“The Graveyard Shift” by Carolyn Harris

animal, chicken, cock

DS is my name. My mom calls me Desiree–the desired one, but I go by DS–DS
for dog shit. I’m sixteen. I do drugs. I run.

I’m back in Juvie again. Be here a while too. They can’t figure out what to do
with me—I run from placements. The last one was out in the middle of the northern
California desert. Boring. As soon as I stepped off the school bus, Maggi, she was
the mom, had a list of chores–and I had to keep my eye on three little raggedy
kids while I did them. Maggi locked herself up in the bedroom with the TV. She got
sinus headaches. She came out when I had dinner ready, sniffed around, piled up
her plate, and headed back for the TV. We ate a lot of macaroni and cheese. And I
shoveled a lot of chicken shit cleaning the coops. I fed the chickens and collected
the eggs before school every day. Maggi sold eggs for her cigarette money. Once
a week, I got a pack for helping. She used to keep them under her bed. I figured
she wouldn’t miss an extra pack a week. And she didn’t–one of the kids was a
snitch. Maggie knocked me in the teeth with the TV zapper when she found out–
then blamed me cause the zapper broke. Maggie wasn’t all that bad, I just got
bored cleaning chicken coops–so I ran.

I work as a whore when I’m out. I get knocked around sometimes, but the pay’s
good. Better than cleaning chicken coops. I usually work the truck stops. I keep my
hair short and my tits aren’t much. The truckers aren’t sure if I’m a boy or a girl.
One guy was gonna knock my head off when he found out I was a girl. He made
such a racket another trucker climbed in the rig and tore into him. Told him to get
his ass out of there or he was calling the cops. That scared the shit out of me. I
don’t need any more trouble with the cops.

I thought the second guy wanted me to ride the bony pony, but he cleaned up
my face–even tried to put a band aid on my split lip. It just slid off when I tried to
talk. He bought me a double cheeseburger and a chocolate shake. He didn’t say
much. Just that he had a couple of kids my age. He dropped me off in Susanville–
that’s where my mom was living then–and told me to keep away from the truck
stop and behave myself. I did for the rest of the night. It was getting cold.

My mom was living with the Tattoo Man from the circus then. That’s what I
called him. He had a trailer down behind the stockyards. He didn’t want me in the
trailer, but I got to sleep in the camper stuck on the back of his pickup. It wasn’t
too bad. He had a sleeping bag. A month later it got really cold. The neighbor had
a cat–a fat old orange tom with half a tail. Even with him in my bag, I almost froze
my ass. The windows in the camper froze and I got needles in my throat when I
breathed. I get asthma sometimes. I think the cat knew it. He tried to hold on to
his hair.

That night, when the trucker dropped me off, I knocked on the door of Tattoo
Man’s trailer. It only had one hinge, so I never messed with that door. I didn’t
want to be the one that dropped it in the dirt. They were doing crank. I’d made
enough money that night so Tattoo Man let me stay inside.

By the time I really froze my ass–it was just before Christmas–he and my mom
got busted. That sucked. The cops were pissed at me because I’d been skipping
school. That’s the funny part. I really do like school. School for the dog shit kids. I
don’t like regular school with all those jocks and cheerleaders with their fancy
clothes and their noses in the air. In my kind of school, we know we’re dog shits
and don’t stick our noses up at anybody. I like to think we’re the real people. Now
I don’t think all cheerleaders are fancy-ass freaks. I know one–or about one, and I
think I’d like her.

It’s time for dinner. I’m in lockdown and have been for the last twenty-eight
days. I still get to eat. They bring me a tray–slide it through the slot in the door.

