A work of serial fiction by Noah Sanders
When Earl was nineteen, he got very drunk, did something very stupid, and went to jail. After five long years, after five years that felt like an eternity, after watching his body decay and fearing that his mind was doing the same, after trying pushups on the floor of his prison cell and pullups on the metal railing of his bunk bed and realizing that being locked in a confined space did not suddenly give him the desire to bulk up, after giving up control of daily routine to the order of prison life, after giving up control of his body to the grey cement walls that surrounded him, boxed him in, told him his body was useless if it would never, could never, go anywhere, after he acquiesced to the things that he came to believe were everything, he was finally getting released. For the second time in Earl’s life, his world was completely transforming and he could say and do nothing to stop it.
Earl was fat. Earl was very fat. Earl was so fat that the word fat seemed like the wrong word to describe him; it was too small a word. To earn a nickname like Earl the Elephant, one couldn’t be just fat, one had to be grotesquely sized, one had to be round where they should be flat and lumpy everywhere else, one had to be the size of a small car, maybe a hatchback, and the weight of, well, a small elephant. Earl hadn’t always been that big. In fact, when he was nineteen and first dragged through the gates of the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility (1145 Shenandoah Lane, Plymouth, MN, 55447), Earl, six two, tall and lanky, weighed in at a measly one hundred and forty pounds. He looked more like a scarecrow than an inmate in his orange jumpsuit.
Exactly how Earl got so fat is unclear. Ask any of the other inmates – ask Gavin Feist, the chef who murdered a customer and then served her as an entrée to his other customers, ask Susan Thomas, the mother who drove all night through hail and lightening to cut the throat of the girl who finished one place in front of her daughter in the Minneapolis Tri-Metro Conference 13 and Under Pre-Season Friendly Exhibition, ask Richard Ramsey, who abducted, bathed, shaved, and dressed in absurd looking but undeniably cute hand-knit sweaters one hundred and thirty six puppies for participation in his canine cult, ask Turner Lang, who was brought in on charges of indecent exposure, who actually made it one week, one whole week, nude working in his cubicle before anyone noticed him – and they will tell you that Earl didn’t appear to eat any more food than anyone else. Everyone’s body reacts differently to prison, and Earl’s just ballooned. Confinement triggered something deep inside Earl, some atavistic genetic switch left over from some ancient hibernatory ancestors.
At least two good things came from Earl’s correctional weight gain. The first was that he got a private cell. Initially, Earl had a roommate. His name was Hector Nuñez. Earl never could get out of Hector exactly what he had been arrested for, but Hector made it abundantly clear that what he did he had meant to do and the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility was exactly where he had wanted to go, somewhere with a bed, a toilet, and a roof, somewhere far preferable to the “cat-shit whore carnival” he called his home. The two shared a room for three months and six days, Earl on the top bunk and Hector on the bottom. As Earl grew in size, however, it became harder and harder for him to climb the ladder at the foot of the bed up onto the top bunk. In fact, it very quickly became impossible without the help of Hector who, by planting his feet shoulder width apart, wedging his shoulder under Earl’s gargantuan butt, and pushing with all his strength, could just manage to heave Earl onto his bed.
The bunks in the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility, despite being made from reinforced steel, despite being manufactured by the same plant that makes those huge steel I-beams that lay in piles on the ground of construction sites for things like skyscrapers and bridges, despite being USASMA (United States of America Steel Manufacturer’s Association) triple guaranteed for stability and longevity, the bunks in the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility have a maximum weight which they can bear. Three months and six days into his prison stay, Early surpassed that weight. He could’ve been placed in a new cell with a new roommate, with the stipulation that Early sleep on the bottom bunk only, but after Hector was wheeled out screaming by the nursing staff, his body crushed and mangled by USASMA triple guaranteed steel, Jim Davis, the associate warden in charge of, among other things, rooming, a man probably too polite and deferential for his position, couldn’t find a single person willing to share a cell with Earl. So Earl got his private cell.
