Even when I delve right back into my earliest memories, I knew that he was fucked up.
That was why I needed no clues from the police who arrived on my doorstep.
No sooner had they introduced themselves than I said the words that had been darting round in my head for the last twenty years.
‘I know why you’re here. It’s my brother. He’s a serial killer, isn’t he?’
I’d invited the officers into the living room and sat them down. I guess they were far more accustomed to denial, to shrieks of ‘Oh my God’ and determined statements of ‘No, that’s definitely not true. He’s a lovely guy. Keeps himself to himself. Never been in any trouble’.
So, when they asked me ‘Why didn’t you report him to us?’ I told them the truth. I knew he was a psycho and a serial killer in the making. I knew what he was capable of, but what I didn’t know was when he’d strike, and, as I told the police, you can’t arrest someone for being an arse.
My early memories were vibrant, hence unforgettable. Like the time, my brother pinned me to the floor and used my chest as a trampoline. Like the time when he listened in on a phone call and told my friend that she was a slapper because she had been sexually attacked at a party. Or the time when he ran onto the street, grasping a yard brush, yelling and shrieking at the kids hanging out. ‘My sister’s a bad person,’ he shouted. ‘She always steals my friends.’
And how could anyone forget the time when he’d thrown the dog downstairs in the laundry basket asking if I’d pay a million pounds for him not to do it. I was an eight-year-old child. I didn’t have more than 50 pence to my name. So my brother threw the dog downstairs with a sneer and the accusation ‘You did that. It’s your fault that he’s crying’.
I’m writing this because I know the story needs to be told. The world needs to know who and what my brother is.
And in answering those questions, I’ll also answer another question. The answer to the life, universe and everything. Not in general. Not for everyone. Just for him.
I was going to begin at the beginning, as that’s where most stories start. Then I wondered if I should begin when Colin’s crimes formally began – at the point when the bell-ringing police arrived at my door. But the police have had little to do with solving my brother’s crimes, or in apprehending him. I decided to begin where my mind took me.
I won’t bore you police procedure, as that’s got absolutely nothing to do with the story I’m about to tell. It is my story and Colin’s. It isn’t a tale of police or trial.
I started this writing to assist the police, as a convoluted statement, but it’s grown and grown as it seems once I start writing, I can’t stop.
It’s not pretty.
Being three years older than me, my brother has always enjoyed a kind of power. When I was a toddler, he’d offer to change my pull-up nappy when I was potty training. I don’t remember much of this, but I do remember mum telling me years later that he had put all sorts back into my nappy and had also opened the nappy up to look at the contents, then closed it again without removing a single piece of excrement. He seemed to enjoy getting people on their own and vulnerable, preferably partly dressed too. We went to a party when he had just started in high school. I guess that must have made him 11 or so. It was one of those family parties where you’re visiting your ‘Auntie’, who is your mum’s friend. Auntie Hannah had just one child who was a little older than me but not as old as my brother. She was called Selena, and we got on well.
Colin, my big and already brutal brother, took Selena into the garden and climbed into the fishpond. He removed all the fish and threw them onto the lawn. Selena and I rushed around in a panic, attempting to pick them up and put them back, all the while screaming for our mothers. But when my mum and Auntie Hannah came out, Colin told them that he was putting the fish back and that it had been us who’d tried to kill them. Amazingly, our mums believed the older boy. Colin walked away with a smirk, while Selena and I got in big trouble.
From that point on, I noticed that Colin was always believed. He just had that charisma that only truly psychopathic people have. Like you get sucked into it, despite yourself, like you believe all the terrible things they tell you, and you decide, that yes it must have been you who was at fault all along. He was a monster back then.
So many fish died. And cats. Birds from the garden. Hate to remember how many frogs he destroyed, and all the frogspawn he watched hatch, only to fry in a pan over a camping stove, once they emerged to become tadpoles. And it wasn’t only animals that he hurt. I had a plant – it was a rubber plant – on my window ledge, and I liked it. It was bold and beautiful, and I thought that it was indestructible. It wasn’t. Neither were mum’s red hot pokers or dad’s roses.
