Jane Snyder

Daddy Hates Jello

The Green Knight prepares to battle Sir Beaumains by N.C. Wyeth

Christmas is great when you’ve got a kid but it was fine when it was just Becky and me too. We took everything so goddamned seriously, the first Christmas we were married, even researched what kind of tree to get. On Christmas morning that year I went downstairs when Becky was still asleep, thought I’d make coffee, but I looked at our Douglas Fir, moderately priced and valued for its sweet scent, hung with Our First Christmas Together ornaments and the whole thing was so bogus, me and Becky, my dirty girl, acting like an old married couple, that I went back to Becky, lay down beside her, said, “Santa is here to fill your stocking, little girl.”

Cheesy, but we thought we were cool, rushing to get dressed for dinner at her parents’ house, Becky giggling whenever anyone looked at her.

“I don’t believe in Santa now,” our boy said yesterday morning, sounding proud of himself. He’d done a handwriting comparison. “You’re Santa. Santa is really you.”

I’d gotten a kick out of that shit, listening to Kevin talk about the solid breakfast Mrs. Claus would serve Santa and the reindeer posse before their “long Christmas Eve journey,” but he’s seven, about the age when they figure it out anyway.

“Maybe you don’t believe in Santa,” I told him, “but Santa believes in good boys like you. He’s probably discussing your recent Pride of the Principal award with Rudolph even as we speak.”

Kevin smiled indulgently at my nonsense, knew what he knew.

Becky didn’t look up from her laptop. When she got her sergeant’s promotion last summer they put her on nights and she doesn’t get enough rest. I’m on days because I was promoted eight years ago.

A sore spot with Becky. “They only wanted you,” she likes to tell me, “because you’re built like a brick shithouse.”

Saying that may make her feel better but it doesn’t make it true.

She should have already been in bed when Kevin and I left but she was still messing with her laptop. She’s been taking correctional professional courses online, says it’ll help her get an instructor’s job at the academy for new officers. She wants to be a role model, show the new hires how it’s done. Becky likes to think big, says she has too much to offer to settle for just being a sergeant.

It won’t happen; she wants it too bad.

Kevin laid his hand on her shoulder for a moment, told her to have a good sleep.

“You too,” she said without turning around.

Kevin whispered to me that Mommy was sleepy.

God, he’s sweet. He doesn’t weigh enough to sit up in the front seat with me; he has to be in his booster seat in the back, but it’s still a good time, taking him to school, finding out what’s going on in second grade.

This was the last day of school before the winter break and Kevin was excited, had me walk in with him to see the tree. All week he’d put serious thought into the present he’d get for Jonathan, the boy whose name he’d drawn for the Christmas gift exchange. Got in line behind him at lunch, asked about his interests, the toys he already had. “Casually,” he told me; he’d asked casually. If Jonathan is surprised by the Lego Batman vs. Mr. Freeze including the Floating Bat Boat with Bat Disc Shooter Kevin and I wrapped for him last night, he’s a real numbnuts.

The party was a good idea, Kevin said when he kissed me goodbye. You got to have a special time with your friends before the break when you don’t get to see them for two weeks.

Nothing like that at work.

We had another corrective interview with Cricket and her oversized tear ducts this afternoon. Per protocol, Bill, my lieutenant, had to be there because this was the second corrective interview I’d had with Cricket about her unprofessional interactions with inmates.

We met in the conference room in the administrative building, away from the unit so the officers and offenders wouldn’t get wind of it. Let her think we’re taking it seriously, want to be fair.

The new HR girl was there to make sure everything was done right. When someone said something she turned and looked at their face till they finished.

A stranger, set down in the big, high ceilinged room, seeing the unaccustomed winter sunshine streaming through the lead paned windows, would not think he was in a prison. The oak table we sat around, burnished by the sunlight, looked rich and weighty, a place where the Sheriff of Nottingham and the merchants would gather to plan how best to defend the town from the incursions of Robin Hood and his men, the room, the sunlight, giving them a pleasing sense of their own importance.

We didn’t belong in this fine place, not in our shiny blue uniforms. Bill and I have guts pushing us away from the table. Cricket’s big, tightly bound breasts could have been her own low slung bottom transplanted to her chest.

