Women’s prison

They put her in jail. She feels protected. At least she killed the bastard. Her life is no longer in danger. She has been in protective custody for over a year. Her bruises have faded and she has put on some weight. She can’t remember a time in her life where she was fed three square meals a day. The other women are no worse than her sisters, her neighbours, her acquaintances. They judge and swear and fight. They are just injured women, abused by men in power. She was hoping for a sorority of sorts and she supposes this is as good as it gets. Sister means I will lie to you and cheat you if it’s good for me. She has no illusions. She is just tired.

She’s on laundry duty. She keeps to herself and doesn’t talk much. The others say she’s stuck up, but really? She couldn’t care less. She just hopes she’ll get visitors this week-end. They promise but can never make it. It’s true that the prison is far from everything. They tried and their car broke down. Towing cost them so much. She knows, she knows. As disappointing as it is, it’s not like she expected her children to make the time. She’s learning to read and write.

She has a pen pal, who makes time for her. It takes her days to figure out what her pen pal wrote. It takes her days to figure out what to answer. And days again to painfully form the letters. It occupies all her waking hours. She is developing opinions and uncovering a mental life she never knew she had. She tells stories from her life. Tell me about yourself, urges the pen pal. Well, there is not much to tell so she makes things up to keep her interested. Her real life is full of pain she would rather not revisit. Do you have any siblings? She had to look that up. Why does her pen pal use those strange words? But she perseveres. The dictionary stays by her side as she tries to keep up.

I had a mother and father though mother was not much of a mother and father did not stick around (she does not elaborate why he was thrown out of the house. If she did, she would have to open doors leading to a dark storeroom where unspeakable things happen). I had two siblings and three half-siblings. Two have died already (a suicide and an overdose – she won’t write about them). One I have no news of. I am estranged from another. Is there one left? Janice, John, myself, Jupiter, Jerry. Oh, I am the fifth sibling.

Enough for tonight. She seals the envelope. Her cellmate is half-crazy. She hides the envelope under her pillow. She prepared the envelope as soon as she received the letter. The guard laughed at her. She had written the prison address in the middle instead of on top. Now she keeps the old envelope with the mistake and the correction so she can do it properly. She loves the ritual. She feels like a proper lady when she writes her envelope. The problem is always the letter itself. She wrote a poem she memorized when she was a kid. For some things, she has a great memory. She thought of writing a song she knows because it’s so beautiful but it doesn’t make sense without the music.

Her pen pal was telling her about wildflowers. She pressed some and put them in her letter. There is still a faint smell and colour. It’s winter and she has flowers that will last her until Spring. Her cellmate is impressed and envious. She cannot return the favour. She has nothing to share. She talks about her neighbour’s cat. It was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. The cat was called Rose. It had long angora hair which she licked constantly. She walked like a queen. Sometimes, when she gets discouraged about how her life has turned out, that cat is the only bright spot. She imitates her, and walks with her head held high. She tells her pen pal a little about Rose but not the end because she is a street cat and a stray and there is no good ending for a stray, even if she is beautiful. She doesn’t cry because there is no point.

Her pen pal sends her cat pictures which she exchanges for soap and candies. She has a sweet tooth and more cavities than teeth. She hates going to the dentist. She wants them all taken out and she wants to wear dentures. Then she could eat all the candy she wants. She is becoming popular. She asks for more cat pictures. Please send a short-haired black cat picture for my friend Janine. Thank you. And a blue-point Siamese for Karen. Thank you. And a striped one for Conchita. She says thank you too. She is exhausted, but she must take advantage of this wave of interest. It will die soon and she will lose out. Every day the girls talk to her. Did you get a letter yet? Where is my cat? Finally, the letter arrives. The cats are beautiful and she extracts more than she had originally planned. She even gets cigarettes, though she doesn’t smoke. She can trade them for more paper and envelopes.

Inside or outside, you still spend all the time with yourself and that is the most difficult part. If she did not believe in Jesus, she would have followed Jupiter’s example. She knows she’s kidding herself. She would need to be pretty drunk to try and kill herself. She doesn’t want any more pain, only to be left alone. She takes out the soap bars, and stacks them up. She has three – the black cat and the striped cat. She negotiated two for the striped cat because it was a larger picture, cut out from a magazine. It was almost life-size. She wanted to keep it for herself but Conchita was getting hysterical. Conchita is big and strong and rumoured to have a knife though they tossed her cell and found nothing. Still, why take a chance over a cat picture? The soaps smell of lavender. She feels like a lady.

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