The Prisoners of Eden’s Landing
By Paul Edward Costa
Prisoner #47 closed her eyes and dreamed of a blasted, smoking landscape. She smiled. She felt an oceanic feeling of community. The prisoner opened her eyes and regarded the view from her suspended cage. She stared at the grass below her. Her face didn’t betray a single emotion. Like all the prisoners, she had been jailed for the horrific and unspeakable crimes of her ancestors, crimes which should never be forgotten.
The city council of Eden’s Landing demolished the local prison during a great festival heralding change. This change arrived because a critical mass of empathy gathered and burst, flowing over cup of the citizens’ consciousness. As a result, the prisoners were taken from their cells and placed in moderately sized, cube shaped cages hung in public all around Eden’s Landing. This kept them isolated, yet accessible to all the town’s citizens.
In this new arrangement the Prisoners would not sit inside their cells wasting away in the isolated tedium of steel bars and gray cement. The city elders believed more fully in the rehabilitation of the prisoners if they could constantly witness the routines of a properly functioning society. Furthermore, free citizens could speak freely with the prisoners suspended in open cages, giving all who lived in Eden’s Landing easy access to human ears always there for listening. The citizens could voice their inner desires, fears, hopes, and insecurities freely, pouring them into cages filled with humane understanding (without the disruption of questions and insights) where they’d stay trapped and not escape into the normal flow of the world.
Prisoner #47 hung in the central city square covered with grass, trees, benches, and small ponds, surrounded on all four sides by office buildings and department stores. She did not hang directly over the town square, but near an alley in the far north-west corner. Beneath her a driveway entered into the underground parking garage of the building from where her cage hung. In this town square the highest concentration of prisoners could be found. Citizens of Eden’s Landing often stood in the center and surveyed their options before they selected the prisoner to whom they would speak.
On one occasion Prisoner #47 sat on the floor of her cage in silence. She kept her legs crossed, folded her hands together under her chin and closed her eyes while she listened to the rantings of a man standing in the mouth of the nearby alley, holding a rum and coke in his hand. While he spoke he paced back and forth from one alley wall to another, banging his free hand against them for emphasis as drunkenness further overtook him. He spoke with desperation about the sheer, overwhelming amount of choices he faced at the start of every evening, an amount which crippled him to the point of complete inaction. When he left work at 5:00pm he could not decide where he might go, what he might do, or who he might call to have a drink with him. He worried each avenue he passed up might in the end prove more rewarding and satisfying than the avenue he pursued. This stalemate within him often led to a coma from which he only awoke hours later past 11:00pm, when it became too late to begin anything, and he could only curse quietly to himself before returning home. When he finished his rum and coke and had endured enough of Prisoner #47’s silence he hurled his empty glass at her. It struck the cage and shattered into shards that tumbled off her and down to the ground below like particularly aggressive freezing rain. He screamed obscenities at her, obscenities which mutated into questions, which mutated into answers, which morphed finally into an epiphany. He thanked her profusely for all she’d done, and reassured her that great things awaited on the horizon, great things she unfortunately could not see for all the buildings surrounding this square. The reassurance she received after her first listening session filled her with a hope of attaining the freedom passing tantalizingly before her, as the cage only had enough material to keep her contained, and not so much as to block out her view of the functioning city around her. She stood for days after, hands on the bars and face pressed between them. When nothing in the city changed she sat back down again. Now the same reassurances did not register a single response on her face.
During Prisoner #47’s listening session, others took place simultaneously around the city:
Prisoner #102 stood in his cage with one arm clinging to a bar for support as the other closed into a fist and opened again repeatedly at his side. He looked down and kept his eyes shut. His cage hung from a crane atop a building forty stories high. He hung over the traffic below, but at the same elevation as the roof and right next to it, so someone standing near the edge could converse with him. On this occasion a woman stood there with her purse on the gravel rooftop next to her high heeled shoes. With intense hand gestures and even more animated facial expressions, she spoke at a quick pace about the vile deviousness of her landlord who went too slowly about fixing the outside caulking on the windows to her apartment due to the sharp draft frequently slipping through and chilling her living space to an extremely discomforting degree. When she finished her tirade and had enough of Prisoner #102’s silence she threw her empty coffee cup at his cage. It clacked off its bars with a shallow, flat hollowness and fell to the illuminated river of the perpendicular streets below. She screamed obscenities at him, obscenities which morphed into questions, which morphed into answers, which morphed into an epiphany. She thanked him profusely for all he had done, and reassured him that great things awaited on the horizon, great things he unfortunately could not see for the smoggy haze permanently staining the air of the city’s edge, visible only to the few forced to stare into those grimy limits.
Prisoner #19 lay in her cage on her back with her legs up and her heels gently wedged in between the bars. She rolled her head slowly from side to side, her eyes passively gazing at the world in a parabolic arc with the passionate dedication of a pre-set sprinkler system. Her cage hung low from a boulevard’s large oak tree in one of the city’s residential side streets, easily within speaking range of anyone on the sidewalk passing the mid-town houses pressed close together and far back. A young woman spoke to Prisoner #19 at 4:00pm on every weekday. She fanned at her emerging tears with one hand and scrolled through her phone with the other hand as she pulled up textual evidence to support the claims she made to the Prisoner still passively gazing at the world in a parabolic arc with the passionate dedication of a pre-set sprinkler system. She spoke disapprovingly for fifty one straight minutes about her friends’ tendency to accuse her of not listening, of having a too inflexible schedule, and their observation that she held a tendency for frequent complaint. When she ran out of words and had enough of Prisoner #19’s silence she lit a cigarette, her eyes grew downcast, and her face sagged instantly with sadness. She looked to the side at the ground while she smoked and did not look at the Prisoner again for half an hour. When she did she mumbled obscenities at her under her breath, obscenities which morphed into questions, which morphed into answers, which morphed into an epiphany. As the young woman did every day, she thanked the Prisoner for all she had done, and reassured her that great things awaited on the horizon, great things she could not see for the beautifully decorated houses which one day will of course grow into the haunted emaciation of decay and finally fall, allowing the Prisoner a well-deserved and glorious view.
Every Prisoner remembered too vividly the intense guilt and responsibility they felt after their one day of peaceful striking where they held their cupped hands over their ears. By nightfall the Prisoners all witnessed an accelerated and microcosmic demonstration of western civilization’s fall into the savage and debauched justice of a world without a foundation.
The Prisoner’s all felt gradual weight loss, weakness, and a distant, thousand yard stare grow over them. Some of them suspected a connection with their daily routine, though they had no way of communicating this fact to their brethren for verification. Despite this, none of them ever dared to speak and ask for even a moment of silence from those speaking because the Prisoners didn’t wish to in any way inhibit the freedom of the citizens.
Paul Edward Costa is a writer and spoken word performer who has published fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in “Timber Journal”, “Entropy”, “Thrice Fiction”, “Emerge Literary Journal”, “The J.J. Outre Review”, “The Eunoia Review”, “The Bramptonist”, “Alien Mouth”, “REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters” and others. He has work forthcoming in “Mannequin Haus”, “Literary Orphans”, and “Bonk!” He is the founder of the ongoing “Paul’s Poetry Night” spoken word series in the Greater Toronto Area. His areas of interest are illusion/reality, minimalism, surrealism, genre fiction, weird fiction, the grotesque, and the absurd. At York University Paul earned a Specialized Honors BA in History and a BA in Education. He is also a high school English teacher with the Peel District School Board.