A week passes. Then, one morning, you do not call. Our routine is breached. You do not call at noon. I worry. I tell myself not to worry. Instead of worrying I write, I walk the beach, I paint a wall. There is a tiny hole in the back of my head, into it a tiny vacuum cleaner nozzle that sucks in the uncertainty, the missed calls, the hours that pass without you—it morphs, like insulin converting simple carbohydrates into sugar, into fret and mad speculation.
Just as something bad is about to happen, at six-thirty you finally call. I remember the last time I felt this way, and they sent you to the ‘hole’ for ten days of solitary confinement; just you, sitting in a cage, with only one call allowed a day. I am remembering this—seeing the possible retribution they might foist onto you for crimes against the state—saying and knowing and thinking too much. Last week you pissed off the Polar Bear—Framingham’s Superintendent—for going over her head, to the DOC’s Commissioner, for permission to use a private office phone for your Soros interview. These things fester, and bad things happen all the time.
But it’s none of the above. Instead it’s a delicious, utterly unexpected angel bomb. You’ve suddenly, and with no real explanation, been finally cleared to move ‘across the street’, the local euphemism for South Middlesex Correctional Institution. All in a rush, we go from the bunker hunker of razor wire and jackboot overlords to Moses freeing the Israelites.
You laugh—“It took me an entire day to move about two hundred yards. Everything had to be packed into boxes, and then finally, four of us were loaded into a car for the ride over here. Amazing. We were all crammed into the back seat—no manacles or leg chains—just sitting there, and laughing.”
“Like high school Driver’s Ed class?” I suggest.
“Yeah. But you know the most amazing thing? To me, anyway.”
You take a breath. God, you sound so all-of-sudden happy. Is this how the book will end? With a magic wand of miraculous intervention. No more hard feelings, Framingham. All is forgiven, because I’M GOING ACROSS THE FUCKING STREET!
“Two things,” You say. “When we got there, I reached down and put my hand on the door latch—I opened the door by myself—like a real live human. How cool is that?”
Baby, I’m thinking, is life gonna be good for you from here on in.
You continue. “And then today, after I got the news, I asked about parole. It’s January 4th.”
Today is December 11th. We giggle, like small children imbued with a grand and glorious secret; cipher and fast-forward the calendar to what we imagine in that moment is the date of your parole hearing. Later we’ll realize that Jan 4th is merely when you are officially eligible. There is always a bureaucratic lag time. It might be weeks, hopefully no longer than weeks, before your name makes the list to appear before parole; your old antagonists, Cochin and Merrigan, the pair’s skating team from hell. But for now this will do; just to have a date, on a computer screen, this makes things finite enough to glimpse some sunlight through the tunnel.
“I’m coming to see you,” I say. “Sunday. Tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” You ask, knowing what a houseplant you are about to embark on life’s journey with. “Are you comfortable with this?”
I hang up, letting this new thing sink in. Across the street. Amazing. For nearly two years, South Middlesex, (I never knew it by name), hovered like a mirage, impossibly distant, like some holy shrine of unlocked doors and outside jobs; jobs in the greater world of just a few miles down the Mass Pike, towns with names like Needham and Newton and Natick. Later you discover that many of your new neighbors make the commute each day to work in a tony grocery store in Wellesley, work eight hour days as cashiers, in the deli and the produce and the floral departments, earning the unheard of sum of ten dollars an hour. This is surely the Promised Land for women who are, like Joni Mitchell sings, prostitutes and destitute—and temptresses like me—fallen women—sentenced into dreamless drudgery. There’s something else: I should be happy. I am happy. There is absolutely nothing as important to me as getting you out of jail. Priority, Job One. But somehow, after all this time together but not together, I am suddenly and newly nervous at the prospect of you actually and tangibly free. I try to put a finger on what exactly this means. It’s an insanely irrational thought, and cannot mean I am happier with you in there and me out here. No, no, never. But still, and here’s where the brain plays these tricks, yesterday, before your miraculous summons to the intoxicatingly, and relatively free Mecca called South Middlesex, we were both settled into the grim business of simply getting through these next unknown weeks and possibly months. Pure, pragmatic survival. And now this. Tomorrow brings a gift of such implausible beauty, the gift of a short car ride across the parking lot, up a tiny hillock, down a sidewalk, and into a looming, brick edifice; a building that instantly reminds you of Dana Hall, the crumbling, finishing school where you spent your teenage years, wrote flamingly unladylike Emily Post-it notes to your best friend from Olde Fitchburg days, S.W.