“I wonder who’s working graveyard?” I asked staff when they brought my
dinner, but they didn’t know. I hope it’s Mrs. Manley, cause she talks to me. She’s
the one with the cheerleader granddaughter. Sometimes she works graveyard on
the weekends. Usually with Mr. Roberts. He’s nice, too. I’d like him for a

I’m a room alone because they know I’m a whore. I’m in Room One. I have a
little window in my door and can see the kids go by if the flap’s up. And I have my
own toilet. I like it–even if staff can watch me pee. There’s a monitor in the
control room. The toilet’s cold and I don’t sit long, anyhow. I don’t have a toilet
seat. Not just because I’m a room alone–nobody does. The sink–almost big
enough to float a goldfish–is built in the back. I can sit backwards on the toilet and
brush my teeth. Good idea, huh. Too bad they don’t make toilets like that in
regular homes–with a seat of course. And I talk to the toilet. Not really to the
toilet, but if I stick my head in the toilet, I can talk to Jay in Room Two.

Jay’s the reason I’m in lockdown. I’m in love with Jay. He’s kinda skinny, but he
has dark hair and dark eyes, and he’s smart. He knows the name of every bird
around here. He told me his name was Jay for Blue Jay, but I think he was just
kidding me. He’s a good artist, too. He drew a picture of me once. I was dressed
like a warrior princess flying over the mountains on the back of an eagle. I’ve
known him for a long time so this isn’t one of those short term relationships like
my mom always has. Every time she meets a guy–and she picks some pretty
freaky guys–he gets busted, she gets busted, or he kicks the crap out of her and
throws her out.

Jay’s been in and out of Juvie since he was ten. Twenty-three times so far. That’
s more than either of his two older brothers and he says there’s no way
they’re gonna beat his record. They’re both in CYA now. You don’t come back from
Youth Authority. Jay brags a lot. Once he was out and back in here in three hours.

He ate lunch, they released him, he stole a bottle of Jack Daniels at Safeway,
and was back in by dinner.

He’s got a plan–we talk about it through the toilet. They won’t send him to CYA
if he’s crazy. He tells them he sees things and hears voices. He had a fit at school
last month. Yelled he was having a flash back then pulled his desk over on top of
him and started kicking and spitting. It scared the teachers. The staff who watches
us in school called for backup and they made us all get against the wall. Then
they took Jay down and cuffed and shackled him and took him to his room. He told
me through the toilet that night it was all a fake. I sure believed him. So did a lot
of other people. Melody in Room Eight was screaming she’d never do drugs again.
That’s a lie, but maybe she believed it then. That’s why most of us are here. We’re

Jay’s an Indian. When he’s not in Juvie, he lives down river with the other
Indians. He says he does drugs because it’s part of his religion. It helps him see
things better. I think he gets high for the same reason I do. I like it.

It’s snack time. If I lay on my bed and put my ear against the block wall just
below Bambi’s front foot, I can hear everything in the activity room. I really have
Bambi on my wall–and flowers, too. They have pictures painted all over the place
in here. With my ear by Bambi’s foot, I can hear movies or the AA meetings. On
the graveyard shift, if they turn the TV off, I can hear the staff talk. There’s some
pretty interesting stuff that goes on around here on the graveyard shift.

Jay won’t talk to me tonight and I’m worried about him. I think he played crazy
too long. Last week when they let him out for a shower, he tried to jump a staff–a
big staff. That was dumb. He yelled he saw a moose and it was attacking. That
was dumb, too. He has a moose and some trees painted on his wall. He could
come up with something better than that. He got pepper sprayed and that’s not
much fun–take it from me. I’ve been sprayed twice. He yelled he wanted to commit
suicide. That’s stupid, too. Take that one from me, too.

