Thunderbolt - revised - prison story
I was collecting new critiques on my old story Thunderbolt - and the consensus was - who is the narrator? I decided to clean up the story and give it a proper narrator. Here's the old version if you want to see the difference - http://www.writingforums.org/entry.php?b=63325
I think this version turned out pretty good. Not sure if I wandered out of the pov though. I struggle with that.
Collie got himself a roomie last week. Some white boy. Short, thin, he got pretty blonde hair but a big ugly-ass scar runs jagged cross his face like a thunderbolt. Nearly spoilt his good looks. Only nearly, cause Rudy-T and his gang a’ hussies, well, they jus don’t care bout stuff like scars or tats, or nothing. All they see is that nest of blonde curls topping that pretty little head, and soon some brick-red hand is gonna swoop down into that nest and make its home there.
I bets two packs a’ smokes that hand will belong ta Rudy-T, Collie, who think maybe he’d like to keep that fine piece o’ sugar - ha, I see that eye-twinkle, bet first on himself with a great whoop, showing his gold front tooth, then he switches, maybe - Grotto, yeah, he stick with Grotto. Grotto, he somehow get all the pretty ones. He got technique. Be nice a moment like a snake charmer, next he got that snake round the neck, trapped in Grotto’s basket. Ha! Ha!
Collie dubs him Thunderbolt, heard his real name once, think maybe it wer some watery, no-good name like Alan. But when those eyes hurl through you like a sickle, he need some biblical hammer of a name like Ezekiel - so Thunderbolt will do. Some just call him Goldilocks, or Goldfish or Scar until that reeper look hit ‘im, and a name like Goldilocks fades like dey memory of a woman’s kiss. He be a Thunderbolt, never mind that he slim, and pretty.
We’s sitting at the caf table, Collie’s got one arm wrapped round his tray, though nobody
stupid enough to steal even a wandering glance from Collie, let alone a fast scoop. He eat kinda dainty. Little spoonfuls, chewing with his huge eyes like elephant egg marbles rolled up. Today he be thoughtful.
“I seen me Thunderbolt before, can’t place where. But ooh it buggin’ me. It stuck in
there like a froze movie with some star grinning his teeth. And his name floatin’ away on a bubble - eh? You know?” Collie say this with his mouth full of mashed potatoes some slid off his gold tooth and it look like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.
“Saw him take out an ‘natomy book from the library yesterday. Think that fish like to look a’ naked folk without their skins on?”
Collie had been there, he like to follow that Whitebread. He point to the page with the hang dog pecker on it then he say to Thunderbolt - “looky here, I see what interest you, now. Ha!” But Thunder-B doesn’t rile so easy, Collie will have to try harder.
“Here, he comes now. You tell him Collie , no-white ass punk sits at this table. Tell him.” Josiah points his spork at Collie, real serious.
Thunderbolt got his head down, not meek, but watchful like wary dog, he in lead with other cons winding through the maze of tables, but they fall away, filling empty spaces on benches till there’s only Thunder-B left. Collie waves to Thunderbolt.
“What you want to be so mean for, gotta be friendly. He, my roomie, might come in handy.” Collie grin an’ give a hearty chuckle. Yeah, I’s gets his drift, handy - like he could be trading Bolt for a carton o’ smokes or home brew.
Thunderbolt drops his tray on the table, drops himself down on bench, don’t look at us cons round him with our skin, dark an shiny as shoe-polish. He hook a finger in his mashed -taters and put it in his mouth.
“Hol’s Pen?” Collie starts.
“No.” Thunderbolt turns his slice of bread like record to see label, picks it up then takes
big bite. Butter smears on his lips like gloss. Rudy-T takes notice from a table yonder and blows him a lil’ kiss.
“Musta been State. State pen?”
“Never been to jail. I told you that before.”
“How’d you get that nasty scar than whitebread? Hmm?”
“They got knife fights in suburbia now?” Meegar say and we all be laughing over dat one. “Lemme guess some Corvette-driving, manicure-flashing, big shit catches a little shit like you, humping his gold-card- carrying wife, and cuts you up.”
“No.” Thunderbolt is one cool cuke.
“C’mon aren’t we roomies. You can tell ole’ Collie. We sharin. ‘Bout all we got. Eh?
Swapping da shit. Ha!Ha!” Collie got a wheezy laugh. Usually, everyone laugh when Collie laugh, not Thunder-B.
