The cellblock is unusually quiet tonight. The cells are cold. He's cold. Blue fingers grasp iron bars and he presses his dirty face up against them. Light. No light. Where was the light? Cold light. Always cold. Never warm. Never. Warmth is bad. He's bad. Bad people deserve to be in the cold. He shivers. He's not bad.
He tells himself this. Tells himself. Does he believe it? No he does not.
Hungry. Thirsty. Nagging. Always clawing at him. He'd do anything for a glass of water. Something to eat.
Cold blue fingers.
A girl's whimper. A girl…. Here? No. This was the boys' barracks. The girls were across the compound. What girl?
Sister. His little sister. She was crying without him. He closed his eyes. He had a sister? Forget. He was starting to forget.
No. He had a name. He had a family somewhere. He was here with his sister. They were here.
If he had them….
Why couldn't he remember them?
Simon opened his eyes, squinting against the sunlight that peered through the broken blinds, scalding his sleep sensitive eyes. He turned, stuffing the pillow over his face, and drew the covers over his head. The sound of running water and steam slipped from underneath the cracks in the bathroom. The faucet was cut short, and the heavy thud of a person stepping out of the shower. Slowly, he removed his pillow from his face, sitting up in bed. A thin film of cold sweat plastered his hair to his face. He wiped it with the back of his hand.
"So, up I see? You must have been having one hell of a nightmare, man."
Hige stood in the doorway, in only a towel, dark hair clung to his wet body. He rubbed a second towel through his sopping wet hair. Simon sniffed, clutching at the covers.
"It was…. Just a dream… old memories of… being back there…. I had a hard time remembering who I was back then and- " he paused, his mouth twisting into a grimance of disgust "dude put some clothes on! I don't wanna see all that!"
Hige ducked back into the bathroom, as a pillow slapped against the wall with a soft plop. Laughter from inside the steam filled room.
"Hey! I didn't take all the hot water ya know!"
Simon slowly planted his feet on the floor, raking his hands through his messy blond hair. He'd really need a trim sooner or later.
"Well that's good to know." Simon mumbled, stretching and shuffling towards the duffle bags that were thrown haphazardly on the table. Between the four of them, they packed extremely light. He pulled it open, tossing a pair of jeans, boxers, and a t-shirt onto the bed without much preamble, and then a bottle of traveler's shampoo, and a nub of soap.
" So what's on the agenda for today?"
Hige stepped out of the bathroom, pulling on a black t-shirt over matching cargo pants, toothbrush in mouth. He flopped down on his bed, and began pulling on his socks. Simon tucked his clean clothes under one arm, soap and shampoo bottle the other arm.
"Well first, breakfast. I have no idea how long since its been since we ate anything. Then, why don't you go check on the girls?"
Hige looked shocked.
"No. Last time, I accidently walked in on Rosa in her underwear! Do you know how close she came to killing me?"
"Least it wasn't my sister." Simon growled pointedly. "Plus, didn't you knock? Duh."
He slipped into the bathroom, shutting the door quickly and braced the sink tightly with both hands. He looked at his face, staring at the young man who'd been an innocent boy all those years ago. A sharp cry snaked up his throat, and in rebellion, he squeezed his lips tight to keep from releasing it. He bent over, holding his stomach, quashing the pain that threatened to eat him up alive.
Keep going, Simon. Don't fall apart yet. Think of Ruthie. Don't crumble yet.
He touched his face with trembling fingers, and then yanked hard on the faucet. Gathering a handful of cold water, he splashed it over his face. It alleviated the pain, if only for a moment. With a sigh, he turned on the water in the shower as hot as it would go, and wiggled out of his bed rumpled pants, boxers, and shirt depositing the dirty clothes in a pile by the door. The blast of the hot water struck his body, and he moaned in gratitude.
Thank god for hot showers
He scrubbed his skin until it was pink. Running a generous amount of shampoo into his hair, he raked it through his hair, scratching at his scalp until he was sure there'd be minor bleeding from it. Nothing could compare to being clean.
Only physically clean. Inside you're a wreck waiting to happen. No shower can change that.
The little voice was cruel but right. Simon dipped his head back underneath the water, rising out the shampoo and then reaching for the tiny bottle of conditioner.
What are you gonna do now? What are we gonna do now? Go home? Can we?
"I want to go home…." Simon whispered to the empty room. He felt his eyes grow moist despite being in the steamy room, and he ignored the lump from his adam's apple in his throat. He ducked underneath the hot spray, rinsing out his hair a second time. He reached for the wash rag, applying soap and began to scrub his arms and back, ignoring the welts that crisscrossed his arms. Each scar, a vivid reminder.
You can't get those off either. None of you can. Scars don't' wash away. Their sole purpose is to make you remember
A light rap at the door. Simon ignored it. He wanted this time for himself. He rested his cheek against the cool tile of the shower, heavy lidded eyes drooping shut.
"What am I gonna do….. God….. what am I gonna do?"
