This story is by Laurie Oien and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jerry stood at the window with his eyes closed letting the sunshine pour over his aged unshaven face. His daydreaming disrupted by a movement behind him, he turned to notice who had joined him. A smile brightened across his creased lips like sun rays gleaming on a chipped wall. “I’m surprised you came back to visit me,” Jerry said happily.
His friend, unresponsive, inched hesitantly closer to Jerry.
“I get it, you’re angry,” Jerry said.
The two stared at one another locking in on their last memory together. Jerry’s smile dropped to a wafer frown and his shoulders slouched. He recalled how his attempted attack had, once again, created an unnecessary wedge to a promising friendship. The body language from his friend shifted away as if agreeing with the wedge between them.
“Listen, I regret that I lashed out. I get it, you were only reaching out to make a friendly connection,” Jerry said. “I didn’t keep my eye on the window. I had a moment of weakness and the seclusion here has made my mind a jellied mix of anger, fear and resentment.”
His friend turned back and sat quietly trying to understand why Jerry’s first reaction was to strike out with cruelty. A caring friend is exactly what Jerry needed in this situation and he should appreciate that a watchful friend returned.
Noticing his friend’s willingness to listen, Jerry said. “I’m struggling to remember the things I used to love. I’ve slowly forgotten what makes me truly happy. Do you understand me, Wallace?” Wallace’s hardened exterior nodded as if interested in this conversation.
Jerry continued. “If I look out the window it helps me to relive when times were normal…when things were good. Does this make sense, Wallace?” “It’s easy to forget the simple pleasures while cooped-up in this god forsaken place, but looking at the window keeps me from going crazy,” Jerry said.
He studied Wallace for a reaction, but he sat there passively listening. “I’m not too far away from it, Wallace. Ya know…going crazy.”
Jerry’s attention went back to the window. “It’s surprising how the smell of fresh cut grass and feeling the accomplishment of grass-stained shoes is something I miss. Oh, and the delight of the first lick of an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Kissing my sweet Marjorie while caressing her soft curves and the lavender scent of her hair. Of course, this was before I created trouble between us.” Jerry returned his look to Wallace and swallowed hard. “Oh, and the gentle sweetness of when I first held my baby girl in my arms.”
Jerry’s hand reached for a grasp of empty air. “I remember touching her tiny little fingers and thinking how amazingly innocent she looked.”
The void he felt stirred an ache in his gut like a blend of fermented sour apples. Tears pooled in his eyes remembering the sights and smells of all the things he was missing. Discretely wiping his eyes he rambled on, “Ya know, Wallace, I used to have a pretty sharp looking canary yellow Mustang.” His glossy gaze beamed as if he could see the Mustang sitting right outside the window. “I can still see myself driving down a country road with the windows down, wind in my face and music blasting to the rhythm of life’s sweet freedom.”
Jerry sighed, “I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes in my life, Wallace. That’s how I landed here. Not recognizing the damage being done before it was too late. You, of all people, should understand. You’ve lived it too. Days spent being resentful and wondering if you’ll ever claw your way out of disappointment.”
“What do I need to do to get out of this place and never return?” He squinted at the window searching as if the answer would float by on a feather. He switched his gaze. “Wallace, anger and hate can literally imprison a person’s mind and that’s no place to be.”
Wallace was losing interest and began pacing back and forth. “So, we must keep looking at the window, if we want to leave here as different men.” Jerry reassured.
His concentration broke from the window with the sound of keys clanging against the heavy metal door. The door hinges made a grinding sound when it flung open. The uniformed guard on the other side stood firm-footed and he grunted, “You’re time in the hole is up, Wallace.” The guard scrutinized from a piece of paper in his hand and mocked. “The warden has officially signed off, in my opinion, the untimely release of one loser individual, Jerry Wallace. So, if you want to see sunlight again Jerry “Wussie” Wallace then I’d suggest you get your ass up and move it out now!”
Jerry lifted his sluggish body from the hardness of the cement floor and walked out of the cell. Soon after reaching the other side of the threshold, the guard leaned into the cell for a look around. With a sudden throttle of his leg the guard’s foot came smashing down on the floor making a crunching noise beneath. The toe of his boot gave a twist as he rumbled. “Stinkin’ cockroaches! They’re everywhere and we can’t seem to get rid of-’em,” he said with a side-eyed smirk.
Jerry’s hand formed a fist and it began to quiver anticipating how it’d feel if it landed on this jerk’s jaw. The guard lifted his boot displaying smeared roach guts. It took all the power he had not to clobber the guard with the same brutal force. Moments ago, Jerry had been sitting in this same spot and ironically spilling his own guts to his newfound friend. For the first time, a resurgence of remorse fell over him recalling when he wanted to stomp out this bug too. He was glad he hadn’t. It was the presence of this unusual listener that encouraged him to weed out his soul.
Jerry’s maddened trance looked into the 8 foot cell encased in solid cement walls and it was obvious he had envisioned a window. If he had spent any longer in this hell-hole who knows what other visions would’ve appeared. Fortunately for him, the window vision created enlightened rays of sanity, which exposed his many years of missteps.
His fist tightened as his eyes settled on the splattered cockroach that was left behind. Oddly enough, Jerry imagined it was his own death marking the end of his isolation and loneliness. It could be the message he was searching for; the departure of the old Jerry Wallace that he once knew.
Jerry realized he was one of the lucky ones to make it out of solitary confinement with his mind intact and his thoughts no longer blurred. Many prisoners are never the same and usually return. A different vision flashed before him and his outlook and life perspective had transformed. He viewed a new window. It was a window of hope.
It was then he glared at the guard’s smug face and slowly his fist unraveled.