Monday, February 22, 2010

In The Timing

Who can account for the things time does to the body, the mind and the essence both hold within? Who can account for anything? And what does it matter when the day draws to its close? There was a woman in the back room who could expound upon the question. She was knowledgeable about most things after having come up against them for almost a century. She was not one to make much of a fuss. She had become a Grand Master at adaptability in her time, and she still liked to have her nails painted. She would hold her hands out and describe the color; some kind of pinkish shade that the home attendant was partial to. She herself could take it or leave it, she said. And that is how it was.

The woman’s humming could be heard from the kitchen. One peek around the corner would reveal her wrapped in a glossy red shawl, with head tied and arms folded, and feet crisscrossed across the bed, looking through her spectacles at the television screen or hanging over the open book placed delicately in her lap. Smoke rose in the kitchen and there was the sound of a sizzle. There were vegetables softening slowly in a pot and bits of fish waiting to be fried up with the pieces of chopped garlic and scallions already simmering in the oil. The taste was all in the timing the cook had said.

He stood against the counter, moving a spoon around in the frying pan. The lady shifted in her chair, not far from him, she raised meat from her plate and tasted it. The couple was having a conversation. They spoke to each other and also to a nephew who observed them from the edge of the dining table. They feigned contradiction of each other’s perspective. They chided each other in that way spouses can after two or three decades have passed; where words that sound stern are aglow with a character that is much warmer and thicker for the love enfolding it. They called on the young observer for input, but did not particularly expect any.

Someone made a roguish remark and there was an eruption of laughter. The occupants in the room slapped hands on surfaces, dropped utensils on metal, and made the floor rattle. The matriarch called from her quarters in the back that the joke must have been a sweet one. And the couple gave smiles that must have been identical some twenty years before. At twilight, some short evening ago, when they walked with arms linked and hearts associated, connected and hopeful in ways they could not truly communicate; discreetly overwhelmed by what they shared between them. There were no costs to be paid just yet, in whatever capacity; no relatives crowding round to weigh in on matters only of concern to the participants in the marriage. Only the two, just the pair; strolling and grinning; strolling and clinging.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Angela II

She tapped an acrylic tune on the desk as she monitored the men who were signing the logbook by the entrance. The radio stood upright a few inches away from her fingers and barked every few minutes, making sounds that did not really concern her for the time being. No sort of pandemonium had broken out in the hallways or in any of the remote housing areas. It was still early in the day. Some of the inmates that were filing into the room looked as if they had just been pulled from sleep and added to the general smell of something like stale bread floating into the area.

Angela peered over her designer glasses to the corner in the back of the room. Her partner stood at the door on the offensive, with her body set to support her weight, one hand impatiently beckoning the men in and an unchangeable frown on her face. After the entire group had stepped inside, she walked around the front of the desk and sat at the chair to Angela’s left. They whispered an observation to each other and giggled.

When Angela had slipped from her bed that morning, only four hours had passed since midnight; she showered and dressed so as not to break the silence. She bade her customary farewell to the man in the bed, but he did not respond. He seemed to still be wrapped under the covers with the words they had exchanged at dinner. It was becoming a pattern she would have to cut off at the head. She would think about this on the gradually congesting highway. She would focus on it as she adjusted her uniform in the locker room. She would be distracted by the thought as she moved through the sliding metal gates that opened into the long hallway.

She pulled herself back into the present. There was something very uneven about the environment at the moment; the feel was off. Angela looked out unto the floor. The men were sitting around calmly, some at the typewriters, and others were facing the wall-mounted computer screens. Something was off. But she could not deliberate about it fully; one of the younger inmates walked over to the desk to request a pencil.

Angela opened the drawer and, at the same time, reached for the identification card that the youngster would be using as collateral. What was it that she noticed in his eyes? Angela looked around the drawer for a pencil. Suddenly, there was a loud thud. Angela’s eyes flew up. She saw that four bodies were making a fence in front of her desk. Through the spaces she could see where the commotion was coming from. A chair had been overturned. A table was flipped to the side. A fight was taking place.

Two inmates battered each other at first before one of the strugglers fell and was set upon by a gang of men. Angela clawed for her radio. Someone had moved it. She heard her partner cursing loudly and saw her jump from her chair. Angela sprang for the phone as a hand quickly pulled it from the desk. She made a move for the crowd, but could not find a path. The bodies were locking her and the other officer in. Angela yelled from behind the body-barricade to the horde that was kicking the crumpled figure on the floor. She tried, without success, to push past the row of backs in front of her. They anticipated all of her maneuvering and prevented it. Angela could hear her partner shouting some instruction to her regarding the door. She felt for the keys at her waist. It was a futile effort. Someone was already standing against the door, barring it.

The woman felt as if her mind was not working fast enough. She must have tugged at the toxic spray on her belt at the same time her partner did. But there would not be as much as a puff from the small steel cans. The bodies disbanded even before the threat of a first blast. The plan had already been executed and the group stepped up to the wall, placed their palms on it, and spread their legs.

Blood and dust mixed around the man that was sprawled out on the floor. Angela saw her radio on the counter and was finally free to rush to it and set off the alarm. A security team would soon be dispatched to the area. She shook her head and sighed, stepping in the direction of the fallen combatant. The other woman was screaming orders to the room’s occupants to hold their positions on the wall. The men had no intention of moving now that the deed was done, however.