A Short Story by Edmund J. Janas, II
Banned by Vocal.Media
They always said, in America, if your skin was lighter than a brown paper bag you were in for trouble. I never imagined it would happen to me though, even after a lifetime of microaggressions. But I gotta be strong. Strong because the Man is trying to break me down. All because of the box.
“Tell us, John, tell us what’s in the box… and if it’s nothing incriminating, then you can return home.”
The police report was full of lies. Said my car smelled of liquor. I don’t drink. Said I begged to be released. No… I demanded my release. And that was per usual for a young white man stopped by a black cop in an upscale black neighborhood.
The report read: “suspicious package wrapped in brown paper;”
That’s when I snapped. It wasn’t the lies as much as the suspicious part. It was suspicious only because a white man owned it; that bugged me. I’m a suspect for having a box. Suspected of what you are probably wondering. Truth is, I don’t know. Trooper Rose should have never forced me to unlock my glove compartment with a gun to my head without a warrant, that was a matter of law. So now the package sits with my $50K in police custody. I had all my paperwork in order: citizenship papers, permits, correspondences showing the purchase order. But PayPal was down, so I thought I would pay in cash. But I had to go through one of the wealthier black areas of Western MA, and was pulled over by a Statie for a busted tail light. The light was fine.
I explained it all to the judge, a short, balding, burnt bronze man of about 60. Six months later, I’m still in jail because I won’t tell any of them what’s in the package. And they can’t make me. The law is clear on that point, but laws don’t matter when people don’t care or where people are too afraid to look. Things don’t become real until they are observed.
And damn all my luck to hell, I would be right back in front of that cracker judge again, five times. And each time he would find me in contempt again. Last time I ran out of patience with him. He said, “I give you another two months in lock-up, and a $1,000 fine.” For forgetting my serial number. I had been respectful up until then but it was my daughter’s birthday and I couldn’t be there with her. I knew her heart was broken by my absence, so I guess I wanted to break his heart.
Before my mind knew, Mr. Mouth said, “Make it $2,000, motherfucker!”
He said, “$3,000! And it will go up a thousand for every curse you utter in my court!”
“OK you pussy-ass-motherfucking cracker-bitch-ass cocksucker!”
He said, “Bailiff, get this foul-mouthed madman outta my court!”
But Mr. Mouth wasn’t done, “You bitch-ass, cracker-ass, dingle-berry munching son-of-a-bitch!”
I got the fine in the mail today. Nobody knew where I was, but a damn bill found me here. Court says it’s $8K. But personally, I don’t think “Cracker-bitch-ass” is a cuss. Better check the transcript.
There went Amanda’s college fund. I had to watch myself. “Don’t break, don’t break.” I looked up at the camera, down at the toilet, the bars, the small gray blanket at the end of my bed made of varnished wood—a plank, really. I looked at the cement wall, the gray floors, up at the ceiling. Nothing but toilet paper. Standard issue state barracks, not in county lock-up, but why? They were up to no good, I could smell it. But I was sticking to my guns no matter what; maybe someone would notice. I knew my girlfriend was out there stomping the pavement. She had already been through two public defenders, and the third got the court to appoint a private investigator on the state’s dime. The cop said I was drunk and slurring my words, but the investigator found two people I spoke to an hour before the pullover. A girl at the pizza shop and the guy at the print shop. Both vouched that I was sober as a clam.
I didn’t know why I was there, or what they were trying to do. Maybe they just needed a purpose and I was it. Maybe I should’ve just told them what was in the box so I could go home. That’s what the first two lawyers told me to do. But I couldn’t, it was a matter of principle now. In this country, a man like me—young, white, and gifted—has no rights; we are never heard. Always the villain in the eyes of the courts. We have no rights to speak of; but there are rights that this country does value: property rights, so I stood on that. The irony didn’t escape me that Trooper Rose took apart my car inch by inch as I sat on the side of the road, hands numb from my cuffs being too tight, ants crawling all over me. Hours passed and he grew angrier and angrier that he couldn’t find any drugs. The amount of money I had on me seemed to only inspire his rage. His chestnut colored face darted up and down into my car’s crevices, even sniffing below the car mats like a basset hound. The fact that he could not open the box whipped him into a frenzy as much as it bugged the judge and the DA. If I didn’t know better, it seemed I caused a great conundrum for my captors.
“You are not gonna get any respect here doing things like that!” A voice yelled at me, but I was deep in thought. A caramel-skinned officer, who was petite for a man, was talking in a whiny voice from behind the bars. I was so immersed in thought that I didn’t even see him. “Things like what?” I had forgotten what I did. Since I had gone a day without food or water, and the only thing in my cell was toilet paper, I had taken the squares and laid them out on my “bed” in the only message I could for the video camera. “Oh, that.” I looked over and remembered the message I had spelled out. “EAT ME ROSE.”
