I’m broke, and the IRS says I owe them $89,000. They end up sending me to prison. I’m depressed, menopausal, and my hair’s falling out. In the women’s penitentiary, I keep to myself.
I’m in the yard, all alone at a picnic table when someone hands me a guitar. It’s been a while since I played anything, but it feels as comfortable as sitting in one of those special massage chairs at the mall. I remember shopping, drinking wine and being free. And then I start to strum. I play “Fernando,” the old ABBA song, because that’s the first thing that pops into my head.
A few women come and stand around me to listen. When I reach the chorus, Margie, one of the meanest, toughest convicts in the joint, joins in on the harmony:
There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando.
Next thing I know, they’re all singing with me.
They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando.
Up on the wall, a few of the guards have been deep in discussion. One of them looks down at us and I can see tears in her eyes. She opens her mouth and starts to sing, in a lovely alto:
Though we never thought that we could lose, there’s no regret.
The warden has strolled out to see what the commotion is. She shouts out. “Hey! Amy Rigby!”
Everyone freezes, and I feel myself turning bright red. I wonder how she’s going to punish me for this. Peeling potatoes? Breaking up concrete? Cleaning the bathrooms, probably.
She walks over and stares me down. “Maybe you could use this,” she says, handing me a capo. “Your key’s a little low.” Then she winks.
If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando.
And in that moment, even though I’m in jail, I’m as happy as I could ever be.
Some of this is true.