We get two meals a day. Or rather, the same meal, twice a day. This time, when the guard shoves our food through the slot, Peaches shouts and bangs on the door.
Eyes appear. “What.”
“Hey, can I get some help for my knee?”
The eyes flick downward. “What happened to your knee?”
“Don’t know. Woke up like this.” Then she looks at me. “And she needs supplies, she’s bleeding.”
The eyes slide to me. “From where.”
“Her crotch,” Peaches says. It takes everything I’ve got not to shield myself. The guard has eyes like hands and they linger. I know I’m not on my period but I want to see where this lie goes.
The eyes flick back to Peaches. “Be ready for transport in ten, PL47. Just you.”
The slot slides shut. I scoot over to the door and retrieve our stale breakfast. “Why’d you say I was on my period?”
She grins. “Because I told them I was on mine last week. They’ll issue you 10 tampons, maybe pads. They burn good.”
I grin back. She’s smart. I don’t trust her. But I think I like her.
Peaches is gone five hours or maybe 30 minutes. I would’ve thought being raised in confinement would’ve prepared me better for this, but no. Time is boiled down to nothing here in prison-bone soup. Sure, you know it’s still there – shadows inch across the floor – but putting your arms around an hour is impossible. Seconds are ok. Anyone can count to 10 or 60, but try doing that again and again and again. There is no nuance in prison.
I stretch my body across the floor, fingers and toes skimming both walls. The room feels empty and yet, claustrophobic. Being alone is unbearable. I worry about Zelda. Whatever the hole is, it can’t be good. I hope she’s doing ok.
I get a few pages into How to Make Friends and Influence People but it’s garbage and I can’t concentrate. So instead, I drag myself over to the toilet, where I saw Peaches hide her stash. Tucked back behind the bowl is a slim crevice between the toilet and wall. I pull out a severed pantleg that’s been tied at both ends. Inside, I find three halves of books, matches, four tampons, six black pens and five needles of varying sizes. Needles? Then I pull out the final item: a piece of plastic with neat perforations stabbed into it, likely from one of the pens. It’s the same plastic my shiv was cut from but I don’t understand the markings.
I’m carefully putting everything back in the bag when I hear the latch thrown back on the door. I shove the bag behind me and throw an arm over the toilet seat.
A guard gives me a quick glance as if I’m not even human. As if he’s here to retrieve a dog.
“Get up. Rec time,” he says.
“Um, I can’t.” If I get up, the bag will be visible.
“Get up,” he repeats.
He looks me over again. This time, his eyes take in my empty pant leg.
“Where’s your leg.”
“I don’t know.”
His gaze is already on the metal sink, taking in the soot rings, ashes, bits of charred toe. He sighs. I almost sympathize. He doesn’t want to deal with this shit. I don’t want him dealing with this shit. He sighs again.
“Fires are prohibited. I’ll have to report this.”
“Or you could just ignore it.”
“What’s in it for me?”
With five words, he shifts from guard to predator. Hunched shoulders. Assessing eyes. I freeze. He fingers the doorknob as if daring himself to flip his humanity off like a switch. I keep my eyes trained on his booted feet. Eventually, they retreat.
“I’ll be back,” he says and gently closes the door.
I can do nothing but sit, shaking and dreading the future.
Peaches returns on a metal crutch soon after. Her knee is bandaged and she’s clutching a bouquet of cheap tampons and maxi pads to her chest. Giddy, she slides to the floor as if her bones were made of bubble gum. Her pupils are dilated. I don’t know the cause but I know that look.
She holds the bouquet out to me. “For you,” she says.
“What did they do to you?”
“Reset my kneecap. You kicked it out of place and it was oh so very painful but now it’s better and it will keep me off the farm for awhile longer.” She giggles and lists sideways.
I want to know what she means by that but first, a question. “A guard came while you were gone,” I tell her. “He saw the fire and said he was going to report it. What does that mean?”
Her pupils are pits that could swallow me whole.
“What if they find your stash?”
She frowns. “Down to the hole.”
For both of us or just her? I can’t take that chance.
I scramble back to the toilet on my hands and stump. I reach my hand into the crevice and pull the stash back out.
Beyond our door, voices approach.
I look back to Peaches but she’s a drooling mess, so I do the only thing I can think of – I shove it up my empty pant leg and tie off the end. If they search me, the blame is now all mine.
Then I remember the shank hidden in my mattress. I scramble to the beds, pant leg dragging behind, and slide it back inside my cheek. My mouth tastes of blood.
I’m able to fold the contraband pant leg under me right before the guards throw open the door: the guard from earlier, Bulldog Frankenstein and another.
“Don’t move,” Bulldog says.
Methodically, they begin searching the room. One heads for the toilet. The other approaches me. Bulldog Frankenstein guards the door.
“Welcome,” Peaches trills.
“Shut up,” Bulldog says to her. Then, to me: “You got any contraband in here? Matches? Tell me now and things will go easier on you.”
I shake my head.
The guard from earlier reaches past me with gloved hands, feels his way across the top bunk before kneeling down next to me. I’m sweating – can he see that I’m sweating? His hands brush across my shoulders as he lifts the mattress, looking and feeling his way down its length. Then he’s on the ground, peering under the bed.
“Clear,” he says.
“All clear,” answers his cohort. “Cavity search?”
Bulldog Frankenstein regards us. Me, stiff and cowering by the beds. Peaches, pooled at his feet, left leg mummified.
“Nah, this one just came from medic, so she’s clean. And that one –” he jerks his chin at me “she got in yesterday and hasn’t left the cell. Can’t imagine what contraband she’s squirreled away in a day.”
He nudges Peaches with his foot. “You burn her leg?”
“Where’d you get the fire?”
“I made it.”
He looks at me.
“You bust in her leg?”
He smiles. Prison guards have a keen eye for suffering, it seems.
“You two are a match made in hell,” he says. “We’ll leave you to it.”
The door is barely locked before I’m spitting out the shank and a mouthful of blood. Prison rules don’t mean anything. I see that now. The only rule guards play by is the golden rule. It’s the same one taught in the military: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.