No. 8-9


Beckett Rosset  

C-95 (The Shirt) 

     By the time I got to C-95 at Riker’s Island, I was feeling sicker than I thought humanly possible.  I knew I was in serious trouble.  I was charged with more than shoplifting this time.  I had a sale of a controlled substance and faced the possibility of doing time upstate.  I didn’t care.  I just wanted some methadone.  I hadn’t eaten in almost two days, and I felt my stomach preparing to get rid of whatever was in it.  I edged over to a corner of the cell so as not to puke on anybody.  I didn’t make it.  Bitter green bile erupted from my insides.  It tasted like really strong cocaine.  I didn’t get it on anyone but my brown suede shirt was soaked.  The vomit was quickly seeping through the fabric.  It warmed my icy skin but it smelled like gangrene—sickly sweet, cloying.  My bowels were starting to twist up now too, and I could feel warm liquid seeping from my clenched cheeks.  Please let me die.  
      “Beckett?”  Someone was calling my name.  It was not the angel of death but instead a guy named Roderick that I knew from the streets.  
      “Man you look bad,” he said.  
     I grunted. I felt another wave of nausea coming on.  Suddenly I was retching again but there was nothing left inside of me.  I had become a parody of a man vomiting.  Roderick and the other guys in the cell eyed me with a combination of amusement and disgust.  I guess I was a sight.  A hundred and ten pounds of retching, dripping stench.  
     And then, Roderick noticed the shirt.  
      “You motherfucker, that’s my shirt!” 
     What could I say?  I stood there hoping my pathetic appearance would elicit sympathy.  
     One of the other inmates intent on seeing some action egged Roderick on, “Man, you let that guy fuck yo shirt up like dat?” 
     I turned towards him wielding my ravaged face like a weapon.  He turned away muttering something about how white boys smell like shit.  Roderick too must have decided that whupping my ass wasn’t worth the risk of touching my filthy body. Inhaling as little as possible, he asked me if I wanted a cigarette.  I nodded and he handed me a Marlboro.  I lit it and breathed deeply.  The smoke flavored the residual bile in my mouth and made it possible to swallow without gagging.  I smiled.  This was one cigarette no one would want to bum a drag off of. 
     I was so grateful for the cigarette that I took the shirt off.  I scrunched it into a little ball with the dry parts on the outside and handed it to Roderick.  I was down to a raggedy wife beater t-shirt but I didn’t care.   The puke in the suede shirt had gone cold and was no longer comfortable.  Then a C.O. started calling out names and guys started filing out of the bullpen.  Roderick was the first one called.  
     Gingerly holding the shirt he said, “Find out where you’re housed and let me know.  I’m in Quad 17.”  
     Soon there were only three other guys and myself in the cell, all new arrivals to C-95.  We had to be processed before we could be housed and chances were good that I wouldn’t get any methadone until the next day.  
     A C.O. asked us if we wanted to eat.  I thought it a ridiculous question but my cellmates jumped up and peered through the cell bars looking for a sign of the food wagon.  The thought of eating hot baloney and powdered mashed potatoes made me nauseous again.
     I had been stomped on by the cops when they arrested me and now my chest and abdomen muscles felt like they were being torn loose from my ribcage.  My throat and mouth were dry and burning from the bile.  
     I smelled the food wagon before I saw it.  I retreated to the farthest corner of the holding cell.  The other men crowded the door in anticipation. Huddled in my corner, I watched them eat.   I tried to remember the taste of the cigarette smoke.
      “Yo man, you gonna eat?  Gimme yo food if you ain’t,” one of my cellmates said, slurping down the last of the green tinged baloney on his tray.
     Sure, I thought.  If he wants to kill himself eating that shit, be my guest.  I pulled myself up and went to the gate.  I asked the CO for a tray of food.  He looked inconvenienced by my request.  All the guy had to do was tell the inmate working the food wagon to dish up another tray of slop.  If only we all had such demanding jobs.  If only being a junky was that easy.  The inmate worker didn’t look any happier.  Getting paid ten bucks a week to sling swill wasn’t exactly an ideal job but at least it gave you commissary money.  He loaded my tray and passed it through the bars.  I pivoted and lurched zombie-like towards my cellmate.  I handed him my tray and went back to my corner.



The copyright of 
everything published 
here remains 
with the authors.


Main Page | Current Issue | Contributors| News | Where to Buy | Links | Contact us | Archives

© 2003-2007 Ars Interpres Publications.