A few hours after daylight returned the next day, a prison bus drove up in front and parked not too far from the doors. A short, chubby female guard with a blond high-pitched ponytail emerged from the bus first, followed by a taller, skinnier guard with a short crop of red hair, also female. Both guards wore tan uniforms. Next, came the female prisoners of various sizes and colors, dressed in bright orange uniforms. There were about twenty in all, handcuffed in pairs.
Once they filed into the space between the inner and outer doors, I could hear them talking.
The blond guard opened an inner door and loudly said, “I said I want no talking! You’re here to earn time off and one of the ways to do that is to keep quiet and pay attention.”
The prisoners hushed as the blond began unlocking their handcuffs and handing them to the redheaded guard who dropped them on the floor by the door. Once a pair was freed, the guard said, “Go straight to the wall down there.” She motioned towards my right. “Drop clothes have been laid out. Just open the cans, pour the paint in the pans and get rolling.”
“I’m glad to see the sections out of our reach have been done,” said one scrawny prisoner with stringy hair and missing teeth, gazing upward. “I’d hate to have to climb that high.”
The blond guard glanced at her but said nothing.
For the next several hours, the prisoners painted the lower sections of the right and back wall a shade of very light blue, coming within just a couple feet of where I hung, seemingly unnoticed. Some of the prisoners were quiet while others were very chatty. So much for being ordered to remain silent, I thought, as they chatted about all kinds of things like the reasons they were imprisoned, sex with lonely boyfriends and girlfriends who awaited their release, clothes, hairstyles, music and movies. Even the guards engaged in some of the discussions, addressing prisoners by their last names and being addressed by their last names as well. Although it was a rather interesting sight to oversee, I found myself just as bored with it.
At the end of the day, the prisoners were once again cuffed in pairs. Other guards came to take them away while the guards who had spent the day here stayed back to do some work on the computer, along with some small talk. An hour later, they drove away in the car used by the guards who had come to fetch the prisoners.
The next day brought the same routine, same prisoners, only different guards. One was a tall, heavyset African-American, the other a short, thin Hispanic with hair pulled back in a bun. What I found most interesting about today’s discussion was the openness in which the African-American guard discussed her girlfriend, whom I understood to be much more than a mere friend, with the prisoners. It was almost as interesting as the discussion about lesbians being as common within law enforcement as gays were within hair salons and restaurants.
This time they painted the opposite side of the place, and again no one stopped to ask about the pictures hanging eight feet high on the back wall.
As with the day before, the guards took half-hour breaks, one at a time, and the prisoners were allowed two fifteen-minute breaks of their own during the course as well.
Though I did not possess any physical feeling as a picture, I was rigorously reminded of my ability to feel emotions on day three when two tall, slim, brown-eyed brunettes emerged from the bus. Each guard was close to six feet tall with shoulder-length hair and boyishly shaped bodies. The only difference was that one had straight hair parted in the middle with bangs that winged toward the sides, while the other had wavy hair parted at the side. They even walked a bit “butchy” as I learned was one of the popular terms to describe the more masculine ladies. Despite the fact that they weren’t overly feminine, they weren’t overly masculine either, and I had to admit they were quite attractive, though not in a romantic sort of way. Perhaps it was just a matter of personal taste for I found the shorter, more feminine ladies to be more appealing to my eyes. I could see, though, how the “fems” would find the more masculine ones appealing such as these two, as a straight woman usually found a more masculine man appealing and vice versa.
Hope surged through me as the guards and prisoners approached the building. I hoped for someone to call their names to confirm my suspicions as to who they were. Either that or that they would get close enough to read their nametags, though I didn’t know if I could read. Once they stepped inside, I could see that the wavy-haired one had a plainer looking face.
The other one, whose face was actually quite nice looking and made up to perfection, had darker skin and was very Italian looking. I learned that yes, this was truly me I was looking at, sooner than I expected.
“Hurry, Hawkins!” urged one of the prisoners. “I hate wearing these things.”
I pulled a ring of keys from my belt loop. “Quit getting thrown in jail then,” I said seriously yet with a smile, in a sort of a loud, squeaky voice that had a touch of a southern drawl to it as I freed her and her cuff mate.
My neighboring picture was probably watching her own self right now with wonder as she took the cuffs in which I removed and placed them by the door, ordering the prisoners to the back wall by our pictures in a lower-pitched, less jovial sounding voice. She may not have been as outspoken as I was yet she possessed the same air of confidence and authority.
Still no inquiries about the old pictures hanging on the wall. No one seemed to notice. Not even Melanie and I.
Once the prisoners were put to work, I fired up the computer. The muscles in my arms rippled beneath my dark smooth skin as I moved.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the talk turned personal. It began with a debate over whether or not there really was such a thing as love at first sight. A girl close to where Melanie stood asked her if she believed in it.
“Hmm,” Melanie said thoughtfully, “I don’t know.”
“How about you Hawkins?” someone else asked as I stood up and began to pace behind the prisoners as they rolled paint beneath me.
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
I shook my head. “I can see attraction at first sight, but I don’t see how you can love someone you don’t know.”