“That! That! That!” The trooper’s cheeks flushed with blood and now he looked as if he was wearing blush. “Oh, I forgot. I wrote that earlier. Any chance I can get lunch, or a bottled water?”
It was about 8pm when they pulled me out of my cell for questioning by a detective. A big, fat, sloppy, nasty-looking guy the color of burnt umber. He looked hot and sweaty and seemed in distress. He had a dirty legal pad and it looked old and worn.
“You’ve caused quite a bit of a problem for us, Mr. Locke.” He said as he flipped back and forth through his notes. Sweat glistened like oil on his brow, and he smelled.
“The large amount of money we took from you, this mysterious package. Do you want to tell me about the money? Why would someone like you have such a large amount of money? And that box?” He was as angry as Trooper Rose at hour two of my car search for drugs that he could not find.
“I’ve already told my attorneys everything.”
He kept returning to one page stained with a coffee ring, grease, and ketchup. Well, it could’ve been blood.
“Yeah, but what I don’t get… this box is wrapped in brown paper.”
“Then open it, motherfucker. But wait, you can’t open it. That’s what this is about.”
“I can neither confirm nor deny that, I’m here strictly here to question you. That’s how this works, Mr. Locke.”
“Mr. Locke? What happened to Nigger? That’s what they’ve been calling me up until now. I want access to a phone. NOW!”
He was flustered, nervous even.
“What’s in the box?!” He sounded weak.
“OK, I’ll tell you. It’s a cat.”
“A cat?!” He said incredulously. “You mean a dead cat?” His eyes shifted, possibly wondering how I managed to fit an entire cat into a twelve-by-six-inch box.
“To you it will always be a half-dead cat.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Look, I’m never going to tell you what’s in the box. Because I know that my refusal has caused a glitch in the matrix.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I can overhear the news from the commander’s desk. And I noticed when I refused to open the box, things started… changing. You started freeing my kind, white men, from prisons. I hear the news, thousands of convictions overturned. The stock market crashing, celebrities disappearing… everything’s changing out there, ain’t it?”
“I…” He looked around nervously. “What did you do?”
“I decided I would no longer play along. Not with your game, not with your rules.”
“Everything is falling apart out there. Facts are changing, time is resetting, and our smartest people don’t know why. Species are appearing and disappearing. Electronics stop working, planes, satellites are falling to earth. Riots, looting… lawlessness. Our smartest people have been trying to figure out what’s causing this… and frankly it all points to you.”
“Me?” I asked. “Little ignorant, stupid criminal… me?”
“You,” He replied with a smirk full of contempt, half wanting to trust me, half wanting to kill me.
“Maybe things will change if you treat my kind like we matter?”
He seemed irritated and reached for a bottle of water and began filling the glass. I honestly thought it was for me since they hadn’t given me food or water in so long. He filled the glass halfway and knowingly sipped it. I should have known that glass was too clean for me.
“So, I gather your non-compliance will continue?” Sweat now streaming, he tried playing it cool even though he was sweating like a pig on a spit.
“The whales are gone. Giant sharks have replaced them. Families have vanished, my little girl vanished a week ago. I was looking at her, and she vanished in the blink of an eye. Gone.”
“I have a daughter too.”
“My wife just went crazy… she accused me of foul play, but our home security caught her vanishing. I was sent here to figure it out. Why won’t you tell me what’s in the box? I bet if you do, everything will return back to normal, and I can have my daughter back.”
“Did you hear me? I said I have a daughter too; her name is Amanda.”
“Our lives were so perfect, we played tennis together.”
“We had the perfect life until you refused to say what’s in the box!”
“If the box is so damn important, why don’t you just open the fucking box?!”
He looked powerless and lost.
“Because you can’t, can you?”
“Property rights,” He confessed.
“The only rights that truly matter in this country.” That’s when it all dawned on me.
“Am I free to go?”
“You are free to go!” He threw his ballpoint pen onto his legal pad, irritated. “But you’ll have to go now.”
“But it’s about 12am… can I call my girl to come get me?”
“You take your box and you leave, no calls… no rides. We’re done with you. You can even have your $50K.”
I had no idea what they had planned for me. Would they release me, take the box, open it? Would I wind up dead in the woods somewhere?
“I’m not stupid, I know five minutes after you release me a cohort of yours, probably a city cop, will stop me for loitering, take the box, and disappear me.”
“The whole world is watching.”
“In that case, I’ll take my money and leave.”
“What about the box?”
“If it’s that important to you… you can keep the box.”
The whole world was watching as the brown box was carried away by the black cop. The white man had won.