By Joshua Ryan
“This is Officer Nolan,” he said to his cellphone. “Open A292.” I heard the bars slide back.
I opened my eyes. There was a gap in the bars. The cell door was open. It wasn’t very wide. It was just the gate to a cage. I could tell that I’d have to tilt my bedroll to get it through. I lifted one side, maneuvering it. I would have to be careful not to let anything drop . . .
Then I saw it. There was something long and thick lying on the lower bunk, something brown that was shaped like a man. There were letters and numbers stamped on its surface. It was a convict, lying face down in my cell. Wait a minute! Couldn’t the officer see that the place was already full?
I almost blurted that out. Then I remembered: there were two convicts stuffed in all those other cells. That bundle of clothes on the bunk was only one convict. I was the other one.
I stopped in the doorway. I was scared to wake up that thing on the metal shelf. Jesus, it was dark in there, especially after the spotlight I’d faced outside. I could see a naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, but it wasn’t turned on. The only light was the gray stuff leaking in from the walkway. That was enough for me to see that the whole cell wasn’t much larger than a medium-sized closet. It was a lot smaller than my bathroom at home. What used to be my home. Half the cell was bunks, one shelf above the other on the right side, against the wall. A lot of the rest was toilet — a metal toilet squatting against the back wall, a toilet without a seat, with something that looked like a little sink built into the top of it. The thing was gleaming at me in the faint light. Christ! I thought. They wash in the shitter. A wave of contempt ran through me. Probably one of them crapped while the other one washed his face in the crapper. They were like cats in a cage, with a little litterbox all their own. And now I was one of them.
Above the sink were two thin metal shelves, one of them stacked and one of them empty. That would be the shelf for my “personal articles.” On the wall to the left was a line of steel pegs, with a brown convict coat hanging from one of them, taking up most of the space between the wall and the bunks. The place was full, all right. I didn’t see how I could even get in there . . .
“I said INSIDE!”
I scurried in, and the door clanged behind me.
Now the real panic came. JESUS! The bunks were steel, the toilet was steel, the floor was steel, the ceiling was steel, the walls were steel, everything was steel, with big steel rivets running up and down and back and forth to hold it all together, to keep convicts like me from ever getting out of it. I remembered what the judge had said. He said I was going to be “confined” in the Durant Unit for 20 years, or till the end of my life. Now I knew what “confined” meant. It meant being locked in a steel cage, packed in a tiny can with another piece of meat, condemned to living your life in a kennel so small that its only purpose must be to remind the animals inside it that that’s what they were. I’d felt confined when I was living with Joey! Now I was locked up with a total stranger, with this thick body lying on the bunk with CONVICT stamped all over its clothes. I’d be kenneled with that thing . . . for the rest of my life!
No! I had to escape. I had to get out! Where was the officer? I had to tell him! I had to make him understand. I had to get out, and he had to let me.
I turned back toward the bars . . . but when I turned, my bedroll jammed on the upper bunk. I turned the other way . . . and that huge convict coat slid down off its peg and cascaded onto the floor. It was lying there, a mountain of brown — and it didn’t belong to me, it belonged to that other thing in the cell! Oh Christ, I thought. I’ve got to pick that up, and pick it up fast. I knelt down like a slave, scrambling for the coat — and knocked most of my own gear onto the floor. I was feeling around in the dark, trying to collect it all . . . and I heard a voice from above.
“Welcome home, convict,” the officer said.
I looked up. Officer Nolan was standing above me on the other side of the bars, watching. I wanted to scream something, scream for help, fall on my face and lick his boots and suck his dick and beg him to fuck me in the ass, beg him to do anything he wanted to do to me as long as he LET ME OUT OF THERE! . . . I tried to scream, but my throat was frozen; I was choking on my guts . . . And meanwhile, I knew that I had to pick all that stuff up off of the floor. Even while I was trying to scream something out, my hands were busy, trying to please the officer.
He stood watching, with a sneer on his face. It was a bored sneer. He’d seen it all before.
Then he looked to the right. “You there!” he shouted. “Git up, boy. Don’t you know you got company?”
I turned toward the bunk. The brown form was shifting; it was starting to rise. A brown arm reached out, flexing itself. Then another arm flexed under the body, pushing its owner up.
“I said git up, convict. I brought your reward. Git up and enjoy it. It’s your kinda thing, boy.”
