Authors: Jamie Bowers
Awoken by the sound of a metal trolley being pushed down the corridor, Joe slowly opened his eyes to the brightness of the morning sun shining onto the crisp white walls. He struggled to roll himself onto his back, still in pain from the injuries all over his body. As he managed to get comfortable the door opened and a trolley was ushered into his room by Francis.
Joe sat up as straight as his pain would allow. ‘Well, did you go?’ he asked with excitement. Francis didn’t respond initially, she pushed the trolley of medical supplies next to his bed and closed the door.
‘You know I’m not supposed to be doing you any favours, Joe and I would appreciate it if you kept quiet about it.’
Joe was eager to know the answer to his question. ‘Well, did you go and see Gina? How is she? How’s Mary? Does she miss me? I bet she does but it won’t be long until she forgets me and I don’t want that to happen. I want her to know that her daddy will never stop loving her.’ Francis sat on the edge of the bed, reached for two tablets and a cup of water from the trolley.
Passing them to Joe she looked him in the eye. ‘I did go there, Joe. I went and knocked on the door just like you asked me,’ taking a deep breath she waited for him to swallow the tablets, ‘I’m sorry, Joe. She wasn’t there.’
Joe looked shocked. ‘What do you mean she wasn’t there? Are you sure you went to the right place?’ Holding out her hand and taking the cup from him and placing it softly back on the trolley.
‘I’m sure Joe, it was number four. The man said that nobody lives there by that name. I asked for Gina Parcoli by name and he was adamant that I was in the wrong place.’ Sitting up further, Joe wanted to know what she was on about.
‘Did you tell them who you were and that I asked you to go there? Who was the man?’ Francis softly caressed the back of Joe’s hand in sympathy, ‘He didn’t give me his name. He was a big guy, kind of average looking. As soon as I mentioned your name he became angry and slammed the door in my face.’
Joe pursed his lips with aggression. ‘What did he look like?
‘Well he was tall and broad, with jet black hair. I think he might have had a scar on his forehead but I couldn’t quite tell because his hair was covering it. Do you know who he is?’ Joe slumped back and clenched his hands tight around his face.
‘I don’t know why he would be in my house,’ he said, the sound being muffled by his hands, ‘but I’m sure as hell going to find out.’ Wiping the tears from his eyes, Francis continued to stroke the back of his hand trying to console him from whatever thoughts were going through his head. Joe pulled his hand away quickly, ‘Get the fuck out!’ he exclaimed as he turned his head away from Francis and towards the sun burning through the bars on the windows.
‘What’s the matter, Joe? Do you know him?’ Francis asked as she put her hand on his shoulder.
Joe fixed his sight on the window, refusing to look at Francis. ‘I said, get the fuck out! I need… I just need some time to think, by myself.’
Feeling sorry for Joe, Francis slowly stood up and pushed the trolley away. Opening the door and escorting it in into the corridor she looked back at Joe lying in the bed. She knew that what she said hurt him but couldn’t make it better.
‘I tried to help you Joe, just like you asked me to. I’m sorry it’s not what you wanted.’ Francis took one last glimpse at the mentally broken Joe before slowly pulling the door shut. Once again Joe was left alone with his emotions, a million thoughts going through his head. With tears streaming down his face and neck they soaked up in the bandages that adorned his torso. The feelings he had took all of his energy and once more, he fell asleep to the sound of screams inside his head asking more questions and getting no answers.
For several days to follow, Joe refused to speak or interact with anyone. Francis and Doctor Gable visited at least once a day when they were on shift but all Joe would do is take his medication and nothing more, only moving his arm to drink the water and thrust the cup back in their hand. Three meals a day were brought to his bedside but he barely touched any of them and would only pick at it when there was nobody else there. He sometimes got different doctors or nurses come in from time to time but he couldn’t tell you their names, what they looked like or even what they said. He was trapped in his own mental bubble with no way for anyone to get in.
Just like the previous mornings, Francis entered Joe’s room with the trolley to give him his tablets.
‘Take them Joe,’ she said as pushed the tablets beyond his lips and forced the cup of water into his hand. Joe sipped the water and swallowed the tablets. Pushing the cup back to Francis, he could see a figure through the frosted glass on the door. It appeared to be a tall stiff silhouette of a man and Joe knew exactly who it was.
‘What’s he still doing here?’ shouted the Warden from behind the glass, ‘He should be either in his cell or in the ground. It’s been nearly a month since he came into this prison.’
Joe could hear Doctor Gable pleading with Tanner. ‘He needs more time to heal, Warden. Plus, I think there’s more to him than you think.’ Joe could see Tanner through the glass, pointing at Gable as he became more enraged.
‘The only thing that is more about him is that he’s using up the supplies and eating into our budget. He’s taking you for a ride Robert and if he isn’t out of here by tomorrow I will be evicting both of you out of this infirmary myself! Joe knew that this wasn’t good as he wouldn’t be able to defend himself from the brutal onslaught of Tanner’s pit bulls. Francis sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the floor listening intently to the conversation outside.
