Booker yelled, snapping me out of my thoughts. He looked to the side, his back still to me.
“Come on, man, stop daydreaming.”
“Hold on. Uh, Miami 103. Seattle 95.”
A distant voice yelled, “Lights out!”
The place went dark except for some dim fluorescents way up high over the main hall and of course, Booker’s desk lamp.
I moved my face closer to the newspaper, so there was nothing else in the world. Only sports scores. That kept my thoughts from drifting.
I finished reading the scores without any more problems. Booker kept writing in his notebooks.
Usually this was when I’d nod off.
Not tonight. I stared into the dark corner of the suite’s ceiling. I didn’t feel the slightest bit tired. Was that nick in the wall always there? What could have caused that? Had to have been there since the place was built. Why didn’t I ever see it before? Why did I notice it at all?
Booker shut off his desk light and climbed into bed.
The bunk shook, then was still.
The quiet and darkness settled in for I don’t know how long.
Suddenly I spoke. Before I even knew what I was doing, my mouth was talking.
“What are we doing here, Booker?”
“Huh?” he sounded groggy.
“What are we doing here?”
“We’re reading numbers, making some money. Accounting, remember?”
“No, I mean here.”
“Here? The country club? We’re doing time.”
“Why? I don’t know. Bad luck. Some guys should be here, but they’re running companies, or they get elected. Some guys shouldn’t be here, but they are. That’s life.”
“No. I mean bigger. I mean here at all. Alive. Someone told me today that everything happens for a reason. Everyone has a purpose. So what’s our purpose?”
“Sounds like you were in the pit too long. It left you with nothing to do but think. You’ll go crazy worrying about that junk. Once you’re back in the swing those questions will fade. Ask me something about numbers.”
“I don’t know how to ask it in numbers.”
“Then keep it to yourself.”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“That would be zero.”
“Funny. Night, Booker.”
I waited for the soft sounds of Booker’s snoring.
Once I was sure he was out, I held up the picture Miss Shannon gave me. I angled it so it shone in the moonlight that came through our suite’s tiny window. The kid’s hesitant smile made him look like he was holding back a laugh.
“Never let anyone tell you your life has no meaning,” Miss Shannon had said. “It means a lot to me.”
Then she called me an angel. Then she asked God to bless me even though she had turned from him.
God bless me?
I can’t remember the last time I’d been freaked out. Maybe as a teenager, the first time I’d gotten angry, seen red, and gone crazy. But that was long ago. I’d seen violence, craziness, stupidity, and shrugged it off. But Miss Shannon’s words kept me from sleep. People my whole life hated me, and never had any problem saying so. Even my mom, eventually.
Booker told me once he kept track of everything in his notebooks. He even kept a count of his days in here. He was a lifer, too, but he kept track anyway. Not me. I didn’t care. I was as fine being here as I was with being anywhere. Life was pointless. Especially mine.
I never thought about what else I should be doing. Never had a reason to. It’s like there was this closed door inside me and Miss Shannon opened it and all this dusty junk came falling out.
“That’s why I like you, Raph,” Booker once said. “You’re quiet. You’re not curious. You stay like that and we’ll get along fine.”
I kept looking at the picture of Shannon’s son. I ran my thumb over it. Booker had that picture of his daughter on his desk. Why? Normal people liked to remember their family, but what for? Wasn’t Booker torturing himself? Didn’t seeing her every day hurt? Didn’t knowing she could only visit once a week at most make it worse?
I kept staring at Miss Shannon’s son. P.J. I think she called him.
I’m jealous of you, kid. Even if you are dead. I wish I had a mom like yours. My mom didn’t give a damn about me until she took the time to tell me I was worthless. Your mom, she came into this dump to say to a lifer more nice things in a half hour than all that he had heard in his entire existence. She might be crazy, but she was brave for you, kid.
My mom? She showed up for my trial on the first day. I never saw her again. The last I heard from her was what the prosecutor read from the newspaper as part of his final statement.
“He is no longer my son.”
I had lived with her for twenty-two years, and that was all she had to say. More than three decades in the country club, and she never wrote, never visited. She might even be dead by now.
Your mom was so scared, kid. So nervous. But she came in anyway.
What’s that like, being scared? I never cared enough about anything to be afraid. Getting hurt sucked, but I wasn’t afraid of it. That was just life. Normal people were terrified all the time, mostly of pain. How did they live when life was full of it?
“There’s a reason for everything.”
That’s what she said. A reason for me? Was killing Dillett was all I had to do? So then why wasn’t I dead yet? Or did I just go back to my pointless life? Was I done my reason?
Or maybe there was more I was supposed to do.
Now I really couldn’t sleep.
Damn your mom, kid.
Damn you, Miss Shannon.
Morning started with a bang on a bars again. I could feel each crack in the burn on my cheek.
“Damn it,” Booker grumbled. “Not again.”
He shifted around on the top bunk, shaking the whole bed.
In the dim light, I could see two apes.
“Gorey! Time for your social.”
“What the hell?” I yelled. “It’s before first bell. I go in the afternoon.”
“You want to act special, you get treated special.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Get your ass up, guest.”
“My social is never this early. I want some sleep.”
“That makes two of us,” Booker said. “Just go, Raph. And don’t come back if this how it’s gone be. Two mornings in a row.”
“Sleep when you’re dead,” the ape said. “Which will be soon if you don’t get moving.”
I threw the sheet off and slid to my feet. My skin scraped painfully.
I took about one second to gasp and another to rub my eyes, but I was still moving too slow.
“Come on,” the second ape said.
“Shut up out there,” someone down the hall yelled.
“Hustle, Raph,” Booker said. “Get moving.”
“Fuck you all,” I said. I limped for the gate, banging my hip on the bed support on purpose. The bunk shook.
“Damn it,” Booker said, startled.
The ape snorted a laugh and yanked the gate aside. I held out my hands and pressed my feet together so they could put on my jewelry. The first ape pulled me along while the second pulled the gate shut.
“You ain’t got to slam the thing!” Booker yelled.
“Quiet, guest!” the ape yelled, smacking the bars with his club.
I shuffled forward, staring down through my hair while they pulled me along.