Authors: Jamie Bowers
Awoken in the middle of the night by a sharp pain in his abdomen, Joe let out a scream, ‘Arrrgghh!’. Holding his stomach with one arm he tried to turn himself over to ease the suffering. His leg slipped over the edge of the mattress, causing his weight to shift. He slid off the bed and hit the floor head first with an almighty thud. Screaming in pain and struggling to move, the only thing he could do was lie there and wish the pain would go away. The excruciating agony was too much for him to handle, all he could see was a damp puddle on the floor beneath his face from the sweat and tears brought on by whatever it was that hurt him.
Joe took a deep breath and with all the energy he had, called for help. ‘Please, somebody help me.’ He shouted further between the contractions of pain, ‘Is anybody there?’ To Joe, it felt like hours before somebody came into his room.
As the door opened, he heard a panicked voice. ‘What are you doing down there?’ It was the Matron, she was obviously on the night shift looking after the sleeping inmates and their ailments.
‘I can’t move,’ said Joe as he tried to turn his head to speak. She grabbed Joe by the arm and with all the strength that her large frame gave her lifted him to his feet with ease.
‘Let’s get you back in bed,’ she said as she lay him onto the mattress, ‘You try and get comfy and I’ll get the doctor to see you in the morning’. Joe slowly rested his head on his pillow, cradling his lower abdomen to try and comfort the pain.
‘I need some pills,’ he said as his face dripped with tears, ‘please do something for me.’ The Matron took a handkerchief from the front pocket of her apron and dabbed it softly across his brow and cheeks.
‘It’s just a few bruises, you just need rest. You’re making a fuss over nothing.’
Joe looked at her through his glistening eyes, ‘Please,’ he said as he grimaced in pain, ‘please help me. I will take anything.’ The Matron ignored Joe’s plea and lifted his bed sheet over his legs and up to his chest.
‘You just need some rest. That’s all.’ With his free hand, Joe gripped onto her wrist tight and begged her once more.
‘You must help me, please. I’m dying here.’ Pulling her arm away, she quickly walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. Joe’s appeals kept coming as she walked down the corridor, ‘Just please help me to make this pain go away, I want anything that will help me, please.’
After several minutes of shouting, just as Joe was ready to give up, the door to his room opened. It was the Matron again, carrying a hypodermic needle filled with a clear liquid. As she walked to the side of Joe’s bed, she tapped the syringe with her finger to eliminate any air pockets.
‘Now, I wouldn’t usually do this,’ she said as she gripped Joe’s arm tight, ‘but you’re disturbing the others and I don’t have disturbance on my watch.’
Shaking from the pain, Joe held his arm steady with his other hand. ‘Thank you.’ He said with what breath he had in his body. Gripping his wrist tightly, the Matron inserted the needle into his arm. Joe could feel the pull as a small amount of blood went into the syringe before the contents was emptied into his blood stream. He could see his vein expanding as the liquid was pumped into his arm, his eyes quickly became heavy and he drifted to sleep before he saw the needle being removed.
‘Doctor Gable won’t be pleased to hear that you’ve been disturbing the infirmary,’ said the Matron as she removed the needle, ‘but this will just be our little secret, for now.’ She wiped his brow with her handkerchief and pulled the sheet over his shoulder, tucking it under his chin before leaving him to sleep off the pain.
‘Wake up!’ Joe was startled by the Warden’s cry. ‘Why are you back here, boy?’ he demanded as he tore the sheet from Joe’s bed. He stood over as tall as he could, trying to intimidate him, ‘Why are you back here?’ he asked again with aggression in his voice. Slowly opening his eyes and looking up at the colossal figure standing over him, Joe was confused as to what was going on. Looking around, he could see Francis standing in front of the door with her hands held in front, she was staring at the floor, careful not to make any eye contact with the already agitated Warden.
‘Franny,’ Joe said, reaching out his hand towards her for aide, ‘what’s going on?’
Tanner smacked the back of Joe’s hand, forcing him to quickly withdraw it. ‘Franny?!’ he said with a smirk across his face, ‘So, you two have become quite accustomed to one another’s company, have you? I had no idea.’ Tanner stepped towards Francis standing by the door, her gaze still fixated on the ground. As he got closer, he could hear her erratic breathing as she was too scared to move. He stood over her like a dominant lion standing over a fresh kill, wanting to show his place at the top of the food chain.
