Patrick Hunt

Camp Cupcake 

The lights go out and the guards are busting in through the double doors but we already found Martha hiding behind the Christmas tree, and she had her knees pulled up to her chest, and was crying, the eye makeup she taught us how to make streaking down those high smooth cheeks of hers. We had never seen her cry before. Not even her cellie, Francesca, who said not even on her first night here did she cry in her bunk. Her pants were at her ankles still from after when Shamaine took one of the clay wise men and fucked her with it before she must have run to hide behind the Christmas tree in the middle of all hell breaking loose. Shamaine had laughed and shouted while she did it, we heard her go “It’s a good thing!” Martha put her hands up when she saw us coming at her and screamed “Get away from me! Dear God get away!” and she must have known that all we wanted was her shawl.

We wanted to rip it from her shoulders and take those stupid scarves she’d showed us to make instead and twist them around her skinny throat until her face went red and her eyes bulged. The riot sirens were too loud. Her face was twisted horrible and in her eyes just terror and she had been screaming.

She must have been the whole time, just like a maniac. But we didn’t hear for all the other shouting and fighting and especially because Jill and Bootz had ripped one of the tables from the floor and had dragged it to the windows and stood on the table and were taking large and heavy things and throwing them at the windows to try and break them out though they were those thick windows with the wires in them.

Francesca was dead, there was blood and it poured from her forehead over her eyes into her open mouth where her teeth were also broke and Ms. Fromme knelt on the floor next to her weeping and touching but not touching her over and over again and sometimes shaking her and going “Francesca? Francesca?” Because Ms. Fromme had been hiding in the kitchen when the Christmas table was thrown over and all hell broke loose and she tried to sneak out tip-toeing through the chaos. But the doors were locked from where we had locked them not just with the keys that we took from the guards who were overwhelmed but also by putting long and sturdy things through the looped handles. Francesca saw her and Francesca, who had beef with nice old Ms. Fromme who had been here longer than any of us, grabbed Ms. Fromme’s hair and Ms. Fromme turned around and swung the frying pan she had and Francesca got bashed in the face. The Mexican girls were stomping the shit out of two guards who were overwhelmed and one of them was tying them up with strands of Christmas lights and saying “Would jew fucking look at dees.” Asja J. was just standing over those goody-good white girls in the corner and spraying them with two canisters of mace with both hands at the same time, even her hip was cocked just so and by this point they weren’t even moving, just slumped over on each other and their faces were red and swollen puffy and they were unrecognizable. Shamaine had taken Martha’s hand-painted ceramic nativity scene and dropped each figurine one by one and stomped on the shards but kept one of the wise men and found Martha and fucked her. Tubs was sitting Indian-style near the table in the absolute middle of everything all cool like and taking bites of everything: the Christmas ham, the Brussels sprouts with chopped pistachios, the glazed chestnuts and the pie and the cookies and the potatoes and the green beans. All of the stuff Martha had petitioned to get and got, unbelievably. Baby Jackie was one by one trashing down all of the Christmas decorations, everything Martha had made us make for the past month in “Creating a Spectacular Christmas:” the popcorn tinsel, the origami paper wreaths which took the longest, the advent calendars. Ruined. Gone.

“We create Christmas,” Martha had said, “Even at Alderson, even at Camp Cupcake.” She loved it when she first heard that that’s what we were calling it now. Baby Jackie took a candle and lit each Christmas present on fire and threw it across the dining room into the mobs of people, all fifty stockings against the wall flamed and so the dining room was filled with smoke. Georgia sat on that biker dyke Dalia’s legs while That One Who Drowned Her Baby Cousin took those chocolate covered marshmallows with the red hots like Rudolph noses and pretzels as antlers and shoved them into Dalia’s mouth and Dalia’s face was blue and her eyes bulged and That One just punched her over and over again.

All hell had broke loose when Martha screamed we weren’t doing things correctly. She had screamed “I need non-essential personnel to step away from this table immediately while I fix this!” but we did not know what that meant. It was noon when all hell broke loose and the Today show was coming at two to shoot and Martha said we would be shot sitting around the table or variously standing around the tree like we were hanging ornaments or acting like we were wrapping presents or hanging lights and also sitting around the table saying into the camera “Happy Holidays from our family here to you and yours.” It would be shown throughout the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day episodes before and after commercials along with other shots of soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq and also farmers and other ordinary Americans in their homes or at work wishing good tidings and cheer and so Martha said it “must must must be perfect.”

We had asked please show us how to make that shawl, we want to wear a shawl like you. And she had said no. “There are simply too many other things we must do” she had said.

After we had eaten breakfast this morning, only grits and eggs and bran cereal, she had chided Tubs and Shamaine: “Don’t eat so much girls, just graze; Ms. Fromme and her girls are preparing what will truly be a spectacular Christmas meal.”

