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Razor-Blade Smile

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The east cell block always echoes: steady drip drip of water, the occasional clank of metal, the pacing of inmates, a constant quiet rush of sound that becomes a cacophony in the minds of bored inmates.

That's what gets to you, the older women tell the new arrivals, the boredom. It's their way of wearing us down, since they know they can't kill us. Not really. It hasn't ever been done, you know.

And underneath the boredom is the fear: What if I'm the first?

For the first few weeks, Velma dances in her cell, click stomp spin twirl jump all compressed into a five by ten square of concrete crossed by shadow. She dances to keep off the suffocating boredom. She dances because she is a dancer, because it's what she does and what she is. And most of all, she dances because there's an audience.

Not her cellmates, no-most of them can't see her from their cells-but sometimes out of the corner of her eye she sees Mama Morton watching. She never acknowledges Mama's presence, but she can feel eyes on her, and she's always careful to arrange herself to best advantage. If anyone can drape over a skinny little hard-as-nails cell block cot, it's Velma Kelly, and she does. She knows Mama wants something and she's pretty sure what it is, and she sure as hell isn't giving it up without getting something in return.

There's a crumpled five-dollar bill tucked into her garter, waiting. Whenever Mama walks by the cell, Velma makes sure a flash of thigh is showing, and the money. The first time Mama's eyes had flickered down, once, calculating, and she had smiled razor-sharp at Velma and walked on, her keys clanking at her side. After that, she didn't react at all.

And the weeks pass, and Velma dances less often, less well. Weeks of fruitless effort and a cold bed take a bit out of Velma.

This is when Mama comes and says in a voice like honey "You poor thing, you must be cold! Why don't you come up to my office with me and we'll see what we can do for you."

And inside, Velma Kelly smiles her own razor-blade smile, making sure to look nervous and scared as Mama palms her five dollars and takes her arm.

Velma can do destitute.