A different kind of prison
Chip closed his left hand. “Cigarette burns?”
“Yeah. Oh, yeah, I got a few.” Gitanas craned his neck to see if any neighbours were listening, but all the passengers around them, except for two children with their eyes shut tight, were busy smoking. “Soviet military prison,” he said. “I’ll show you my memento of a pleasant stay there.” He peeled his red leather jacket off one arm and rolled up the sleeve of the yellow T-shirt he was wearing underneath. A poxy interlocking constellation of scar tissue extended from his armpit down the inside of his arm to his elbow. This was my 1990,” he said. “Eight months in a Red Army barracks in the sovereign state of Lithuania.”
“You were a dissident,” Chip said.
“Yeah! Yeah! Dissident!” He worked his arm back into its sleeve. “It was horrible, great. Very tiring, but it didn’t feel tiring. The tiredness comes later.”
Chip’s memories of 1990 were of Tudor dramas, interminable futile fights with Tori Timmelman, a secret unhealthy involvement with certain texts of Tori’s that illustrated the dehumanizing objectifications of pornography, and little else.
“So, I’m kind of scared to look at this,” Gitanas said. On his computer screen was a dusky monochrome image of a bed, viewed from above, with a body beneath the blankets. “The super says she’s got a boyfriend, and I retrieved some data. I had my surveillance in there from the previous owner. Motion detector, infrared, digital stills. You can look if you want. Might be interesting. Might be hot.”
Chip remembered the smoke detector on the ceiling of Julia’s bedroom. Often enough he’d stared u at it until the corners of his mouth were dry and his eyes had rolled back in his head. It had always seemed to him a strangely complicated smoke detector.
He sat up straighter in his seat. “Maybe you don’t want to look at those.”
Gitanas pointed and clicked intricately. “I’ll angle the screen. You don’t have to look.”
“What I mean,” he said, blocking the computer screen with his hand, “is maybe you want to eject the CD and not look at it.”
Gitanas was genuinely startled. “Why don’t I want to look at it?”
“Well, let’s think about why.”
“Maybe you should tell me.”
“No, well, let’s just think about it.”
For a moment the atmosphere was furiously cheerful. Gitanas considered Chip’s shoulder, his knees, and his wrist, as though deciding where to bite him. Then he ejected the CD and thrust it in Chip’s face. “Fuck you!”
“I know, I know.”
“Take it. Fuck you. I don’t want to see it again. Take it.”
Chip put the CD in his shirt pocket. He felt pretty good. He felt all right. The plane had levelled off in altitude and the noise had the steady vague white burning of dry sinuses, the color of scuffed plastic airliner windows, the taste of cold pale coffee in reusable tray-table cups. The North Atlantic night was dark and lonely, but here, on the place, were lights in the sky. Here was sociability. It was good to be awake and to feel awakens all around him.
“So, what, you got cigarette burns, too” Gitanas said.
Chip showed his palm. “It’s nothing.”
“Self-inflicted. You pathetic American.”
“Different kind of prison,” Chip said.
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, pp. 133-135