Not even granddad’s hydrangeas escaped his control.
Even our parents.
One time, our dad made that tip trip. He was doing the best and most beautiful thing he could have done for our family. By removing some of the house’s excess junk, you would be helping us all to lead a better life. The things he removed were mainly the boxes that items arrive in, and old unusable stuff, like school pants, made for someone ten years younger, and instruction manuals for now-broken electrical items. But on dad’s return, what did the psycho say? He said that he needed those things. He demanded them back. He demanded that dad must get them back. But dad refused. Colin insisted and flipped out big time. Dad still refused. It was the correct thing to do, but Colin never forgave him.
Colin had a lot of flip outs as a kid. I’m sure I had my share. But he had far more.
‘Profound,’ he said, and it was immediately apparent that both syllables were stated with reluctance and disdain.
‘Don’t you approve, Colin?’
‘I don’t, but then you knew I wouldn’t.’
‘Did I? Oh, I’m sorry, Colin.’
I used his name as I knew he hated it. I told him for precisely that reason.
‘What part was profound, Colin?’
My brother looked away and appeared to be staring at the family’s group photo. Dull brown frame for a dull brown photo.
Colin turned quickly and glared in my direction.
‘Why do you never smile in photos?’
I shrugged and continued drying the dishes. There was no way I was going to answer that question and even less chance that I would ever be ‘pleasant’ to him, even when forced to wash up alongside him.
Demonic, he was.
Evil, patronising and disgusting.
How I hated him.
Twice a month, every month, we’d arrive at the house of our parents and would sit at opposite sides of their living room, while mum and dad fussed and hovered.
I’m still not sure how much mum and dad understood about their errant son back then: how much they suspected or sensed.
They treated each of us the same as kids. Same sized bedroom, same pocket money, same number of classes and activities per week, same time and same attention. I had been intolerant of him even back then, despite my parents’ decency towards him presumably because I was his primary victim.
As young adults, we began this fortnightly routine, and it had continued, with breaks only for holidays or sickness.
I loved being their daughter, but have never accepted being HIS sister. Still, I had to dry up next to him. There was none of the silly foam-flicking washing-up that may occur between siblings who get on well, but neither was there violence or argument at that stage. It was more that we had an uneasy, temporary truce.
‘I don’t smile when I’m not in photos either,’ I said to him as he sponged a knife far too enthusiastically. ‘Something to do with childhood issues, I suppose.’
I settled my gaze on the tea towel and my hands on a Bohemian crystal brandy glass. I told myself not to grip it too hard. It had been a wedding present 30 years earlier. I placed it on the counter in front of me and breathed deeply. I could hear mum and dad chatting in the living room, so I left him there alone.
‘I’ll finish drying later,’ I said.
‘Sit down and watch Inspector Morse with us,’ my mum suggested. Of course, I did.
I know that this might not seem all that relevant, but it is. Believe me. Colin didn’t have an average person’s relationship with the seven deadly sins. He enthusiastically embraced as many as he could without joy, and with cold appraisal.
Mum and dad aren’t around any more. Their car skidded on black ice when they were coming to visit me. Apparently, Colin had been following behind in his car and had witnessed everything.
He’d inherited their house, in time. I was supposed to have inherited many of their artworks, their car, their small boat, and a lot of jewellery. But Colin kept hold of them all, and even a court order demanding that he release the items to me, he didn’t. Anyway, without mum and dad, the possessions were cold. They had lost their sparkle. I let him keep them, without fuss.
Investigations indicated that there had indeed been a patch of black ice on the country lane.
But I knew Colin was to blame.
Just as I knew he’d been to blame when a young woman was found concussed and raped and stuffed into the lining of a ripped-up armchair left at the entrance to a local beauty spot. Though her attacker had worn an Ironman mask and bulky clothing, the description of him sounded like Colin, as did the few words he said to her. ‘You’re stupid.’ ‘Don’t you understand what I’m trying to do here?’ ‘Why don’t you smile?’
And when the holiday home for dogs was ransacked, and about 20 poor animals had been butchered on the premises, a CCTV image of the man was shown on local news. I knew it was him, despite the Wolfman mask.
