“You done fucked up.”
Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy
Pressure. Light. No air. Gasping. Burning. Relief. Air.
Amelie: Simple. Sensation and input. Wordless. Just feelings.
Amelie can only feel the presence of muscle memory, the haunted mutterings of ‘petit combattant’ from a past life.
No groans or pleas for another moment. The woman rises.
GM: It hurts. So do the rough sensations against her arms. There’s another flash of pain, a familiar-sounding clink, and then cold steel around her wrists.
Another rough feeling against her arms. A hard surface smacking against her bare feet. Motion, as she’s half-marched, half-dragged through blurry hallways.
Two pairs of heavy footsteps, moving along hers. Indistinct voices and noises. Pauses in both over an elevator dinging.
Her head feels woozy. Her throat is dry. Her stomach rumbles. She’s cold. Everything hurts.
Another ding. Doors opening. A sharp pain in her side. Pain as she walks, the heavier foosteps thumping alongside her. More noises and voices. Blurry figures moving across whitewashed surroundings.
A whirring noise. Breeze against her skin. Harsh light assaulting her eyes. A rougher sensation under her bare feet.
A fainter noise, followed by a light ding.
Amelie: Amelie wonders when life becomes a smear. When enough sensations become foreign that it all becomes meaningless white noise your mind must unpack and sort like a puzzle.
She knows this is likely her being escorted somewhere. Handcuffs, heavy steps, doors.
No matter how it hurts, she forces her legs to move, focusing on the feeling of movement. Progress. Maybe even physical progress. It hurts, but she needs it. Progress and pain. Proof she’s alive.
Sharp pain. Cold. Doors open. Voices. Whirring.
It’s like every cell in her body shudders and screams, not in horror or pain as they always have, but in celebration. Deep deep breath in, she gasps for it, the air of the outdoors.
Amelie doesn’t know if it’s a car, but the rough feeling under her feet, the words ‘Get in’. Maybe it’s a car.
She steps forward and bends her head down, her body shaking like a leaf as it recalls vague memories of the action of ‘getting into a car’. As if something needs to blow the dust off the book that houses this secret. She stumbles, falling to a knee and gasping a weak “Can’t see,” as she flounders forward.
GM: Rough hands painfully yank Amelie upwards by her hair, then half-shove, half-stuff her through an open door. She lands against something hard and plastic-like. The breeze dies as she hears a door slam, an engine start, and then feels motion underneath her feet. She can make out what looks like two seats ahead, with bars in front.
Amelie: Amelie thanks thick French hair for being able to take the punishment, the sudden pain nothing but welcome to bring her back to the real world.
She slowly sits up, and tries to pull on her arms. If they’re locked behind her back, fine, but if they’re locked from in front, she wipes her eyes.
Either way, she slowly makes her way to the seats, to sit and stretch.
GM: Amelie’s hands are chained behind her back. Trying to clamber onto a seat is awkward between that constraint and the moving vehicle, and even more so when her legs fail to find any purchase in the air. The car’s two front seats, meanwhile, do not look much higher than her present vantage point.
Amelie: Her confirmation of where her arms are disturbs her, more because of how long it took her to realize than where they actually are. Amelie stops trying to sit anywhere, simply accepting where she is in the vehicle and focusing on regaining that presence of mind. Slowly stretching her legs, bicycling in the air and taking long slow breaths. Her body is a weapon shattered into pieces, but she can reforge it. Must reforge it. The vehicle can take her where it will.
GM: She pumps her legs legs through the air and endures the uncomfortable ride. The officers have not bothered to seat-belt her, and as the car goes over speed bumps, brakes and accelerates, Amelie has to use her abdominals to make sure she doesn’t fall over or slide around and hit her head on something hard.
Amelie: Lack of a seatbelt feels almost as if it expands on her stretching her body. She remembers all the names from physical therapy. External and internal obliques, serratus anterior, rectus abdominis, among the most important. But she does what she remembers, repeating the names in her head as she uses them. It hurts. Everything hurts. Her stomach rumbles and now throbs, arching her back and gasping as a cramp hits her, holding that position until it passes.
GM: Eventually, her destination comes into blurry view.
It’s a severe-looking building, as all prisons are. Tall and implacable, surrounded by tower-like edifices and barbed wire fences. Indistinct noises echo from the prisoners’ yard. Their orange jumpsuits provide the sole splash of color among a field of concrete grays.
The officers open Amelie’s door and pull her out. She feels more concrete under her bare feet.
“You done fucked up,” one of the cops drawls exaggeratedly.
His fellow laughs.
Amelie: This repeats throughout the entire ride, until her blurred vision signals her arrival.
Much as Amelie knows about New Orleans, she knows much less about the American penal system. Nothing but horror stories, trash TV of stabbings and drugs made of fermented shit. But all her time alone, all her time staring at nothing, it’s brought a realization. This is where she wants to be. Exactly where.
She co-operates with the people pulling on her, trying her best to walk straight and see straighter. But the police’s voices help orient her slightly.
“Yes, sir,” is her only answer.
GM: The two lead her ahead into the parish jail.
The first thing Amelie notices is that it’s cold. Ice cold. McGehee’s air conditioned classrooms seems like the sweltering rollerblade route back to her aunt’s house in comparison.
Amelie might think jail would be noisy—full of people screaming and crying and raging against what’s happened to them. But it’s not that way at all. The bars are open and the flow of gangbangers, thieves, drunks, and completely ordinary-looking people into the jail pours in like floodwaters through broken levees. But an atmosphere of silence covers everyone like a thick, soaked blanket, reducing the expected din to low mumbles or numb-eyed staring. People of every type are being processed alongside Amelie.