“Neither did I,” said a cute auburn-haired prisoner, “till it happened to me.”
“Which way did it work,” asked an older, heavier prisoner working beside her. “Did you love them instantly, or was it the other way around?”
The prisoners, Melanie and I chuckled.
“We both did, silly.”
I continued to pace and observe the prisoner’s work, hands casually clasped behind me.
A petite blond girl turned to face me as I neared where she stood. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
“Fairly new,” I said.
“You’re so good-looking,” she said with a smile.
“Thank you,” I said with a curt nod as I moved on down the line.
“Forget it, Nellie, you can’t have her,” said a skinny African-American.
More chuckles erupted, though none from me.
“Oh well,” said Nellie. “Maybe in the next life.”
I glanced at Melanie and rolled my eyes as she emitted a quick laugh.
“This one’s good looking, too,” someone piped, nodding towards Melanie.
“Ok ladies,” I said in a reprimanding tone of voice, “let’s concentrate on the task at hand.”
“Can I ask you just one question first?” Nellie asked me.
“What is it?”
“How tall are you?”
“Five-nine,” I told her.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t think that matters, and you said just one question.”
“Well, you just tell that girl of yours she’s one lucky-ass bitch, ok?”
“Roll on, Connelly, roll on,” I said as I half sat, half leaned on the edge of the desk that was closest to my picture. I hunched forward and shook my head. My shiny, healthy dark hair bounced with my movements.
Melanie was trying not to laugh.
I was the first one to go on break while a few of the prisoners discussed how cool I was as well as how hot I was. It was nice to know I was both cool and hot at the same time, I guess.
When Melanie went on break, however, I remained hot but lost my coolness. It began when I noticed one prisoner sitting on the floor as she painted.
“Peterson, you need to get up,” I said.
Peterson turned to face me. “Why?”
“Because I told you to.”
Peterson ignored me and turned back to face the wall, remaining seated.
I rose from my seat at the computer. “Get up,” I said more sternly.
“Oh, come on, Hawkins! My feet are killing me and it’s easier to paint this low if I sit.”
“Sitting’s not allowed,” someone said, “but kneeling is.”
I glanced at them, then back at Peterson. “Peterson, I’m not going to say it again. Get up!”
“Go to hell,” Peterson mumbled, setting the roller in the pan and beginning to obey my commands.
But I’d had enough. “Peterson, I’m the last one you want to tangle with,” I muttered as I grabbed the girl by her high-pitched ponytail and raised her up to her full height which was only an inch or two below mine while the others gasped in surprise. Melanie was just entering the building.
“Lock this one down in the mesh cage on the bus,” I told her.
Melanie came forward. “Ok, let’s go.” She pulled a pair of handcuffs from her back pocket.
“This is bullshit!” Peterson screamed. “The bitch grabbed me by the hair!”
Melanie glanced at me all the while I kept a stern expression on my face.
“Just go with her before you get maced or zapped,” a prisoner told her. “You can file a grievance when you get back.”
“Damn right I can, and I will!” she spat at me.
Melanie cuffed the girl in front. “Get walking.”
She shuffled towards the door, then turned back to shout at me. “You’re a bitch, Hawkins!”
I said nothing, though I held my gaze steady.
“Let’s go, Peterson, get moving,” Melanie demanded, pulling her by the upper arm.
With Peterson deposited on the bus, the rest of the day passed by quietly. When it came time to leave, Melanie handed me the cuffs to pair the prisoners with. Before leaving with the guards who had come to drive them back to the prison, the last prisoner I cuffed, who hadn’t spoken the entire time, asked me if I believed in psychics.
“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
“Then you’ll be even more surprised when it happens.”
“Yeah? When what happens?” I asked, scribbling something down on a clipboard.
“When you meet your soul mate.”
I looked up at the prisoner, obviously not believing what she was saying.
“She’s coming soon, I assure you,” the prisoner continued. “It’ll be true, everlasting love.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, ushering the girl along.
“I can see her,” she called back to me as she began to make her way through the doors. “She’s petite, cute, unique and fun. Someone you’d least expect.”
The word petite made me think of Rosemary as I watched myself say nothing. I simply watched her go through the doors and onto the bus. As the bus pulled away, Melanie began laughing while I let out a loud sigh of frustration.
“I need a career change,” I said.
“Job getting to you?” Melanie asked.
“Yes, I do believe it is, not to mention how much trouble I might be in for yanking that bitch up by the hair, and in front of witnesses, too.”
“So then it’s true?”
I nodded. “I suppose I should’ve maced her instead.”
Melanie seemed to consider this, then shrugged.
“It definitely isn’t an easy job. All they do is hit on me or give me a hard time.”
Melanie laughed. “Maybe you ought to go work with the men.”
We laughed heartily.
“Bet you’d get hit on a lot less over there.”
“I’ll bet I would,” I agreed. “I’d probably be too tall for them or too tomboyish.”
We laughed some more. Then I asked, “So how’s it going with Jenna?”
“Just fine,” said Melanie with a smile. “Some might say she isn’t very sexy, but no one could deny that she’s one hell of a cutie.”
