Four Treasures

They locked me in a tower at the edge of town, in a cell on the fifth floor, Fifth Before Sixth was the motto of our town, and roomed me with a man named Terril. Terril would fold into a corner with a pair of scissors shaped like a stork, cut imaginary valves and fold into a bat, for he was from the jungle where birds and bats rule the sky, and flap out the window. Why do you come back I asked and he shook my hand and began another missive to his father.

The surrounding woods would catch fire. You would wake with a thick glow on the bars and the grass that was brown would be a tumescent gold and I’d look to the sky and find the orange moon trapped sun. Then the flames. They would be high on the hillside often started by disgruntled auto workers or the wind and I would cup my hands and blow not knowing whether I was helping. Huge planes went over, spilled their water guts. We started over.

When guards brought meals they slid them under the door. The door had a slot for meals. Every breakfast lunch dinner was a game to catch your tray on the floor.

On the twelfth floor, the roof, they kept apple trees and once a week we were allowed to go up and pick them. The apples were for the schools but still we filled basket after basket and tossed them over the side.

There is no way to know how many miles of wire ran through that building. I would press my ears against the wall like a physician and try to hear the current singing along. Once I heard a chatter then a ringing, the photonegative of a phone. Hello, I actually said. Terril looked up from his letter and it was gone.

Terril also drew on the walls. He used charcoal he picked from the guard pockets and would sketch layers of the calf muscles––Gastrocnemius, he called his home town—above the toilet. When he got tired and threatened me I would stand by the toilet and threaten to erase his work and he would calm and apologize. 

The rains would put out the fires from time to time and a cheer would emerge from the fourth floor in one breath. Could I have worked in the kitchen? If I didn’t crumble at the sight of steam. If I could use a sink without wanting to pray. If I could hold silverware without dreaming. 

I was tested my first week. I was given a roll of frozen newspapers and told to speak through it like a megaphone. Whatever I was saying when the first drop of water hit the floor would be my name; my name is Four Treasures.

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