It was the same when I arrived home after a night out and noticed a blood-stained dagger on my doorstep, the very same step that the police arrived at just three years later. The blade was written off by my boyfriend as a joke, but never had it been written off by me. It was a warning. It couldn’t have been anything else. I just wasn’t sure what he was warning me against, though I knew what the punishment for not heeding the warning would be.
That same night as the dagger appeared on my doorstep, Chris and I were preparing for bed. We’d had a couple of drinks, so we were jolly and giggly, but nothing more. Chris went out to give Oscar the dog his final walk of the night.
Neither of my two best boys returned. Chris was never found, but Oscar’s collar was left next to the reservoir.
I will never forget that night. How could I? How could anyone?
So, when people ask how I know that my brother’s a serial killer, I am prepared. I carry these sheets of paper in my bag at all times. It only takes one person, on one occasion, to listen.
I just hope that person gets to me before he does, and before I finish writing this account.
Elliot stuffed his hands firmly into the cavernous pockets of his Peaky Blinders coat, and clenched them in, then out and in again. As an attempt to restart his circulation, it wasn’t too bad, but a pair of thick gloves, an extra vest or layer of long johns would have been of more assistance, and he felt stupid for being without them. It wasn’t like him to be unprepared, but the night had been planned around dancing rather than hanging about at bus stops. And when the dancing was to be somewhere special (the Onedin Cellar) and with a particularly stunning young woman, he needed to be dressed just right.
But, after an hour and a half of standing at the edge of the road in the ice cold and foggy weather, Elliot had finally concluded that he’d been stood up. Still, what could you expect from a stunning woman like Hannah? She must have had her pick of far more eligible suitors. He looked down at his feet and wiggled his toes. Circulation was becoming an issue.
‘She didn’t turn up, then?’ The voice was husky and low, and Elliot recognised it immediately as his best friend followed the sound out of the freezing mist.
Elliot’s hunched figure squeezed itself in just that little bit more, and he sighed. Unusually for him, it was a sigh not bolstered by bravado. ‘She didn’t. And I waited for bloody ages, too.’
‘Sorry about that, mate.’ Artie shoved his own hands into his pockets. ‘We’ll go to the gig minus girls then. Mel didn’t turn up either. They are probably ill, or maybe they got kept behind. You know how much that bastard Mitson likes his waitresses to do constant involuntary overtime. Did you call her mobile? Or the cafe?’
Elliot shuffled his feet a little more and began to bounce gently without leaving the ground.
‘Maybe it is Mitson. Who knows, but it would explain why Hannah’s not been in touch. I don’t know the café’s number. Do you?’ Elliot’s feet were so cold that they were beginning to itch, and he wiggled his feet pointlessly inside what were his smartest pair of shoes. Unable to get any heat relief in one set of appendages, he tried with another set and shoved his hands up into his armpits under his coat.
‘I don’t know the café number either. And with us both being banned from the place, I’m not taking the risk of getting any nearer than we already are. You know as well as I do that Mitson doesn’t do anything other than watching through the windows, and he’s threatened more than once that he’s going to set the Doberman on us if we go near. We should never have done what we did to him. I reckon he’s turned the girls against us.’
‘You could be right, mate. But we’re all dressed up for nothing then.’
‘Still fancy The Onedin Cellar? Give it a try. We might get lucky there.’
The young men nodded decisively at each other and, glad to be moving again, began the walk down Armitage Road and past The Railway pub where inside, Mr Mitson watched their dejected forms and sniggered from his usual window seat, knowing that his two favourite barmaids were safe at last.
‘Kick her out,’ the man boomed. Stefan knew that Jonny always was determined to get his voice heard. ‘Just do it. Simple as…’
Stefan turned from Jonny’s piercing unstable gaze, smoothed his first ever goatee and shuffled a little in his position perched against a table. No way was he going to do as Jonny said, just because Jonny said it. Not only was Heather a fantastic player, when Jonny’s skills were definitely taking a downward turn, but Stefan also reckoned there might be a chance of a romance developing, if he played his cards right.
