After they fill the garbage bag with mashed up chips, noodles, jerky, cheese, and hot water, they tie the bag off and put it under their mattress. Now Foster is looking in their direction, and he’s smiling. He goes over there to sit with them and wait. For as nasty as it sounds, jailhouse goulash is one of the tastiest hidden delicacies on the planet. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the portions in jail are bullshit, so you are unspeakably hungry by nine. Or maybe it’s because the food is so bland that injecting yourself with spoonfuls of MSG, cheese dust, and nitrites feels like a heroin shot after a week in detox. Either way, Foster is excited. And when Williams heaps all of the goulash into his and McDougal’s Styrofoam cups and leaves Foster sitting there with his empty cup in his hand and tears welling in his eyes like a twenty-year-old, hungry orphan, I feel a violin bow run across my heart.
I look back down at my book, and try to read about who begat who and I try to trace the lineages, but I can’t stop thinking about Foster’s quivering lips. His already weak chin disappearing into his neck becoming weaker by the second. If his parents could see this, I guarantee they would bail him out of this place. I keep looking for that chapter about the bet between God and the devil over that poor guy. I try to remember exactly what he says when he refuses to crack, “naked I came into the world and naked I’ll go out,” or something like that, but it’s been too long since I last read it. That was a strong son of a bitch though. He probably would have done all right in here. I shut the book and get out of bed.
The TV in the dayroom has color but for some reason it doesn’t really seem like it. The Celtics are playing the Pacers, and the crowd in front of the TV is getting rowdy. Everyone is gambling on everything. Who will win? Who’ll get injured? What kind of commercial will get played next? I’m spectating with a couple other people and Foster is there too, more watching the scene around the TV than the TV itself.
“Yo, Beiber. Who you think’s gonna win?” someone asks. He is one of about four young black kids in here that look like they can’t be a day over eighteen and never leave each other’s side.
“I don’t know. Maybe the Celtics.” Foster’s voice cracks when he says this, and he blushes and leaves the room.
I stick around to watch the Pacers win, and on our way back to our bunks before count I see the kid go over to Foster’s bunk and say, “You owe me three soups, son. The Celtics lost.”
A vein in Foster’s temple makes itself known, and he screams, “No. That’s bullshit! I didn’t bet on nothing. That’s not fair.” Once again, everyone sees this.
A C.O. yells, “Hey! Shut the fuck up over there,” and Foster and the young kid just stare at each other. The kid sucks his teeth to make a loud clicking sound, turns away, and goes to his bunk.
They keep it less than seventy degrees in here, but I still wake up sweating. I get out of my bunk and go to the bathroom to take a piss. It’s a long room divided in half with showers on one side, and toilets on the other. I see Foster lying face down on the tile getting kicked by the teeth-sucking kid and his three friends. The tiles under him are smeared with blood, and I can hear Foster crying. I can hear his wheezing and the snot going in and out of his nose. The four kids stop to look at me, but Foster keeps his head down. He’s crying those loud sobs with one fast inhale and a bunch of little pitiful exhales, and it churns my stomach, but I look at the four kids looking at me and I mind my own business. I walk to the urinal to take a piss.
“What the fuck you gonna do, Beiber? Tell a C.O.? Tell your fucking daddy?” I hear one of them say behind me, and I can’t help but think about my first time here. I step right over Foster and his shaking shoulders and the bridge of his nose that’s leaking hot blood off of his face and onto the cold shower tiles. I look down and I see his back rising and deflating, his hands slipping against the wet tile.
I start to feel claustrophobic, like there’s a tiny jail in my chest and a smaller version of me is bouncing off the walls in there. I want to run to the phone and call Bethany again to tell her I’m sorry, to tell her I fucked up and I know it, and to beg her to bail me out of here. I want to tell her about Foster, about how quick they broke him. How distracted he was. I feel the want like a tightness in my heart, but it’s late, and even if the phones were up, she wouldn’t be home. I don’t want my mind to leave this place either. That’s how they got Foster.
On my way back to my bunk I look at Foster’s bed, overturned, sheets everywhere. The drawer under it is pulled out and completely empty. His court papers are strewn all over the place, and looking out over the rows of squirming inmates in the dark I hear the crinkle of plastic and the crunching of full mouths. The only thing in his drawer is a piece of paper with a drawing on it, not a bad drawing either, it’s of a naked woman with a whole bunch of clichéd tattoos like roses and skulls. Foster must have drawn it that afternoon because the paper looked brand new. The woman in the drawing has out-of-proportion, oversized tits the way little boys draw them, but her eyes are strange and almost lifelike. Almost wet like Foster’s. I fold up the paper and put it in the breast pocket of my blues.
In bed, I can still hear Foster wheezing in the bathroom in between the crinkling and the chews. I can hear his loud inhales fast and all-at-once like desperate gulps and the little, wet whimpers that come out in groups and scatter across the room like mice. I can hear the tears sliding down his face like nails on a chalkboard.
David Sanchez is a senior at the University of South Florida. He was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in Thread Literary Inquiry.