Saturday, September 29, 2007

Diamondback, No Place for Nobody

It was a weekday in Diamondback, which was wonderful to Susan, as it meant she and Ivan had the entire visitation room alone. The room was the size of a gymnasium, and was littered with the type of old Formica chairs and tables that you would find at an under-funded school. They had plenty of privacy, the room was absent of guards. All of the doors were locked, while fish-eye cameras stood silent sentinel in each corner, their black bulbous eyes glittering iridescent under the room’s heavy halogen lamps.

They were halfway through the second day of Susan’s three-day visit. She felt relief that it would be over soon, that she would be able to leave this oppressive place and her husband behind. She drove out here once a year, from Portland, to see him, to check up on him. Every year he looked thinner, older, more worn down. Every year the visit was more harrowing and depressing.

It usually only took one day to wring the conversation out of them. They would spend the next three in silence, just enjoying the small freedom of each other’s company. They would waste the day away holding hands, or sometimes just sitting there and staring at each other. Diamondback afforded them no chance for affection, but there was small intimacy in their ability to comfort each other. Sometimes, Susan felt that just having a female near him, to have someone there that loved him, recharged Ivan’s batteries.

They were halfway through their second day, sitting at one of the tables, a half eaten burrito from a vending machine between them, when Susan could sense that something was wrong. Ivan seemed tense, distant, distracted. She was about to say something when he broke the midday silence.

“I need you to get me something,” he whispered, his hands turning the burrito’s paper plate in a clockwise motion, “When you come tomorrow, I need you to bring something.” His tone was low, but conversational. His eyes left his plate and met Susan’s.

Susan was tense; she had expected something like this all morning, some bizarre and dangerous request. What could he want? Cigarettes? Booze? Alcohol was what put him here in the first place. If the guards caught them her visitation rights would be suspended forever, and Ivan would be locked down for 90 days.

“I don’t know…,” she began, before Ivan interrupted her.

“Just a picture. A recent one. Of my boy.” His eyes moved away from her. "Just want to see what he looks like.”

“I couldn’t bring him, baby,” Susan replied, somewhat relieved. “This is no place for him.”

“But still, a picture.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Susan promised.

The next day, she passed the metal detector and pat down much like any other, with one difference. Over her left breast, sandwiched between her skin and the tan cotton of her bra, was a recent photo of her son. It was a wallet sized school picture. Susan thought he was handsome, even though his dark hair was too long, covering up his forehead and blue eyes.

The day proceeded like any other; their morning was filled with contemplative silence. At lunch, Susan reached into her bra, miming a scratch, and palmed the photo. She slid her hand across the table, inserting the picture underneath her husband’s plate.

“I brought it,” she said, her mouth working nervously between breaths.

Ivan smiled and nodded. He hunched his head over his plate and slid it forward, concealing the image with his long, thin arms.

“Looks like my father,” He said after several moments.

“Yeah,” Susan replied.

He looked at the photo for a long time, so long that Susan thought he had fallen asleep. Finally, he slid the plate back over the image, and pushed both to the center of the table.

“Take it back,” he said.

“But…?” Susan was confused. Her eyes scanned the room, lingering on one of the cameras.

“Can’t get caught with that in here, and you can’t get caught giving it to me." He paused, running his hands through his close cut hair. "I saw what I wanted to see."

Susan nodded, understanding. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“You’re sure?” He asked, “He can’t come see me?”

Susan looked past him, at the empty room, with its drab taupe walls, orange chairs and tables. At the opposite end of the room the old, wood-paneled vending machines hummed like depressed drunks looking for a handout.

“This is no place for him,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Ivan nodded, frowning. “It’s no place for nobody.”

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