What was that? What did he say? I turned to the bars again, but the officer was already gone.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something big and brown rushing up behind me. This was it! The convict was attacking me!
I couldn’t escape. I lifted my bedroll and held it out, doing my best to keep him away from me. Fat chance. One jerk of his arm, and the thing went flying. Then he was on me, crushing my body against him with his huge brown arms. . . . God! The guy was already raping me!
“What’s the matter, fish! Can’t you show your cellie how happy you are to meet him!”
Then I realized — the voice was Jake’s. I opened my mouth . . . and his tongue leaped inside me, hot and hard and determined to stay.
You could tell it was the first time he’d ever done that. His tongue was clumsy as a fist; his hands were twisting my body and smashing it onto the bars. He was an ignorant, brutal convict who had never made love before.
“Is that the way you do it?” he said, when he finally pulled out his tongue.
We were face to face. It was Jake, all right.
“Yes! I mean . . . Jake! What’s happening . . .? How did you . . .? You’re still in prison!”
“Sure I am. Where did you think I was? I’m a lifer, man. I’ve been waiting for you.”
“But . . . What was it . . . What did you . . .”
“Let’s just say that I wanted you,” he said, snapping on the lightbulb. “And now I’ve got you. I’m a lot better at kidnaping now than I was before.”
His nose was crinkling. He had that teenage grin on his face again.
“So everybody’s happy,” he continued. “The screws are happy. I’m happy! And I know that you’re happy. Right now, you’re probably the happiest one of all.”
I couldn’t deny it.
“So pick all that stuff of yours off the floor and stow it under the bunk. Stow your bedroll, too, man. We only need one bedroll in this cell. And hey,” he said, pulling me toward him and running his lips across my mouth, not soft but hard, like a guy who’s in a hurry to wipe something off, “while you’re down there, convict, pick up my fuckin coat that you dropped, and put it back on the peg.”
“Yes Sir!” I said. I was shaking all over. If this was a dream, I was ready to enjoy it.
I picked up his coat and brushed it off, and hung it back on its peg. Then I knelt and looked under the bunk. Half the space was taken by Jake’s gear. It was all carefully stacked, neat and clean and orderly. The other half was free. He’d been keeping it free for me.
I made the best stacks I could out of my underwear and shirts and trousers, and shoved them under the bunk. Jake bent down and grabbed the baggie that held my “personal”stuff. He laid it on the vacant shelf over the toilet. “But this,” he said, dropping the Regs book on the floor, “you can stow. From now on, you’ll learn everything you need to know from me.”
He kicked it under the bunk. “Now stand up,” he said. I stood up.
“Let me see . . . ” he said, holding me at arm’s length to inspect me.
I looked at Jake, then I looked at my own body. We were the same. The same brown uniform. The same black boots. The same black prison numbers, stamped in the same places. We were the same. We were two convicts, locked in one steel cell.
“I like it,” he said. “It’s you.”
“Funny — that’s what the guy in the uniform room said.”
“Brian’s got good taste in clothes.” His hands were holding my shoulders, and his fingers were flexing my skin, like I was his dick and he was starting to beat me off.
“You know that guy?” I asked. Talk was starting to seem a little beside the point. My hardon was back, in a big way.
“Of course. He’s a good friend of mine.”
“Sure. It helps to have friends in Processing. I told him there’d probably be a skinny little faggot coming along today — sort of goodlooking, but not much in the body department. Or the brains department, either. I guess he recognized you from the description I gave him.”
“That’s right. He could tell how important I was.”
“Yeah. Sure. Anyway, Brian and me, we got together. No, not that way. I mean we talked. About what you needed to know. What you needed to know about the joint, that is. Not about your cellmate. That was for me to let you in on.”
I turned my head to the left, trying to kiss the hand that was locked on my shoulder. The hand shot up and slapped me.
“You listenin, boy?”
“That’s better. Keep doin that.” Now the hand was gripping my neck and pulling me forward. His tongue jumped into my mouth again. He could have stayed forever; I didn’t mind. But he pulled out as suddenly as he’d pushed in.
“Brian probably tried to seduce you,” he said. “Right? I thought so. He tried that with me, too. A lotta times. But I can wait for what I want.”
That was certainly true. But I could imagine what the boys in the bars would think . They’d never believe it. They were living in another world.
