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JOHN HENRY Wyatt sat on his narrow jail cell bed and read his Parole Board papers again. For the fourth time. Three was a bad luck number, he wagered. Five might be worse. He laid each sheet of paper down after reading it — flipping it right side up and arranging each sheet in the exact position of the previous one.

Today was the day. Friday the 13th of all days for a Parole Board hearing. He’d called his lawyer several times and demanded that he persuade the board to change the date.

Next Monday, the 16th, he’d offered. A week from now even. But not this date. He wasn’t on his game on odd number days, and Friday, the 13th was the worst.

Bloody Hell!

He laid the last page down. Morton from Cell 78 started his morning warble — the notes hitting low and plaintive, bouncing off the cement walls.

“Oh Danny Boy. The pipes —”

Wyatt peered up the hallway. “Shut up!”

No luck. Morton continued and some of the others joined in. Wyatt couldn’t think. He rehearsed the lines his lawyer had reviewed with him.

You’re a changed man. You see that fraud and tax evasion is not a victim-less crime. It’s a crime against the people. All the counselling and Gamblers Anonymous meetings have taught you the error of your ways. Bow your head when you’re finished. Try to look smaller than you are.  Vulnerable. You are truly sorry.

Yeah, right. Wyatt ran a hand along the short stubble on his head, freshly cut for the hearing. His lawyer had brought him the most expensive suit jacket in his closet and his best Ralph Lauren shirt. But not the suit pants — too much, too flashy.  No jeans. Slacks in a neutral tone. Don’t wear your glasses — contacts are better. Glasses shield your eyes. If you can, go without them. Let them see all of your face — wide open and nothing to hide. Don’t grin and show off your mouthful of gold teeth.

An ant crawled up the jagged crack in the cell wall below the tiny window. With a flick of his fingers, he sent it flying across the room. Then grinned. The power to dismantle the life of an insect.

Could he be dismantled too? He wiped his sweaty palms against his suit jacket. Waiting for the guard to come and get him — Christ, what was taking so long? All he’d eaten for breakfast was toast and a slosh of weak coffee. He paced the cell and practiced his spiel. He hadn’t a good feeling about his lawyer. A dumpy fellow with a twisted tie and wrinkled suit jacket, strands of hair flying in the breeze where he’d tried to comb it over the bald spots. Glasses hanging from his neck. A foul breath and poorly-fitting teeth. Brains before beauty.

He sat and thought about life post-hearing. He’d rent a little place by the Bay and look for work. Maybe he’d find a girlfriend. He’d have to report to his Parole officer but he’d keep his nose clean. Or at least give the appearance of it. And he’d drink the strongest damn coffee they could brew for him at the local Espresso café.

Jenkins came to get him finally. He towered over Wyatt, swung his cell keys in a loop on his forefinger.

“Big day,” he said and motioned Wyatt to follow down the long grey corridor. Smart ass.

Wyatt shoved a hand into his suit coat pocket. He wished he’d brought his glasses just in case they wanted him to read or sign something. Stupid, that he hadn’t. Nerves getting the best of him. Jenkins walked fast. Wyatt scurried after him. Almost there.

He’d rehearsed the entry a hundred times. Come in, bow slightly and sit on the left hand side. I’ll be waiting there, his lawyer had assured him. He’d passed this doorway many times over the years but had never noticed the chipped concrete.

A fault line in the cement floor. Rising to meet him somehow. A yawning hole that tripped him up, threatening to swallow him whole. More terrifying than his past nine years in here. For a moment, he lay suspended in space–on the edge of this world and the ether.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.

A sudden memory loomed in his head. His mother had apparently fallen into a rock crevice while hiking, never to be seen again. The last thing, his father had said cruelly, were her hands held up to the sky, in supplication.

Wyatt laid sprawled over the doorway of the Hearing room. Someone tittered and Jenkins spoke: “Get up.”

 He had a bad feeling he was looking at another five years of weak coffee and of listening to Danny Boy.

  1. A very clever story that captures the despair of a man whose fate, like that of the ant he flings across the room, is in the hands of a power beyond his control, despite the calculated urgings of his lawyer. The brief sentences that spoke of the fear in his heart touched me. This is really good writing.

  2. Powerful writing. Love the way you describe your character without ‘telling’.

  3. Well done. Vivid imagery.

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