"That's it, then. You can get changed now. I'll be back to get you in a while."
The clothes didn't fit. My waist and hips were slimmer, my chest and shoulders broader. At the ancient age of forty-four, for the first time in my life I had pecs.
"In a while" was still on prison time. No one was rushing to speed my way home. My father was still hidden in the office. I sat down, propped my feet on the other chair, and tried to imagine life on the outside.
No man ever admits to having been asleep, but I had dreamed. Dreams of pain and torture. My body was on a rack, and each click of the wheel shot sharp spasms along my spine.
"Fuck!" I staggered upright and stretched. I had felt much younger going into prison than I did coming out. Outside, two years is an episodeinside, an eternity.
My stomach was telling me it was six, maybe seven. I thought about the hamburger at the 21 Club. Actually, any hamburger would do. And a cold beer.
The door slammed back against the wall.
"Stafford!" It wasn't the clerk; it was a dull-eyed dayshift guard. That meant it was already after eight. "This way." He stepped back and waved me out ahead of him, looking me over as though he expected to find I'd stolen a chair and hidden it down my pants.
He swung the final door open and I felt like I was taking my first full breath in two years.
My father wrapped his arms around me and while I wanted to pull away, it just felt too good. I let him go on hugging me until he pulled away in damp-eyed embarrassment.
I looked him in the eye; I owed him that. "Hey, Pop." There was too much to say regrets, recriminations, disappointmentsso we did what we always did. We said none of it.
It was raining and windy. The tail end of summer was giving way to fall all too quickly. The chill came right through the light nylon jacket he had brought for me. The collar smelled of his Viceroy cigarettes, though he hadn't smoked in yearsnot since my mother died. The coat must have come from far back in his closet. We climbed into his near-classic Olds 88 and headed home.
"I thought you might want to spend a night or two with me. Until you can get the apartment together."
It was a bad jolt. Prison shrinks your brain. I had thought about food and sex and taking my son to a Yankees game and the smell of the ocean and what it would be like to sleep in a room with an unlocked door. But I'd managed to hide from all the big questions.
My marriage. Work. The nuts and bolts of basic survival. A future. All the things I hadn't thought about began screaming for attention. I felt a surge of claustrophobia.
"Thanks, Pop, but no," I finally managed. "Give me a day or two. I'll come over for dinner some night." I wasn't up to explaining that after two years of no privacy whatsoever, I just wanted to be alone. For at least one night.
"I've been aging a nice pair of prime steaks. Some fresh asparagus. A Caesar salad."
"Great. Sounds great. Friday night?" The prison stench was still in my nostrils, turning my stomach every time I inhaled. I tried breathing in through my mouth, out the nose. The smell faded.
He held back a sigh. "Friday night it is, then."
"Thanks for understanding," I said, though I knew he didn't.
"I brought you a black-and-white." He handed me a white paper bag. "From Carla's."
Carla's black-and-white cookies had been my unfailing cure for the blues. When I was ten. "Thanks, Pop. Maybe later." I was hungry enough, but I was afraid I'd start bawling if I ate it.
"So, I thought we'd take 84 over to Milford and then 206/15 down to 80. It's a pretty drive."
"Nyah. You want 17 to 87 and over the Tappan Zee," I said.
Excerpted from Black Fridays by Michael Sears. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Sears. Excerpted by permission of Putnam Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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