There is a chain around my waist that’s connected to another chain, which loops through the handcuffs on my wrists. Those chains are connected to a third, which links to a fourth, that holds the cuffs around my ankles.
I can barely walk. I have to take tiny steps, shuffling my feet as fast as I can with the shackles pulled taught. I can move my arms a little bit but not really enough to do anything, like wipe my nose. I have to lean down to push my hair away from my face and it always falls right back.
This morning marks the first day of my latest case review. Unlike many other inmates, though, I’m not hoping this little charade leads to parole.
For me, there is only one way out of this place and it’s in a bag. And it won’t be much longer. I’m just going through the motions: I’ll say what I need to, clear my conscience.
When the review is over, I’ll find a way to get to Jake. I’ll be with him again.
Both of the guards—one at each of my elbows—halt their marching and then I hear her voice. The witch that used to call herself my best friend: Avery Campbell.
As if I haven’t got enough problems.
She’s standing directly in front of me. I make a point of ignoring her, drawing my eyes from the wide tiled floor to the guard beside me. The guard’s looking straight ahead, not at Avery, but beyond her. If I react the way I want—wrap my hands around her throat and squeeze until every last bit if air is gone—then I’d never get into the interview room and I’d never be able to tell anyone what a liar, a fraud, and a phony she is. Besides, ignoring Avery is like calling an anorexic “fat.” It’s the worst possible thing I could do.
The corridor we’re standing in erupts with a crackling buzz. The grating squeak of metal hinges echoes. A heavy door on my right swings open.
A small breeze blows as Avery turns on her heel. Her long black hair sways down her back as she struts back up the corridor, shouting to everyone that I’m the idiot, that she’s the one who really knows the truth, and she better get her time in my interview.
Like hell she will, I vow, staring daggers into her back until a flickering light draws my attention away. It’s coming from the meeting room, just beyond the noisy doorway. I can tell from out here that the size of the room is claustrophobia inducing.
My gut clenches at the sight of a microphone, set atop a single table, centered in the small room. Surrounding the table are four metal framed chairs. Each seat is covered by a worn-looking gray, woolen material.
The first guard watches me as if at any moment I’ll come at him with a shiv. The second guard remarks about one of the overhead fluorescents, pointing to the flickering light. I’m careful to remain docile while they remove my cuffs from the chain at my waist and affix them to my chair.
On the other side of the table, propped against the soft blue wall, sets a pair of big black cameras with silent, eye-like lenses. They’re hinged upon two sets of solid legs waiting for me to spill my guts—one more time, for posterity. But I have to wait for the ears; the judge and jury which will most likely be embodied in two carefully selected assholes, wearing the requisite suits.
My fingers fidget over the woolen material covering the thin arms of the chair. Pinching at miniscule balls of fluff, I wait for the others filing into the room to settle down. There are three: a man, a woman, and my lawyer—Something Brandon, who looks like a man, but seems genderless. Slowly stripping the lint away, I can just make out the faint snap of each thin fiber as it stretches and breaks and floats lazily down to the faded green floor.
My gaze wanders towards the door as it closes and I can’t help but think of it as some kind of metaphor. For half a bitter second, I swear Avery’s penetrating eyes are back, sneaking a peek through the small window over the handle. Those bright green orbs, so full of curiosity and malice, churn my stomach and I’m glad I skipped breakfast.
“I hate her.” I don’t mean to mumble the thought and bite down on the tip of my tongue. Squeezing my eyes shut, I count to three then check the small window again. Nothing.
Looking around, I’m glad to see that no one seemed to notice my slip.
Once everyone has settled in, Mister Brandon, who’s taken a seat at my left side, prompts me to begin. I draw a deep breath, ignoring my dry mouth, trying to focus on this oration. But the microphone I’m staring at looms too large. I study the black meshed end pointing directly at me; its’ flat top and rounded edges.
“My name is Angel Patel—” I manage to squeak before my voice cuts out, choked by the arid lump in my throat.
“Take your time.” My gaze shifts up to follow a soft voice to the other side of the wide table. It floats from the plain woman sitting directly across from me. Staring back, she folds her hands over her lap. Her hair is pulled back in an unreasonably tight bun: the type that promises to make her hair line recede. The lenses of her glasses are stern rectangles that remind me of a high school librarian. The flat brown eyes behind them do not say anything.
A man on her left adjusts one of the two black lenses pointing at me—the eyes, coming into focus. The microphone recording us is making a memory—it will replay everything later on. The people in here are all ears—waiting, listening for information. I cannot help but think that this small room with its’ azure walls is like a skull, keeping us inside. I am the brain—dictating the instructions and operating on another level. I am above them all, but somehow still under authority.
The words I need to say are ready and waiting, but my throat feels as if I’ve swallowed a baseball. I can’t shove them past the mass, its’ is too big. And then other words leap into my head:
Quirky grin becomes friend—
Good friend becomes best friend—
Best friend becomes girlfriend—
Who becomes no one at all.
The lyrics thicken the lump in my throat. I remember Jake singing this song, the way he used to lean into the microphone, brushing his lips against the metal. That powerful voice growling out the angst.
And me. The way I used to hold him: palms tightly locked behind his back, my head on his chest, dancing to the rhythm of his heartbeat as he kissed my hair. I was so sure we’d stay that way.
Deep breath, I coax, willing myself to stay in the moment. Don’t drift, Angel. Don’t. And them more of Jakes words break through:
A quivering flame lights a shooting pain.
Down into my brain. Then you say my name—
And I’m drawn to black again.
Remember why you’re here. To finally get rid of this burden. To be free of Averys’ secrets once and for all. To make her pay for what she did.