There’s a young woman, barely 5-feet tall with pale skin and baby blue eyes. She looks so young and tough Amelie mistakes her for a sixth-grade boy. She’s her own version of gangsta—high white socks, baggy blue shorts, black long-sleeve T-shirt, chopped hair in a mohawk.
There’s a young man with blond-streaked hair in dreadlocks, bronze skin and elaborate tattoos running down one arm. He stares ahead with a confused and bleary-eyed expression.
There’s a middle-aged woman wearing a tailored gray business suit, gold-colored high heels and designer glasses. She trembles in shock.
It swiftly becomes evident that those tasked with preparing inmates for incarceration in the justice system have never been to a prison themselves. One inmate complains, “But they said I could have those!” as a sheriff’s deputy tosses a white medication bottle into the garbage. “Drugs have to come from the prison doctor,” the deputy replies. One woman protests, “I thought I could bring my own clothes to jail.” “That mighta been true 40 years ago,” says another deputy. He shakes his head as if to ask, ‘where do these people come from?’
Police, too, are everywhere. Amelie can only guess how far away some of them came from. They all wear different-colored uniforms, all with different-lettered badges and insignias. But it is the tan-uniformed police who seem to be the thin blue line when the handcuffs come off: they are the ones who answer the inmates’ questions (usually with a “no,” sometimes with a “sorry”) and usher them through the intake process.
When Amelie spots the dreadlocked man, a health care worker is taking his blood for drug and alcohol tests. The man talks aloud to himself and remarks in a half-slurred voice, “Maybe I have AIDS… maybe I’m gonna die… who the fuck’d care… would you care…” as the woman clinically goes about her business.
It’s a far different scene with the woman in the business suit. As she goes through a health screening, fills out forms and has her vitals checked, she shakes uncontrollably. To no one in particular, she murmurs, “My father; my children.”
“She doesn’t have DTs. She’s just scared,” says an older-looking officer to a younger-looking one.
The deputies allow her to stand in the hallway for several minutes to digest the fact that she needs to enter a cell. They say “please” twice. She refuses. They have to “help” her in. She looks as if she’s about to scream, for a moment, but then simply cries silently as the deputies half-walk, half-carry her down the hall.
Perhaps paradoxically, it’s the people who look like hardened criminals who are the easiest customers. Even without handcuffs, they automatically hold their hands behind their backs. Their entire attitude says: been here, done this.
Amelie: Amelie takes a deep cleansing breath of almost holy cold. Most here would feel like it was oppressive, like it was meant to soak into their bones and threaten them if they had their clothes taken away. Without her muscle it certainly does soak down deep into her emaciated form, but the only feeling it brings is clarity. Like a harsh river freezing. It’s a good feeling. The quiet is a small surprise and a small blessing, so many stories she takes in as she scans her senses around the room.
The short young gangster looks like someone to talk to, the older woman as well, as long as the families of New Orleans haven’t pooled influence to shove her into the male ward. It’s sad to see someone dragged into a cell, but she just files it away in her foggy brain to follow up.
GM: Amelie is brought to a big desk with a round shape around the entire room. Above the desk, a huge label reads “Intake.” Her initial police escort leaves as a young female deputy tells Amelie, “Remove your shoes and put them and any personal items in the tray.”
Amelie: Instead, she finds herself at her own desk, hearing the order and shaking her head. “No shoes, ma’am.”
GM: The deputy looks at Amelie’s bare feet, then wordlessly points to two yellow footprints painted on the floor. Amelie is instructed to step backwards and spread her legs until her feet are above them. The deputy orders her to bend forward and put her hands on the counter. It is a very embarrassing and uncomfortable position because she is far from the counter edge and has to lean forward, standing on tiptoes with all her bodyweight on her arms to reach the counter while keeping her feet on the footprints.
Amelie: The task of getting her feet into the yellow painted spots is a bit difficult, but she does so, and lets them do what they like. But at the same time, what’s embarrassing to someone who just spent who knows how long having nurses roughly wipe their shit and piss out of their cracks.
GM: “I’m going to pat you down. Do you have anything on you that is sharp or will prick me?” the deputy asks.
She looks at Amelie for another moment, and then before the woman can answer, shoves her hands down the front of Amelie’s hospital gown and gropes her breasts. Perhaps Dr. Brown did this while she was in a coma. It’s Amelie’s first time getting to second base while awake.
Funny how it’s at another woman’s hands. The girls at McGehee would have a hoot.
The deputy’s touch is more clinical than intimate, however, and is that of someone who’s done this a thousand times. She reaches her hands up the bottom of Amelie’s dressing down and feels around her back, stomach, and buttocks. She also inspects Amelie’s hair and the bottoms of her feet. Amelie is then ordered to turn around and open her mouth wide and lift up her tongue. The deputy inspects this with a penlight, and even pulls her ears forward and feels behind those.
Amelie: Amelie goes to answer, but feels her nearly flat chest violently gripped. It almost makes the tiny thin form lose her footing, but she corrects and lets them continue the search how they will. It brings back unhappy memories: Emmett’s words and that fucking monster’s violent unconscious humping. There’s nothing she can do, yet. She just reminds herself ‘this is where you want to be’, and opens her mouth when ordered, lifting her tongue, even turning her head for the deputy to inspect her ears and hair.
GM: The deputy finally instructs Amelie to pass through a metal detector. On the other side, another officer asks her to turn her back to her as she wraps and locked a chain around Amelie’s waist. Handcuffs, removed during her initial body search, are fastened to each side of the chain and re-cuff Amelie’s wrists.
