“Oh God, is that me?”
She was looking at her mugshot. Christine.
“I look my age! I look forty-five!”
That’s enough to set her off crying, again. Seeing the picture of herself. It’s the top page of her booking paperwork, right there on the fingerprint machine, staring at her as I roll her prints. More evidence of her ruin. I have to say something to keep her reasonably calm. I need about five more minutes to finish printing her.
“You don’t look forty-five.”
She half-laughs, half-sobs.
“Thanks, sweetie,” she says, wiping snot from her nose.
I wasn’t lying. She doesn’t look forty-five. She looks fifty, at least. She’s had too many drinks over the years. Too many hours in too many bars. And then, too many beds. She looks pretty ragged.
“I can’t believe they give me domestic! ME!”
Here she goes, again. Wailing about her domestic assault charge.
“How could they of give me domestic?!?! LOOK!”
She points at the dying bruises on her upper arms.
“He’s been grabbing me and punching me for years! And I get a domestic?!?!”
4.2% tears spill out of her eyes.
I roll her right index finger over the glass. A little beep from the machine, then print flashes on the monitor.
“All I did was knock over his flat screen! And they give me domestic?!?!”
“Did you knock it over on him?”
I see some of the Corrections Officers watching, rolling their eyes, laughing. It’s great sport, from afar. The inmates, though, aren’t interested. Somebody’s got to really put on a show to get them to look away from the televisions, even though right now it’s only infomercials. There have been maniacs throwing fits, earning a shower of pepper spray, and the inmates will just sit there coughing, eyes still glued to the TVs.
“Well, maybe the prosecutor will drop the domestic in the morning,” I say, tossing Christine a bone to chew on.
“Just because he called. Over his precious flat screen. And they give me DOMESTIC?!?! I called on him a half-a-dozen times. You can look it up. I ain’t lying! He’s been here over and over. And LOOK!”
She points at the bruises, again. Some of them are yellow, like egg stains, like bits of old runny yolks on her arms.
“Well, whatever happens at court, just take care of it, and then maybe you ought to move on.”
“I ought to,” she says without much enthusiasm.
I roll her ring finger.
She starts weeping, again.
“Why can’t I meet no one good?”
I roll her little finger. Her fingers are long and slender, just like her body. She’s kept the weight off, except for a little beer belly. No doubt she drinks more than she eats. Her body is still decent, but her looks are gone. Her skin has been chewed up by liquor and worry. Imagine a more tattered Faye Dunaway in Barfly.
“I’m forty-five years old,” she says softly. “Forty-five years old. I went my whole life and never met no one good.”
It’s time to do her left hand.
“Forty-five. Forty-five. Forty-five. All those years! Gone!”
She sighs, wipes her nose.
I place her left hand on the glass.
“Yeah, the time passes,” I say. “Life is but a vapor.”
“Ain’t that a nice thought?” she huffs.
Ha. She doesn’t know the half of it. I’ve done fifty years, and I’m just realizing I need to get out of the world.
I press my left hand on top of hers, hold her wrist with my right hand, and then slowly pull her hand down the scanner glass.
Sometimes, with some of the females, the ones who cry and the sad, quiet, damaged ones, doing the palm and finger roll can be kind of an intimate thing.
“Why can’t I ever meet no one good?” she sobs.
Her twin themes: time and a good man. Too much drink in her system, and now she broods over time and men. And cries for herself.
I just have to get the individual prints of her left hand fingers, and then I’m done with her.
“They give me DOMESTIC?!?!” she wails. “ME?!?! LOOK!”
Again, the bruises. Time, shitty men and bruises. And outrage over her charge. All chasing around in her mind.
God had to put me in this jail. It’s from this jail I see the absolute worthlessness of human nature, and the absolute lack of faith.
“Just try to stay calm, ma’am. They may toss the domestic in the morning. And even if they don’t, you’ll get a PR bond and be out of here by lunchtime.”
“But I’ll still have to go through the courts! ME! A domestic!”
“It’ll be all right.”
“You really think so?”
This empty reassurance is enough to calm her for a moment.
I roll her left thumb across the glass.
“I never have met no good man,” she sniffles.
I’ve been trying not say it, but now I do:
“A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
“You ever read it?”
“A Good Man is Hard to Find. It’s a famous short story. By Flannery O’Connor.”
She shakes her head.
“I never have read a lot of stories.”
No. No, probably not.
There were certain women who were drawn to Jesus. It’s tempting to think they were like this one here, this one ironically named Christine. Women prone to poor choices and oft ill-used. Women who went through the gutter looking for a good man, trying one after another, and then Jesus appeared, and they wept, finally finding the One. They wept, and never ceased washing His feet with their tears. But all we know, say, of Mary Magdalene, is Christ drove seven demons from her. Neither Magdalene, nor any of the other *Jesus women* mentioned in the gospels, give the impression of having been drunken tramps.
But now, as I roll Christine’s left little finger, and finish with her, I wonder if maybe she has seven demons? Demons of alcohol, lust, vanity. . .anger. . .and. . .uh. . .?
Or maybe she is just a drunken tramp, by choice and *bad luck.*
Well, anyway. . .
“All right, ma’am. We’re done here. You can take your seat, again.”
“Now I just sit out here till court?”
“Yeah, that’s about it.”
“I can’t believe they give me domestic!”
She’s crying again as she walks back to her seat.
I try to imagine Christine about thirty years ago, when she was around seventeen. Before her own personal original sin. The sin that has worn her down over the years. The sin that has marked her face. I bet she could have been a Homecoming Queen--if she wasn’t a tramp, already. In any event, she must have been a very pretty girl at seventeen, whether wholesome or flat on her back. One way or the other, she would have been too popular for me.
Now look at us. Both of us in jail. Closer to the grave than to the womb. These concrete blocks walling us in. The gray paint. The fluorescent lights, always on. The artificial haze of the underground. What time is it? Fluorescent o’clock. It’s always fluorescent o’clock in here. What day is it? What season? We’re outside of time, now.
Christine sits there, showing her bruises to a fat woman (retail fraud). Look at them. Look at all of them. These inmates. They haven’t had enough of the world, yet. That’s why they’re in here. And they can’t wait to get back to the world. Can’t wait for another dose of it. The world.
I’m grateful to God to have worked a year in here. It’s now crystal clear everybody in the world is on the wrong path.
The only difference between the people in jail and the people on the outside is clumsiness. These people, the inmates, are klutzes. They stumble more, they crash into things and draw attention to themselves. Losers. But they’re just caricatures of the so-called *successful.* They view life the same as the rest, including the Sunday morning pew-warmers. They think there is something to get out of this world. . .but there’s nothing to get out of the world. . .except their souls.
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