And looking over your shoulder, as you made your jubilant promenade to the front desk, to be processed, quietly singing your fetchingly tuneless unchained melody, it was a vision of MCI Framingham, like some cruel and bullying step-mother, with its creepy Auschwitz smokestacks and its haunted and condemned Victorian bricks, looming in Adam’s Family splendor; a failed dystopia of such epic proportions that the only possible improvement would to be torch and raze the ruins to the ground. Then after fires have cooled, and the bulldozers have all left, let the black char percolate into the ancient and fertile dirt below, let it compost and intermarry with night-worms, let the crows eat the night-worms, and let time break up the concrete, as the weeds spread the blacktop seams wide like fissures of organic inevitability, and then the migrant geese, those puffed and honking parade marshals, will gobble up the weeds, then shit out more protein into that rich and rusticated earthworks.
And so on Sunday, I arrive. South Middlesex might be a harbor of refuge, like the Last Chance Texaco, but it sure ain’t no beauty. Four stories of drably uninspired, Early-Elvis institutional architecture; from the outside it reminds me of the timelessly austere buildings I knew as a child in Hartford. A school for the blind, a school for ‘gifted’ (reformist code-speak for retarded) children. A nursing academy. A home for unwed mothers. A seminary for Catholic priests. All the same dreary red brick, with rows and rows of leggy, double-hung windows; wide google eyes like insomniacs peeking out. Later you point out your bedroom, like an escaped Rapunzel; we stand and peer up to the second floor, your bunk bed tucked into the right-hand corner. I idly wonder how many knotted sheets it would take to slide to the ground, but then again, you’re already on the ground. You can open the door, and leave any time you want; but trust is a trap.
A woman escaped from here just last month. She was from Florida, and somehow ended up in Massachusetts, serving time for dummying up a car registration, phony plates; the kind of desperation poverty, drugs and booze, and a low brain cell count seems to inspire. Somebody, probably her boyfriend, or mother sick of the bullshit, turned her in, and the D.A. added grand theft auto to the mix. Her crimes are laughably pathetic, a guppy in the shark tank, and so soon after she found her way to Framingham, they cleared her for the ride over to South Middlesex to serve out her eighteen months in the dormitory; walking infinite loops with the Canadian geese, going to Al-Anon meetings, praying to whatever god is in charge of Florida’s motor vehicle fuck-ups. And then one day she simply disappeared—there are no fences, only small signs everywhere that politely warn Out of Bounds–strolled down the hill, a spontaneous walkabout, with no forwarding address. But the fugitive recovery guys found her pretty quickly, in a roach motel just a few towns away, as if she had no real interest in being on the lam, but was simply blowing off steam, tired of the same four walls, the same weary faces, and thinking the same crushingly pointless thoughts day after day. Then they returned her to the back of the line; Framingham’s medium security limbo-land of strip searches, pee tests and nightly lock-down, and the D.A still hadn’t decided whether to press charges or not, as if that alone might be punishment enough.
I’m unsure of what to carry with me inside. At Framingham’s visits, I had a routine in the parking lot: remove watch, hide cell phone, grab registration, wallet with license and vending swipe card; remember quarters for lockers, remember to remove all metal objects from person. The lock-down visit is a clumsy, colliding pas de deux, a demilitarized zone between the free and the fettered. Today, here at South Middlesex, you’ve told me how effortless they make visits. Everything Framingham is: gun-metal, humorless, and intractable, Middlesex seems to have consciously redesigned—it’s the softer and gentler penal package—with a laid-back vibe of informality and bemused tolerance. No jumpsuit blues and jackboot leathers here; the guards I see hovering in the reception area remind me of camp counselors, jaunty in their DOC-monogrammed alligator shirts and khaki cargo pants. I still have to show license and registration—it is still a prison, after all, and I have to sprint back to Trigger to retrieve the paperwork—but there are no metal-detecting wands here in the ‘chute’, no invisible ink on the back of your hand, no pat-downs, no shoeless perp-walk under the humorless gaze of bored and overpaid gatekeeps. Here I am allowed to keep my hat, my vest, my shoes, and my belt. All they do is a cursory peek inside of pockets. Then I’m on my own, waiting for you in a chair by the door.

