary Tyler Moore and Amelia Earhardt? Her quote was as confusing as was her being included!
“Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace.”
At that, Hero began to feel physically hot. Getting dizzy,
he said loudly, “Shut the fuck-up!” to the poster and, more
specifically to Amelia Earhardts ghost who – he hoped –
was more thoughtful than this shmucky girl who flew some
airplanes and, subsequently, had disappeared while doing so.
(Hero had read that in retrospect, historians did not rate
her a very good aviator. That and she never flew alone.)
Fame was funny in that way – famous people could blow bubbles
with the leftover chicken grease their lunch had deposited
on their lips and there would always be someone there to
“listen” to them, intently hanging off of each and every
greasy bubble until it burst and to then anxiously wait.
Mary J. Blige about the Columbine High School shootings.
“The seeds for Columbine were sown when those kids were
seven,” she’d said.
“Shut the fuck-up!” Hero barked at the magazine. “What
the fuck is this idiot talking about?”
Hero liked the magazine even though they had a consistent
habit of helping famous people fit both their feet in
their mouths. He thought Mary J. Blige was an imbecile,
a very good looking imbecile who could sing but an imbecile
nonetheless. Her opinion on the subject was worth less than
nothing. In fact, in certain circles, it would have had to
have been considered a liability, a negative, a deficit.
She’d generated a few other equally retarded quotes that
Hero had elected to try and forget as quickly as possible,
as things of that nature tended to stay with him for months
and, in the worst cases, even years. Putting Amelia Earhardt
to the side (she’d started the whole mess), he took a leak,
rinsed his hands and washed off the hotdogs. Turkey hot dogs
the menu had read. Aha! That’s why they tasted so mealy
like, all grainy like ground corn. Next, he cut them up into
bite size pieces on the bottom side of his plastic, personal
food bowl cover, poured about an inch of water in the bottom
of his hot-pot, added 3 pats of state-butter that he’d saved
from lunch and then he plugged that bad-boy into his extension
cord which ran from the florescent light high on the
wall over the sink. When it started to hiss, he tossed in
some state-mustard .. He stirred the dogs with a “new” pencil he’d been using to cook with for a while,
splitting the end so
that he’d had to wrap twisted strands of copper wire
from a pair of state headphones around the business end to
hold it together. About three minutes later, Hero ate the
hotdogs dipping each piece in the mustard. They tasted like
shit. Turkey parts, he ventured to guess. Hero made quick work
of the strawberries and realized as soon as he’d finished
them that he could’ve made a strawberry shake with the container
of milk he still had left over from breakfast.
Hero reinspected the PLF’s “Poster of Mope” just to look
at the little picture of Naomi Judd on it. He thought she
was pretty. Her name was pretty, too. Naomi. He remembered
a friend of his sister’s with a name like that. Her name
was Dahlia and she was a very beautiful girl. She’d died
from insulin shock while on a trip out west before she saw
twenty. Hero’d had an Israeli girlfriend who reminded him
a little of Dahlia but Dahlia was much nicer to him. He
was only a little boy, not even eight when he knew Dahlia.
She’d had very long, straight, beautiful chestnut hair that
shined and fell all the way to the small of her
back. Hair like that always felt cool when he’d touched it.
He didn’t know why. She wore flannel shirts and bellbottom
jeans, sandals, all very soft yet functional. Capable. That’s
how Hero remembered Dahlia, his sister’s best friend who
had died 30 years ago.
Count time, meds time – and finally – sunset time. She was
so beautiful that evening, resplendent. Hero saw liquid shimmering orange at the horizon that set the
trees on fire from
behind a mile away. Clouds stretched out north and south
thin and layered with depth. He watched the colors of the
higher, closer clouds change from light violet to purple
and then to powder blue.
A closer tree, just past the wall, was framed by all the
active colors. Everything looked so alive and volatile to
him in this sky. Distant clouds separated, first top – then
bottom, and even more of the sun’s light was reflected. Hero
imagined that an Africa of his dreams laid behind that chain
of hills where animals lolled under cool shade trees in the
slowly diminishing late afternoon heat: napping now, playing
now, and hunting while the sunset’s golden shimmering hot
orange-yellows went down crisply to illuminate rain clouds
that were previously deep, dark, and gray.
The winds were power that a person could learn about but
Hero’s most recent ancestors had forgotten all about such
things along with the golem, The Keys of Solomon and the
power of silence; the secrets of the temple architect, Ham,
gone in a blur of three high swung hammers. All the greatest
magic relegated to fantasy and commerce. No more.
Small birds sat on the wall in groups of threes and fours.
Gigantic, dark lavender rain clouds set against the graying
blue discordant sky. Other clouds, closer, resembled fuzzy
tufts of cigarette ash. The C.O. took
his count. Hero didn’t really see him for all the color in
his eyes. He thought about how the light changed so dramatically
with the passing of the seasons and that winter
was a time of power. Already trees were turning. There was
a brow-beaten reflection of lavender light on the floor in
front of his cell divided by the shadows made by the bars
over the window. This color was the highest clouds reflection
of the set sun. Hero sat still and felt the earth under its
atmosphere and over the sun from a perspective of friendly
indifference that stretched back hundreds of thousands of
millions of years.
