An Hour at Table Forty-Eight / Andres Fernandez-Morrell

Chains clinking across his wrists and ankles, Saul Davis entered the buzzing visiting room of Raiford State Penitentiary. A rectangular electronic timer with a black background and glowing yellow numbers hung from the wall, telling Saul that he had just under an hour of visitation time. One of the less impressive prison guards – a short, skinny, pale skinned man named Rodney – ushered Saul through the commotion of visitors and prisoners to Table Forty-Eight and sat him down facing the timer.

“Fifty-seven minutes, Davis,” said Rodney, as he secured Saul’s manacles to one of the steel loops on the white square table. “You sure your boy’s coming?”

“Jonathan said he would be here. I’m sure he’s just running late,” replied Saul.

“Keep tellin’ yourself that, Davis. When’s the last time you got a visit? Been what, a year or two? I’d say he’s past late.”

This stab had its intended effect.  Saul’s face reddened with anger, but just as he opened his mouth to fire a shot back at Rodney, he remembered the importance of Jonathan’s visit, and immediately recomposed himself.

“He’ll be here.”

Rodney was right. Saul rarely got visits anymore, much less from Jonathan. Similar to how memories fade as time goes on, Saul’s relationship with his son had slowly dissipated over the years of his incarceration. This was partly due to the fact that Saul had missed some important events in Jonathan’s life. He had graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Logistics. Within a month of his graduation, he landed a job at CSX and fell in love with his secretary Katelyn. Saul missed the wedding, as well as the birth of his first grandson, Mason. But when he thought about all the things he had missed in Jonathan’s life, he didn’t experience the sympathetic joy of a father. Instead, somewhere in the pit of his stomach, he felt steel and flint grinding and producing sparks that stung like anger.

Saul took a moment to press his hand against the front pocket of his orange jumpsuit. He felt his father’s old gold watch, as well as the rolled up piece of scrap paper where he had written his goodbye speech. This helped him remember his goal: he wanted nothing more than to part with his son on good terms and to give him something to remember him by. Because even though there was only one year remaining in his sentence, the ominous liver spots showing up all over his fragile skin convinced him that he would die in jail. This made it urgent for him to keep himself composed for the next fifty three minutes or so.

As Saul went over this plan one last time, the visitor door swung open and Jonathan entered into the bustle of visitors and convicts.

“I don’t believe it,” said Rodney. “That’s your boy, ain’t it? I’m a’ grab a cup of Joe. Clock’s tickin’, Davis. Forty-eight minutes. Make the best of ‘em.”

After a minute or two, Jonathan made his way to Table Forty-Eight. Saul’s jerk instinct was to make a remark about Jonathan’s tardiness, but he caught himself and instead embraced his son with as warm a smile as he could muster.

By the time they started their conversation, the timer read forty-five minutes.

“My son, you’re getting chubby like your old man. I suppose that wife of yours has been keeping food on the table.”

Jonathan let out a small, evidently controlled chuckle and replied, “It’s good to see you too, Dad. It’s been too long. And her name is Katelyn.”

“My son,” blurted Saul, feeling a tinge of frustration. “You don’t think I know her na…” Saul cut himself off midsentence. He was already getting off track and he needed to recover. “How are things going at home?”

“Great, Dad. Mason started little league this year. He’s got a swing just like his dad.”

Jonathan launched into a long report about things Saul wasn’t much interested in. Katelyn apparently spent her free time doing abstract oil paintings in the back yard; Mason was making all A’s and hitting infield home runs. This went on for at least ten minutes, and though Saul nodded his head and made a great effort to mask his rising irritation, he couldn’t help thinking that this was all a waste of time.

“That’s wonderful, son. It sounds like you are living a full life,” said Saul at the end of Jonathan’s update.

But with thirty minutes remaining, Saul was beginning to lose patience. It was time to tell Jonathan why he had really asked him to visit.

“Jonathan,” he said, with a more solemn and genuine tone than before.

But as he paused to reach toward his pocket, he became conscious of who might overhear him, and glanced at Table Forty-Seven. A grey haired old lady with withered hands and wrinkled skin was conversing intimately with her middle-aged son. Saul knew that this man had stabbed his wife ninety six times on the bed after he found out that she had been sleeping with the kids’ gymnastics coach. The interchange between the murderer and his mother made Saul think of Jonathan’s mother Melinda. The sparks of anger that were already flitting around inside of Saul began to flicker violently and they burst into flames.

Saul removed his hand from his pocket, and set it back down on Table Forty-Eight with a slight clank from his cuffs.

“Jonathan,” he repeated, “Have you spoken with your mother lately?”

“Um… Why don’t we talk about something else? Didn’t you tell me on the phone that they were remodeling this place?” Jonathan replied.

Saul felt his face redden, but he tried to keep his voice steady. “Humor your old man, Jonathan. Do you see her often?”

“You know… Birthdays and holidays. Sometimes she watches Mason so Katelyn and I can have a date night.”