The glare in the conference room made us blink. When I walked by Cricket, on my way to draw the blinds, she winced as if expecting a blow.

I never wanted Cricket. Whenever she walked onto the tier, the offenders would get going, “‘I stroke to the East, I stroke to the West, I stroke to the gal that I like best.’” Cricket would blush, look down, as if expecting the rest of us to rush in, defend her honor.

“I care so much and I try so hard but the sergeant makes me feel like I can’t do anything right,” Cricket told Bill. “Though I’m sure he’s not doing it on purpose.”

Please. You send her to do a cell search she finds nothing. The next officer through finds pruno in the toilet tank. You could have stuck your face down there just as well as he could, Cricket.

I was hoping the good weather would hold through tomorrow, Saturday, so I could take Kevin out with his bike. He’s just learning to ride without training wheels and he doesn’t want to lose any ground. Last weekend it rained so we stayed inside and watched Star Wars. Kevin hadn’t seen it before. When it got scary he’d turn around, throw his arms around my neck, peeking over his shoulder at the TV, so he could still see what was happening. He’d be imagining himself as Solo or Solo’s friend, the way you do, but he was my little boy too. The sort of thing I’d have liked talking with Becky about at one time.

“If you could be more specific, Correctional Officer Eggart,” I said. “Because the issues of concern I identified are policy violations. Nothing to do with people not liking you.”

My unit is Medium Custody so things are more casual here than in Closed Custody, where Becky works, but it’s still a prison, and they’re still bad guys, will take advantage of your weakness. Cricket forgets that, tells inmates her goddamn personal problems and pats their goddamn hands when they tell her theirs. Till I put a stop to it, she was letting Bobby Cramer make phone calls from a vacant counselor’s office. Bobby’s a chimo, a child molester, would have no interest in a grown woman like Cricket.

He told her he had to call his wife, had to call the hospital, had to make sure his daughter was okay. The daughter with Down syndrome, like Cricket’s niece. Cricket told us she knew all about it, knew the little girl’s immune system was compromised, knew how worried Bobby was.

Bobby doesn’t have a wife, doesn’t have a child. I don’t think Cricket believed me when I told her.

“He could have used those calls to arrange drug deliveries,” Bill told her solemnly. Cricket looked solemn too and cried.

The HR girl said anytime Cricket needed someone to talk to, she was there.

“Me too,” Bill said. “I’m here.”

The Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board will hold it against Bobby when they see him next year, say lying and manipulation are behaviors associated with his offense, flop him for another two years.

I guess we’re not supposed to care about that.

Cricket wiped her juicy nose, sucked back another couple of sobs, and smiled at us, perhaps aiming for a sunshine breaking through clouds effect.

God, I hate victims. Before Becky that’s the kind of women I’d get, wake you in the middle of the night, say they’ve had a nightmare, want you to call them baby, cradle them in your arms.

The HR girl turned her earnest look from Cricket to Bill. It would put you off your game if she looked at you like that during coitus.

Don’t trust them, I wanted to tell Cricket. You’ll get hurt.

I didn’t relish sitting in Bill’s office afterwards, him telling a story about Cricket’s last husband, too crude even for me.

Bill told me I’d done good, set it up so next time she fucked up, we can initiate corrective action. “With her,” he said, “it’s not if but when.”

Cricket probably thinks Bill likes her, the way he’d said to come see him anytime she needed to talk to someone.

I was glad to be paged. The school, saying Becky hadn’t come for Kevin, their calls going straight to voicemail.

“Just go,” Bill said, waving his hand. Twenty minutes left in my shift and he acts like he’s doing me a favor.

Kevin was in the office, helping the secretary take down decorations. Because, he marveled, Christmas would be over when school started next year. I noted his glassy-eyed smile, thought of him waiting for Becky at the pickup point, wondered when he realized she wasn’t coming and went back inside. Or maybe he hadn’t given up on Becky, just stayed outside till someone from the school noticed and came to get him.

Kevin said Jonathan loved the Legos. When I asked what he got, he said the child who’d drawn his name didn’t have a present for him so the teacher let him pick out a book from the treasure box.

“That’s better anyway,” he said it quickly, must have planned what to say ahead of time.

