Grabber had an afterlife, bewinged upon a cloud, plucking sweetly at a harp. That, at least, was his dream, from which he awoke, tense and troubled, in his cell. He was a lifer, convicted years before of murder most foul. Are there, he often wondered, less foul murders, for which his sentence would have been commensurately less than life? He read up on the law, but nothing lodged for long in his head, for he was easily distracted. It came as a surprise to him how many distractions could occur to a lifer in a cell. The sheen of the buttons on his stripy tunic. A stain upon the ceiling. An ant scuttling across the floor. Buzzers buzzing and bells clanging somewhere far off. From his window he watched clouds scud across the sky, clouds that prompted his dreams of an afterlife in heaven.
O! Grabber! Grabber! What hast thou done?
He can no longer remember the foul deed, committed in his cups after a night on the tiles. Cups and tiles. They could be suits in an old Tarot deck, along with whisks and arrows. There used to be arrows on his tunic, but one day they came and gave him a new tunic with stripes. They did not explain why. They never explained anything to Grabber. They gave him his food in a bowl.
It was while scoffing his food one day that Grabber fell to musing about Little Miss Muffet. She sat, famously, upon a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Now Grabber found this distinctly curious. Curds, and more especially whey, would as like as not be served in a bowl, as his food was. Why, then, did Little Miss Muffet take her bowl from the serving hatch all the way outside towards the tuffet where she sat? Why did she not remain indoors, as Grabber did? Grabber had no choice in the matter, of course, but he felt sure that, in Little Miss Muffet’s circumstances, he would take his seat in the canteen rather than prance outside into the fields, in search of a tuffet. Her behaviour made no sense to him.
Grabber thought too about other characters, Little Jack Horner and Mary, Mary Quite Contrary and Rumpelstiltskin and Henry Kissinger, among others. These thoughts went nowhere, and Grabber never reached any conclusions. He lay flat on his back in his iron cot and the days passed.
O! Grabber! Grabber! Every hair on your head has been counted!
He once tried to count his own hair, which he allowed to grow long, but one day, without explanation, the prison barber came to his cell and hacked away his tresses. It was the same day they swapped his tunic. There was something else of significance that happened on that day, but he no longer remembered what. He kept no journal, having no pencil. He had requested a pencil, once, and been given a cushion. It was a tiny cushion filled with straw. The straw still smelled of the farmyard, and caused Grabber flights of reverie. They were confusing flights, for he had never set foot on a farm. The closest he had come was the village green, where he roamed in his cups after a night on the tiles and took a brick to the head of a mendicant sleeping anent the horse trough in the moonlit night. He took that brick to the mendicant’s head twenty, thirty times, in an inebriate phrenzy.
O! Grabber! Grabber! Undo what thou hast done!
But it could not be undone. It can never be undone. Only the buttons on his stripy tunic can be undone, but Grabber does not undo them, for if he did he would only button them up again.
Life. . . With Buttons.