The guard doesn’t look up. He twists both ends of the paper, rolling it
lovingly between his thumb and forefinger. Then he pops each end into
his mouth and licks it shut. He pulls out a little box of wooden matches
from his pants pocket and strikes one against the side. With his eye on
his ward, he takes a long drag, holding the smoke until it begins pouring
from his nostrils and the lintel of his half-closed mouth.
Oui. C’est de la merde, he says.
You a Christian?
But you don’t read the good book?
Non. Jamais, the guard replies, smoke flowering from his orifices as
though his insides were on fire. Mon père était un prédicateur. Quand il
But you’re a Christian?
Américain chrétien. Oui.
But listen, the prisoner responds, listen to this: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The guard guffaws. Ha! Sur quelle planète L’avez-vous déjà vu He
nods his head vigorously, laughs, spits, inhales, and more smoke pours
out of him.
I thought this was a Christian nation, the prisoner says while walking
vigorously along the perimeter.
Donc c’est, the guard nods sagely.
Love your enemies, the book says.
The guard looks at him like he’s a pitiful idiot. He sneers. He smokes.
Woe unto you that laugh, for ye shall mourn and weep later.
Hah, says the guard, rising.
Last question: why do you speak to me in French?
The guard explains that he was born in Québec, and he is proud of
his people. He moved here reluctantly, because of his wife, who left him
a year ago, taking their daughter with her. He is planning to return to
Québec when he retires in a couple of years. Then the guard says, in accented English, Time’s up, buddy-boy.
You strike me as a good man. A smart man, he says to the guard.
Today the sky is clouded. Last night’s rain memorialized in puddles.
A soft wind dips into the cistern and licks his face. How fresh the air
feels compared to the stale, ruminant atmosphere of his cell.