The average prison cell is six feet by eight feet. Thomas naturally thinks in metric, but lately he’s been converting to imperial units. The room is fifteen feet by thirteen give or take when he steps heel to toe, heel to toe, on the worn parquet. This is not easy to do with all the obstacles, so there’s a lot of estimation. Plus, Thomas is tall, one hundred eighty-eight centimeters—sorry—six foot two inches, in stocking feet.

The average prison cell is equipped with a sink, a metal bed to repel the creepy crawlies, and a toilet out in the open for all to see. Thomas has an air mattress with a foam pillow in case he’s allergic (he’s not and he’s told them, but nothing’s changed). Right at the foot of the mattress and close enough for him to smash his toes during a nightmare, is a calamine pink metal desk with dented drawers that clatter and clang and don’t open without a fist. On top of it is a sun lamp that mimics UV rays, like the kind used in reptile cages to keep the iguanas alive. His is there to ward off depression (it doesn’t, but no one’s asked and he isn’t telling).

Most prisons have professional gyms. Thomas has a state of the art treadmill donated by Amnesty International, to fend off obesity, boredom, and insanity (it’s only a matter of time). The machine offers a high-tech video screen that enables Thomas to virtually jog up a mountain or down lush trails. This only reminds him of the forests of his childhood, where he whiled away hours under the banyan trees’ matrices of cabled branches, the sun scored and scribbled by the raveled, choking boughs above. He misses the sun, misses fresh air, the brief squeaks of crimson finches, and the rusty hinge squawk of black cockatoos. The memories make the room seem smaller so he’s disabled the feature.

From his mattress, it’s one heavy step onto the treadmill, then another three to get to the bathroom. Inside is a low flow toilet that hisses and gurgles for seven minutes and twenty-six seconds after its been flushed, a sink with a faucet that weeps rust, and an air vent that measures fifteen centimeters by thirty—No!—six inches by twelve. No matter how hard he tries he can only fit into it up to his shoulders.

There used to be a bookshelf on the far wall that measured eighty-eight centimeters by one-ninety-five—dammit!—thirty-five inches by seventy-seven inches with an old box television on top. The shelves were stuffed with almanacs that dated back to the late sixties, before Thomas was even born. The bookshelf was cheap and put together from a kit. He knows this because when he tipped it over to smash the television set, the warped back panel peeled away into his hands.

Some prison cells have windows. Small ones with bars. Thomas has a bay window that takes up most of the wall and is covered by heavy gold damask curtains with rounded pleats that hover just above the floor. If he opened them he could see rooftops and birds and sky. He could see the sun and the clouds. He could see the black clad snipers who watch his window through day scopes, their suppressors trained on the center pane from the Dutch gabled rooftops opposite. Instead he keeps them closed, along with his eyes and remembers the strangling vines of the banyans as they stretch and extend until they’ve blocked out the sun.

Kathy Lanzarotti

Kathy Lanzarotti

Kathy Lanzarotti lives in Delafield, Wisconsin. She is co-editor of the anthology Done Darkness and is a WRWA Jade Ring award winner for short fiction.
Kathy Lanzarotti

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