Chapter 73 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

The weeks before Christmas slipped away day by day as crowds of happy shoppers descended upon the City's numerous malls and retail outlets. They came, they saw, they purchased.

At last, Christmas day itself arrived. Everywhere in the City people met with good cheer and happy tidings, making reality out of the fantasies depicted in TV specials, on Christmas cards, and in Norman Rockwell paintings. Turkeys were carved. Carols were sung. Gifts were exchanged. And greedy children wished for more.

Christmas even came to the Federal Penitentiary, located a few miles to the north of the City, in which Doug had been incarcerated for the crimes of Bank Robbery and Nuclear Terrorism.

Doug stood leaning against the wall of his cell. He was enjoying the day off. Christmas was a day of rest for the inmates. On most days, they labored in the prison shops, making clothes, brushes, and license plates, but the shops were closed today because of the holiday.

Doug was having a rather hard time adjusting to the new working routine, and enjoyed the freedom of his tiny cell. The cell was in many ways similar to his elevator, and he found his time there almost enjoyable.

The midday meal in the prison cafeteria had been far better than usual. Roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes with thick, tasty gravy, fluffy dinner rolls with real butter, hot coffee, and even steaming apple pie, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top! For the first time since his imprisonment, Doug had eaten everything on his tray.

That evening, the prisoners entertained themselves with a variety show. The cast sang many of the standard Christmas carols, along with a couple of original compositions by inmates. The cast also performed a scene from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Finally, a prisoner dressed as Santa Claus appeared, and handed out candy canes and bars of chocolate to the prisoners in the audience.

Later, leaning against the wall in his cell, Doug slowly ate his chocolate bar. "Prison ain't so bad," he thought to himself.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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