‘It’s not as simple as that. I reckon we’ve got to give her a chance. Having her on the team is awesome. She’s awesome. It can’t be easy being the only girl on the Under 18s. All the footballers. All the hormones!’ Stefan began a laugh, but stifled it after he noticed Jonny’s expression. The thug had jutted out his jawline and pelvis simultaneously, looking like a letter C in the making. He exhaled as he jutted.
‘Kick her out. It’s easy. Get it done,’ Jonny demanded once again, scratching an itchy patch stimulated by his pelvic jutting.
‘But think about it, Jonny. Why? She’s a miracle in motion. She’s like a terrier the way she gets the ball.’
‘She’s good to look at, Stefan, but she can’t shoot!’ Jonny’s cheeks and forehead glowed.
‘You can’t shoot either, Jonny. At any rate, she’s a defender, and she’s little and strong and wiry. She’s brilliant and she’s been through the same trial period you all have. She’s good at what she does, and the rest of the team like her too. So, no way is she getting sacked. Coach agrees. She’s one of our best assets. ’
Stefan, the club’s assistant coach for the past seven months, was beginning to regret his decision to continue this role till the end of the season, for he suspected that Jonny Hart would make his life miserable till he got his way. But he’d no intention of letting Heather go. She was 17, and he was only 18 himself. He liked her. He more than liked her. He admired her. More than that too – she made his ankles tremble.
‘Have it your own way, Stefan. But I’ll tell you this. You’re letting all this power go to your head. Coach should no way have given you the team selection job. No doubt about it. You’ll see, when it comes back to bit you on the arse.’
Jonny stormed from the clubhouse, virtually colliding with Heather on the way in.
‘Look what you’ve done!’ Jonny shouted, and Heather apologised, though clearly no apology was necessary.
‘What’s up with him?’ she said as she neared Stefan. ‘What did I do?’
‘Nothing, Heather. With him it’s enough if other people just live.’
Heather pushed her floppy red fringe behind her ear. ‘I’ve worked that one out.’
She cleared her throat. ‘Coach has just given me the tickets for the club dance. I’m to sell them to all the age groups and supporters. Twenty pounds each. You want any?’
Holding out the pile of tickets, Heather sat herself on the edge of the table opposite Stefan and manouvered into a cross-legged position. Stefan watched her thigh muscles twitch and flex and his gaze carried down her leg to the purple football socks, and matching boots. Her calves were tremendous – so well defined that he could trace the shape even through the thick ribbing.
Feeling sure that Heather must have noticed him staring at her lower half, Stefan attempted to look away, to move his body, or to even answer her question – anything but continue the awkward silence and the feeling that she surely must be perceiving him as nothing more than a pervert. But his awkwardness had meant that he failed to notice the very things that would have made him feel better. Heather was looking back at him with a warm smile, she was crinkling her eyes, and she was playing with her carroty fringe. Her head cocked to one side, she had no sooner got herself settled on the table, than she was already moving towards Stefan, with a tiny, nervous giggle.
‘Stefan, I want to ask you something.’
‘Sure. Anything,’ he spluttered as she extracted a ticket from the pile in her hand.
‘Fancy coming with me?’
‘Sure. Anything,’ he repeated, shakily taking the ticket from her hand while attempting to control the tremble in his ankles. ‘I’ll pay, of course.’
Wow. Success with a lady at last, and a dynamic and beautiful sportswoman at that.
‘I’ll buy mine, you buy yours, OK? And, Stefan?’
‘Don’t you think that Jonny is becoming a liability? I think you should kick him out.’
Stefan couldn’t help but nod his head, and pull the young woman towards him, his hand gently crushing her purple and orange strip top while her hand snaked under his.
He would go to the dance, and he would sack Jonny Hart, and both activities would be extremely beneficial for the team’s success. They wouldn’t do him any harm either.
The zoo was too small and looked underfunded. Scruffy, even. And, to a person who is very torn about the whole issue of keeping animals in captivity, it hadn’t been my first choice for a day out. Still, we were on holiday, we were in a remote area, and there weren’t a huge number of other options for tourists. So, combined with the undoubted strength of ‘pester power’, the zoo it was.
