Bill Dodge:

Friday Was Their Day

Thursday, August 16, 0004 PPE, 10:22 pm: OKC Sector North

 

     “Bill. Hush.”

     Lying wrapped in the sweaty sheet with his feet on his pillow, trying to breathe the stale heat trapped in the bunkhouse, alert to the nocturnal scurry and squeak of business and nowhere near sleep, he couldn’t help remembering: Jaime’s soft husky voice. Jaime’s finger lightly touching his lips, running down his chest into his unzipped coverall with a long, preoccupied stroke his skin remembered off and on for days. Weeks, he realized— that was five Fridays ago— and Bill’s unanswered question still hung suspended in the dark between him and Jaime. And Jaime was somewhere out there, he didn’t dare to wish or hope or even wonder; after six months he already knew better. Here in the camps tomorrow belonged to tomorrow. He thought back.

     Friday was their day.

     The first few meetings were almost as quick and wordless as the first, words as dangerous a luxury as light— though more than once Bill found himself clamped in a hard, shaking embrace that left his shoulder wet and a medium-sized boulder in his chest. Other times she was so radiant with merriment that she would dance mockingly ahead of his awkward advances, noiseless in the dark: and when she came, still tensed for flight, would suddenly duck and dive under his defenses like a bee buzzing dangerously close to his skin.

     They had grown accustomed to the dark: they could lock the door and spend ten or twelve brief unhurried minutes of their twenty-minute lunch break under the illusory spell of safety, so long as they re-appeared where they were expected when the bell rang. Two Fridays went by before Bill had the obvious idea of stopping the crack beneath the door with his coverall so they could turn on the light and Jaime had stopped his hand at his throat, pinning the zipper-ring against his windpipe.

     “Not so fast, cracko,” she whispered fiercely. “I get so sick of those damn fluorescent tubes following me everywhere.” Then, almost soundless in his ear, leaving a hot moist breath behind in the palpable shape of her lips but still not letting him breathe, she whispered: “I sentence you to do it in the dark.”

     It was another Friday before he got close enough to touch her again, even in the dark, but he really didn't give a damn as long as she didn't cry.

     Illusory, though, because Bill and Jaime weren’t the only ones that used the storeroom at the end of the corridor like this; a Guard named Heflin who had a taste for certain pleasures not condoned by either the NSI Code of Honor or Hanford Electronics would leave it unlocked if you brought him a little chunk of black-market hashish, which oddly enough was easier for the inmates to lay hands on in this particular camp than for their guards. But in dealing with goons, you took it for granted that you became a pawn in the dealings of goons.

     Jaime took care of Heflin. Bill brought the food for their picnic: though more and more slots in the breakroom vendors were empty each week, he always found a reconstituted sandwich or a bag of chips to share. Stealing presents for Jaime was easy when it was only a matter of time till they got caught. Sometimes Jaime had a crumb of hash left over from her deal with Heflin, sometimes Bill scored a roach or something better from Mulu, and Bill and Jaime could share smoke. Then it was Jaime who wriggled eagerly out of her zipper, a vague juiciness in the dark, to block the crack under the door with her own coverall, and in the flicker of her flamecard Bill fell in love all over again.

     She wouldn't tell him why she cried. But he found he could lower her gently to the pallet, which he had covered with a half a dozen flattened corrugated boxes, roll her onto her belly and knead her neck and shoulders; she would cease her shaking and then her sobs, and sometimes fall asleep. Some of her sadness might be simple fatigue, he thought then, the twelve-hour shift at the conveyor: the tension of her proud step, straight back, stubborn chin, the vigilance of her disdain for this world that had trapped her as a spell traps a princess in an old-fashioned fairy tale.

     It had taken him weeks to get the candle, all four inches of it, and cost him ten tokens. But it was worth it the Friday he unzipped his coverall and stuffed the crack beneath the storeroom door, struck a flamecard and lit the stub for her. She’d shielded her face from the unexpected glare of it on Bill’s pale nakedness— or was that a quiver of girlish Catholic modesty at the corners of her long ripe lips? —and then catching a breath, pulled the zipper of her own coverall open to the crotch in reply. And god, god it was worth it then!

     When Jaime came and lay down with him and only slept, Bill cradled her head in his lap and kept watch, literally, glancing down from time to time into the eyes of his nemesis, the tiny green digits that gleamed up out of the dark ocean beside their life-raft of cardboard and candlelight: Jaime’s cheap phosphorescent earring that told the time, stowed safely in his sneaker.

     A minute before the warning bell he woke her, watching her eyes open and focus in the candle-flicker, and she would look at him as if she was made of pure, peaceful, empty time. Sometimes she would smile and set his pulse pounding; sometimes she would reach and touch him delicately somewhere, anywhere, and send teasing tingles to his groin; sometimes she would just blow out the candle, gather herself and go barefoot in the dark to fetch her coverall, or his, whichever they were using to stop the crack that day. And then the darkness, the even more private sanctuary where they dressed together and she breathed hot words in his ear, squeezing out the last few seconds.

     At the sound of the bell she could turn and leave him without a sound; just as easily she could grant herself a calculated extra minute to finish some leisurely piece of business, though she risked the delay and penalization of her entire line. Once she moved, though, she moved: he would hear the door click behind her in the pitch-dark room seconds before he felt confident enough to take a step. He folded the cardboard still so full of pulsing nameless currents of electricity that after stowing it behind a crate and retrieving his broom he had to lean on the broomhandle in the dark for another long minute, shaking.

 


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