‘Seeming as he isn’t talking to me, maybe you will.’ Tanner said as the sound of Francis’ breathing became louder and more irregular with every second. He placed his finger gently on her chin and lifted her head up so that he could look into her eyes, ‘Come now little girl,’ her eyes froze as she looked into the darkness of his gaze, ‘I want you to tell me why Joe Parcoli is back in the infirmary. He left here with a few bruises and he comes back in less than one day. What the hell is going on?’
Physically shaking, Francis struggled to compose any words to talk. ‘He collapsed,’ she said, ‘he had pains in his stomach and the doctor, Doctor Gable wants to do some tests because he thinks this is something worse.’
Tanner turned and faced Joe. ‘Is that true, Parcoli? Do you have a belly ache?’
Joe slowly sat up. ‘I had a pain that I can’t describe, sir. It doesn’t hurt so much now. Maybe a result of the beating I was given by you and your henchmen.’ Tanner stepped closer to Joe and sat on the edge of his bed.
Taking a cigar from his pocket and lighting it, Tanner blew smoke into Joe’s face. ‘I’d be careful what accusations you throw around, Parcoli. You see, I am the king in this concrete jungle and you are just a peasant in comparison. I can make you wish you hadn’t been born. Now, I hear you have been causing a disturbance in here, screaming at all hours.’
‘I haven’t caused any disturbance.’ Joe interrupted, ‘I went to sleep last night and the next thing I know is you blowing your horn about me being here.’
Tanner didn’t like the way he was spoken to. ‘Now you listen here,’ he said as he pointed the cigar in Joe’s face, ‘I don’t like liars and people faking illnesses to get a comfy solitary room. Now, what I want is an answer why you’re here.’ Francis could see that there was going to be more than words exchanged if she didn’t act fast, and Joe was not going to come out on top, not in his condition.
‘I’m getting Doctor Gable.’ She quickly opened the door and ran down the corridor.
Tanner sat on the side of the bed and continued to smoke his expensive cigar. Joe felt that this was as good a time as any to get the answers he wanted.
‘Why did you beat me like you did? What have I done to make you hate me?’ Tanner stood up and stepped over to the window, he tried to admire as much scenery as he could through the glossed white bars.
‘You were sent here for murder, were you not?’ he asked as he took another large drag from the even larger cigar.
‘That’s what they are telling me,’ Joe exclaimed, ‘but I can’t remember, it is all a blank.’
Tanner laughed as he turned and faced Joe. ‘You can’t remember? What do you take me for? First you say you can’t remember screaming through the night and now this?’ He threw his cigar into the waste bin in the corner and quickly stepped over to Joe. Placing his hands on Joe’s pillow, either side of his head, ‘I don’t believe a word you say and I know everything in your file. You killed your wife and daughter in cold blood.’
‘No, I didn’t.’ Joe snapped, ‘That’s a lie.’
‘I know that you did it and because you are such a piece of work I wanted you to see what it feels like to suffer.’ Joe raised his fist from down by his and hit Tanner on the bottom his jaw, knocking him backwards away from the bed. Tanner stepped forward to take a swing himself just as Francis came into the room with Doctor Gable.
‘What is going on in here?’ shouted Doctor Gable as he stepped between the two men. ‘Warden, I want you out of here. Wipe that blood off your face and leave my infirmary, now.’ Tanner rubbed the back of his hand across his chin to wipe the blood from his lip.
‘I didn’t even touch him and he lashed out at me,’ he explained.
‘I’m sure that you deserved it, Warden.’ Gable stated as Tanner walked out the door, ‘You know that you deserve everything that you get.’ Tanner chose not to respond as he knew it was true, he just left the room and the sound of heavy shoes on a tiled floor was all he left behind.
‘Sorry about that, doc.’ Joe said apologetic.
‘There’s no need,’ said Gable as he took the cigar from the waste bin, ‘You’re not the only person in here who’s wanted to take a swing at him, me included.’ He dropped the cigar on the floor and stepped on it, making sure it was fully extinguished, ‘I’m not one of the bad guys, Joe. I want to help you and I need your help.’ He explained as he flicked through the papers on his clipboard. ‘Nurse Johnson tells me that you don’t remember some things that have happened before you came to prison. Is that right?’