We’d already encountered a few weird and wonderful creatures. The lemurs had been so close to us as they sat cross legged on the inner window ledge of their enclosure. At one point, eight were sat staring at us, but the core number was two. The same two. One was clearly a mum, and one her baby… The mum picked at her baby’s fur, and the baby fidgeted. It was an image of domestic bliss, till another lemur began to poke the mother in the eye. I hoped that the baby wouldn’t learn this abusive behaviour from its older enclosure mate, especially as the mother lemur seemed to allow the abuse. She didn’t retaliate, vocally protest or even move away. I was reminded of myself – not long out of an emotionally abusive relationship – and I shivered in distaste.
The zoo’s selection of monkeys was a small one, and we quickly tired of the bullying lemur, so moved on to the next section where a red panda, curled into a ball, was asleep atop a modified dovecote. We all agreed that the red panda was cute, though boring, but just as we began to move away, we saw the panda’s legs twitch and it rolled towards the edge of the dovecote. The red panda was no longer boring as it plummeted to the ground, limbs outsplayed, and landed on the muddy grass, seemingly unharmed.
Not having learnt its lesson, it climbed on the network of ropes to position itself back on the dovecote once again. It rolled into a ball and, presumably, fell straight to sleep. I found myself wondering how many times each day this might happen to the red panda, and, even, if it chose to fall for attention, or even to provide us with a more interesting floorshow. I remembered a young prairie wolf cub we’d watched at another animal park. It had a ball playing up to the cameras of excited onlookers. While its brothers and sisters hovered around the wooded area in the middle of their compound, surrounded by the shelter of undergrowth and their pack, one little wolf had decided that people were more fun. People would provide it with interest, so it would provide us with interest in return. It was the sweetest thing – the way it acted just like a domestic puppy, rushing round, doing zoomies, waiting for us, jumping off a branch and pretending to fall off.
The red panda fell again, and we soon grew bored. I hoped it had company in the shed at the back of its enclosure as I hated the through of it being alone. As I looked around, it became obvious that it could easily have roamed free throughout the zoo, and given there were no predatory creatures there, I reckoned it would be safe enough. But it chose to remain where it was, stumbling and getting back up to provide momentary amusement to passing humans. So, I guessed, partner or no partner, it was happy with its lot. I was glad of that.
The lack of a map (nobody had picked one up) meant that we were wandering erratically from one area to the other, and were unsure of what we’d encounter next. But when we turned the corner from the red panda, we moved into something that was clearly a different form of habitat altogether. There was nothing fencing the animals in and separating them from the human visitors. All we could see was a huge, grassy and muddy field, which surrounded a central large pool. Around the edges of the field were trees and hedges and huge beds of straw, but there were no creatures to be seen.
Our first thought was that this was a bird area and that the birds were perhaps wildfowl or of the kind that spent certain hours of the day elsewhere off-site. We thought no more of it and prepared to follow the path to the next mystery area when suddenly we noticed something weird. It seemed that a creature was emerging from the pool, and it wasn’t large enough to be a hippo. Still, it was large enough, and bulky too, with a solid body and skinny legs. It must have been completely submerged till that point.
My heart almost burst with delight, and I said out loud. ‘Capybara, my favourite animal in the world. It’s a capybara.’ It was indeed a capybara, basically an enormous brown guinea pig. I immediately squatted down and held out my hands to this drenched yet still-muddy creature, which shook itself as soon as it was fully clear of the pond. I smiled encouragingly, and was so happy when I realised it noticed me. ‘Come here, cappy,’ I pleaded. But the magnificent capybara turned away from me with what looked like a shrug. I wanted to hug it. I wanted to take it home. But all the capybara wanted was to rest itself post-bathe in the hay strewn sunny corner of its field. I got up, feeling stupid, and the capybara sprinted away. Still, I’d seen one, and that was what mattered.
A moment of joy. A moment of sheer happiness that I’d encountered my favourite animal, in the flesh. And a moment of realisation that I would never mean the same to it, as it did to me.
