the folks you meet in prison
A story by
"Your notions of friendship are new to me; I believe every man is born with his quantum, and he cannot give to one without robbing another. I very well know to whom I would give the first place in my friendship, but they are not in the way, I am condemned to another scene, and therefore I distribute it in pennyworths to those about me, and who displease me least, and should do the same to my fellow prisoners if I were condemned to a jail."
Jonathan Swift, 17th century Irish Satirist
When my cell phone vibrates, so goes the whole table. It’s like a tiny little earthquake.
“if u want u can
come up here and stay
at my place and just
go to work in the morning?
ill make it worth ur
“would grab u
and pull you in
the back. im
on u my back facing u.
Three dots in a text message usually implies so much more to come, as if plot after subplot are yet to unfold. It’s the implication of drama, suspense, even seduction that begs response from its oft-surprised recipient. Repulsed but intrigued, half of me wanting to see how far this will go, I egg her on.
Her name was Alice. I remember meeting her some time over the holidays, on an odd day when I found myself wandering through this quaint little neighborhood in town that until that time had remained unfamiliar. I was trying to entertain my younger brother, a college freshman whose sartorial inclinations were only just beginning to blossom. He was fixed on buying a jacket to take back to school. He’d tried on nearly a dozen that day, ranging in price from borderline second-hand to just shy of exorbitant, and he still couldn’t make up his mind. I played the role of adviser and did my best to indulge him in his newfound curiosity. My brother Henry, the younger of two, is somewhat of a rigid character.
Walking into the store, we were met at first by the proud bump and thud of indie rock through the store’s nearly theatrical sound system. The place had a very fashion forward feel to it, egged on by the store’s peculiar namesake; Jaiole, which translates directly and unequivocally to jail in the French language. Having taken note of our obviously spend happy appearance, a lone employee honed in on our position.
What first struck me about Alice were her eyes, which sat perched on their lids in the softest shade of brown. They were the kind of eyes I imagined as a kid when Brown Eyed Girl would come on the oldies station. She wore her very trim jeans straight into knee-high boots, along with a deep v-neck t-shirt and a black button-up vest. Edgy, I thought. Covering the ensemble, she wore a silver chain strung through a faux golden bullet that dangled in the middle of her chest. After taking her in, I looked up at her eyes and knew immediately that I couldn’t possibly be the first to be made their mark.
“Can I help you find anything?” she twittered. As her lips parted, she sent a piercing stare and a cold smile, her words giving way to the obviously disjointed nature of the question. I smiled politely, strangely encouraged by her fervor.
“We should be all right, I think. My brother here is into clothes.” It was the type of response designed to either completely confuse or encourage.
“I knew you were brothers,” she said as she laughed and quickly turned in my direction. “How old are you?”
My employer ended up moving our office some time later that winter, taking us across town and into a building in that same, quaint old neighborhood. I’d hit a bit of a rut in terms of occupational progress. I wanted some variety. My day job was cool – hardly the typical corporate experience, befit with casual dress codes and lax vacation policies, but I needed something else. I thought about a restaurant job, but I could only work at a place whose food I’d actually enjoying eating and I figured this might be detrimental. Too much of a good thing, I thought. Then my mind wandered to retail, which appealed to me because I’d never done it before. I walked to Bastille.
The interview was a breeze, even though I drew a curious look from Evelyn, the owner, when I told her what my day job was and that retail represented nothing more than a casual curiosity and a chance to indulge in my weakness for vanity.
“Okay, just be here tomorrow at 1. It’s a Saturday, but you’ll just be training so
I’m guessing you’ll get to go at around 4. Wear black. And don’t forget your ID.”
To be honest, I’d almost completely forgotten about Alice. It had been nearly two months since I’d seen the store, and I’d been out of town and otherwise indisposed most of the that time. My brother had his jacket, which as far as I knew was working about as perfectly as could have been expected.
I walked down the stairs that descended from Evelyn’s office, which was a very nest-like space that sat perched above the sales floor. Her desk even sat right in front of a large window, placed no doubt for Evelyn to observe the happenings of her pet project. As I rounded the corner and headed for the door, content to start exploring an industry that I felt strange enough exploring at all, I caught sight of her. I nearly laughed when I saw her going about her business because from a distance she seemed oddly, yet tellingly befuddled. It was a side of her left hidden on our first meeting, but for some reason struck me as strangely fitting.
She was folding long rows of jeans that were laid out across a long, black table. Each pair she would take with both hands, straightening the edges and then violently snapping each garment into its place. After several moments, she irritably brushed her bangs out of her eyes and stared coldly at the floor. Images of old coal miners, covered in soot and wearing thousand yard stares flashed through my head. But when she caught sight of me, her face turned suspiciously to a hard grin. I smiled kindly and moved for the door, but realized she was now my co-worker. My associate, even! My colleague.
“Oh my God are you really working here? Listen, don’t worry about the interview. Eve pretty much hires anyone as long as I like them. And since I like you, you’re in,” she said.
“She actually told me I’m starting tomorrow! Just a training run apparently.” From the look on her face, I knew she’d lost whatever high ground she was hoping to establish. “…But it looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me here. I mean, whatever I should wear to work. It’s so awesome,” I added hesitantly.
From there, she smiled and proceeded to take me through every piece of men’s inventory. “Oh you’d look amazing in this,” she’d say, or, “Try that in a medium. So it’s small.” She even threw me in the dressing room at one point, forcing me to try on a pile of jeans that looked like they’d been pinched from Billy Idol’s closet. I had neither the heart nor the restraint to tell her no.