Authors: Mary Elizabeth
He scratches his fingers through his longish hair and laughs. “I don’t trust anyone to touch it.”
I sit up, picking at my fingernail polish with the phone between my ear and shoulder. His voice doesn’t sound the same through the receiver, and we’re separated by a four-inch thick piece of glass that may as well be four miles.
“It’ll grow down to your back before you get out,” I say, chewing my thumbnail. “Isn’t this place full of halfway barbers and tattoo artists?”
He stares at the curve of my bottom lip as he says, “I keep to myself.”
“Are you afraid they’ll slice and dice you with their clippers?” I drop my hand from my mouth and smile.
“This isn’t like the movies, girl. Days are uneventful. My cellmate is in for selling fake passports and spends his free time teaching himself to crochet,” he says. Lowen’s eyes drink me in, watching the rise and fall of my chest, bitten-too-low fingernails, and the curl I put in my hair.
“How about the nights?” I tease, wiggling my eyebrows suggestively. “Are those uneventful?”
My inmate laughs into the handset as a guard walks past me and announces, “Five more minutes.”
The pistol and nightstick on his waist deplete me of any happiness I feel visiting Low. Suddenly, I’m aware of how dirty the cubicle I’m sitting in is, tacky and painted a gross off-white color that’s chipped to show the concrete underneath. Scumbags and hoodlums, all dressed in orange like my boy, visit with people just as scummy. Babies cry, old people cough, and I’m pretty sure I’ve stepped in gum.
The smile from my face fades, and I press my hand to the glass like they do in the movies. “I miss you, Low.”
He presses his hand over mine, and I swear I feel warmth through the glass. “This isn’t what I wanted. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“You knew you could have come to me.” My eyes brim with tears, and the tips of my ears burn with pent-up frustration. I’m not the one with chains on my wrists, but I won’t cry in a place like this for everyone to see. “I could have fed you, Low. It’s been six lonely months with you in here.”
“Tell me something,” unruliness says to change the subject, looking back at me with glossy blues.
I sigh, outlining my hand through the glass with the tip of my pointer finger. “My mom hired a new gardener. He totally fucked up her begonias and blamed it on the rabbits. Like we have so many rabbits running around Culver City.”
“More than you think,” he says.
“Anyway, he’s gross and not you, but I give him water.” I shrug. “He’s old, so I take pity on his soul.”
“How’s school, Poe? Are you still going?” Lowen asks.
“Yep, I worked on my psychology paper on the bus ride over here.” I drop my hand from the glass and stick my thumbnail back between my teeth before saying, “But I had to drop half of my classes.”
“Why?” He sits up, and his mouth falls in a straight line.
“College is expensive, Lowen. My parents try to help out, but they have their own shit going on.”
Nothing has changed with them. If anything, their nonchalance about their only daughter has worsened. The grass isn’t so green on the other side because the grass is in fucking prison, and they know it. I only take the trip to Inglewood every couple of weeks now that Lowen is gone, to check in and help out where I can, so it’s just my mom, my dad, and I … awkward and silent.
“What’s more important than getting you through school?” he asks, practically spitting the words.
“I’m working,” I say. “I got a job at that trendy coffee shop down the street from school.”
“Two minutes,” the guard warns.
“There’s not much money in serving java to college kids, but I’m saving, Low. In four years, I should have enough for us to get our own place,” I say in a rush to get everything said before our visit ends. “Maybe I can finish school by then, but you can mow lawns … And we can get a dog, you know. Things can be normal for you if I save enough. You won’t be hungry.”
Disappointment drops the phone and rests his head against the glass so that I can’t see his face.
“One more minute!” the guard yells. “Wrap it up.”
I beat the palm of my hand onto the glass as my heart bursts, refusing to let him waste precious seconds together feeling sorry for himself when it’s he who did this to us. One hour every other week is all we get. Each tick and tock needs to count for something. It needs to matter.
“Lowen!” My voice ricochets off our glass barrier. Tears fall freely from my hazel eyes, and soon I’m drawing the attention of other prisoners and their company.
“I’m not leaving you. Do you hear me, you son of a bitch?” I cry loudly as heartbreak falls from my eyes, banging the phone against the divider. “I’m here. I’m here with you.”