At home Becky was still in the sweatpants and T-shirt she wears for pajamas in the winter, messing with her computer. “Oh, Kevin! What time is it? Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry.”  She knelt to hug him. When Kevin was younger, she’d school me on that. Get down to his level, she said. You’ll communicate better.

Kevin stood still, his arms at his side.

Becky bridled, looked up at me as if wanting me to set Kevin straight, make him like her.

I said the school tried to call her.

“Maybe it was on mute. I was so tired.”


She offered to make grilled cheese sandwiches, Kevin’s favorite.

“We’re out of cheese,” I told her. “Also bread.”

I wished she’d go to the store, get away from me, but she served up fish sticks limp with freezer burn. “The tartar sauce makes it tasty,” Kevin told her, smearing it on thick.

When he told Becky about the party he didn’t say anything about the present he didn’t get. “We had a feast. Cookies, cupcakes, Chex mix, Hawaiian Punch, every good thing.”

“Every good thing?” Becky asked in a tone I didn’t like. Coy, as if she was making fun of the way he talks.

Kevin didn’t seem to notice but I thought his enthusiasm, when he described a game in which the children unwrapped a candy cane while wearing mittens, was diminished.

We played Yahtzee after supper, Becky’s idea. She praised him for how fast he could add up his rolls. “My big boy is so smart.”

“Like his mama,” I said, because that’s the way to talk to Becky. She was still nice when it was Kevin’s bed time, tucking him in as if she does that every night.

Last week she’d said he was too big for the nighty night stuff; I was keeping him a baby.

I’d made a joke of it, said we ought to enjoy it while we had it, told her he’d be talking back, sneaking in late, stealing our stuff and selling it for drugs soon enough.

Becky thinks she’s the Kevin expert; I’m just here for shits and giggles. I’m not going to tell her something different.

Tonight she lined up his stuffed animals on the bed beside him, leaning over to kiss each one. He played along though he doesn’t have much truck with them now. She was still sitting on the bed when I came to say goodnight.

She got back on her computer before she had to go to work. “I’m doing mock scenarios,” she told me though I didn’t ask. A mock scenario is when you’re given a situation, the Nortenos are stockpiling commissary, say, and you explain what you’d do and why. “I think it will help me think on my feet during the interview. You never know what they’re going to throw at you.”

Sometimes I see her practice teaching in front of the mirror, planning where to smile, tell a joke. Picturing herself standing in front of the new officers, reassuring them, giving them what they’ll need to know so they don’t get taken in.

“Good idea.”

She spun her chair around so fast I jumped back. “You can cut that the fuck out. You’re doing great, honey. Keep up the good work, honey. Throw me a fucking bone. Honey.”

I thought that was dirty, picking a fight an hour before she had to leave for work, but I told her I was sorry.

“Sorry I’m stupid?”

“I never said you were stupid.”


All she had to say, I guess.

She went upstairs to take a shower, came down ready for work. Even in the cheap crap the state gives us for uniforms, Becky looked good. Not the time to say so.

“Maybe we can talk tomorrow?”

She shrugged, told me to sleep well.

I said what I always say. Be careful.

I noticed a sweet, spicy smell when she went by. A new body wash, maybe. Becky doesn’t wear perfume to work, says it’s unprofessional.

I went upstairs when I heard Kevin calling for her. The bathroom was still steamy from Becky’s shower so he must have thought, or hoped, she was still home. He was sick and wanted her.

I had trouble holding the thermometer in his ear because his teeth were chattering, cupped his face with my hands to steady him and he rested his hot face in my palms. 103.8. The vomiting had made his eyes water.

He ran to the toilet, thinking he had to vomit again, but he’d called it wrong, had diarrhea, and then he did vomit, bringing up the Children’s Tylenol I’d just given him. “I’m more sorry about this than I can say,” he said, meaning me cleaning his bottom, helping him put on his other pajamas.

“You can’t help it, Kevin.”

He started shaking then, pushing his face into my stomach and holding on tight, convinced he’d ruined Christmas when he figured out Santa.

So he had minded. I’d wondered yesterday if the satisfaction of being smart was enough to make up for what he’d lost. Tonight I said Christmas is always good and this year will be even better.

His fever went down around four and he started to shiver. I took him to bed with me, figured I could keep him warmer. When I fell asleep, Kevin was lying across my chest like a shoulder strap.

