"Hard time here and everywhere you go
Times is harder than ever been before"
(Skip James - "Hardtime Killing Floor Blues")
He dreams, black and white.
And then the lights automatically hit the left side of his face, and color sneaks in through fluttering eyelashes, flooding alleys, drowning noisy stray cats, staining his sneakers.
Nine years old, chasing Roberta, and Roberta's the biggest, meanest bitch he's ever seen. Tony's Rottweiller, and that stupid fuck should've known not to let her out of the backyard, but when you have a dog as crazy as this one, who knows? Maybe he did it on purpose. Roberta turns around, shows her teeth, and he suddenly gets...fidgety.
His fingers tremble on the stick he's holding and - man, this isn't a good idea - he starts backing away very slowly. His pants. He thinks about his pants and how his mom's gonna get if Roberta over there decides to go after the seat of his trousers.
"Go away," he whispers through his clenched teeth. "Go away."
Then suddenly - where the hell is he? He should be here, he should be right next to him, where is he, where is he?
Colors thrust like small, sharp needles through his barely closed eyelids...
Where are you? Where are you?...
...and light turns into darkness and darkness dissolving into shiny insignificant particles behind his eyeballs...
Baby powder, remember that? Like snow in February.
...shadows fidgeting off the corner of his eye, green, gray, white. (Stick your tongue out, lick God's frozen tears.)
And he wakes up, with Keller's white T-shirt only inches away from his face, strong muscles straining, releasing through the thin fabric.
It's the smell that first strikes Ryan, like a needle trailing along the skin of your arm and pinching in the right spot: clear and sharp. Right. There.
He pushes Keller's arm away from his shoulder, pushing *Keller* away. One sharp movement, ringing throughout his body like fire.
"Get off me."
Dark blue eyes trail over his face for a small second, then Keller turns his back at him and walks out of the pod.
Above, the neon lights stare back, motionless.
"So, you think routine's worse than a shank?"
"Sure. Routine kills you from the inside out."
And it goes on and on and on inside his head, like a broken record, lying here in his bed with dark strands of hair entangled around his neck, toes rubbing slowly against toes. Unconsciously.
And why the fuck does he keep going back there?
Laying hooks deep inside, flesh burning, aching, expectancy at its best.
His toes keep rubbing idly against hers, and Toby's buried. Right next to her, Toby's sunken.
"Routine kills you from the inside out."
Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me--
"You know, you think too much."
He moves his hand a bit too quickly, elbow brushing hard against her side; and Julia groans in her pillow, dark eyes squinting back at him resentful.
It's 9.36 in the morning, his day off. Her day off. Beecher rolls on his side, and his eyes trail along between her sleepy face and the clock blinking over her shoulder - Julia, 9.36, Julia...
"I can hear it, you know?" she whispers softly, small wrinkles forming just above her eyebrows. One arm slips from underneath the pillow, her palm barely touching his temple. "Your thoughts, that brain of yours. Ticking."-- fingers taping just above his ear, tick-tack-tick-tack: "Has anyone ever told that?"
Oh, Jesus, Jesus fuck, Jesus...
Yeah. Jesus fuck Jesus.
It's Friday. Not that it matters in Oz, really. All the same between four walls.
O'Reily knows it's Friday because he's staring at a gigantic pot of soup, stirring aimlessly; probably the same pot Adebisi used to carry around the kitchen like the thing was his own fuckin' baby or something. Waaaay back...
He also knows it's Friday because Aunt Brenda's coming over later to visit; he doesn't know WHY she still bothers to come anymore. She always came for Cyril. Not him.
And Cyril's gone. Cyril's gone.
"I keep dreaming about him," he told Sister Pete a couple of weeks back, during one of their private counseling sessions (yeah, he DOES need private fucking counseling sessions). "But I can't...see him, you know? I just can't. Like I've lost him or something."
Like losing your keys in your laundry, losing your goddamn mind underneath all this shit that's supposed to be KEEPING your head together.
