The mess hall is the place where we guests of A Cerebral Prison go to eat and socialize. The walls are almost a radioactive white, to match the ceiling and the floor. If the windows didn’t peak to the outside, one would think this was a padded room. Maybe it was at one time, I don’t know. But at any rate, it’s a good size room for us to sit at an elongated table with individually connected stools, about four or five to a side. Along the walls of the mess hall is the meal line, where we go up and grab a tray, receive our one of three rations per day, a disposable cup so we can have it filled with either water or coffee, plastic spoons (no sharp edged utensils are allowed here), and a couple of napkins.
After we get our meals, we guests have a tendency to gravitate towards people that look or sound like us. It’s no more stereotypical in here than it is out there. The pretty people congregate in the center of the mess hall, as expected, so they can be noticed about their vanity. The quiet people will hide off in the corner diagonally opposite of the doors leading in to the mess hall. The bullies will have their union meeting next to the pretty people towards the center, next to the only wall with windows. And I will usually park it where there is the least amount of people, because people suck.
Today is no different than any other day. When the bell rings around 11:45am our cell doors open and we stand outside our cells to form a single file line towards the mess hall. I’m usually the first in line, based on the lineup on my floor. But since the newcomer came in last night, she’s now the first in line to the mess hall. So, maybe today is a bit different than any other day. I kind of enjoyed being the guinea pig and getting a taste of the meal before the rest of the guests do.
The bell rings over the public address speaker. Yep, I thought. It’s 11:45am.
I get up from my bed and tidy myself real quick as my cell door begins to open. I stand out into the small strip of walkway we have (I’m on the third floor of this five floor floozy). On the other side of the walkway is the open space, a perverse terrarium. All linoleum and no growth. I face towards the stairs that will lead into the mess hall.
And then I see the newcomer, a bit disheveled from arriving last night. She wasn’t awake for breakfast since whatever happened between her and the guards must have knocked her out cold. She gave a disparaging look at me before turning her back in my direction, indicating her place in line.
“Walk slowly to the mess hall, now!” Replies one of the chief guards on duty. He usually stands behind the last person in the line for our floor. And we make our march to the mess hall.
Once I grab my tray, I get it loaded with whatever high school rejected lunch ideas on it, my cup, and my utensil and napkins, and head to my usual spot, where it’s empty and peaceful.
Except, the newcomer took my seat.
“Ugh,” I moan to myself.
I sit in the connected stool across from the newcomer. She looks at me with a bit of fear in her eyes, based on my peripheral vision.
“Hi. Nice view of the others, right?”
“Yeah. Why are you here?” The question from the newcomer surprised me.
“Here in general or here in this seat?”
“Here in this seat?”
“To be honest, you’re sitting in my spot,” I calmly responded. Or at least I think I did.
The newcomer looked a bit more concerned, as my full vision gazed upon her. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled as she began to stand up and pick up her tray.
“No no, sit. You’re okay,” I whispered to the newcomer.
“Yes, yes.” A familiar gravely-sounding voice peeped from close proximity.
Oh g-d damnit, the warden slivered his way to our table, of all the fucking tables. “And how is our new guest doing this afternoon?” As he sits next to the newcomer with a cup of coffee in his hands.
The newcomer really didn’t like the presence of the warden sitting next to her, based on how she shifted her body considerably away from him. The warden thinks he’s a hella charmer. Drop the letter “C” and you may be on to something.
“I see you have met your next door neighbor, Mixter Didenko,” the warden looked over to me with that slightly sinister grin on his face. “They go by ‘they/them’ pronouns, since Mixter Didenko doesn’t like to be called a ‘girl.’ Isn’t that a shame….uh….” the warden leaned closer to the newcomer before pulling himself back towards an upright position. “‘Bluhm-in-rose,’ am I right?”
“It’s ‘Bloom-in-rose,’ sir,” answered the newcomer with a sheer sneer that an annoyed tomcat would love.
“Ah, Bloom-in-rose it is. Welcome to A Cerebral Prison, Miss Blumenrose.” Blumenrose gave the most gorgeous plastic smile she could muster before finally diving in to her meal.
The warden’s gaze then returned to me. “And how is my favorite guinea pig today?”
I managed to swallow my second bite into my meal before giving a quick nod towards the warden.
The warden quickly chuckled. “Mixter Didenko is actually one of my favorite people here. I gave my favorite people here pet names, like guinea pig. Get it? Pet name? Guinea pig!” The warden began to laugh at his most desperate dad joke to date, in my opinion.
Blumenrose began to cower some more away from the warden, so I had to swallow whatever I had left inside of me to speak up.
“Sir, she’s scared. Please be gen-“
“I AM NOT SCARED!” Blumenrose shouted at me before lifting herself out of her stool and flinging her tray at my general direction. What a good waste of food, especially on my one and only outfit.
The warden stood up and grabbed a whistle from around his neck. He blew into it twice, calling for two officers to remove Blumenrose from the mess hall. The newcomer began her screaming again as one officer grabbed an arm of hers and dragged her out of the room. I turn my head away so I wouldn’t be reminded of when I first came here, and of the first time I had to be dragged away for disobeying the rules. Yes, it was that traumatic.
“You,” the warden called out, but to another officer, and not to me. “Take Didenko to get their clothes changed and cleaned up.”
I looked up in disbelief and in hunger; I wanted to finish my meal, regardless of what foods I was wearing.
“Stand up,” the officer suggested as she stood over me, reaching a hand to grab my arm and pull in a skyward direction.
Welp, I said to myself, so much for eating. Knowing the warden, I won’t be given a chance to finish my meal and will have to wait for supper later in the day. I made a mental note to thank the newcomer once I see her later, that is if I see her again.