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  • Before

     

    Three weeks in the county jail. 1997,

    and I am waiting

    for a bed to open up at rehab. At night

    I try to cry so quiet but Glory Dean

    can always hear it. “Who’s that cryin’?

    Stop it now, girl. Don’t you cry,” she always says,

    just the way she always says the public phone

    is The Devil’s Box. She knows

    how it is and how it has to be

    in here; Glory Dean

    is an old customer, not like me

    and Leslie. We’re new, but jail

    is Glory’s haunt.

     

    The rest of us are all in here

    for the same thing: some man. Either suckin

    the wrong one or stabbin the right one

    or stabbin some poor woman over the right one, it’s always a damn man.

    Not Glory.

    Only thing Glory loves is a needle,

    and that’s what she’s in here for, again: stealin

    for her need. I sucked for mine, but Glory won’t.

    Says men are a curse

    worse than heroin ever was

    and she’ll be damned

    if she ever comes to jail for one.

     

    Leslie shows me her tattoo; “Ramon” in blue

    flowing script down the curve

    of her spine, for the daddy

    of the baby taken, the daddy

    who beat her, sold her, stole

    the erstwhile baby’s formula to cut cocaine.

    She says he loved her though,

    like no one else ever did, brought her

    ice and towels

    when she got beat into the Genesee Street T-Bois.

    Always fixed her up first, fought off the boys

    behind Ceasaro’s when they tried

    to fuck her. He was loyal. So

    when that bitch started dancin

    at Caesaro’s, started grindin

    all up on him she didn’t blame him for lookin, no,

    for laughin or for lettin her—no,

    she blamed that bitch, cuz a man

    is just a man. And she didn’t stab Ramon.

    She’s 18 now. This is her first time in real jail,

    not juvie. Her lawyer says

    she might get 3 in here

    instead of 5 to 10 downstate, if he can

    knock the charge down

    to assault from attempted.

    The bitch lived, after all.

    Now me

     

    I’m lily-white and stupid.

    Glory Dean mother-hens me as best she can.

    “Stay OFF That Devil’s Box!” she hollers

    whenever I hang up

    with my man or my kids or whatever

    shamed and angry family I just have to call

    from jail. Compulsion. We need love

    and friendly voices, and get neither.

    Still we call. What else is there to do in here?

    We are always either bored

    or terrified. There is no in-between

    and I would rather press that phone

    tight tight tight

    against my ear and listen

    to my husband rant,

    my children whimper than hear

    one more scream

    or shriek of crazy laughter

    from inside this place

    even if I sob all day afterwards.

    But Glory Dean can’t stand it. “Stay OFF it!

    That line goes straight to hell!” she yells.

     

    Glory Dean is caramel-colored with gray,

    wavy hair and brown eyes soft behind

    thick glasses. She might have been

    beautiful once, but now

    she is swollen like overripe fruit

    and her body weeps and seeps. Her arms are covered,

    carpeted in round scars

    that look like cigarette burns

    but are too big. Somebody smoked fat cigars,

    I think, and liked

    to hear her scream. It looks like maybe

    it took a long time for her to stop.

     

    Glory Dean has names for all the guards in here.

    “Pretty Girl” and “Blondie” and “Hatchet Face.”

    Pretty Girl is nicest,

    but every one of them is “Mean Bitch,” too,

    and you don’t know

    from day to day

    which one you’ll get. 18 days in,

    I’m sitting on my bunk at night, wet face pressed

    against my knees while Glory mutters in her sleep

    two cells down and Pretty Girl

    walks up to my bars and stares at me.

    I don’t look up. No warning, she unlocks the door,

    walks in, sits down

    at the other end of the skinny mattress that is giving me scabies, waits

    until I lift my head. Looks me dead

    in the eye and says, “don’t come to jail

    anymore. You can’t do this. You’re not Glory,”

    and she rises, walks out,

    locks me back in.

    3 days later

    I’m sitting on a mattress just a little bit thicker

    in rehab. Still crying.

    Now with relief.

     

    A year goes by. I get sober

    by getting pregnant. Doesn’t work

    for everyone, and I don’t recommend it.

    I am leaving a doctor appointment, walking

    down a hospital corridor when I see her,

    shackled, limping towards me.

    “Glory Dean!” I gasp, and rush to her

    and throw my arms around her and realize

    I have never touched her before.

    Inmates not allowed to kiss or hug,

    and so I did not know, until this moment

    that I loved her.

     

    “Don’t touch the prisoner!”

    the deputies shrill and Glory nods her head,

    agreeing, “Don’t, baby. I’m sick,” but I hold her

    just a second more because

    I love her and

     

    her skin

    I’m touching her skin

    for the first time ever I feel

    her caramel skin her scarred

    brown skin and it

    is so bizarrely, jarringly

    soft.

    Soft, like sugar, cream and butter

    melting in a pan

    my own chapped palms

    scrape over it and I

    am so surprised by it I laugh. Glory smiles.

    I guess she knows about her skin.

     

    In her cuffs

    she can’t hug back so she offers her cheek,

    presses it against my own. “You be good, girl,”

    she tells me, and then she is gone, pulled off down the hallway

    into another life

    and I am standing, staring at three uniformed, retreating backs,

    upturned hands full

    of the sudden memory

    of her skin.

     

    ***

     

    Once while playing cards I asked her

    where she got her name. “Named after my daddy,

    that bastard,” she told me, and took the trick.

     

    There is a time

    our skin is still so smooth

     

    before the world discovers

    how soft it is

     

     

    About The Author

    Jennifer Maloney Crop 1

    Jennifer Maloney

    Jennifer Maloney is a poet, playwright and author enjoying writing again after a long hiatus. Ms. Maloney is a member of Just Poets, Inc., a Rochester, New York literary organization, and served as part of the editing team for the 2018 Le Mot Juste, Just Poet’s annual anthology. Her poems have appeared in two volumes of the Poets Speak…While We Still Can anthology series edited by John Roche and Jules Nyquist. Two of her short plays have been given dramatic readings at the Wayne Public Library, and another piece received a May 2018 reading.  Ms. Maloney is a frequent open mic reader at “word, revisited” convened bi-monthly at the Carriage House Theater, Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, NY. (Photo credit: Gretchen Schulz)