Thursday, October 13, 2022

From the Iowa Prison Writing Project


Calyx was a town nestled away in a hollow. The crater resembled a giant bowl was surrounded by steep hills of Evergreen trees. The sprawling forest encompassed three of the cardinal directions. The forth, which was South, was a steep cliff. Atop the cliff, overlooking the town, was the Iris Emporium. 

The Iris, as it came to be called, looked as it named would indicate; shaped like an oval or an egg, a blue iris encased by a facade of synthetic white-washed masonry. It looked alien and foreign compared to the surrounding landscape and dirt-laden town. 

The Iris was more than a store. It was an apotheosis which epitomized the cankerous life-blood that flowed through the town and it’s people. It was where nearly everyone worked, except those whom were exiled; forced to find employment in the clay mines beneath the cliff. It was also where everyone shopped, and hung out on their days off; perpetuating a monotonous and subservient existence. 


“Who made it that way and why?” Heather asked within an inquisitive annoyance. Heather was a rambunctous young lady with tangled and matted auburn hair. Her dirty baggy jeans hung loosely about her hips. Her T-shirt was stained, dirty, and more gray than white. A hand-rolled cigarette dangled from her lips. 

“We did—by letting THEM do what they do, checked for so long. A sense of self-righteousness and an unchallenged assumption of authority tends to result in something like that.” Jason pointed to the Iris atop the bluff. His old gaunt, and slender frame was dwarfed amidst the distantly looming Iris. 

“That’s enough for now,” Jason continued, “THEY wouldn’t like things like that being said.” Jason ran his contorted arthritic fingers through his gray hair before he hobbled off. Heather looked to the structure atop the cliff with a contemplative glare before he departed. 

She trudged down the dirt road, picking up stores she deemed acceptable, she placed into a metal pail, and those she did not; she chucked aside. She was bending over inspecting a few scattered rocks when someone spoke behind her. “Showing off your better side, I see!”

Instantly, she recognized the voice. She stood up and turned around. There was Cane with his trademark mischievous smirk upon his face. Heather rolled her eyes, turned around, and proceeded to walk away down the road. Cane quickly stalked up beside her. “You want me to carry your rocks?”

“For the billionth time—No! You missed today’s lesson. Again.”

“Let me guess. Jason was being old and crazy and talking about plants and seeds and junk.” 

“As usual, you’re only partially right.”

“But I’m not wrong!” He snatched the cigarette from her lips, struck a match, lit it, and inhaled.


“A gentleman never lets a lady take the sulfer hit.” He passed the lit smoke back to her butt first.

She snatched it away from him forcefully; pretending to be angry. “You say that like you actually know what it means to be a gentleman. I was saving that for later.”

“I knew that. That’s why I’m not a gentleman.” He smirked at her as they continued to stroll onward then added, “and you aint no lady!”

Cane’s dirty, blond bangs were shrouding his eyes. He too wore baggy jeans and a white, but gray, T-shirt. His clothing and hair were stained with a fine chalky, dusty red clay dur to his outcast occupation in the earthen mines beneath the cliff. He flipped his hair from his eyes and looked around. “How come nothing worthwhile and meaningful ever happens here?”

Heather shrugged. “I guess…” At that moment, a loud blaring steam whistle sounded. As it did everyday at 6 in the afternoon; meaning that a shift change at the Iris was taking place. The locals, especially mine-workers, called it the eye that never blinks or the machine that never sleeps. 


Cane and heather had made their way atop the cliff to the Iris’ grounds. Cane was standing around a giant refuse container; one of their typical hand out spots. This spot, on the outskirts of the concrete expanse leading to the Iris, overlooked the town. Heather exited the large revolving door of the Iris and met him on the backside of the dumpster. 

She knelt down on one knee, rolled up her pant leg, and retrieved a bottle of glacé liqueur.

“You got the sweet shit again?” He asked, slightly annoyed. 

“Yeah, I like it. When it’s your turn you can pick whatever sour bitter garbage you want.”

“You think it’s wrong that we keep doing this?”

“No, it’s a victimless crime,” she replied. 

Cane looked down on the town below. “Everything seems to small and insignificant from up here.”


Later, the bottle laid empty on the concrete. The two laughed and joked around as they shared another smoke. “Hold on a sec,” Cane said before he disappeared around the giant container. He unzipped himself. His head swam in a dazed euphoria. He stumbled and chuckled. 

However, when he looked down the smirk faded from his face. He had pissed all over an ant-hill. They were frenzied and scurried about. He zipped himself up then said, “hey, Heather, come here.”

“I’m not falling for that again.”

“No, I’m serious. COme check this out.”

Reluctantly, she obliged; peeked around the corner, her opinion, “you’re seriously demented…” She shook her head. “Look how they struggle against the current.”

