KGB by Mike Palecek

 One man awakened to the sound of shuffling cards. A new man had moved
 into the old man's cell overnight. The four played spades at the table.

 Each smoked. The television blared in the corner. A car squealed away.
 The water in one cell dripped, dripped.

 The hands of the men curled gently over the tips of the cards as they might
 yet touch the shoulder of a woman. The fingertips of the men, stained yellow
 from rolled cigarettes, scooped up each dealt card and slid them into suits.

"I ain't got shit."

"Come to papa."

 Good hands.

 Cuffed around muffled voices inside calling to those outside.

 Quit trying.

"Aces. C'mon homey."

 The hands of the young man were smooth as chamois, no gullies cut deep from
 years of hanging to the edge. Fingers still learning to roll, never learned to type.
 Teenage hands drawing super-heroes on a piss-yellow steel table.

 They sit in the stands at the softball field at the Yankton Federal Prison; around
 the table in the Woodbury County Jail; in the Madison County Jail; on the cement
 patio of the second floor county jail in Orange City, behind the library, watching
 the spring Tulip Festival through razor wire.

 The hands of the old man drank coffee with both hands around the dirty white
 cup marked in pen, like a mother's teat. Nothing ever certain.

 The hands of the men: long, white, soft and slender, stubby and streaked, black,
 brown, nails torn, bleeding, manicured, and ready.

 The men sat on steel chairs bolted to the floor. Between games the young man
 walked to the frosted cell window, wrapped his hands around the steel bars
 trying to force them apart, fit his head while he thought no one watched, had to try.

 Crude tatoos covering one's knuckles and fingers. "Did you see this one, dude?"
 he asked the new guy.

 Their wrists were familiar with the chilly caress of steel.

 A guard stomped down the hall with keys jingling.

"I got court today?" said one. "That's a whole day sitting in a holding cell. I'm gonna
 miss my visit. We s'posed to order store today."

"No court. Visit," said the guard.

 Hands that know just where to be so a guard can snap on.

 Out in the parking lot, the hands of the women, rummaged for change, dug past
 food stamps, baby food and Old Golds.

 The hands of the children raced to push the bell for the visiting room.
 The routine now part of their childhhood; like cookies with lunch break and
 school plays in the fall.

 Hands mirrored hands on the plastic window in the visiting cubicle. The large hand
 caressed the small hand and the tiny balled fist.

 Bye. Bye.

 Hands gripped stubby pencils. Daddy loves you.

 Hands waved goodbye across a courtroom.

 Who's driving you home? I'll call. I'm sorry.

 Hands flushed and spotty with a rew rash, examined at midnight under a dim light.

 Just one more smoke left. Last one awake, waved to the guard making his
 first check of the shift.

"How's it going man?"

"Top'a the morning to you, dude. It's a beautiful night in the big city."

"I would not know. I would not know.

"Hey. You got a light? Thanks. You have a good one."

"All right."

 Hand flicked butt into the steel toilet, held a photo, put it down gently on
 the puke green table.

 Inside a Bible a string of knotted cloth.

 Sweaty, shaking hands tied the cord around his neck, then to the bars, climb
 to the top bunk.

 Hands made the sign of the cross, push off. Snap!

 Hands dangled loosely.

 Good hands.

                          Click to order

 Contact Mike Palecek at

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