She is then told to sit on a row of plastic seats and to wait to be called.
Amelie: Much to Amelie’s surprise, the metal detector picks up nothing. Her friends had always joked they could pick her up with a magnet after all her accidents. She does what she’s told either way, letting them chair and cuff her. The walk back to the plastic seats is difficult. Weights around her, limited use of her arms, but she makes it and slowly sinks down into a chair. But she doesn’t rest, pushing past the gnawing hunger, embarrassment, and uncertainty to fold towards her hands, and wipe the blear from her eyes. Then, she looks around the room for other sitting with her. People to talk to, to start her work here.
GM: Amelie finds herself seated near three other women.
The first is an aging, frumpy-looking and obese Latina with dark hair pulled back in a bun. She’s dressed in a wool cardigan, a dark skirt wide enough to be a blanket for most people, and plain flats. She stares at the wall with a vaguely irritated expression.
The second is a waifish Caucasian girl with long, somewhat messy brown hair, a button nose, and cheeks still holding onto some baby fat. She’s dressed in an orange club dress and black heels.
The third is a twenty-something Caucasian woman with long, messier blonde hair, dark rings under her eyes, and badly smudged makeup. She wears a crop top, denim skirt, and sequined flip-flops.
None move to speak with each other, or with Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie looks through them and wonders which will be in with her the longest. With the lessons she’s learned from her time in the states however, she picks the Latina woman, slowly and carefully re-situating herself a few chairs down from her. Wearing a sweater to get arrested, smart for people who cannot take this level of cold. It’s a good conversation starter, at the very least.
“Hey. Smart move with the sweater.”
GM: The woman looks at her and grunts.
Amelie: Good first step, at the very least.
“You’re either lucky or smart for that. They going to keep you for long?”
GM: The heavy-jowled woman stares at Amelie. “That’s what to you?”
Amelie: “I’m here for awhile. Way I see it I either make acquaintances, or have a shitty time.”
GM: The woman snorts.
Amelie: “Yeah, I know. Skinny dykish white girl in a hospital gown, asking you stupid questions,” she admits, smirking just slightly.
“I’ll make it quick. You’re the steadiest person here, only one worth asking. I wanna know if you know anyone already in here. Anyone ‘important.’”
GM: The woman stares at Amelie like she’s stupid.
The dark-haired girl rolls her eyes.
The blonde only seems to be half-paying attention.
Amelie: Amelie’s eyes scan over the other two women, the blonde is something she might recognize, a bitch with money. The dark-haired girl just seems like someone who made a mistake.
There’s a small smile on the girl’s face as she adjusts and leans into her chair, nodding to the Latina. She’s given away her answer to the question, either way. There’s people she knows already here.
GM: None of the other three say anything further.
Time crawls. Amelie is extremely cold in the already chilly room with no shoes or underwear.
Amelie: Time crawls, it’s what it does. She knows better than most at this point.
But there’s a plan here, or at least a backup one. An in with one of the potential factions here.
For now she just lets time past, slowly clenching and unclenching her muscles to try and wake them up.
GM: Time passes. The younger two women clutch their arms. The obese Latina woman, and eventually the dark-haired girl, are called away. Other handcuffed women are escorted in and plop down on the hard plastic seats ner Amelie. No one talks.
Eventually, Amelie is led led behind a cubicle to the medical assistant. The cyan-uniformed woman frowns at Amelie, looks at a clipboard, and then asks, “What is your sex?”
Amelie: Amelie sits passively, the cold not bothering her nearly as much as the other two. But she keeps silent even as the Latina is called away, then the dark-haired one, and finally it’s her turn. She stands there calmly and rolls her eyes lightly at the question.
“Female, surprisingly enough.”
GM: “You were born female?” the medical examiner asks with an unabated frown.
Amelie: Amelie audibly sighs and nods. “Born with all the plumbing. Still have it.”
GM: The examiner does not respond to this, but doesn’t press the topic any further either. She takes Amelie’s blood pressure and gives her a shot she says is for tetanus. She has Amelie step onto a scale (removing shoes is again not necessary) and asks the new inmate a gauntlet of medical history questions.
“Are you allergic to anything?”
“Do you suffer from any ailment?”
“Do you have any medical problems?”
“Are you pregnant right now?”
“Are you on birth control pills?”
“Are you on any other drugs?”
“Heavy chemical burn scarring, not an issue in humid weather, however.”
GM: The examiner takes Amelie’s blood sample and labels it with her name for drug/alcohol testing and finally takes her temperature.
The next stop is mug shots. Amelie is marched to another room by a deputy and stands on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off. She is asked another series of questions:
“What is your full name?”
“What is your home address?”
“What is your phone number?”
“Who is your employer?”
“Are you homosexual?”
“Are you involved in any gangs?”
“Do you feel like harming yourself?”
Amelie: She marches, not bothering to adjust anything she can reach as he mugshot is taken, letting them pull her around as much as they want.
“Amelie Marie Savard.”
She takes a moment, before shaking her head. “No current address, phone number, or employer.”
GM: The medical examiner and deputy record all of Amelie’s answers with the bored detachment of people who’ve done so countless times over countless days. Then comes fingerwiping. The deputy rubs Amelie’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of her fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to mean the pictures were keepers.
Amelie: Amelie wonders privately how reliable they’d be. After all, most of her prints are scalded, chipped from glove failures, or just plain belt sanded. But the machine chirps, so she keeps her mouth shut.