‘Apparently,’ Joe nodded in agreement, ‘I don’t remember last night either. I’m being told that I was screaming in pain. I don’t recall any of it.’ Rubbing his brow to try and grasp the reality of the situation, Joe didn’t know what to make of it all. Francis closed the door and stepped over to Joe’s bedside. ‘It wasn’t just last night, Joe. It’s been like this for days now.’ She said looking down on him liking a grieving widow mourning the loss of her husband.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Joe, ‘How long have I been in here?’ She tried to stay professional and show no emotion but found it hard as she had grown attached to Joe, the victim of a corrupt system.
‘Joe, you’ve been back here for over a week and most of the time you have either been screaming in pain or asleep. When you are awake we can’t make conversation with you and when you did speak, it was mostly aggressive.’ Joe was silent, not believing a word he could hear.
Doctor Gable stepped over to the opposite side of the bed to Francis and sat, perched on the edge of the mattress, next to Joe’s legs.
‘Please tell me, Joe,’ he said as he took a pen from his top pocket, ‘how long have you been having these pains in your stomach?’
Joe slowly sat up and answered the best he could. ‘A few months maybe, it comes and goes. I’ve always put it down to something bad I’d eaten, maybe a mild allergy. I would just have a lie down and it would usually go away within an hour or so.’ Doctor Gable continued to write as Joe spoke, ‘What do you think is wrong with me, Doc?’
Gable stared at Joe for a moment before writing some more. ‘I need to do some tests on you, but the only thing is, I can’t. The Warden won’t let me take you out of here and into the city to their hospital, so I will have to stick to conventional methods and then relay back to a specialist I know.’
‘What kind of specialist?’ Joe asked as he leant forward. He could see in the doctor’s eyes that there was more than he was letting on and wanted to know everything. ‘Tell me, doctor, do you think that whatever is wrong with me has something to do with why I can’t remember? Because if it is, it means I might not have killed Gina and Mary. This means I could be innocent.’
Francis grabbed Joe’s hand and held it tight against her chest. ‘It’s not as easy as that, Joe. You see, if you don’t remember you did it, it doesn’t mean you’re innocent.’
Joe quickly snapped his hand away. ‘You think I’m guilty, don’t you? You think that I did it?’ As a single tear rolled down her cheek, Francis looked down at Joe with sadness that she was unable to hide.
‘I believe you Joe, if you say you don’t remember it I believe you.’ She said as she extended her hand towards his face. Joe pulled his head away, stopping her from touching him.
‘But you still think it’s possible that I killed my own family, don’t you?’ This time, Francis didn’t respond, she just looked at Joe as his eyes filled with tears.
‘We are not here to judge you,’ said Gable as he pulled Joe’s bed sheet down to his waist, ‘I need you to lift your gown, please.’ Joe slowly grabbed the hem of his gown and lifted it to expose the yellow bruising around his ribs and abdomen. Gable took the stethoscope that hung around his neck and put the earpieces in place. Gently prodding at his stomach, Joe winced in pain as the Doctor examined him. Gable didn’t say anything as he listened to the swollen areas, just wrote on his clipboard.
‘Ok Joe,’ he said as he placed the board under his arm and the pen back into his top pocket, ‘I’m going to speak to a good friend of mine later today. He could help us to identify what is going and hopefully get to the bottom of what is wrong with you. Your stomach seems hard and bloated but I don’t think this is the result of your recent injuries.’
Joe covered himself again with his gown. ‘Then what is it?’ he asked.
Gable walked towards the door and turned the handle. ‘I don’t want to say anything yet because I’m not the expert and this can change how you think.’ He opened the door and proceeded to leave. Francis lifted Joe’s bed sheet to his chin and helped him to get comfortable.
‘Get some rest and we will see what we can do for you.’ Slowly turning onto his side, Joe reached out his hand to Francis. Joe looked her in the eye, trying to hold back the tears. ‘Thank you.’ He said with a tremor in his voice.
Francis leant down to him and brought her face next to his. She kissed him gently on his tear soaked cheek. ‘You don’t have to say thank you.’ she whispered gently into his ear. They both froze as this was unexpected; Joe turned his face to look her in the eyes. Francis quickly stood upright and walked out the room, not knowing what to say or do next. Closing the door behind her, Joe could see her standing on the other side for several seconds, the same as him, possibly trying to come to grips with the exchange that had just happened. Joe tried to sleep but he had too many thoughts going through his mind. On top of any possible illness he may or may not have, he was also thinking of Francis, was that a kiss as a result of her care, or something else? After what felt like several hours of his mind racing, he eventually fell asleep, watching the sun moving the shadows across the crisp white walls before eventually setting and bringing the darkness of the night.