“Not all of em. Some just let the piss river sweep them away.”

Simultaneously, they looked toward the busy revolving doors of the evil conglomerate where their fellow townsfolk shuffled inward and outward. Briefly, they looked at each other before they leaned against the metal backdrop of the refuse container and continued to watch the people obviously scurry about. 


The next day was like nearly every other day. Heather worked in the greenhouse with Jason which was really just a shack with large plastic windows. Barely anything would grow and if it did; it wouldn’t last long before it withered away and died. 

Cane worked in the mines where it was dark, wet, and cold. Afterwards, they met up and listened to Jason’s lesson. Which was really just historical ramblings of the olden days about how good things used to be. 

“I remember when hill-top was a lush haven; filled with greenery and animals. Now, you’re lucky to see a house cat out and about,” Jason complained.

“Where’d all the animals go?” Heather asked.

“They fled far into the Evergreens when construction of the Iris started over two decades ago. The lakes dried up. They were harvested for water after they were over-fished. The river was diverted to be used for hydro-electric power. An excuse to offer a high-quality purified product at a premium price.”

“So if we can bring back the water; the animals might come back?” Heather asked.

“Ha! Fat chance!” Can chided from his perch atop a small boulder.

“Why you gotta be such a pessimistic shit all the time?!” She snapped back.

“What can I cat? I’m a realist. Aint nothing ever gonna change ‘round here.”

“I don’t believe that. It’s just takes the right judge in the right direction to tip the scales, to push the right person over the right edge.”

“Oh? Is that right?--I think if I was pushed to the edge, instead of leaping or turning back, I’d rather just take a piss.” Cane spat.

Heather and Jason peered up at him. Their focal point suddenly changed when a red-tail hawk squawked off in the distance, high above. Jason chuckled, “I wouldn’t be too sure.”

“About what?” Cane asked.

“About any of those things. Jason replied. 


The next day was not so much like all the ones before. Cane worked in the mines. He dug into the Earth with a pickaxe. He swung and plunged the point into the soft surface. Unlike the trillions of times before, the tool became stuck and difficult to remove. 

When he finally wrenched it free; the head was covered in a bright white sheen. With uncertainty, he looked around. No one else was near enough to notice. For a moment, he was entranced by the bright white color glinting in the light of his head lamp. 

He wiped the steel clean with a rag before he began to nonchalantly dig elsewhere; caring on with the typical daily drudgery. 

Later, after restlessly sitting though that day’s lesson, he revealed to Heather what he had discovered. “It’s kaolin; practically extinct. Nobody’s seen any in a long time.”

“So?” She asked.

“So?” So we should take it and keep it. It’s special. Its shouldn’t just be given away to THEM. Them bloodsuckers will take it, process it, and bastardize to turn a profit. Whatchu think they been makin’ everybody dig for anyway? I think this is it. It hasta be.”

“I s’pose you’re right. Partially anyway.” She smiled.

Cane smirked, “but I’m not wrong.”


That night, they met at the wrought iron gate at the entrance of the mine. The night air was cold. They both wore flannels of dark red and black plaid along with heavy-duty black leather backpacks.

Heather turned around and Cane unzipped her backpack. From it, ie retrieved a bold cutter. He struggled and strained to cut the chain which padlocked the gate shut. Finally, he muscled the cutter through the metal. The chains clanked when they hit the ground. 

Heather exhaled a brief sharp gasp of elation and Cane let out a sigh of relief. He put the bolt cutter away. The air in the tunnel grew colder and colder as they descended into the darkness. 

Cane, familiar with the passageway, led the way. He held her hand, feeling the slick wet walls with the other. They dared not strick a match nor use a light for fear of being caught. The penalty would surely be worse than exile.

Without incident, they reached their destination. Using their hands, they swiped the thin veneer of mud and dark clay away from the deposit of white kaolin. Even in the dark they could see the emanating sheen. They scooped the precious resource into two plastic bags. In a few moments, it was gone. They stowed the two deposits away in their backpacks and began their ascension out of the ground below. 

The exited the tunnel. Even though the night air was cool, it felt like a blast of warmth when they emerged to the surface. The night sky was strewn with stars. Heather smiled and Cane smirked as they sauntered down the first track of road towards the greenhouse. 

In the corner of the dirt-shack excuse for a greenhouse, there was a potter’s wheel. There were shelves and tables adorned with pots and plants, a small tool cabinet, and a vast arrangement of primitive lights. 

Some actions, despite what some may believe, are driven by a divine land or a cosmological order. They manifest themselves as the universe expands through the continually repeating computation of a binary code.