GM: Amelie is then taken to a holding cell. A deputy opens the door and tells her to get in. The two women who went before Amelie are already inside, along with an afro-haired black woman dressed in a crop top, miniskirt, and strappy heels. The small cell is approximately 15 feet wide and 10 feet long; three walls are of concrete and the fourth is all glass. There’s a built-in concrete bench along two walls and a steel combo toilet sink in the corner behind a short barrier. Everything looks filthy. It smells of urine, sweat, vomit and unwashed bodies.
The barred doors clang shut. No one talks.
Amelie: Amelie passively notes the statistics of American prisons spit in the face of the racial division in the holding cell. Three white women, one Latina, one black woman. Her eyes graze over each of them for a moment, but she doesn’t say anything. Instead, she looks to her chains, lightly testing them, smoothing a finger along the material. Most chains made from carbon steel. But the handcuffs are more important. Aluminum. Just a little drop of gallium into the key hole and she could shatter these things even at her current strength. Might be useful at some point if she can get someone to smuggle in the compound she needs. Shouldn’t be hard, they are sold as spoons as a novelty.
Amelie grips onto the chains and slowly pulls them taut. She silently stretches out her muscles and waits to be pulled away and tossed into an orange jumpsuit.
GM: Time crawls.
The scantily-dressed, messy-haired blonde with dark circles around her eyes eventually stumbles in. The less familiar woman in the cell eventually gets taken away. More come in. More get taken away. More come in. Amelie feels increasingly hungry. And thirsty. Food is not served at any point. It feels like hours before her name is finally called and deputies escort her out of the cell.
Her chains jingle as she is taken to another room. The strip search there is more intrusive: in addition to removing all her clothes, Amelie is told to bend over, cough, and spread her “cheeks” while a deputy closely inspects her anal cavity. After this, she is permitted to shower under lukewarm water for ten minutes and issued her new clothing:
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t expect much from this place, letting the familiar feeling of time ticking by take over. Eventually. The shower is probably the best thing to happen to her in six months, washing off the light humiliation brought to her by someone so closely inspecting a place nurses have already been roughly going over for however long she’s been back in the world of the living. She lets the water roll over her body, shuddering as it revives many of her faculties. Shame it doesn’t last longer. Her soul could use a good scrubbing.
GM: Amelie receives two sets of orange jumpsuits with “OPP Inmate” printed on them in thick black letters, along with tightey-whiteys, white socks, and “Jackie Chan” slide-on shoes. The jumpsuit feels like a clown suit, or the dunce cap that children used to wear in school. Everyone that is not an inmate looks at her like an animal, and she can feel it. The jumpsuit itself is faded, ripped, rough, stained, sagging (it feels at least several sizes too big) and missing one of its buttons. Amelie can only speculate how many people have worn it before her. The slide-on shoes feel even worse. No stranger to the importance of wearing proper shoes during intense physical activity, Amelie can instantly tell that wearing these things to basketball games will be a sure way to ruin her feet, or at least be in serious pain.
Laundry is done once a week, Amelie is told. That effectively gives each of her outfits a weekly cleaning cycle, or 3.5 days if she’s willing to strip naked on laundry days. Amelie is given one stained sheet, a threadbare towel, and a dirty pillow. All of them smell unpleasant. Her hospital gown is taken away. She is also given a mattress to (somehow) carry on top of these other items. It’s torn, dirty, and stained.
Amelie: Just as soon as she’s in, she’s out, dressed in orange and shoes her feet feel offended at. Bare feet feel like better alternatives. Still, she absorbs all the information coming her way, carrying it all biting down on her tongue to keep her body from giving out. Amelie hasn’t felt this weak since the accident. She idly wonders how quickly she can get her body back in order. How many beatings she must take in here before she can rip them all limb from limb. For now she just wants to find her cell and start to piece together a plan.
GM: The deputies are about to move her along when someone else shows up and says the medical examiner forgot to screen Amelie for syphilis. One of the deputies looks annoyed and says just to mark her as being clean. The other one sighs and tells her partner they should screen her because…. she looks as if several reasons might be crossing her mind, but then she just doesn’t say anything. As if it maybe doesn’t really matter. The other deputy resignedly shrugs.
Amelie is brought back to be screened by the same medical examiner who’s now dealing with another patient. The woman evinces no recognition at Amelie’s presence and asks why the deputies are giving her “extra work.” They bicker for a few moments before the woman agrees to draw another blood sample.
Amelie: Instead, Amelie is dragged along towards the medical center again. She bets at what the guard is thinking: this dyke will cause an STD outbreak in my prison. Whatever. Getting her skeletal body pricked with the needle hurts, but she keeps her mouth shut and lets her captors argue it out.
GM: As she does so, the other woman being examined (left to awkwardly stand there) suddenly throws up. Yells and exclamations of disgust go up from everyone. The medical examiner drops Amelie’s blood sample. Red spills out of the plastic vial over chunky orange blobs of vomit. Someone yells why the fuck the sick woman aimed directly for the scales that every inmate has to step on. It’s immediately plain that no one wants to clean this up themselves. The examiner hurriedly draws a second blood sample from Amelie, or at least tries to. The hastily inserted needle fails to prick a vein. The woman pulls it out and tries again. Getting stuck three times with a needle in a cold and vomit-smelling room is not fun. The deputies brusquely ferry Amelie out of the room with her bedding items. Her mattress is now stained with a bit of vomit. Voices angrily yell from behind her, interspersed with new screams.
This place seems like a complete shit show.
