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Here Is What You Do

You wet your hair in the sink, then comb it back, slick as a new trash bag. You look nice. OK, so your name is Ricky. You are twenty-three years old. People say you’re sweet. You say to them, ‘No, I’m not.’ But you are. You know you are. You can’t help it. It’s like there’s a piece of candy hidden deep inside you and everyone is trying to find the easiest way to get it out.

Your cellmate, Donald Budke, he’s like Rasputin, or Genghis Khan, maybe even Napoleon Bonaparte. No one tells Donald he’s sweet. His motives are serious, and he’s got acne scars which make him look like a criminal. He is a criminal. He’s ten years older than you, is on his fourth year of a fifteen-year sentence for manslaughter. You’re just a high-school history teacher from southern Indiana, or at least you used to be.

On the day you were arrested, the US Customs agent said, ‘What the hell are you doing, Ricky?’ like he knew you or something, like he was really disappointed. ‘Who’s the vehicle registered to, Ricky?’ You told him it was your grandmother’s. You gave him your driver’s licence, your car keys. He asked you to sit in the back of his patrol car while he searched your trunk. You watched through the windshield, waiting for him to find the five cottage-cheese containers full of oxycodone you’d hidden beneath the spare tyre. The sky was pink, like a drop of blood in a glass of water. You thought, Mexico is like an art film. You thought about the ten or so pills in the pocket of your pants, wished there was some way of keeping them so you could eat them later, in the event you were placed under arrest. You didn’t want to eat any of them right then. You were already as high as a butterfly. You fished the handful out of your jeans pocket and put two in your mouth anyway, waited for the spit to come, swallowed. The rest you chewed into a paste and spat on to the floorboard of the patrol car while the customs agent rifled through your roadside emergency kit.

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