He slipped off my cap and hung it from the peg behind me. “Nice cut,” he said, running his hand across my new bald skull. “You’re not a queer anymore.” He was smiling like we were sharing a joke, or like he was an owner, petting his dog who’s just been groomed.
“Whatever you say, Jake.” His hand was sliding down my body, peeling open my coat. In a minute, there were two coats hanging next to each other on the wall. It was hard for me to get my shirt off, because by that time his hand was inside my trousers, grasping my root.
“And just in case you picked up any ideas from College Boy . . .” he said.
“I got no ideas, Jake.” My hands were burrowing into his crotch, behind his boxers. His dick was enormous, ripe and fresh as fruit in a basket, fruit that you can’t wait to eat. Then I almost came, because now there were two hands clamped on my own dick.
“You better not,” he growled. “I’m keeping this thing to myself.”
“Take your hands off my dick and get out of that t-shirt.”
“Right away Sir!” I got the tee off. Now my chest was rubbing, cold and small and naked, against his thick brown muscle-filled shirt. My hands dove back into his trousers, where the heat was. I could feel his meat shuddering to my touch; I could feel my own meat twisting in his coarse convict hands. Christ! I thought. I’d never known what hands were for.
“Jake! I want to . . . ”
The hands closed in, squeezing off my words. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t breathe. “Jake . . . please . . .”
“Not now, convict. You’ll soil your uniform. Besides, that’s not the way I want to do it.” He bent his head, rubbing his hard bald dome across my shivering chest, while slowly, methodically, one by one, his mouth bit into my tits. I wanted to shout, yell, scream in agony . . but all I could do was close my eyes and let the waves of terror and desire wash over me, like tall black waves on a white, white shore . . .
“Jason,” he said.
I opened my eyes. His hands were still locked on my dick, but his lips were caressing my neck, softly and carefully . . . Then he raised his head. It was hard for me to see anything . . . there was too much pain . . . my eyes were too wet . . . but I saw that his eyes were that way too. It’s strange, I thought, how innocent he looks.
“The only thing you’ve really gotta know,” he said, very softly, “is who’s gonna be the boss in this cage.”
“I understand that, Jake.”
“Then it’s time to get naked.”
He didn’t have to say it twice. I took me less than a second to start tearing his shirt off.
“Hold on!” he said, laughing at me. “Already you’re startin to fuck things up. Watch what you’re doin for a change. That’s what got you in trouble in the first place. And when you’re finished, convict, I don’t want to see anything out of place. You can tell right away, in a cell like this.”
“No Sir!” I said, grinning back at him. “There won’t be anything out of place.”
I opened his shirt and pulled it slowly past his tits and down from his tall cliff of muscles, and hung it carefully up on its peg on the wall, and I stripped off his t-shirt and hung that too. Then I knelt on the floor and opened the five buttons on his trousers, licking the metal circles and slowly prying them off through the holes, till his crotch was open and his dick slithered out of his boxers and into my mouth, like a wild animal diving into its hole.
“That’s enough,” he said, jerking my head back with his two big hands. I looked up, afraid that I’d done something wrong. What did I know? I was just a dumb bald little convict, learning how to suck his cellmate’s dick. “That’s not the way we’re gonna do it either. Remember,” he continued, smiling like a kid who’s getting his first baseball glove, “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. So get your ass in gear and take off my boots.”
I bent down and started untying them. They were nicked and dinged and scuffed — boots he’d been living in, before I even knew he existed. Touching the boots was like touching him. I got the laces loose on the first one, and the tongue flopped out, long and hard, with the hard wings of leather opening out on either side of it . . . and then I couldn’t help myself, I had to start licking the tongue and the hard little holes in the leather and the hard white leg that began where the leather left off, and the black shackle right above it. . . Licking and kissing . . .
SMACK! Jake’s hand fell on my naked head. “Save that for later,” he said, bending down and brushing his lips along the place on my dome where my forehead used to start. “We’ve got other things to do right now.” So I hurried and pulled off his boots and set them down together next to the wall, under his coat, and I pulled off his trousers and shorts and hung them on the wall beside it. Then I turned and saw him standing there, naked and white in the whitish light, white with black shadows flowing over his muscles, giving them definition, like an old picture of an iron statue that nobody knows exists anymore, except the person who happens to find it hidden in some old building somewhere. So he had to give me another smack on the head to keep me from kissing his feet and sucking his dick again, like I wanted to, and I went back to work and took off the rest of my clothes and hung them in the right places, there on the steel wall. We were naked — two big, naked animals, confined in our little cage.
