His Last Journey
“That’s quite the picture you got going on there,” I say to Joe. In contrast to many of the younger guys, Joe keeps to himself. Never bothers anyone and nobody, as far as I know, ever looked to hassle him either. “How’d you learn to draw like that,” I ask, honestly impressed.
Joe shrugs. “Always liked to draw,” he says, never bothering to glance up. “Coulda become famous if I had kept my nose clean.”
I peer through the bars and have to agree. Joe would have done well for himself. Damn shame.
Joe’s walls boast handmade art or photos torn from magazines. I assume his personal photos are tucked away safe from prowling pedophiles and skulking sex offenders.
“That for your house?” I ask, intentionally identifying his cell in prison slang.
Joe shoots me the side-eye. “Nah,” he says, shifting in his seat.
When he fails to elaborate further, I leave it alone. I might be forced to watch these guys like a hawk, babysitting their every move, but that’s where it begins and ends for me. I got no use for personal conversations. “I gotta question for you,” I say, tryin to direct the conversation back to a safer topic.
Joe juts his chin in my direction indicating for me to continue. “What made you decide to put the ship on grass instead of water? I mean, you’ve got the dark clouds up there, a sun rising behind the tilted ship here, which in my opinion makes it look like it’s riding the waves.” I detect a thin smirk cross Joe’s face, but I’m not sure whether or not he agrees or offended.
“This ship symbolizes my life,” he blurts out.
“Your life? How’s that?”
Although seated, Joe spins to face me. “You bet. Weathered, old, tired. Has sails, but they’re worn out too.” He holds the sketchpad closer to the bars. “You see this window here?” he asks pointing. “The light represents my ideas.” He winks and taps one finger to the side of his head.
“And the sun?” I ask like some big shot art critic. “I bet that’s ‘hope,’ right?”
He flinches, seemingly disheartened by my ignorance. “Not hope-death. Hope’s a commodity I squandered a long time ago.”
“But you can’t give up hope,” I inform him.
Joe tilts his head staring straight through me. “I never gave up on hope,” he mutters. “Hope–gave up on me.”
I don't know what to say that. “Then what about the red flowers?” I ask, thinking they look awfully familiar. “What do they symbolize?”But instead of answering, Joe abruptly turns away, giving me his back. “Now Joe, how you gonna leave me hanging like that?”
“Aw, come on!” I say, but Joe’s done talking and apparently, so am I.
Not less than an hour goes by when a Code Purple–attempted suicide in progress, gets broadcasted over my radio. It’s also the moment I realize where I’ve seen those damn red flowers before.
I sprint across the yard and back onto the tier as fast as my old legs carry me, but by the time I arrive, Joe’s gone. The stench of death hits me like a wet rag.
“Damn it, Joe–” I mutter, running my fingers through my sweaty hair.
“Cut him down,” I order to the two officers who arrived after me. “And get him over to the docs,” knowing full well that after that, Joe’s next and final stop will be the prison cemetery … where the red flowers grow wild and free.