The second is that Earl got a motorcycle. It wasn’t really a motorcycle; it was a motorized scooter, a “Personal Motorized Vehicle” actually, because Earl’s legs could no longer support the weight of his whale-sized body. But Earl liked to pretend it was a motorcycle. The standard factory edition Midwestern Mobility Solutions Personal Motorized Vehicle comes in either red, blue, or what the brochure calls “midnight haze”, which was really just grey. Earl picked the red one and had it painted black during the free hour after lunch and before cell inspection by the two closest things to friends he had in the prison – Kyle and Karl Carlsson, twin brothers doing ten years for some scheme Earl never quite could understand involving local Scandinavian restaurants, lye, and something about black market lutefisk – in return for rides on the finished product.
The real benefit of Earl’s motorcycle was that it got Earl out of a whole host of normal penal commitments. The Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility was built in the late nineties, under the gubernatorial reign of one pro-wrestler turned extreme sports commentator turned politician turned (and currently remaining) somewhere in the New Mexico desert hide-away conspiracy theorist Sam Ventura. The end of Mr. Ventura’s gubernatorial term happened to coincide with Y2K and what he was certain would be the quick and painful demolition of global civilization as he knew it. As such, Mr. Ventura was hesitant to spend significant amounts of money on any projects directed at the future progression or even basic maintenance of society status quo, preferring instead to invest in resources that would survive the great technological Armageddon that Y2K would surely be, resources like twinkies. Y2K, of course, didn’t turn out quite as Mr. Ventura expected it would and the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility, the ill-timed construction of which began on November 6, 1999, found itself lacking in many areas most prisons (i.e. prisons not built under the doomsday-prepped budget of Mr. Ventura) were not, such as wheelchair accessibility. As a result, Earl could only ride his motorcycle from his cell door one hundred yards down the hall to the stairwell that led down to the main interior courtyard/mess hall/auditorium of the prison (multipurpose rooms were another legacy of the Ventura budget).
Earl was thus doubly confined: first to the facility itself, and then to his floor, really the stretch of hallway immediately outside his cell on his floor. Such a restricted world made Earl’s daily routine very simple and very manageable, something he enjoyed very much.
Earl woke up and went to bed at the same time as the rest of the prison population, but that was it for similarities between his day and everyone else’s. At 0700 hours, a guard – exactly which one depended on the day; the guards rotated who got the pleasure of starting their day with a visit to their very own freak show – brought Earl breakfast in bed. For the next four hours of the day, from 0800 to 1200 hours, Earl remained laying in his bed, alternating between “back time” and “tummy time”, rolling between the two every hour. At 1200 hours, another guard brought him lunch. Typically around 1300 hours, depending on how much Earl ate and how quickly his parasympathetic nervous system kicked into gear (not that his sympathetic nervous system ever really had too much to say), Earl napped. At 1800 hours, another guard woke Earl up and fed him his dinner. After dinner, Earl, with the help of three guards, transferred from bed to motorcycle, took a lap down the hall, and was back in bed and asleep by 1915 hours. The ride down the hallway, Earl’s least favorite part of the day, was the result of the prison’s mandatory outdoor activity program, a program created by the 1956 Penal Fitness and Recreation Act. Associate Warden Jim Davis felt that the unique state and weight of Earl’s body were circumstances extenuating enough to allow for an equivalency to be drawn between “outdoors” as defined by the act and the hallway in front of Earl’s cell.
Both Earl and the Warden of the prison himself have been dreading the day of Earl’s release. Earl, for his part, cannot imagine what the world outside of his cell and hallway looks like. He has lost the ability to imagine anything besides the grey cement walls, grey cement floor, metal bed, and toilet that have been his world for five years.
The Warden, on the other hand, cannot imagine how expensive the bill will be for the construction crew, crane, and helicopter required to remove Earl from his cell. What’s more, the Warden views the entire thing, Earl’s release, as unfair, both to Earl and to the American tax payer. He is sure that once Earl is lifted out of his cell and placed on his motorcycle outside of the prison grounds, once Earl is forced to switch the ignition and roll off into the real world at a maximum speed of 13.2 mph, Earl will die. The Warden can think of no way that Earl the Elephant will manage to survive in the real world without routine and on his own.
To be continued.
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