They took all his bedding and clothes and gave him a paper Barney gown– one
of those bulky brown hospital gowns that stick out in back and make us look like
Barney on TV. They do that to you if you’re a pain in the ass or say you’re thinking
of suicide. If you’re just a pain in the ass, you usually get your stuff back piece by
piece on the graveyard shift. It’s cold here in the summer. The air conditioning runs
all night. I mouthed off big time once and ended up naked as one of Maggi’s
chicks. I’d have promised anything just for a shirt. I thought I was back sleeping in
Tattoo Man’s pick up. Lucky for me, Mr. Roberts worked graveyard that night. He
gave me my stuff back, even my clothes, as soon as the swing shift left. He just
told me to cut out the funny business and go to sleep. I don’t think he likes
working here. He always says, “Two years, four months, thirteen days, and I’m
out of here,” or something like that. He has grandkids. I bet he’s a good

He was the one who took me down when I was pepper sprayed. It was the last
time I was in here. I had Room One again. Lucky for me I’m a room alone. I
always get the good room. Jay was down the hall. He’d been locked down for
seven days and his roommate told me Jay was talking suicide again. I couldn’t talk
to him through the toilet, so I started yelling, “Blue Jay, I love you.” Once I started
yelling, I couldn’t shut up. They took my bedding. Then they took my clothes. I just
kept yelling, “Blue Jay, I love you.”

Boss Lady shot the pepper spray through the slot. I jumped behind the door so
she couldn’t hit me, so they clanked the door back. It’s a big steel door. You have
to watch your toes–we can’t have shoes in the room–they’re dangerous–the
laces, you know. She came at me like something from outer space with a big gas
mask and some kind of Michelin Man suit. I kept jumping around and she couldn’t
get a good enough aim, I guess, so she sprayed the wall, sprayed the bed, and
sprayed Mr. Roberts. Finally, she got it right up under my nose and I felt it slurp
down my face like that silly stuff they shoot at you in parades–just before my eyes
got it. I ran around like a trapped hamster. I knew better than to stick my head in
the toilet to wash it off–Jay did that once and he warned me not to try it. I heard
Boss Lady yell at Mr. Roberts to take me down. He straddled my back and cuffed
me and I felt him put his hand between the toilet and my head. I was jerking
around so much I had a big lump there the next day.

Mr. Roberts came back that night during the graveyard shift to see if I was okay.
Staff’s not supposed to open doors at night–because we’re dangerous, but he
came in with Mrs. Manley to talk to me. My asthma was bothering me so she
brought my inhaler and let me puff. I kept a damp cloth over my eyes. It burns
worse if you open your eyes–remember that, if you’re ever pepper sprayed. She
sat on the bed and rubbed my back while he talked to me. I pretended I was sick
and they were my grandparents.

Mrs. Manley is the one who helps me pretend. She’s the one who has the
granddaughter. She doesn’t know I’m pretending about her granddaughter, so
don’t tell her. When I know she’s going to work graveyard, I try to sleep during
the day. That’s pretty easy to do around here–especially if you’re in lockdown. I
don’t have a window to the outside, just Bambi. I tell time by the food. If they
gave me breakfast some night, I bet I wouldn’t be able to sleep. They don’t turn
the lights off because they have to do fifteen minute security checks so you don’t
plug the toilet or kill yourself. Mrs. Manley can’t come in my room. The only night
she did was that night with Mr. Roberts and I won’t ever tell.

Last week, Mrs. Manley brought a pillow and sat outside the slot on my door.
She says she has a bony butt and can’t sit on the cement very long and her back
gets tired if she bends over to talk in the slot. I don’t think she looks like a
grandmother. She looks younger than my mom. I haven’t seen my mom for over a
year, so she probably looks even older now. Last time she came to visit me, the
deputy brought her in. We didn’t say much. It’s kind of awkward to talk to your
mom while she’s in shackles and a belly chain.

“Like my new jewelry?” She held up her cuffs.

I wanted to give my mom a bad time about my last home furlough. I knew I was
gonna get a pee test when I checked back in–they told me three or four times.
She had some good stuff and we got high. She told me they’d never know if I
drank a cup of vinegar before I checked back in. I didn’t think it was such a good
time to bring it up with the deputy there.