The halide light of a conjugal visit trailer broke his
concentration. He began searching for the milk he’d saved
from breakfast; found it, opened it up and drank. The liquid
landed in Hero’s stomach where it made a sharp right turn
before pooling and then drained chilling his liver. Hero
thought the bed had shaken. When he was a very young child,
young enough to still be sleeping in a toddler’s crib, he’d
felt his bed move but didn’t see anyone at all around.
It had scared him and he never forgot it. He was no
more than three or four. These feelings of movement, passing in and out of his body, were the same
force and what Hero sensed
as Death was very close by, creeping mercilessly to take
his body down. Back inside the earth. Rich and black like
the soil he’d buried a sunfish in beneath his grandmother’s rose bush. Losing, his opponent pulled back it’s hood – no movie this.
His eyes had grown hot and burning in their sockets all
the way to under the edge of his brows. He admitted to himself
that he was getting sick and swallowed saliva to pass the coppery taste in the back of his mouth down
into his throat. Hero thought of a watery, light brown stool and silently passed gas.
“Mah’ Lawd! I do believe I have thai vaypa’s, Colonel.
How I do feel faint; oh, Bessie Mae, be a deaya’ and fetch
me mah’ salts, please?”
He was thinking of the percentage of the populations wealth-
iest people – in comparison to its poorest of which he
was not only one, but a sick one – and he got dizzy with the
heat in his forehead; aggravated by the effects of all the
calculations. He tried to keep a watch on these ideas lest
he lose it one sunny day inside a Park Avenue elevator with
a straight razor .
“Every society has justified itself and poverty is a
crime, can’t you tell?” Hero snapped back at his guilty, empty
stomach. A constipated Pushme-Pullme floated by and both
of its heads gave him that look a dog gives you when he’s
trying to shit: something vulnerable and accusatory, blinking,
as if to say, “Don’t look at me, can’t you see I’m shitting?”
Hero liked dogs and cats and had kept a few over the years
with warm memories of one or two of them that he was particularly fond of. He was drifting to and
called out the name
of a dog and tried to find out where the sound came from but instead stared right into his eyes and
waited for instruction. Brown eyes full of love; ‘he remembered· sadly, a black and brown, short haired
Doberman/Shepard mix, kind’a goofy and the last of the litter to be picked. (Hero didn’t want to hurt his
feelings.) A runt. His father was high strung, fierce, and
extremely muscular. He was the mutant hellhound Doberman.
Sometimes they would run into one another at the park and
Noby would get all excited, pissing and drooling all over
the place, sniffing while his Dad stood stiff and ready to
tear his young ass out’the frame. Noby’s Mama was smaller
than her mate by a third. A Shepherd mix, she was surely
the mother, studying her spouse warily when Noby got too
close sniffing in the wrong places.
Hero loved Noby and the dog loved him, too, but eventually,
Hero loved heroin more and had taken to leaving the dog in
the basement because his roommate, Bobby Cabron, didn’t want
him in the apartment. This had really freaked Hero out, he
thought of Noby like family and tried to bring him
upstairs anyway until Bobby pitched a bitch. Busy chasing
bags, Hero left Noby in the basement too much and he developed
mange from the damp and dirt. He tried to clean up his act
and under the advice of a friend, they took Noby to the ASPCA
and left him there. The dog stood on a rubber covered ramp
with his leash in the handler’s hand watching Hero with
with his conscious eyes, his open and smiling doggy mouth.
Noby wasn’t dumb and the cab ride had piqued
his canine interest as to their destination and the rest
of the day’s agenda. His impression, there on the ramp, was
quizzical, but Hero didn’t wait to see if he would cock his
head to the side the way a lot of smart dogs do when they
haven’t figured something out yet.
Afterwards, Lorili, Hero’s friend, took him to a popular
restaurant called Jackson Hole Wyoming for lunch where they
both observed how weirdly sick it was to drop Noby off –
most probably to get gassed – and then go eat 16 oz. hamburgers.
Hero commented that it was the big “meat” aspect of it all
and it had made him want to cry. His life was a fucking mess
and he’d just killed his dog.
“It’s my own fuckin’ fault,” he told Lorili. “I’m such
a piece of fuckin’ shit.”
Letting go of Noby was supposed to make Hero’s life more
manageable so that maybe he could kick but it only made
him want to do more heroin and within a month the only
thing he was managing was the dope spot in Bobby’s building.
He was 19 then. It still hurt 15 years later. It was one
of the few things that he ever felt guilty about. Noby haunted
him. He had stabbed a man and slept better. Noby depended
on him. The dog was his responsibility.
“I’m a fucking idiot,” he told himself. Noby was a good
dog and Hero loved him. They were a lot alike. Noby loved Hero. That act of neglect followed by
his betrayal cast a gray, gray; no, a black veil over Hero
for years to come; present in every depression and every
prison term served so that he could never forget Noby and
sometimes even equated his failures and punishments with
his failure to protect his dog.
“I’m such a piece of fuckin’ shit.”
. . .to be continued. . .