This story is by Gregory Faraone and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The holding cell was bleak and claustrophobic. Regrets covered the bars and stained the floors. The concrete walls bore no windows and no connection to the outside world. The cast of characters gathered together in the holding cell looked just as it would on any other Saturday evening in the city. All brought together by their own particular proclivities, chance, and a shared failure to evade the police. One child, roughly fifteen years of age, sat in the far corner sulking in a state of shock and fear. Here he was, sitting next to sexual offenders, gangbangers, junkies, drug dealers, and even a member of the black panthers. If only he had chosen not to go out. He thought about the decisions that had ultimately led him to this cell- if only his mother was still around, if only his dad had been stricter and more involved, if only his friends weren’t so mischievous. After all, here he was, the only one of his friends sitting here in this cell, and for what? For graffiti? For art? To have his voice heard! People are out there committing real crimes and here he is locked up for trying to tag a train. A victim of his circumstances he hoped, but his greatest fear was that the blame for his current circumstances lay solely on himself. At what a cost? This is the next wave of thoughts to cross his mind. What would this ultimately cost him? A chance at college, his freedom, his reputation, would it put even more stress on the already strained relationship with his father? Then an even more immediate reality kicked in as one gangbanger hit a junkie in the face and threw him to the ground, the boy would have to survive the night in this cell before any of the problems of the outside world could be pondered. The cell was warm in terms of temperature, due to body heat generated by these criminals in the night, but for this boy it felt like the coldest cell in the world.
One cellmate in particular had taken notice of the boy, as he seemed quite out of place in this sea of usual suspects. This cellmate was only a few years older than the boy, was wearing a red polo sweatshirt with a black stripe down the sleeves and on the right sleeve along this black stripe it read “POLO USA” in white, his pants were black with a red stripe down the side of the legs in the same fashion as the sweatshirt, just with the colors inverted. This article of clothing too read “POLO USA” in white lettering along the left red stripe. He had a black fitted cap resting unevenly atop his head with the brim cocked downward toward the back-left side of his neck. He approached the boy outright and said, “now what cud somethin’ like you do on a fine evenin’ like tonight to end up here?”
The boy was frozen with fear, his body went rigid, he opened his mouth to speak but words refused to slip out. He had no clue what to say to this formidable emissary to the world of crime in New York City. He closed his mouth, glanced away for a moment and as all feasible responses to this outright question rushed through his head, he settled on a particular version of the truth, “I”- there was no time to say the next word as the man squatted down and leaned in to look the boy face-to-face and interjected, “I’ll know if you lying, and I know you know I ain’t the kinda person to be lied to.”
Fear stricken across his face, as his peripheral sight began to blur and his heartrate escalated ferociously, he shuddered, “Me and some of my friends”- he paused, “some of my friends and I… we got caught tagging a subway car.”
“Well, well, well,” the man decked out in polo garbs exclaimed, “now why would a nice boy like yourself wanna go on doing that for, and where are these so-called friends of yours?” At this point others in the cell began to take notice of the conversation. The boy glanced around nervously searching for an unlikely ally to bail him out of this man’s line of questioning. He took a deep breath trying hard to compose himself, his foot was now noticeably shaking rapidly, the boy stuttered with embarrassment as he responded, “I- I was the only one who got caught.” The man found this quite humorous and let out an exaggerated laugh so as to draw more attention to himself, he turned around to the congregation of scoundrels and proclaimed, “This here boy, thought he could tag a train car in my neck of the woods. Shit! Do you know what we do to cats like this?” he asked rhetorically as he looked across the landscape of mangled morality. He knew that they knew the answer. As the boy sat in horror for what must have felt like years, he looked at all of the cell mates one by one, hoping that one of them would step in and protect him from whatever wrath was to come. “We break their motha fuckin’ wrists!” the man said as he grabbed the wrists of the boy who now rose to his feet struggling to free himself of this man’s grasp. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again” the boy pleaded, tears running down his face. The crowd in the cell was getting all riled up, hollering and cheering. This ruckus garnered the attention of the officer who had neglected to keep watch up until now. “Hey” shouted the officer, “Let go of the boy Louis, let go of him now or I’m sending you to Rikers in the morning and revoking your bail.” Louis let go of the boy shoving him into the wall. He hit the wall hard, but managed to use his arms in time to brace himself, he bounced off the wall and onto the floor. From where he lay he glanced up at Louis through the tears and considered all the cautionary tales of his father shared from his youth. In a past life his dad may well have been the one firing outrageous threats and hurling the boy to the floor. There was a time when his dad’s name may have been worth mentioning in such a setting, but those days had long past.
