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A Sand Castle

Jack sat on his small hard bed. His feet stuck over the end as if he were Gulliver without any Lilliputians to tie him down. It was a strange place the prison in the police station. There were no bars; only a field contained him and he watched the guard in the middle of the guardroom outside. Occasionally he was reading his screen, sometimes he idly smoked cigarettes. He spent most of his time picking his nose, inspecting each bogey carefully before inserting it into his mouth. Sometimes the guard deemed the bogey unworthy and callously flicked it off into oblivion.

The whole room, Jack thought, must be a bogey graveyard for the unwanted few.

The light streaming through the small high window cast a clear box of brilliance on the dull, grey concrete floor. Jack looked up at the roof and had amused himself by counting the cracks in it. He also found all sorts of different patterns in the concrete if he looked hard enough, like finding patterns in a cloudy sky. There was a small dusty TV in the corner that worked occasionally if you banged it.

Jack had been trying to read a book all day, but had made little progress. He read a page and turned back to the beginning to re-read what he'd just read, but had not taken in.

In the corner there was a small sink to wash in. The taps vomited water out in bursts and spent the rest of the day dripping: drip, drip, drip, drip, clunk, drip, drip, drip, drip, clunk, drip, drip...lf he needed the john he had to go with the guard. At least that got Jack away from the tap.

Today, Saturday was decision day. He had to give Shaw his decision on whether to tell the media about Anderton wandering through Hertferd waving a gun or not. It was strange how much power had been installed in him in such an impotent position. But there was Elsee to consider.

Bail had been set but it was too high for anyone to pay it. Not that he had anyone to pay it, so it was kind of irrelevant and Shaw knew it. In any case Jack didn't want to waste money on the bail.

Elsee was supposed to come and see him today, but then again Elsee had supposed to come and see him since he had been brought in on Wednesday. With each day that passed Jack felt more and more isolated, as if he were a flower wilting gradually.

The live debate between Ellephanie and Anderton was on for this evening at 9pm. Voting day was on Tuesday. The debate could well clinch it either way for one of them. If he did what Shaw asked there would be a camera crew coming in later today to interview him in his cell? Interview him in his cell, why would anyone believe someone telling the truth from a cell? Why would anyone believe he didn't think he'd murdered anybody when his blood was at the scene of the crime? Why would Elsee? Why would his mother if she were alive? Why would anyone?

He wasn't even sure he believed it himself.

He had to make his decision by two pm. It was ten. Elsee, if she was coming, would be here in fifteen minutes. He tried hard not to think about it. He tried hard every day not to think about if Elsee was coming, but it didn't work. Jack put down "Kane and Abel," and got himself some water from the vomiting tap.

He turned on the television with the remote.

A sea of fuzzy black and white winked on the screen. Jack hit it. A Western, men chased about on horses shooting at each other in a cocktail of sound.

“Robinson do you want coffee?”

“Yeah, please.”


Jack knew he was taking the bogey risk with his coffee.

The lumbering guard went over to the coffee filter machine. He had the air and gait of a giant bull seal. He was an African American and his generous proportions spilled out of his uniform over the top of his belt.


“Uh huh”

He ambled over to Jack, walking seamlessly through the edge of the cell.

“Say, that’s John Wayne.”

“John who?”

“John Wayne, Robinson. Surely you know who John Wayne is?”

“No, sir. I don't.”

“Goddam, what's this country coming to? John Wayne is the original patriot. Here's your coffee, watch and learn. This is one of the most famous Westerns there is. Think this is the one where he says 'Get off your horse and drink your milk.”

“Uh huh, 'Get off your horse and drink your milk.' That's a famous line?”

“Damn right. Jees ...”

He pulled his belt up and wandered out of his cell.

“Any chance of some weights?”


“Yeah, you know, weights. So I can keep myself doing something.”

“Do you want a goddam circus too?”

“No, just weights.”

“No, just weights!” The guard shook his head. “Alright I’ll see what I can do.”

Jack lay back on his bed and stared again at the ceiling for the millionth time.

“Someone here to see you.”

Jack's stomach jumped.

“Who is it?”

“Don't know hang on a moment.”

The screen flickered; more shooting, more horses, but no Indians.

“A woman who goes by the name of Elsee, I'll take you to the visiting cubicle, but I'll have to put these on you.”

Jack put out his hands and felt the clasp of the cool metal around his wrists.

“Follow me Mr. Robinson.”

Jack walked slowly behind his waddling jailer. It seemed an eternity before he arrived at the cubicle. “Can you wait outside?”

“I shouldn't, but...okay. No funny stuff Robinson.” he said, pointing to his gun.

“What am I going to do? Escape through bullet proof glass?”

“Go through there. The screen will come up in a moment. You’ve got a quarter of an hour, and that's it.”

