Short Fiction: Gordon’s Book Club

    Gordon Percival Fletcher folded his hands upon the thick, worn book in his lap and sighed. He looked around the empty room at the back of the library. Three empty chairs in a semicircle in front of him. Three was optimistic. There was a time when he needed to set out as many as twelve chairs, but that was years ago. It was time to face facts: the Laudevale Maximum Security Prison’s Russian Literature Appreciation Club was no more.

    Gordon had spent two-thirds of his seventy-eight years in that prison. As a young man, he was convicted of murdering three women. He had beaten them to death with a house brick because of the colour of their skin. He never explained it further than that. He knew there was no use. For his deeds he earned three consecutive life sentences. He never complained about it, expected mercy or dreamed of parole. Perhaps the Russian literature helped with that. Its authors were not exactly sunshine-and-rainbows kind of guys.

    Back in the eighties, while the free people of the world flew upon the wings of mullet hairstyles, bright fashion, synthesizer music and cocaine, Gordon took his sustenance from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Solzhenistyn. His fellow prisoners noticed. Soon, a small group of felons banded around him to hear his gospel of bleak scenery, cruel poverty, harsh winters and near impossible to pronounce character names. And Gordon, who since his incarceration had abandoned hope of ever doing good in the world again, became a beacon of solace. Wayne “Shinbone” Dallas, a young club member from cell block C, often said that he would probably be dead if Gordon had not introduced him Dostoevsky—and also if he hadn’t shivved Bulldog Granger in the yard his first week inside.

    But it was no longer the eighties. The twenty-first century’s giant technological strides had reached even within the high, razor-wire-crowned walls of Laudevale. Fewer and fewer inmates came to the library for books now. Eight hundred pages of print could not compete with the Internet, limited though prisoner use may be. Why take one’s imagination to the frontlines of a Napoleonic war when dating sites awaited, full of women seeking a wayward man to reform, just as soon as he is paroled?

And there were more claims to an inmate’s time, especially the younger ones. It was all about gangs now. Prison gangs had been a staple part of life, even before Gordon spent his first night behind bars, but now they were so much more demanding. That was just the way it was. Though Gordon was an old man now and largely left alone, he was still a respected and protected member of the prison’s white supremacist gang. It was inevitable. Though he thought white supremacists were among the highest rank of fools on the planet—and boring to boot—he was not going to hold a grudge against them. Over the years, the gang had saved his life at least six times that he knew of. Having been convicted of murdering three black women, he was practically a hero to them. Gordon knew no good would have come from telling the truth—those “women” were not black when he encountered them.

    Patterson, one of the friendlier prison guards, came by and stuck his head through the door. “Looks like nobody’s coming today, Gordon,” he said, with a hint of sympathy. “Pack up the room, we’re closing the library early.”

 Gordon nodded. He looked down at the book in his lap and ran his hand over the faded gold title on the cover. Was it strange that Crime and Punishment had once provided so many prisoners with acceptance and hope? He got to his feet and stretched his back. One by one, he took the plastic chairs and stacked them in the corner. The final meeting of the Laudevale Russian Literature Appreciation Club. Gordon sighed. Perhaps he had outlived his usefulness. Not so bad, he thought. He had been more useful than most people. Prevented an alien invasion. Three scouts with bright blue skin and buggy eyes. If they had succeeded, the whole planet would have been overrun. All Gordon had to do to save humanity was beat those extra-terrestrial scouts to death with a brick. And then rot in a cell every day for the rest of his life. He smiled to himself. In the old days, after it happened, he used to wonder what might have been if those three aliens had kept their blue skin and tall, disproportioned forms, instead of disguising themselves upon death as black women. He didn’t think about that anymore. Great men must have great sadness on earth, right?

© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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