Short Stories

Overlooked (4)

June 30, 2015

Eighty-Eight Years and Forgotten


Lon considered the time he had spent behind bars, the fear, the anxiety and the boredom taking its toll on him. He appeared to sidestep any serious trouble due to Benny’s promise of protection, though abused a little by the guards from time to time. The first ten or twenty years seemed like a long time but decades after, the time passed without notice, routine setting in. Even the prison guards began to ignore Lon, invisible because he was a permanent fixture. There had been times when the inmates and guards were mean, the latter just looking for a chance to club you. Then again, Lon remembered a few that really felt compassion for the plight of the prisoners, acting with fairness.

He was able to make friends, though a few made suggestive remarks about sexual acts, which he did not understand or partake in. He understood a little later when his first cellmate explained what should have been obvious. Carlo ‘Pronto Morte’ explained that these men were not real men; they were flawed. Though Lon wasn’t interested in sex with the inmates, he did not find it as objectionable as Pronto. If it made the men happy, why shouldn’t they enjoy it?

Lon never gave the guards any trouble, complying by the numbers. He worked hard, never complaining, not that it would have done him any good. They made him a trustee, a prisoner who was given a few freedoms to help make things run smoothly. Cleaning up the offices and doing a little filing was the easiest job along with tending to the small library they had in the basement. Lon read almost everything in it a few times, though he struggled to understand the Shakespeare guy. The man wrote words in a funny way that didn’t sound like the way everyone spoke.

His favorite duty was the kitchen; there, a guy could get a little extra food if he was hungry. Pilfering a few items to trade made prison life easier; apples, oranges and bananas were a favored item along with celery, Lon unable to understand why anyone would want the latter. After a while they let him wander around with his cell unlocked since there was no place to go. Of course, that only happened when he was deposited in a second minimum-security prison, a modern invention by the time he was sixty. He’d been moved to different prisons on three occasions. People with good intentions thought prisoners might respond better if small freedoms were allowed. Theoretically that sounded good but most of the prison population were assholes trying to work calculated angles for perks.

There was only one place a prisoner lived beyond the fences and gates ___ the graveyard. One had to be dead in order to reside there but it was comforting to know you finally owned a small plot of land, even if it contained your bones. The place was simple, no ornaments or elaborate headstones like the fancy graves in other graveyards; a small cement marker with name and date of death was all that could be found. There were other graves there that had nothing to do with the prison. Unknown persons were buried there, a sort of Boot Hill for those without the means to pay for their burial site.

Monthly, one of the guards would take a handful of trustees outside the walls to clean and clear the graveyard of weeds and debris. People, being who they are, tossed trash about, some of it coming to rest in the prison graveyard, a popular place for kids to park and fool around. Lifeless as the residents in the earth were, weeds grew above, where nothing else would. The result obscured the simple markers of the deceased, not that anyone cared about those who found their way to a final resting. The warden preferred to think of the task as a benefit of the community, making the place presentable since the prison was so near to several farms and ranches.

Lon was often selected along with four other inmates to pull cemetery duty in the afternoons, the guards choosing those they felt didn’t need supervision He was a little too senior to be stooping and yanking out weeds but the others liked him and had no problem with Lon using a long handled trash grabber instead bending to the tedious labor required. He was, in effect, a supervisor, though never given that official title.

“Just look at this mess,” muttered Lon. “All these beer bottles dumped on the markers; nobody bothered to take them to the trash.”

“So what else is new?” said the guard. “Damn kids!”

Unlike the old days, none of the prisoners were shackled or cuffed, this being a minimum-security prison. Most of the men knew it was better to serve out their time and behave lest they get captured and transferred to a one of the hardcore prisons. Life was considerably harder there. Lon had five more years to go before freedom, if his new lawyer was telling the truth. There was also the matter of living long enough to enjoy that freedom, a strong possibility given his good health.

He’d been in prison so long it was an interesting concept. Freedom. What would he do; find a job? Was there anything he could do given his advanced age? Picking up trash in cemeteries was not a job for someone his age. Who would hire someone that old?

Freedom sounded good but there were also certain benefits with being in prison. You didn’t have to work very hard and they always fed you. They didn’t make you wear horrible clothes and this prison had decent beds and clean sheets once a week. If you had any money you could buy a few things like gun or candy. Thinking about being released was an exhausting thought. Better to just do the detail and forget about it.

One such afternoon while cleaning the graveyard an unusual thing happened. Arnold was the guard who usually supervised the prisoners outside the gates, though he never paid much attention to them when they were working. Not being a malicious person, he didn’t look for trouble nor did he expect any, the inmates generally cooperative and docile when compared to other prisons he worked for previously. There wasn’t much required of him in a training sense, except to maintain his attire in an official manner, uniform neat and tidy at all times, tie, shined shoes and pressed creases. As for attire, the prisoners were given flexibility in his lax environment; they wore denim trousers and multicolored shirts of their choice, all prison issues of course. Except for the gray prison jacket, with SCF printed on the back, any of the men could be mistaken for someone of the general populace. The SCF stood for State Correctional Facility, an experimental prison existing for fifteen years in a rural part of the state.

“It’s damn hot out there today. You boys cool your heels and have a smoke,” hollered Arnold. “Fifteen minutes, you hear?”

The fifteen minutes usually went beyond, making it a half hour, even a whole hour at times. None of them were in a rush to get back to the prison, enjoying the outdoors and sunshine while they could. Arnold staked out a cool spot under the only tree in the cemetery, gazing at a magazine hoping to close his eyes for a few winks. He never worked his people hard; that would be counter-productive. His philosophy was simple weeds and trash will be there tomorrow; prisoners’ cooperation was achieved by not being a hard taskmaster. There were limits to being easy; as friendly as he might be, he was still a guard and needed to make sure the inmates understood, hence the gratuitous time warning of fifteen minutes.

