Saturday night Bill discovered the commissary. Commissary call came early evening and inmates could go two at a time, escorted by guards, of course. Bill found that they had left him twenty-five dollars and two cartons of Marlboro cigarettes. He took two packs of cigarettes, making sure to get two books of matches, and he bought a package of Snowballs and a can of soda. He also bought a tube of toothpaste.
Back on his bunk, he smoked a cigarette. He still had some left from what they’d given him at the police range so he didn’t have to use his own. All the while he smoked, he read the package of Snowballs. He read the ingredients and all the copyright materials. (Back then, nutritional information was not put on packaging.) He looked at the Snowballs, two coconut semicircles with flat bottoms. Underneath the coconut, he knew, was chocolate cake, and in the middle of that was fluffy vanilla creme. He looked at them, turned the package, looked some more, put the package to his nose and sniffed, smelled the sweet, smelled the coconut. He salivated. He held the package, fingered the cellophane wrap, turned the package again. Then he placed it next to him on the bed and picked up the book he’d taken from the library.
When he finished the cigarette, he lighted another one. He read, he smoked, he reached every now and then to the package of Snowballs next to him. He recalled the visit, recalled that the last thing he’d seen as the guards took him out of the doorway and down the corridor was Sue crying. He’d wanted to run to her and hold her and tell her everything was okay, but what he wanted didn’t matter, just as what he’d done and what had really happened at that demonstration didn’t matter either. Yes, he was against the war. Yes, he was a hippie and non-violent. Yes, he had attended some gatherings run by the groups that led the protests when they had met on campus in their club forums. So what?
So he was meeting one of his professors, one who wrote poetry and taught a course called Japanese Literature in Translation. This professor had edited several editions of translations of Japanese poetry, something Bill, as a poet and writer, was interested in. They had a lunch date at which they were supposed to discuss Bill’s poetry and the meeting happened to coincide with the beginnings of the demonstration that day.
“Let’s go see what’s going on,” the professor said.
Bill shrugged his shoulders and said okay and so they moseyed down Neil Avenue to the campus gate where the protestors were.
The rest was history.
Bill did not open the Snowballs. After trying to read several pages, he closed the book and picked up the package. He cherished that package, fingered it again. He thought about eating it but his stomach hadn’t had anything solid in it for four days and while he could hear it grumbling now that it saw the Snowballs, he wasn’t sure it could handle it. He knew he didn’t want to get the runs or even have to go to the bathroom.
He waited until after dark when the dim lights were on. Then he quietly, carefully unwrapped the cellophane so that he did not destroy it and could re-wrap the Snowballs. He took one from the white cardboard—if you could call it that—bottom of the package and brought it up to his nose. “Here goes,” he said to himself. He sniffed it again then took a bite, a very small bite. Then he popped the top of the soda can.
He ate one Snowball and saved the other. He drank the entire can of soda.