A droplet of sweat rolled down her neck, under her arm and down to the tip of her index finger. There was no air conditioning in the unit and Beaumont was experiencing an extreme heat wave. Her vision began to blur as she stared at the ceiling in her cell. How many hours had she spent staring at the grey cement? How many days? It didn’t matter, really. Just another thought to ponder. Her mind wandered back to the sweat that was now soaking her brown uniform. She liked to sweat. It made her feel alive. It made her feel free. Of all the human responses conditioned out of her, sweating was not one of them. There was nothing any prison guard, any police officer, any politician, any oppressor could do about the fact that when it got hot, her body responded in a way that verified her humanity. They could take away her ability to cry, her ability to feel, her ability to function, but never her ability to sweat. She chuckled at the thought, then quickly became somber. Sweat. That was what she clung to these days.
She heard the jingle of keys and rolled her eyes upward to see a guard approaching. She suppressed a derisive snarl. It was the handsy one.
“Let’s go, Inmate. You have a visitor.”
She didn’t move. It was impossible. Everyone was instructed not to visit her. They were watching. They were collecting names. They were looking for faces, new and old.
“I said let’s go.” There was menace in his voice. There was hatred in his voice. But most of all, there was bravado. He wanted her to fear him.
She smirked. What was there to fear?
“I don’t have visitors,” she replied, her eyes returning to the ceiling.
The lock turned. She slid her legs off the side of her cot and pushed her body up in one motion.
Human. She was human.
Alive. She was alive.
He eyed her, warily. They knew she was wild. She’d done her part. She had nothing to lose.
The guard seemed to remember himself and puffed out his chest.
“You do today.”
He grabbed her arm and yanked her from the bed. She smiled. In this place, she enjoyed fools like him. They gave her something to fantasize about; blood for her to imagine tasting. She jerked her arm away from him, but continued smiling. She knew he could smell her, feel the moisture on her jumper.
The walk to the visitation area was going too quickly. There was no time for her to work out who was waiting for her there. The guard opened the door and nodded to a phone booth. Her body went cold. Was her heart beating? He shoved her towards the chair. She couldn’t feel her legs. Was she breathing? No more sweat.
The man’s eyes were heavy. His deep, umber skin as beautiful as ever, but muted, somehow. There were scars on his once perfect hands. She stared at the hand that pressed the old phone to his ear. Why were there so many scars?
“What are you doing here, Kenneth?”
He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow as his other hand found his forehead.
“What are you doing here, Janine?”
She moved to rise from her chair.
“Janine, do not get up from there.” His eyes were now open and burning through the glass, into her soul. “Are you really going to get up from that chair without a word?”
She felt an inexplicable surge of hatred in her gut that was made complicated by the ache of sorrow in her heart.
“No one talked to you?” She asked, flatly, without emotion. How could they have missed him? They knew he would try to find her. Guilt began to overtake her. She hadn’t made arrangements for him. She hadn’t thought of him. She hadn’t protected him. But, then, he hadn’t protected her, either.
He didn’t blink. He didn’t take his eyes off of her. He didn’t give her the space to feel comfortable, to maintain her facade. He wanted her to squirm, if that’s what was real. He wanted her to cry, if that’s what was real.
What was real with her? He didn’t know anymore.
“They talked to me,” he said out loud.
But she could hear what he didn’t say. And? So?
“Then, you know you shouldn’t be here.” She would not acknowledge the words unspoken.
“Janine,” he was almost whispering, his eyebrows raised in disbelief.
She felt herself straying from the present, her mind slipping into the past and giving way to memories; memories of him making love to her in the washroom of the safe house, his strong, hot hands on her breasts, his succulent lips on her neck. She remembered running from Wells Fargo, her pockets heavy, her pistol still in her hand and the urgency in his voice when he pulled up in that conspicuous-ass car, telling at her to get in. She remembered how they would drive for hours and how he would become grumpy on the road when they only had stale sandwiches to eat. She could see, in her mind’s eye, their long hikes spent talking about the little brown babies they’d have and what freedom would taste like. She could remember being pregnant, the little feet against her insides at the most inconvenient moments, the kisses Kenneth would plant on her belly.
“Janine!” His fist came down hard against the table in the booth. He looked up at the guard that moved, threateningly, toward him before speaking through his teeth. “Why did you shoot me, Janine?”
Her face remained impassive. “Kenneth, I don’t know what idiotic thought inspired you to make the drive up here, but we have nothing to discuss. If they talked to you, then you know we have nothing to discuss.” Was she breathing? No more sweat.
“Janine, do you know how close I was to death? Do you know that I laid up for six months? Six months not knowing where you were or what would possess you to….Janine, do you know I couldn’t run? Do you know that if someone had come for me, I couldn’t have run?”
She placed a hand over her womb, but said nothing.
“Baby….” Tears rolled down his cheeks. His body shook with silent sobs. “What happened? Something happened. What happened?”
She stared at him, icily. She felt nothing when he cried. She felt everything when he cried. She couldn’t afford to care. She couldn’t help herself.
“Where is our baby, Kenneth?” Her muscles were tight and her heart was hammering. She could feel pressure building in her face as her cheeks became hot. He would come here and play clueless. All this way, all this danger, just for them to continue this game.
His eyes became wild. “That wasn’t my fault, Janine!”
She laughed, coldly. Nothing was ever his fault. “They have our baby. You are free and they have our baby, Kenneth.” Her stomach bubbled with disgust. She could spit on him. He was not a man.
He stroked his face with the phone before beating the plexiglass with an open palm. “YOU’RE IN HERE AND THEY HAVE OUR BABY, JANINE.” He lowered his voice. “You left with that crazy ass nigga and they had our baby, Janine.”
She slouched back in her chair. “I left to do something about it. What you been doing, Kenneth? What you been doing? They talked to you, didn’t they?” She shivered. Was there ice in her veins?
“Did you love him, Janine?” There was a plea in his voice. There was a desperation that broke her heart.
“What does it matter?” She asked him. “He’s dead.”
She stood up and called for the guard. She would not see Kenneth again. She would not sweat him.