She had told us to fold the napkins. She said like stars and Christmas trees that the star would balance on top of and it would be really something else. She said “No! No no no! Why would you make the star green and the Christmas tree yellow?” and we said that we were sorry but we could just undo them and that it was no big deal and she said “But you’ve already ruined these!” and threw the napkins on the floor and right then Ms. Fromme walked out of the kitchen all happy with a pie to show to Martha and Martha took one look and screamed “What? No! I said, soft peaks, the meringue needs soft peaks. These are hard,” and she was stamping her foot and just then That One Who Drowned Her Baby Cousin and Dalia began to fight over the popcorn tinsel and the bowl fell to the floor and That One pushed Dalia and she went down hard and Martha then flung her arms out from her shawl and had a complete meltdown and said we were ruining everything and said she should have never trusted something like this to a group of ungrateful incompetent maladjusted indigent and undereducated convicts, she hated it here. And we, who had never liked Christmas anyway, who grew up in houses where Christmas was cheerless, just said, Well fuck this bullshit and swept the punchbowl off the hors d'oeuvres table and when the guards ran over one of the Mexican girls stuck her foot out and they tripped and that is pretty much when all hell broke loose.

Martha had stayed up all night hand-painting the nativity scene, the molds of which she had found in the storage warehouse room behind the ceramics class. It took her a week of rummaging through everything to find the entire set, even the sheep and goats and she also when she was finished said, “Well, may as well just re-organize this whole place!” and went about doing that. Ms. Fromme had said she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had bothered cleaning that storage warehouse room out. We had asked Martha if she would show us again how to make the shawl and she said, “Well let me finish in here first.” She had stayed up all night and painted Mary and Joseph and Jesus and everyone a drab coffee-color but it looked nice. She said, “I’m a Catholic, so I know just how many people and animals are supposed to be here.” They were drying on newspaper when we came in this morning and also the Christmas lights were hung and most of the table set was set and there were carols on the radio and we said we thought we would help you. She just gave us that chilly smile and said “Well, sometimes things are better when you simply do them yourself” and said that nevertheless there was still plenty to do. “We’ll need those napkins folded,” she said and also asked Dalia to make the tinsel. The Mexican girls had told Martha before that their family traditions usually included a tray or two of tamales and Martha gave that chilly smile and gave a little laugh and said “Tamales? Oh no I don’t think so,” and so the Mexican girls voted to sit out of the Camp Cupcake Christmas, Today show or no.

In the beginning of December Martha said her people called the Today show. Georgia was a secretary before she drove her truck through her boss’s living room and so instead of having to clean bathrooms or work in Laundry or do Grounds Crew got to file in the warden’s office. Which she told us “Yes, it is clean work, but giiiirl is it ever so boring,” and she said there were more nights than she would like to remember where Warden Mitchell stayed late and told her her duty assignment was on the line if she didn’t blow him. Georgia told us that after Thanksgiving Martha marched into Warden Mitchell’s and said “Thanksgiving was a rather glum affair,” and “if I had known the settings would have included only Thanksgiving-themed paper plates, well, then, I believe I could have taught the girls the very basics of fashioning a cornucopia!” and that “Sir, these girls do deserve more than instant mashed potatoes, don’t you think?” and then Georgia told us Martha asked him if she could postpone her “Empowerment for Women” seminar series and when she finished “What’s Hot and What’s Not in Starting Your Own Business” seminar simply begin a “Creating a Spectacular Christmas” seminar. And of course Warden Mitchell said yes. Warden Mitchell loved Martha. Francesca was a Jehovah-Witness and Ms. Fromme who was Born-Again gave Francesca a Christmas present and a birthday present every year which is why there was beef.

Martha posted the sign-up sheet and we asked if this would be the class she showed us how to make the shawl that she had made and she said, “We might get to that, girls, but what we are really going to be focusing on is how to create Christmas. And won’t that be nice?” We grumbled and said to each other we would rather make the shawl instead and thought it would be nice if we all had matching shawls on Christmas. That maybe we could take a picture together, all of us wearing our shawls together and it would be something that Martha could take home with her when she left here and put it on her desk or her mantle or somewhere so that she would always remember us, because we would always remember her.

But nevertheless we signed up and so spent the whole month doing Christmas crafts and watching clips from her shows she was able to get where she carved butter pats into snowflakes and set Viennese-themed tables and arranged pears and made ornaments and folded napkins into elf boots and etc. and she walked among us and said things like “Hm. See that little curl at the end? That’s what we want to avoid, that’s what we don’t want. Let’s try again, yes?” and wrapped her shawl around herself. Martha wore it when she bossed us around and we wanted it and also our sheets were thin and it got so cold here at night.

