Please enjoy a sneak preview of my work in progress, Something Good.
Marydale Rae sat on a hard, plastic chair in a sun-swept room that managed to look almost cheerful. She had never been in this part of the Eastern Oregon State Penitentiary, with its high, tall windows, the bars painted the same butter-cream white as the walls. If it wasn’t for the double gates leading in and out of the Release and Reentry Ward and the man sitting behind his desk in full uniform, it could have been a hallway at Jasper High, the space outside the gymnasium, filled with pep-rally cheers once a week and otherwise motionless, even the dust motes still in the air.
“You wanna stay for a while?” the guard barked.
Marydale looked down at the bag on the table before her: clear plastic with a cotton drawstring. Both contraband. She pulled out her jean jacket and turned it over, tracing the pattern of hearts and roses embellished in rhinestones on the back. There was her Tristess High Seniors t-shirt and a skirt of some light material with tiny pink and blue flowers printed on it. There was a name for that kind of fabric. Four years ago she had known that word and every word in her SAT flashcard deck.
“Bathroom’s back there,” the guard barked.
In the stall, Marydale pressed the t-shirt to her face, and breathed in deeply, catching the faintest hint of Secret deodorant and sweat.
When she came out again, the guard tapped his desktop with an accusing look, as though she wanted to steal her orange prison jumper and he had cleverly caught her in the act. She wanted to ask him what had happened. How had ten years suddenly become four? What would happen when she exited the last set of metal gates? Was there a parole officer or a halfway house or, she barely dared to hope, was her brother waiting for her on the other side of the fence, looking handsome and windblown, leaning against the side of some sleek rental car?
She said nothing.
“Through there.” The guard pointed.
The first set of metal gates rattled to life and drew back slowly. She walked through. Her sandals felt like a foreign country. Despite the heat, she shivered as a breeze caressed her legs. A soft, blond down covered her shins. She wished she had jeans. She didn’t like the guard’s eyes on her naked legs, and she hurried through the gate.
She proceeded through the second set of gates, then through an exterior door, and down a long walkway of cyclone fencing topped with curls of barbed wire. In the distance, she could see the main prison. From a distance, it looked almost like part of the landscape, just another sandy butte hulking on the rangeland, perhaps the dwelling of some ancient, forgotten people.
At the far end of the walkway, she entered a smaller building. The guard there was older and had a kinder face. He moved slowly, and Marydale had to stand in front of his desk for a long time before he looked up. Finally, he initialed something, and said,
“I guess it’s your lucky day.”
“I didn’t expect this,” Marydale ventured, her eyes fixed on the floor at her feet.
“Nope. You wouldn’t have. Budget cuts,” the guard said. “We’re all going be out of a job one of these days, not that you care.”
“Sorry,” Marydale whispered. She wasn’t sure if he heard.
The man slid a piece of paper across the desk.
“Your parole officer. Stacy Huntington. She lives in Tristess, so that works out for you. You got forty-eight hours to report to her, and she’ll go over the conditions of your supervision, but basically, you live in Tristess, keep a regular address, get a job and keep your head down. No fire arms. No drugs.” He pulled the paper back and eyed it closely. “No anti-government activity. No socializing with known terrorists.” His voice had lost its grandfatherly ease. “You will not frequent places where protests are known to occur. Government buildings.” He read on. “…not to come within one mile of the Desert Love Academy or to contact any of its staff or students or the families of students at the Academy. Do you understand?”
“Out that way.” He pointed his thumb toward the door.
Outside there was another fenced walkway, and at the end a tiny kiosk, like the ticket-taker at a parking garage. Inside, she heard a radio crackle. The guard eyed her, or least he directed his mirrored sunglasses at her. Then the last gate rolled open, its wheels grinding on loose gravel. Beyond the gate was a two-lane highway and beyond that the vast, dun rangeland of eastern Oregon, mile after mile of cracked earth and blue-gray sage. She could almost hear her friends, Gulu and Little Steph, yelling, just go girl, before they change their mind!
She turned to the guard.
“How do I get to Tristess?”
His sunglasses traveled the length of the empty horizon.
“You’ll be waiting a long time if you hitchhike.”
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