“Aw, good for you. I like cute. Everyone’s so into this ultra-sexy thing, and that’s ok when you’re alone with your partner, but on an overall basis, I like that sweet, wholesome cute look, you know?”
Melanie nodded. “Jenna says she’s thrilled to finally find someone who doesn’t mind her shortness.”
“Shorties are cuties,” I said.
“Well, if that chick’s right, you’re going to be having that yourself real soon.”
“Oh, come on!” I cried, erupting into laughter along with Melanie.
Melanie’s expression then became more serious. “So I take it things are over with you and Alicia?”
“Yes, they are,” I said, turning more serious myself. “It just wasn’t going anywhere. Besides, I know it may be a bit old-fashioned these days, but I want someone who wants marriage and kids.”
“I just don’t feel any real spark with her,” I continued. “She never even makes me laugh and having a girl that can really make you laugh is important to me. Never really had that, though. Not even with Lea. And when I get in from work, it’d be nice to have a lady, for once, who asks me how work went every now and then.”
“What about the date you were supposed to have with Violet?”
“Oh, please! I found her to be so incredibly boring it wasn’t funny. She had nothing interesting to say at all. The whole time we were in the restaurant we had to talk about her exes and I had to restrain myself from constantly glancing at my watch in hopes of time passing by real, real fast.”
“That bad, huh?”
I nodded. “And she was dressed like a whore, too. Skirt up the ass, heels as long as her legs, shirt cut almost as low as the stomach. Oh, and don’t forget the nose ring, of course.”
“Totally,” I agreed. “She was quite a disaster. And disgusting too, always chewing with her mouth open.”
We sat in thoughtful silence a moment.
“I don’t know,” I finally said, “maybe I’m just too picky.”
“Being picky’s a good thing, Kay,” Melanie told me.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” I said. “The last thing I want to do is settle.”
“Have you ever met anyone you wanted to marry and have kids with, be it artificial insemination or adoption?” Melanie asked.
“Then you haven’t found Miss Right yet.”
“No, apparently not. Know another thing I haven’t found yet?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I continued. “I’ve had some hot times in the sack, but I quickly found myself bored after barely a few weeks. They never wanted to branch out much and do different things. No strap-ons, no whip cream. Just the same old, same old. It got to the point where I couldn’t get into it enough to even get off.”
“Then you better hope little Miss Prophet there was right,” Melanie said with an impish grin.
“What about you, Mel? You gonna marry Jenna and start a little family of your own?”
“I don’t know about the family, but as for marrying her, I hope that ends up happening,” she said with a smile.
I smiled, too. “I hope it works out for you.”
With that, they turned to the computer.
“I need to take some classes in these things. I’m completely computer illiterate!” I wailed with frustration after a while, running my fingers through my silky hair.
“I don’t know much about the things myself,” said Melanie.
The phone rang and I snatched it up. “Hello?”
“Yeah, it’s Hawkins and Sanders here.” Then, “Oh, Janet, is that you? Find out anything?”
My hopeful expression turned to one of disappointment.
“Oh well,” I said. “Better luck next time.”
I hung up.
“Any news on Rosemary’s whereabouts?”
I shook my head.
“Hmm,” Melanie pondered. “Where in the world could she be?”
I sat back in my chair. “Don’t have a clue.”
“I mean, if she’s not in any of the New England states, assuming you do have the name right, where else could she be?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Wasn’t her father’s name Blake?”
“That’s what I think that bitch of a mother she had used to call him.”
“And the sister was Golda, right?”
“Uh-huh. Can’t remember the brother’s name, though.”
I placed my elbow on the chair’s armrest and leaned my chin into the palm of my hand.
“We may never find her,” said Melanie.
I shook my head, apparently not liking that idea. “No, she was a real little girl with a real name and a real life and a real family, even if they weren’t very nice. She’s got to be somewhere.”
“She’s not so little anymore,” Melanie reminded me. “She’s got to be in her mid-twenties by now, calculating from the time we last saw her. She could be married. Maybe she even has kids of her own now.”
“Or maybe she’s dead,” I said dubiously. “After all, statistics mark her as either very likely to be dead, be it by suicide or by an abusive lover, or just plain old miserable.”
“Yeah, I know the unfortunate odds. But what else can we do? Run an ad for anyone who remembers having pet pictures?”
“And just what would we say if we ever did find her?”
“I’d really like the chance to find that out. So far, though, all I know is that of all the Holbrook’s we could find in the northeast, one says they’re distant cousins, but doesn’t know a thing about her, and another says they too, are distant cousins, and that rumor has it she went to Arizona.”
“Arizona?” asked Melanie with surprise. “You didn’t tell me this. What would she be doing out there? That’s practically on the other side of the country. It’s right by California, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “I just learned about this rumor, and your guess is as good as mine as far as what she’d be doing out there.”
We sat in thoughtful silence, each seeming to conjure up various possibilities as to why Rosemary could be in Arizona.
“I just hope she’s happy and healthy wherever she is,” said Melanie after a few moments.
“Me too,” I agreed.