Authors: Jamie Bowers
‘Sorry Joe.’ She said as she stood up, ‘he couldn’t have been here.’ She walked to the window and stood staring out at the perimeter wall of the prison. ‘Joe, Bruce Glenn is dead.’
Joe sat silent for a moment, feeling relieved and confused. ‘Dead?’ he asked.
Francis continued to look out of the window. ‘He was brought in here the day before you broke your leg. He had been beaten around the head several times by an unhappy customer. They’d cracked his skull, so many times that they struggled to keep his brains inside. He was declared dead within ten minutes of being here. So, you see Joe, there is no way that he could have been in here and definitely no way he could have broken your leg. You’d got your leg stuck in the end of the bed and then fell off. That’s what happened, an accident.’
Sitting forward, Joe rubbed his eyes in disbelief. ‘How can this be true?’ he started to raise his voice, ‘I am telling you he was here, he brought me a gun and he broke my leg. I’m not making this up.’
Francis stepped towards him and placed her hand on the side of his head. ‘I believe what you’re trying to tell me, but I can’t give way to the truth. I think that your mind has been racing too much and you’re not thinking straight.’ Joe brushed her hand away and looked up at her, his eyes filling with tears.
‘I want you to leave me alone.’ He said as he crawled onto the bed. Lying on his side he curled himself up, Francis stepped over to him and softly placed her hand on his shoulder.
‘I still want to help you, Joe.’ She walked to the door and pulled it open. Walking out, she took one last look at Joe lying on the bed, trembling in shock as his tears soaked into his pillow.
Listening to the staff going along the corridors with breakfast for the other inmates made Joe aware that he had been awake all night, his mind racing with thoughts. The loud bang of the trolley hitting the door made him jump. Sitting up, he straightened his sheet to cover his legs, covering the bruises and cast that reminded him why he was here. As the trolley came into the room it was followed by Francis, Doctor Gable and three guards. Joe knew why they were here and was not looking forward to going back to his cell, not in his condition.
On top of the trolley there were two tablets with a small cup of water and on the shelf below was his prison uniform, freshly washed and neatly folded. Gable picked up the walking stick that had fallen onto the floor and stood it up against the side of the bed.
‘Well, Joe.’ he said as Francis passed the tablets and water from the trolley, ‘Today is the day you go back. I don’t want it to be this way, but Warden Tanner insists on your prompt return, again.’ The three guards stood silent in the doorway, watching as Joe struggled to swallow the tablets and water.
‘What’s the matter?’ Joe said as he pointed at one of the guards, ‘Is the Warden too busy to be here himself? Or how about his lapdog, doesn’t Richards want to do this either?’ The guards simply looked at each other without saying a word. Determined not to let his physical and emotional scarring show, Joe slid his feet onto the floor, trying to gain his balance as he leant on the walking stick. His gown looked as though it was ready to fall off due to his malnourished physique. Francis placed his clothes on the end of the bed along with a pair of white socks and underpants.
Joe picked up the clean, white underwear. ‘Do you guys mind giving me a minute to get changed?’ the guards continued to stay silent, evidently not moving anywhere.
Gable turned to Joe. ‘They need to stay, they don’t trust prisoners, but we’ll go.’ He nodded to Nurse Francis and they started to walk towards the door.
‘No,’ said Joe abruptly, ‘you guys stay. If they don’t trust me, I don’t trust them either.’
Placing the walking stick on the bed and balancing on his right leg, Joe reached his hand over his shoulder and pulled the string that fastened the top of his gown, he couldn’t hide the pain he was still in, struggling to move smoothly. As he pulled the string and dropped his arms the gown fell softly to the ground and left Joe standing in front of the five people as naked as the day he was born.
Francis quickly averted her eyes to the floor. ‘Are you sure you want us here, Joe?’ She said, trying not to look at him.
‘Of course, I trust you more than anyone else here and if they are going to see this, you might as well.’ Francis slowly looked up from the floor, she could see the bruising and swelling was not as bad as she remembered, but the scars still appeared prominent, mainly across his torso. The only thing he had on his body was the cast that held together his broken leg. His body looked underfed and weak, a mere shadow of the athletic build he had when he first came to prison. She looked at him with an air of sympathy, wanting to give him a hug to let him know that it was going to be okay but she knew that it was not appropriate. Taking the underpants in his hands and trying to keep his balance, Joe slowly slid his left leg in. stretching the elastic over his cast. Gently placing his left foot on the floor, he precariously slid his right leg through the hole in the underpants and slowly pulled them up. Stopping at his knees, Joe drew his breath and started to straighten up, the pains across his stomach digging deeper with every movement. Wobbling as he tried to cover himself up, he stumbled to the floor and fell on his front. Francis quickly stepped forward to help him but one of the guards reached his hand out and stopped her. He nodded to one of his colleagues who stepped over to Joe. Firmly gripping his upper arm, the guard quickly pulled Joe to his feet. As the hold was tight, this made it awkward for Joe to pull the underpants up to a comfortable position.
