by Jen Schneider
Number 647 manned the cart.
Pushing metal shelves on rusty wheels,
through our darkened hall.
I, Number 482, am ready. Stop.
Give me a minute to peruse and choose.
I take only seconds. Grab my five pounds
of promise. Others laugh. Quietly.
245. 742, too. They say dreams are pointless.
A sucker for false promises, I don’t care.
I must complete the maze.
The glossy cover’s bright colors excite me.
Beneath the book jacket, black cardstock.
Forbidden layers. Dense text, coffee
stained letters. Lost my glasses months ago.
Too late to turn back. 647 had moved on.
I seek directions, but the words are foreign.
Labyrinths, pathways, walls.
Encrypted messages, hidden behind plain font text.
I call out. 647? Silence. Then more laughter.
The cart gone for the week.
Can’t turn back now. None of us can.
245 and 742’s taunts echo off the cell wall.
Stuck in a labyrinth for crimes we never committed.
I grab my pencil. Its point dulled.
The leaded tip shaved at an awkward angle.
I use it to focus, seeking words with meaning.
Once again, a blank space suggests an opening.
Not welcoming, but open. I draw a line and moved onward.
Blind corners, right turns to nowhere.
If I choose left, can I ever return and go right?
Damn mazes. Full of dead ends.
* * * * *
Jen Schneider is an educator, attorney, and writer. She lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Philadelphia. Her work appears in The Coil, The Popular Culture Studies Journal, unstamatic, Zingara Poetry Review, 42 Stories Anthology (forthcoming), Voices on the Move (forthcoming), Chaleur Magazine, LSE Review of Books, and other literary and scholarly journals.