You emerge quickly, in under five minutes, as if you’ve stood by the door, waiting for the P.A summon’s crackle. Other women fan out to meet their ‘guests’, and soon the visit room’s tiny tables and chairs are full, (think of a hospital’s coffee lounge), gone from tumbleweed-empty to high-noon rush hour; a loving blitzkrieg of boyfriends and babies and entire extended families chewing on vending machine pretzels, chatting quietly, intently watching their chosen inmate—daughter, wife, mother, girlfriend—for signs of cellular fatigue. All those months living in ten by ten boxes, guarded by men, many of them misogynistic troglodytes hopelessly unsuited for this kind of work, (one of the DOC’s few prerequisites for correctional officers is a high school diploma) ingesting mind-bending psychotropic drugs paid for and pushed by the state, exact an enormous mental toll on self-esteem and the kind of personal empowerment it takes to get past addiction, rage, apathy, and acute depression.. Prison is a perfect metaphor for planned obsolescence. No deposit, no return. These women at South Middlesex—the DOC’s website claims beds for two hundred souls, although you’ve told me for some reason it’s never at full capacity—who’ve been cleared for reclassification, the last tier before either early release or full-term wrap, have made a Mephistophelean pact not with the devil, but the criminal justice system. The deal seems simple: if you stay straight, hold a job and be cool, you get the prize at the bottom of a very complex and expensive Cracker Jack box. You get your freedom. This is one of the reasons the Civil War was fought, and in a way, incarceration is really just another word for state-sanctioned slavery. Ask any black or crazy or illiterate or addicted con serving hard time in Lubbock, Texas, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Macon, Georgia.
Recidivism is a roulette wheel, you say. No one knows which ones will be back. None of these women expect it’s them. But the statistics don’t lie; they invoke an inexorable truth. It’s like the Kansas twister that takes you to Emerald City. A force of human nature. Middlesex guards, looking more like upscale deckhands on a mega-yacht, all know it, but they politely decline the obvious, and foster the delicate illusion that reentry is forever. Compared to the guards across the street, behind those damnable curlicues of razorwire, they are as tender and reverent as death row priests doling out last rites. What they really know is how the game is designed, or rigged; for some of these women, South Middlesex is simply the next cog in a vast, societal, perpetual-failure machine. In a few weeks, or months, many of them will be out on the street, up to the same mischief, selling the same merchandise, believing in the same men, rolling the same dice, and coming up the same pair of snake eyes. The joke of it is, that nobody—judges, prosecutors, even defense lawyers—expect corrections to correct anything, especially broken humans. There’s a corollary to Big Medicine. Doctors don’t get to drive BMWs by making sick people healthy; but by fostering their specialized illusion, the velvet-curtain prestidigitation that our mortal shell game is their professional domain. The really cynical ones get that it’s a person’s immune system, the innate ability to heal, is what will really determine life or death matters. The same with the DOC, but with one glaring difference: imagine a doctor removing your gall bladder, suturing you back up, tucking you into a rolling bed with a saline drip, antibiotics, and team of vigilant nurses watching round the clock for any fever spike, infection, or bowel movement. Now imagine the same doctor, each night sneaking back into the hospital room, replacing your saline drip with liquid crack, whacking you upside the head with a Louisville Slugger, and then wondering why you’re not improving. That’s jail, you’ve told me in so many ways. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Like a variant of that classic gang banger tat; Born to Lose, this would be the motto engraved on the DOC’s twining ivy and noble Red Man emblem: Programmed to Fail.
But not you, my brave and future everything. Not you.

First things first. We quick step across the dull linoleum, all flurry and akimbo with shoulders and cheeks and mouth, then kiss, still as statuary, as if paralyzed by our heady, mutual desire. South Middlesex already has one great perk going for it: our long, luscious, and achingly libidinous smooches are repeated again and again over the next two hours, like a fat man double and triple-dipping an all-you-can-eat-buffet at Arby’s, without the slightest notice or three-alarm intervention from the staff, who distractedly sprawl with backs to us, chatting behind the sliding glass windows. We can’t help but replay our first big Framingham clutch moment, that steamy first August weekend nearly two years ago, when your impetuous lean-in, peck on my cheek caught the attention of the Winkies guarding the visit room, and earned me a six-month suspension from seeing you, which I successfully pleaded down to thirty days, but still…what is wrong with those idiots to not get the correlation between inadequate doses of physical affection and cell-ular meltdown?
