The jailer led me from the room in which I had been talking with Sheriff Doyle to a nearby office which appeared to be the base of operations for the jailhouse. There was a wall of twenty-three individually numbered television screens to my left which were monitoring each of the cells in the building. When the husky, vacantly smiling jailer wordlessly motioned for me to turn around so he could remove my handcuffs, I began a futile search of each screen for the familiar image of my friend Bull. As I felt the tight grasp of the cold steel handcuffs release from my now aching wrists, the jailer pointed to a heavy wooden chair next to a large metal desk at the far end of the room. I moved to take my seat in the chair, but continued my search of the monitors on the opposite wall. The jailer noticed where my attentions were focused and offered, “Gunville’s in number thirteen.”
“Huh?” I looked over my shoulder, and saw that he was pointing to a monitor near the center of the surveillance wall. The screen he was drawing my attention towards had a worn piece of masking tape in one corner with the number thirteen scrawled in black marker.
“You’re looking for Gunville’s cell,” he stated matter-of-factly as he squeezed his body behind the hulking metal desk, and sat in a creaky, cushioned metal chair that looked to be about fifty years old. “He’s in cell thirteen… right there.” He pointed his finger again towards the wall of monitors. The monitor marked with a thirteen was seemingly vacant of activity. “He pretty well knows where to keep himself out of sight of the camera though. He thinks it makes us crazy. He’s actually right, though. It does.” The jailer pulled an old microphone on a small stand towards him from one corner of the desk, pressed the talk button and leaned down to speak into it. “Gunville, front and center… wave goodbye to your buddy. He’s going home.”
“Can everybody hear you?” I asked quietly.
“Nah… not unless I need to talk to everybody. Gunville is by himself in that cell, though. Apparently motherfuckers would rather sleep on the floor than share a cell with him. Honestly, I don’t blame ‘em.” The jailer chuckled and pushed the microphone back into the corner.
I watched monitor number thirteen as Bull’s orange-clad silhouette appeared in sight of the camera. At first his back was to the camera, but he turned around slowly and raised his head up to look directly into the camera. The image was poorly focused, but there was without a doubt a smile on Bull’s face that I had become familiar with during the tenure of our friendship. The smile was as fierce and confident in the view of that jailhouse camera as it had ever been in the time I had known him. Again I saw him silently mouth the words ‘Go home’ into the camera and as quickly as he had appeared in view he disappeared again.
I stopped watching monitor number thirteen and sat down in the solid, uncomfortable, ancient chair that I had been directed into. I began rubbing the dented, irritated marks on my wrists where the handcuffs had previously been restraining me, and nervously ran my hands through my long, stringy hair. When I had tucked my hair behind my ears, effectively removing it from my face, I was nauseated to feel the greasy filth of my unwashed hair on my scaly, ashen hands. When I looked down at the hands in my lap, I was even more appalled at the sight of the blackish-green grime underneath the jagged, unkempt fingernails of what immediately began to feel like appendages belonging to somebody other than myself. I tried to stop staring at my filthy hands, only to look up and find a shockingly alien reflection of myself looking back at me from a two-way mirror on the wall facing where I sat. My chest tightened as I began to feel the irrational pangs of panic close in on my mind. If I hadn’t had the ability to find some sense of reality in the movements my body was making, which unrealistically appeared to be being mimicked by the reflection I was witnessing in that silvery glass window facing me, I might never have believed that this image was my own.
The eyes staring back at me were glaring wildly from sunken, hollow craters on either side of my prominent nose, which was centered on a vaguely familiar face that appeared to be a covered by pale, glazed skin pulled too tightly over the skull. The phantom reflection’s hair was hanging behind the ears in strands of stringy clumps. In an effort to avoid this image I turned my body towards the jailer seated to my right behind the large metal desk.
“Are you alright, buddy? You aren’t gonna be sick are you? You just turned about three shades paler than you were… if that were possible.” The nameless jailer looked genuinely concerned.
“Hell, I’m not sure. But, I don’t recognize THAT guy over there.” I pointed towards the window-sized mirror, laughed uncomfortably, and found a coffee mug of pens and pencils on the jailer's desk to occupy my attention.
“Oh… that…” he responded affirmatively, “yeah, you look like shit, man. What the fuck did you expect? You came in here four days ago strung out on dope, haven’t eaten a damned thing I’ve sent back there for you the whole time, and didn’t move from that corner you fell into until I came to get you a little while ago. You should be happy you could walk on your own.”
“Guess I was tired… but fuck…”
“You did it to yourself, dipshit…” he began collecting papers from a manila file folder with my name written on the tab. He held the papers in front of him, thumbing through the small stack, apparently looking for something he needed. “Listen, you should probably call somebody to come pick you up. I can dial for you on this phone here, but then I have to go find your bond papers and copy a couple of other things. I’ll be in the next room, so don’t get nosy while I’m gone. Just sit in that chair and make your call, okay?”