“It’s shoot the shit.” Thunderbolt corrects.
“Be friendly, Thunder-B. I’s friendly who tells ya not to walk down past Hurky and his boys on way to the store or he’ll jack yer shit. Who tell ya not to take shower near Rudy-T huh? Who tell ya how he got here, an show ya snaps of my most, beautiful ma - huh? You best be friendly Bolt or I gon sell you to Rudy-T for a carton. Eh? Mighty temptin. Now, you gon tell us, how you got that scar?”
Thunderbolt’s still chewing his veggie-supreme, still sipping his Kool-Aid. Threats roll off him, like beads o’ water in the shower, like the whistles following those beads o’ water in the shower room.
“I did it myself.”
“Yo-self!” This hit Collie hard, he reeling, not that it take much to blow Collie’s mind. “Why you wanna cut yerself? Mess up that pretty face. You outta yer head, Thunder-B?”
“Some crazy-ass woman.” Meegar mutters. “It’s always a woman. Wouldn’t be in here if it weren’t for that - that lousy, stinkin whore- ” Gobs fall from Meegar’s mouth. He a mess. Collie stop lookin’ a him. Look back at prettyboy.
“How come?” Now, Josiah’s looking at Thunderbolt different like. He got maybe respect, for this white-boy that cut up his own face, an nearly spoilt his looks. Something psycho about that. Josiah got to admire that, they kindred motherfucks, now, cause psycho be stamped all over his shrink-form. Or so he says. Nobody really see Josiah as psycho, least he no crazier than anyone else you don mess with.
“I was angry.”
“Hhhrmph. Never cut my own face jus cause I’s angry.”Collie stirs the last little bit of mashed potatoes before scooping it up and putting it in his mouth.“Cut up a fella who made me angry, not me-self. Hhhrmph.” He have last say cause he get no arguments, most everyone agree with Collie, don’t nobody understand Thunderbolt, not at all.
* * *
Later that night, after lights out, when them guards shoo us back into our cages, us birds with clipped wings, I gets out my mirror so I can see if Collie gonna try anything tonight on Thunder-B. I gots a bet with Meeger. I say Thunder-B gonna put up a fight. Meegar bet that fish will float - he’ll roll on his back for Collie an takes it like the last roomie. Wailing.
Collie swing his mammoth leg up and thump the top bunk where Thunderbolt is trying to sleep. Not as hard as he could though, I seen him launch his last roomie into orbit.
Din quite catch Thunder-B’s reply he got his damn head under the pillow agin.
“You don’t sound very friendly Thunder-B. You don know roomie protocol. You s’poused ta say, evening Collie, what’s up.”
“What the Hell do you want.”
Now if Collie be a good roomie, he’d pull Thunder-B down off his top bunk and shake him till all those smart-ass comments fly out o’ his head an never come back. That’d learn him. But I’m guessing Collie be thinking of Grotto, gotta be a snake charmer to get his hand around this one cause he say - “Now, now that ain’t friendly like. Someone gonna think you real sourpuss, Thunder-B an give you ‘nother scar to add to your collection. You got ta learn to be sweet n’ sociable. Lets start with how come yer here. I told yous alls ‘bout my armed robbery. Now it’s your turn.”
“You didn’t tell me alls about it.” Thunder-B was really begging for a smack.
“What?! You callin me a liar. You sayin I didn’t buy no ski mask at K-mart, you saying I didn’t go into the Royal Bank on Eastchester avenue with Harlan and Mack and stick a saw-offed shot gun in that ole lady’s teller’s face and watch the sweat jump out of her pores like I be waving a blow-torch, huh? You saying I didn’ hop in a green Trino driven by cousin Ernie, that shit-head, who crash us up on William street, and we spill out o’ there like rats from a garbage heap while them pigs be raining gunfire on our ass.”
Collie shape his fingers into guns, he’s shooting at the top bunk. He need to catch his breath cuz he’s all outta ammo. His lungs heave like bellows.
“You’re pissin’ me off, roomie.” He grumbles.
“You ever shoot rats in a garbage heap?”
“Betcha you never kill nothing in yer whole life.”
“I’m in for manslaughter.”
“Eh? You! Ha!”
“It’s true. I killed a man. A lawyer.”
“Well, ha! Ha! A lawyer, eh? In your wet dream, Thunder-B. In your wet dream!” Collie rolls chuckling lookin’ all cozy. Nearly made me laugh - His roomie - a murderer? Ha. Collie was the murderer, not Thunder-B.
