The smooth glide of heavy metal, sliding on metal, lands in a sharp crash. I’ve grown to know this noise, this frequent nuisance. This intrusion was no louder or closer than any other, but this time, its sting is sharp. It bludgeons me with willful ignorance. My muscles clench and my chest tightens, smothering my fluttering heart. My drooped spine snaps erect and I feel my skin begin to prickle.
Its reverberation fades to a lingering pause of cold silence. I struggle to find calm, and breath.
I dwell on that pause, and skew my ear towards the fresh emptiness. Then I hear a heavy boot hit the floor. Another follows, then another. Their thuds grow louder and echo along the concrete, uncontested and pure. I feel tension in these steps. From the first I knew, they will end at my bars.
I droop my head back down. The rhythm of the boots slow, then stop. He is here.
My tension poisons the still air between us. I feel it exhale from his breath. I am seated on my bed, facing away from him. I do not look over. I elect to continue staring, with unsharpened focus, into my concrete wall.
“Have you made a decision?” He asks. His tone is slow, personable. I was not prepared for this.
I cannot see them, but I feel the others listening, frozen still in their cages.
“Um… I don’t know.” I mumble amidst heavy exhale.
I hear him sigh. Not of impatience or displeasure, but of compassion. He understands and tolerates my dithering.
I decide to turn and look at him. His eyes were waiting for me.
To him, I’ve always been cattle, an occupational responsibility, a number. But, for now, I am seen. For now, I am human.
“I assume you’ve done this part before?” I ask.
“Yes.” He looks down then away, turning his head.
I pause and wait for him to return his eyes to me.
“Most of them just do the filet.” He offers. “Maybe some potatoes, chocolate cake.”
I nod, then turn to resume my aimless stare back into the blur of concrete. I feel his gaze leave me.
“OK. I’ll have the chef bring that down. Should be about a half hour.” He says.
“You won’t be bringing it?”
“That’s not procedure.”
“I understand.” I force a joyless smile of clenched lips.
He pauses before continuing.
“Ok, well, try and have a good night.”
“I will see you tomorrow then?” I glance back at him, then return my lazy focus to the concrete.
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
He taps a ginger rhythm onto the bars with his hand and releases a deliberate exhale. An awkward attempt to break the tension and end the conversation. It fails.
“Ok, then. Enjoy your meal.” He says.
He turns, then starts walking back the way he came. The thump of heavy boots wane into the distance, delicate and slow. Then a loud click gives way to that familiar sound of metal gliding against metal. After a brief pause, the metal slides again, and ends in a decisive crash.