The game. The stake. The maze.
Your own making, your nurtured, carefully looked after baby, your own personal fucking backyard. Your creation.
The maze keeps stretching, weeds growing underneath, growing out of control, out of hand. Out of reach.
And Ryan...Ryan just simply doesn't give a damn anymore.
A part of his brain - the one that makes him who he is - whispers in his ear, tells him, fucking screams in his face to KEEP HIS SHIT TOGETHER.
Play the game, Ryan, play the fucking game, it's yours to begin with. You've made it, it's what makes the world - *your* world - go round, asshole.
(Lord of the fucking dance.)
The other part of his brain - the massive, overwhelming part - lays in front of him all-encompassing. Silent. Lost.
(Gloria. Cyril. Gloria, Cyril, Gloria, Cyril, Gloria...)
"Depression," says Sister Peter Marie, looking at him through her glasses.
That simple, just a word. Drowning in a sea of numbness.
The world shrieks all around him. And he just curls on the floor, knees to his chest, back turned against everything and everybody.
It's Friday 'cause they're having chicken-less soup, Ryan's been staring RIGHT AT IT for the last 10 minutes or so.
Somebody's calling at him and he looks up to his left. And he nods, still stirring.
But he doesn't recognize anybody anymore.
Grace Kelly reaching for a pair of scissors; Mussolini and his shitty tanks losing the war in Africa; Lassie wagging her tail; Hitler getting pissed off; Miss Sally bouncing.
Hitler hiding (excuse me, Vern: strategically re-treat-ing) in his bunker.
Hitler. Miss Sally. Hitler, Miss Sally, Hitler, Miss Sally...
(Ain't that *sweet*?...)
"We're going out."
Julia steps in front of the TV and turns it off, all those silver bracelets of hers (seven bracelets hanging on the left wrist, five on the right) ringing harshly in his ears. Yeah, those fucking bracelets. Who the hell needs twelve handcuffs to feel good about themselves?
"Out where?" Toby asks, still holding the remote control.
"Out," she replies, fixing her hair in the mirror. "We never go out, Toby." And then, slower: "You never take me anywhere."
Where the hell you want me to take you? Beecher wonders, watching her slender figure as she leans over to go through her purse.
Something's not...the way it was supposed to be. Not the way Toby thought it would be. He likes to pretend it isn't so, but deep down inside knows it.
His kids are still living with his parents, he still sees them on weekends; he's still living in the same apartment he's chosen to move into after being paroled, still following the same routine.
Only that Julia - Julia and her small silver cross entangled in-between little cheap blue plastic dolphins, Julia and her 12 ringing bracelets - has rapidly made a habit out of sleeping over, staying for a couple of days, sometimes even whole weeks. And his little cocoon of perfectly tolerable, if not enjoyable, numbness, this artificial micro-universe he's created for himself (or maybe it has created itself by default, Toby doesn't really care) is starting to crumble.
She's annoying. She annoys the hell out of him.
And that's NOT how it was supposed to be.
Toby needs people, he needs contact. Just the way he is, the way he always was. But Julia...
They go out. Some small coffeehouse she's chosen, some odd ambiental ("acid-jazz", Julia corrects him) shit floating around the room like cigarette smoke, whispered conversations and quiet laughter; and people. Younger people. Men and women her age, and Toby feels, for the first time in his life, for the first time since meeting Julia, Toby feels really old. Awkward.
A group behind them talks about politics, someone mentions something about the Federalist Papers, and Toby reckons they're probably students. He *could* talk about the separation of Church and State, he could talk about checks and balances, he still remembers. He used to do the same thing, he used to be like them.
(He used to be them.)
The image of the TV sets in Oz, always tuned on the news or Miss Sally, the news-Miss Sally-the news-Miss Sally breaks into tiny pieces of a puzzle shape shifting at the back of his mind.
Mirror-like reflections of what used to be. What still is...sometimes.
And Toby smirks, staring at his glass of water.
