(Courtesy of Black Cat Literary Magazine) The patron behind me stood slack-jawed. It was her fault, but I shouldn’t have been triggered so easily.
Her words reverberated in my head.
“Well now I know what solitary confinement feels like. I’ve had ENOUGH of this lockdown,” she
“Have you ever taken a shit in front of somebody,” I menaced.
I wanted her to bathe in the mystery of my malevolence even if I had zero interest in harming her. I
felt guilty for the outburst and knew I’d have to bring it up with my therapist later in the week.
One step forward; two steps back.
“Have you ever taken a SHIT in front of somebody,” I repeated, louder.
The contorted rictus of horror that fought her Botox-tamed fret lines was priceless. She ached to disappear behind her perfectly perched Ray Bans nestled in her messy platinum-tinted bun. This was the most
satisfaction I’d had since getting out, and there was no way I was going to squander it.
“Eaten nothing but two slices of baloney on plain white bread, three times a day? Talked to groundhogs outside your window because they were the only living beings you could see?”
The steady flow of avocados, dry sea scallops, and soy milk from her cart ground to a halt.
The cashier flashed a beatific smile. His enjoyment watching the preternaturally blonde Stepford
Wife being knocked down a few rungs was palpable. Her only notion of “struggle” was wrestling a stubborn
cork from her requisite midday bottle of pinot grigio.
I wanted her to understand that my inability to fit in created a raging tempest that lurked below the
surface. The occasional desire to split someone’s skull open with both hands like I was cracking a coconut at
the slightest perception of disrespect. Occasionally these thoughts traversed the deepest recesses of my mind
and bubbled to the surface.
Ironic, given I served time for a non-violent offense.
While incarcerated, violence was my companion in the jungle lair that had become my home. Violence eventually manifested itself on a genetic level and remained in my DNA when I left. Perceived injustices and affronts would build to a feverish pitch and rustled like a thousand screaming cicadas trapped
inside my head.
The Stepford Wife couldn’t possibly understand the irony of being released from prison to home confinement, and then being placed on quarantine a few days later. Even God doesn’t have the poet’s touch to
handwrite that narrative. I was free, but I wasn’t out. Weekly trips to the market or church were the extent of
my societal reintegration.
Black Cat Literary Magazine 57
The transition didn’t come easy.
I engaged in overzealous conversations with strangers while waiting for deli meat to be sliced. The
borderline pathological need to feel “normal,” suffocated me. I relished inane small talk about sports which I
loathed, or made up stories about children I didn’t have. All borne from a desire to blend into the intersectional spaces of life where I’m simultaneously seen, yet remained a blur in the background.
How I longed to walk the aisles of the market humming the vaguely recognizable “muzak” without
looking over my shoulder to see if I was about to get busted for grabbing a few stray blueberries. I’d be sent
back for a minor parole violation. This was my new reality.
The patron’s mouth moved but words failed her. She could never comprehend that thoughts of a
freshly sliced pineapple or a loaf of multi-grain bread whose seeds would lodge in your teeth for days, could
arouse more of a carnal desire in prison than anything else.
My misdirected wave of rancor passed. She would leave, ensconced in the safety of her white Range
Rover, and I would be fodder for animated conversations over hard seltzers with other trophy wives, while I
waited for the bus. Forever relegated to the unwashed and unseen denizens that lurked in lurid headlines.
My therapist encouraged me to be more Zen-like. Let things go.
I tried and failed more often than not.
I offered my best roguishly charming smile in an attempt to salvage the situation. If I got one person
to understand my world, maybe the Butterfly Effect would take wing and light upon others in her circle.
My naiveté knew no bounds.
“I recognize that this whole quarantine thing may indeed feel like you are in solitary confinement,
but I assure you, this isn’t so bad.”
I looked at a bag of fruit she placed on the conveyor belt.
“Are those clementines or mandarins? I really don’t know the difference between the two.”
“Clementines,” she demurred.
I turned to the cashier to pay, proud for not needing food stamps even though I was entitled to them.
Far from a drag on society’s teat, I was the epitome of rehabilitation and redemption. A threat to no one but
The cashier offered me a conspiratorial wink and mumbled, “York Correctional.”
“Danbury Federal,” I nodded. The brotherhood acknowledged.
I grabbed my bags and wished the Lululemon-clad statue an exuberant, “Good day!”
“You… too,” she stammered.
The cashier broke the tension with an overzealous, “And how are you today,” as he greeted her.
“Clementines would be nice,” I thought. I’d have to get them next week.

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