“I guess you’ll do,” he said, grinning at me and grabbing my cock. “I guess you’re the one I wanted.”
Suddenly, for an instant, I was sober again. I’ve heard that when you’re drowning, you’re calm for one second, and in that second your whole life passes before your eyes. And that’s what happened. I saw everything that went on in my life. Parents, so-called. High school and college, what a joke. “Friends.” Joey. My “career path.” My cube at Freer. “This is your semiannual evaluation from the firm of Freer and Sons.” Then the truckful of convicts. I want to be on the other side. No, please don’t put those cuffs on me! The trip to the Durant Unit. “Yes Boss! No Boss!” The trip to my cage.
It looked like a joke — a joke flashing by too fast for me to understand. My English professor, a pompous little guy with a little mustache: “The secret of comedy is incongruity. We laugh because we witness the incongruity of human life.” Was that it? Life? A bunch of things that didn’t fit together?
“Why?” I said.
Jake looked at me as if I’d said something hilarious.
“Because,” he shrugged, “you belong here.”
I looked at him. Where had I heard that before? Everything seemed to be coming back . . .
“You belong here,” he repeated. “I mean, this is the place where you wanted to be.”
“Yes,” I said. “You’re right.” That’s what was funny. It wasn’t things that didn’t fit. It was things that fitted too well.
After I said that, there was a second when Jake looked relieved. Then he turned into a kid again.
“Great!” he said. “So let’s get going!”
He dragged me forward by my dick, and we fell on his bunk together. The shelf was narrow, way too narrow for two men. “It’s a tight fit,” he said. “But you’ll get used to it.”
“If you say so, Jake.”
He ignored my remark. “Now that I’ve started,” he said, running his fingers over my dick, “I think maybe I’ll get into this sex stuff.”
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“Yeah. I’ve always wanted to be an expert on something.” Then he couldn’t say anything more except “ahhhhhhhhhh!”, because I was licking his tit and biting it.
“Whatever you say, boss,” I answered.
“Then roll over,” he said. “I’m coming inside.”
When I woke up, Jake was standing at the bars, looking out. He wasn’t exactly in uniform. The only things he’d put on were his boots and his shirt. The end of the shirt trailed over his naked ass. The lightbulb was off, but there was sunlight filtering into the cell, so I knew it must be morning. I could read the letters stamped on his back: CONVICT 351699.
That was reassuring — it was Jake; it wasn’t a dream. Or, if it was, it was also reality. I was really in that other world.
I swung my legs out of the rack, my shackle clanking on the metal edge. It was a loud noise, but Jake’s muscles didn’t stir. He just stood at the bars, waiting.
The steel was freezing against my feet. My boots were waiting against the wall, under my uniform. I could read the numbers on that shirt, too. 353308. My uniform, all right. I slid into the boots. It was cold inside them, but they didn’t feel as heavy as they had last night. They felt like something that I’d always worn.
I was in a hurry, so I didn’t bother to deal with the laces. I could hear them slapping the floor while I walked to the bars. There was just room enough room for two convicts to stand behind them, side by side.
“Good morning,” Jake said, looking sideways.
“Good morning,” I said. My shoulder was naked against his shirt.
Then I felt him moving in back of me. His hands were gripping my waist; his dick was hardening in my crack. My own dick pressed into the cold steel bars. Jake’s head was resting on my shoulder. We were both looking out.
Across the walkway, across the air space, across the tall, double-barred window that faced our cell, the snow-covered grounds of the Durant Unit rolled away in the distance. The earth was white, the trees were white, the sky was white, the world was white, totally white; everything was bare and white, except for a thin brown line, far away, where the sun was rising, and a thick brown line, close up, where the road snaked down the hill from the penitentiary — a brown line of convicts, shoveling the road. They were all convicts like Jake and me, convicts in boots and uniforms, convicts with their arms pumping together, hefting white snow off a hard black road.
“Like what you see?” Jake said.
I leaned back in his arms. His chest was a wall behind me; his arms were chains encircling my body. “Looks good to me,” I said.
“Happy new year,” he said. “This year, and all the years to come.”
To be continued …