Prompt: Write about a character who knows a big change in their life is coming, who can feel it in the air or in their bones. Are they excited, nervous, resentful? Are they a caterpillar, a werewolf, a teenager or a bride-to-be?
By Connie Phlipot
Dana wasn’t alone.
A whisper of warm air against his skin, the echo of an undefinable rasping against the wall. Sweat dripped down his side into the drawstring waistband of his pants. He got up from his knees — he’d been going through his morning exercise routine. He had devised it years ago to define and delimitate his days.
The light reflected off the bars of his cell at an angle different from what he had become accustomed. A door was open somewhere down the hall. Dana sniffed. A scent of dried skin, of sweat, of hair oil hovering beneath the metallic smell of his cell. It wasn’t the presence of his keepers. They draped in white hooded outfits through which no odor or noise could escape to disguise all humanness, to underscore the sentence of isolation.
Dana spoke his own name aloud. His lips were rough against each other. The sound of his voice was harsh, like footsteps on a gravel path. He wet his lips with his tongue and swallowed hard. His throat burned. They hadn’t delivered his water yet.
His heart was beating oddly. He hadn’t felt like this since he had taken a wrong turn while walking home in the late evening. He had found himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood minutes before curfew. He turned back and ran, again in the wrong direction. They had been waiting for him. He was bound and tossed into the windowless back of a van. No light, no sound, no clues where he was going.
Dana took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, counting the seconds of the exhalation. His heart beat slowed and he sat down again, cross-legged, hands resting on his thighs and began his morning meditation.
The smell again, more distinct. A female scent, lighter, cleaner than that of a man. Perhaps a young girl. It lacked the heady ripeness of maturity. And more sound. Not quite discernible words, but a vibration at the registry of the human voice.
He wiped sweat from his brow, then rose again and peered through the bars. Light flickered around the edges of the wall. Footsteps, the soft padding of rubber soled shoes, sneakers or boating shoes. Dampness or humidity intensified the warmth of the air. He looked down at the calendar he had scratched on the floor with the chalk a kindly keeper had given him. May 15 or 16. He had mixed up a few days when he had a fever. The humidity would be building up, the air thick as if to burst with moisture. In a few days the monsoons would bring relief.
Someone must have left a door open, letting in the intoxicating fragrance of temple flowers. His pulse raced. Someone might be coming to see him.
But maybe not. He didn’t know who else he was interred with. There could be hundreds of prisoners in similar cells, each thinking he was alone. Someone could be coming to visit one of them. Not him. No one had ever visited him.
He sat cross-legged again and tried alternate nostril breathing to calm himself. The light in the hallway was now brilliant, stinging his half-closed eyes. He practiced saying his name again. What else would he say? Could he still articulate facts and feelings? “How are you? I’m fine, and you?“ He could say this, but what if someone asked what he was going to do next? He saw a blankness in place of the future. A terrifying, yawning blackness, like the maw of a monster animal, teeth posed to clamp down on him. Better to think of the present, the uneventfulness of right now.
Buddhism says everything changes. The patter of flip flops was sounding alongside the soft rubber soled padding he heard before. A swish of red-orange-blue fabric. A ripple of nervous laughter, a slender hand extending through the cell rungs.
A plain clothed jailor unlocked the cell. Dana crawled out into the hallway, too dizzy to stand up.
“We’re going home,” she said. He lay his head on her sandaled feet.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.