Walk (Gentry Boys)

By: Cora Brent

(A Gentry Boys Story)

“A journey of a thousand miles begins

with a single step.”

- Lao Tzu

“It was only a sunny smile and little it cost in the giving, but like morning light it scattered the night and made the day worth living.”

- F. Scott Fitzgerald



They all told me that no man sleeps the night before he walks.

They were right.

I’d been staring at the ceiling for hours, trying to calm the thud of my heart as Helio, my cellmate, rolled around and cursed through his dreams on the bunk below.

It seemed impossible that tomorrow night would be different than every other night for the past four years.

It seemed impossible that I would see life outside the prison walls.

It seemed impossible that I would, at last, be free.

“Strength in brothers,” I whispered.

Words from a vanished childhood, a lost innocence. I said them for Conway. My brother. My best friend. My better half. For four years I’d been faithfully sending him letters. He hadn’t answered a single one.

When I was sure the hour was past midnight I reached inside my pillow and withdrew a folded piece of notebook paper. Since a few months back there’d been a stabbing with one of the ballpoint pens issued from the commissary, the warden only allowed us to have crudely modified versions now. Mine was a plastic ink tube wrapped in surgical tubing. It served its purpose though.

Carefully I unfolded the paper and stared at all the marks. I could see them easily. Darkness was never absolute in here, not even in the middle of the night. Each one of the one thousand five hundred and twelve marks on that page was the tragic badge of a squandered day. I would take it with me tomorrow when they opened the front gate and allowed me to walk out of here. My new mark was made carefully so I wouldn’t rip the paper. It was important because it would be the last one, number one thousand five hundred and thirteen.

When I was finished I refolded the paper, returned it to the pillowcase, and went back to watching the ceiling. The minutes kept dropping, one by one, like the last handful of sand grains in an hourglass.

When I’d arrived here over four years ago the hourglass had been full of minutes and days and months and years. Now it was nearly empty. I would have another chance, a chance to live again.

More importantly, I would have a chance to make things right with my brother.

At some point my eyes had closed and my mind had stopped racing. The next sound I heard was the click of every cell in the pod unlocking. One of the day shift guards bellowed down the corridor.


Artie Helio, who was serving a nine-month bit for strong-arm robbery at a Kingman liquor store, was instantly upright and bright-eyed as I jumped down from the top bunk. He beat me to the door and elbowed me out of the way.

“Don’t get cocky there, shorty,” he scolded, flashing two gold teeth in his grin.

Helio wasn’t a big man and I had him beat by a good six inches but he wasn’t calling me shorty to be ironic. Shorty or short timer was what you called a guy who was closing in on his release date.

“Ladies first,” I said wryly and let him pass while he chuckled.

Helio had been in and out of the system for two decades but he swore backwards and sideways that this was his last forced vacation. He told me his new wife had tits bigger than cantaloupes and that alone was worth staying straight for. I never doubted him. We all had plans for what life was going to be like on the outside.

As for me, I didn’t have any women waiting, big-titted or otherwise. What I did have was a brother to save and a painful debt to the universe that I needed to start repaying.

I also had a grave I needed to visit. Then I could ask the girl buried beneath the ground for whatever version of forgiveness the dead were willing to part with.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened as I went through the motions of the usual morning routine.

Breakfast. Shower. Rec yard.

I stayed on the benches and just watched instead of heading for the weights like I usually did. There were all types in here; dealers and murderers and white collar embezzlers. The worst ones would usually get taken out of general population and locked up in a separate unit without privileges until they learned some manners. Still, there were always some rotten pieces of humanity floating around freely and even though I was one of the bigger guys around I knew I had to keep my head down to avoid getting fucked with.

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