I never get the flu, not the way Kevin had it, but I ached and it felt good having him there.

Becky woke me when she came in. “The Lysol smells even worse than puke.”

“Feel free to clean it yourself.” This wasn’t right, I thought.  We should be talking about how sick Kevin had been, discuss his symptoms, put last night’s quarrel aside to care for our sick child. He’s keeping fluids down now, I’d tell her. The last time I took his temperature it was just 100, he’s getting better. Becky would look relieved. What a time you’ve had, she’d say.

Kevin woke, smiled at her sleepily. “Mommy.”

She laid her hand on his forehead with a fluttery gesture. “Time to get in your own bed, pumpkin. Mommy’s wiped.”

“He’s fine where he’s at. You can sleep in his room. I changed the sheets.”

She went off, with unaccustomed meekness, to Kevin’s cold little room, and I wished

I’d let her stay, fall asleep beside me.

When I woke Kevin was dressed and sitting on the bed next to me, reading his new book from school.

“Just keeping an eye on you.” He placed his hand on my forehead and held it there, looking important. When he took it away he smiled.

“Am I going to live, Son?”

Kevin was amused. “Oh, Daddy.”

It was nice lying there beside him in the late afternoon sunshine but Kevin said he and Becky had made Jello for me. “Doesn’t that sound good?”

Daddy hates Jello, as Becky should know, but I told him sure, great. He jumped up. “Got it covered, Daddy.”

I had to go downstairs, let him take care of me.

Kevin talked Jello. “You add boiling water to the Jello powder and stir it thoroughly till the Jello dissolves and then you add ice cubes to make the Jello set. Did you know that?”

I had not, expressed concern about him being around boiling water. “I was safe. Mommy taught me the safety rules.” Which measuring cups to use, for instance, because some materials conduct heat and you could get burnt. A second degree burn, he said, sounding impressed.

“You and Mommy sure had fun today.”

“I can do some things right,” Becky said.

Kevin looked from Becky to me.

I gouged another spoonful of orange Jello from the pan. “You’re a good cook, Big Guy.”

Before Becky put Kevin to bed, two nights in a row, a record, he turned on the Christmas tree lights and he and I sat in the dark together, admiring the pine cones he and Becky had spray painted gold last year. When we’d put up the tree he’d placed each pine cone where a little glint of colored light would hit it.

I was half asleep when Becky came in around nine, still in her sweatpants. She turned on the light, stood over me.

I asked her why she wasn’t getting ready for work.

“I’ve got something to tell you.” Her voice was loud, excited. I hoped Kevin wouldn’t wake up.

Becky walked back and forth in front of the couch, talked fast, didn’t look at me. They’d called her into the captain’s office just before the end of her shift this morning, she said. Norm, her lieutenant, and the captain were there, so she’d known something was wrong, both of them coming in at 6:00 am on a Saturday. They told her she was under investigation, took her duty belt and badge.

“It’s paid leave. That’s protocol, to put you on paid leave during an investigation,” she said, as if trying to convince herself it was all right. “They said I didn’t have to talk to them, I could wait, retain counsel, request union representation. But I told them I didn’t need that, I was going to tell the truth.”

Then that was the right thing to do, I said, though it wasn’t.  In the first relief of talking she’d say too much, when she should be listening, finding out what they actually knew.

Sex, I thought. Custodial Sexual Misconduct.

The law says because of the power imbalance in the relationship there’s no consensual sex between an officer and an offender. Becky could go to prison.

“It wasn’t intercourse.” She sat down on the other end of the couch, sagged against the pillows.  “Or I’d already be gone.”

In Closed Custody the offenders wear tan shirts and pants of thick cotton twill. He’d spread her against the wall, unzip his pants and pull the shirt out to cover his backside.

“As it is, I might not even get demoted. That’s what Norman said.”

Norman must have played the good cop, told her she looked tired, offered her a cup of coffee.

They would have walked her out of the building down to the parking lot where day shift, coming into work, could see, both of them, one on each side, marching. Becky would keep up a steady stream of chatter, pretend nothing was wrong. I hoped she’d buttoned her coat over where the badge had been.

“Just tell me.”

