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That Unstable Summer

by Morris Marshall

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


Bang... Bang... Bang... Bang

I rubbed my eyes and sat up.

“Come on, Sleeping Beauty!” It was Muscles. “Time to get up for court! We got to be there early.” There was a click, and the cell door opened. He passed me an orange jumpsuit and waited while I changed.

“I need my contact lenses and medication,” I said once I was ready. “They’re in the storage unit.”

“This isn’t a hotel, Red. Come on, hurry up!”

“I can’t see a thing. Everything’s blurry.”

Muscles glared at me and raised his right fist. “Why don’t I punch you in the stomach so you don’t think about your vision? Would that help?”

Without saying anything, I left the cell and joined the lineup outside. When we began moving, I followed the blur in front of me, trying not to bump into anyone. The guards secured our handcuffs and directed us toward the Police Court van.

An hour later, a group of us congregated in the holding cell in the basement of the court. Some of us were from the Hole, but most belonged to the general population. There were only two topics of conversation: the food and the prospect of securing the coveted treasure of bail.

“You have duty counsel?” one inmate said to another. “You’ll be in here forever. They’re horrible, paid for by the government. You need a real lawyer who’ll get things done for you. The last time I had duty counsel I was in here for a month.”

“The food in here sucks,” another inmate quipped. “They barely give you enough to live on. Who can survive on a small sandwich and a drink? That’s a snack.”

I managed to talk to one inmate named John. He claimed that he didn’t want any representation. In fact, he didn’t intend to get bail at all. Why leave when you could get three meals a day and a place to lay your head?

The judge was a tall black man who resembled Bill Cosby. He smiled and joked as he directed court. Just when I thought I’d have to go back to the Detention Centre for another night, my name was called.

“Will Mr. Jeff Donnell come forward, please?”

Dressed in my orange jump suit, I took the stand and scanned the viewer’s gallery, my heart pounding. Then I saw him. My dad was sitting in the back row, dressed in a brown sweater.

“The charge is careless use of a firearm,” the judge said to the prosecutor. “How do you intend to prosecute?”

“Summarily, your honor.”

The judge said, “Bail is set at $500.”

“Thanks, your honor,” my Duty Counsel representative said.

Dad got up and came down the aisle to the front of the court. He put his hand on my shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. He wrote a check and we went to the Court clerk to complete the paperwork. We sat quietly together on the subway ride home from Kipling to Keele station.

* * *

A week later, I was at the local hospital, being treated for depression. I was back on my medication and feeling better. My roommate was a prisoner handcuffed to his bed. His head was bandaged and he cried, “Help me! Help me!” in a familiar, persistent voice. A guard sat in our room at all times.

As I was returning from dinner, the guards were changing. When I saw the new guard sitting down in my room, my heart thudded. Fear needled its way into my stomach. To get to my bed in the corner, I had to walk by him. I tried to take another step, but couldn’t, my feet seemingly frozen to the floor.

“Well... look here, it’s Red! What a coincidence. Things got dull when you left the Detention Centre.”

I rubbed my eyes, but when I took my hands away, he was still there, smiling, enjoying every second of our reunion.

Muscles stood up and approached me. He raised his left fist. “Still got eye problems, Red? I could still give you that punch in the stomach if it’ll help.”

I began to leave, but changed my mind after a few steps. I stopped, wheeled around and stared straight at the guard. “My eyesight’s perfect now, but you were a lot better looking when it was blurry.”

“I was just kidding, Red. You don’t have to get so touchy.”

I walked briskly down the corridor, past the Nursing Station and the vending machine. When I got to the TV room at the end of the hall, I sat down, picked up the converter and turned to the news. I took a deep breath, half-expecting Muscles to come through the door at any second.

* * *

This August, it’ll be twenty-three years since that summer. I still have dreams about it. In one, I stay at my parents’ house after the rifle went off and sit in my dad’s leather chair, watching TV. The SWAT team asks me to come out with my hands up. When I ignore them, a volley of bullets cracks the front living room window. One of them rips into my stomach and I wake up, biting back a scream...

In the second dream, the guy in my hospital room with the bandaged head grabs my wrist while yelling, “Help me!” I try to pull away from him, but he won’t let me. His grip is relentless. When I finally wrench my arm away, there’s a bloody palm print on my shirt.

Due to the circumstances of my arrest, I managed to secure a pardon. I graduated with a doctorate in Psychology and had my own practice for several years, helping people with a myriad of mental illnesses.

Six years ago, Metro Corrections hired me to give seminars to corrections and police officers on how to relate to the mentally ill. Bill Harrison — a.k.a. Muscles — attended one of the sessions. He approached me after it was over and apologized about that summer. We shook hands and I assured him that there were no hard feelings.

* * *

As my colleagues begin streaming into the office this morning, I look up from my computer. The office scuttlebutt is that the young man killed by police had schizophrenia and had been off his medication for a week. Mental health and community activists are planning a huge rally at Queen’s Park.

I pick up my cell phone from my desk and call my wife.

“Hi, Hon,” I say when she answers. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to postpone that Caribbean cruise we had planned for next week.”

“But, Jeff,” she says, “we’ve been planning it for a long time.”

“Yeah, I know. I was looking forward to it, too, but I just can’t get away right now.”

“Does this have anything to do with the death of that young man yesterday? It’s all over the news this morning.”

“Yes, Hon, I’ll explain when I get home. I promise I’ll make it up to you, beginning with dinner tonight.”

Copyright © 2016 by Morris Marshall

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