Amelie: The shit show ensues anyway. She would smile at all of it if she wasn’t so weak, just staying where she is as her arm is stabbed over and over again by a panicking incompetent bitch who can’t find the vein on a near-skeletal woman. Amelie makes a mental note to lick the wounds clean. She struggles to keep strength in the bruised and burning arm as she shuffles with the deputies towards what she assumes will be her cell.
GM: Amelie is so still weak and tired. She can’t remember the last time she ate or drank anything. The splotches of vomit on the mattress she has to awkwardly lug along smell revolting. Before she knows it, that mattress, as well as her bedding and pillow, have slipped from her overburdened stick-like arms. The guards impersonally ferry her along without them. Another door swings open. A yellowed and tattered sign reads: “Caution: you are now entering a real jail.”
Amelie: Amelie knows they won’t go back and grab them for her. Maybe they’ll give her a new one in a month or so, without the vomit. The pillow is a shame. All she thinks to muster is a weak, “Too heavy,” as they ferry her along.
GM: The jail’s main floor consists of monotonous row after row of featureless metal doors. They actually don’t have any bars like jails are pictured as having. The closest is the hole-filled railing on the metal staircases. Round tables that look bolted to the floor, each with four chairs, fill most of the open space. Equidistant fluorescent lights glare down on the dull linoleum floor.
Amelie: The jail finally comes into view, however. It’s nicer than thought it’d be, at the very least. Even a TV she doesn’t plan on watching. Stairs will be useful for cardio in the early weeks, for sure. She wonders how the phones work, remembering her aunts number. Amelie feels a distinct anxiety for the first time in days, a cold dread.
GM: It’d be an orderly scene, if not for the inmates.
All around her, dozens of orange-uniformed bodies monotonously trudge back to their cells. There’s one or two odd sobs and cries, but it’s mostly mumbled curses, whoops, or simple plodding indifference. Several inmates, incredibly, carry handguns or bulging plastic and paper bags they casually stick into their orange pants. None of the guards do anything. Some are short, some tall. Some fat, some thin. Some black, some white (though mostly black). They smell of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, dried blood, and other, less identifiable but no less odorous scents. Metal doors steadily clang like a smith’s hammer as each inmate is herded into their near-windowless metal and concrete cage. The jail does not look very nice at all as the crowd of orange bodies slowly dissipates. The floor is filthy. It’s strewn with cigarette butts, unidentifiable black marks, shoe impressions, a crudely scratched tic tac toe board, and even a wide, foul-smelling splotch of white, half-dried puke in one corner. Up closer, most of the chairs and benches look equally dirty. The TV is cracked, and sparks even spasmodically flit from the wires. Phones dangle uselessly from scratched and vandalized receivers. One has been torn off and lies uselessly on the floor. Several inmates are digging bare-handed through the trash bin, then make a near-run with a filthy haul of apple cores, banana peels, and dirty plastic wrap as several guards draw closer.
There’s one detail about those trash-absconding inmates—and every other visible person in the common area—that stands out most of all to Amelie, however.
Amelie: Amelie says nothing. About anything. One wrong word to these guards could mean a hell of trouble for her. If they don’t know she’s male, they won’t just take her back to where she’s supposed to go. Showering suddenly becomes a moot point. No showering. No being naked. Things become suddenly more severe. The prisoners running away with the garbage tell her that they’re hungry. The broken phones and TV make her wonder if she can fix them to become somewhat important here. Nothing here is going to save her.
GM: Amelie is impassively marched down the walkway. A deputy turns the key on the large flat-iron door with a narrow viewing slit, and pulls it open wide. He looks at her almost piteously.
“Word of advice. Hang yourself before you let that get out.”
Before Amelie can reply, he pushes her not-so lightly on her back with his baton. He clangs the door behind her, twists the key, and shoots the steel lock-bar. And just like that, she’s entered her new home.
Amelie: Amelie feels a twinge at the sides of her mouth at the deputy’s words. They know what they’re doing. She wonders who asked them to do this, or if they’re simply doing this because they want to. Maybe whatever bit into her that horrific night was the only honest thing she’s been blessed with since coming to New Orleans. She stands there a moment before taking stock of the cell.
GM: It’s little different from any jail that Amelie has seen on TV. Jails, and their occupants, are not known for their creativity. The rusty-looking toilet stinks, the air smells of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, and the lower bunk’s mattress has turned black with body grease. The walls are scratched with the names of prior residents, racial slurs, peace signs, crude scribblings of male and female genitalia, and other facile scatologies. More enterprising past occupants appear to have climbed atop the cell bunk and burned their names across the ceiling with cigarette lighters.
GM: Amelie’s cell is little different from any other jail cell that she has seen on TV. Jails, and their occupants, are not known for their creativity. The rusty-looking toilet would probably stink even if it wasn’t full of dark piss. The air smells of stale sweat, like outside, but the odor of cigarette smoke is particularly pungent. The upper bunk’s mattress is black with body grease. The walls are scratched with the names of prior residents, racial slurs, swastikas, crude scribblings of male and female genitalia, and other facile scatologies. Some enterprising past occupant appears to have climbed atop the cell bunk and burned the rendering of an ejaculating penis across the ceiling with a cigarette lighter.
Amelie: Acrylic paint over cheap pitted steel bars, same on the bunk platforms she assumes. The toilet and sink are ontop of each other, and it warrants a mental note to check the taps. Should they come off, they are a potential weapon.