It takes every scrap of self-control I have not to claw through the glass with my too-short fingernails. Oily panic sludges though my veins, not mixing with blood, coating my heart in thick slop. Every beat aches. Living is agonizing. Fuck peanut butter.
Clenching his jaw, Low picks up the phone and blinks the tears away. “I know, babe.”
“Time’s up!” the guard yells. “Hang up the phones and stand to your feet.”
“I love you,” I whisper through the thickest sadness.
“Visiting time is over, Seely,” a CO says, hovering behind the prisoner. “Hang up.”
“Give me a second,” Low replies, tightening his grip around the receiver.
“I’ll come back,” I say in a hurry. Sweat pools between my palm and the black plastic. “I’ll be here every week, Lowen.”
“Set down the phone.” The guard reaches for the link to my boy, but he shrugs him away.
A second guard approaches my side of the visiting room. “Time to go.”
“Give me one more fucking minute,” I say dismissively.
As the phone is pried from my ear and a female officer drives my chair back, Lowen is forced to stand and slammed against the wall as his cuffs are tightened to make moving on his own impossible.
Before I’m shoved away and he’s led back to his six-by-eight cell, he mouths, “I love you.”
I caught myself thinking about the first time I saw you. I was up to my elbows in grass clippings and cut from your mother's roses. Thorns scraped my wrists and arms as I reached into those overgrown bushes, slicing my hands and wrists until I bled.
It was evening, around five p.m. You came walking down the street with large silver hoops in your ears and warm-red cheeks. The setting sun seemed to direct its dim light only on you, making you brighter than the entire world.
Blood dripped from my wounds, and you looked at my DNA staining the concrete around my feet as you strolled by.
"I've always hated those roses," you said.
I stood there like an idiot for a few minutes after you took all the light inside with you, leaving me blind and breathless altogether. It wasn't until my boss stepped by with the weed whacker, clipping my ankle, that I snapped out of it. But I wasn't any less aware of your presence.
You reappeared when the rest of the landscaping crew and I were packing up our hedge trimmers and lawn mowers. With a small hand, you offered me a bottle of water and let the others finish loading the gear with dry throats and dust in their eyes.
I stood under your light until I drank every drop of water you gifted me with, talking about crosses and being forsaken. I watched the way you bit your bottom lip between small talk, and how your long eyelashes brushed the tops of your cheeks.
It was then, in front of your house, surrounded by the scent of freshly cut grass and dried blood ... I knew I was going to fuck you.
It wasn't until later that I realized it was love at first sight.
Miss you, girl.
believe it’s already Valentine’s Day? Lame. I can’t go anywhere without having affection and devotion and big stuffed bears holding stupid red hearts chucked in my face. Cupid has shoved his arrows up every couple’s ass, leaving them all in a temporary fog where they’ve forgotten the other’s transgressions, and all is perfect.
I went to the store the day before yesterday for floss and the Bieber album. (Go to hell, inmate. You have no say in what I do or do not listen to.) Anyway, I’m in line to check out, humming
“Baby, Baby, Baby
when it dawned on me that I was literally surrounded by love-deranged weirdos. Everyone had baskets full of chocolate roses and cheap wine, and there I was … alone, worried about my dental hygiene.
There was this chick in front of me with reddish-blonde hair. She was with this boy who had the craziest blue eyes. They were obviously fighting, even though her shopping cart had a few boxes of Sweethearts, Twinkies, and pink Peeps inside. She called him a monster. I smiled, because I thought maybe she was actually on my side. But then they started making out, so I put my gum in her hair while they were choking on each other’s tongues.
Even my dad bought my mom flowers this week.
I pulled off all the petals and ate them.
Just kidding. That would be gross.
How do jailbirds celebrate Valentine’s Day, Lowen? Because as lonely as I am, as pissed as I am, as troubled as I am that a heart-shaped egg shaper is an actual thing, it has to be worse to spend Love Day behind bars when someone on the outside loves you as much as me.
Let’s make a deal, convict. Next Valentine’s Day, the only handcuffs around your wrists will be the chocolate kind.
I’ll eat them off, and it won’t be gross.
In a few years, when you’re out of prison and we’re on our own, we’ll let Cupid shove his arrows up our asses, too. Let’s be real, right? The stuffed bears with hearts are adorable, and I want them all.
I’m here with you, Low. I’m here.
