Reply Tue 3 Jul, 2007 01:37 am

When he stepped off the bus the last Tuesday in May, 2007, his feet touched down on unfenced ground for the first time in four years and fifty-nine days with palpable hesitancy. If anyone had been watching, they might have thought he was suffering a form of neuropathy or foot drop. In truth he was afraid that he was dreaming- that this unfenced ground representing his freedom was, in fact, not real.

He stood beneath the bus shelter at the side of the road, watching the looming black clouds roll in from the west, and frowned as the first fat drops of rain splattered on the tarmac at his feet. He felt disoriented. As he lifted his gaze to the trees across the road, fuzzy and indistinct in the humid air, he realized that it had been four years and fifty-nine days since he'd viewed any vista uninterrupted by the mesh of fencing. He turned his head from left to right, checking for a limit to his vision, and finding none, realized that for the first time in four years and fifty-nine days he was standing alone, and in the open, surrounded by a silence as deep and unfathomable to him as that which he imagined he would find at the bottom of the sea.

Only slowly, and by degrees, did his ears begin to register the sound of bird-song and then the soft patter of the rain as it came to rest on the roof of the bus shelter, and finally the swoosh of the tires of an approaching car as it hurtled down the hill toward him. He stepped back from the edge of the road quickly, alarmed at first by what had become an unfamiliar sight, though he simply sighed in resignation when he felt the spray of water and mud drench his trousers from the knees down. His hand felt in his trouser pocket for the forty-five pounds that had been given him that morning from the prison resettlement fund. Still there, or at least the lion's share of it- he'd only had to use three pounds for the bus fare. He patted his pocket and began walking toward the village.

He found the pub easily enough. The Ship, it was called- "Real ales, good food, and lodging," proclaimed the sign by the door in gilt lettering on glossy black painted wood. It was a handsome sign.
"Right- fair enough," he thought to himself as he opened the door. It was early yet, and as his eyes adjusted to the dimness, the darkened interior revealed only a few shadowy and anonymous forms scattered in booths and tables around the room. He proceeded to the bar and answered the barmaid's query as to what it was he would have with a question of his own, "Do you have a room for tonight?"
"What, and nothing to drink?" she smiled at him.
He didn't respond with a smile of his own, simply answering, "No, nothing to drink. Just a room. Please," he added as an afterthought.

"Fifteen pounds per person per night," she informed him tersely as she slid the key across the bar, her smile gone.
"It will only be me," he responded as he pulled the bills from his pocket and slid them across to her before picking up the key.
"Breakfast is included- we serve from 8:00 to 9:30- and the bathroom's at the end of the hall" she called to his back as he headed toward the stairs in the corner of the room.
The stairs were narrow and rose steeply, but were lit by a thin wash of light filtering through the white curtains that covered a window on the landing at the top. He stepped off the last stair and into the hallway. His room, number three, was two doors down from the landing, and next to the bathroom.

"Key in lock," he told himself, as his hand reached out to unlock his own door for the first time in four years and fifty-nine days. He inserted the key and turned. The doorknob turned loosely in his hand and gave quickly. The door sprang open, hit the opposite wall, and thudded closed again before he had stepped over the threshold. He chuckled bitterly to himself, muttering, "Ah yes, home sweet home," reinserted the key and this time held the knob in his hand as he slowly pushed the door forward and stepped into the room.

A bed, a bureau, and a sink in the corner of the room. A battered, scarred wardrobe dominated the far wall, its bulk nearly overwhelming the illuminative power of the small window beside it. The few weak rays that managed to enter seemed to enter hesitantly, weakly, as if with the knowledge that they did not belong.
It was more than he had hoped for.

He laid the carrier bag, which was the only thing he'd brought with him through the gates that morning, atop the pillow on the single bed. It contained a track suit, his only extra pair of underwear and socks, the last bit of soap he had scraped off the plastic lid from a margarine container that had served as his soap dish, a tooth brush and the mangled tube of tooth paste- for which he'd traded his last pack of Rislas and a half empty packet of tobacco.

Nine letters that he'd tied together with a shoe lace and placed in a plastic sandwich bag were tucked into the pocket of the track suit trousers. He removed them and sighing wearily, sank onto the bed as he untied the shoelace. He extracted a letter, (his favorite from her), reclined as he opened it, and laying it across his chest, closed his eyes and waited for sleep to descend, as it always did, traveling down from wherever it originated, falling softly. He was hoping to eventually replace the comforting haze of her words (which he had long since memorized) with unconsciousness. The sight of her handwriting, the minute weight and faint scent of the paper as it lay across his chest, the lilt of these particular words in this particular letter- all of this had become his sleep ritual because he had found that he could no longer find sleep without any or all of these separate components available to him.

But today, sleep did not come easily. Despite the rhythm of the rain on the roof, despite the gray and diffuse light that bathed the room in somberness, despite the surprisingly crisp and clean sheets and soft pillow and his overwhelming sense of defeated weariness, his mind continued to focus like a laser on the fact that he was alone.

She had not been outside the gates to meet him. He had been disappointed, but not surpised. He had heard the hard edge in her voice the last time he had called her on the prison phone, and though, as the conversation wound on, he had thought he'd detected hints of sadness and regret, he had known what it meant when she'd hung up the phone without asking him when she would see him.

For four years and fifty-nine days he had longed for safety, comfort, warmth and familiarity - and he had distilled all of those longings into one. With what would he replace that, or her? He had been aware that other men had engaged in the occasional hurried and anonymous coupling in the shower or in the next bunk and sometimes, on those nights when the still and empty darkness threatened to overtake and devour him, he'd almost reached out himself in an effort to hold onto something solid, to meld himself onto or into something or someone and anchor himself in that dark and empty space that surrounded him like a vacuum. But he never had.
He had held out and held onto the remnants of his old life, his memories of the luxury of choice and time without beginning and end points.

For four years and fifty-nine days, he'd dreamed of that deliberate and conscious capitulation, the giving over, the long slow dissolve into the soft but sure and all-encompassing warmth that fit him like a glove and which he had always recognized as his truest home.
But that was gone now.
As he turned over on his side and settled himself for sleep, her letter drifted to the floor beside the bed. He waited to hear the harsh rasp of metal on metal as locks slid home and engaged, and then the jangle of keys and chains and the confident tread of the guards departing footsteps, but that had been replaced too- with silence.

He closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. He comforted himself with the knowledge that he had twenty-seven pounds in his pocket, a roof over his head and the promise of breakfast in the morning.
"Ah yes, freedom," he sighed.
When he next awoke, he decided, he'd begin counting again. He'd start with the number "one".
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Reply Tue 3 Jul, 2007 10:17 am
Sincere and very moving - I liked the gentle pace throughout -

Nice work, Rebecca.

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Reply Wed 4 Jul, 2007 01:20 pm
Thanks Endy.
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Reply Tue 17 Jul, 2007 09:29 pm
you've done a good work *-*
the man in the story makes me very sad, maybe for his experience, or for his mood.
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Reply Tue 17 Jul, 2007 10:33 pm
Thank you for reading and appreciating my "work" (*_*). There are alot of people experiencing what he is experiencing, and that makes me sad too.
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Reply Fri 27 Jul, 2007 02:50 am
i think this deserves more comment
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