Back to Mrs. Manley–maybe the crank is getting to my brain. My mind sure
wanders a lot. She’s got this granddaughter who’s sixteen just like me. She’s just
about my size and has blonde hair just like mine. I’m not sure about her eyes. I’ll
have to ask about that. This granddaughter–Sara’s her name–is smart. Really
smart I’d guess with some of the things she’s doing. I’m smart, too. The teachers
tell me how smart I am. I don’t think they’d all be lying to me. I’m certainly a good
reader. There’s not much else to do in lockdown.

I saw a picture of this granddaughter once. It was a prom picture. She had on a
red strapless dress and her hair was done up in fancy curls. I could have fancy
curls if I let my hair grow out, so we’re really not that much different. She works in
a department store. Not a JC Penney, but one of those ones the rich kids shop in.
Sara’s not rich. Her mom’s a single mom and has to work two jobs. I’m not rich,
either, so we’re alike that way, too. She was a cheerleader for three years but
had to quit so she could save money for college. I’ve never been a cheerleader. I
wouldn’t want to be either. The only time I really yelled, I got pepper sprayed.
Sara isn’t a cheer leader anymore anyway, so that makes us more alike. The only
thing we’re different in–she doesn’t do drugs. Mrs. Manley says Sara looks down
her nose at kids who do drugs. I asked Mrs. Manley if she was sure Sara didn’t do
drugs. She said she was sure.

Mrs. Manley didn’t like to talk about Sara at first. I think she was
afraid maybe I’d be upset, but I told her it made me feel good that
somebody was happy. I wanted to know what classes she was taking.
Sara’s in her third year of Spanish. I don’t know about that one. I know
how to say taco and burrito. They don’t have Spanish in the schools I go
to, but I get A’s when I go. In lockdown, that’s part of my punishment–I
don’t get to go to school. Last time I talked to Mrs. Manley she told me I
ought to zip up my lip, get out of lockdown, and get back in school. I
know she’s right, but I need to stay here to help Jay out for a while.

I can pull inside my mind and pretend I’m Sara. You know, I think that’
s a better name than DS. If Mrs. Manley doesn’t work tonight, I think I’ll
pretend I’m Sara. “Yes, Ma’am. Would you like to see our new sale
item? We have it in red, too.” Then I’ll slip my fingers through the fancy
clothes on the sales rack and find a red strapless gown–no I have one
of those. Maybe blue to match my eyes. Are my eyes blue? I better find

Jay still has them fooled. Dr. Drug told them to give him another shot
tomorrow. Dr. Drug’s the staff’s name for him, not mine. I heard
Graveyard complain about him. He has half of us on the same meds–
when he shows up. Last time I saw him, he never looked up to see if it
was me. Just kept writing. He asked my name, I told him, and he said,
“Thank you, that’s all.” I told him I didn’t think I needed so much Xanax
anymore. I certainly wasn’t nervous. I slept all the time. He didn’t even
look up. He must have read in my file that my name is Dog Shit and was
afraid he might get some of me on him. I don’t like all the meds they
give me. I wonder sometimes if they’re part of the reason my mind
wanders. I tried cheeking them, but lost points and missed movie and
treats for a week. I want to get out of lockdown as soon as Jay’s okay,
so I better take my meds. They’re talking about Dr. Drug again. He called
in and renewed everybody’s prescription over the phone. Even the two
kids that left yesterday for Boot Camp.

Last night, the Chippies brought in three bookings– all guys from
Sacramento. Sara lives in Sacramento. I kept watching the tall dark-
haired one. I’m not sure what Sara’s boyfriend looks like. I forgot to ask
about that one, too. I almost had myself believing it might be him. Then I
convinced myself Sara’s boyfriend was probably too smart to get caught
by the CHP in a stolen car. He might be Spanish-looking though, since
she’s so interested in Spanish.