“Did I eva tell you Roomie ‘bout my mama. How she believe God’ll throw thunderbolts,
javelin style at anyone who gets away with murder. Law don getcha, God will.” Collie got a smirk in his voice. He laughs, and it comes up from deep down like a roll o’ thunder. Considering Collie been in jail four times and one for manslaughter already, he probably think this big pile o’ hooey, and don’t care what Thunderbolt think.
But Thunder-B, he offer anyhow, “Maybe he will, Maybe he won’t.”
“You got a pretty voice Bolt. Betcha you were one of them - whatchacallim? Them boys in church carrying candles and wearing nightgowns.”
Thunderbolt likes music, plays the guitar, dabbles with this n’ that- can play anything, Collie believe this like gospel, and spread the word at lunch - Glory be didcha know - Thunder-B worked in a music store before he got his stretch, Lordy no, tell us more. He even made himself a ukelele from a Kleenex box and a bunch of rubber bands. Kid stuff, but he can pluck a tune and nine times out of ten, if Collie knows the song, and he better, he guess right away, what is it. You don’t say. Call Thunderbolt his canary bird. Then, Collie say once all dreamy-n-shit on homebrew. “I plays a picture-show in me head of music-store Thunder-B wearing a three-button shirt that hug his long, fine torso showing off that sea-foam of chest hair. Oh, and a belt, I be generous, looped through jeans, no slacks, cause Thunder-B got legs like a swimmer and an ass like a bongo drum, that somehow shows up in me picture. Don laugh none, or I’s caves your head in. Then, Thunder-B is cradling a gleaming guitar, got them long fingers wrapped around the neck, pressing cords like they veins. Like a pulse waiting to throb. An he plucks, and give it life! Hear it throb? He look up, like he knows he star of ole Collie’s behind-eye movie. And he smiles that only-spotted-once-before smile when Vito got stabbed in the yard. He plucks another cord. I felt the hum. And there between Thunder-B’s lips, I sees a plastic pick, protruding like a wee valentine heart.” Ole Collie gots a hard on for Thunder-B. Makes me bet a lot harder. I gots no time for snake-charmers.
“Sing me sumtin.”
“What am I, hit parade?”
“I could tell you to do sumtin else, Thunder-B.” Collie’s words crackle with coy menace. He no joking now.
So, Thunderbolt sings, what else can he do.
Under him, that fat vulture, be grinning.
* * *
Morning rings, jarring loud. Con’s grumble.
Thunder-B already up I hears him pissing in the toilet. Collie grinning because he can stop the flow like a foot on a sprinkler hose, just by looking over Thunder-B’s shoulder.
“Quit it.” Why Thunder-B never think anything funny?
When I hears that whitebread snap Leave it alone. I think this be it and grabs me mirror. Last morning I catch Collie giving Thunder-B a wack on his bare rump as he trying to pull on clean shorts “That’ll learn ya not to bend over show off that sexy target.” I think today, today I win. Only Thunder-B not talking about Collie diddling around with his person. He talking about a moth, a damn moth that somehow fly and now it doing laps around their caged bulb. Thunder-B go on to mutter - “Only innocent thing in this hole.” While Collie track the moth with his eye. Maybe if Thunder-B had asked him pretty, maybe, but he orders Collie. Collie don’t take no orders from no white boy. His huge hands come together like a thunderclap.
“Got im.” He opens them to show Thunder-B, a veiny wing like a dab of tissue paper and a bit of gray ash. Collie rubs his hands together in all-finish manner. Smug. Dares, Thunder-B to say anything. Thunder-B say nothing.
* * *
Weeks go by. Meegar tell me ta give up. Only I say ain’t no limit on our bet. I hold out. Not much happen accept Collie like to sneak in an ass grab whenever that whitebread climb to his top bunk. Collie chuckle like it big joke, but one day he asks - Don’t you ever be lonely Thunder-B? and he answer, I was born lonely. Today Thunderbolt gets a letter and this cause enough to get out the mirror. Collie yanks it out of his hand. Thunderbolt is still holding the envelope, and watches as Collie lifts the letter up to his face like he willing their secret to rise up in him, like an erection. Like something your body should just know and give ya, when it’s needed. Now Thunder-B know for sure what everyone else does - Collie can’t read. Oh, he had suspicions. Collie made that whitebread read all his ma’s letters aloud to him. But he say it’s cause he likes to hear Thunder-B’s smooth voice. Collie fakes disinterest in the letter and tosses it. Whitebread don care and he not bending to pick it up. In the bottom of the envelope is something that Thunderbolt shakes out, a picture of a young girl with curly blonde hair just like Thunderbolt. Got skin like cream, just like Thunderbolt - no scar though. Her eyes are blue, only they not cut like sickle, they warm as summer sky.
