"Your name and date of birth, please."
"Nora. Three thirty-one twelve."
"Your full name and fulldate of birth, please."
There's no way this broad with her white flats and her iWhatsit doesn't have my information already. "No-ra Ste-pha-nie Me-yer, born March thir-ty-first, two-thou-sand-and-twelve." The woman scowls and taps her touch-screen.
"Are you male or female, Miss Meyer?"
Considering I'm as naked as the day my mom pushed me into the world, minus the slime and umbilical cord, I shouldn't have to answer that question. My t*** are small, sure, but they're no man-boobs, and I certainly don't have a tallywhacker. "Female. And that's Missus Meyer to you."
"What's your race, Miss Meyer?"
"Missus. And I'm Indian."
"So your family is Native American, not from India."
I guess that sounds enough like "yes" for her. She leads me to the examination table, which I climb onto, the paper sheet crinkling under my butt.
The nurse brings out the usual, one by one. The black cone they jam into your ears and poke your brain with. The popsicle stick they press on the back of your tongue to make sure you puke right. And the pump they squeeze the hell out of your arm with. 115/75? What does that mean, anyway? My examiner beams a light into my eyes without so much as a sorry. What I'm not expecting her to use next is measuring tape. It's one of those cloth rulers, like the girls at Bekka's Boutique tie around your chest for a bra fitting. The nurse wraps the tape around my ankles, my calves, my thighs, everything up to my head. I laugh when she gets to my boobs.
"Aren't you going to buy me dinner first, baby?"
She ignores me and puts the ruler away. Then she pulls something out of the cabinet that has pincers and a plate of numbers. I'm certain it's a torture device. Instead of making me beg for mercy, she uses the thing to pinch and pull at my skin. Thank god it doesn't take long.
"Do you have any medical conditions?"
"My lawyer told me I was crazy."
"What about your family members? Do they have a history of any disease or illness?"
"My Nana had diabetes." I frown. Nana had died not too long ago, not even a month before my trial was over.
"And your parents?"
"Dad had lung cancer and Mom died at work."
"What was your mother's cause of death?"
I didn't think about Mom much anymore. She'd loved Orange Slices and worked in highway construction. "Hit by a truck."
The woman taps her tablet some more, powers it off, and then locks the cabinet. "Wait here, Miss Meyer. I'll be back in a few minutes."
She's back in two minutes and seventeen seconds with a tube of lotion and an orange jumpsuit. "Rub this into your skin until it disappears and then get dressed. Your escort will be by to collect you shortly." She hands me both items and turns to leave.
"Hey, wait a sec!"
"Yes, Miss Meyer?"
"I just wanted you to know... you've got a greatass."
She slams the door behind her. I just love making friends.
I smash my face into the pillow and try to hide from the lights. Even though it's quiet time, no one switches off the bulb. I groan. The girl on the bottom bunk doesn't complain. How in the hell does she sleep? I bitch, toss, and turn until she finally opens up.
"You get used to it."
There are lots of things I have to get used to here, but I knew about them coming in. The shiny toilets, the four-minute calls, the surprise cavity checks. Not the everlasting lights. I grip the mattress and push my upper half over the side. I twist and study my cellmate. She's burrowed into her sheets like a muskrat in her lodge. I've always liked muskrats. Muskrat saved the world in that book Nana and I read on rainy days. "What's your name?"
The girl shifts and blinks at me. "Emma."
"Why won't they turn the damn lights off?"
"They just don't." Emma rolls away from me. A blonde wave spills over her back. I reach to touch it, but she's too far away. I push myself back into bed.
I might as well have told a muskrat.
I'm still puzzled by the baldies at Howard State Penitentiary. Most of the inmates here have their heads shaved down to a fuzz. Not me. I'm one of four girls who still has her hair. We sit in the corner of the cafeteria, away from all the buzz-cut criminals. Emma bites her nails and stares at her carrots. Renee, the black girl, whimpers and shudders in her seat. Yesterday, when I'd asked Renee where she was from, she'd shrieked and started to bawl like I'd brought up the son she drowned in the kitchen sink. Alejandra only speaks Spanish. I'm pretty sure she called me a stupidofor setting off Renee. April just smiles. I'd hit on her if I knew why - after all, fifty years is a long time to be alone - but she doesn't give up anything. What a tease.