He liked to throw in his comments on the shit Devlin or some other politician fuckwad made on TV and he always got a strange, screwed up thrill out of knowing things the others had no clue about, relishing in the idea that he could say the stupidest, the biggest lies possible, and the other guys wouldn't doubt him.
Sometimes intelligence in Oz isn't all about instinct and experience. And sometimes interest doesn't stem only out of how powerful you are, what connections you've got, or how much of a prag material you make.
Sometimes people like you just because you're yourself.
(Chris used to, anyway.)
And he believed him.
Julia leans in and asks him to check his watch.
"We've promised your mom we'll come to visit this evening, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember," he replies, and she smiles just the tiniest smile.
(Gen used to do that.)
Toby needs people, he needs contact. He could never live without somebody by his side. *Anybody*.
Julia's like a watch. She's precise, exact, always there. Always ticking. He can feel her blood flowing through the veins on the underside of her wrist as he takes her hand, he can smell her perfume, breathe her air. She's real.
She makes him real.
Just like Chris.
People spin in circles by default.
Why shouldn't Toby?
At the beginning of the after times - as in, after Beecher met his Maker in the form of a 50 year old grandmother with glasses like his (yes, Toby had the inspiration to match his blue suit and tie with the pair of glasses his dad brought for his parole hearing) and a fondness for Harvard graduates and got his Swastika ass THE FUCK OUT of Oz...and, oh yeah, after Keller came back *home* from his holiday trip in Massachusetts - at the beginning after the end, Chris Keller got himself practically bullied into counseling sessions with Sister Peter Marie.
The Good Sister.
And it felt at the time to be a reasonable question.
"Because I feel you have to," she had answered.
(Because you need it.)
A couple of months later, Sister Pete gave up. Sort of, anyway.
It WAS a reasonable question.
That didn't mean that the sessions stopped though.
Just simply got...diluted.
So Chris is sitting in her office, stretching his arms above his head and yawning when she's not looking, yawning when she IS looking.
(What's the fucking difference anyway?)
Talking about his wives for the 1000-th time.
Only real subject Chris ever talks about.
"Yeah, Kitty's prone to all sorts of accidents."
"Chris, have you ever asked yourself how come you only talk about your wives?" she asks him, slowly rubbing her temples with the tips of her fingers. She's trying, she really is. But this is getting old.
He yawns again.
"You don't want me talkin' about Kitty?"
"You've talked about Kitty the last time you came here. You talked about her two weeks ago. And before her, you talked about Angelique's fondness for...chocolate." One eyebrow cocked, and he does the same almost on queue: "What do you think?"
"Hmmm...." He smiles that stupid shit-eating grin, and yeah, it's the same old rendition of the same old cat and mouse game for the not-so-gullible-anymore shrink and the ever-so-stupidly-repetitive inmate.
"Okay," Pete says, bouncing one of her tiny feet against the desk harsh enough for him to notice: "Okay. Then...what would you say if I told you I had a visit a couple of days back from one of your wives?"
"Which one?" Keller leans back in his chair, still smirking. Just the tiniest shift in energy, and Pete catches on to it.
Oh. Wife problemo numero dos y cuatro.
"Ain't this kinda...illegal?" he says, drawling on the last word, like it's supposed to be carrying some sort of a sexual connotation.
Leaning over her desk, touching her things.
She bangs her foot against the desk again, a little softer this time around, and he backs off.
Like trying to talk to a puppy, she thinks almost instantaneously, that's what this is. Talking to a damn stray puppy. Maybe she should do this more often, it seems to work. Hell, it's the ONLY thing that works!...
"What didja talk about?" he asks, frowning just a little. "What did she say to you?"
Bonnie DID come to see her, she's not making things up. But she did so because Pete asked her to.
Guess she didn't give up completely.
"You know, you've told me about Kitty's knee injury, you've talked to me for about an hour about Angelique's taste in movies and how she always wanted to be an actress, you've told me *all* these things, Chris...but you never mentioned about Bonnie's pregnancy." She leans a bit forward, resting her palms on the desk, breathing out slowly: "Not once."