“Let’s go outside.” I say. The visit room is overheated and claustrophobic. At this moment I have absolutely zero interest in the rantings of the grizzled truck driver at the next table arguing with his crack-rock-thin girlfriend about an unpaid car insurance bill; or the noisy-sprawling, multi-generational Brazilian family, complete with three Spanglish-screeching toddlers, who cannot stay away from any food product not completely made of refined sugar.
“Yeah,” You agree. “Let me go change into long pants.”
I watch you get up, Venus rising, dance past the ‘shift deck’. Halfway across you turn, toss back a wicked smile—happy in my unabashed ogling of your endlessly athletic opalescent legs, your baggy, white shorts swishing in perfect syncopation with the licentious tom-tom of my beating heart. How did I earn your great and wondrous new love? To hear ‘her’ tell of it, your nameless predecessor who denounces our union as simply a hostile takeover, an illegal ascension to the throne, it was your witchy guiles, a daring, daylight robbery that caused the fall, and very little to do with who and what we really are—a perfect combo of nature versus nurture, with a sailor’s natural gift for heavy weather. What is undeniable is how we share so effortlessly what neither of us has ever known before: balance; like two trapeze artists who must trust the other implicitly, an arc and clutch of such heavenly precision, it makes the angels catch their breath, because we both know how hard the landing can be.
Because we are arriving at the end of one, and the beginning of another, the epochal leap between your Jurassic and Mesozoic, I must be studious, leave nothing out, for the benefit of future scholars, biographers, archaeologists. These two, they’ll say. This man, this woman. How they found each other, through all that thicket and fog, we’ll never know. Faith and charity, married by divine coincidence. Great religions are made from little else.
We stroll the grounds of your tiny universe. It becomes a miniature demiworld, like the insular and manufactured Truman show, with cameras and celluloid backdrops. Here is a clearing that overlooks the distant fields, a house on a low rise, lights ablaze like an ocean liner’s stately crossing. The sounds of far-off traffic, like some burbling, mechanized brook. We can almost hear an unseen traffic light clack from red to green. Both of us know, in the silent yearnings where secrets go to hide, you won’t be here long enough to memorize this place; count window panes, floor cracks, water stains. Not like you did at Framingham, while you pondered weak and weary. You’ll know the names of your gatekeeps, most of them, the jolly crew of the good ship Middlesex; a few staffers will even share a tale or two, eye you with a baleful gaze somewhere between a cop and a mother. You will know the happy smiles of brief reunions, women you came up with, like school children leapfrogging towards graduation. And knowing you, you’ll find ways to keep yourself amused, as head chef of your own movable feast. And then, as all things are eventual, adhering to invisible laws, they expand and contract, and because all things transform and morph into other things, and just as a human being’s only real job is being human, so then will all of this –jail, fear and loathing, regrets both big and small, the solitary marathon of sheer survival—will come to an ignominious, lurching halt, and you’ll wake one bright day, find yourself in a car heading south, toodling light-speed down the Pike, cuddled with your taxi-driver man, and perhaps even Brown Dog, O canine Sancho Panza, ghost-writer of our Book of Days, asleep in the rumble seat.
We walk to the furthest picnic table, ivy-twined hands electric as jumper cables, and plant ourselves down, trying out different trajectories of approach on the cold, cold metal beneath our rumps. We are drunk on imagined danger, never knowing the cameras that spun on fiber-optic ostrich necks, recording an unblinking memory of our virginal court and spark. If we had, known that is, about our video chaperones, what happened next surely wouldn’t have.