GM: Amelie finds her cellmate already lying down in the bed’s lower bunk. He’s an older-looking Caucasian man in his 50s or 60s with olive skin and grayish-black hair that might generously be described as receding, and more realistically described as being almost bald. He’s got a broad frame that makes his jumpsuit hang less loosely than Amelie’s, but only just. He looks like he might have been a pretty well-muscled guy once, with a thick neck and even thicker arms, but age seems to have tempered that once-impressive physique with a paunchy beer gut. His face could be passably, and perhaps (twenty years ago) even ruggedly handsome, if not for its age lines, notably diminutive size, and half-dozen moles. His eyes are closed and his thick hands are folded across his chest as Amelie is half-pushed into the cell.
He does not look up.
Amelie: Her cellmate draws her attention next. She looks over his old form but refuses to let his age lull her into any sense of security. The frame of a man who’s swung his fists still rests there.
She just keeps standing there a moment, before her body finally creaks into motion, pulling the black mattress off the steel platform. Flips it upside down, rolls it up, and crawls onto the hard steel. It’s more a comfort to feel the familiar material than a soft mattress. Steel has never betrayed her. Never lied. Steel excises the wound, lances the boil, cuts the liar’s tongue. It brings her more comfort than a father’s embrace as she settles her weak frame onto it, resting her arm on the blackened mattress and resting her head on that arm. Sleep is the last thing she needs. She just lays in wait for the morning.
GM: Amelie finds she is saved even that labor, as the black mattress belongs to her cellmate. Hard, honest steel is all that awaits her tired body on the upper bunk.
Perhaps there are worse fates.
Amelie: Amelie can feel these fates, in fact. Fates of people who have have wronged her. Fates of those who wait beyond the barrier between here and ‘there’. She finds herself wondering how many of the dead have the power to help her, in exchange for what only she can do for them.
GM: Amelie lies still as a corpse in accommodations fit for one as she thinks of the dead.
Her dark musings are interrupted by a loud clanging against the cell’s door.
“Hey, Boxcars. Get your fat ass up.”
There’s a deep, impatient groan.
“Sal says this is for you.”
“Christ, thank god.”
“Yeah, you’re getting none of the usual slop.”
“Tell Sal thanks for me.”
There’s another clang, a heavy rolling noise, and soft crunches from underneath Amelie’s bunk.
Amelie: Amelie dares not interrupt them, listening. Getting the names that she can and counting it as a silent victory. Boxcars. Sal? Sal…vatore? Salvaturi? Sal as in salt, some Portuguese men in this prison with weird humor? Judging by the color of his skin, the frame, she can only guess Italian. Maybe Sicilian. Either she is insane, or the rolling sound were the gates opening. Her frantic pace of thought however comes to a screeching halt at the sound of soft crunches. Her mouth floods with saliva and a throbbing pain rips through her stomach. She hasn’t eaten in half a year, technically, her broken body curling in on itself as she hopes the audible groaning of her stomach doesn’t anger ‘Boxcars.’
GM: If ‘Boxcars’ has been angered, the man gives no indication that is apparent to Amelie. There’s only more crunching.
Amelie’s famished mind cannot help but conjure images of what he might be eating. Probably not soup, with that noise. Maybe a hamburger, with lettuce. A fat, juicy haunch of meat slathered with ketchup, melted cheese, crisp lettuce and cool tomato. Maybe purple onion too. Lettuce and onion could both crunch. Or maybe onion is the side—fried and crispy with a soft interior. Maybe he has french fries, that’s an even more classic side to burgers. Maybe he has both. Maybe he has a milkshake, too, for desert. Maybe there’s an entire feast down there, and he’s eating it all, while she starves.
There crunches are interrupted by a faint click-hiss and louder gulping noise.
Amelie: Amelie remembers her frame. His frame. She could fight a man for a hamburger with her old body. Or maybe it’s a toasted beef dip, or a panini with melted cheddar and andoullie sausage. The click-hiss, oh god she misses shitty beer. Too-cold clumsily handled moosehead cans pretending to be drunk while she hoards a—a BOWL of ambrosia salad all to herself.
Amelie can feel her body start to shudder slightly, like it’s trying to will her to move. If not to eat what he’s eating, then to just… see. Slowly, ever so slowly, the shivering pads of her fingers press into the steel and drag her too-light body over to the edge, just to peek at what God himself brought Boxcars to eat.
GM: It’s not a burger.
The large-framed man is seating on the edge of his bed as he munches on the toasted sandwich. Amelie can make out lettuce, something brown and fried-looking, and a hint of red. The wax paper looks almost deliciously greasy.
His beverage is a silver can bearing the logo of King Breweries & Distilleries.
He slowly turns and looks up as he sees Amelie peeking over the edge of her bunk.
His chewing doesn’t pause.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t notice at first, she simply stares at his sandwich for a few moments before her eyes slowly find his. There’s a small prey reaction, a mental jump her body cannot follow. There’s a quick race in her mind about what to say, simply apologizing the best way to avoid a beef with the person locked up with her when she sleeps. Still, she gambles, feeling her chest squeeze as she pulls the practiced Italian from her throat.
“Mi scusi signore.”
(“Excuse me, sir.”)
GM: The man stares at her blankly.
Amelie Her cellmate doesn’t seem like he understands Italian. Amelie simply gives a nod of deference and retreats back to the fetal position on her bunk while slowly clutching her stomach. Her curiosity is sated and what the man is eating doesn’t claw at her mind as much. Her stomach is another matter, though, now that she can place the smell. Plans form. Maybe Boxcars will leave her the wrapper if she waits until he’s asleep.
GM: The man mutters something to himself. The sound of teeth crunching into lettuce, toasted bread, and fried something continues, interspersed by the occasional gulp of beer. Eventually, there’s the sound of light crinkling, a scuff against the wall, and finally silence.
