by Sara Norja
In prison, you start to forget the things that once had meaning. I’ve heard my fellow prisoners turn into monsters in this grey, lightless place where dust reigns as king. I think it’s because they’ve slowly forgotten their old lives, left their selves behind on the path to madness. I don’t want to become a monster like them, slavering and tearing at the walls and my own skin.
The man in the cell to my left is howling again. His voice is breaking. Soon enough he’ll howl himself into silence, and the scratching will start. I grit my teeth, staring up at the endless ceiling. Somewhere at the top of the cell-shaft, beyond my vision, is a smoke-hole that reaches the open sky. I can taste the bitter memory of freedom in the draughts that snake down into my cell. They echo the desert wind that blows endlessly outside these prison walls far from the king’s city.
They haven’t told me if my sentence is terminal. I’m working with the assumption that it is, because the hope of freedom would be too heavy a burden in this place. But even if I’m here till I drop dead of old age, I will not become a monster. So I remember things. We have nothing but time here; time is our luxury.
Today, I focus on remembering the smell of freshly cut grass. Smells are one of the hardest things to remember, in this cell that reeks of dust, piss, and my rank sweat. I lean against the wall, close my eyes. I will remember.
A summer morning, the air newborn. A gentle breeze plays in my hair—I had long hair then, in my former life. The estate’s gardeners have just finished trimming our wide sweep of a lawn, so I go out onto the grass.
With this memory I also recall the colour green. The gardeners’ scythes have left trails of cut grass: a rich, wet green. I lie down on the morning grass, my embroidered silk coat dewing up. No matter. My valet will select me a new one before it’s time for my audience with my uncle.
The sun’s warmth, the grass a soft bed underneath me. In my memory, I am happy.
The smell is elusive, like most intangible memories of the outside. But I imagine I can capture the waft of summers past. Freshly cut grass in the morning sunlight: I had such simple pleasures before my life went to hell in a handbasket filled with political intrigue.
Grass stains on the white lace of my sleeves. A green, growing smell—yes, if green has a signature scent, it’s cut grass. It’s a smell to remember when you’re stuck in a prison cell with no hope of light.
Knock, knock—a pounding on my door breaks my fragile memory of grass. I lurch back into the present. What’s happening? My human contact has been limited to a calloused hand, twice a day, pushing the grey mush that passes for food in this place through the flap.
“Your Highness,” says a voice through the door. “We’ve come to see justice served.”
Sara Norja dreams in two languages and has a predilection for tea. Born in England and currently settled in Helsinki, Finland, she is pursuing a PhD in English linguistics. Her poetry has appeared in publications such as Goblin Fruit, Strange Horizons, inkscrawl, Through the Gate, Niteblade, and Interfictions. Her short fiction has appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Quantum Fairy Tales, Luna Station Quarterly and Silver Blade, and is forthcoming in the anthology An Alphabet of Embers. She blogs at http://suchwanderings.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter as @suchwanderings.