A constant stream of honking geese meanders by, engrossed in their singular, avian occupation of rooting, digesting, and shitting. We laugh, and you furrow up your face, aping the lead honker. It’s a moment–not a jail moment–just a moment, and those are the ones we crave. I can’t remember what we said, only the warm lexicon of a secret language spoken by neurons, dopamine, and nerve endings. When the cold began to nibble at our core, and fingertips numbed to icy stalks, we walk back up the path to your temporary brick home, arms circling hips, next draped on shoulders, then hips again, stopping twice to administer emergency mouth to mouth resuscitation. We’re both just horny EMTs, all sirens and hot V-8s running every traffic light, ignoring even the admonitions of the yard signs that politely warn Out of Bounds. At the door you pointed out your bedroom window, two stories above, a rectangle of anemic yellow haze, framing a shard of metal bed frame, one edge of an untucked blanket; I thought I saw a whisp of human movement floating by, a woman’s thoughtful face. Then we walked through the unlocked doors, past the guards, who barely glanced our way, as blasé as recess monitors.
Inside didn’t last. On our second foray back into goose country, our bodies were beginning to memorize the tender crannies, smells, emanations, borderlines between soft and hard, hot and cold. I pulled you into me, snug as kids perched on a toboggan hill, and felt our spooning heat begin to rise. You were wearing my knit hat from Ecuador, and I buried my nostrils into the muscled hollow of your shoulder blades, the Andean fibers mingling with the astringent odor of your prison soap, the henna-colored wisps of loosened hair, and something else, perhaps the ninety proof intoxicant of rutty desire.
Without turning, and barely moving you said, “I want you to touch me, down here” stretching aside an opening in your warm-ups sweats, below that a thin epidermis of laundry-abused cotton dainties. Over your shoulder I watch my hand descend, like a roped and carabineered spelunker, suspended on gossamer spider web, a septet of calloused fingertips lightly grazing your narrow band of tufted, tawny pubis. Your named this unshaven spot your ‘landing zone’, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. When we last fucked, as children in our twenties, your pussy hair was a luxuriant mound of downy curls, and you still wore an unbearably soft corset of baby fat around your alabaster hips.
The sun is dipping in the west. More house lights blaze on the distant hillside. Families sitting down to Sunday dinner, ancient farmers in from their fields. I can feel more than hear a soft mewing from deep inside your throat, as my fingers, unsure of pressure and proximity, begin their slow, rotational dance around your velveteen labial walls, against a taut clitoral appendage, proud as a miniature penis. My stroking is finding its natural, rhythmic cadence.
“I can’t move,“ you say, in a husky stage whisper. “They’ll see us.” I peek behind. A few women are walking together down the exercise path. Do they notice us, my hand deep inside you, juices flowing, my own blooded hard-on rooted against your arched and straining torso; you are straining mightily against the urge to rock, undulate, swoon.
It dawns on me, inside this moment, our first genuine shared intimacy in over twenty eight years, that your one dominant terror is going back across the street. Christ, if we’d known about the cameras!
“Too hard,” your whisper contains very explicit operating instructions for the care and feeding. My calloused fingers can bend bronze guitar strings, hammer timber spikes, carry my own body weight in two by fours. But now I am pushing too hard against your soft; I release, descend, and try again. The soft mewing escalates, segues into a low moan. How long has it been for you? This drought. Not counting the Nurse Mo incident, a brief and loveless distraction behind an infirmary curtain, I cannot count the years; but it’s at least four.
“Oh…my…god…” Your prayer comes as a guttural, choked spasm. Then simultaneously, two things happen. Another group of strollers, looking our way, pass by, close enough to smirk. I turn around to see their conspiratorial smiles, and as my hand, the deep-diving caver, begins to ascend, your cunt suddenly and powerfully contracts, draws in deep breath, something tubal and suctioned, pushes out in a moist, vibrant exhalation, briefly trapping my fingers. Your climax is subtle, nearly invisible to the naked eye, but the bovine girls on the goose path know—all women know, like some secret estrogen handshake–and all this time the road show of the honking ones is still passing us by, shitting protein into the black earth, oblivious to our sweetly overdue, unsanctioned coupling. You turn and stare at me, the dim narcosis of sex clouding your brown eyes.
“Let me smell,” You say, holding my deep-diver fingers up to your nose. I want to do the exact same thing. We are such sweet peas, just living in different pods for now; we both want to drink and sniff and gorge ourselves on life. To us, nothing is sacred, but everything is divine.
God I love you. I love us.