Ah, the pregnancy. Yeah.
"Ain't my baby," he replies, looking at his fingernails for a small second. Then looking back at her, blue eyes narrowing: "Why would I?"
She nods to herself and speaks softly:
"It's not your memory."
He nods back, arms crossed over his chest.
"She's huge, ain't she?" And then, smiling: "More than usually, I mean." Inhaling deep, chin lowered into his chest, arms raising and falling as he exhales: "Huge-ER."
"She's beautiful," Pete says, but she's not smiling back, not quite.
"Yes, she is."- a beat, softer this time: "She is."
For a couple of seconds, Chris just looks aimlessly at the tip of his boot while she quietly watches him.
"How do you feel about that?"
A quiet chuckle buried in his large chest, hands gripping on the edges of his dark blue shirt:
"Oh, *that* question again!... You know Sister, whenever you ask me that I don't have a goddamn clue what to answer back."
"It's a difficult question."
"It's a useless question," he snaps at her, dragging his left foot under the chair, making a soft, scratching noise with the tip of his boot on the floor.
"Why is it a useless question, Chris?"
"It just is."
"Why?" she asks again, waiting.
He yells at her, arching his back and suddenly standing up:
"I don't know, okay? I don't FUCKIN' know!"
Sister Pete stares back, in silence.
About 4 months after Beecher was paroled, Chris started his routine of showing up late for counseling coupled with not showing up at all. That didn't come out of the blue, of course - even though, considering what Keller's like, it wouldn't be all that surprising; there had previously been a scene quite like this: Chris jumping out of his chair, kicking her desk with his boot, Chris yelling at her.
And, of course, he never yells.
(Maybe ALL of it never actually happened.)
Maybe none of this is happening.
(Maybe nothing happens.)
Life in prison is made up of routine, little activities you perform daily. You simply can't live without it.
It gets under your skin, a virus of numbness spreading through your bones, settling beneath your flesh until, at the end of the day, it becomes you. Becomes all you have.
(Maybe all of it happened. *Happens* - for ever and ever and ever.)
So he came back. And of course, she took him back.
Another day, another week - another session.
And he's got about 45 minutes still ahead.
Chris Keller stretches his arms above his head, stares at the ceiling for a couple of seconds and thinks of...Ryan O'Reily. A bitter little smirk and a yawn. And then he looks back at her.
And she's yawning too.
If only just a little.
Like some fucked up postcard from Purgatory.
Where nothing changes and nothing goes away.
Not even your own memories. Or somebody else's.
He dreams, black and white.
Nine years old, chasing Roberta, and Roberta's the biggest, meanest bitch he's ever seen, and he knows he's dreaming, he knows he's had this dream before. Only dream he ever has.
He sighs and rolls on his side, tucking his fists under his pillow.
"Hear me tell you people, just before I go --"
And then he opens his eyes, staring right across the pod; staring right at him.
"These hard times will kill you just dry long so..."
Keller's murmuring under his breath, words breathed out as whispers and low, soft hisses through his lips, as he's leaning against the wall near the sink, hands behind his back, one knee jerking slightly. Staring at the ceiling through his lowered eyelids.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
Still gazing through his eyelids, shadows playing across his body, filtering through the stale air filling up the void between them:
"Watching you." The softest, barely audible growl.
(Roberta's still running.)
And maybe if Ryan wouldn't be where he is right now, he...
(Where are you?...)
"Why?" he asks, and his eyes hurt, his limbs hurt, the scar on his chin hurts, the scar on his abdomen hurts... Every scar carved across his body strains and stretches, screaming inside him.
He clasps his fingers over the edge of the sheets on his bed, tries to straighten his back: "What the fuck you're watching me for?"
Ryan know, he just *knows* the bitch's smirking.
"What else is there to watch?"-- a beat, and he sees Keller reaching up and rubbing his palm over his chest, where he got shot; even softer, this time around: "You're the only one here."