Happy Hearts Day, baby.
sent to prison for four years wasn’t punishment enough, they’ve assigned me to work in the laundry room. I fold men’s underwear and socks all day.
Pray for your boy, Poe. I’m in hell.
On the upside, I met this guy, John. He was hemmed up for robbing banks, and his fucking wife turned him in when she found the cash. John got away with a couple hundred thousand dollars before his old lady snitched. Imagine what we could do with funds like that.
We’d live in paradise.
I miss you.
P.S. How’s school? I started taking GED classes. Turns out, I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.
Your sister turned thirteen, and your mom let her color her hair black. It’s ridiculous, but she embraces the struggling artist thing like a pro. Wait until you see her again, inmate. Gillian isn’t the little girl you left behind. She’s talented and bold and so fucking emotional. I’m pretty sure she resents you, but that’s to be expected.
We all do.
I’ve been at the coffee shop for almost a year, which is good, because between school, work, and visiting you, shooting caffeine directly into my veins is the only reason I’m still alive. Making my own money is cool, and dosing java keeps my heart beating, but the best part of working at this trendy coffeehouse down the street from the college is the hipsters. They’re so ridiculous, Low, and they don’t even know it. Why are they so vague? Like, they’re beige. They take the “gender neutral” thing to heart. Are they a boy or a girl? I don’t know. I really don’t. Do they?
Hipsters say shit like, “I’m going to ride my skateboard inside your establishment because I don’t identify with rules. And, I’m just going to wear this oversized beanie on the back part of my head, even though it’s ninety degrees outside. And, why doesn’t this joint play more Arcade Fire? I need more Arcade Fire with my no-soy, no-gluten, no-liquid, no-taste espresso.”
You wouldn’t think they tip well, but they do … You know, because they won’t be trapped by the dollar, which is good for my pockets.
It’s good for us. I’ll be ready when you get out.
the math portion of my GED test. Science, though … The struggle continues, and it’s real. Maybe I’m meant to hustle forever because this book-smart crap is way over my head. Not sure how you manage to do it all, but I’m proud of you, girl. Since you insist on waiting for me to get out of the pen, at least one of us has our shit together.
They transferred me out of the laundry room to the kitchen. Not sure if some of these motherfuckers know who my dad is or where I come from, but they look at me like they want something. But my mind is clearer than it has been in a while, Poe. I got a couple of years left in this place, but once I’ve served my time, I’m coming home for good. This isn’t the life I want for you, so I won’t make you live it longer than you already have.
Serving chow is all right, but John was cool, and we don’t have time to talk anymore. On my last day in the laundry room, he told me this story about “Pretty Boy” Floyd. He’s a bank robber from the 1930s who destroyed mortgage papers to erase people’s debt and passed out cash after he took a bank.
That’s where John went wrong. He was a selfish son of a bitch, hiding the money in a shed in his backyard. Spread the wealth. Earn some good karma to make up for the bad shit.
Or maybe that’s just what I would do.
on your couch this weekend. The sheets have been washed, and no one sleeps on it but me, but if I close my eyes and stay really, really quiet, and breathe in really, really deeply, I can still smell you.
You’re there, under the lemony scent of laundry detergent, weaved within the fibers of the couch cover. And when I can smell you, it’s easier to pretend you’re there with me … in the dark, in the quiet.
I wrapped myself in your blankets and rubbed my face against your pillow, pulling it between my teeth, because fuck, why did you have to go? My legs were bare, smooth against the worn cotton as I rubbed them back and forth, wishing I had my boy between them. I curled my toes and arched my back, keeping my lips sealed as the place only you’ve been inside starts to throb.
Remember the last time we fucked?
If we had known then what we know now—that you’d be locked away—I would have loved you harder and longer. I would have made sure it would be great enough to last this long.
And now all I have are my memories and my hand, criminal.
The loneliness is punishing, and I’m at an all-time low.
But, bound in your blankets with the softest part of me aching for you, with your family sound asleep in their bedrooms, I touched myself.
Writing this, thinking back to the way my fingers slipped between my folds, knowing that you know how impossible it is for me to stay quiet like that … I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself.
Do you, Low? Do you think of me when you’re alone? In the shower, maybe? At night when everyone is asleep, maybe?
Is it torture for you, too?