Amelie’s empty stomach doesn’t groan. It bellows and weeps.
Amelie: Amelie busies her mind as much as possible while laying there in her wretched state, feeling like the majority of her brain is hellbent on keeping laser focus on that sandwich wrapper. Deli paper, with all the crumbs and grease still on it, maybe some lettuce or condiments. She wonders if Boxcars or Sal would reward her if she fixed the TV. She wonders on what to now call ‘himself.’ Years of being called a dyke and now it finally comes in handy.
She wonders however if maybe that’s what put her here. Whether she was put here as ‘entertainment’ or because they thought she was gay is a complicated feeling. Ultimately she manages to pull her head away from her white hot jealousy at the man eating and wonder what happens when she starts gaining weight again. If anyone will notice in this jumpsuit how her body will build up differently. Amelie whiles away the minutes in fantasy, trying to picture herself as a knight errant passing as male or a young squire trying to hide her gender from her master’s band.
But then the wrapper hits the wall, her whole body would launch itself off the top bunk if it weren’t so weak, and she wasn’t so cautious about the older man she is locked in the room with. It makes her feel like an animal, like despite thinking the moment that little sound came through the room she’s a flee-bitten stray chasing scraps. It’s still too early to climb down, so she waits, listening at the steel frame and waiting for the man to follow into a breathing pattern she might call sleep.
GM: Time crawls by. The man is silent at first, but eventually starts to snore. It’s a steady in and out wheezing noise that might perhaps be more grating under other circumstances.
There could be crumbs on the wax paper. And grease. There’ll definitely be those two things. Sauce. Also definitely possible. Maybe leftover bits of lettuce, or a couple pieces of bread crust. Maybe even some bits of that fried meat Boxcars’ teeth crunched on so loudly. Maybe that was onion. Or tomato. Maybe some of that is leftover too.
He’s an older man. Maybe he didn’t even finish the sandwich. Maybe there’s an entire section of it left in there, for Amelie to devour all for herself. Toasted bread and crunchy lettuce and crisp tomato and thick mayo and fried, savory meat.
Hell. Maybe he’s even saving half the sandwich to eat later. People do that, pretty often. Prison food is supposed to be horrible. It makes sense he’d save some of a sandwich that good for later.
A low, fervent moan goes up from Amelie’s empty stomach.
Amelie: No. Not a whole half a sandwich. She heard the weight bounce off the wall, it’s… maybe it’s a quarter of a sandwich. Maybe.
‘Adam’, as she’s decided, slowly lowers herself down from the top bunk in her bare feet, straining her eyes and her weak frame to grab the deli paper and retreat back above.
Deli paper. It’s even named something delicious.
GM: The delicious paper lies in a crumpled-up ball against the corner of the room, just underneath a crudely drawn penis entering an even more indistinctly rendered vagina. The paper crinkles under Amelie’s hands, loud enough she wonders for a moment if it will wake Boxcars, but the man’s snores do not cease. She can hear the faint rattle of crumbs from inside its folds. It feels heavy, too. It’s so large. There could be a quarter-sandwich in there, maybe. Some part of Amelie whispers about what Boxcars will do if she eats his food, but her entire world seems to have zeroed in on that wrapper. Her heart pounds in her chest as perspiration beads from her body. The deli paper is like a magnet, riveting her gaze and hand towards a single inexorable aim:
Amelie: Amelie pushes the consequences out of her mind. If he gets angry, he gets angry, it doesn’t matter a lick to an empty stomach. She can feel crumbs. This is a trap, she’s sure of it, but she feels as though she will die without something in her stomach. Carefully, slowly, she puts the paper on her bunk, and climbs up after it, refusing to eat her spoils anywhere but the safety of her high perch.
GM: Amelie all but rips open the paper like a Christmas present to inspect her haul. A whole quarter-sandwich…
No leftover bits of meat or tomato. No splotches of mayo. There’s a few meager crumbs, and exactly two stray pieces of lettuce small enough to fit comfortably on her fingernails.
Her short fingernails. Not long like Yvette’s nails. What did her old classmate and sole hospital visitor have for dinner? She probably ate until her stomach was full and went to sleep in a warm, soft bed. Probably with a clean mattress, fluffy pillow, and thick blankets. Probably with no roommate either, except maybe a purring cat.
Amelie: Amelie grabs the crushing disappointment and dashes its head against the rocks. She was greedy, but this is what she wanted in the first place. Her tongue doesn’t slide, it rips across the paper, worshiping each crumb like it’s a saint. Like god sent her a gift for all her suffering. When the lettuce and crumbs are gone, she starts on the paper itself, quietly pulling it into pieces and swallowing them. Deli paper; trees mulched into paper, forgoing the bleaching stage of events they are instead coated in soybean wax to avoid passing on a flavor. It only uses a very small amount of parafin wax, which is only dangerous in liquid and gaseous form and then only in high dosages. It’s what crayons are made from, all non-toxic. Hentriacontane, CH329CH3.
Her thoughts don’t stay wrenched from Yvette for long, however. It eventually comes back as a memory of her Twitter flashes across her mind, her jolly holly fucking Christmas. How much she must have been offered and turned her nose up at. How could someone so evil deserve any of that? Amelie keeps eating, and desperately tries not to cry in frustration over what Yvette must have eaten today after all she’s done.
GM: The paper is dry, waxen, and flavorless. It clings to her tongue like it isn’t something she should be eating, and goes down her parched-dry throat with all the speed of molasses. It’s been so long since she had anything to drink. What did Yvette have? Soda, sweet tea, orange juice, water all seem possible, those are all options at Cafe Louise—or wine. Yvonne said that everyone in her family had a little wine at meals. Maybe sweet-swelling chartreuse, to wash down her full and sumptuous dinner.
