Until Next Time

Posted on: March 15, 2016

The ceiling fan whirred above him, cascading a wave of hot air upon his sweat-drenched forehead.The single bed he lay on filled nearly the entire square of the tiny room. Dirty clothes and torn blankets littered the remaining floorspace. In the corner, a small plastic plate held the remnants of a piece of bread, its stale surface coated in a layer of green foam. Three books lay by his bedside, their pages the only lifelines he knew. His ears probed the dust-coated air, listening for the footsteps that would signal the arrival of his daily routine.

He had dreamt, he thought, of the ocean. It was blue, just like he had seen in the pictures, with a green tint that exuded a sense of comfort to even the smallest of creatures. He had been swimming, feeling the vibration of the great body of waves that pulled him deeper into its intricate embrace. As soon as he started to surface, succumbing to the desire to see the crests of the ocean waves, a thick, tattooed arm inserted itself into water and grasped him in a chokehold, holding him in place as the water filled his lungs.

That was when he woke up. He didn’t get up – he knew what that would bring about; instead, he lay there, staring at his most constant companion whirring away as each of the five long blades maintained their insistent monotony. He was almost asleep again when the footsteps awoke him. His eyelids lifted reluctantly. He didn’t get scared; not anymore. After all, it seemed easier, almost pleasant, to maintain the appearance of supreme disinterest, even as his body shook with hatred.

As the footsteps neared, the lock clicked, the door grinding open to reveal the figure that had tormented him since he could remember. Only recently had the entrapment begun. He didn’t know why. He didn’t think to ask why. He just survived.

“Get up,” his ragged voice called. The boy was surprised, at first, hesitantly aware of walking into any traps. “You deaf, boy? Get the hell up! And put this on.” He tossed a shirt onto his bed.


It shouldn’t be much farther, he thought, checking his addresses as he sped through the puzzle that was the inner city. He drove fast, the impossibility of his to-do list an irritating itch that forced his foot to the pedal of the government-loaned vehicle. He had had ten visits scheduled already for that day; protocol advised that each visit take at least an hour, from entry to inspection to exit, and at least an hour and a half if any family was found in violation of health or safety codes. But, at ten visits in five hours, he hardly had the time or energy to pay attention to “protocol.”
As the always-one-step-behind voice of the rickety GPS system called out, he slowed to a stop, acknowledging the metal-barred staircase that led to the sixth home visit in what was turning out to be a longer day than usual. He approached the stairs, refreshing himself on the apartment number and the family name: Briggs, Briggs – 203B.

He checked his records: only one visit in the last two years had required a follow-up; this was going to be quick. His phone rang; he glanced at the number, ready to send it to voicemail before the name stopped him. It was his boss. The boss who, like everyone else, apparently, was swamped and yet still had time to assign him 47 cases in the span of a single quarter. He answered, feeling no urge to disguise the impatience in his voice. “Hello??”

“Kasey, I just got a call. I’m not sure how credible it is but I need you to check it out. A neighbor reports that she saw the Smith girl, you know, the one from the upper east side?”

“Uh yeah bu--”

“Anyways, she was apparently looking pretty beat up. If it’s abuse this would be their final violation. I want you to schedule an immediate visit. Tell them we’re doing surprise rounds or something, and let me know.”

“Okay, but I really don’t--”

“Thanks, Kasey. Keep me posted.” The click of the phone on the other end just about summed up the entire last quarter for him. Resisting the urge to break his clipboard and drive away, he continued making his way up the stairs. He knocked, waiting, as always, with pen in hand to give the same greeting he always did before making his way through the home.

A man answered. His gruff, unshaven face clashed with a suspiciously white shirt that tucked into a pair of torn jeans.

“Hi,” he grumbled, “we’ve been expecting you. I’ll grab Jackson. Come on in.”

Kasey stepped inside. No intro, I guess. He looked around. The dingy apartment reeked of stale food and what seemed to be smoke, though the eerie odor was masked by the overwhelming smell of cinnamon emanating from a candle in the foyer.

“This way, right in here. We know the drill.” He grumbled again. Kasey followed the gruff man’s voice, entering from the cramped foyer into the main living room. In the middle of the room stood the man, hand on the left shoulder of Jackson Briggs. He was 13, according to the records, though he looked about 11. He was short – maybe 5’2,” and, like his father, he wore a new-looking collared blue shirt tucked into blue jeans.


He kept his eyes straightforward, like he was told. The nails digging into his shoulder made certain that he gave nothing away. He was wearing his “new” shirt, after all, and for the first time since the last visit he had real denim jeans covering his bruised legs. The man with the clipboard stared at him, checking boxes as he turned his eyes towards the surprisingly clean kitchen. The hand on Jackson’s shoulder clenched harder, as if to squeeze every emotion right out of him. He flinched, withholding the scream that would tell the man with the clipboard to turn around; to look closely; to see the dark purple lines that his blue collar hid: the ferocious marks of the rugged attention he’d received since his mother left. He wanted to scream; to scream, and to leave. But he knew he couldn’t; he wouldn’t. He had nowhere and no one else.

“Okay, everything looks fine. I’ll send your report and be back next month.” The door slammed.

“Back to your room, boy.” The vice grip loosened. A single tear caressed Jackson’s cheek.

Until next time.

Written by: Tyler Wilborn
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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