I’m here, in this place that reminds me of that first interrogation room, for many reasons. That police station is miles away—years from this life—and they’re still asking what happened.
Do they want me to repeat myself? Because, I won’t. What they are going to get from me is the unblemished truth. I will tell them everything exactly the way I remember it.
I won’t chicken out this time. I won’t surrender through silence, leaving Avery to spin her lies like she has for the last six years. I won’t let my mind float away when it gets tough. I’ll stick with the cold facts until the bitter end. I’ve practiced this time. I’ve had six years to cement every detail in my head. I won’t forget the details.
The devil really is in the details, isn’t he?
Maybe, if I tell them all of it, if I make them understand what I knew and when . . . maybe they’ll leave me be, let me die in peace, and finally make my way to Jake. I wonder briefly where that expression comes from: die in peace. How was death ever associated with peace? The death I have seen . . . the time it’s taken to get from there to here . . . I have yet to find a morsel of peace in it. Maybe the peace comes after. I hope so.
“Remember, be as precise as possible.” Mister Brandon leans in and I notice he’s wearing his usual overcoat: crisp and white, reminding me of that Colonial guy from that chicken joint. He wears it all the time. Who the hell wears a white suit coat?
I’m trying to avoid hearing his voice. Every time he speaks, it’s like a grating in my inner ear. He’s turned his head in my direction, speaking across our shoulders, ignoring the microphone head. His breath reeks of coffee and milk. “. . . Do not hold back anything as it pertains to your state of mind and how it affected the events as they occurred to ensure you’re properly placed in custody proportionate to your needs. The reclassification we talked about . . .”
What we talked about? He’s talked about a million different things. Say this. Don’t say that. Speak. Tell the truth. Omit new information. I want to scream at him for the double-talk.
“. . . Discuss your current classification and additional considerations with regards to—” Good God, the man can’t stop talking! “—the state of Arizona requires you be placed—”
“Stop.” I shake my head, wishing for just enough freedom to reach up and plug my ears against the infection of his voice.
He shrugs, “So long as you’re aware—”
“Yes. ‘For my case.’” I repeat as familiar anger heats me—the rage that rises up whenever I think about what happened—and helps to anchor me, giving me a place to stand in the sinking sand that is my life.
“Tell us what happened, Miss Patel. As far back as you can recall, if not from the beginning.” The woman across from me instructs. She, too, is wearing an overcoat, only hers is gray.
I look to my lawyer and he nods, granting permission for me to speak freely. Almost.
My tongue glides over parched lips. Now that they’re waiting I find myself nervous again. “My mouth is really dry.”
A long hand belonging to the fourth person at the table—a seemingly gentle, yet unremarkable looking man—sets an opened can of Diet Coke in front me. It’s not one of those little half-sized cans we usually only get on special occasions, it’s a full twelve ounces; a bribe complete with bendy straw. My hands stay on the linty arms of the woolen chair as I lean forward taking the stick into my mouth. The fizzy goodness oozing up the straw beckons me back to better days—when ignorance really was bliss and not just a cheesy metaphor. The cool drink swirls over my tongue, washing away the stickiness of my teeth, dissolving the constant lump in my throat.
And for some stupid reason, I feel better.
Drawing a steadier breath, I reign in my scattered thoughts, determining to try once more to give my laborious confession. Thinking over my instructions, the thought strikes me. “Where does something like that begin? I know where it all ended. But a beginning?”
My gaze moves from my hand to lock eyes with the tight-haired woman. Still nothing; no sign of emotion. I wish the print on the badge hanging around her neck was a little larger. Then I could read her name. Maybe address her on a personal level: try to tell her how what really happened depends on how you look at it, because the same things can look different to different people. That the real truth about what happened lies in my perception.
I have to shake my head, remind myself that another desperate plea won’t matter. What happened—happened. Whoever this stranger is doesn’t matter. Knowing her name or saying it out loud is not going to change anything. Because I am the one who is not a person. Not anymore. And that’s just the way it is.
Drawing another long drink of soda, I imagine my brain as a box, sitting alone in a cobwebbed room. There is nothing in this room, save a small light, a rocking chair, and my box. I take my seat beside the box and loosen the tightly folded edges of the memories I’ve stored there. Bringing out those treasures I’ve kept hidden.
And the ability is still there. I can feel the ache and hope, dulled by meds and buried under nausea for sure, but I can still see it and put myself inside. And I know . . . it’s going to hurt to go back to that place. But it’s the least I can do. For him. But I would be lying if I said I was doing this just for him. Being back there with Jake was the only place in the world where I felt right. Like I fit, on the inside.
My minds’ eye draws out the memories in random pictures, like overfilled photo albums with no sense of order. It’s moments as portraits stuffed into each page and I can look at the images and remember the time and place just as easily as if it were scrawled in scorching detail across the backs and borders of every single frame.
The room around me seems to shift and my body becomes lighter as I am lifted from this place. The photographs grow larger while the room around me gives way. Time folds in on itself as I slide inside the memories. I will watch the people and places, hear the voices and take in the shimmying smells they hold.
The table before me in this little room becomes a shiny, linoleum counter-top. The chair I’m in peels away, morphing into a spinning barstool. My hands are no longer bound, but free, twirling my long brown hair. The walls crack and break apart, floating up into a swirl that crashes back down, rearranged.
I am back where it all began. I’m fifteen, again. In another town. Another life. Back in Carlisle.
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This page contains the first chapter of September Rain by A. R. Rivera as a sample. This sample has been published with permission from the author and/or publisher of September Rain, whoever originally submitted the book for review.