The Candy Bar, a Short Story

The Candy Bar

A candy bar was a precious commodity. Some of the men had money in their accounts at the PX for a bag of M&Ms or a Snickers and others didn’t. The world of Florence South was a miniature of the outside: the have and the have nots. The lucky ones had outside support—parents or a wife, usually.  Kids weren’t much help; they were too young or had lost interest.  Hector’s mother couldn’t figure out the system for putting money in his PX account; his father was who knows where.  Hector had gotten lucky with shoes and shaving cream that he had inherited from another inmate when that guy finally stepped out beyond the walls. Hector loved those things, but to have a candy bar—that oozing sweetness and creamy chocolate.  It called to him the way alcohol had on the outside.

Gary had money in his PX account.  He was older than most guys in prison and had a certain status like an elder of a tribe. He had taught in the prison school and gave advice.  Hector had been in Gary’s English class. Strange, he thought, how much he had hated school a couple of years ago and how much he had liked it prison. He would have continued if the program had not been cut back.  Gary had seemed pretty bummed about that too. He had been a lawyer, or so he said, and he sounded like it.  He would listen and answer questions. After talking to Gary, Hector was almost convinced that his appeal stood some chance of success. Was Gary right or just talking– or worse just trying to make him feel better?

Gary always left the PX with a few candy bars, one already unwrapped and on the way down. Hector thought about asking him for one.  But, if he asked, maybe other guys would and where would that end?  He thought he could stop at just one so he wouldn’t always be asking, but how would Gary believe that.  Hector once made a point of watching Gary unwrap a candy bar, put to his lips, and sink his teeth into the dark softness. He never did that again– imagining was no good for him.

Another day like every other during a break in the yard, just a little less hot. Gary had laughed, Hector remembered, when a guard referred to it as “free time.” This day and once every month it really was work time for the inmate who had cleanup duty.  It was Hector’s turn. During recess, Hector joined a group of guys, leaning against one of the picnic tables scattered around the yard—a downtrodden schoolyard where the yells of kids free from schoolroom chairs echoed in the here and there, loud and soft voices of men in orange suits. He noticed that Gary was talking fast and with authority to two guys under the corrugated shade of a piece of veranda. The bell rang for the next phase of the day. Hector got his plastic bag and stick to clean up the wrappers and cigarette butts. Under the veranda he saw the wrapper of a Three Musketeers lying on the ground—no not a wrapper; he had found a candy bar. He picked it up with a quick glance around; it was his now.

The next month when he had clean up duty again he would find another of Gary’s candy bars.

In Memoriam, Paul Inman December 3, 2012

Emily Bronte and The Palace of Death

Emily Bronte wrote only one novel, Wuthering Heights, and poetry (which has been for the most part marginalized).  That body of work is frustratingly small for anyone fascinated by her, as I am. Also, I have noted in earlier posts the astounding dearth of biographical information about her: she did not write letters, she did not keep a diary; few people knew her and those that had met her had no reason to pay her particular attention. We have some description of her by Charlotte, who did write letters, have acquaintances, and was even famous enough at her death to be the subject of a biography. However, even her references to Emily are not numerous, and I have always been slightly skeptical about Charlotte’s view of Emily.

In searching for more of her work and information about her, one comes upon something that, perhaps for a more prolific writer, would not be so exciting: homework. Emily studied French at a girls school in Brussels with Charlotte, who had conceived of the necessity of studying in Brussels in order to learn French well enough to teach it in the school that Charlotte (and to some degree the other two sisters) were planning to open.  It was hoped to be the way out of becoming governesses.

Their teacher, Constantin Heger, assigned essays on various topics for them to write.  What a fabulous coincidence that he was asking them to write, with no notion that he was face to face with two of the greatest writers in English literature. On that note, he did come to suspect that they were beyond the norm. So here we have Emily Bronte, writing on assigned topics, in a foreign language—one that she did not know well at all at the time of her arrival at the school.

I have translated and include, below, an essay that she wrote that demonstrates several hallmarks of Bronte as the author of Wuthering Heights, but most notably her proclivity for  insights that are ahead of her time. I will explain how this essay reveals her innate grasp of human nature after the essay.  Here it is.

The Palace of Death

In the past, when men were few in number, Death lived frugally and with limited means. Her only minister was old age, who guarded the door of the palace and introduced from time to time a single victim to appease the hunger of her mistress: this abstinence was soon repaid; the prey of her majesty grew prodigiously, and Old Age began to find that she had too much to handle.

It was at this time that Death decided to change her manner of living, to appoint new agents and take a prime minister.  On the day appointed for the nomination, the silence of the somber palace was broken by the arrival of the candidates from all sides, the arch ways, the rooms and the hallways resonated with the sound of the footsteps coming and going, as if the bones strewn on the paving stones were suddenly animated, and Death looked from above on her throne, and smiled hideously to see such a multitude running to serve her.

