THE SLEEPWALKER • by Sarah Pascarella

6:37 in solitary could be any time of day. Alone twenty-three hours, I get quick glimpses of the guards. Jenkins: blond, tight ponytail that pulls up her temples, makes her look surprised. Reese: watery eyes, coughs while he waits for his cigarette break. (I used to smoke, told him once.) Sometimes, I talk to see how long they will stay. One time, Jenkins hung around for seven minutes, twelve seconds.

6:37 means nothing. It’s 12:30. 3:45. 7:12. It’s all one.

Eyes open, eyes closed, I can map every dimple on these cinder block walls. Every crack in the cement floor. Which cot springs scream, which poke. I know the tones of my gravelly whisper, keeping me company, and my bellow, calling to my cohort down the corridor. Sometimes, I leave my waste in the toilet for something new to look at. I let my food get cold, to compare the first taste to the tenth. I pick at hangnails, slow, to feel the differences of the before and after.

I notice more, even as I don’t witness much: The loose thread on my freshly laundered uniform. Morning sneezes (one) versus evening (three). A smeared expiration date on my milk carton. Stamped that way or altered in transit? I picture the milk on its journey to me, farther than I ever will travel again — a blade of grass, chewed as cud, cow’s enzymes on the attack, internal metamorphosis, solid to liquid, expressed at a dairy, put into tubes, chemicals swirled, put into boxes and trucks, cold, put in a fridge, cold, put on a tray, slid into my tiny aperture, put in my mouth, across my teeth, cold, stomach, that blade of grass, grown free, now locked in my cells, my bones.

Eyes open, eyes closed, I don’t remember. Blackout, they call it, me a sleepwalker, uninhibited. I woke to dried blood on the blankets, officers at the door. What I did in six minutes, 37 seconds put me here. Truth is, what I thought was tough, before, is nothing compared to the after, now. The toughness of doing time, outside of time. I wouldn’t mind another blackout.

Sarah Pascarella is a writer and editor based in Boston. Her fiction has recently appeared in Chestnut Review, MudRoom magazine (Best of the Net nominee 2021), and Levee, among other publications. She has a master’s in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College.

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