15 March, 2018

Scrambled Eggs with a Side of Savagery

With pillow imprints on our faces and 5 AM coffees scarcely swallowed, we file into the chow hall, take our trays, and sit. It's pointless to call them the usual crowd; Frenchie, Dave, and I surrounding the same table, in the same seats, day in and day out, like everyone else at his own table, all that ever really changes is the prison's menu.

"Morning, gents," I tell my senior-noncitizen tablemates. Or maybe it's "Greetings and salutations," or "Howdy," or an ironic "'Sup witchoo, Bloods?" We're not robots, after all, and I like to mix things up a little. "Anyone care for more toast?"

For a grizzled biker with a WHAT THE FUCK, RUN AMOK tattoo, Frenchie's got decorum to rival Emily Post. "I would," he says. "But just one slice, thank you. May I have some of that jelly, too?"

Frenchie sporks grape jelly off my tray, pinkie extended like a well-bred lady at tea, as I offer Dave the other slice. Even with teeth, the pale rubbery squares that masquerade as toast around here are a challenge to gnaw apart. I'm not shocked that toothless Dave declines.

The three of us salt and pepper our mess of eggs. Frenchie butters his eggs and lays his toast on top — a trick picked up from bygone cohort Jim (of the Old-Man Table, who transferred before Christmas). Eggs hold heat better than bread, so the margarine melts onto his toast, but the arrangement makes me think of building a sand castle. I toss Dave my five packets of sugar. He empties them into his oatmeal and drowns the lot in skim milk. We tuck in.

Not halfway through the fifteen-minute meal, the chow hall goes quiet. Around me, other prisoners prairie-dog, rising from their seats to get a better view. I hear that familiar arrhythmic squeak-squeak of sneaker soles on concrete: a fight.

I turn without getting up and see a couple of guys in state-issued grays and brown duck coats dancing around each other like boxers in the ring, but the lion's share of the action here's already over. Guards swarm from every direction to break it up, and both combatants surrender without fuss.

"Wasn't much of a fight," says Dave, while the scufflers are handcuffed and led to opposite sides of the chow hall.

I point out that one guy's eye is bleeding profusely. "He caught at least one good blow."

Two guards escort him out past our table. A rivulet of dark blood forks down his left cheek, jaw, and neck. He's squinting as though they'd sprayed him with Mace, yet no one had.

"A knife," mutters someone nearby.

So, he'd been stabbed in the eye. Once he was out, guards led his assailant through the same door. This one's boastful posture and smirk belong to a man who's just accomplished something big, but no one cheers as he makes his exit.

Dave makes a noncommittal grunt before attending again to his milky, oversweetened mess. Frenchie and I exchange a glance, then go back to our breakfast.

"What're they serving tomorrow morning, do you guys know?" asks Frenchie, after a bit. As if it matters.

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