·       Today is Elaine’s release date from prison. In processing her release, the guards issue her the clothes she was wearing ten years ago when she was first arrested and detained—a blue work shirt with name Thomas stitched above the breast. Tell the story of how she got to prison.

 

 

Stained

 

 

Thom handed me a clear plastic baggie. The contents were an assorted variety of medicinal tablets; each one seemed to be a different shade than the one next to it. If the lights in the ‘97 Honda Civic were working, Thom would have been able to see the panic leave my eyes, the skin on my face turn bright, and the beads of sweat forming on my head. He would’ve also noticed the metal cylinder locked in my right hand. 

            Thom reached across the passenger space to open his glove compartment. I winced, flinching away from his grasp. He fished around a bit before pulling out a black pipe with white stripes. He eyed me before slouching over, striking a match and taking a hit from the bowl. After a long exhale, he put the bowl down. Pungent marijuana odor filled my nostrils as he folded back into his seat. I took this opportunity to study Thom. A Seth Rogen type beard popped out from his chin, dark-colored glasses with even darker eyes behind the lenses. They were luminous in the glow of the dashboard, burning in the feint streetlight. 

            “Laney,” he started. I looked away as he turned towards me. “I know this isn’t what you wanted. But you need to know that I am looking out for your best interests too, not just mine.”

            “Could have fooled me, asshole,” I shot back.

            The back of his hand met the side of my face before the words finished echoing off of the windows in the car. And then again. And again. And over and over and over. I lost count after the 5thhit, and certainty after the 10thI squeezed the piece of metal in my hand. My nails eroded the object while Thom eroded my face. 

            I knew better than to yell. That would only make him hit me harder. He loved getting a reaction out of me. I knew better than to cry. Tears seemed to make him angrier. He would get pissed that I got his hand wet. And I knew damn well than to fight back. Hospital visits were much too expensive. 

            After he stopped, he popped the key into the ignition and brought the car to life. I sit back in my chair quivering, bracing for more pain, but it doesn’t come.  Silence fills the stale air where the radio should be. 

            “You ungrateful bitch! I do so much for you! Say some shit like that to me again and it’ll be the last thing you ever say, hear me?” Thom cleared his throat and spat in my direction. The assault granted his voice some much-needed base, an impeccable upgrade from the cowardly, lily-livered siren that he spoke with normally. 

            The orange glow of the streetlights smacked me in the cheeks as we drove down Sunset Boulevard. The sting from Thom’s fingers seared my bones. I glanced over to the passenger side mirror to find that I had taken on the appearance of a pug; large, swollen deposits of skin were molded together by purple and black bruises that stretched from one ear to the other.  Blood ran the length of my head from an unknown starting point. I felt around only to soak my hand in thick crimson. 

            At some point, you don’t even feel the pain anymore. Pain only hurts you if you let it hurt. Pain without purpose is atonement for living scared. Pain stains the soul deeper than the blood stains the clothes. Some stains last forever. 

            Thom pulled up to an apartment complex and forced me outside. He tossed me his button-up as he hopped up on the curb. 

            “Clean yourself off a little bit, you look like hell.” Gee, thanks. I thought this to myself of course. I knew better than to speak my mind. I wiped, and then put it on because it was cold. 

            Apartment 47 opened to show a maelstrom of women dancing half-naked. There were at least 30 of them; all wearing nothing but black two-piece bathing suits. They were all stumbling around in a chaotic mess, clearly intoxicated. The music was deafening. Thom pushed past the women to reach a set of double doors with a yellow smiley face on it. I froze at the doorway, wanting to be able to get away if things went south.

“Danny, I have something for you.”

Danny did not move. He didn’t have to. He couldn’t. Between the 350 pounds of muscle or the flurry of girls over him, there wasn’t enough inertia in the room to move him. Danny was bald, but in the darkness, this was all I could see about him.

“Let me see.” Thom nodded at me. I pulled the bag of colors from Thom’s shirt pocket. The metal cylinder was icy as it brushed my thumb.

            I placed the baggie on the table in front of Danny. He scoffed. 

            “What the hell happened to you?” He asked. 

            “Nothing. I fell.” 

            “Thomas, what have I told you before? You don’t leave bruises above the neck. Here, let me show you.”

            Danny stood up and reached for his hip all in the same motion. The room was dark, but the stainless steel Desert Eagle shone in the air. 

            BANG. BANG.

            Two shots. Two dead. 

            The rest of the girls did not scream. They did not yell. They did not cry. And they most certain Danny did not fight back. 

            “Blood may wash away. Bruises may fade. Death is forever,” said Danny. 

            “Right. Whatever that means. Look, I just want my money man.”

            “Your money?  What? What money? My Money?” He shot again, killing a blonde that stood next to Thom instantly.”

            “We….We had a deal.”

            “You think I got to where I am by doing deals with irrelevant motherfuckers? Fuck that.” Danny aimed his weapon at Thom. In a way, I was rooting for Danny. He was the lesser of two evils in my world.  Still, I couldn’t let him go out like that. I kicked the side of the bed with the back of my shoe. The edge of the bed caught Danny in the back of the knee. Thom rocked Danny once in the chest. He twisted and shot into the air, grazing Thom in the ear. Thom dove for the door as Danny launched backward. Danny bounced off of the bed and rolled laterally behind a chair in the corner. 

            The ladies, meanwhile, were completely still. Their eyes were fixed on Danny. Fixed on their master. Waiting to see what was going to happen. I could see the fear in their eyes. The fear of pain. The fear I knew so well. That’s when I knew. 

            They both needed to die.

            Thom had worked his way to the other side of the bed. He spotted the gun and made an attempt, lunging at the piece of silver. Danny’s size 18 house slipper caught Thom is the jaw, kicking the weapon all the way to the window. 

            The window. The window flashed red and blue.

            “Shit!” I couldn’t tell who said it. I guess it was Thom because he hopped up from his position and made a break for the door. In one motion, Danny grabbed his gun and discharged three bullets. 

            Rest in piece Thom.

            “You!” Danny managed to break my imaginary veil of invisibility. He forgot I was here. Dumbass. 

            I reached in my pocket and grabbed the cold piece of metal. He walked towards me with his weapon lowered. He grabbed me and picked me up, and threw me towards the bed. I rolled, and landed below the table, hitting my foot on a concrete mantle. Pain. I could hear the police coming over the sound of the music. 

            Danny reloaded his Desert Eagle and took aim at the door, waiting for police. I pointed the metal cylinder at the back of his head and pinched. The metal disassembled, firing off a screw. 

            The screw traveled the length of the room and into the back of Danny’s neck. 

Danny did not yell. He didn’t cry. And he didn’t fight back. He couldn’t. He dropped the pistol as he fell to his knees. With one last gasp, he fell over. Lifeless. 

            A roar of frenzied females stampeded the apartment. It was as if a spell had been broken. They evacuated the building like it was a fire drill. 

             I tried moving but my foot would not work. The police raided. Their flashlights lit up the room. The last thing I remember seeing was Thomas’ name, stained with blood on my shirt. 

 

 

            I was convicted of distribution of the drugs Thom gave me and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 10 years in federal prison