‘I wanted to tell you, Joe, but you weren’t talking. Tanner has it in for you and he isn’t happy about you being here. It’s as if he has a personal vendetta against you. What did you do to him Joe?’
Joe leant forward still fixated on the figures arguing behind the frosted glass. ‘I have no idea but I know he won’t stop until I’m dead.’ Francis stood up and caressed the side of Joe’s face with her finger, ‘I know I upset you before and I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it. I don’t know why but I feel that I need to help you far beyond my duties as a nurse.’
Quickly, the door opened and Tanner barged into the room. His face red with anger made him look devil-like with the slicked black hair. ‘You, boy!’ he bellowed pointing at Joe, ‘By this time tomorrow you will either be back in your cell or in a coffin. It’s up to you which one you choose, but you will sure as hell not be in that bed any longer.’ Joe strained himself and pushed his shoulders off the bed.
‘I can hardly move, Warden. Can’t you see that?’ Tanner stepped forward and gripped his hand firmly around Joe’s ankle. Joe gave out a scream and became paralysed in pain. Seeing the agony he was in, the smile on Tanner’s face showed how he enjoyed watching Joe writhe in pain.
‘You will get out of this bed Parcoli and you will be back in your cell tomorrow.’ Tightening the grip around Joe’s ankle, Tanner pulled him off the bed and onto the floor. Trying to cushion his fall, Joe landed on his side crushing his arm under his weight. Letting out a blood curdling scream, he gripped his already bandaged left arm and became frozen in pain. Francis quickly ran around from the other side of the bed, getting on her knees to assess the extent of the injuries. She placed her arms under Joe’s and pulled him upright to a seated position against the side of the bed. Tanner took a cigar from his jacket pocket along with a book of matches.
Gable stormed into the room holding a folder under his arm. ‘What is going on in here?’ he demanded as he walked towards Joe still struggling to gain his breath.
Tanner turned and placed his arm across the doctor’s chest. ‘This doesn’t concern you, Robert.’
Gable brushed his hand away. ‘When someone comes into my infirmary and causes trouble, it does concern me! I don’t come onto your wings telling you what to do and I would sure as hell expect you to show the same respect.’
Tanner looked down at Joe and Francis. ‘I expect to see you in your cell this time tomorrow, Parcoli.’ Taking a large inhale from his cigar, with only a small amount used, he dropped it on the floor and stubbed it out with the toe of his exceptionally clean shoes. The Warden walked out of the room and Doctor Gable followed him, leaving Francis by herself to help Joe.
As he closed the door behind him, Gable pressed the manila file against Tanner’s chest. ‘Read this and you will see what I’m trying to tell you. Maybe if you do, you won’t be so ignorant.’
Tanner went silent as he looked down at the file. ‘How dare you speak to me like that? I can end your career should it ever get out how many people have died in your care as opposed to what you have put in your reports.’ Gable pressed the file harder against Tanner’s chest.
‘The only reason why they died was due to the beating given to them by you and your bitches. I’m sure the Governor would love to read the real report and then you would end up on the other side of the bars. How would you like that, spending the rest of your life sharing the yard and meal times with these animals that you have tortured? I’m sure your replacement wouldn’t mind a bit of roughhousing if it kept the new inmate in check.’
Tanner slowly gripped his fingers around the file and put it under his arm. Doctor Gable turned away and walked down the corridor to the next room. He stopped at the door, placing one hand on the handle getting ready to turn it. He looked back at Warden Tanner who remained to stand stiff in his shoes.
‘Just remember, Warden, I can read you well. After all, we do play poker together and I always win.’ He smiled as he opened the door and walked into the room to see to his next patient. Closing the door behind him, Tanner opened the door to Joe’s room and saw Francis tucking his legs under his blanket.
Gable placed the file on the bedside table and turned to Nurse Francis. ‘Give us a minute please, Nurse.’ He said stepping into the room.
‘He needs help, Warden. I’m not leaving him.’ She said as she pulled the blanket up to his waist. Tanner stepped forward and placed his hand on hers to stop her from moving the sheet anymore.
‘I’ve got this, Nurse.’ He said with a smile across his face. ‘Why don’t you go and get him some new dressings for his wounds? I think he’ll need them shortly.’ Francis slowly pulled her hand away from the Warden’s. She walked out of the room and closed the door. Joe could still see her for a moment through the frosted glass before she walked away.
Pulling the blanket up higher, Tanner looked Joe in his bruised face. ‘Do you know why you’re here yet, Parcoli?’ Still breathing heavily from the Warden’s earlier onslaught, Joe stared away from the Warden, refusing to look him in the eye.
‘I’m here because you want me here. I’m only here because your fucking pit bulls beat me within an inch of my life. I bet if it was up to you, I’d be buried.’ His eyes filled with tears as he drew another breath, ‘What do you have against me? What makes me different to the rest?’ Joe turned his head towards the Warden as he saw him take another cigar and light it. Tanner stood silent as he watched the match burning down, almost hypnotised by the slow burning flame.
‘The flame is an amazing thing isn’t it? Discovered and harnessed by man thousands of years ago. In a moment it can give life to the light, but it can take life just as easily. Leave it to burn and it’s out of control,’ he moved the match towards Joe’s eye as the flame got closer to his fingertips, ‘but if you extinguish the fire before it gets too much, the hand of power changes.’ Tanner threw the match against the wall, leaving a small soot mark where it hit the white paint. He took a large inhale of smoke from his cigar and blew out into the air above him. Taking it in his left hand, he used his right to pull back the bandage on Joe’s shoulder. Joe pulled himself away, putting his hand on the bandage, but he didn’t have the strength needed to stop Tanner. Turning the cigar over, Tanner pressed it into a bloody scar across Joe’s collarbone. Joe tried to scream but the pain paralysed him and made it harder to breath. ‘You see Parcoli,’ Tanner exclaimed as he pressed harder with the cigar into the open wound, ‘not only can we harness its power, but we can use it to our advantage.’
Joe let out a small noise as the pain became worse. ‘Let go,’ he said, grabbing Tanner’s wrist and forcing his hand away. He dropped the cigar into the bedpan on the floor and pulling the bandage over the scars.
‘Nurse, I think he’s ready now!’ Tanner shouted. Francis quickly came into the room with a trolley full of medical supplies. Pulling it up to the end of the bed, she rushed to Joe’s side and started to inspect the wound.
‘What did you do to him?!’ she demanded as she pulled back the bandage covering his singed, bloody scar.
Without flinching, Tanner stared at Francis as she unrolled a clean bandage. ‘I’ve just had a chat with my new friend. I’ve been explaining to him that prison is not what he may have expected.’ He picked up the file from the bedside table and slid it under his arm like a well folded newspaper. He began to walk out of the room as Francis cut the dirty dressing from Joe’s torso, ‘I feel like being a nice guy. I’ll give you one week to get back in your cell. No more hiccups or technicalities to delay things.’
Tanner pointed at Nurse Francis as she tightened a bandage around Joe’s shoulder. ‘What’s your name, nurse?’
Francis looked Joe in his damp eyes as he tried to contain his pain. ‘My name, sir, I’m Francis Johnson. I’ve only been here a few months, sir.’ Tanner stepped into the doorway, holding the handle he started to pull it into the frame behind him.
As the door closed, Francis heard Tanner mutter. ‘Make sure you get him in his cell in one week, Francis.’
Francis continued to change the dressings on Joe; he flinched with pain each time a wound was exposed.
‘They gave you a big beating to get you in here,’ she said as she dabbed his scars, ‘and the Warden came down here personally to give you another. You’ve been in here five minutes and I’ve seen to more wounds on you than I have the other inmates combined since I started.’ Francis balled up the dirty dressings and placed them on the top of the trolley. ‘What have you done to upset him so much?’
Joe looked at Francis as he drew a breath so he could speak. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know much of anything recently. My file says I’m in here for murder, my wife won’t visit and you say that she doesn’t even live in my apartment anymore.’ Francis pushed the trolley against the wall and sat on the edge of the bed. Plumping Joe’s pillow and helping him to sit up straight she looked him in his face. His eyes were red and swollen, as if he had been crying ever since he came into prison.
‘Do you remember coming here, Joe?’ she asked, ‘Why do you think you’re here?’ Joe looked at Francis and took a moment to think. She could tell that he was composing his words before he spoke.
‘Everything since I got out of the army is a bit of a blur. All I can remember clearly is coming here.’ Francis gently caressed his cheek as he drew another breath. ‘I keep having these dreams, flashbacks maybe, where I am being attacked by a man. I can’t see his face but I can hear his voice, shouting at me to get out. I know that we are fighting over a gun but I wake up before I can know who he is or where I am. I don’t even know if it’s all real or just some of it and my brain has filled in the blanks itself.’
‘I heard Doctor Gable talking about you this morning,’ said Francis as she wiped a single tear from Joe’s face. ‘He says you have these memory losses and there was a file that he got from the military about it. I think that is what he gave to the Warden outside. Maybe that explains why you’re here?’
‘It won’t,’ Joe exclaimed, ‘We all know that once you leave the army, that’s it, there won’t be anything in that file that explains anything from the day I left Laos.’
Francis could see Joe’s eyes were becoming heavy and his speech slowed down. She pulled his blanket up to his chest. ‘Get some sleep, Joe. I will see what I can find out for you.’ she said as she patted him on his shoulder as a sign of support. She walked out of the room, pushing the trolley out the door. Turning the light off as she passed, she looked back at Joe as he drifted off to sleep.