Jack went into the room. Save for a chair and a screened off partition, it was empty. No one else was there. He sat in silence as the screen came up. Elsee was standing in front of him with a suitcase in one hand. She was dressed in a denim jacket and some short beige jeans and a baggy t-shirt, which said, “I've been to Margarita.”

Jack looked at Elsee and she looked at him. For a moment he really did not know what to say.

“Hello Jack," Elsee said simply.

“Hello... You look nice.”


“How are you, Elsee?”

“I'm okay. I've been better. How are they treating you?”

“Okay, considering. I need some weights though.”

Elsee smiled and shook her head.

“You need some weights. Is that all that's on your mind?”

“Well, no. But I do need some weights. You can't ask for too much...”

“No I don't suppose you can.”

Jack put his hand against the glass.

“I'm missing you, I can't get a Margarita in here.”

Elsee's eyes started to brim with tears.

“Don't Jack, please, don't….I don't know what to say to you Jack, I really don't.”

“Anything, Elsee, tell me anything.”

“It's nice weather outside.”

“Yeah, I can see.”

“No rain, not a cloud in the sky, it's heating up already, gets earlier every year, biggest drought for three centuries this year...not enough water around for the farmers ...they are already claiming a disaster.”

A tear floated down the surface of Elsee's cheek.

“Don’t go wasting any water then,” Jack said with a forced smile, “You never know when you might need it.”

Elsee smiled in spite of herself.

“Why do you always make me do that, Jack? Always”


“Make me laugh when I want to cry.”

“I don't like seeing you crying. When you smile, I can see your laughter lines.”

“I haven't got any,” Elsee said between muffled tears,” I’m using this new cream. Here, I'll show you.” Elsee got it out of her bag.

“This one. It’s new.”

“Does it work?”

“Don't know yet, Jack, I don't know.”

“Don't use it; I'll miss your lines. They make me smile, they're part of your funny face, funny face.”

Elsee tried to compose herself.

“Jack this isn't easy for me.” she looked up. “I’m leaving town, I'm going to Chicago. I’ve got a sister there ...and I need to, well, make a clean break with things. Get some time to think.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don't know Jack, I'm confused.”

“You're confusing me.”

“Jack, don't, please.”

Elsee paused and took a deep breath.

“You tell them what you like Jack, tell them what you like and I'll tell them whatever you want me to say about, you know Duncan. I've left today, I've told them.”

“Oh Elsee, I'm so sorry.”

“No, Jack don't be. Don’t be sorry, please. I had a choice and I've made it. There's no future for me here now, anyway.”

Elsee looked at Jack. “What will you do?”

“Oh, I don't know. Get a new job. Do something different. Help my sister for a while. She’s got her own..”

“Business? You told me, remember.”


They looked at each other for a moment.

“Are you okay for money? Have mine; I'm not going to be needing it. I want you to have it.”

“Don't say that Jack they might...”

“Find me innocent? Not even with Goldstein...”

Tears flowed freely down Elsee's face. “Well are you?”


“Yes, Jack, are you innocent?” Elsee said suddenly becoming angry.”

“Is that what you came here to ask me?”

“No, yes, I mean no. I don't know Jack. I came here to tell you, you can do what you want, whatever will make things easier for you. Talk to the networks whatever. I have. I hope what I said helped, I felt sick doing it.”

“I didn't ask you to.”

“Jack, I know! I did it for you. I think you're innocent Jack, as innocent as a child,” Elsee put her hand against the glass, “And that's how I want to think of you. Keep your own mind Jack. Don't let it leave you. Don’t let it turn bitter I beg of you. Don’t change.”

“I'll change for the worst if I don't get some weights.”

“Stop it Jack, please stop it,” Elsee said smiling against her will. “I've got to go now, Jack, no really I must. I've got to go.”

“But, is that, I mean, is that all? Everything?”

Elsee hung her head and looked up.

“That's for you to decide really, for the courts, for the law. I don't have any part in it really do I? I love you Jack, I always will.”

“Don't go Elsee. Please don't go. Stay with me for five more minutes, please.”

“Jack I can't, really I can't I've got to catch the bus.”

“Well, do you want money?”

“Jack, you keep it, it might come in handy. Try and get a good lawyer.”

“I've got...”


“Oh, yes. I want you to have the money. I don't care about Goldstein. My redundancy money, it'll help.”

Elsee got up.

“Please Elsee, just five more minutes.” Elsee was crying freely now.

“Jack. I can’t really. My bus!” Elsee paused a moment and looked pensive.

“I got you this.”

She held up a picture of them both on the beach in Margarita. Behind them stood the sand castle they'd made together covered in shells.

“I thought you might like it, I know I do. Bye Jack.”


The screen came down and Elsee faded from view.

Jack just sat in his chair. He sat in his chair feeling like he'd been disemboweled. He felt hot angry tears filling his eyes, but he refused to let them out.

Finally the guard came in. “Has she gone?” he said.

“I don't know,” Jack replied, “I really don't know.”
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