» Fiction

Here in North, in Our Dorm, 3C

Who was going at it? Who had put out the word?


When the riots popped off in South, we heard the modules filled with burning mats and brawling, that CO had stormed in, flashing riot gear, shooting bean bags, rubber bullets, and gas. We could picture it happening, vividly. We’d read all about it on a kite snuck in, passed from hand to hand. We could smell the smoke on the paper.


The populations in South would be stripped, searched, sorted, and reprocessed. Soon the world would be changing. Its politics would be shifting—into what configurations we could only guess. What we knew was that there would be consequences. We would feel them too, here in North, in our dorm, 3C.


We waited for the word to come down, for the bloodshed to happen.


We had to make plans.


We held our meetings at night, while the others lay all around us, among slanting shadows, on racks too close by, trying to listen. We knew they were trying. We wanted them to hear. We wanted them to know we’d be ready.


We looked for hitches in the patterns, how they trooped into the dayroom, regimented in red, forming up between shifts in the kitchen and laundry. Who gathered with whom, who would whisper, shake hands. We watched the red shirts swirling through our dorm along currents, into telltale dispersions and groupings.


We had to stay vigilant.


We could sense things occurring in traded glances behind us, like during count-times, when we had to hold still, while CO dotted our distant heads with a pencil, as if trying to pin us more firmly back into place.


What did they know but clipboards and checklists?


It was happening out there. It would happen here too.


We could feel it the way we could feel the weather, or the touch of a loving hand on our skin, when we would daydream on our racks about clouds, lost in memory, while we watched the inner blacks of our eyelids. We would press our hands to the concrete walls of our lockup, to feel the cold and think, It’s raining.


We would become odder, with intentions impossible to fathom—more so than the others—for our own good.


We would knock on the darkened booth and, when the man had stepped away from his monitors, snap apart plastic razors to collect the thin blades. We would hold them in our mouths, like Communion, blessed, and smile, with no trace of silver, behind the walls of our teeth.


This was how we had to be, but who had decided? Were the riots really to blame?


Was it the paisas?


The Eses?


Was it the ‘Woods?


In fact, who’d started this shit in the first place?


When we asked what was happening, CO would tell us, Step back. When trustees from other modules rolled in carts for our books or dirty trays, we would nod at them. Wussup? They’d lift a chin at the cameras in the corners, look away.


We knew to imagine ourselves through those lenses, our lives all flattened into dull, droning video, on whole banks of glowing monitors, for those men in darkened booths. We were learning to live accordingly.


So what would be ours to keep?


We watched the work shifts go out. We watched the work shifts come in.


We were lining up and playing cards, sitting down and writing letters. To anyone watching, ourselves included, we were behaving the best we could.


We wanted to go home, despite our bracing for the violence to come, some of us more than others, but we did. And when we would, before it had, we’d wander back into the world, feeling our way along as though our vision had dimmed, and wonder where it might be hiding—if not in the thinness of a turning page, the lightness of the rain, nor in the steadiness of the passing days—and when it would be released.


Steve Chang

Steve Chang is from the San Gabriel Valley, California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Epiphany, Guernica, Hobart, J Journal, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. He tweets @steveXisXok.