And I think, Ivan, you’re amazing. You have the weirdest mind I’ve met. Like, ever.
We have a good time, me and Ivan. He smokes and drinks and tells me of his dreams. Like how energy in water is the captured souls of people. Like how love, peace, harmony and happiness are as good as a duvet day.
Sometimes the swearing is in brackets. He’s said that more than once. He says it again and ends with a repeat of the word Sometimes. Just for definition.
What’s that mean, I ask, for Ivan speaks in riddles and rhymes, and I’m tongue-tied. Hogtied.
He tells me that brackets are like the ones holding up my bedroom shelves. There for a reason, but you don’t really think about them. Without them the whole of everything would fall apart.
So, I say, does that mean that without bad language our world would collapse?
‘Pretty much,’ he says, then falls into a fit of cannabis-induced giggles.
The garden, medieval and walled, was lush and fruitful this year, and old friar Matthew couldn’t believe the harvest of herbs he was collecting. The drying room would be full and their winter stocks ample.
As he was collecting the catnip, a pair of ginger speckled and furry ears came into view. A cat’s face emerged from the catnip patch, Its pupils dilated and his gait unsteady.
‘Where are you going, brother?’ Friar Matthew asked. His concern partly for the abbey’s crops and partly for the stoned and disheveled feline who was clearly not meant to be in the private walled garden.
‘I’m looking for adventure,’ said the cat. ‘Plus, I’m trying to find my friend, but all I seem to find are snakes in the grass.’
As if to confirm his statement, a small green and blue adder popped its head up from the bracken and catnip.
‘What did you say? Did you mention me?’
‘No, mate. I’m just looking for my friend,. We were supposed to go on an adventure.’
The adder nodded, and seemed unconcerned when his head became unattached from his long, thin body.
‘Who is your friend, brother?’
‘Humph,’ a horse. You can’t miss him. Walks upright. Arms like a T-Rex. Wears a shirt and puffy pants.’
Tiny corkscrew curls cascaded onto Holly’s browned shoulders and she ran her fingers through them. “Damn it,” she muttered. “No time for a retune”. The stage manager gave her an almost imperceptible nod, just as the festival compere shouted his terrifying words from the stage mic. “And performing here, for the first time since Woodstock… The most iconic and secretive performer ever to grace our Barbarian Festival stage… Holly Bay-Jones!”
And the crows hushed as Holly walked slowly onto the stage. The woman who’d once been a fiery mass of kinetic energy was now an unrecognisable grey-haired OAP. But she still held her famous yellow Rickenbacker guitar, and the crowd waited in near-embarrassed silence for her set to begin. The quiet was broken by a faint and accidental guitar strum, and, in her coarse, and creaking voice, Holly addressed the audience of thousands without fear.
“I don’t know anyone here. But I now that most of you think you know me. Let me tell you now, people. You don’t! And how do I know that? Because even I don’t know me. The person I was, does not equal the person I currently am. And for those of you conspiracy theorists who’ve been wondering where I’ve been all this time, I’ve got something to say that will confirm or deny whatever rumour you’ve chosen to believe. I’m not a young woman now. But I was less than 22 years old when I had my first stroke. Then 23 for my next. Let me tell you, kids. Psychotropic drugs are not your friends. Believe me. I know first hand.
But I can tell you something straight. There’s nothing like a stroke to get you mind aware. Whoever and whatever you are, listen to someone who knows. You don’t need mind-altering. All you need is mind-clarifying, and you aint gonna get that from anything other than the greatest music ever heard. Here at the Barbarian!”
A cheer arose from the front row of the audience. “We love you, Holly!” a middle-aged man shouted, and it was followed by a wolf whistle. “Still sexy, darling!” the man continued, and the audience chuckled awkwardly, though Holly looked as though she hadn’t heard. Perhaps she hadn’t.
“I love you all, too. But I guess you’re not here to listen to a couple of old folk talking.”
She awaited the cheer, and it came. “You wanna hear some music?”
She adjusted the mic stand. “This one’s for Dolly,” she shouted.