“Who’s that little girl?”
“Youse got a kid? Get da fuck out!” Collie’s amazed. So is I. We never quite believe Thunder-B all that old. Tried running a bet to find out, only that damn fish wouldn’t cough up and tell us. We settle on twenty-five like we rename him Thunderbolt. Now I’s thinking we all be off and this fish be closer to thirty. Why Rudy-T wanna pant after a thirty year old for? That hag usually got his tongue hanging out after all them boys that squeak in here, cuz they a fart too old for juvi. Maybe, he’d cool his slacks once he learn Thunder-B’s a papa.
Thunderbolt gets da gum to stick up his picture.
“What’s ‘er name? Betcha she’s an Amy - Youse white bread got no imagination. Eh, not like my most beautiful ma ...Collingsworth.” Collie chuckling over that.
“Laurel.” Whitebread brings his lips to his daughters smiling face. Gives it a smooch.
“Laurel...Laurel.” Collie say snapping his fingers, and pacing like a tiger in its cage. Act like he got that feeling again that movie-star-name-won’t-form feeling.
* * *
Later that night Collie wakes us all up with his groaning. He swear and sweat and accuse.
“What’s up Collie?” I say trying to be nice. Not like Becker on the other side who be swearing for him to shut the fuck up.
“They tryin ta kill me.” I gets me mirror. This could be good. Meegar lean over our bunk.
“That whitebread strangling him? If so you owe me- that’s a bet breaker you know it.”
“Soap chips... they’re trying to poison me.” Collie don’t reach the toilet, he spew on the floor. I angle the mirror away from that mess. Thunder-B just a silver outline and he blows out the scent from his nostrils but it come back in next breath. I knows it. I taste it too. We all kennel dogs only we worse we gotta share our cages.
* * *
Days later Collie make a midnight plan -We get ‘em. He voice glowers. Whoever they be.
Thunder-B say he want a weapon.
I get out da mirror. What dat whitebread up to up?
Collie puff up like Santa, and show Thunder-B how he makes his magic sack o’ toys.
Thunder-B is smoothing plastic, wrapped round his toothbrush bristles. He borrows Collie’s lighter to melt it.
Collie sniffs like he enjoys the smell.
He’s hovered over Thunder-B’s work. Fat vulture.
“Not too much.” Now, he mother-hen.
Thunder-B’s thumb is near burnt. I can smell it.
“I’ll kiss it an make it better. Ha! Ha!.”
Thunderbolt yanks his thumb out of Collie’s huge paw never knowing if it’s a true joke.
Thunder-B and Collie both wait until Thunderb can file the lump of plastic against the concrete floor. Thunder-B start sharpening. That rasping sound coming out o’ the dark is a real shiver-maker.Cause them smart cons be knowing that sound and be wondering whose sharping a shiv? Smarter one be wondering whose gonna taste the edge o’ that shiv.
* * *
I lose my bet with Meegar, he call time at three weeks. Coulda argued I’s suppose. Collie getting more frisky with Thunder-B but maybe it’s best this way cuz we both woulda lost our bet eventually.
Than one year pass since that whitebread show up and I gots me a new roomie on account a Meegar got paroled. This new fish we calls him Greener. On account a he’s got to be the greenest dumb shit we eva see. Ain’t never been ta jail before. Still says sorry when he bumps us cons.
“How come Collie never talks?” He asks one day in the caf at lunch. An’ that just prove how stupid he is.
“Don you see that scar?” I asks pointing to Collie at table yonder, an give the kid a wallop upside the head making sure no guards looking our way. Dis kid gotta learn. Collie and Thunder-B don’t sit with us much anymore. Not since the incident. We calls it da incident. Thunder-B calls it the attack. Nobody believe him but nobody say that to his face. Even Josiah say he crazier than we eva thought and should be thrown in the psych ward. Trouble is that whitebread more smart than crazy. Even Rudy-T not dumb enough to blow ‘im kisses anymore.