Lon had picked up a few candy wrappers and beer bottles thrown carelessly from the dirt road near the graveyard, evidence of someone having a party. Why anyone would want to hang around an old graveyard was beyond him; there was nothing there but dirt, concrete and a few assorted weeds. Arnold said that kids liked to hang out there because it was far enough from town. No one would bother them when they were drinking illegally and doing whatever else might strike their fancy; the spot was private enough for sex too.

Lon had fond memories of the terrible tasting martini when he was seventeen, the first and last hard liquor he imbibed since being put in prison. The drink wasn’t very good, the nasty taste sour to him; it was Jody not Judy, who ushered him into the world of carnal delights. Somehow she was fascinated with his personal equipment, a mystery to him. That was a dream for many years; little else was thought about, given his limit time as a free boy/man. Beyond that, life was regulated by the clock with a few variables thrown in.

The four other inmates in the work detail plopped their asses down, lighting up their cigarettes and laughing about Arnold’s fifteen minutes, which would undoubtedly turn into a longer break; Arnold had one of those new portable phones to play with. One of the men produced a candy bar tossing the wrapper on the ground not unlike the people they were cleaning up after, pretty dumb when Lon ruminated about it. Bring it up might cause an argument, so he let it go. What did it matter; they were going to be there whether or not everything was picked up.

Lon wasn’t much for socializing with the other inmates, their crimes minor in comparison; extortion, counterfeiting and mail fraud were the crimes these men perpetrated, no guns or violence. It wasn’t that Lon wanted to be unfriendly, he just couldn’t relate to these men, their language more sophisticated and foreign in a way. He chose, instead to stroll off to relieve himself behind some brush on the other side of the dirt road, privacy a rare thing in prison. Raising his hand to indicate his need, Arnold flicked his hand to permit it, not afraid his charge would try to escape; most of them wouldn’t because of the short sentences.

For Lon, being almost eighty-eight presented a few problems when it came to evacuating one’s bladder; age had some downsides to it. The desire is there, yet the body decides when it wishes to cooperate.

“Damn!” he said to no one in particular behind some bushes. “I feel like I’m gonna explode but my pee won’t come. I hate this part.”

Waiting for his body to eliminate, he began to think about things the legal system had said about him. Some doctor with thick glasses told the parole board, Lon had a low IQ and couldn’t be blamed for the bank robbery or the killing; he had been manipulated by a clever conman and should not be held for a life sentence. That hearing happened thirty years before and revisited recently, part of the reason Lon was to be released in five years instead of serving a life-sentence. His appointed attorney, some young guy, pushed hard for it but the residing governor put the kibosh on immediate release, afraid it might be politically hazardous to his career.

“I wish I had that attorney thirty years ago,” muttered Lon still trying to make water. He’d become accustomed to talking to himself over the years, the other inmates making fun of him because he was a nutcase and slow.

“Don’t know what I woulda done if I got out; but it had to be better than the shitholes I lived in.”

Whether the muse was with him or his body decided to accommodate, things began to flow, relief close at hand. Bodily functions took time, Lon no different than any other old man. He closed his eyes, losing track of the time but figured he should finish up and return before Arnold got upset; Arnold did get peeved on occasion, flexing his guard demeanor.

“Damn!” exclaimed Lon, opening his eyes. “I peed on my shoes, some.”

When you were in prison you were never in a rush to do anything; your day would begin and end as it always had. Working his way around the bushes he stopped for a moment to let a pickup truck pass on the dirt road. He’d seen lots of changes in automobiles over his years while in prison, from square and boxy to rounded fenders and now to these sleek and racy looking vehicles. Some of the other men talked about the speeds cars could travel; one hundred miles per hour sounded like a person could fly if you put wings on the cars.

The truck left a wake of dust in the air, Lon squinting, stepping through the cloud. The dust cleared once he reached the other side of the road; the prison truck was gone as were all the men on the detail. This had never happened before. He wondered what he should do now. It was a quarter mile to the prison; Lon could easily get there on foot, though his knees ached a little due to his age. Getting inside without causing a disturbance would be impossible and get Arnold into big trouble; he’d be pretty sore with Lon. He could call Arnold on the phone; he had one of those new mobile phones everybody was talking about. But Lon didn’t have Arnold’s phone number or any money or a phone nearby. Maybe it would be best to sit down and think it over, contemplate the options, which were few.

At that moment another pickup truck came down the dirt road, slowing to a stop in front of Lon.

“Hey, old man! You need a ride?” asked the driver. “Too damn hot to be walking in the woods, old-timer.”

A ride, thought Lon. Then I could try to find a phone and maybe see if anyone knows Arnold. He can come and get me then nobody will get in trouble. Looking back at the graveyard, he could make out his prison jacket folded on the ground where he left it. The driver didn’t nor did he know who Lon was; that helped.

“Thanks!” said Lon walking around to the other side of the truck. He couldn’t figure out how to open the door; the handles were different and no place to pull them down. The driver sensed Lon’s difficulty and reached across to unlock the door.

“Get’s hard to open doors when ya get old, right?” replied the driver. “Arthritis? My grandpa’s got it; can hardly hold a glass of water.”

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” answered Lon.

“Seatbelt,” announced the driver. “Don’t want to be getting’ no ticket.” He fastened Lon’s seatbelt then dropped the truck into gear, roaring off with a cloud of dust trailing behind.

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