Henry glanced into the back seat of his car and took a speedy inventory. Twenty-four palettes, forty-odd different brushes, maybe a hundred colors of paint. His eyes were torn from the piles of art supplies when a horn blared, presumably at him.
Yep. The horn was for him. In the fraction of a second before he rammed into the truck in front his life flashed before his eyes. Not his entire life, but a few parts. The really embarrassing parts. Like when he vomited spontaneously in front the girl he liked when he was in high school. This happened almost a decade after they both got out of high school. In fact, Henry realized in his surreal stupor, it was earlier that day.
The image of her disgusted scoffing when he went on to greet her was the last thing to linger in his mind before metal and plastic grinded against metal and plastic.
Police and fire trucks and ambulances arrived promptly. They fished the dead, whiplashed driver and daughter out of the truck. Getting Henry out required more finesse; his wimpy little blue car was smashed like an accordion. He survived, but not without a lot of broken bones and a severely injured conscience.
Double vehicular homicide. Punishable by up to forty years in prison, as well as egregious fines on top of the hospital bills. Fortunately for Henry, the driver's ex-wife and girl's mother had little interest and an otherwise fat purse and didn't want the trouble of adding a lawsuit on top of it. The judge pitied the art teacher; Henry reminded him of his grandfather. He got five years in a minimum-security penitentiary.
They say the first day in prison is the decisive one. Henry recalled the adage: either kick somebody's ass or become somebody's bitch. Henry's fragile, still-healing bones would have none of the former. He found the biggest, toughest, most testosterone-radiating man he could and he tapped on his shoulder.
"Hi." The thug grinned, his nostrils flared, and he cracked his knuckles. Henry had never seen such yellow teeth.
"Uh. Is this the part where I get fucked?"
The thug laughed. "You're new here, right?" In the absence of any intelligible response: "Come on, man, don't worry. That doesn't happen here. (Not much, anyway.) I'm flattered you came to me but," he surveyed his own bulging muscles, "I just go to the gym entirely too much. It's a good way to pass the time, that's all. Hey, you're scrawny, you should try it out, too."
"We haven't been introduced yet, have we?" He pointed to the number on the breast of his jumpsuit. "I'm 18432. I'd prefer Vince, though, if it's all the same to you."
"Henry," Henry mumbled.
Vince moved to stand beside Henry and he slapped the smaller man hard on the back. Henry forced vomit back down his throat. "Loosen up! Christ." His predatory stare penetrated deep into Henry's eyes. "Henry, it won't be any fun if you're so tense."
"Oh come on, I'm just fucking with you! Here, I think you could use a tour of the place."
Vince the thug showed Henry the former art teacher around the building and around the grounds. It was a pretty sedate prison, all things considered. The library was big and surprisingly busy and it had computers with internet. The cells were decorated and more homely and comfortable than Henry anticipated. The yard was big and had courts for mostly any sport he could want to play. The cafeteria food was actually appetizing, if he plugged his nose and squinted at it just the right way.
Five years? Here? Henry could manage.
Henry was even able to get back to teaching. A few months of good behavior and he was welcome to all the art supplies he liked. He scheduled some basic classes and reserved an activity room and once word got around there were more inmates attending than there were chairs.
He and Vince became close friends. Vince always went to Henry's classes, Henry always accompanied Vince to the gym. One quiet evening, when they were alone in the library, their friendship escalated to something more physical.
"I haven't done this before," Henry whimpered.
Vince hushed him. "It'll be just like with a woman, love. I know you can do it."
Henry's sodomization of Vince became a regular and passionate event.
Henry was let out on parole after three-and-a-half years of outstanding good behavior. He wished Vince a tearful goodbye. He wasn't due to get out for another several months. "Write me?" Henry pleaded.
"Of course I will," Vince said before he kissed him.
Henry found a place to rent, he found another teaching job, he even caught up with most of his old friends. He waited two months before he finally received the first mail from the prison. He knew how trying it could be to get letters out to the world, he didn't begrudge Vince for the delay. He tore eagerly at the seal and unfolded the papers. His eyes scanned ahead of what his mind could parse.
It was an official letter from the warden. Vince had fallen deathly ill a week after Henry's release. A rectal infection, who'd have thought it? It went on unnoticed for too long and there was nothing that could be done to save him.
Henry's soul dripped from his eyes and onto the paper.