And he's right, isn't he?
When Keller first moved in with O'Reily, he knew it was a bad idea. It was just...too soon. And the thought of being locked up in the same pod with a guy who didn't like him - and O'Reily NEVER liked him, Chris ain't an idiot - a guy who'd just lost his brother a couple of weeks ago, well...it rubbed him the wrong way. From ALL fucking angles.
There's something inside O'Reily, something none of these fucks can see - something only Chris has the ability, the *sense* to notice.
Probably Gloria Nathan did too. She couldn't take it though, so she left.
(Just like Toby.)
Just like everybody.
But Keller ain't going anywhere.
A small, lukewarm shiver travels across his spine, snapping at the back of his head, twisting its silver claws around every inch of his skin, digging. And Chris slowly pushes himself forward, elbows scratching against the wall behind him.
He sees O'Reily dragging himself back a little bit almost instinctively, shoulders straightening, arms closing around his naked chest - and it's almost funny.
(He never did that before.)
And Chris senses it. The small crack. The invitation.
"Tell me somethin', O'Reily"-- a lazy whisper, right arm placed softly on the edge of the bunk, hooded dark eyes gazing through him: "Ever got your dick sucked by a guy?"
Of course – it’s stupid.
But it don’t matter. ‘Cause he’s bored.
Chris is very, very bored.
(It's starting, and he can feel it.)
Just like always.
"What?!" Ryan's awake now; and defensive rapidly turns into offensive.
(Whatever the fuck that's supposed to mean.)
Keller's smirk slowly becomes a toothy grin, flashing in the dim light slithering from the control area.
"Ever wondered what it would be like?"
"Fuck off, you fuckin' nutjob." Not exactly creative, but...
"To have a guy sucking you off and..."
"Shut the fuck up!"
"Come on, O'Reily, you've done time before, don't tell me "-- an arm raised swiftly, skinny elbow and bony knuckles hitting him over his neck and collarbone almost by mistake --"Fuck!"
And Keller shuts the fuck up.
That doesn't stop him from giggling though.
"Toby did the same thing once..." Chris whispers to himself under his breath, back turned at O'Reily, moving away from the bunks. Still giggling, more quietly though.
He spins in circles a couple of times in the darkness; then stops near the pod's door, places his hands on the cold glass and stares outside the pod in utter silence.
"Well, I ain't Beecher," O'Reily mutters quietly after a couple of moments, looking at the back of the other man's neck.
"No, you're not," Keller whispers back.
"And I ain't one of your wives either."
"No, you're not."
"I ain't interested in your shit. You don't *get* interested in mine, you got that K-boy?"
Chris turns towards him, leaning against the pod's door. His knee is jerking slightly again and his eyes are empty. Ryan wonders for a second if Beecher's ever seen him like this.
(And what the fuck does *this* mean anyway?)
There's something inside Keller that others in here don't have; or maybe something that others have and he lacks. Ryan can't put his finger on it, never could. I crawls up his spine, like a spider, touching all those weaker spots inside Ryan he only suspected they existed. Irritating as fuck.
One hand trailing over his exposed belly, fingers idly tapping to some tune inside Keller's head, whispering:
"Where's the fun in that?"
He's not looking at him, he's not looking at nothing.
Then slowly, turning his head slightly towards him, blue eyes boring holes into Ryan's pale skin:
"You ain't got nobody left, O'Reily. Nobody."-- looking outside the pod again, fingers sliding over the Plexiglas wall, whispering: "You may as well be dead."
"What the fuck you got?" Ryan asks, rubbing the back of his hand over the scar on his chin. (Nine years old, chasing Roberta...Cyril did that to him. He still remembers.)
And he already knows the answer.
Exhaling softly against the glass, lips brushing over fading warmth:
Murphy's dozing off in a chair nearby, dim yellow lights flickering across his face.
---end of part 5---
It's my birthday, so take it as a symbolic present or something. Cheers!