Once Francesca took Martha’s shawl off her bunk when Martha was away and left her shawl there and Francesca put it on and swept her hair down over her eye like Martha does and acted all prim and turned her nose up and walked into each of our cells and smiled fakely at us and said things like, “We might want to tuck those sheet corners in a little tighter, hmmmmmmmmmm?” and “We can do better here, can’t we?” and “monthly sty-PEND” because that’s how Martha said “stipend” and oh Lord God we were rolling until we saw Martha standing behind Francesca with her arms crossed and that chilly smile and those dark steely eyes and her hair indeed over her eye and she just said “Bravo, ladies, bravo.”

Before Thanksgiving Shamaine led Crafts and Martha mostly assisted until Martha had the grand idea to forage for dandelion greens and crab apples on the surrounding property which we used that very evening to make mixed salads and she showed us how to make a simple dressing with vinegar and oil and yellow mustard. Then the next class she showed us how to make “kohl” by putting a candle under glassware. Then the next class birdfeeders. Then Shamaine was out entirely and sat in the back of the class and scowled while Martha took over entirely and we didn’t care because it was Martha. Shamaine said “I’m gonna get that uppity bitch” and we said oh please if it was Rachel Ray that got sent here don’t you think Ms. Fromme would be okay handing over the kitchen?

Martha walked around with that shawl always. She said she made it during her trial. It was a big shawl, almost a poncho, and dark navy the color of the sky here at night and it was warm and chunky and there was a nice v-neck collar. She even wore it during the yoga classes she taught. She would shout “Downward-facing dog!” and “Cow-face pose!” and would be wearing that shawl hugging it around her. She said it took no more than a week to make, that you must always keep yourself busy in this world. She said “Ladies, idleness is the devil’s workshop, don’t you think?”

But before she came that is what we mostly did, just sat around and had an occasional class, “Crafts” or “Ceramics” and thought about things, which is what Warden Mitchell said that was part of our programming. To think about what we did to get here. The Mexicans were mules. Ms. Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford. That One Who Tried to Drown Her Baby Cousin only tried. Dalia stole a car. Jill and Bootz, grand larceny. The goody-good white women stole identities. Francesca, drugs.

Asja J. armed robbery. Tubs, drugs. Georgia, drugs. Martha, obstruction, lying, conspiracy. Baby Jackie, arson of federal property. Most of the rest of us, drugs.

But when Martha came she “begged to differ” and thought it was in our better interest since so many of us were as she said “undereducated and without job skills or interpersonal skills,” and that our rehabilitation should be more productive than simply sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, weeding on the grounds and doing crafts more substantial than say toilet paper sculptures or pasta art. She had asked Warden Mitchell if he wouldn’t mind if she designed a few seminars and classes on her own, Georgia said she heard Martha say in his office one day in October and she was very stern.

We told Martha we wanted to learn how to make that shawl, that we got cold around here too just like her since Alderson was old and drafty and after all in the mountains and Martha called it “quite Gothic.”

During October when Martha first came she was quiet and kept to herself mostly and Francesca said “Martha, we sure do like your shawl; would you mind showing us how to make one?” and Martha smiled that chilly smile and said “Sure, I would love to.” In the dining room after lunch for a week in October after she told us to collect as many socks as we could find, there were lots of stray ones in Laundry and we spent one day unraveling them on the table and then had gobs and gobs of yarn and she began to show us all of these different stitches: casting on, casting off, the purl etc. And she had said, “Okay girls, now that you’ve learned these, let’s practice on something simple, shall we?” We said we were ready we thought for the shawl. We had made some pot holders, which she had said looked quite nice. But she said “That’s a bit out of your skill range, at the moment, don’t you think? So let’s start with something simple, like a scarf. Doesn’t that sound nice?” When we made the scarves they looked terrible. They were uneven and went from wide to thin and looked shriveled and wrinkled and Asja J. said “Oh mine looks like a snake skin” and Martha looked at all of them, walking from scarf to scarf, lifting them up and stretching them and said “If you have learned nothing else, girls, you have learned that perfectionism is never easy” and shined down on all of us that chilly smile. But we all agreed and we knew she would eventually show us how to make the shawl later.

Martha arrived early in the morning in early October and she was with us already at breakfast sitting down at the table staring at her food with a blank face. Shamaine, when we were all in line watching her, said “She already here? Damn, I bet she didn’t even have to do the cough and squat, shit.” We all knew she was coming and we were all excited. Ms. Fromme was the most famous person we knew but most none of us were even born when she got famous. We sat down at the table and there Martha was dressed out in her khakis and with her commit number stitched on her pocket and her fingers all inked up and she looked different from on TV, obviously, without all the makeup and the lights and she looked older, and that sweep of hair over her left eye didn’t sweep so much then and her eyes instead of sparkling like they did on TV just sort of looked flat and glassy and even a little dead.

We all sat down around her and we said hi. We said we like that shawl, it looks warm, it looks nice, that color looks good.

And she said “Why thank you,” and she smiled and looked at all of us kind of meek.

And we said we really like it, we really do, and she said “Would you like me to teach you how to make it?” and we all smiled and said we sure would.