She wonders what Yvette would say, if her old classmate saw her ravenously stuffing her face with torn-up strips of wax paper from someone else’s sandwich. All while hiding from them like some scavenging, furtive animal.
Maybe she’d smile winsomely and say, “No more than a gross dyke like you deserves…”
Amelie lies still on her solid steel bed and rests her eyes. She’s cold. Hungry. Thirsty. She needs a piss. Her head aches. Her arm stings. She’s sore everywhere.
She tries to sleep.
Past her cellmate’s steady snoring, she can hear inmates breaking wind, babbling to themselves, masturbating, and snoring. Off-key voices discordantly sing jailhouse blues like ‘Myyyy soooooulll isss a paper baaaag… at the bottooomm… of your garbage caaaaaaan!’ and inanely recycle “That’s what she said” jokes. Iron doors slam all day and night. People shake doors against the jams, and likely irritated deputies retaliate by raking their batons across the metal. Crazies howl their apocalyptic insight at the windows like dogs baying under a yellow moon.
“Yes, this is right where you belong, no?” she can picture Yvette smiling. “’Ere with all the crazies, criminals, and… men.”
Soft laughter in her ears. Hannah’s staring, blue-lipped face. Nurses approaching the bed with hoods, cuffs, tubes, and restraints. Hill and Moore impassively taking notes. Yvette and Sarah pouring a glass of chartreuse in smiling toast.
“Enjoy the rest of your life, Amelie… you’re going to die ’ere.”
Amelie doesn’t sleep.
For a little while.
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David Feedback Repost
Just a few quick things to touch on before getting to the meat of the feedback this time around. First of course being the talk that’s already been had in the OOC room, in relation to scenes in hospitals and incarceration. We spoke about how stifling and awful these scenes were, and the frequency in which they have come up, and the only real resolutions that came up were simple. Try and avoid them, and once they’ve been established try and hurry through them in a storytelling sense, skipping time and drudgery. But I think I’d like to just touch a little bit on something that was said by Izzy; “ I remember waking up without legs for Em as being the moment I started to dissociate from him”. I don’t think that I gave this statement enough attention when we were talking about this, but I think it’s something important to look at for players like me and him who aren’t at the level of savvy that Pete and Sam are.
In a setting like this, associating with your character can be rather difficult if you mess up. Horrible things happen and they happen often, and at least in mine and Amelie’s case, it feels like sometimes for no reason to characters who tried to do good (though that’s a topic for her personal feedback). Having a character that you associate with being tortured and tied down, even if they didn’t have the best intentions, is painful and indeed can be disassociating as Izzy said. When things like a scene in a hospital or a prison come along, it’s all but impossible to climb out of them quickly or feel powerful. Going back to a discussion I once had with Pete actually, this game can often feel like a cosmic horror. It feels as if there is no way to punch up, the moment you do a boot arrives to put you into your place. But like a cosmic horror game, Call of Cthulhu, I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut in all but the most frustrating of situations because there is always an Old Man Henderson success story to consider.
Something that was also touched on however was the possible solution for painful scenes like this, and we didn’t come up with much. I think my only real contribution to the solution here was and is “the rule of cool.” Having a situation in which failure would spell a character being drastically effected, such as losing their legs or wasting away for 5 months, and fudging it so they either have a route out or the consequences aren’t so severe as becoming permanently disabled, or they lose part of their character concept, as Amelie has. That being said, this isn’t a solution I think would work in our game, as much as it would work in something like D&D, where characters are supposed to be made to feel heroic. So I think in general the only real way to go forward is to accept the fact we’re all going to get into these situations, as so far the only active PC I’ve seen avoid them has been Jon, and he’s not very far into his own story. Kindred seem to have a lot easier a time with mundane issues like these, but have their own horrors to be captured by.
I’m very happy to have Emmett back in a place where he can be played and enjoyed, all things considered. It was an interesting crossover that I’ll be bringing into more detail later. I’m also going to be avoiding the previous talks on what makes a good character, and the study of failure, as I think all that’s been said on the issues are all that should be said for now.
The original GM feedback was posted over Google Hangouts and I dunno where that is, so some not-new thoughts on this not-new topic, primarily posted for the benefit of prospective players. People looking to join the game should see it warts and all.
With the benefit of hindsight, I would have significantly truncated the hospital scenes for Amelie. The same things would have still happened to the PC, but we’d have spent significantly less OOC time on them. Probably just a couple GM-written paragraphs outside of the Yvette and detectives visits. “The nurses are abusive, the judge sentences you to jail, and you have awful dreams.” Boom, done.
For anyone wondering why we didn’t simply do that, the GM thought at the time that David was okay with the hospital scenes (his above feedback was written after they were played out). I think he wanted to be a good player by not raising a bunch of angry complaints.
But that isn’t a good solution either, since the player is still unhappy. The key for players not having fun is to politely speak up for themselves without belaboring the point. E.g,
“Hey, GM, this scene isn’t really my cup of tea. Can we fast forward?”
“Hey, GM, this scene hasn’t been a lot of fun for me, but I’m not sure what to do. Any ideas?”
Boom. Only an exceedingly unreasonable GM will say, “We actually have to continue playing out a scene you don’t like.”
Regardless, these last few Amelie logs aren’t some of the game’s best. I think they read pretty well from a storytelling perspective, but were largely a failure from a GMing one. Learn and move on.