Short Story Tuesday: Gloria

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The sun settled on the horizon in washes of purple and gold. The barren field lit as with the glory of angelic hosts, outside the norm of dust and grime. Dry bones would better describe it on a normal day. But not now.

Maybe it was the promise of rain, maybe not. Either way, I stopped toiling to gaze at it in earnest. Sweat trickled down my face, like an itch, but I didn’t wipe it away. Not yet, leastwise. It reminded me I was alive. And for a moment, I could almost believe that horizon would welcome me. Would it embrace like a mother’s cool touch to a fevered brow? Or would it clutch tight like a long-lost friend? I closed my eyes and imagined it.

Across the field the train whistle blew. I snapped open my eyes as it approached, the longing in my breast increasing like the steam in the engine of the monolith that sped across the tracks. The sun swooped low…low…low. The train built speed, and there! I came in sight as the sun set. Maybe if I thought hard enough, longed with enough passion and fire, I could spring across the dusk and ride the tracks to…where? Freedom? For me? Yes. Even for me.

I glanced back toward the others. They labored low, but some gazed with me to the deepening horizon. The light fled, just as I longed to do. Their eyes followed the train, and the promise offered in the whistle that pierced the air. Freedom. I remembered it well.

Her smile suddenly came to mind, as if chasing the sun as it set. Gloria. How I have failed you! What do you think of me now? Dressed in orange, shackled and shuffled, taken from job to job that no one else wants to do. Paid cents when others would be paid dollars. My crime? Well, that’s a story for another day. But does it mean I deserve this existence? The walls that are my companion, except for when I’m brought out to see the sun? It taunts me. I know I will go back. The drudgery will kill me, if my fellow prisoners don’t. The panic will set in…it always does. And I will have to contemplate, for the millionth time, if it was all worth it. Of course, the answer will be no. But that won’t stop me from asking. Again.

Gloria. Like the angelic host.

 

***

The United States holds 4.4% of the world’s population, yet incarcerates 22% of the world’s prisoners. For-profit prisons average $3,300 per inmate per year, for a whopping 1.6 billion per year. For more information, and for how to get involved in prison reform, visit The Sentencing Project.

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