The First Morning
By David Ritchie
Waking to the sound of beating wings was comforting. Especially in
contrast to the last fifteen years of Farrell Herron's life. At 31, he
had spent the majority of his life in prison, and became accustomed to
bells, buzzers, and the clanging of cell doors permeating every moment
of his existence. Mechanical devices, harsh voices, and violence had
become the backdrop of his life.
Farrell had been released from prison yesterday. He remained
disorientated all night, not sure what to do outside the gate anymore.
. Independence had always been lurking on the edges of his fantasies.
Thin hope in a pale dream. And, the room was quiet, so he had
difficulty sleeping last night.
His parole officer had recommended the hotel to him for anonymity. It
wasn't quite what he expected; it was clean, and had a pleasing view of
a nearby river. It was different from the anthill of prison.
"Good morning." Farrell said to the pigeons strutting back and forth on
He put his head back down on his pillow, listening to the fluttering
of wings, and took advantage of the tranquility. He was grateful for
this moment of stillness.
Farrell had always been able to see more than one side of things, but
he tended to slip into denial and couldn't figure out when things went
bad. This is what got him into trouble as a boy. He always felt that a
positive attitude would overcome anything. His father had always told
him that. His childhood was strong in his memory. But the only thing
that he could hold in contrast to it was prison life. The comparison
Having been smaller than most of the other boys his age in high school,
he was faced with the same dilemma common to all boys. He found it
necessary to fight or ally himself with tough boys. The bad boys. He
chose to run with the bad boys. He did anything they did, and anything
they told him to do, he did. When the gang made him steal a car for
initiation, he knew what the result would likely be. He had been
arrested within an hour.
Farrell had been loved and accepted by both his mother and his father.
But his father had died soon after Farrell's twenty-fifth birthday, and
the focus of the world became his mother. His parents hadn't gotten
along well, and Farrell learned to survive by accepting any point of
view, going along with ideas and movements, never causing any turmoil
by resistance. His obvious flaw, his youthful downfall, was that he
subverted his own feelings and ideas to go along with the group or
authority figure in his life. That desire to please had been misplaced
in his youth. Prison life had presented Farrell the opportunity to
stand up for himself. In fact, it demanded it.
At 8:00 AM yesterday morning, guards led him to the front gate of the
State Prison. The guards thought he looked pitiful with just a small
bag containing everything he owned. The sergeant of the guard, who had
known Ferrell for several years, was standing at the exit, backlit by
the deep blue morning sky. They looked at each other for a few moments.
The pale blue of Farrell's eyes seemed disturbing to the sergeant, and
he had to fight to keep from looking away.
Their hands clasped, they nodded to each other, then the sergeant moved
aside and Farrell walked out. His skin crawled with expectation of
strong hands grasping him and pulling him back, pulling him back. But
nothing happened, and his pace quickened.
Shortly, Farrell reached down and pulled back his blanket. He sat up,
placed his feet on the carpeted floor, and was quick to feel the
contrast between it and the cold concrete to which he had never become
accustomed. It was a feeling similar to the one he experienced walking
away from the gate. Such deep contrasts required something of his old
self. He was unsure what it was.
As life slowly imposed itself upon Farrell, he looked across the room
at the old rotary phone. The rays of the morning sun penetrated the
threadbare green curtain through he window, making the other half of
the room seem to be in another dimension. Rising slowly, he crossed to
the phone and stared at it for a few more seconds. His left hand
alternately opened and closed, revealing his uncertainty.
Then his hand picked up the phone. His finger dialed his mother's
number in Alabama. There was no answer. He tried the number again, and
when he was ready to hang up, he heard a small voice.
"Hello." The voice said.
"Hello." The voice repeated.
Farrell was not able to find a word. For a moment, he watched the
pigeons walk back and forth outside his window. It seemed to him a
routine of aimlessness.
"Who is this?"
He could hear breathing.
"Farrell. Boy &;#8230; is that you?"
"They let me out yesterday, Mama."
"Where are you?"
His voice sounded remote, like the way it sounded as a boy when he and
a friend attached tin cans with a string.
"California. At a motel."
His mother once was able to read him by his tone, but that was
Farrell could hear smothered sounds of weeping.
"It's all right now."
The hiss of the telephone connection was deafening in the
"Are you &;#8230; coming home?"
Farrell could hear the age in her voice.
"Yes, ma'am. I've missed you."
"You come on home, now.
"I checked with Greyhound, and I'll be leaving here in about two hours.
It'll take about three days to get there."
The hiss returned. Neither wanted to hang up the phone
"I'll be waiting, Farrell."
Suddenly the phone was heavy in Farrell's hand and it fell, dreamlike,
into its cradle. He stood there for a few moments in the eerie green
light. He looked around the dingy room, then entered the bathroom and
started a shower of very hot water. He stepped in to the steam.
There was no solitude in a shower for the last sixteen years. He soaped
himself, and was elated by the smells and the sensation of the hot
water running down his body.
Afterwards, Farrell dressed. He quickly packed his few things.
He stood in the middle of the room. He looked at the door. He reached
into his shirt pocket and pulled out a matchbox. Inside the box was a
razorblade he had hidden the last two or three years. He tossed the box
and blade into the trashcan.
He absentmindedly rubbed his wrist.
He stepped towards the door as muscles in his face unwound. Then he did
an unfamiliar thing; he smiled. As he reached for the doorknob, the
only fluttering was the beating of his heart.