Before breakfast, Jay came by for his hour out. He shuffled by my
room in cuffs and shackles and that paper Barney gown. He looked at
me like one of those wild men you see in the movies–a crazy preacher in
the old west. He scared me. Now I know why he wouldn’t talk to me in
the toilet last night. I think they made him crazy. The last three days
they’ve given him shots so he won’t see things. I need to tell him to stop
acting crazy before they make him crazy. When he came back he
wouldn’t look at me. I saw his ass hanging out of the Barney gown. I
turned away so I wouldn’t embarrass him.

After breakfast I called him through the toilet. He said, “I don’t want
to talk. I have a headache.” I told him to please stop pretending to be
crazy. He said, “I’ll try.”

Before lunch, just before the kids came back from school, Boss Lady
came in and talked to him. Even with my ear on the wall I couldn’t

When Boss Lady left, I called Jay until staff came and told me to get
my head out of the toilet or they’d take my bedding. Day staff watches
the monitor in the control room a lot more. Jay got his mattress and
pillow back so he must have told Boss Lady he’d stop acting crazy. His
Parole Officer came in and talked to him. He was in there a long time
and I started worrying. Maybe he was gonna go to Boot Camp–or a
mental hospital. My mom was in one of those for a while and she said it
wasn’t any fun–people always screaming and hollering.

It’s pretty quiet here. Except when the Indians come in drunk and
start yelling, “ENP”–eternal native pride. They’re worse than
cheerleaders. Cheerleaders just jump around and stand on each other’s
backs. The Indians–Jay’s one of the noisiest–yell “ENP” and kick the
doors and bang their fists.

I went to a basketball game once. It’s worse than that. I told you we
have metal doors–so heavy you have to watch your feet. When they kick
those doors and yell, it makes me nervous. That’s when I’m glad I’m
taking meds. I saw a movie about Custer once. Custer would have
headed home in a hurry if he’d heard them kicking those metal doors
and yelling. The racket goes on for a while then out comes the pepper
spray. Poor Mr. Roberts got caught in the middle of the last one. Boss
Lady missed and sprayed him again–right in the face.

Jay’s calling me in the toilet. He says the PO says he’s gonna go to
Youth Authority. I guess he knows I’m crying. He tells me to keep quiet
and start kissing ass so I can get out of lockdown. He’s glad he’s gonna
go. He’ll get to see his brothers. I want to talk, but he says his head
really hurts. He cheeked his morning meds so he can figure things out.
He’s not gonna tell them even if he does see things because he doesn’t
want another shot in the ass.

I got a good on my day shift score and Jay got his clothes back. I
heard them talking about me at shift change. If I get goods for the next
three days, I can get back in school. Maybe I can get one of the teachers
to find me a Spanish book.

Today’s Wednesday. I wonder if Sara’s working after school today. I
thought about writing her a letter, but it’s against the rules. No contact
between staff and the dog shits–or staff’s granddaughters and the dog

I have DS on my left arm. I did it two years ago with a staple and a
ball point pen. I lost points and missed a few movies for that one, too.
I’m working on ENP now–on my left leg so staff won’t find it. If I get
down in the corner under the camera they can’t see me. I have a staple
hidden in my mattress. Staff hasn’t found it. We had a room search this
morning. I hate that. They tear up my bed and poke down in the wire
screen where we used to have a window. I’m a very neat person. I
always line my pillow case up along the seam of the blanket. I can’t get
a pen till I get back in school, but if I keep the scab off, I’ll have the EN
part finished by next week.

Smells like rolls for dinner–and macaroni and cheese. I wonder how
Maggi’s doing. Her kids are probably all in school now, so she won’t
need a foster. Mrs. Manley and Mr. Roberts are working graveyard. I’m
gonna sleep a little after dinner so I’ll be awake.

Jay says he’s doing okay. He liked the macaroni and cheese. His
mother’s a rotten cook–burns everything. Mine never burns anything–
she never cooks. I told him to make sure and wake me up when he got
his bedtime meds so I’m awake for graveyard.

