The Man In The Cage

The Man In The Cage

A Story by Shoelessjoe

 

 

     It was a sweltering day, even in the minute shade provided by the concrete walls of the

recreation yard's three towering hand-ball courts. An afternoon of hand-ball was a great

release from the tedium of prison life, even if the sun-heated black-top of the courts nearly

melted the soles of my sneakers. I knew I would find the release I sought.

 

     The courts lie approximately fifty feet from the dual, razor-wire lined fences that

separated those of us inside from the outside world. The world as I can see it from the

courts is a short span of low grasses which touch the perimeter road traveled by the guards in

their Jeep Cherokees. Beyond is a gentle, upwardly sweeping slope of taller grasses and

weeds which reach about a hundred yards to a small stand of trees. Looking to the left and

to the right of the fence this is all that can be seen from my vantage point other than a change

in the type of trees lining the grassy slope. From left to right above the grassy slope are

several maples and oaks which give way to a small society of standing pines.

 

     I had lost the game of handball I was playing and was now shagging balls for the players

presently on the court so that I might again have another shot at taking the court. Bored with

the scenery in front of me, my eyes wandered as they so often did to the world on the other

side of the fences. I noticed something; movement in the tall grasses, about fifteen feet from

the tree line, straight in front of me about twenty-five yards. I stood there mesmerized for a

moment or two until I realized I already knew what it was that I saw but yet somehow

disbelieved. Two dogs; one appeared to be a yellow Labrador Retriever while the other

appeared to be a black Lab mix.

 

     Up until now, I had not seen a living, breathing dog in the flesh for just about four years.

If you could understand just how much I enjoyed their companionship in the outside world

you would understand how incredibly thrilled I was to bear witness to what was now before

my eyes. The two were playing what appeared to be a canine version of tag intermingled

with a touch of hide-and-go-seek. One would hunker down in the high grass while the other

would root him out. When one discovered the other they would bounce up and down,

banging into each-other and run in circles. Hiding, tagging, bumping, circling. Again and

again. Not a care in the world. Life on the outside; life in the world. I think it a fair

assumption to say that the two were on some sort of hiatus, escaping their restraints of chains

and cages for a daring day of tall grasses and tag.

 

     A blue ball whizzed past me. My job as shagger was to retrieve and return it to the court

so that the players could continue their battle. I was oblivious to the game, had to make

contact with the beautiful creatures before me, had to somehow encourage them to come

closer to the fences for a brief visit. I knew I would not be able to stroke their fur or scratch

behind their ears but to just have them closer would be fulfilling enough.

 

     I whistled and called to them. To my amazement they stopped their games and their ears

stood up. With tails rigid and their eyes turned to me, I could see the recognition in their

eyes, the training they must have received to respond to such a call. Training instilled by

their keeper perhaps. Hesitantly they they began to trod down the gentle slope of tall grass

leading to the dual fences. I called again and they picked up the pace, bounding one after the

other to a point about fifteen feet back from the fences. They stopped there and they stood

staring in at me, contemplating. I was certain of it. They stood in contemplation.

 

     My heart did a little jig and I sighed and laughed inwardly as I realized what it was they

were contemplating. These two canines, one black and one yellow, were looking in at me;

looking in at the man in the cage. And that's when it happened. In the blink of an eye, one

turned to the other and I swear I saw the smirk on the snout of one which led to a smirk on

the snout of the other. With that, the two turned their tails to the fences and bounded up the

slope to the tree-line beyond. There, now faint figures of black and yellow, they began their

game of tag once more, oblivious to the man in the cage.

 

     As I stood there, handballs flying, players cursing, I contemplated what had just occurred.

Two dogs having escaped their humanly restraints for an hour or two, perhaps more;

enjoying each-others company; romping in high grass and lining bees back to hives they

cannot reach heard a signal significant to their captured hours. With ears standing and eyes

alert they answered my call as conditioned to do so by their keepers. Having arrived at the

source of the signal they saw me, the man in the cage and they knew. I too knew what had

just transpired and the stark and bitter reality saddened me.

 

     Our worlds had been inverted; the dogs' with mine. I was now the one in the cage.

Although I have never kept a dog on a chain or in a cage it mattered not to the two of them.

To them I was just another man and it was man who had kept them captive even when their

spirit so desired to be free. I just know that they too recognized the irony of the scene. I

wonder sometimes still today if they remember their time spent free. And if they remember

me, the man in the cage.

 

© 2010 Shoelessjoe


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Added on June 15, 2010
Last Updated on June 15, 2010
Tags: dogs, prison, irony, handball, angst, real experience, etc.

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