He clutched at the wall, mumbling the long forgotten prayers of his childhood. He bit at his lip, teeth dragging over the cut on the inside of his lower lip.
Stop that! He cautioned himself. The sound of the toilet flushing and a moment later an icy jet of cold water sprayed, making him sputter in surprise, as he leapt back in the soapy box.
"Shit! Hige what in the fuck?"
"Uhhh hello! I've been waiting for about twenty-five minutes! When a man's gotta go, he's gotta go!"
Simon clenched his teeth. The sound of the sink running and Hige's fading laughter as he darted out of the room.
Soon as I'm dressed, I'm gonna kill that bastard.
The first beating was the worst. Rough hands, male hands delivering one blow after blow. Crude and foul breath curling up her back. She kicked, she cried. He pressed down harder, laughing. Why was he laughing? No one laughed here.
The blows left her dizzy. She wanted to cry out- but something stopped her. Why was she alone? The cage was dark.
She was scared of the dark. Where was her nightlight? Home. It was at home. She wasn't at home.
Pain. It began to override everything.
Blood was running. Whose blood? Hers? She was bleeding? Someone was bleeding?
A smack. The whimper of a child's innocence broken.
All gone. Fade to black.
"Chica, why lookin' like that? Seen a ghost?"
"Ehhh? Noo…. Just thinking about stuff."
"What stuff, eh? Here- eat this."
Ruthie sat crossed legged on the bed, narrowly avoiding the buttered toast Rosa had nearly crammed into her mouth.
"I'm not hungry…." Ruthie mumbled.
"You not hungry? You're always been hungry." Rosa persisted with slight accusatory tone. Ruthie forced a fake smile on her face.
"Really, I'm fine."
Rosa eyed her suspiciously. "Loco…." She mumbled to herself, before dropping onto Ruthie's bed, laying on her side. "So," she began after a moment, nibbling on her own piece of toast. "Now that we're here…. Ideas?"
Ruthie traced the checkered pattern on the covers. "Well… Hige's gonna see if he can get someone to look at the car, and I heard its gonna cost a lot…."
"Which I'm not even thinking about." Rosa interjected with a frown. "We only got about two hundred between the four of us."
"I know." Ruthie cast her eyes downward. "I'm….just." she wouldn't look at Rosa, preferring to look out the window.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Rosa exploded fiercely, seizing the younger woman by the shoulders and forcing eye contact. Ruthie hiccupped, prying Rosa's fingers off gently, and holding her pillow tighter.
"Uhh…remember that doctor… at the clinic in the last town back? Well…..we got the results back…. Simon and me….."
Rosa nodded slowly.
"Well?" she pressed gently. Ruthie inhaled deeply, and exhaled slowly, fingers twisting the covers tightly.
"We're HIV positive….I almost figured as much…. But damn…." Ruthie looked away, eyes moist. Rosa sucked in her breath.
"You are…. Sure…about this?"
"Well yeah… I mean… I've felt lousy for a long time now. Simon too…. But we… resisted ya know? Its not like you want to take this test. But this confirms it I guess. Simon already knows… I heard him talking to Hige about it."
" I'm so… so damned sorry…." Rosa whispered In a broken voice.
"Not much we can do about it now." Ruthie mumbled. "Now, we're all alike now I guess."
"Hige and I never wanted… hoped… that… you wouldn't be… like us." Rosa said in barely audible tones. "I never dreamed… you'd be…"
"Sick like you two? Well…. Least we're all in this together now…" Ruthie replied in a false tone of cheer. "Thing is… I'm not even afraid to die."
"Oh boy… the God thing right? Well, you got your beliefs and I got mine." Rosa said, laying down on her back, head cushioned by her hands. "Not that I'm knockin' your religion thing, but it doesn't work for me."
"Hmmm. Maybe sometime you'll give the God thing a try." Ruthie joked.
"Suuure. When hell freezes over…. Oh wait… don't believe in that either."
Ruthie ran a hand over her face, and through half moist eyes saw the phone by the bed. She reached over, picking it up.
"Hello….. oh, hi Simon. Wait…. What?... when….WHAT? Are you…? Fine. We'll meet outside by the main desk in fifteen. Uh-huh. Love you. Bye."
"Fifteen? He's too damn fast… I still got my hair to do.. I ain't leaving here looking like this!" Rosa protested, animatedly pointing to her half curled hair.
"My fault you slept in? You know checkout's ten and its quarter to ten. Plus didn't even finish packing. Go fix your hair, I'll grab the bags." Ruthie prodded Rosa with her foot. Grumbling, the older woman regretfully hauled herself off the bed, and trudged to the bathroom.
"What'd the boys want?"
Ruthie sat on her stomach, limbs akimbo on the bed.
"Well, Simon wants me to go to the police station with him."
"Why?" Rosa poked her head out, curling iron in hand, looking puzzled.
"He wants us to report ourselves. That we're no longer missing. Time to start looking for our family."
To be continued…..