Shades of my ex wife. Every time she'd speak, I'd have to divide by four... When you're down low with the low down, man, ain't nothing what it seems, and you can't trust anyone...
A Pack of Lies by Robb White
The Brulet clan, everybody in town gave them a wide berth.
I’m not one to talk about growing up in a dysfunctional family, but I was an only child. Charlie and I hooked up in Youngstown juvie hall when we were fourteen. Back then I thought Martina and I might get together. One summer evening, Charlie was passed out from huffing spray paint on his grandmother’s sofa in the double-wide she paid for with money from a lawsuit when her husband died of smoke inhalation from a faulty space heater. Martina and I were sitting on the porch drinking beer and talking. I was showing off my new tattoo. It was late but the air was still muggy and rancid with the smells of frying foods and diesel fuel from the nearby railroad yards. The trailer park was infested with feral cats whose fluorescent eyes blazed in the headlights of passing cars.
Martina was wearing cut-off Levi shorts and a sleeveless blouse. I remember feeling aroused by the sweat beads forming on her upper lip. When she raised her arms over her head to stretch, the porch light showed the razor stubble of her armpits. It reminded me of the pale skin of a toad’s belly. The next thing I knew, I had her in my arms and we were kissing. She let my hands roam all over her small breasts and then my hand was working inside her panties. I remember the electricity surging up my wrist as I felt the tight, kinky curls. She pulled my hand away and gave me a strange smile. I tried to kiss her again, craving the sour beery warmth of her tongue, but she pushed me away with the palms of her hands on my shoulders.
I never made a play for her again. I was young and stupid in those days. I thought women were perfect.
Charlie wrote me from Chillicothe two days before they stabbed him up in the showers. He lasted three days but he had lost too much blood. He used certain words that would mean nothing to prison staff, but reading between the lines, I knew he was in trouble.
I was having my own problems. My three-year bid in Lake Erie Correctional, a medium-security facility, was a breeze until a month ago. They cracked the cells on our tier and found a sharpened file inserted into the hollowed leg of the bunk. My cellie was transferred to SHU. Word was out I had snitched him off. In the yard a guy said something to me that led to more words and resulted in a little chest bumping but it got me written up. My parole hearing was as good as trashed; instead of getting downgraded to a pod, I would be transferred to the maximum-security penitentiary in Youngstown.
I was worried about Martina. If the Aryan Brotherhood suspected she had twenty-five kilos of Mexican brown tar secreted behind the ductwork in her crappy trailer, her life would be over. The Brand has people on the outside that keep the leadership informed of every inmate’s potential as either a threat or a source of revenue. Despite their shamrock tattoos and triple 6s, they weren’t about purifying the white race; they’ll work with anybody who can make them money.
The one good thing about my transfer twenty miles from home meant a visit wouldn’t arouse any suspicion. Martina became my only visitor, in fact. She lied about all the men in her life and all the exotic places they took her. She always had big plans.
Pack of lies, I heard Charlie repeat with a shake of his head.
It was in December when she suddenly stopped her prattling and looked hard at me.
“You look like shit,” she said.
“This place is Shangri-la in reverse,” I said.
I never once called her out on her stories. I even looked forward to her visits. My life in the joint had taken a turn for the worse. My neck looked like a zipper from nearly having my head peeled off by a guy the AB planted as my cellmate. I was hit by a pipe on my way to chow and spent three weeks in a coma. My face has a permanent dent on the left side from a caved-in Zygomatic arch and my vision is blurred as if I’m always looking through a sheet of water. I’ve been jabbed, slashed, and stuck with every kind of object a con can get his hands on, from a sharpened coil spring to that jailbird special, the toothbrush filed to a point.
As if she mirrored me, Martina looked older and harder with each visit. She stopped dressing up and wearing make-up. Her voice developed a husky growl.
“Lay off the smokes, Martina,” I said.
“I quit,” she said.
Her eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. She reminded me of those trailer-park cats.
“Six months, three days, nine hours, and two minutes,” I said. I always ended our visits by giving her the count of the time I had left.
Then she stopped visiting.
The month before I was scheduled for release a man showed up behind the scarred Plexiglass.
“Who—who the fuck are you?”
“Don’t you know me?”
“Je-sus Christ,” I whispered.
“Not even close,” Martina said in a voice that was unmistakably hers and yet not hers.
“W-When?” I spluttered.
“All my life, I suppose. I’m Martin now. Even got me a dick.”
I already knew the how part: my dope money. Sex-change operations must be expensive.
“How much is left?” I asked.
“Enough,” Martin said. “Enough for one, that is.”
“Why did you come?”
“Why didn’t you die, fucker? I spread a fortune around this shithole to have you done like Charlie, but you have more lives than a cat.”
Paying for my contract with my own money—
“I’ll be out in a month, bitch,” I said.
“Then I have a month,” Martin said. “That’s a long time in a hellhole like this.”
“Tell me about it."
“So long, you,” Martin said. “Watch your back.”
“I’ll find you,” I said, but he didn’t hear me. He was already walking away.
I remember thinking: That’s a pretty good imitation of a man’s walk. There are people who feel a limb doesn’t belong with their bodies and so they’ll stick it in a bucket of dry ice until it turns black and then force a doctor to amputate. They say they never miss their limbs. That’s how I felt watching a trannie leave me behind, knowing that a faraway look can connect everything together finally—my groping hands on a summer night and a life that turned out the only way it could because of it.