by Maggie Medoff
At the corner of a lonely, varnished linoleum hall of iron bars and vacant eyes, a single light shone in the prison. Flies swarmed around the bulb, basking in the only source of brightness the institution’s walls had ever seen. Hints of an ancient trail of mud scuffs made their humble appearance on the floor below. The imprints suggested the heavy, resigned footsteps of criminals and lost souls alike. A small, dusty bookshelf sat at the end of that same hall in corridor E. A bed sheet had been placed over this shelf by the prison’s superintendent. Ant infestation was a major problem, and no amount of pesticides had succeeded in eradicating the black, six-legged soldiers that crawled across that shelf, day, after day, after day. One of the prisoners tended to get distracted by the ants; the sheet was there to keep him from watching the ants and neglecting his daily tasks. On the rainy morning of another Mystery Meat Monday, Mr. Higgins swept the floor of his assigned hall, the main hall of corridor E. Sweeping was too tedious a task, and being in such strict isolation made him yearn for certain past pleasures, specifically childish ones. The shelf comforted Higgins in the most nostalgic way. The ants were one piece of the prison that mimicked home for him; he used to play games with insects in his backyard as a child. When he lifted the bed sheet off of the shelf, not much time was left to marvel at the ants before officer Medgar saw Higgins, ran over, and smacked his clipboard down on the dusted wood. Hard. The officers there had had enough of the ants, and they had certainly had enough of Mr. Higgins. Medgar escorted Higgins back to his bunk, and the clipboard never moved from its place on the shelf. Mr. Higgins’ only trail of nostalgia for the day was crushed under the weight of that clipboard. By the crack of dawn the next morning, everything in the main hall of corridor E had remained the same. Iron bars and vacant eyes spanned the length of the hall, flies made use of the bulb’s warm light, and officer Medgar’s clipboard was perched comfortably atop the dead bodies of Higgins’ ant friends. The trail of mud scuffs still lined the floor. Maybe some footprints belonged to the steel-toed boots of an officer, like Medgar, whose seemingly oppressive and apathetic disposition developed from years of cuffs and clubs in belts. Maybe when the job’s responsibilities became too overwhelming, and the building’s ceiling seemed to hang too low, the officer imagined how it felt to be inside a pair of handcuffs; to feel the world and all its light slowly giving up on you, until the only light left became a single, ant-infested bookshelf, occupying space in the four-story trap that’s now your home. Maybe the officer wondered about this; maybe not.