The Understanding

(Guest post by good friend and author, Jen Kohler.  Awarded runner-up honors in the 2012 Halloween writing contest on the Craigslist writers forum)


I don’t like him. I should just do it and get it over with. Be done with this cell, the smell of waste and disinfectant. Find my family again.

He won’t take his eyes off me.

His eyes are mucus-green or piss-yellow depending on how the light falls through the window. He sits with his elbows on his knees, regarding me over clasped fingers with overgrown nails. Probably thinking the same thing I am.

He has a twitch just above his lip and shadows under his cheekbones. He knows the same stupid things about me; things you know when you’ve stared at someone for days. It’s only a matter of time before one of us takes our captors’ bargain. Eventually the need for freedom will drive a man to do ugly things.

I have to catch him off guard, but that looks like it’ll be hard to do. Old military guy, I bet. Don’t know for sure. We don’t speak.

He can’t size me up forever. Maybe I’ll wait and let him come to me. I’ll be ready when he does…

His hands are fists now, head dipping below tensed shoulder blades. Are they watching?

I shift onto my haunches and he does the same. We both lean forward slightly, burning holes into each other’s faces with our stares. We inch forward with our hands on the ground, like runners at the starting line. My heart pounds, blood crashing in my ears and making my temple throb. This is it. One of us has got to go.

“Hi Bob!” The metal door opens with a groan. It’s Lacey. Her milky skin is as pale as her coat and her hair is falling out of her bun. I love redheads. Her laugh is better than the clink of ice cubes in a glass full of scotch. “Still staring at the mirror, huh? Here. Take this.”

I drink from the small paper cup.

“I’ll leave your dinner over here ok?”


She smiles over her shoulder and the swing of her hips makes me dizzy. Anyway.

My foe is no longer crouched, but his eyes are still on me. I’m tired. I lean back against the wall and exhale. He looks as tired as I do and I know that there will be no murder today. We give each other a small nod. We have an understanding.


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2 Responses to The Understanding

  1. Oh my favorite line: “Still staring at the mirror, huh? Here. Take this.”
    That so changed my interpretation of the story. Like!

  2. William Kendall

    Ah, quite a twist! Well done!

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