Chapter no 42 – A Cell

Where the Crawdads Sing


Murky shafts of light streamed through the tiny window of Kya’s cell. She stared at dust motes, dancing silently in one

direction as though following some dreamy leader. When they hit the shadows, they vanished. Without the sun they were nothing.



She pulled the wooden crate, her only table, under the window, which was seven feet above the floor. Dressed in a gray jumpsuit with COUNTY INMATE printed on the back, she stood on the crate and stared at the sea, just visible beyond the thick glass and bars. Whitecaps slapped and spat, and pelicans, heads turning for fish, flew low over the waves. If she stretched her neck far to the right she could see the dense crown of the marsh’s edge. Yesterday she had seen an eagle dive and twist toward a fish.

The county jail consisted of six twelve-by-twelve cells in a cement-block, one-story building behind the sheriff’s office at the edge of town. The cells were in a row down the length of the building—only on one side, so inmates couldn’t see one another. Three of the walls were damp cement blocks; the fourth was made of bars including the locked door. Each cell had a wooden bed with a bumpy cotton mattress, a feather pillow, sheets, one gray wool blanket, a sink, and a wooden-crate table, plus a toilet. Over the sink was not a mirror but a picture of Jesus, framed there by the Ladies’ Baptist Auxiliary. The only allowance made for her, the first female inmate—other than overnighters—in years, was a gray plastic curtain that could be pulled around the sink and toilet.

For two months before the trial, she’d been held in this cell

without bail because of her failed attempt to escape the sheriff in

her boat. Kya wondered who started using the word cell instead of cage. There must have been a moment in time when humanity demanded this shift. Self-scratched red webbing streaked her arms. For untracked minutes, sitting on her bed, she studied strands of her hair, plucking them like feathers. As the gulls do.

Standing on the crate, craning her neck toward the marsh, she recalled an Amanda Hamilton poem:

Broken Gull of Brandon Beach

Winged soul, you danced the skies, And startled dawn with shrilling cries. You followed sails and braved the sea, Then caught the wind back to me.

You broke your wing; it dragged the land And etched your mark upon the sand.

When feathers break, you cannot fly, But who decides the time to die?

. . .

You disappeared, I know not where. But your wing-marks still linger there. A broken heart cannot fly,

But who decides the time to die?



Even though the inmates couldn’t see one another, the only other occupants—two men at the far end of the row—spent much of each day and evening jabbering. Both were doing thirty days for starting a fight, which ended in broken bar mirrors and a few bones, over who could spit the farthest at the Dog-Gone Beer Hall. Mostly they lay on their beds, calling to each other from their adjoining cells, sounding like drum squatters. Much of the banter was gossip they’d heard about Kya’s case from their visitors.

Especially her odds of getting the death penalty, which had not been issued in the county for twenty years, and never to a woman.

Kya heard every word. Being dead didn’t bother her; they couldn’t scare her with threats of ending this shadow life. But the process of being killed by another’s hand, planned out and set to schedule, was so unthinkable it stopped her breath.

Sleep avoided her, slinking around the edges, then darting away. Her mind would plunge along deep walls of sudden slumber

—an instant of bliss—then her body would shudder her awake.

She stepped down from the crate and sat on the bed, knees tucked under her chin. They’d brought her here after court, so it might be six by now. Only one hour passed. Or maybe not even that.

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