Among the first to come were Anger and Vengeance who went before her Majesty, arguing loudly about their respective rights; Envy and Betrayal took their places in the shadows; Hunger and Pestilence, assisted by their companions Laziness and Greed obtained comfortable spots among the crowd and threw disdainful glances on the other guests; however they found themselves forced to make way when Ambition and Fanaticism appeared; the entourage of these two persons filling the council room, and they demanded imperiously a prompt audience.

“I do not doubt” said the first, “that your majesty will be just in her decision so why waste the time in vain disputes when a quick glance is sufficient to determine the only one worthy of the office in question? What are all these pretenders who besiege your throne?  What do they think they would do in your service? The most able among them could not govern your empire any more than a soldier who has no qualification except his bravery could command an army.  They know how to strike down a victim here and another there, they can catch the feeble prey, men on whom your mark is visible from birth and that is the extent of their usefulness; whereas for me, I will lead to your doors the elite of the race those who are the farthest from your power; I will strike them in full flower and offer them to you in entire groups all at once.  Then, I have so many methods; it is not only spears that win me victories; I have other helpers, secret, but powerful allies; Fanaticism her-self is only one of the tools that I will employ.”

In hearing these words, Fanaticism shook her savage head and rose up toward Death with a burning and maniacal eye and began:  “I know that this glorious one will easily borrow my weapons and march under my standards, but is that a reason that she would presume to compare herself with me?  Not only will I be as powerful as she in overthrowing states and destroying kingdoms, I will enter into families; I will create opposition between son and father, daughter and mother; inspired by me, faithful friend will become mortal enemy, the wife will betray her husband, the servant his master; no feeling can resist me; I will travel the world under the light of the sky, and crowns will be like stones under my feet.  As for the other candidates, they are not worthy of your consideration; Anger is irrational; Vengeance is partial; Hunger could be defeated by hard work; Pestilence is capricious.  Your prime minister must be someone close to men and possess them; decide then between ambition and me, we are the only ones you should consider.”

Fanaticism fell silent, and her Majesty seemed in doubt as between these two rivals when the doors of the gallery opened and a person entered before whom everyone recoiled in surprise for she had an appearance which radiated joy and health. Her step was light as the wind and Death herself seemed uneasy at her first approach; however, she soon felt reassured. “You know me” said the stranger, “I come later than the others, but I know that my cause is certain. Certain of my rivals are formidable I admit and it is possible that I could be surpassed in striking feats that attract the admiration of the vulgar, but I have a friend before whom everyone in this assembly would be forced to succumb; she is named Civilization.  In a few years she will come to live on earth with you and each century her power will increase.  In the end she will turn away Ambition from your service; she will throw on anger the brakes of the law; she will uproot the weapons of the hands of Fanaticism; she will hunt down Famine among the savages. I alone will increase and flourish under her regime. The power of all the others will expire with their supporters– mine will exist even when I am dead.  If at one time I knew the father, my influence will extend to the son, and before men unit to banish me from their society I will have changed their entire nature and rendered them a type entirely at the mercy of your Majesty, so effectively, that Old Age will have a sinecure and your palace will be filled up with victims.”

“Speak no more” said Death descending from her throne and kissing Intemperance (for it is thus that the stranger was named). “It suffices that I know you; for the others I have valuable and important offices, they will all be my ministers, but to you alone is reserved the honor of my prince.

The End


Intemperance is the old-fashioned word for alcoholism. Hindley, in Wuthering Heights, is an alcoholic, as was Emily’s brother, Branwell.  Maybe the latter fact explains why the topic appears in her novel.  However, when she wrote about it in the essay, she had not yet witnessed her brother succumb to drinking as he would later. What is not explained is how she understood alcoholism in a way that was not current at her time or even suggested and would only start to surface in our present age, as inherited and running in families; an infliction, not a personal defect or failure; an insidious evil that kills.


Applied Stoicism–My Story

I made peace with myself today.  Stoic-wise I gave thought to the following situation: whether an action I had taken was wrong, given that I am reaping certain non-desirable rewards from it, the loss of about $2000.00 to be precise.  I analyzed whether I had acted with reason and in a way that I would repeat.  If not, then I was prepared to realize that it was an incident in the past and therefore beyond my control to undo so that further thinking would be pointless thinking; however, my thoughts led me to understand that if I had acted otherwise, the conclusion would not have been satisfactory to me, that I did have my reasons, and they were not flawed, and there was something of value in the choice.

I saw the white van veering over the double yellow line heading into my lane.  My slamming on the brakes, honking, and attempting to veer on the shoulder-less and narrow road deflected the impact only a little; the van hit my car and sheered along the side.  I crawled out of the passenger door, as mine wouldn’t open, saw the damage and cursed repeatedly and loudly.  Perhaps short bursts of cursing are not ideally Stoic—I am more concerned in my Stoic practice with things that disrupt my general tranquility and a choice word or two now and then seems innocuous.

