12 September, 2010

Cellmate Freakshow, Part Six: Snake


[In the typical two-man living arrangements prisoners are used to, there are many ways for problems to arise. Personality conflicts, clashing lifestyles, differences in levels of personal hygiene — these factors lead to an almost infinite variety of tensions. Some people are lucky enough to get a cellmate with whom they can comfortably coexist. Some aren't. This is an account — the sixth in a series — of one horrible cellmate I once had.]

Does it go without saying that someone who introduces himself as "Snake" might not be wholly trustworthy? Will I be going beyond my duties to you, dear reader, if I tell you as much and proceed to enumerate the specific reasons why? I won't even bore you with an analysis of the name's implication, since you can figure that out from a distance. but what about the other stuff — the eponymous subject's creepy appearance, his skulking mannerisms, his toothless serpentine lisp? None of these are explicit. I think I can bring them to light without the risk of annoying anyone.

He came in a blue ballcap, beneath which, in pits, lurked what in poor light might pass for eyes. They slithered over every inch of the half empty cell as he dragged his footlocker in. I could see the question forming in his head before he parted his liver-purple lips to ask it: "You some kind of OCD neat-freak?" The oily snarls draping his head did little to conceal his jaundiced complexion as he stood inside the doorway, waiting for a response.

That first evening with Snake as a cellmate made clear why my cleanliness was an issue for him when I caught him wiping a booger on the edge of the desk.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Oh, like you don't get shit in your nose!"

A rocky start.

Never mind our differences, he showed off his entire photo album on his third day with me, narrating the whole way through: "That's my niece, Michelle, on her fourteenth birthday. That's the living room in my house, where the party was. I won that house in a game of poker, fixed it all up myself — built a new bedroom on the back, put on a new roof. Turn the page, you'll see what it looked like before. Guy was Russian that I won it from. He had a glass eye with a pentagram for a pupil. There's the basement. I dug it out by hand, did all that sheetrock and everything — the bar, pool table. Found a bunch of old bones while I was digging. Human ones, had all this weird writing on them. I researched the symbols; they were ancient Viking hexes, turns out. I sold them to this guy in Germany who was real interested in that kind of stuff. Next page is the Monte Carlo I bought with the bone money. Fastest quarter-mile in the whole state...."

I don't need to tell you that the house was a dump, that the car looked to have stock exhaust and all-weather tires, or that the stream-of-consciousness fabrications over each page of his bulging photo album continued for what seemed like hours. When he finished, I staggered to my feet and sought rejuvenation in a cup of coffee. I'd been tired enough after my busy day at work. The bag of freeze-dried granules felt lighter than I thought it should, but, in spite of my long-standing suspicions about his skimming off the top, I said nothing. I didn't have the energy.

Snake's favorite way to begin a sentence was, "Most people don't know...." He was big on declaiming and would talk you into a stupor if you weren't prepared. Favorite topics included cryptozoology, ghosts, black magic, and conspiracies. I'm sure he talked most about the latter to his next cellmate, down in the Hole, concocting an insidious idea about Them being out to get him, silence him, torture him, or worse, and mapped out every phase of Their diabolic plot to the poor schmo stuck in the cell with him. Meanwhile, back in reality, Snake was actually locked up for hiding under the bunk during a head count. On the guards' third time past our cell, one of them saw his foot and opened the door to investigate. When the time came to question Snake about his reason for interfering with a count, he reportedly stuck out his tongue and hissed.

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