Thursday, July 5, 2007

What Billy Did

Nurse Ybango rolled down the tier pushing her medication cart. She stopped at the cells one by one, handing out pills and chatting briefly with the inmates. She knew them all by name even without her medication records. She came to Billy Blume's cell and passed a cup of pills through the feedup slot.

Billy came to the door, greeted her with a nod and a smile and said, "None for me today, thanks."

"Eh, Mr. Billy. You no get sick for me. I care for nice men and you stay well. Here you pills."

"Ah no, that's OK. I won't be here long. They're getting me out to pre-release in a few days and I don't want anything to hold that up. I'll be alright, it's only a few days." He patted her hand gently and winked. "You save those pills for the guys who have problems for real."

She sighed, made a note in her medication record about his refusal and moved on down the tier.

A few days became a week, then two weeks, then three. Eventually Billy quit coming out of his cell for rec or for feedup. He took the trays that were brought to him and pushed them back out through the feedup slot. He stopped showering. Late at night the writer could hear him pacing in his cell, chanting and muttering.

"What's he saying?" Dana asked. His face was pressed close to the wall that divided his cell from the writer's. He was talking through the bars.

The writer shrugged. "Heck if I can tell. He could be talking Amharic for all I know."

"Naw," said Dana. "Amharic is mainly spoken in Ethiopia, Egypt, Israel and Sweden. Also a bit in Eritrea by educated people of the preindependence generation."

"Huh??? How the heck do you know that stuff?"

"I watch Jeopardy."

They looked back at Billy's cell. They saw him reach out between the bars to cup his hand under the leaking pipe. He caught a palmful of water then drew it back. He dipped a finger in the water and traced a design across his forehead and another design on the wall of his cell. He continued to mumble. At recreation time Dana stopped by his cell to try to figure out the design. The writer followed him in.

"Kinda looks like a dog," Dana said.

"The dog! The dog! Woe, woe the dog beneath the skin. The wolves in wolf's clothing, ravenous death." Billy was getting increasingly upset.

"Is he talking about Bo?," asked the writer. "Must be. He doesn't look like a W.H. Auden kind of guy."

"Some day I'm going to understand you and that concerns me," said Dana.

"What about Bo? What's wrong with Bo?" the writer asked Billy. He felt like he was trying to get Lassie to tell him what happened to Timmy.

"There is death in the dog, the dog under the skin, the skin under Satan, some sunny slack in sorted splender..." and with that the writer gave up any hope of communication. Billy was gone.

They were locked down after rec time and the writer made up his mind that he was going to have to talk to the lieutenant about Billy. As it turned out, the lieutenant found out for herself. During her shakedown Bo went into Billy's cell and he started screaming in a particularly horrible, heartrending fashion as if the Hound of Hell was after him. Which, of course, was exactly what he thought was happening.

"How long has he been like this?" Lieutenant Terry asked the writer.

"A few weeks. I guess he quit taking his medicine because he thought he was about to get out. He said they were sending him to pre-release but they were just waiting for medical clearance."

"You mean he was waiting on the case managers?" she said, in a tone of voice that said volumes----she might as well have said 'waiting on Godot'. "Alright, that is so not OK. We can't have this. This guy's gotta get out of here."

"Lieutenant, if you can get this guy transferred to a hospital I'll bathe Bo every day for a month."

"You're on, man. I can work this. I know how to short-circuit the system," said the lieutenant.


Emy L. Nosti said...

This chapter made me feel uncultured. And also like I don't know enough about prison. What an interesting juxtaposition. Splendorous.

Anonymous said...

Glad that you are now up on your Amharic facts. That level of attention to details is worth a more than a few Birr. Say Wat?

Anonymous said...

I am waiting for Godot and eating onion rings.