I sat in the plastic seat of a flimsy chair. My elbows rested on the scarred, wooden surface of a heavy table which seemed to be permanently fastened to the floor. Shiny handcuffs were clasped around my wrists with a chain between them that passed through a metal ring set in the heavy table. Although I didn’t check, I guessed that the ring was strong enough to keep the biggest, most unruly detainee on their side of the table.
I held my face in my hands, one cheek in each palm, my fingertips rested on my temples. I sat here for what seemed like hours. The ring which secured my handcuffs prevented me from folding my arms on the table and setting my head down like I used to do during a boring lecture. The chain between my cuffs was not long enough for me to move to a more convenient place. The most comfortable thing I could do was hold my face, slouch my neck, and breathe the sharp scent of the steel that held me captive.
Earlier, I laid on the bed in my cell and surrounded myself with my fantasy world. The make-believe place to which I retreated when I wrote and when I was unable to bear reality. I worked on a resolution to some plot issues in my Katherina story.
I was having a hard time deciding where Kat would go after killing Petruchio. If she untied the tow that held his dead body to the pallet and called for help, she could claim he died in his sleep. The medicine of the day would be unlikely to find any cause of death and she might not be blamed for his passing. However, Katherina worried that someone who knew that her marriage to Petruchio was not exactly happy would offer a different explanation. Perhaps the servants would gossip about the screams coming from the room where Petruchio had locked her. She could be accused of poisoning him or putting an evil spell on her husband. Worse yet, Katherina could get away with murdering Petruchio, only to have her father marry her off to another man just as bad if not worse than the her former husband. Unlike my own situation, it seemed that Kat’s only opportunity to escape prison and patriarchy was to flee.
I had just come to that conclusion when the sound of footsteps echoed down the hallway outside my cell door. The footfalls came to a stop in front of my cell and I heard the sound of keys jingling while the person standing outside found the correct key for my door. A key was inserted into the lock, the tumblers turned with a quiet grinding sound, and the latch opened. The door opened out into the hallway and officer Tonya Lewis stood in the gap left by the open door. One of her hands rested on the door and the other hand held a cafeteria tray.
I was so focused on writing my story and not going crazy that I had not thought of food. When the scent of whatever was on the tray hit my nose, it did not smell like any particular meal. It had the generic smell that you find in hospital cafeterias or the food court in a mall. I inhaled the aroma deep into my lungs and my stomach gurgled loudly.
“I’m guessing you could use some food,” Tonya said and stepped into my cell. “We don’t have a kitchen here so we get the food for our detainees from the same place that prepares meals for the school district.”
As she carried the tray towards me, I sat up on the bed. My stomach was convulsing inside me, grinding it’s slimy walls together in preparation for the food I smelled. I was not normally a big eater but as hungry as I suddenly found myself I felt sure I could devour every bit of what was on the tray. Tonya set the tray down on my bed and I swallowed the saliva that had been gathering in my mouth and tried not to drool on my papery pajamas like an animal.
My vision blurred and I could not see what was on the tray. My right hand reached out on its own volition and grasped the curved plastic edge. I calmed myself and succeeded in dragging the tray closer to me without knocking it over and lifted it onto my lap. When my eyes finally came into focus, I stared down hungrily on two pieces of pepperoni pizza, a small pile of tater tots, a cup of apple slices, and a half-pint of chocolate milk. The pepperonis were curled up at the edges and formed little red bowls that held tiny puddles of orange grease. The white cheese hardy covered all of the ketchup-red sauce that was liberally spread over the chalky crust of the pizza. The tater tots were baked hard and brown on one side but barely toasted on the other side. The half-pint of milk was already open and I could smell high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic cocoa.
On any other day of my life, I would go hungry before I ate a meal like this. However, I found myself unable eat it fast enough. I devoured the first piece of pizza in three bites, chewing just enough to be able to swallow but no more. I moved on to the apple slices and ate them two at a time. I picked up half of the tater tots and tossed them into my mouth. The over-cooked side of the tater tots crunched loudly between my jaws and the mostly-raw side squished into the inside of my cheeks like a potato-flavored pudding. I downed the rest of the tater tots and drank more than half of the chocolate milk. The milk left a film on my tongue and my teeth felt like they had been painted with latex paint.
I took a little more time to eat the second slice of pizza. By the time I was nearly finished, my brain recognized how full my stomach was and I couldn’t eat the gritty crust at the end. I picked up the milk but I was unable to bring myself to drink it, having just scraped the film off the inside of my mouth while chewing the scratchy pizza dough.
Suddenly very full and a little bit sick, I placed the tray back on the bed.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t mention it,” answered Tonya.
She picked up the tray and stood by the partially-open door.
“They want me to move you to the interview room,” officer Lewis said. “I have a feeling you’ll be in there a while so I’m going to give you time to use the toilet while I drop the tray off at the office. Okay?”