“Dammit, Jonathan. You trust her with Mason?”

“She’s changed, Dad.  She quit drinking. She’s involved in a church.”

“That’s crap… Don’t you remember your tenth birthday? Your biggest day of the year, and she gets plastered, makes a fool out of me, and ruins the whole party. Who’s to say she won’t do the same with Mason?”

“Dad…”

Saul was brought back to himself when he felt a cool streak of sweat run down his right sideburn from his temple, where an artery popped out and pulsated warmly. He realized that his eyebrows were bent down and inward following his frowning mouth, and that his hands were balled up into tight fists. The bead of sweat ran down his cheek and landed in between his hands with a noiseless splash. The timer continued to click, with only fifteen minutes remaining. This all alarmed Saul, and he attempted to recover from his blunder quickly.

“Forgive me, Jonathan. I didn’t ask you come here so that I could berate your mother.”

Jonathan seemed to accept Saul’s apology, and with the tact of one treading carefully, he continued the conversation.

“CSX is finally giving me the position I’ve been after for years.”

“Oh yeah,” replied Saul, “and which position is that?”

“Manager of Logistics in the North American Exports department,” Jonathan replied. “Richard, the old manager, just retired and nominated me for the position. I had been working under him for three years.”

This was Saul’s opportunity. He could capitalize on Jonathan’s achievement.

“Congratulations son! You know that your father is proud of you, don’t you? In fact, I actually wanted to give you something before its too late.”

Saul once again reached for his pocket. He pulled out the watch and the piece of paper and set them on Table Forty-Eight.

Jonathan, sounding perplexed, said, “What do you mean by too late, Dad?”

“It’s just… I don’t know how long I have left, son. I want to tell you…”

Saul was once again interrupted, this time by a monotone voice that rang out over the visiting room intercom. At the abrupt sound Saul twitched in his seat, causing his chains to jangle on the table.

“Attention all inmates and visitors: Five minutes remaining in today’s visitation hour.”  

The voice, and the realization that in five minutes Jonathan would get up and leave, caused the fires Saul had been working so hard to contain to evolve into a blaze of jealousy. They caused Saul to bend inward, and he was consumed by the flames.

“In five minutes he’ll go back to his wife and job and I’ll still be rotting away in a jail cell,” thought Saul. “And he doesn’t even have the decency to come visit me more than once a year, if that.”

He remembered calling a younger, thinner Jonathan into his office and sitting him down at his cherry-wood desk to explain his legal predicament. A half-smoked Cuban cigar rested on the edge of a round crystal ashtray. The smell of the cigar still permeated the room, and the taste lingered in Saul’s mouth. A wine cabinet just behind Jonathan’s head displayed three unopened bottles of Opus One and a bottle of Camus fifty year anniversary. He held the indictment forwarded to him from his attorney. Bank of America had pinned him for fraudulent action in nine separate house flipping schemes.

“Why did you do it, Dad?” Jonathan had asked his father from his side of the cherry-wood desk.

“Jonathan…Let me take care of my business. I’ll work this out. I’ll make sure this family prospers no matter what it takes.”

Two and a half minutes left on the timer…

Saul snapped out of his furious musings when he felt his hands shaking on the table, causing his chains to rattle continuously. Sweat profusely dripped down his face and was now pooled under his hands. More arteries surfaced on his forehead and imitated the rapid beating of his heart.

“You should be thankful for what I did. The way I brought you up,” said Saul.

Saul’s words were met with ambivalence on Jonathan’s face. He knew what it meant when his son’s eyes strayed from his own. They had strayed when Jonathan had to testify against him in court.

One minute…

“I know you thought you were doing what was best,” Jonathan said.  

Saul could no longer contain the flames as the inferno intensified inside him. He exploded.

“What the hell do you mean, ‘you thought’? You ungrateful little prick. I did what needed to be done. You are nothing without me, absolutely nothing.”

Jonathan’s face changed with his father’s tone. Ambivalence turned into pity when his eyes met his father’s leer. With thirty three seconds remaining in the visit, Jonathan stood up, turned from his father, and started toward the exit door. But after two steps he turned around. Saul had been trying to get up to follow Jonathan, but was impeded by the cuffs that chained him to the table.

“I love you, Dad. I don’t think there’s much more I can say to you right now. Goodbye.”

And with those final words Jonathan made his way through the exit door, leaving Saul chained to Table Forty-Eight as the timer struck zero.

“Yo, Davis,” said Rodney, as he returned to the table with half a cup of coffee, “Why you look so hot and bother’d?”

“Go to hell, Rodney.”

“I might be able to getcha’ a day or two in the box for that one, Davis.”

Saul said no more. Rodney released him from Table Forty-Eight, ushered him through the same door he entered by, and returned him to his cell. Back at Table Forty-Eight, however, the watch and the rolled up piece of scrap paper remained in the same place where Saul had set them down. He didn’t want them anymore.

 

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