“I kissed a Kleenex and gave it to an offender.” Her voice loud in the bright room. Pipe down, I wanted to say, don’t wake Kevin. “That’s all I did.”

Favors. Courtly love. A lady giving her knight something to wear into battle.

He’d have watched as she pressed her lips together, then pressed them against the tissue. Black Honey is her shade. It goes on soft, like a stain.

“Why not just give him a tampon?”

She sucked in her breath. Indignant, as if I’d gone too far, given her an opening for turning it around, putting me in the wrong. “I don’t know how many ways I can say I’m sorry.”

I got up to turn off the Christmas tree lights. “You haven’t said it. Sorry. ‘I’m sorry.’”

Though I didn’t care about an apology. She’d already done what she’d done and, I surely hoped she was telling the truth, because, if all they had was a Kleenex, they couldn’t do much. Tell her she’d shown poor judgment, put her on probation and make her take the professional behavior class again, maybe.

I yanked the plug from the wall. The pine cones were dry and brittle under the tarnished paint.

“I look forward to this all year,” Kevin had said as we sat in the dark. He’d laid his hand on my arm, the way he does sometimes, for emphasis. So different from his hot clutch last night that I’d have liked to put my other hand over his, savor the cool feel of his skin on both sides.

Becky’s voice, when she spoke again, was softer. “He was nice to me.”

They warn you about that, Becky couldn’t say she didn’t know, how inmates will establish a personal connection, use it to make you stay off the tier when they want to administer a beating, bring them drugs, fellate their friends. Maybe she let him into her office after the offenders were locked down for the night, gave him a little job to do, sorting laundry maybe, something to account for his being there. Her office is on a corridor behind a locked metal gate. On night shift she’d be alone; the people in the other offices, counselors and the unit supervisor, would have gone home for the day. You press a button and the officer in the booth opens the gate for you. It’s a heavy door; if you work at the prison long enough you’ll get tinnitus from hearing the doors clang open and shut.

“I liked talking to him.”

At night the prison is cold and quiet. They’d sit close, wrapped in the same coarse blanket, look out the window, watch the rain beat against the bars and glass. In a world of our own, like the song.

“It must have been important what you talked about.”

“Oh, no, not really.” She’d given herself over to the pleasure of talking about him. “We’d talk about anything. Or nothing. It just felt good.”

When I was falling in love with Becky I couldn’t stop bragging about her to my friends.

They’d tease me. “‘Her hair isn’t too long,” one of them would say sweetly, “it’s not too short. It’s just right.’”

I didn’t care. “She’s the whole package,” I told them. “The real deal.”

“You might as well tell me who it was,” I said to Becky now, wanting to interrupt her thoughts of the offender. “I’ll find out anyway.”

I remembered the HR girl peering into my face. She’d known what they were going to do to Becky.

“I don’t believe you know him.” She brought out the name like a thirteen-year old talking to her friends about boys. “Frank Bonimo.”

I hadn’t known his Christian name, had no wish to know it, but I knew Bonimo. A shot caller for the Dirty White Boys and a scrunch-faced little bastard. A troublemaker, a threat to the orderly operation of the institution. I’d read his file; I like to know who we’re dealing with, whether they’re in my unit or not. Becky doesn’t read offenders’ files, thinks it prejudices you against them.

“Quite a conquest for him.” Bonimo, like Becky, is ambitious. This would help him consolidate his position with the Aryans and, if he wished, he might be able to transfer to one of the prisons on the other side of the mountains, in exchange for his testimony. Bonimo is doing life; he might enjoy a change of scenery.

Becky looked hurt. “It wasn’t like that.”

I can’t remember how Bonimo killed the second woman. Strangled, choked, smothered.  She had pierced ears, I remember, and he’d grabbed hold of both earrings at once, pulled them down, slicing her earlobes in half.

Becky must have thought she was something, holding Bonimo’s interest.

Like shooting fish in a barrel, the captain and Norm would tell each other after they’d finished with Becky.

“I guess he didn’t like me.”

“He gave you up?” I wanted to make her say it. I knew he had. They always do, can’t resist bragging.  He’d have planned it, saved the tissue in an envelope to show them when the time came.

“Norm said he’d told them he’d gotten so he couldn’t stand the sound of my voice.” She cried, looking no prettier than Cricket had yesterday.