I nodded. Tonya shut the door to my cell and locked it. I heard her footsteps fade away as she walked to the office. I started to imagine what the interview room would be like. I, like most Americans, was raised on TV shows where cops brought bad guys into a room with a bright light that shone in the suspect’s eyes. There was a mirror in the room, behind which other cops or some kind of consultant would stand.
My reverie was interrupted by the sudden urge to use the toilet. I had looked at the shiny steel commode a few times since officer Lewis first locked me in the cell but I had yet to use it. Its rim was slightly wider than a normal toilet and had no seat or lid. The rim had a cutout that I assumed prevented male users from dribbling on the makeshift seat provided by the widened rim.
I walked up to the stainless steel contraption and looked at the blue water at the bottom of the bowl with disdain. I sighed, turned around, and pulled my paper pajamas down along with my underwear. I sat and let out a gasp when my skin met the chilly metal. I shivered and rubbed my arms which were now covered in goose bumps. I pulled some gossamer toilet paper from the locked cabinet built into the wall. I finished my business, wiped, and stood up. An infrared sensor on the wall detected my absence and flushed the toilet. I pulled up my underwear and the blue pajama bottoms and glared angrily at the blue water that began to fill the bottom of the toilet again.
Someone gave a polite knock at my cell door and I turned in time to see the door swing open and officer Lewis peek in through the opening gap.
“Are you all finished,” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I replied.
Tonya opened the door the rest of the way. Instead of a tray, this time she held a pair of handcuffs in her free hand.
“I have to put these on you,” she said.
I held my hands out in front of me, palms down. She carefully secured a cuff on each of my wrists and I noticed the chain connecting the cuffs was slightly longer than normal. She gently took the upper section of my right arm in her left hand and led me out of the cell. I glanced over my shoulder to the door at the end of the hall. The small window set in the door glowed with dull sunshine. I guessed it was late morning early afternoon.
As we walked down the hall and passed the booking area, I thought I could smell the smoke from my escapade with the lighter. The door to the office passed us on the right and soon we came to a door marked “Interview 1” in black lettering. There was a window in the door but it had a tiny cover that could slide back to allow someone in the hallway to look in or speak to the people in the room.
Officer Lewis opened the door and led me to a large table. She motioned to a little plastic chair on one side of the table. I reached down with my bound hands and slid the chair out far enough so I could sit down.
“Please give me your hands,” said officer Lewis.
I held my hands out and she unlocked the cuff on one of my hands. She removed the cuff, expertly fed it through the large ring on the table, and then locked it around my wrist once again. I slid my plastic chair closer to the table with my foot and sat looking at the shiny metal around my wrists.
“The detective will be here soon,” said Tonya. She walked to the door, opened it, and looked at me for a second before shutting it.
My arms were numb from my elbows to my fingertips by the time the door to the interview room opened again. I sat up straight and felt a horrible crick in my neck from slouching for so long. My cheeks felt clammy and I could see in the obligatory mirror across from me that my face was red and splotchy after the prolonged contact with my hands. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and watched as three people came into the room.
The first person to enter was officer Lewis, who crossed the mirror and stood in the corner opposite from my right side. She gave me a crooked grin and then looked toward the open door. A man in a gray suit entered. Under the rumpled jacket he wore a blue shirt with the top button undone and a red tie loosely knotted around his collar. He held a stack of manila envelopes in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. The coffee cup was blue and printed with a hand of playing cards.
I remembered the police station’s main office had a vending machine that served coffee with various amounts of cream or sugar for the price of a dollar and the press of a button. A cup would drop down and the coffee you requested would slide out of a chute into a cup printed with cards. If more than one person bought a cup of coffee, they could compare the hand of cards on their cups, with the idea that the person holding the cup with the winning hand would buy the next round.
Mister rumpled suit walked over to the chair on the opposite side of the table from me. He dropped the manila envelopes on the table, took a drink of coffee, and pulled out his chair. Before he sat down, he also looked to the open door just as a bulky shadow filled up the open space.
Officer Hoskins walked into the interview room and shut the door behind him with his foot. He held a cup of coffee in each hand. He crossed the mirror and attempted to hand a cup to officer Lewis. She shook her head and Hoskins gave her a funny look. Hoskins walked over to the table and set the cup on the table by the manila folders. The fat cop then made his way to the corner of the room on the other side of the mirror from officer Lewis.
The man in the gray suit watched the whole exchange with a look of mild interest. He glanced at the extra cup of coffee, shrugged, and sat down in his chair with a sigh. The chair in which he sat was padded and probably a lot more comfortable than the wobbly plastic one in which I sat. He opened the first manila folder and cleared his throat.
“Nicole,” he said. His voice was higher than what seemed appropriate for a cop or any man of his age and size. “I am detective Demarco. This paper I have in front of me is a warrant for your arrest.”