March 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Detained

By Olivia Kate Cerrone
Published: 2017-01-02


McLaughlin sent for him after another week. They met in a small interrogation room with fluorescent lighting that made Jean's eye sockets ache. He sat with his hands folded tightly together and his ankles hooked one over the other. Shackled to himself. McLaughlin stared at Jean, his face open and welcome.

"I know about you. You take every job you can get here, always working and putting yourself to use. I admire that in a man. Means you've got some character," he said.

Jean looked away. He needed only to feign indifference to whatever means they used against him to extricate Anel's name from his lips.

"I can tell from your requests through the case worker that family is important to you. Believe me, I get that. I'm a father too," McLaughlin said.

Jean stared ahead, weakened by fatigue. He wanted to hide from McLaughlin, become opaque to his gaze. The sergeant leaned forward, his voice low and intimate, as if sharing a confession.

"All I need to know is who put the strike together. Who set it in motion? I know it wasn't you. There's no saving anyone's ass around here but your own."

A large fly buzzed from inside one of the ceiling lamps. Jean's eyes drooped. His back ached from the chair. Minutes passed, maybe an hour. McLaughlin talked the whole time, making threats and promises over how much easier he could make things, until smacking a hard, impatient fist against the table.

"You ever want to speak to your daughter again? I know how badly Elyse misses you. Her mother and I had quite the talk this morning." McLaughlin paused for a moment. "What's it going to be?"

Jean's heart stuttered. He closed his eyes and sighed. Soon his tongue began forming syllables. Each word he spoke seemed to echo from across a great distance.


He returned to the detention center only to find the others gone — deported or released — he wasn't privy to know. A new crop of men, some Haitian or African, most Latinos, gathered together during rec hour, confused and restless. Elyse's mother still refused to accept his calls. A week after Jean's release from solitary, a deportation officer agreed to meet with him, bringing news that his case had somehow been accelerated. They assigned him a date and an immigration attorney who agreed to represent him pro-bono. The rest happened too fast. When he faced the judge, he still wore his orange prison jumpsuit. His lawyer read aloud a recommendation from McLaughlin, praising him for good behavior.

Later, they returned his street clothes and a plastic bag containing his wallet and smartphone. Outside, the sun winked at him from the edges of sidewalks frosted over with snow. The wet concrete felt strange beneath his sneakered feet as he walked several blocks to a bus stop, then a subway station, which carried Jean fast underground. Traveling among other people, absorbed in their phones, disorientated him. His own device remained disabled, the service unpaid. Perhaps Elyse's mother would refuse to take him in. He gazed at strangers and found himself unseen. When he emerged again aboveground in Roxbury, a cold rain greeted him. The old apartment complex soon came into view, its familiarity creeping over him like newfound warmth.

— Olivia Kate Cerrone is the author of "The Hunger Saint" (Bordighera Press, 2017). Her Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction won the 2016 Jack Dyer prize from the Crab Orchard Review. "The Detained" is an excerpt from "Displaced," a novel-in-progress.

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