Conversations with a Prisoner.
She is pleased to meet you too. At least that’s what she tells you when she holds out her hand to shake yours. She paints a pretty picture, sitting with her knees tucked up to her chest in a sun dress on this dreary afternoon. You smile because she reminds you of someone you knew long ago, and also because it is polite to smile when meeting someone for the first time. She has a better tactic against the inevitable tepid awkwardness, and takes out another cigarette out and lights it with the one already lit.
Soon after her first exhale (head tilted back, lips in a small “O”) she will ask you what you do and if you enjoy it. If you say that you hate what you do she will sympathise with you, and if you say you love it she will say something like “wow that sounds really cool” with a smile which you are unworthy of.
There is nothing particularly strange about this. All elements of conversation are pre-recorded, pre-tested, and pre-determined. This is dialogue which puts you both at ease because this little verbal journey has been taken by both of you a hundredfold. All the pitfalls are clearly demarcated, and no one gets stuck at a junction. If that happens, you both like a certain author. It’s better to disagree about your favourite book though, as friendly debate makes for better banter.
But there is something about her that you notice and suspect very few others do. Something about the extended downward glances and the distant look that makes you feel like you are talking to someone far away. The pieces of herself are scattered, and hid into little boxes locked up in dark places, making the entire conversation feel like an extended pause punctuated by polite words.
You’ve seen this before. Because you’ve been there.
She is in a prison of glass that no one sees, screaming within those invisible walls for almost her entire lifetime. But no one can tell, and no one tells. So at last she gives up, and looks at others and not saying a thing because they’ve never heard her and never will.
Who did this to you?
Her lips part, shocked by the bluntness of the question - that the ambiguity of the question doesn't conceal its true intent. The walls fall away with the years. And that if you don’t understand yet, that at least you know. This is fragile ground. This is a path that you both haven’t taken for some time, one wrought with Unspeakable Things.
For a moment The Story rests on her lips, poised momentarily on the edge of forever.
But there are some stories that should never be told. Stories buried in time and the only clues are cankerous, tired, dim-eyes fragments of yourself that fester on an undying past. To unearth them will be the undoing of a lifetime’s work. The very recitation will open a door to a black hole of a humid grief that takes a stranglehold, and pull you back to the place that will always be there, however many miles you try to run.
It doesn’t work. She pulls back further into the cell, back to the familiarity of her own mind and nothing hurts because of the numbness of it all. And not hurting is everything that matters. After all, what will telling achieve? The transference of a story so long ago muted does not bring relief. Quite the opposite.
She pauses, but just for a second, barely skipping a beat, and if you had blinked you might not have noticed at all. She even smiles a sunny smile when she says:
I don’t know what you are talking about.