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Last updated on December 24th, 2017 at 11:19 am

By Annie Shapiro

The heavy metal door clangs shut with a definitive bang, and a blistering darkness fills the room with a single flip of a plastic switch. Two men sit in wooden chairs, crumbs gathering under the considerable weight of their burly stomachs, sharp beards attempting to conceal rows of coffee-stained teeth. Aimlessly chattering, they hardly notice the small speckles of green paint in the peeling wallpaper, the mundane drone of air conditioning that is the first I’ve heard in years, the clock above their heads that is pounding in my head like two giant bricks. I see all, I hear all, yet I hardly understand it at all any longer. Teeth scrape against teeth, tongues move, eyes scour and corrupted eyes attempt to focus, while my hands are near my waist, unhindered, as if they are sets of new hands, hands that are clean and orderly and free.

Grimy nails and soiled sleeves hold a rusted yellow gate open, and I am handled through it. A leer and a consoling pat, and my legs begin to move. I am held together by feeble strings, and I am surprised they have not faltered. Tattered shoes no match for linoleum, my skin meets floor and suddenly I am cold again.

Are these days or are they nights? Night meets day here, and each year I run out of excuses to count the days. It was not long before I noticed that black bars do not give way to any release. No, if I am lucky, I imagine they give way to absolute solitude, away from jumpsuits and visitors and healing gardens and vegetable concoctions.

Iron gates swing shut behind me and I do not turn back, I do not look back. My head is weighted down by iron fists clenched around my jaw preventing me from moving. I feel I am the animal stuck in sticky tar. Broken shutters clatter against heavily frosted glass, and the wind bellows outside.

A man with beady red eyes fidgets with air, his head bobbing up and down, commanded by an invisible puppeteer. The crumb men are behind me, one holds the door open and tells me it’s time to go. Crooked feet walk outside and I am on the sidewalk, looking inside. The crumb men lead the fidgety man away with poised batons. His scabbed hands trail behind him for miles and miles, enclosed in the choking hold of two rusted iron cuffs.

I am confronted by a silence so threatening, so loud. Where do I go? The question possesses such freedom that for an instant, I am not on Earth. In a daze, I think of possibilities. I think of swaying trees and scratchy Patsy Cline record players that she used to play for me when it was dark outside. I feel iron scrape my blistered skin and I am knocked back to the floor. My new hands are crumbled all around me, they are porcelain and I am broken. A brick wall stands in front of me, leering and condescending as if it could read my newly emancipated thoughts.

A yellow car with a checkered roof pulls up beside me, and a man peers out from behind a tinted window. “Ya want a ride?” he drawls. I crawl in, and watch as the grey building fades away in a whirlwind of reds, yellows and greens.

Words spill out in a mess of letters and sounds, and I hear my voice for the first time in years. It is raspy, that of a dead man. I do not pay attention. I am a tabula rasa, and I only know three words. The street name I say is familiar, but the place is but a blur of memory. I wonder about nothing, and I am content.

A crackling radio stammers and the driver smacks it violently, blows to the head, once, twice, three times. Words escape from behind poised lips, fragments of sentences deemed “fit for radio.” One eye is lifted to the rearview mirror, and I can feel pupils searching me. Uncomfortable, I shift my weight and look away. A cross dangles from the rearview mirror. It is chipped and cheap plywood shines through underneath it.

We are jerked forward and I do not attempt to scramble for safety. Curses under sleepy breath, another smack on the radio, the windows reflect green, and soon we are moving again.

When I am released, it is late. Not a soul is here. The bench is cold but it warms my skin like a molten lamp. I do not know what to do. I do not know who I am, and what I mean. All I know is that it is night. It is night, and it will not always be night.

I can see the stars here, they are the holes in the sky punctured by the beaks of millions of birds. I can see the moon here, it is a dirty old man. I can feel the air upon my weathered face, it is the struggle of the nearby stream and it is the ephemeral promise of tomorrow.