‘A little help?’ Joe asked the guard who was holding him. The guard looked at him and it was evident he didn’t that task and pointed at Francis.
‘Nurse.’ He said gesturing for Francis to step forward. Francis stepped over to them and grabbed the waistband on one side as Joe grabbed the other. With their combined effort, they were able to cover his dignity, making things more comfortable for Joe. The guard let go of his arm as quickly as he grabbed it, Francis placed her arm around Joe’s waist, trying to hold his weight, helped him to shuffle back to the bed. With a large exhale of breath, Joe slowly sat back on the bed and leant backwards onto his hands, allowing himself to gain his composure once more.
Francis took the trousers from the bed and unfolded them. Dropping her knee to the floor she placed Joe’s feet gently into them. Pulling the trousers slowly up his legs she was careful not to hurt him. Joe shifted his body and Francis was able to pull them up to his waist. Joe then grabbed the shirt and looked at the number on the front,
‘This is all I am in here,’ he said with a tear in his eye, ‘a number, not a name, not a husband, or a father, just a number in a file.’ Francis placed her hand on his and leant towards his ear.
‘You’re more than a number to me,’ she said whispering in his ear, ‘I will never forget you.’ Joe turned to see her face next to his; he leant forward and gave her a soft kiss on her tender lips. One of the guards quickly stepped forward and thrust his arm between them.
‘That’s enough!’ He shouted as he pulled Francis away. Joe just sat looking at Francis as she was pushed into the corner. If he tried to do anything to stop the guard he knew he would come off worse. One of the other guards stepped towards Joe and pushed his shoulder with his forefinger.
‘Hey,’ he said, trying to get Joe’s attention, ‘we haven’t got all day. I’d like this to be over before I retire.’ Joe just looked at the young guard and slowly unfolded his shirt. Sliding his arms into the sleeves he was still trying to hide the pain in his muscles. He fastened all the buttons and tugged on the hem at the bottom of the shirt, it felt bigger than it was, possibly down to his lack of eating that had caused him to lose weight. The guard grabbed the bundled socks from the bed and tossed them onto Joe’s lap.
‘I guess you only need one of these.’ he said laughing to his colleagues. ‘You can always keep the other and wear it tomorrow, it’ll save on laundry.’ He turned and continued to laugh with the other two guards as Joe rolled one sock onto his right foot. Joe balled up the other sock in his fist and stood up on his one good leg. Tapping the guard on the shoulder he presented him with the crisp white cotton orb.
‘I’ll use this one to stop you screaming when I beat the shit out of you.’ He quickly forced the sock into the guard’s mouth, grabbed him by his arm and swung him around. Holding onto the back of his neck, Joe smacked the guard’s cheek against the wall, knocking him unconscious. The other guards quickly stepped forward, both drawing their batons. Joe swiftly picked up the walking stick, swung it rapidly and struck one of the guards around the head causing him to drop to the ground. The other lunged himself at Joe, swinging his baton. Joe held the walking stick up in both hands, stopping himself from getting hit. The guard jumped at Joe and tried to tackle him, the two men were thrown over the bed with the momentum. Both of them losing their weapons, they started to scuffle, arms and legs flying as they rolled around on the floor. The adrenalin was pumping through Joe’s body and he was unable to feel any pain. He lay on the floor as the guard lay on top, trying to hit him. Joe quickly pulled him down and managed to get the guards head under his arm. Tightening his wrist under his chin, he held a strong headlock, cutting off the air and blood that was flowing through his throat and neck. The guard tried punching Joe in the sides, but each hit made Joe’s grip stronger. After several seconds, the punches became weaker and eventually stopped. The guard’s body became limp and Joe couldn’t feel him struggling anymore. Letting go of his neck and pushing his body off, Joe could see that he was breathing softly, thankful he had not killed him.
As he stood up, Joe could see Doctor Gable standing in the corner, his arms firmly grasped around Francis, trying to keep her face hidden from the ordeal. Joe limped over to them and reached out with his hand.
‘Please,’ he said as he tried to gain his breath, ‘I want you to help me. Nobody will know.’ Francis slowly lifted her face away from Gable’s chest, her hands shaking and her eyes filled tears.
‘I thought you were nice, Joe.’ She said with a quaking voice, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Joe stood for a moment, seeing the fear that he put into the two he trusted. Joe stumbled over to them, dragging his cast along the floor as he walked.
