Personal Grooming

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I probably don't need to tell you that personal grooming isn't a top priority in Furnace.

I mean, most of our time here is spent trying to stay alive. You don't really give much thought to how your hair looks when you're bolting from a mutant skinless dog that wants to tear out your throat. And who cares whether your clothes are ruffled when you're in a skirmish, punches and blood flying in every direction.

It's not even like there's much hope of romance. So having clean teeth and minty fresh breath, who cares?

There aren't good days inside, but I guess there are okay days—days when you don't have the crap kicked out of you, or when you don't see somebody get dragged off by the blood watch. And on those days I can almost kid myself that I'm glad to be here—I mean, I think about all the boys my age who get forced to make their beds in the morning, who have to brush their teeth before they go to sleep, who get yelled at by their mum if they don't wash behind their ears.

We may be prisoners in the worst hellhole on Earth, but in some ways we're free.

That's not to say there aren't ways of keeping yourself smart in Furnace. We 're teenage boys, yeah, but we know that if we don't brush our teeth they'll fall out. That thought doesn't bother the Skulls much, and it's not like we need to chew the slop they serve as food here, but nobody wants the nickname 'Gums', right?

It was Donovan who taught me the ropes, the same way he taught me pretty much everything about being a prisoner. We were in the showers one day, exhausted from a morning of chipping—digging out new rooms in the prison with pickaxes. Washing in Furnace is not a pleasant experience, I can tell you—a couple of minutes being blasted by freezing water. It's all you can do to move, let alone rub yourself down.

I caught Donovan wrapping something around his finger and turned to him, shivering.

"What's that?" I asked through chattering teeth, thinking it was a bandage. "You cut yourself back there?"

"Me, cut myself?" replied D with a laugh that echoed around the shower room until it was swallowed by the roar of the water. "You kiddin' me? I am iron man, I don't bleed."

He knotted the strip of cotton—he must have pulled it from his prison uniform—then raised his finger to his mouth. And there it was, his official Furnace issue toothbrush.

"There's a reason I got these pearly whites," he said, flashing me a grin. "You better start brushing too, kiddo, or you're gonna look like my nan, if you follow me."

He hid his teeth behind his gums and wrinkled up his face, causing me to laugh so hard I almost choked on the shower spray.

A few days later D strutted into the cell with a hell of a lot less hair than I'd seen him with that morning.

"That's better," he asked, giving me a spin. "Tall enough as it is without two feet of 'fro on top."

"How did you manage that?" I asked, genuinely astonished. I ran a hand through my own tangled mop of greasy hair. I hadn't given much thought to it since I'd got here, but now that the subject had come up I did wonder how on Earth people kept their hair under control. It's not like we could head down the mall for a short back and sides.

"What, you think we never get a hair cut in here?" he asked, beaming that same smile. "You didn't think it was strange that everybody don't look like ZZ Top?"

I didn't know who or what ZZ Top was, but it was odd that Furnace's inmates didn't have hair down to their ankles.

"Welcome to the next stage of your education, Alex," Donovan said, ushering me out of our cell. "Personal grooming."

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