#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #musician #dolly parton
Emma should have realised that her family weren’t the greatest of influences. After all, who on earth would call their only daughter Emma when their surname is Bezel? Poor Em Bezel was virtually set up for life as a swindler.
Instead, Emma spent most of her life trying her best to stay out of trouble, though it wasn’t easy. Her dad regularly encouraged her involvement in each of his latest schemes: a beach hut hustle; a shop scam; an online dating deception… and Emma determinedly refused to participate in each and every one. By the time she was in her early thirties she was the only member of her huge family who had completely kept out of trouble. But still she found herself in prison. I didn’t do it, she said. I don’t know him. I wasn’t there.
But the police were determined. That’s how it can sometimes be when a crime family is involved. It’s almost a game to the police – who can set up the next family member. Everything possible is used as a bargaining tool, and Emma, good old Emma was simply an expendable pawn and a means towards the end of finally putting away her father, Brian Bezel. Before she knew it, Emma was lost and lonely in a woman’s prison, and was likely to remain there for a couple of years.
The weeks passed slowly. She made friends – just a few – and she learned how to live within the system. She also learned how to accept the constant teasing of her fellow inmates once they worked out her name, ‘Hey Embezzle. Done any fraud today?’ Those who understood it, thought it was so hilarious. It wasn’t , but these jeers were an improvement on the usual idiocy of cat calls and declarations of intended sex from her fellow inmates, and one of the seedier wardens.
Emma’s confinement coping strategy was simple. She wrote. During every solitary moment the prison system granted, Emma would scribble onto A4 pads with the tiniest of writing. The prison’s general hubbub was a major distraction, and headphones, music and other noise cancellers didn’t help much, but eventually she managed to blank it out. Once her own mission was determined, her heart rate slowed, her anxiety calmed, and her life settled. Sure, she was in prison, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It gave her time to make peace with her thoughts.
And that was when Bonny came along. Bonny, an average looking woman of average height and build, with average length hair, an athletic build and soft grey eyes. The outside was mainly average too, but it was the inside that stunned Emma. Bonny’s thoughts. Wow. What a brain. The concepts she put forward. The long and convoluted words she used. The way she tapped into Emma’s own scrappy ideas and developed them into strong and fully formed concepts.
Bon and Em. Emma knew that they were a perfect couple in the making. Their bodies would meld together as would their minds. One would complain, and the other would put things right. That was just how things were and how things would likely always be for the pair of them.
Alone on her bed, Emma would ponder her own responses to Bonny’s hypothetical questions and remarks and every day, her obsession became more intense. Soon, it was clear that Bonny had bewitched her in a way she’d never experienced before, and Emma’s fascination was as much intellectual as it was an affair of the heart. Even the thought of Bonny would send Emma’s toes twitching. She knew she must get to know her better and make things real between them. But how?
The idea came to Emma deep in the night. At these times, lights were turned off and bodies were turned on. Emma would write to Bonny. She’d write of how they might get together and begin a relationship that would last lifelong.
So, Emma wrote. Bonny, as clear in her mind’s eye as she had ever been. Bonny, perfect and thoughtful and considerate. It made it so easy for Emma to pour out her heart. ‘I can’t stop thinking of you… I sit each day hoping you will turn up outside my door… please understand… please listen… please just be real to me’.
And in her story to Bonny, the protagonist, Emma, lost in a prison cell not of her making, presented her would-be lover Bonny with two sides of scribbled pleading. And fictional lover to be, Bonny called Emma to her, and touched her hand. ‘Yes,’ she said.
And in Emma’s reality, the cell expanded along with her emotions, and she allowed herself the beginnings of happiness. Sure, Bonny was a fictional creation. Certainly, she was a fantasy perfect woman, but surely she was a fantasy that could come true, one day.
Emma continued to write, half-smiling, heart beating with a regular flutter, and lips pursed, and looked forward enormously to getting to know the following day’s intake of new girls!
‘I don’t feel like it. I never feel like it. Why would anyone prefer to do their homework when they could lie on the bed and listen to Def Zone?’
