Chapter 20: Atonement

Sitting in the dayroom.

Forehead on a freezing cold metal table. Blocking it all out. Wishing I was dead.
It was her letter. He had hit her again. She told me about the hand shaped bruise on her throat. How he made her ass bleed for a week. I hated myself for not being there. If I was out, I could have stopped it.

This thought rang in my ears.

I wanted to die.

If I was going to die, it was going to be in a blaze of glory.

As spokesman I knew people who could get things. I got some chlorine powder from a laundry worker. A friend in the auto pool provided me with some antifreeze. I had used them together before.

A million years ago, I had a homemade lab in our barn. I would pour over the pages in The Anarchist’s Cookbook. I had memorized The Poor Man’s James Bond. I thought I could handle smoke bombs. In a beaker made from a cut-off wine bottle, I added the two chemicals. I was amazed as the antifreeze turned yellow instantly. The beaker began getting hot, but there was no other reaction. I got a long metal tea spoon to stir the mixture.

Bad idea.

The metal acted as a catalyst. The mixture instantly turned into a bubbling white mass of foam. A jet of orange fire erupted. I let go of the spoon and stepped back, tripping over a piece of scrap wood. As I went down, my head connected with the base of my shop table.


Dazed, I watched in amazement as a thick white plume of smoke streamed towards the ceiling in a near vertical column. About a foot from the ceiling, the plume mushroomed out into a miniature Hiroshima. It only lasted seconds before it began conforming to the inside of the barn. As it grew, I heard the sound of rain. There were no clouds in the sky.

Why would it be raining inside? I looked closer. It was bugs by the hundreds. The gas was killing them. It was only then that I realized what I had actually made.

Chlorine gas is used in the death chambers.

It was getting close enough to touch. In a panic, I jumped to my feet and sprinted towards the door. I was two steps out when my lungs turned to lead. Watering eyes and snot streaming from my nose, I fell face first to the ground with a thump. As I vomited into the earth, I saw the thick white gas billowing out of the barn.

Nothing inside was left alive.

Greyness, then black.

Sunlight filtering through closed eyelids. The droning whir of cicadas. Vertigo. Cicadas that are getting louder. Thundering cicadas that are not really cicadas but fans. Walls closing in.

I wanted to die.

If I was going to die, I was going to die in a blaze of glory.

I was going to instigate a riot, then use the gas.

As I walked up to the EME spokesman with a sharp pencil, I heard my voice over the PA.


My first in months.

Before I left, I flushed the chemicals down the toilet.

My mother sat facing me from behind the glass. She bought me candy, soda and chips. She had to give them to a guard, who put them into a drawer. He pushed on it, and the drawer came in on my side. I felt like an animal in a zoo being given nibblets by idiot children. I mentioned this to my mother. She laughed. I made fishlips, she laughed harder, then cried. She told me that she was proud of me. She told me that I was such a good kid.

I told her that good kids don’t set fire to bridges.

She bought me a soda and told me that I was a new uncle. She showed me his picture. I smiled. She pressed her hand on the glass, asked me to do the same. I told her that it was cliché. She asked if we should do it with our butt cheeks instead. I laughed.

Our hands were separated by two inch bullet proof glass, but I could still feel her warmth.
I knew that although I was totally alone, there were people who cared about me, not my actions.

I learned that to love, and to allow yourself to be loved is atonement.

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