We all gots our ideas about what happen that day. I play mine like Collie with his behind eye movie and I tell Greener about it.
“Collie he like to beach himself like a whale in the supply closet instead of doing laundry likes he supposed to. I’s figure he sleeping, ha! Snoring that day when Thunder-B comes in. And that Thunder-B he smart, he be the smartest con in this whole damn place.”
“If he is so smart why is he here?”
“Ha! Dat that mystery ain’t it. How you catch a hunter?”
“You step in his trap, fool! You make like the prey.” I chew my food. Let that nugget sink into Greener's windy skull a'fore continue.
“So Thunder-B I guessing maybe he straddle Collie’s lap. So when Collie wakes he feel all flooded with sunlight- declare it be Christmas today! Whitebread know Collie like him so he play it like da music man he is - he play Collie like a fucking fiddle. He ask think I’m pretty and he got that rare-smile on. And Collie says Shoor. He real cool, don’t wanna come across totally interested. Then Thunder-B push - he ask Want me? And Collie shiver thinking this were too good, just the idea that he wer wanted. Look up in case his angel dissolve into air, but naw he still there the fluorescent lights hitting the edge of that whitebreads hair making it glow.”
“Jeez, you guys all talk like homos. I got me a girl, Lashonda and she’s waiting for me.”
“I give her four visits, what you bet Josiah.”
“Two.” Josiah gots on a nasty smile, takes some of the spark out of Greener’s fire.
“Hey.” Greener give weak protest.
“Hey, what. So you see your Lashonda between glass until she figures unlike you, she don’t have to jail herself up. She got men all around her. And us, when the women stop visiting and they will, we gots to find our own beauties, something that don glass us out. That’s all Collie was doing. He in for twenty-five years no parole. Done five before that whitebread show up. Hard not to look at that face and wish. Yeah wish, that he could be his Lashonda. Maybe even Thunder-B play with that, he cruel. Maybe he say - I been wanting you Collie. Maybe, he lean down and pour his words right into Collie’s ear. And make Collie quiver. Make his eyes close in rapture of hope -thinkin’ could this be real? Ain’t had no roomie like dis before. Yeah, that’s what he do. So Collie won’t see the toothbrush come up. Ah not the toothbrush no more - it the shiv now, the shiv he helped Thunder-B make. But he’d feel the slash and his eyes they’d pop open and his hand would come trembling, feeling his own blood on his neck. Maybe this is where Thunder-B say why he done it. Real calm - alls the while slashing up his own arms so that every guard think they got jumped. Nobody knows why he done it. Pauly he say Thunder-B got a woman visitor while back maybe it be his wife. She cryin’ but Thunder-B hard like a stone. Tell her never to come back. She never does. He tears up every letter he gets after dat. I’s thinks maybe it’s got ta do with his little girl. Maybe one of Collie’s crimes all deem bullets shot for money or stereos, or jewelry maybe one of dem bullets hit a little girl and nobody take notice but the girls papa. If it belong to a pig gun, why they won’t take the blame and his defense attorney not allow Collie to take da blame and Thunder-B could cry in court and say listen to me and nobody would. All maybes, all guesses. Dis make him crazier ta think he’d want to step into this trap all cuz he want to cut Collie’s vocal cords. To be heard. Pauly he say - Thunderbolt just did it to show Collie he won’t take his shit no more. I’s don know, only Collie know. I believe his eyes blurred wit puddles and the froze-movie unstuck and he remembered a papa in the courtroom holding up his daughter’s picture saying her name Laurel so no one would forget. And they all did. So Thunderbolt got to come make ‘em remember. And Collie feel like the snake charmer who jus got bit. Or like his mama said - thunderbolts do come and take care of the wicked.”
“He don’t act like he hate Thunderbolt. If that story was true.” Greener is suspicious, not so green as to believe it all, and watches them for the truth. Thunderbolt doing all the talking. Collie listening. Collie break his corn bread into two pieces. Give half ta Thunderbolt cause he knows Thunderbolt likes the corn bread. Thunderbolt in return give Collie da last scoop of his applecrumble.
“Some men liked to be burned, it prove someone out there took notice of ‘im. Maybe that’s how they like it.” I say.
Greener shoves in his cornbread. “Lot of maybes.” He mumbles around the wad.
“Well, like Collie used ta say bout all we got, is swapping da shit.”
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