Sharon shrugged and looked down at her done, and he knew that she remembered feeling almost exactly the same. Life hadn’t been straightforward back in her own schooldays, when Duran Duran had been her reason to rise each day, and the prospect of dragging herself out of bed and away from them was too horrific to contemplate. She’d told him this many a time when it suited her – but now now.
‘When I was your ages I had two jobs, was studying for my grade 7 on the guitar, and was one of the first girls in our area to join the scouts. I was always busy. Always happy.’
Bailey sighed and stared up at his mum, defiance seeping from every pore.
‘Yeah, and look at you now. Single parent, dull office job, and a shabby little car that’s just embarrassing. Big time.’
Sandra sighed. ‘Do you think that much of me?’
‘No, I think less than that.’ With this nasty comment, Bailey turned to one side and faced the wall – away from his mum. Only barely maintaining his composure, he sighed deeply.
‘So, why can’t you, or won’t you, do your homework at this moment?’
‘I can’t, and won’t do my homework, owing to the fact that I’ve already done my homework.’
‘English. Design Tech. Computers…’ Bailey turned to face her again.
‘Show me.’ Hands on hips stance. Bailey knew she wasn’t buying it at all.
‘Show me,’ his mum pursed her lips at him.
‘I’ve handed it in.’
‘Yes. Yesterday and today.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘Well, it’s true.’
As if to emphasise the point, Bailey span himself round on the bed and struggled to sit upright, all in one less-than-fluid movement.
‘You never believe ANYTHING I say!’ He struck his preferred post of both defiance and hurt-little-boy now. ‘Why do you hat me so much? I bet you wish I’d never been born…’
He knew his mum was used to this. He came out with it once every few days. Of course, Bailey also knew how irrational he was acting, and how he was clearly trying and almost succeeding at manipulating his mum, but somehow his need to NOT do his homework won out. Even thought it was due in the next days’s first period, and even thought he wanted to succeed at school as much as, if not more than anyone in his class – in his year, even!
Somehow, something compelled him on.
‘Anyway, I can’t do homework that I’ve already done – and handed in – and the other homework I’ve got is for next week sometime. I’ve got loads of time.’
Bailey scratched his armpit and smelled his finger.
‘Anyway, I need a shower as priority. Homework can wait.’ Bailey stormed from his bedroom, motioning his mum to join him in leaving the room.
‘Come on then, thought you only came in for my dirty uniform.’
He stomped into the bathroom, proceeded to take a half-hour shower, and trudged back to his room, towel round waist, and spots round shoulders glaring angrily while recovering from the heat.
He prepared to throw himself onto his bed, turn up his music, Def Zone’s brand new fourth release – and to begin an experimental chapter of his daydream about Katie Plant, their bass player – when he realised his mum was still in his room, and had likely been for the entire time he’d been showering. Oh God, what might she have found?
‘Why are you still here?’ His shriek was shrill and girlish, and his eyes, like those acne pustules gracing his shoulder blades, glared a fiery red.
‘Get out of my room,’ he yelled.
‘I, ermm, fell asleep,’ Sandra said.
‘You didn’t. That’s so clearly an excuse. You’re been rummaging haven’t you?’
Bailey caught the towel that threatened to fall and expose him.
‘And what about your excuses?’ his mum said quietly bit with determination. ‘I checked your school planner, there are three pieces of work due in tomorrow. Two pieces for the day after, and I know for a fact that you’ve had four detentions this month.’
‘That’s not true. The teachers are liars. They are our to get me. They enjoy getting me into trouble. They are all…’
‘For God’s sake, shut up, Bailey. Put your terrible music on, get your books out and start writing.’
In the end, the argument-like conversation with his mum had taken him much longer than would the homework he’d been procrastinating about. He was grateful that his mum hadn’t snooped even more, given that there were three bage of MDMA in his sock drawer, a replica handgun behind his tshirts, and near enough half a kilo of weed, triple wrapped and stashed in a Tupperwarre pot at the back of his wardrobe.
Let her think he was a typical procrastinating teen. Let her think his excuses were the worst thing he would ever be doing. Let her live in happy ignorance, for now.