Bed Rolls – Albert Ramos

It was a hot dog day. 


I knew this. I knew that it was likely that everyone would leave the warehouse, and leave me to carry out my dismal plan. 


Thursdays the truck woud come from Clinton, packed with bins of clean prison-clothes, rolled in thin twine of plastic. My job was to make bedrolls, behind the dirty clothes cage, right in front of the chemical cage. Funny how the stench of soiled, mountainous dirty clothes seemed to respectfully stay within its boundaries, and just out of reach from my olfactory perception. 


Bedrolls: two sheets, one pillow case, two towels, two wash cloths. Fold down the middle, place in buggy. I try to get rows of nine-by-six, eight-deep. And when their packing good, a tenth row would make me smile from the precision. One dollar a day, was the pay. A dollar earned honorably, working diligently—the only benefit was picking my own clothes and washing them separately. In here, that is beyond luxury. 


But this particular hot-dog Thursday, folding and stacking bed rolls was the least of my concerts. Maintaining the gusto to carry out a long-awaited plan played like an animatronic film over and over again in my mind’s projector. 


I checked on the envelope strategically placed on the upper right had corner of my table, under a stack of wash cloths. A corner just enough visible to draw a curious attention. A very simple message for my father: “I’m sorry, dad. I love you. Please don’t be sad. Please, carry on.”


A very crude make-shift noose (Arts & Crafts were never my strong suit) under the bed rows on the right side of the buggy. I kept touching its coarse nature with my finger tips, to make ever sure it’s still there—my very last and close companion. Normally, the supply cage further right was kept under lock and key, but not on Thursdays. To make it less inconvenient for the warehouse officers, the cage was kept ajar, but not locked. Well, that is unless a lietenant or higher-ranking official was in close proximity. Then, the cage would be locked. You’ve got to follow protocol, after all. 

But not on Thursday. Too much to do. Too much work. Supply & demand. Have to clothe the inmates, tax payers’ dollars are being well-spent. Accountability, profit the few. 


Ms. Phillips hollered, “Chow call!” Most people found her yell annoying, attention-seeking. For me, it was humorous, motherly…innocent. I noticed my breath became sporadic which finally settled, sloping toward a shallow, whisper of life. 

Focus, you’ve got to go through with this. Almost there, steady boy…it’s almost over. While the workers were being pitted down and leaving toward the dining hall, I could sense Ms. Phillips eyeing me out the corner of my watch. She was posturing and finally asked in her peculiar indigenous-country twang, “Ramos, you ain’t goin ta eat?”


A soft, brittle, partially inaudible, “no” escaped my dry, trembling lips. 


“Ramos…you look at me,” she commanded. 


My arms began their reluctant shaking. I touched the noose. Don’t fail me now, damn it! 


“Ramos,” once more. 


“I’m okay…I’m not hungry,” is all I could think of. 


As she stood by the sergeant’s office, Ms. Phillips in a clear, stern, parental voice demanded, “Ramos, you come here! Right now!”


By this time the only prisoners left in the warehouse were the four recycling workers, who doubled-up in helping unload the various trucks. Ms. Phillips, her 4’11” stature not nearly juxtaposed with her grand spirit—stared at me intently with pale blue-green eyes, surrounded by mature crow’s feet which served as her life’s proud battle wounds. 


I didn’t look at her. How could I? I tried to get the trembling under control, but the body has a way of revealing words that our mind desperately tries to keep secluded. She studied me, understanding in a way that only a once-struggled soul can decipher. 


“You stand right here. You don’t move. Ya hear me?”


I nodded. 


After saying a few words to the sergeant, who looked at me through Plexiglas, Ms. Phillips retrieved an orange and yellow reflective vest and instructed me to put it on. I followed her to the bay area, where the four workers continued to unload the clothes bins—while their supervisor watched and made small talk with them. They each took no more than a glance at Ms. Phillips and me, and never stopped the flow of chatter or work. There was a steel bench off to the side painted a rich black. The frail leaves and ants didn’t seem to mind out intrusion. 


We sat in our quasi-therapy session. She reassured me that this would be confidential. I unloaded how I was tired. Tired of life, tired of pain, loneliness, sorrow, a continuous life-long circumstance of oversatured, morose color. I wanted to flee this self, stop prolonging the inevitable. I was born in Plato’s cave, chained and never allowed to undertake and thrive in fortunate circumstance. 


Ms. Phillips preceded to expose a past, in nature not far-foreign from my own. I won’t go into detail, out of upmost respect for this earth-bound angel. However, her testimony washed away my trembling and hunger to end this existence. Her own tears warmed and watered my heart. Her spirit of empathy mirrored, understood, and explained agony. 


We shared a good cry, perhaps as two weathered, retired old friends, on a front porch somewhere in Charleston as the autumn breeze sent the sea’s salty scent. She asked with glistened cheeks and smile, “Bet you never though you’d cry with an officer?”


I nodded with tears which started sour, became sweet relief. We both giggled. 


Once inside she walked back to my workstation. I reached in the buggy and handed her my jaded object of misrepresented conclusion. She closed her fist tightly around it. 


“You gonna be alright?”


I smiled, “Yes. Thank you.”


She said, “Let me know if you need to talk, okay?”


“I will,” I responded. 


The guys returned, bellies full of hot dogs, the human machine of labor sprung back to life. As she walked away I reached for the greeting card. Thought about reading the rehearsed words and thought secondly. I never opened it. Instead, I quartered it and placed it in a garbage can, making sure other refuse covered it. 


The bedrolls were nearly done. I got several rows of ten. One by one, they filled the buggy. Everyone will get clean linen and towels this week, everyone has a bed. No one needs to wonder what went wrong with Albert; no formal investigation, no new protocol to the unlocked supply cage. Life goes on, unexpected, significantly changed. One life cared. Cared enough to check and see. My linen bed, still above the warm earth.


Aaron M. Kinzer

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