In the first waking moments before my mind engages, I hope beyond reason that it was all just a bad dream, that I am not confined in a prison cell. Then I hear the rumble of cellblock iron as steel security doors open and slam closed. There is the angry grumbling sound of inmates awakening as the reality of incarceration rushes back and pounces upon me. There is a ratcheting noise of heavy circuit breakers throwing in rapid succession as big bulb lights over the steel-grate catwalks sweep the darkness away. I close my eyes, not yet willing to let the chaos of a waking cellblock descend upon me.
Lying with my eyes closed, I refuse to acknowledge the morning. Mose leverages his huge bulk up from the bunk and plops down on the toilet. Not wanting to witness the repulsive event, I roll over to face the wall.
What happens over the next couple of minutes include thunderous sounds and beyond imagination smells that would scar a child for life. He finishes with a loud grunt and the whoosh of the toilet flushing just as breakfast arrives.
The guard pushes two plastic trays through a slot in the grill. Mose sets mine on the three-foot high locker and then sits down on the lower bunk with his tray.
I climb down to look at the tray. I see two unrecognizable items. One is a flat, greasy liver-colored disk with curled crispy edges—liver pancake? I wonder dejectedly. The other is a white lumpy pile, some sort of clumpy cereal? Beside it is a hard-boiled egg, two pieces of burnt white toast, a half-melted pad of butter, and a small, partially crushed, carton of milk.
“You sits on the toilet,” Mose interrupts my examination of the mystery meat.
I look at the recommended seat dubiously, “I do?” My subconscious slips into shock.
“So we’s can visit while we’s eats,” Mose offers a smile. Unfortunately, Mose has little practice at smiling in prison. It looks like he is grimacing as if his toiletries are not quite over.
Holding my tray, I notice there are still a few chunky things clinging to the inside of the steel bowl. Hoping I am not committing a major inmate etiquette faux pas, I push and hold down the handle giving the toilet a thorough washing out, which does not accomplish all that I hoped.
I smile at Mose, who is still grimacing somewhat hopefully. I am not sure if I am ready for a social Mose. Then I notice it is not me he is looking at but my tray. “Would you sits down and stop screwing around,” Mose is apparently impatient to visit.
“Do you know what this is?” I ask pointing at the thin slab of what appears to be some kind of abused processed meat.
“It’s fried baloney, don’t ya wants it?”
“Gross!” I recoil at the thought, “I am a vegetarian.”
Mose snatches the fried baloney from my plastic tray. He jams it in his mouth and chews enthusiastically, “Never met no vegetarian in da joint before. So what douz you eats?”
Mose seems genuinely interested, “I only eat what’s good for me, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. I try to avoid most animal products like cheese…”
Mose strikes again, interrupting my discussion. The hard-boiled egg is no longer next to the unidentified white pile.
Mose pops the egg into his mouth, “Animal product.”
Mose eats with his mouth open, it is like watching a garbage disposal that occasionally spits out a wet chunk or two.
“I was going to eat that egg.” I am trying to sound offended without being offensive.
“I’m a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian,” I say in my defense.
Mose stares at me clueless. His mouth is hanging open while he chews my egg. I, regrettably, see he is missing teeth while chunks of white and yellow egg revolve about becoming wet and squishy, a bit of saliva leaks from his lips. I look away, but the mental image lingers.
“A Lacto-Ovo vegetarian eats eggs and drinks milk,” I say for clarification, but Mose just stares vacantly. I notice how massive and muscular he is with biceps the size of my thighs. He sits leaning forward, his shoulders layered with corded muscle and a covering of blackheads and pimples some of which are big enough to warrant a name, like puss volcano. At that moment, if he wanted my whole tray he could have it. However, I needed to exercise my masculinity, or he would be walking me around on a short leash.
Mose shrugs, “You want those grits?”
Ah, white pile identified. I have never seen grits before. I plunge my fork into the grits. Mose is not looking to be social. He wants me on the toilet so he can raid my tray.
“You wants to look real good at thems grits,” he says opening his eyes wide, the whites around his pupils flash in the shadow of his bunk. “Pries it apart and looks for lumps or anything stringy.”
“Lumps?” I probe the grits, which are indeed a bit chunky.
“They’s snots in it.”
“Snot,” Mose rubs his nose then realizes it needs picking, which he does aggressively with an index finger the size of a large sausage. He wipes his finger on a bit of sheet hanging from the upper bunk.
‘That’s my sheet!’ screams my brain.
My subconsciousness cautions me to remain silent about the buggers on my bedsheet as Mose continues. “Inmates cooks da food. Sometimes they’ze blows snot intos it outta da nose—sames for da meatloaf, oatmeal, and especially da puddin.”
I offer the tray to Mose, who wipes the grits off with his blunt fingers.
I can’t help checking my tray for snot trails and yes, there is a dubious sheen the width of a large index finger on my tray.
I look at the two pieces of burnt toast, tab of melted butter and half-crushed milk carton and wonder how I have been conned out of most of my breakfast. Munching on the toast, I see Mose getting eye-lock on the squished milk carton. “Don’t even think about it,” I snatch up the semi-crushed carton.
After breakfast, I clandestinely inspect my sheet—trust me; you do not want to know.
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