Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Book Covers: Letters and Papers from Prison

Book Covers: The Tree Climber

Book Covers: Tremor of Intent

Inside the Wall

I was a zombie those mornings, rarely getting more than two or three hours of sleep. I had to wake up at 5:30, which for me was hell. The sky was gray at first and the heat was already there, just a taste of the swelter to come. This was my summer construction job. I was sixteen

I didn’t like any of the guys I worked with. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in the cab of the truck with them, I wondered what I was doing there. Once we got to the site they would slack around and tell stories, while I broke my back. They called me, “the Mexican”

It was a half-burned down house on a street that could have been almost anywhere on Long Island. As I got out of the truck I could already feel it had gotten at least ten degrees hotter on the ride over.

At first I had to rip down the insulation from the ceiling of the charred kitchen. I was wearing gloves but it wasn’t long before the fiberglass had infiltrated them. It fell like sparkling dust as I tore down the yellowed sheets that looked like giant used cigarette filters. My neck began to itch and the more I scratched the deeper those little triangles of glass would dig into my skin. By the second hour I was shirtless with red scars all over my neck and arms.

For lunch we had Chinese, which would not have been my choice for my first meal of the day. We sat on around a long forgotten rusty seesaw. The youngest of my coworkers, the kid who used to have my job, told us about his fiancé and her newest anal beads. They all laughed and dug for more and more filthy details, the filthier the better.

I tried to think about the ride home and the joint I had waiting in my pocket. Then the prison guard began telling us one of his prison stories. He was a pear-shaped, red-skinned man with a moustache. He took so much pleasure in telling us these stories.

This one was about a man who was inside for raping little girls. A short little man that wore thick glasses and looked like a math teacher. The guard decided one day to sit across from the rapist in the chow hall and strike up a conversation. He asked him questions about the little girls. Disgusting questions until the rapist began to squeal tears.

The guard did his impression of the crying man for us, using his hands to make the “boo-hoo” motion in front of his face. I could barely stomach my wanton soup with the chunks of soggy gray meat. I put down the warm container and went with the bag of fried noodles.

The guard went into another story about how he liked to walk down the cellblock clanking his keys against the bars. He said it echoed throughout the entire complex forever. He tells us how the inmates beg him to stop; to let them sleep. He’d stop for about thirty seconds before starting it up again, clank, clank, clank.

My next task was in the basement, which was totally exposed to the outside toward the back, because one of the corners and most of the floor was completely torn away after the fire. The boss took me deep into the basement where he showed me a long wall next to the water heater.

He took out his razor and cut out a strip showing me how to remove drywall as if I hadn’t been doing just that for weeks. I began cutting the wall with my own razor and he watched me for a moment before going back to bullshiting with the others.

The prison guard had found a shoebox full of homemade Poloroid porno. He started up describing each one in his usual graphic detail. I heard the descriptions in pieces as I went back and forth to the dumpster with the strips of the wall

I noticed there was a woman up in the window of the neighbor’s house watching my trips. Even after I spotted her she continued looking down on me. I was drenched in sweat and covered in soot, so I was dripping black water. I hoped at least she was getting something out of it.

Eventually I found that it was much quicker to just pull the drywall off with my hands. As I tore down the final piece I saw something jammed inside the wall, catching the light behind one of the beams. It was a butcher knife that was never meant to be found.

I pulled it out, using a piece of paper, and examined it a bit. It looked like it had been inside of that wall for a quite some time. It had been the type of basement wall that was almost certainly a later addition made by whoever rented there. People on Long Island are notorious for sprucing up dank basements and pretending they don’t smell the mold.

I told the boss about the knife and he told me to go back to work. I told the prison guard and he said that they find knives inside walls all the time. He grabbed it from me, getting his fat fingerprints all over it before chucking it into the dumpster. After a moment, I went back to work.