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A future chapter from a larger story, that is a story on its own.

Carl thought that solitary would be his best bet in prison. He thought of himself as an introvert, even a bit of a misanthrope, so what could be better than to be left alone? But now, after only 12 days, (13 days? it was hard to keep track of the days) that idea had a sour taste. Tito had tried to warn him. "You don't want to end up on solo." But, Carl just assumed that this was due to Tito's gregarious nature, Tito needed to be around people. But, so too it seemed did Carl.


Carl sat up from his half-sleeping state against the wall. Sleep was impossible with the lights always on. The tiny cell had a single L-shaped unit of furniture. A brushed steel combination bed-sink-toilet unit, an institutional monstrosity that took up most of the room. The mattress was a 2" thick bit of foam covered in slick wipe-down polyester, quilted in appearance, though on closer inspection the stitches and padding were merely a stamped rubber impression. It was flower print, little unidentifiable blue and white flowers that when you looked closely enough at dissolved into colored splotches on the plastic surface. The mattress was infested with bed bugs or something in the room was. Having torn the room apart several times looking for the source of the welts and itching the resulted from any time that he managed to sleep Carl wasn't certain. He'da rolled up the mattress and wedged it behind the toilet-bed-sink, the springs below were too spiky to sit on so he sat on the floor. There wasn't enough room to lay down on the floor or even fully straighten his legs. The bed-sink-toilet taking up one wall and a small desk the other corner leaving only a patch of floor 1.5' by 2' bare. Its surface was painted in several layers of chipped paint. Under the gray blue paint was a pinkish layer, under that paint was light green and the deepest layer he'd found (before his finger nails began to bleed) was white. The walls and ceiling were painted that same color. The single light in the unnaturally high ceiling (higher than the width of the room) was never ever ever turned off.

The bars of the little cage around the light burned a negative image into his eyes after falling into one of the trance like states he found himself in more and more often while staring at it. Since then everything he looked at was superimposed with the image of bars. 


It couldn't possibly be dinner time yet. All he'd done is try to clean his teeth (no toothbrush, but he tried to make an effort with the toilet sink and his fingernails) he'd then managed to exercise doing squats and a kind of levered push up he managed by holding the rails on either side of the frame of the bed. And then he'd sat down on the floor where he spent most of his time to think... dangerous... that was when he seemed to lose time most often...thinking.

Maybe the footsteps weren't real. 

Carl hated how he'd been reduced to getting excited by things as mundane as dinner. The possibility that the person delivering it might say something. What should he say? "What day is it?" "How much longer?" no. nothing to admit that this confinement was working on him. That he was ready to give up all of the secrets, rat out anyone! lie! just to see his daughters again. Just to see ANY other room again. Just to sleep in the dark, or stretch his legs-

The bolts on the door thunked. Carl jumped heart pounding. Had they always been THAT loud? One night (but he couldn't really know if it had been night) Carl had screamed for hours and no matter how loud he had screamed he could hardly hear his own voice. It was like being outside of his own body, looking at the world through 1000 panes of frosted glass... so how was it that the door, which was opening, was so... loud?

Oh no. The door was opening! It was opening!

Oh Yes! 


Oh NO!


Horrified Carl felt a wave of terror. He didn't want that door to open. It was irrational, but very real. And that simply being alone had conditioned him so quickly to fear simple things was sickening at another level. Carl suddenly became aware of how disgusting he was. 


How bad he must smell, the state of his tangled hair and stained prison uniform. The bug bite welts and the dead skin. How could he let anyone see himself in such a state?


Someone was talking to him. Someone was standing in the door. Fresh air from the hall filled his senses. The figure was... small.

"Tanisha..." His lips stuck together as he tried to form the word. 

"Dad, god what have they done to you?"

Someone was holding him. The sensation of arms around him made him jerk involuntarily and just as involuntarily came the tears. Tears not from mental anguish but of bodily trauma. Of isolation, of the sensation of human touch having become so foreign that it was almost... almost unrecognizable. 

Deeper in his mind some more rational part of his intellect had come online again. "Carl pull yourself together whatever is happening it is important. You don't have time to be broken pull yourself-" but the tears, the first he'd permitted himself in that room came anyway. As relentless and beyond his control as a thunderstorm. And the door to the horrible little room was ... open. Frighteningly, sickeningly, open. 

And Tanisha.

So far he'd shrunk from turning his attention to what he suspected was just another cruel mirage of isolation but, if she was there, if she was real, she was ... beautiful. 

And older, a little woman with the same serious but pretty full lipped features of her mother. A halo of softy curly locks that smelled faintly of the herbal shampoo from... oh god... 

He jerked away.

"I really need to stretch out my legs ... with the door open it will be easier to sleep" he pushed his legs into the the hall 
"That is so nice," he mumbled. 

"Daddy you're not going to sleep." What was wrong with Tanisha? Her voice sounded so sad? Had he done something else wrong? Had he made her sad?
"Daddy." Tanisha hugged him again. Ms. Madeline said that it might have been like this but some how Tanisha had thought that this kind of damage couldn't happen to HER father.

"Daddy, we are going to leave this place. Do you think you can keep quiet and stay with me and do that?" His eyes seemed blank had he even heard a word that she's said? "Daddy, I've gone to a lot of trouble to get this all set up. We all have." She couldn't be certain that he'd heard her but he did stand up. Then he pulled the mattress (why was it balled up like that?) from behind the sink and started arranging it on the bed.

"Daddy we don't have time for that. We have to go!"

"Ok" he said in the soft dry voice " just let me put it right first..."
Tanisha waited, but whatever he was doing with the mattress just seemed to be like stalling. She took his hand.

Someone was holding his hand.

And deep inside him that more rational voice was screaming "Look what she did for you! Look what they all did for you! You total WASTE of flesh! Go with her! Go with her you stupid stinking fool! You are probably scaring the poor girl with all of the madman fussing and your nasty dirty self! Don't disappoint her again! You fool!" But even as the rational voice berated him he found it hard to pull out of the comforting motion of straightening the mattress.

"Daddy. Ms. Madeline told me it might be like this. And she told me to tell you... It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. We really do want you back. No matter what."

The angry rational voice in his mind missed a beat. She was probably just saying that. But--

Carl stopped messing with the mattress and squeezed he daughters hand. 

"Yes daddy."
"Are you really here?"
"Yes daddy."
"How?" The word was more like a howl in his mouth. The new obstacle were tears. Those uncontrollable humiliating tears-- but his little's girl's voice was as warm as ever. And he tried not to dwell on what it meant that that sweet voice was in this terrible place. 
"I got help, Daddy, and we don't need to rush or anything... but we do need to go. Can you go now?"

The tears were mercifully silent this time. And something was coming back to him as well. His real voice. Deep and with a certainty he thought he'd lost forever. And hints of an old forgotten emotion. Anger?

"Yes." Said Carl "I can go now. And, baby I'll never forgive them for letting you see me like this"

Submitted: November 23, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.

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What I understand here is that Carl has been in solitary confinement for 12 or 14 days, and it has driven him somewhat mad. His daughter came to take him home, even though he feels his family should have known that his daughter wouldn't have wanted to see him that way. You have written a great scene. In fact the entire piece is very well written. But, it's left me wondering a few things; namely, how long has he really been in prison; and what did he do to get him there? It doesn't feel like a complete short story, but rather a mere chapter of another story. I'm hooked! Write on!

Mon, November 23rd, 2020 11:56pm

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