‘I’m sorry.’ He said as he placed his hand on Francis’ shoulder. ‘I have to get out of here. I need to get answers.’ Francis turned to face Joe. Her eyes swollen red with emotion, she didn’t know what to think. She stood wiping away her tears as Joe started to empty the pockets of the guards.
Gable stepped over to where Joe was. ‘Please, Joe,’ he said as he grabbed Joe’s arm, ‘this is not the way to do this and you know it.’
Joe stopped and looked Gable in the eyes. ‘I need to know what is going on, but I can’t stop here, I need answers.’ He continued to go through the pockets, taking a penknife, he placed it in his pocket. He stumbled to his feet and limped to the body next to the bed. He pointed at the soft breathing guard.
‘This one,’ he said as he dropped to one knee next to the man, ‘I need his clothes.’ Francis slowly stepped over to where Joe was kneeling and undid the belt and trousers.
‘Are you sure this is right?’ she said as she pulled his trousers off. Joe carefully took the shirt and tie from the guard, making sure not to cause any more damage to the clothing.
‘I know this is a lot to ask of you Francis and I don’t want you to get in trouble, either of you.’ Gable took the walking stick and passed it over Joe’s shoulder.
‘Don’t worry about us,’ he said, ‘I got this covered.’
Joe took the stick in one hand and met the Doctor’s gaze with a small smile. ‘Thank you. Now, you two need to go before you get into trouble.’
Joe stood up and placed the items he had gathered on the bed along with the stick. Amongst the objects were the penknife he found along with a small set of keys, possibly for a vehicle, a couple of dollars in change, half a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. Francis and Doctor Gable walked out of the room without saying a word, closing the door behind them.
Joe took his clothes off as quick as the pain would let him. Taking the guards clothes, he got dressed; the coarse material that made up the blue uniform seemed rougher than his prison clothes, made from a thicker, tougher wool blend. He tucked in his shirt and fastened the belt. Taking the baton and placing it into the holster he looked up to see his reflection in the window. He looked rougher than the other guards, not smart enough for his liking. Taking the jug from trolley, he dipped his hands in and threw the water over his face. He rubbed vigorously to get rid of as much dried blood as possible from his previous injuries before wetting his hair and running his fingers through for the slicked look. Finishing off the outfit with the tie, he pulled the knot up to the top button and placed the hat upon his head. The shirt felt a little tight across his shoulders but felt good enough for him. As he sat on the edge of the bed he picked up the shoes and slipped his right foot inside, it didn’t fit. He couldn’t get his foot all the way in enough to tie it.
‘Fucking midget feet.’ he said as he kicked the shoe across the floor. He shuffled to his feet and limped over to one of the other guards and placed his foot against his, ‘These look better.’ He said as he started to untie the laces.
As he took the one shoe off, the guard started to wake. ‘What’s going on?’ he said looking at Joe sitting by his feet. Joe slid his body alongside the guards.
‘This is a dream, and you won’t wake up if you make a sound.’ He said as he gripped onto the guard’s collar. He lifted his fist high in the air and planted it square onto the guard’s already swollen nose knocking him out once again. Joe slid himself back over to the guard’s feet and continued to take off his other shoe. Putting on the right shoe, he tied the laces. The tip of the shoe was so clean; he could see a clear reflection of the sun piercing its way through the bars on the window. As he took the left shoe, he realised it wasn’t going to fit because of his cast, he tried to force his foot and the white plaster into the leather footwear but it was no good. Joe knew that he couldn’t wear his shoes because they didn’t have the glass look as the others and his cast would probably give him the same issues.
Remembering what he had, he quickly pulled himself over to the bed and grabbed the penknife. Sitting on the floor, he took the blade and started to scratch away at the surface of his cast, white powder formed a snow scene on the crisp, clean floor. Joe could hear noises from the corridor, listening to the people walking and talking just outside his door and he had to act fast. He held the knife firmly in his fist and struck the blade into the wall of the cast. He let out a small cry as the blade penetrated the skin on his ankle. Holding the handle tight in his hand and gripping onto his cast with the other, he started to cut away at the cast around his ankle, pulling away the excess as he went. He reached across the floor to the other sock and slipped it over his foot and the bottom of the cast, trying not to scream in pain. He grabbed the shoe and tried to put it on, not quite managing to get it all the way as the cast was still getting in the way. Pulling the shoe off his foot caused him even more pain. He wiped the tears and sweat from his face, the agony was becoming too much. He lifted up his trouser leg, grabbed the frayed edge at the bottom of the plaster and ripped it with all his strength. Joe gritted his teeth in pain as he pulled the cast open, exposing his bloody, scarred and swollen leg. The wound was still deep and the muscle was clearly damaged below the skin. Folding the knife up and placing it is his pocket he threw the remains of his cast onto the floor and gently pulled on the sock and shoe. A tight fit with the swelling, but he managed to fasten the laces.