“Yeah… sure… you bet.” I was still concentrating very hard on not looking at either of my hands, or the accusatory mirror and the reflection it held that I had begun to imagine was desperately waving at me, trying to get my attention.
“So, do you know who you want to call? The sheriff left the number your wife gave him. I’m pretty sure that means he wants you to call her… but that’s just the sheriff’s friendly suggestion.” He held up a piece of paper with my wife’s name scrawled across it above the familiar phone number of the house we had shared before I had become estranged from her to pursue the illicit life that had landed me here. “As hard as you think it’s going to be, I’d make peace with the sheriff’s suggestion… if I were you.” He hesitated briefly for dramatic effect, “but I’m NOT you, and I really don’t mind saying that I am damn glad of that.”
“No, I don’t mind you saying that either at the moment,” I drew a deep, shaky breath. “Will you please call that number you have for me?”
“Sure thing,” he reached in front of him and pushed the button which activated the speakerphone. He dialed the number, and waited while there were several moments of silence before the call connected. I could hear the ringing signal from the speaker, and finally the familiar sound of my wife’s interminably sweet, southern-flavored voice answering the phone on her end.
“Ma’am, this is Deputy Charles Knowles over here at the Littleton County Jail. Sheriff Doyle gave me this here phone number, apparently at your request. It seems that we have in our custody a man who claims to be your husband.”
“Yes sir, I’m aware of the situation.” I recognized exhaustion in my wife’s voice, but more importantly I wanted to believe that I heard concern. “The sheriff told me that if he cooperated with y’all and came to his senses that he might be able to finally come home to us. I hope you have some good news for me, Deputy Knowles.”
“Well, ma’am… if your interpretation of good news is that the state’s attorney over here and Sheriff Doyle have decided that he can be released to you of his own recognizance, then I’m glad to say that I am indeed calling with good news.”
There was a hanging silence from her end of the phone. The silence seemed interminable until the deputy interrupted it.
I was suddenly startled and ashamed of myself to hear the sound of tears in my wife’s voice.
“Is he there with you, deputy?”
“Yes ma’am… he’s sitting right here. I have to tell you though, he looks pretty rough. He even scared the shit out of himself when he saw his reflection a minute ago. I’d tell you to go easy on him, but he really doesn’t deserve it in my opinion. Do you want to speak with him for a minute?”
“Thank you deputy, and please… I’d like to talk to him.”
“You bet,” The deputy reached across the desk and picked up the phone, covering the end used to speak into with his hand.
“I’m going into the next room… don’t move from that chair… and try not to forget how lucky you are that this woman is making any effort at all for you.”
“Thanks… I’ll try.” I took the phone from his hand, and held it in front of me while he got up from the chair at the desk to leave the room. When he had squeezed back out from behind the desk and disappeared through the open doorway I drew the phone close to my head and listened to the earpiece for a moment before I began talking.
“Hello?” My voice was shaking, along with my hands and legs in a fit of nervous tremors.
“Baby…” I could hear the tears in my wife’s eyes, and felt the shaking awkwardness in her voice. She was sobbing quietly and drawing short, embattled breaths. I felt like it had been years since I had heard her speak so kind a word to me as this one simple term of endearment. I was confused by the series of emotions ripping through my consciousness as I searched for something profound to say. I surrendered my pride in a moments passing, and responded simply.
“Yeah, baby… It’s me.” All at once words began to fall from my lips uncontrollably, and without regard for their intended recipient, “I’m really scared right now, and I don’t even recognize myself in the fucking mirror. I’m terrified to look at what I've become… I’m afraid to look at my hands and I’m ashamed to think that you’ll be scared of me too.” I wasn’t sure where these words were coming from, as I had been unrepentant for all of these things for longer than I could remember at the moment. Tears began to stream from my eyes silently and without warning. “I don’t want to do this anymore… and I am so, so sorry. I regret what it has become. Do you really want me to come home?”
“More than anything, baby… more than anything. When can I come get you?”
“Can you come right now?” I hurt my throat trying to keep it from cracking with a sob.
“I’m leaving right now… I love you.”
“I love you too.”
When I heard the phone click on her end I reached as far as I could onto the desk without lifting myself from the chair I had been instructed to remain in, and dropped the phone several inches from its cradle. I wiped the tears from my burning face and sat silently in the room.
As suddenly as the tears had appeared in my eyes they had become absent. In an attempt to continue avoiding having to look at my reflection in the mirror I looked instead to the wall of monitors on the adjacent wall. One monitor in particular caught my immediate attention. In monitor number thirteen, Bull’s figure was again visible to the camera. His face appeared to be staring purposefully past the camera and monitor receiving its feed. He was staring directly at where I sat in the hard, uncomfortable chair. As I watched him staring at me from cell thirteen he silently mouthed one simple command, while holding an imaginary phone to his ear.
Go home now brother. I will call you soon…
He looked away and wandered back out of the view of the camera.
This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo