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Nothing to write home about

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Day 220

 

I wrote to Aaron three weeks ago.

He hasn’t written back, but the letter wasn’t returned either so I’m assuming he received it.

I tried to picture him, sitting there at the kitchen table after work, going about his day and then finding the letter – various different scenarios ran through my mind, him ripping it to shreds without opening it and letting the pieces fall into the bin and giving it a sad scoff, or taking it to the scrapyard and theatrically tossing it into the crusher whilst shouting profanities in my general direction, or perhaps burning it in the Woollie’s fireplace, silently seething, mumbling something about a nightmare – although I suspect he’s not using terms of endearment right now.

I hope he doesn’t, but I really wish he will.

I’m still on the fence about that whole decision being the right one; hearing from me might be something he doesn’t need right now, not if he’s really trying to put an end to us.

I wasn’t planning on reading a possible reply, but having an unopened letter with grammatically dodgy words was something I was looking forward to in a masochistic sort of way.

There’s this gnawing feeling in my gut that he’s not gonna write to me, combined with an equally unpleasant sensation that it’s better for the both of us, as foreign as it might be for me - him staying away from me being the for the best is a feeling that couldn’t be more strange.

Since when am I better off without him?

As I scribbled my apology to him, I debated internally on several subjects I was uncertain about including in the letter; I rewrote it so many times.

In the end it was maybe a little too succinct, just skimming through the things left unsaid, the hidden still stirring below the surface.

I said everything, but I told him nothing.

But eventually I put the final dot there and did the most human thing I could possibly do here; I mailed a letter, put on my work clothes, and went into the office.

I could say I almost enjoy my new job; once I got rid of the dangerous familiarity of being at an office turning into a fantasy of being able to exit the building at the end of the day, I indulged greatly in the opportunity to despise the people who have been doing the paperwork before me.

I think it’s admirable to give such tasks to inmates, but it’s simply pathetic to give said task to someone who at best should be doing things of the numeral sort in the kitchen by the food waste bins counting discarded beans.

Now that I have stepped in, the numbers, spreadsheets and filed documents are in an order like no other documents have been in the history of documents.

The guv said as much – not in so many words, but he acknowledged my efficiency and gave me an extra treat for being a good boy.

He gave me coffee.

Good coffee.

I’m not often lost for words, but during those few minutes I sipped the luxurious liquid of celestial quality, I did effectively shut up for a good while.

Yeah, that might have been his endgame all along, but do I care?

The UK prison system had around 4,3 billion pounds in its budget overall last year; cutting costs by stopping people from having such beverages on a regular basis just might effect negatively on the statistics regarding violent altercations - there’s been a rise in attacks, which is also due to decrease in staff numbers.

Around 35 thousand attacks in total last year.

The prison budget was nearly 1 billion less five years ago, and I can only imagine the state of refreshments back then.

Cutting the budget wasn’t a great idea, but if I’m honest and why would I not be, doubling it wouldn’t probably do much, considering how they spend these budgets.

If I were the one making decisions, there’d be a seriously better plan for distributing that cash, starting with keeping both the staff as well as the inmates happier by not giving them crappy food and crappy coffee, because isn’t that the least we can do for ourselves?

The food is not a disaster just taste-wise, it’s seriously salty and greasy and lacking nutrition (which will probably not be fixed any time soon) I’m not saying people on the outside aren’t eating stupidly, but inmates like me are very much peeved about this bad excuse for a meal we’re given daily.

Luckily, being a part of the watch chain is paying off in that regard.

I’m getting better food – simply because I’m cooking it.

István offered me a thing or two as a reward, and to his surprise I asked for fresh produce instead of recreational drugs and crisps.

He just raised his Jack Nicholson-esque, bushy Hungarian eyebrow at me and laughed – he was clearly impressed in a disbelieving sort of way, and he complied by getting stuff snuck in through the kitchen system.

I cook for them regularly now.

Getting a good meal that seemingly is about rewarding them and not myself is a double win.

They like the food; granted they tend to add that chili paste called pista into just about everything and sometimes ruin a perfectly gorgeous vegetable stew by throwing in some spicy sausages, they’re still getting better grub and who knows, maybe they’ll be less violent once their vitamin intake increases.

To me the nutritional perk is one hell of an incentive, and I can assure you that you wouldn’t get it from people with less impressive eyebrows.

Inmates who behave themselves can and do get better privileges from the guv too– there’s a thing called “Incentives and earned privileges scheme” which, for example, can result in getting more visits or being able to spend more money each week.

I don’t care about money – I bet I’m not the only one who hadn’t clocked such a matter of course. Not until I got banged up.

Having just credits to spend on necessities and not actual cash is liberating.

Having money just for the sake of having money is ridiculous.

Jamie though, he hasn’t had much to celebrate on the food front, because he’s suffering from a massive toothache.

I’m not denying there was an I told you so spinning about in my head, but getting all sarky isn’t going to solve anything and this is something that even Jacob doesn’t do; taking the mick when someone harmless is already down.

Personal growth is such a glorious thing, unless you’re in prison and have no general use for it - and it just might get confiscated if you start being too okay with the status quo.

Then again, Jamie’s a good bloke and not being a prat to him works to everyone’s advantage.

Moreover, I’ve been there.

Toothache is paralyzingly horrible and taking the mick when a person is suffering from it is just unforgivable.

I bought some extra dental floss to give to him, because that’s what a good cellmate does.

 

Day 237

 

Remember when I talked about everyone having that weak spot? Like sweets or watching someone get punched - or simply watching someone.

To Tomek it’s about watching someone, and that someone is me.

It’s a bit of information I now keep in my back pocket for an especially rainy day.

Being on friendly terms with István is the most useful thing here in addition to working for the guv – if I were an idiot, I’d get all hyped about being like a double agent and all that television-shaped mind crap, but the thing is, I’m my own agent.

Letting others think I’m in their pocket is just common sense.

Knowing Tomek wants to get in my pockets is a nice tidbit – I don’t have any use for that information just yet, but it’s just a matter of time, isn’t it.

Tomek has been mildly staring at me at times; once I realized he was doing so, I took the opportunity during one of his lingering gazes and just glanced at him giving him a casual nod, one that doesn’t say anything.

He nodded back, but his nod revealed a hell of a lot more.

It was a hasty and panicked once-over, but it was there.

A part of me wants to warn him; he’s being obvious by trying too hard not to be obvious, I recognise that trait. After all, I’ve been in the back of that closet, I know how it throws off your behaviour when it gets too much, and that ambivalence is not safe in a place where being safe is fleeting at best.

Tomek is clearly struggling, but so are the people he gives the darker nods to, so feeling sorry for him is as ambivalent as him keeping up the closet appearances.

I have vast experience on hiding my sexuality, and it wasn’t surprising that I was able to slip back into denial; I’m in denial over a great deal of things and having one more part of me locked away from being locked away is not that difficult.

So long as I keep them all tucked in the same vacuum that now floats about in space - that time capsule of mine I’ll probably never open, never indulge in rediscovering those aspects of me.

I have thought about the concept of digging myself back up in fourteen years.

I’m not looking forward to finding out what’s there.

I suppose at the very core of it, being in cahoots with István is not only setting myself up for safety, it’s also a sign of what I already know to be an unfortunate truth; that a part of me is considering going much further into the system within the system.

Not just taking a risk of getting a longer sentence but partially hoping for that, since I could let go of everything once and for all if I knew I’ll be here for the rest of time.

In the meanwhile I’m raking information, and cottoning on to Tomek’s vague, denial-drenched crush on me is one for the rainy days.

I’d rather not make it useful, but I will if the situation warrants it.

And there’s always going to be something like this, isn’t there?

There’s always going to be some poor sod of a confused criminal bloke who looks at me the way Lawrence White did.

 

Day 240

I’m no longer wearing the watch; my vetting is complete for now and I’m more or less officially part of the group.

Jacob is relieved, Robert is not.

István and I have worked out a smoothly running routine; we talk daily, face to face or through others - I keep him informed of the block’s schedule and much to my relief, he doesn’t keep me informed on the details of how he makes that information useful for his trafficking, be it relocating drugs, money, or people.

My walks around are carefully coordinated to look random just as before, and I have mastered the wild animal encounter stare; looking towards them but not at them.

And in all honesty, looking at them isn’t something I’d prefer anyway, not that there aren’t times when I have to. But my walks are mine and no one messes with them.

I don’t get messed with.

I’m glad about having the other work routine at the guv’s office in that sense too, knowing I can switch off the block guardianship and get lost in paperwork – István hasn’t yet voiced any requests to facilitate expanding his status through me. I know that’s coming, but that’s future Jacob’s problem.

I’m not trying to be Robert in the office either; being in that office means simply working hard and nothing else.

I can keep my mind completely blank, and I embrace that with the utmost gratitude.

 

Day 247

I’ve made a new friend. I know I’ve been banging on about how friendship doesn’t really exist in a place like this, and I still stand by that – but this bloke, Aidan, fits into the category of mate-like people in incarceration situations. We’ve known each other for a while now and haven’t attempted to get favours out of each other even once, which is why I feel comfortable calling him a mate.

He’s civilized, has a proper sense of humour, has an air of charisma with his thick sandy hair, big dark eyes and broad shoulders, and he takes no crap from anyone; he’s strong but not in a wanker sort of way, he’s got great stories from his hometown of Donegal, and once I offered him a plate of my cooking when he visited the kitchen, we were pretty much solid.

Aidan has leverage, and it spreads out in a different direction to that of István’s – it’s vaster, it’s vaguer, and a hell of a lot more intimidating.

But Aidan himself is far from intimidating, at least to me he is.

When we were indulging in my superbly prepared ratatouille, sitting on the crates of vegetables and flour, he told me about his daughter which was strange – or perhaps just a new experience, since he just happened to be the first person in addition to Jamie who has spoken openly about their offspring.

I know people like to keep their families out of these equations as much as possible, and it’s smart – maybe that’s why I was so baffled by this sudden conversation.

Aidan asked me if I had kids; I told him it was complicated.

That’s not a lie, is it?

It’s an answer I don’t feel that bad about giving.

I could never flat-out lie about being a parent, even if I’m not one anymore, not the way I should be.

I think I was never a parent the way I should’ve been.

As we were chatting, Aidan dug out a photo from his pocket and handed it to me.

There was a teenage girl scowling in the pic with her arms crossed, a paintbrush in one hand and a sketch pad on the other. She had bubble-gum pink hair, sharp almond-shaped eyes and an air of mischief about her; apparently she’s smart, stroppy and talented art wise. Unfortunately her stroppiness had landed her at youth offender’s in Northern Ireland.

I looked at the overdone nonchalance of a volatile and artsy young girl, trying and failing not to think about Liv.

Meeting Aidan was a genuinely great experience. I like that he doesn’t take people behind the scenes for a physical reminder of who’s boss – Aidan is indeed boss without having to remind anyone. I haven’t been able to dig out every detail on his position on the chain, but what I can tell is that he hasn’t worn any kind of watches for at least a couple of decades.

It's a relief he's not involved with the activities of the Polish and the Hungarians, he’s not visibly involved with anything dodgy – which is one hell of an accomplishment in a prison setting. He’s had to leave behind a burning barn or two, of course, but he’s staying out of the things that move too close to the surface.

In István"s case, knowing he can’t be caught just tells you that there are people getting caught for him, and that is one of the ultimate positions in the hierarchy; being top dog is stressful, but if you want a career in prison, you can’t expect to pull a sicky when things get tough.

I’ve never been one for sickies or neglecting my work responsibilities, unless it was something truly important – mostly that meant ignoring my workload at Home Farm because I opted for a much more pressing issue, that being pressing Aaron into a mattress and doing a lot of rewarding work.

However, this is not a place to skive in, and Aidan seems like the type of bloke who hasn’t skived in his entire life, nor has he put up with such from others.

But he’s not what you’d call a top dog.

He doesn’t bark; he doesn’t have to.

If one were to get all cliché about it, one would call him a don, even though he’s not that sort of bloke either.

That’s one thing I cannot wrap my mind around; organized crime is such a headscratcher. It’s something the common folk often loathe and idolize simultaneously, mainly because they concentrate on things they’ve seen on Sopranos but the truth is, it’s much worse – and on the outside it’s even worse than it is in a place like this. You’re bound to form such circles in here, it’s even expected – but shaping that sort of system on the outside on purpose just seems gloriously sickening, to think that there are entire families, generations of people who want to decrease the world’s population by topping anyone without a second thought, waging wars in a world that has those enough already.

And that need to rule the regulari, keeping the regular people in a constant state of fear and uncertainty, taking over their businesses or just looming over them to give them a coronary from the prospect, living under the threatening cumulus nimbus, blackmailing cash from them by pretending to offer a service – getting payment for protecting someone from themselves.

Bankrupting the innocent and calling it protection, it really doesn’t get any more disgusting than that; making profit on someone’s starvation.

We all know there are people who simply enjoy violence and having that horrendous upper hand, people who’d rather watch life drain from someone’s eyes than be at home kicking a football about in the yard with their kids.

I’d like to think most people would still rather choose football.

Once you’ve had kids you really should just appreciate everything that comes with.

I’m having trouble understanding how someone could take that for granted.

How someone can manage without them.

Good thing Jacob doesn’t have any - or as I told Aidan, it’s complicated.

 

 

Day 250

 

I talked to my dad last night.

Well, by talking I mean that I yelled at him in my head whilst consuming a little bottle of Hungarian homebrew – I wouldn’t’ve done it with the others, but getting sloshed in the fragile privacy of my own cell was as good as it was going to get, and the inebriation served as a very welcome distraction.

At first.

I wasn’t crying, and I wasn’t lying on the floor curled up in a ball of inmate self-pity – more to the point, it wasn’t Robert’s self-pity either. The booze lived up to the nickname known as liquid courage – I had the courage to be angry, and I needed that anger, even though it’s as draining as it is cathartic. Although, catharsis always drains you out, because you get rid of so many parts of your own personal bitterness that it’s bound to – supposed to – take its toll, put you through those emotions, remind you of just how long you’ve unnecessarily carried around those wounds when you could’ve been doing something more constructive; in other words, doing anything but flippin’ that.

The reminder is needed, as is the self beration.

Not that us humans truly learn much from it, but it gives us that sweet illusion of inner growth, that strength to carry other things of dark denial with us.

Sure, life is all about letting go – ironically, it’s the one thing humans haven’t been able to master.

If our species is the end of the evolution line, evolution isn’t doing that great, is it?

Case in point, me yelling at the ghost of my dad.

Since it was the combo of booze and isolation that ignited it, I think it’s fair to say this was something of a collaboration between Robert, Jacob, and Rob.

After all, we were all there back then.

None of us having any courage.

That was one of my main themes in the things that yell in the night.

I didn’t do what I have done in the past; I didn’t do his side of the conversation because the imagined dialogue of a cul-de-sac relationship felt even less useful then it had previously done.

I told him about Aaron, Liv and Seb.

I told him about the Whites.

I even told him about people like Jimmy and Nicola, people who had been my mates – I used to joke that I don’t have any, and a very unfortunate majority of people agreed but I did have friends, and I did have a support system.

I told dad about telling Aaron and Vic what he’d done to me.

I scolded him about his bad work ethic, given he unlawfully sacked the farmhand.

I don’t remember the lad’s face anymore - his features are hiding in the same shock-induced cupboard of trauma, his face changes in my mind with every passing day- usually it’s someone I’ve let down, and the situation we were caught in morphs into other let downs, other people who have suffered irreversibly.

Sometimes he looks like Aaron, sometimes he looks like Chrissie.

Or Lawrence or Rebecca.

Diane, Vic, Andy.

Katie.

My mum.

Last night though, he had no face, in fact he wasn’t there at all.

It was just me and my dad.

I kicked everyone else out and cornered him in my room, evaporated from my cell and materialized back into that old room of mine,  where I had kept myself hidden in every possible way, where I had hidden my diary, my dodgy money, my fear, my dirty magazines with pics of blokes, my need for appreciation that never existed.

Myself.

I told him about Lee.

I also told him I wasn’t sorry about Lee being dead.

I wasn’t sorry for hitting him.

I told him I was sorry I didn’t do it on purpose.

As I’ve said, being here would make so much more sense if I had.

My fists itching and my growl desperate, I punched my dad until he fell – with words though, because he doesn’t deserve to get away that easily.

Physical violence is the coward’s way to deal, Robert, and you’re better than that.

Aaron said that, coming from him it’s not just a huge admission of personal shortcomings or a compliment to me.

It’s a bigger truth than most.

Too bad I didn't remember it when I picked up that shovel. 

The booze was foul, but so was my mood so it was a perfect partnership of all things bitter and poorly done - I kept my fists to myself, even when I teleported back inside the concrete lump of a cell, but I let my anger continue to reel, to shapeshift in its language, discover new words that it previously had been too hasty and stunted to create.

And since Jamie wasn’t around that night, having been taken to the hospital ward because of his teeth as I predicted would happen, I was free (hah) to indulge in it all, to embrace the fury that so very ironically was allowed to surface whilst being banged up and drunk.

So I yelled again, yelled at a ghost, one that no longer yelled back.

I yelled that he never had to take responsibility for pushing me out of the family long before he pushed me out of the village.

He was doing it consciously.

And that is an organized crime.

I would love to say I felt vindicated, but I didn’t.

I didn’t feel worse either – having that feeling of nothing resolved yet nothing ruined is a classic prison trait, and I can’t stop those from forming into my mind.

It’s indeed a trait, not a feeling.

That was new; having no feeling left in the aftermath.

I’d like to say it was the exhaustion doing that, but I know better, or should I say I know worse.

It has officially started; the indifference.