This story is by B. M. Erlendsson and won an Honorable Mention in our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bjarni Magnús Erlendsson is studying writing and literature at BMCC in New York. He moved there from Iceland to make a run at becoming a professional writer. This is the first writing contest he has competed in.
I etched the slanted line onto the wall. Once done, I looked across the expansive wall. Three hundred sixty-five of these lines I had carved into the rough surface of the stone. I had only been in this cell for ten days, but I am an impatient guy by nature and three hundred sixty-five just looked more dramatic than ten. Also, no one really tells you this, but when you’re sitting in a prison cell there aren’t that many activities you’re able to do. Wall carving just seemed to be the most accessible hobby around.
Reminiscing is also quite popular here, so let’s do that now!
I was five when I started stealing cars.
That’s a lie but it sounds pretty cool when you say it. In reality I was twenty-four. My car had broken down in the middle of nowhere, I was plodding along in the pouring rain, and I saw a running Hyundai with an open door. A flash decision made with a tired, annoyed and thoroughly soaked brain, and I was cruising along in a brand-new car.
The easiness of carjacking was what caught my interest at the start. Later on, it was the lucrativeness (that’s a word, right?). I got quite good at it; in fact, when I was at my most lucrativeness (I don’t care whether it is, I’m using it), I was pulling in around $5,000 a week. I set up my own “business” called I-haul, where I used a tow truck to get those pesky alarm-having cars. Those usually bring in a bit more cash so that really made up for the difficulty of stealing that tow truck.
It went on like this for a couple of years until at last, I was caught red-handed, jacking a beautiful grey Maserati out of the garage of some old guy upstate. I had just gotten into stealing cars out of garages, since snatching them off the street was just getting a bit too easy. Besides, if you’re going to be stealing Maseratis, you usually have to go into garages to get to them.
While stealing cars out of garages increased the income, it also increased the complications. See, while I had a lot of experience stealing cars by that time, I had none when it came to breaking and entering. Especially not in the homes of people who have beautiful grey Maseratis. So, after a pressed panic button, and with the speed of the police in a predominately white neighborhood, I ended up here.
Now, you may be wondering where here is. It’s a prison cell. But not just any old prison cell. This is cell three in prison-block zero. The great thing about cell three in prison-block zero is, if you abbreviate that number, you get—drum roll please—C3P0! This was a day five revelation that delighted me to no end. My cellmate was less enthused when I told him about my big discovery. He has been here for six years, so I don’t think these things amuse him quite as much as they do me. Maybe he just hasn’t seen Star Wars; I forgot to ask.
The ten-day anniversary of my prison sentence went by without a huge hoopla surrounding it. I sat with the non-Star Wars watching Sam during lunch. No one stole my potato which was nice, maybe people are finally starting to accept me. Even at dinner, Frank—who had been giving me a bit of trouble since I complimented his hairdo (apparently, he had somehow found a way of smuggling a toupee into the prison)—he only gave me an evil glare through his thick locks instead of punching me. Things are really starting to look up.
So, I’ve managed to understand why Sam didn’t derive the same enjoyment as I did from my C3P0 discovery. It’s obviously because he doesn’t have a humorous atom in his body. It has become my mission in this place to get him to laugh. Not even laugh; if I get him to breathe a little bit harder out of his nose, I will consider it mission accomplished. Seriously, if I ever become as morose as this guy, I want you to lock me up. He didn’t laugh at that one either.
Other than my doomed-to-fail mission, things have been pretty quiet around here for the last ninety days. The attitude from Mr. Toupee hasn’t improved that much. There’s got to be some limit to how long a man can hold a grudge. Although it probably didn’t help that I tried swiping the thing off his head the other day. I thought maybe that would steal away his power. It didn’t.
My parents came to visit the other day. That was on day eighty-four. I guess that was the amount of time it took them to accept that maybe I really was a criminal and not just a car enthusiast. We didn’t talk much; they mainly asked about whether I was being fed enough. I believe I told them about the oatmeal slop we get for breakfast roughly ten times. No one seemed to have the courage for a heavier topic. Although, if you can find something heavier than that oatmeal, I’d very much like to see it.
My girlfriend still hasn’t been in touch.
The funniest thing happened the other day when a guard slipped in some gravy that someone had spilled. Man was he embarrassed. He couldn’t identify who had spilled it, so I got off scot-free.
I just really wish she would tell me why.
My etching has been bugging me all morning. I remember finishing it all those months ago and thinking, man, that’s a lot of lines. Now, looking back, the days seem to have jumbled up into nothing and I’m left wondering where the hell they went.
I thought I might write a journal every day of my stay here. I haven’t done that. Apparently, consistency is a virtue I can add to the list of things that don’t apply to me.
My mission failed. Sam is a worthy opponent and I’m afraid he has bested me. Turns out, he put in for a cell transfer when I had been here for a week. He finally got his wish on day two hundred eighty-four of my stay. I see him sometimes in the mess hall or in the yard; he usually steers clear.
The Mr. Toupee situation solved itself in a way. Mr. Toupee got shivved on day one hundred ninety-five. He took offense from the wrong guy and then brought a fist to a shiv fight. Maybe I should stop calling him Mr. Toupee, and start remembering him as Frank.
My girlfriend—well, ex, I guess—finally left me a message with my parents. It is the only thing my parents have said to me that doesn’t concern the food or the weather. The message was a short one: Sorry, but I can’t. Goodbye.
I’ve been learning how to juggle. My dad could, when I was a boy, and I always thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I pretty much forgot about it until now. I wonder when my dad juggling stopped being cool and started being embarrassing. Anyway, I’ve been teaching myself how to juggle to complete the promise I made to myself, to someday be as cool as my dad.
Well, I can juggle at least.
I really am sorry about everything. I never meant for things to turn out this way. What I was doing seemed innocent enough. Everything just went horribly wrong.
I can’t seem to stop staring at my etching.
I never thought the old guy would be awake.
He showed up out of the blue.
The clock on the wall outside my cell hasn’t stopped ticking, no matter how often I beg it to. The guards placed it there this morning so I would know what time it was. So I would know when it’s time.
At least I’ll get a good meal tonight.
Still love it!
Christy Brown says
Wow! Great story. I really enjoyed reading.
Linda Barrows says
I enjoyed the story. I liked the main character.
Yvonne Corbett says
My favorite, still.
Great use of unreliable narration, clues surfacing along the journey. Well written!
Nancy Pezdek says
Love the ending. I laughed out loud and thought . . . bravo!
Larry Bone says
I like the choice of short sentences to give the possible sense of a short or tall thin guy impatient with life with life passing by, nothing happening. He is tapping his fingertips on the wall while drawing lines with his left hand or right. Life is blunt, general and boring. I wonder if there are long winters in Iceland that suggest a form of jail? Just interesting, the voice in this story reminds me of the protagonist from Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger,” who is humorous in that dry Scandinavian way, turns himself in for stealing acts like an imp or has impish ways.
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