The women around us don't have hair, but they're alive. Someone tells a dirty joke about a cactus and a pine tree. Another tips back her plate of slop, the green and brown and white mess filling her mouth and painting her jumpsuit. A crowd circles a pair of arm wrestlers, waving cigarettes and cheering on Molly and Patty. Or maybe it's Polly and Matty.
I want to join them.
Smacking the rim of the basket, the ball jumps away. I leap from the sidelines and catch it. None of the baldies want the pass. Instead, they freeze and glare at the globe in my hands. They're probably deciding how they're going to kill me with it.
"I want to play."
They don't say no. I toss the ball to a giant and join her team. We pivot, dribble, and shoot. Someone whales me in the jaw as I try to make a basket. I fight my tears and grin. This is where I belong.
Then the round ends. I'd like to play again, but the others ditch the court and spread across the yard. The ball rolls out of bounds and into the bench, where Renee whimpers to herself and Alejandra kicks the dirt. I don't try to chat with them; I'd be talking to ghosts if I did. Maybe I should have just plead insanity instead of guilty. I'm sick of having conversations with myself.
Emma peels the Countrymagazine page from the wall and folds it into quarters. The sun-glazed prairie is all the art I've seen since I got here. Emma hides the picture in her fist and mutters a goodbye. I blow her a kiss and the guards lead her down the hallway.
Waiting for the lights to go off, I roll onto my back and press my feet against the cement ceiling. I won't leave the top bunk. Even though I'm only a month in, and even though the lights are on, I sleep like I'm under six feet of dirt and a headstone. Emma was right- you do get used to it. Used to having questions. Used to being alone. I've almost forgotten what it's like to slip under the covers with Mickey next to me, her legs plastered over mine and her hands curled into her chest.
"It ain't right, Laura."
I slouch behind the water heater. The guards stop and argue, free to speak in the storage room.
A laugh there. "You know what isn't right? Letting meat rot."
"Meat. Jesus Christ."
This isn't a filthy conversation, as much as I want it to be. I listen with the ear of an eavesdropper.
"Well, 'meat' makes more sense than anything. They're shut away from the rest of the world. Might as well let the menaces contribute to society instead of wasting away in some cage."
"They're human beings."
"Exactly. That's why they're perfect."
"And the rest of the facility isn't?"
"Well, there's some complications with that. Only a few cut it."
"Who makes the cut?"
I really wish I could see the two women from here. I can't decide what the hell they're talking about.
"The ones who don't have anybody on the outside."
"What do you mean, they don't have nobody?"
"They don't have anyone who's going to miss them. Take that Indian. She killed her wife and the rest of her family's passed on. Nobody will care she's gone."
I want to screech and burst from my hiding place, but my stomach rockets up into my throat and chokes me.
"It still ain't right."
"Oh, give it up, Karen. If I had the dough... That blonde had some beautiful hair. It probably went for twenty grand."
"You're sick."Karen sounds like she's going to be sick herself.
"Her eyes, ninety per piece. Her kidneys, 280. Her heart probably hauled in a nice 150. Her lungs, her liver, her skin - they're all worth something to somebody. I'm sure she was a million-dollar girl." I hear Laura's grin.
"I still say it ain't right."
"Demand is high and supply is low. That's all."
Us with the hair, we've got three months. That's what Emma, Renee, and Alejandra had. I ask April if she's excited to be out in a few days. Her mocha cheeks crinkle up with a smirk. Yeah, I'm excited, too.
I never wanted Mickey dead. I just made her that way. That's what I told the judge and jury and I'm stuck with it.
I jam the cigarettes into my cleavage. That's what Mickey used to do with her stuff when she didn't have any pockets. She could've rented out her chest as storage space. I liked to tell her so. She liked to chase me out of the house and kiss me until I couldn't breathe anymore.
The lights are out. It must be three in the morning. I'm in my cell, my feet dangling over the side of the bunk. My one birthday present sits in my lap. It cost seven cigarettes.
Nana always told me to keep my hair long. Then again, she told me to do lots of things. Walk around objects, never over them. Learn the language of our ancestors. Get an Indian name. Be like Muskrat.
I raise the kiddie scissors to the roots of my hair and snip everything off. Wiping off the blade, I pick up the mounds from my sheets and cut them to shreds. They might sell the rest of me, but they won't get a nickel for my scalp.