30 August 2010

The Court-Ordered Ecstasy Of Edward Huffman

White steers a tall, emaciated geezer through intake and up to my station. Wrinkled, sallow skin loosely covers the ancient inmate's bones.

"This is Huffman," White says in the same tone you'd use to say 'this is a sack of shit.'

Edward Huffman. I had to call him down from PC to administer a DNA test.

"I was wondering when you'd get around to this," Huffman says in a rather merry wheeze.

I tear off one end of the paper wrapper covering the swab stick.

"All right, Mr. Huffman, if you'd just pull the stick out, and then swab the little foam pad up and down the sides of both your cheeks, please."

Huffman delicately grasps the stick with his bony fingers, and slowly slides it free. His fingernails are long, yellow, and filled with the black muck of the jail. Huffman stares at the swab, a loony grin on his face. This fellow is the perfect creepy old man.

The old boy stuffs the swab into his mouth and goes at it with a fevered enthusiasm. His mouth hangs open, glistening. He's salivating as he furiously strokes the insides of his cheeks. I watch Huffman with a morbid fascination. His eyes flash like lightning storms. He has a look of maniacal ecstasy, as if the act of this court-ordered DNA test brings to life again the sordid deeds he enjoyed with a child under the age of thirteen, and for which he now requests Protective Custody.

For the test, Huffman has to swab two sticks--which just seems to double his pleasure. I wonder, as he's rapturously rubbing the second swab around his drooling piehole, if somewhere in the county a boy or girl is shaken with a sudden shiver? Is a child's spine tingling? Is Huffman's reprobate reverie emitting psychic haywires? As Huffman seems to float on a Cloud Nine daydream, is there a child blackened with a spontaneous dread? Some kid who had managed to momentarily escape the nightmare, now looking over his/her shoulder, sensing the return of the beast?

Maybe Huffman was once just such a kid. . .and then as the years passed, he changed over? Who knows?

"All right, Mr. Huffman, that's good," I say. "Give it a rest before you shred the thing."

White laughs. And then, so does Huffman. Whereupon White stops laughing.

I take the swab from Huffman, roll the foam pad on the pink dot on the test card. I get his thumbprints, then send him back with White.

The old bag of bones will spend most of the rest of his life alone in a cell. First, here. Then, after he's sentenced, in prison.

How does that happen? How does that whole thing happen? Quite a tangle to unknot. And I'd say it's in most of us, give or take three or four years. . .

I look down at the two pink dots. Huffman's saliva is turning them white. Supposedly the code is right there, drying on those pink dots. Maybe those cells down there are Huffman's real prison? Who knows? I don't know. . .I don't know.

The county jail is a strange place to work. Man's crazy try at judgment. Really, I ought to feel guilty every day when my shift is over and I walk out the gate, for leaving Huffman and all the rest behind. But I always feel ten years younger going out than when I come in. . .

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