I can’t sleep. We had yogurt for snack–strawberry. I’m gonna find out
what color Sara’s eyes are. When I get out of lockdown I can have hand
lotion once a day. I’m gonna start rubbing some on my face–and let my
hair grow.

Jay’s calling me. They gave him a blanket. I told him he’d probably
have the rest of his stuff by graveyard. He told me not to worry–he’s
fine. He wants me to have the silver bracelet with the eagle on it he has
in his locker. He can’t take it to YA. I told him I love him. He wouldn’t say
he loves me. I think it’s just hard for him to say it. Giving me a bracelet is
just as good.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Manley, but Mr. Roberts came by to see if I was
okay. I told him I needed to talk to her and he thought I needed pads
and was too embarrassed to ask him.

Mrs. Manley brought me some pads and asked if I was okay since
I’d been bleeding last week, too. Not much gets by her. If Sara’s
mother’s like her, that’s why she’s so sure Sara doesn’t do drugs. I told
her I wanted to get out of lockdown and back in school so maybe I could
go to college. That really just popped in my mind, but I knew it was a
sure way to get her back to talk. She’s the kind that thinks everybody
ought to work hard and go to college. I figured I better see if Jay was
still okay, then work on getting my story straight.

Jay finally answered me. He told me to go to sleep. He was tired and
didn’t want to talk. He flushed his toilet in my face.

Mrs. Manley dropped her pillow by my door and we talked. Sara’s
studying for a hard history exam. And her eyes are blue–the same color
as mine. Mrs. Manley checked her watch and got up to do another room

It doesn’t take fifteen minutes to hang yourself. It isn’t noisy either.
We were talking very low through the slot so we wouldn’t wake up Jay.
Neither of us heard anything. Not a bump. Not a gasp.

That was a year ago. I still think about Jay. At first, I blamed
everybody–his mother, his PO, his older brothers in YA. Even me. I
wondered how I could have saved him. I guess I was so busy trying to
figure out how to save me, I didn’t have all that much time for Jay’s
problems. The other day I found a crow feather in our back yard. Jay told
me crows take good care of their families. Maybe he’s a crow now.

I wore that silver bracelet for a long time. I’d run my finger over the
eagle wings and picture him flying through the clouds with that funny
little grin he had when he was happy. Did I tell you he was a real funny
person when he wasn’t all doped up? Last week, I tucked the bracelet
away in the backpack in the bottom of my closet. Yes. I have a closet
again. And a bed that isn’t a cement slab. I’m with another foster. My
foster mom, Andi, is a recovering alcoholic. We spend a lot of time at
meetings. And I still have Bambi. A real one this time. He comes into our
backyard each morning while I’m eating breakfast and waits for his
snack–he likes apples and carrots best.

Me and Sara e-mail. Mrs. Manley isn’t staff anymore. After Jay died,
she quit. She helped me get this foster placement and she told me she’d
kick my butt if I messed up.

My hair is long now and I had it done up for the prom, but not like
Sara’s. We’re alike in some ways. I have a foster mom who’s a single
parent and sometimes has to work two jobs. We both want to go to
college and we both work. There’s no fancy store here and I couldn’t get
on at JC Penney, but I work at Burger King. And we’re different. Sara
looks down her nose at people who do drugs. I don’t.

I still want to run, but not from Andi. I’d like to run with Bambi and
figure out where he hangs out during the day. Andi says, “Go for it if you
can keep up with him. Just be back for dinner.”

My name is Desiree, the desired one.



Carolyn Harris lives in the Cascade Mountains with her husband, Dave, and too many cats. She is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. She blogs at Wednesday’s Woman. Her articles have appeared in travel and sailing magazines, and her book RV in NZ: How to Spend Your Winters South–Way South in New Zealand can be seen at www.rvinnz.com. Wednesday’s Child, a novel set in a northern California logging camp, is looking for a home.

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