In this common convergence of the twain, enter John.  He emerged from his van and slowly crossed the street and walked toward me as if the pavement might change beneath his feet with each step.  Having reached speaking distance he apologized in a muffled voice.  He moved his lips and mouth in a slow roll like the last chewing before swallowing, but it was continuous.  I smelled alcohol and I told him that he had been drinking.  He was very matter of fact in telling me that, yes, he had.  And he asked me not to call the police.  I already had made the call.

By the time the police came, John had returned to his van and was fumbling through his pants’ pockets to find his wallet to give me insurance information and a business card.  His painter’s pants were slipping down as he leaned over to the driver’s seat searching for his wallet that was on the passenger seat right in front of him.  I thought how vulnerable a person would be in that state; a robust man, he nonetheless could have been robbed, pushed around, tricked by anyone.  He kept turned while the cop talked to me.  This cop, a specimen combination of laziness, ineptitude and stupidity, was a boon to John. The cop came ready willing and able to undo what I had started in motion by calling the police in the first place.  He leaned out of his car window and said that his making a report wasn’t necessary; no one was hurt; we could just exchange information.

I saw, then, that I could at that moment send John to or save him from jail.  I could prevent him from being handcuffed, posting bail, finding and paying a lawyer, having his license suspended, appearing in court, receiving some sentence that in one way or the other would be a hardship not only to him but to at least one other person. Now, there will be those who believe that John should have gone to jail—he’s a drunk driver, and might kill someone; he is breaking the law  and must be punished and learn; maybe he could get started with AA while in jail.  It was 12:30 in the afternoon and this man is an alcoholic, not a party-goer who should have known better.  Jail and the criminal justice system is not the place or approach to deal with alcoholism.  This I know.  My belief was tested in the days to come, however.

I came to learn that Officer Dudley–Do- Nothing should have taken a report because without a report establishing that I had not contributed to the accident, I would owe a thousand-dollar deductible and would not receive any reimbursement for the costs of a rental car that I needed for over a week while my car was being repaired.  I called to get one drawn up after the fact.  Here John failed me; his statement to the cop was that I sideswiped him.  I called John to ask in amazement how he could have said such a thing; to which he responded that he thought it didn’t matter.  I strongly contradicted that belief and I might have convinced him otherwise. As before, he spoke in very quiet, beaten-down tones and with appreciation in his voice, and said he would retract it.  There is a lot of time for a slip between the thought and the deed when dealing with our cop in question; being so very busy, he is not easy to reach. Even if he got the revised statement, he might have ignored it because he has a hard time using the computer to amend complaints, as I found out when I went to the station to compel him to include in an amended report a statement by a witness (not particularly a helpful one, unfortunately).  I spent an hour at the station for what turned out to be a useless amendment; it still called me a contributing factor. In addition to finding the computer a challenge, he had a tough time with the concept of numbering the pages of my statement when I went past one page. He was perplexed: could that second page be “2 of 1”?  For some reason he thought it should be “2 of 2” and there was no bringing him to an understanding of the abbreviation for “the second page of the first statement”.

I learned recently that apparently John did not reach him.  Now John is the one hard to reach.  His friend, who answers his cell phone, says John can’t make any calls until the end of the month.  I believe he must be in jail because there is no other place on the planet without cell phones.  When he is at liberty, will John actually go to all the effort that it takes to get Officer Incompetent to make an amended report?  Especially when I am told that John would need to come in to the station to do that.  This procedure the Sarge offered in a jocular tone, as if nothing should be easier to do: “Just have him come in and write out an amended statement.”  The simple Sarge did not add that such an appearance would need to occur when the Sarge in charge and Officer Befuddled are on duty (and I use that term loosely).  He also seemed not to note that I had spent an hour trying to get an amended statement. Sure- John, spend some time at the station, at appointed hours, and incriminate yourself for me.

I think that the chances of establishing the truth about the collision are little.  I had a bout of self-reproach and regret yesterday, declaring to myself my stupidity in protecting this guy to my detriment.  Of course, at the time I did not know how great the amount of my detriment would be. If I had known, I asked myself, would I still have done what I did?  On the one hand, given that John has in effect betrayed me, I have thought I was very wrong to protect him.  Then I realized that I would have had to watch as Officer Sloth handcuffed and put John in the police car.  His van would have been left sitting there — no it would have been impounded.  I hate that system; I hate the many layers of punishment; I hate the uselessness of every step of it to “cure” an alcoholic.  So there was my peace, my tranquility restored; I did not participate in somethingthat I know is wrong and that I hate.  I reasoned myself into feeling okay.  All of that is worth two thousand dollars.