“ Here they are, still warm ,” the young nurse says to the man in a prison uniform as she pulls a pan filled with meatballs from a bag. “ Eat now, sweetheart . You must be hungry. ”

The man starts to eat and she sits next to him, watching. Her name is Lubochka . She is in her last year of medical college and works here in the city prison’s hospital ward.

“Good meat balls,” he compliments. “Did you cook them yourself?

“No. I had to study for exams. My sister made them.”

“Please thank her for me, and tell her she’s a good cook. ”

“My sister knew she was cooking for a very nice convict, so she made them especially tasty,” Lubochka says with a smile. “ I think my sister would like you . I think all girls would like you .” She pauses and thinks. “Why does everyone call you Kulic? ” she asks.

He smiles. “Kulic is the first half of my second name. My full name is a jawbreaker. Being Kulic is fine with me . It’s the name of a bird, a free bird. ”

“ I think it’s nice . I think you are nice, ” she tells him. “Your records say the first time you went to prison it was for rape. You promised to tell me what happened then. A man like you doesn’t need to rape a woman to make her yours. All you need to do is smile and say something nice.”

“It wasn't a rape, really, ” he says, cutting into another meat ball. “ I would never rape anyone. I was fifteen years old, hanging around with six other guys. They had two party girls with them. They invited me to join in. I’d never been with a girl. We went to a garret in an old building. We started drinking wine. After awhile, one girl said she wanted us all. That’s when the party began. I was curious . I’d never been with a girl and I wanted to try it. The fun started and we made a lot of noise. Too much noise. Some neighbors called the police . When the cops arrived they came in right in the middle of everything. So we all ended up in jail with the girl’s parents saying we’d raped their daughter. Her dad was some big shot and wanted to keep the honor of her daughter, so I got sent to jail for 5 years. That's the story,” he said.

Lubochka looks at him and squeezes the handkerchief in her hand. “Was she pretty? What about the other girl?” she asks, softly.

“ I don't remember if she was a pretty . I didn't care. When judge asked the other girl why she was wasn't raped, she said it was because she didn't want to. Everyone was laughing in the courtroom, but they put us in jail in any way. ”

Lubochka looks at his eyes. “Five years in prison for just five minutes of pleasure! That’s unfair ,” she says.

“There was no pleasure at all,” Kulic states, bitterly. “Not even a minute. I was the youngest and the other boys made me wait. I was the last in line, waiting for my turn . But the cops got there first. I didn't even have a chance to try. ”

“Oh, my God,” she said. “Five years in prison for just watching? ” Lubochka’s mouth remains open with astonishment .

“I didn’t even see much,” he continues. “It was so dark. She couldn’t see us either, or even count how many of us were there. But she said I was one of the boys who did it to her.”

“ This is so sad ,” Lubochka whispers as she starts to pour tea .

“What pisses me off the most is that I went to jail as a rapist, still being a virgin. But it was going to happen sooner or later. I was headed for jail, somehow, some way, ” Kulic admits, sipping the tea . “This is home. This is where I belong . I know get along here. I know the system. I’m comfortable . On the outside, I’m lost. I don't know where to go. ”

“Are you angry with that girl? ” asks Lubochka . “Do you know what became of her? ”

“I’m not angry any more . That was a long time ago. I heard she married some officer. I told you, I was never angry with anyone . I just wish I’d been first in line and had tried her. Then, at least, I’d have known what I was in jail for. ”

“You can try it with me, ” Lubochka said softly, standing up and putting her arms around him. “Why do I love you so much? ”

“It’s because I was your first patient here at the prison,” he says.

“ No, it is because you are special, ” she states. “ I wouldn't go with just anyone. I want you. I can’t imagine anyone else by my side. ”

“ If I hadn’t been your first patient, you would be in love with some other guy, whoever was ahead of me, saying the same things to him,” Kulic says grimly, holding the cup of tea to his chin.”

“Why do you want to hurt me ?” Lubochka asks. “ I don't want anyone else . It’s you.”

“ I am not trying to hurt you, ” Kulic says. “I’m just being realistic. I don't want to hurt you . Let me tell you something funny about how I got to be first in line to see you. I was in my cell when I heard some of the men yelling the news of a beautiful, young, new nurse in the hospital ward. As soon as I heard it I took a piece of lard, tied to a thread and swallowed it. The other end of the thread was tied to my tooth . It’s an old prison trick . It gives you the symptoms of jaundice. ”

She laughs, delighted. “Is it because you need some irritant for you liver to begin secreting gall? ” Her eyes sparkle as he zeros in on her love of medicine.

“Yes, but it was really because I wanted to be at the medical ward as soon as possible to meet the beautiful young nurse I’d heard of,” he admits. “That seemed the fastest way.”

“You are such a manipulator!” she laughs. “How did you get your x-ray to show tuberculosis when you came here the second time? ”

“Ah … that’s an easy one. All I did was spend a couple of days breathing coal dust. It shows up on x-rays just like tuberculosis,” he says, proud of his own cleverness.

“You didn’t fool me!” she states emphatically. “ I knew you didn’t have tuberculosis . You looked too healthy. Your color was good. You were not thin. You weren’t even coughing up blood,” she challenges.

Suddenly Kulic grabs her and swings her onto his lap .

Lubochka continues, coyly ignoring his roughness. “Hey, did you ever go to a hospital because you were really sick?” she asks.

“ Once, I was in the hospital for real. It was after I served that rape sentence and got out. I was walking down the street, drinking a beer , and listening to the birds singing . There was a soccer ball in the street and some young boys yelled at me to kick it to them. I gave it one hell of a kick and broke my foot. The little bastards had put about 50 pounds of scrap metal inside a soccer ball shell. “

Lubochka laugh s wildly. “That's one cruel joke. I see why you would rather stay here in prison where it’s safe and the little boys can’t get you,” she chides. Then she looks at him and leans toward his lips. “ Tell me, why do I love you so much ? You must know the secret. Tell me. What does a man know that wins a woman’s heart?”

Kulic says nothing but thinks his simple answer: There is not much to know. You just press a woman gently . Be resolute . And always, be the first one in line.

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