jailhouse-door-2Day Sixteen at night, Bill’s stomach still ached. It had ached all day. Bill thought it was the disquieting images from what he’d seen and the new-found anxiety it roused in him. What happened reminded him of how vulnerable he was, how vulnerable they all were. Even the tough was vulnerable, Bill thought. Anyone could get anyone if they really wanted to and were willing to accept the risks and the consequences.

He remembered. The first time he was hit with a nightstick was when he was about seventeen. He was riding the subway and had his feet up on the seat in front of him. A cop came from behind him, smacked him on the knee and told to take his feet down, which he promptly did.

Bill laughed to himself. He remembered telling that story to a friend. The friend cavalierly said he’d have gotten up and decked the cop. No, Bill thought. You wouldn’t have.

Hang ’em high Shul, Bill remembered. He got the most right-wing judge there was. The liberal judge wanted to throw the case out at the pre-trial hearing, saying it was the most ridiculous case he’d ever seen, but he didn’t do it because he believed the police would have re-arrested Bill, charged him with rioting, a felony, and raised his bail so high he’d have been stuck in jail. And that was not to mention his facing time in the State penitentiary.

We’re all vulnerable, Bill thought. Every one of us.

His stomach would not give up. He did not go to the commissary. At times he couldn’t breathe, it started to hurt so much. So he lay there thinking maybe it wasn’t anxiety. Maybe, he thought, he needed a brown bomber.

Sleep did not come easily that night. Unlike what had been his norm, he lay awake long after lights out. He listened to the snoring, the wheezing, the coughing. He didn’t cough yet, but he figured he would from the smoking sooner or later. The smoking had surely killed his mother, he thought. He believed it would kill him too.

He thought. He listened. That night, like every night, there was the procession to the john, the parade of men who went to take a leak or to take a quiet crap. Bill got up once to pee.

He was settled back in his bed when he saw the tough get up. The tough made his way to the bathroom with three of his gang following but he took a detour at a new inmate’s bunk and quickly rifled through his stuff. Bill saw him steal cigarettes and soap. Bill made sure to not be seen seeing.

When he finally did fall asleep Bill did so with the images of the guards beating that big guy. The repeated kicks, each strategically placed, replayed before his eyes. They brought back his own beating the day he’d so innocently gone to meet his professor for lunch. They brought back the other times in his life he’d been the direct subject of injustice. No matter what that big guy said or did, he didn’t deserve that beating, Bill decided.

Bill dreamed about the tough. He dreamed about the theft. He awakened with a start a half hour before wake-up, his stomach worse than ever. He decided he would take a brown bomber.