After turning on the lights and lighting some candles; Heather reached into her backpack, grabbed a chunk of kaolin, and tossed it onto the round table-top of the potter’s wheel with a resounding ‘splat.’ She sat down on the crude wooden seat and worked the clay. Cane filled a large metal cup with water and sat it down beside her. 

“Thanks. Will you grab my pail?” She asked. He went and fetched it for her and sat it down, next to the water. Without looking, she reached inside her pain and retrieved a chunk of jet-black obsidian. She placed the black stone into the center of the white mass. 

She worked the potter’s wheel pedal and the round table-top revolved. She elegantly cupped the spinning mass in her hands. The water-lubricated whiteness seeped through the thin spaces between her fingers. Cane wrapped his hands around hers, looked into her beaming eyes, and smiled. Maybe for the first time in his life; he actually truly smiled and did not smirk.

Simultaneously, they removed their hands. What laid on the table was rather ordinary; a white, oval-shaped chunk of clay. Heather lifted the raw material from the wheel and clutched it in both hands by her fingertips.

A chemical metamorphic process took place. With a certain vitreousness, it began to glow. Transfixed, Can and Heather stared at the glowing object until the vitrification was complete. Awestruck and gawking; Can asked, “How’d you do that?”

“I don’t know. That’s never happened before.”

Heather sat the object back onto the wheel. What laid there was not ordinary. It was a perfectly constructed ocarina. “Whatchu s’pose it’s for?” She asked. 

“I don’t know, but I think we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”


That night Cane and Heather slept in the greenhouse. They curled up together with the ocarina nestled between them; resting above their heads on their makeshift straw pillow. 

They barely slept. Awakened early; they stepped outside into the chilly air and watched the sunrise. After the sun appeared above the Evergreen tree-line and marked a brand new day; the disharmonizing steam whistle resounded throughout the town like some gigantic evil alarm clock. 

That day, Cane did not go to work. Rather, he rolled a cigarette, stood up somewhat abruptly, and declared, “I know what I have to do now.” He kissed Heather on the lips before he struck a match, lit a cigarette, and handed it to her. He slung his leather backpack over his shoulder and walked off down the first road. 

He ascended the steep paved road until he reached the concrete expanse that led to the Iris Emporium. The red-tail hawk that perched high above on the face of the building watched him intently as he casually entered the structure through the large revolving door. 

Somehow unhindered, he arrived at the control-room. He turned the knob. Astonishingly, the door was unlocked. The door opened, Cane crossed the threshold, and stepped inside. For some reason or another, the room was devoid of people. 

There; he found the automated gear system and furnace that powered the unblinking eye and controlled the constant reminder of slavery that was the steam whistle. 

He pulled the kaolin deposit from his backpack. He split the mass in two. The left half, he chucked into the furnace. It glowed bright white and expanded. The right portion, he wedged into the gears of the conveyor system.

The cogs seized, screeched, and then snapped loudly and violently. Cane smirked and walked out the door. He preceded to walk nonchalantly through the ensuing internal commotion of the frenzied and scurrying masses until he was back outside. 

The moment he exited the roving door, the red-tail hawk squawked and took flight. He walked across the concrete expanse, past the refuse container, to the bluff that over-looked the town. From there; everything seemed so small and insignificant. He stepped to the precipice, unzipped his fly, looked down, and took a piss. 


Jason arrived at the greenhouse. He was somewhat surprised to find that Heather was already there. “Look!” She said, pointing behind him up at the Iris. Jason turned. There was smoke rising from the structure. Weather stepped off the shoddy porch of the greenhouse, past Jason, and held up the ocarina. 

Jason’s perspective moved from the egg-shaped ocarina to the far-off looming roundness of the Iris. Barely visible, they saw the hawk; circling high above in the air. 

Heather raised the instrument to her lips and blem as forcefully as she could. In turn, she held each note as long as she could. The melody was unfamiliar, yet intimately sublime. 

The cliff cracked and ruptured. The mountainside, along with the gradious structure, toppled down into the cavity below as an Earth-shaking landslide. 

Cane was swallowed, with countless others, by the torrent of rock, earth, and debrid. Heather and Jason watched the deafening carnage until they were engulfed by the thick cloud of dust and fallout. At which point, they staggered into the greenhouse. 

The ground quaked, trembled, and roared but the flimsy structure edured. When the onslaught finally subsided and the dust had settled; they stepped outside. The landslide had stopped just short of the green house. Jason and Heather climbed atop the giant mound of rubble. Off in the distance, they saw that the river had been rerouted closer to town. A few survivors had geun to gather atop the mound of rubble. Heather looked into the crisp blue sky. She searched for the hawk, but he was gone. 

“Now what?” Jason asked.

Heather turned away to conceal the tears that streamed down her face. With the ocarina in hand; she slung her backpack over her shoulder and continued to walk North across the rubble of the landslide.