It was a brisk Autumn morning in the South Bronx as a distressed man pulled up to the 40th Precinct in a silver rusting 1973 Ford Pinto. The man is in his late-thirties with a coarse five o’clock shadow that didn’t quite fill out his jawline. His demeanor reeked of lethargy. His eyes presented the windows into the soul of a man defeated too many times by his missteps. The interior of the car was grey cloth stained by years of ambivalence, accentuated by cigarette-sized burn holes in the upholstery.
He pulled into a parking spot across the street, glanced at the station and reached into his center console pulling out a glass flask of whiskey. He raised it to his lips, cocked his head back and took a generous pull. A sigh of self-disgust escaped from his mouth as he retracted the bottle from his lips. He returned the bottle to his center console, put the car in park, and pulled the key out of the ignition. As he lumbered across the street towards the precinct his eyes caught with a police man who just walked out through the main entrance. The man was a shade over six feet tall, in his mid-thirties, and clean shaven, with dark brown hair shaved closed to his head in a military fashion. As their eyes locked the downtrodden man recognized this officer as a friend from high school. Memories from what seemed like a lifetime ago had come crashing back all in that moment. Some good times, some bad times, but ultimately the man’s mind ran wild outlining the dichotomy between their two paths. The man walked right past the officer without an acknowledgement of their quondam friendship as the officer did the same.
The man entered into the precinct with one goal on his mind- get his son out of this hell hole. “Alright, where’s my son!” blared the man as he approached the front desk. “Excuse me, sir what is your son’s name?” the lady police officer said politely with a stern tone from behind her desk. “Malcolm” he paused, “Malcolm Cabey” he said with a hint of shame. “I received a call last night, but I couldn’t get over here until my shift ended” the man continued, almost defensively. The lady police officer was younger than the man, in her mid-twenties, and possibly new to the force. She was pretty with golden brown skin, hazel eyes, and a voluptuous figure that filled out her uniform in a way that the man had never encountered. “He’s never gotten in trouble like this before, you see…” the woman interrupted him, “hang on one moment.” She walked away turning a corner near the back of the police station. With the lady no longer in sight, the man began to ponder his late wife.
Back in the cell, Malcolm had survived the night without a wink of sleep. Malcolm, nearly catatonic, was sweating and shivering in his black hoodie as he sat across from Louis. Refusing to look in his direction, Malcolm stared downward at his worn in converse shoes. He had never bitten his nails before, but as he pulled his hand from his mouth it revealed that he had been biting his nails feverishly. His eyes were bloodshot. He was counting the seconds until he would be released into his father’s custody. It felt like an eternity. Malcolm began to wonder if his dad was coming for him at all. Malcolm new full well that his father worked Saturday nights, but his perception of time had lost its grip. All of a sudden, the lady officer entered the holding area and exchanged some soft words with the officer. “Malcolm Cabey, you’ve been released on bail. Step forward.” Malcolm silently got up and shuffled towards the entrance to the cell. He wanted to be happy, but he could not bring himself to crack a smile. He felt no solace in being rescued from the inhabitants of this concrete jungle. He marched behind the woman towards the front of the station where his father had just finished the paperwork for his son’s release. Their eyes met from across the station. The father’s eyes were glossy and tired from a long night that persisted into the morning. The boy’s eyes were cold and his face was puffy from crying. The dad put his hand on Malcolm’s shoulder and spoke softly, “It’s alright, it’s all going to be alright. Let’s go home, it’s been a long night.” They both walked out of the station side by side as the dad tucked him under his wing holding him close and as they breached through to the sun of the roaring morning he leaned down and gave his son a kiss on the forehead.