I’ve been avoiding South for the past few weeks, and today he slipped me a note torn from a memo pad.
I miss you. Can we make time tomorrow? I notice you been keepin your distance. How long u plan to be disappointed at me since you say you’re not mad?
The last time South and I were together, I sucked his dick while he stood guard at his cell door, and when I turned around from getting a drink at the sink, I found him back in his bunk pretending to read a Car and Driver, the chemical love drained and gone.
“What about me?” I asked. “Don’t I get a turn?”
“I’m afraid of getting caught,” he said.
“You weren’t afraid two minutes ago. What happened? It wasn’t risky when I was down on my knees, but it’s too risky to return the favor?”
“It be different, see.”
“How it be different?”
South set the magazine aside but kept his eyes averted, a habit I had noticed and once asked him about. He said that when he was eighteen, he shot a man point-blank in the head and that his eyes, in death, had stayed open, staring. He’s had trouble with eye contact since then.
“It just be different. If someone see you sucking me, they not gonna think anything. But if they see me–”
“Oh, I get it. You’re saying you have more to lose than me, because you’re black and I’m white. If they see me sucking your dick, you look like the hero. But if they catch you blowing me, a white man, you end up looking like the bitch.”
The corner of South’s mouth tried suppressing a grin.
“So it’s okay for me to look like the bitch as long as it’s not you.”
The truth is South was right, and I’ve been dodging him not out of anger but out of fear of becoming the prison bitch. If I were caught with a black man, the whites would kill me, the blacks would prize me, and the Mexicans would surely come looking for their piece of the pie.
There’s a new guy on the yard who’s been attracting attention. The first time I saw him was while standing in line at chow. My first thought was that the prison had gone coed before doing a double take and realizing it was a man and not a woman. He was maneuvering through the hot bar spooning beans onto his tray, a tall, light-skinned Mexican with long hair and feminine curves. He stood out in high definition, like a digital image projected against an analog backdrop. His movements were abrupt and apologetic; his facial expressions theatrical. He picked up a cup from a stack at the end of the bar and, upon inspecting the inside, pantomimed a look of exaggerated disdain that made my chest clench. Everyone was watching him. The entire cafeteria. Guys were standing up from their seats and craning their necks to catch a peek of the new sissy, and I saw, on a magnified scale, how I must have appeared to these men on my first day.
They’ve taken to calling him “rutti-tutti-fresh-and-frutti,” or “Tutti-Frutti” for short. (I don’t know how gay men came to be associated with fruit.)
“Have you seen the ass on Tutti-Frutti? That sissy’s got tits and everything.”
“The bitch don’t look half bad; they usually got acne and shit.”
Bitch. Sissy. Homo. Faggot. When I arrived, they use to call me Weasel, a slang term for gay men in prison.
Steve told me that back when he was in the pen, the Mexicans hired homos to provide the entertainment for their parties. They paid the men stamps in exchange for lap dances that would eventually lead to sex, usually forced. Steve said he walked by one such party and saw a heavy, very scared Puerto Rican surrounded by five drunk men.
I saw the new guy again this afternoon from my seat at the Christian table. He was sitting with the Piscas, shoulders and arms tucked in, looking washed out and feeding rice into his mouth with a plastic spoon. His hunch I recognized as my own. And when he looked in my direction, I turned away, not wanting him to see me, not wanting to risk recognition, not wanting to be mistaken for some false harbor.
I’ve got my own problems to worry about, I thought. I can’t help you.