I thought of Bonimo talking about Becky to Norm and the investigator, mocking her.

I’d enjoyed that myself, in high school, ranking girls. One piggy, two piggy, a big fat sow. As if I had my pick.

“You have a beautiful voice.” Though I’d be hard-pressed to describe it. Like my own, I don’t really hear it.

Becky makes a clucking sound at the back of her throat when she climaxes. It’s fun winding her up. When we were first together all I had to do was run my forefinger around the inner lips of her labia and she’d come, come again, juicy girl.

“He had no business saying that about you.”

I don’t think she heard me.

I could expedite Becky’s acceptance of her altered situation by slamming the heel of my hand under her nose, push it up and in, then watch her spit out the blood.

“I like listening to you. You have interesting things to say. Things I’d never think of myself.”

I believed that’s what Bonimo had done. Flattered her, told her she was special, not like other women.

“I never meant for this to happen. I never wanted to hurt you.”

A lie, like everything else she’d said.

“It’s all right.”

Becky looked at me hard, perhaps suspecting sarcasm. But then it seemed to me she softened a little, perhaps allowing herself to hope. Or it may have been me who hoped.

“You’re being nice. I didn’t expect this.”


Whore, bitch, slut, cunt, I’ll tell Kevin what you are. That’s what she’d expected.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told her and she looked relieved but I knew she wouldn’t be able to tolerate being under an obligation for long.  “We’ll get a lawyer, make sure we’ve dotted the i’s, crossed the t’s.”

I’d take her to the lawyer’s office, like I took her to the OB-GYN when she was pregnant with Kevin. To make those relationship points, I told my friends, but I’d really just wanted to be with Becky.

“Kevin is going to love having you home with him at Christmas.”

Becky’s mother takes care of Kevin when he doesn’t have school. We’d have to think of something to tell her to explain the change of plans.

“He’d have more fun with you.”

He might, I didn’t say, but I needed to keep my job because we couldn’t be sure of Becky’s.

“It’s going to be good, sleeping together again.” I kissed the back of her neck, smelled the same spicy scent I’d noticed last night.

But Bonimo wasn’t here. He would have been locked down for the night by now, was perhaps wondering if he should have waited a little longer before giving Becky up.

“We’ll both be home tomorrow. We’ll do something with Kevin. He’ll like that.”

“The Winter Wonderland is this weekend,” Becky said in a neutral tone.

The credit union puts it on. Pictures with Santa, a petting zoo. Hot chocolate, a merry-go-round. All manner of festive shit and highly appealing to Kevin. Everyone at the prison takes their kids.

Becky was brave, offering to go, because by now everyone would know she’d been walked out at work. I wasn’t looking forward to Monday myself. Anytime I saw a couple of officers together I’d wonder if they were talking about Becky.

Face your fears, they tell you when you start. You won’t survive this job if you’re afraid.

We could put it off for a little while, anyway, I thought, and said that might be too much excitement for Kevin, sick as he’d been, and we could have fun at home.

That’s what I told Becky. We could do things our own way. If Kevin wasn’t ready to give up Santa yet, not all the way, we could still track his Christmas Eve route on NORAD. In the character of Santa Claus, I could write Kevin a letter, thanking him for the milk and cookies, say Rudolph appreciated the carrots, he needs them to keep his nose so red and shiny, and, my, but you’ve been a good boy this year; Santa’s never known a better.

We could decide Becky had done what she did because she was tired and lonely and you couldn’t expect her to be able to resist dangerous, exciting, Bonimo any more than you’d expect Kevin to stay out of the M&Ms if you were fool enough to leave them where he’d find them.

We could say I’d been cold to her.

We could go upstairs, watch Kevin sleeping in the soft yellow light that fell onto his bed from the hall when we opened his door, before we went together into our own room.

“It’s going to be all right,” I told her, pulling her to me. I rocked her a little and she let me, rested her head on my chest. “I love you. I want you. Please want me too.”


About the Writer:
Jane Snyder’s stories have appeared in Bull, the Magazine for Men, and Cobalt Weekly.

Image: The Green Knight prepares to battle Sir Beaumains by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945). Illustration from page 82 of The Boy’s King Arthur: Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys by Sidney Lanier (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922). Public domain.