Other Stories And Nothing But Time (3 page)

BOOK: Other Stories And Nothing But Time
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Our album sales would go through the roof when this got out. When would I ever get a chance to enjoy that? Probably never. It would go to my family though, wouldn't it? See my parents, right? I thought about calling my lawyer.

I picked up the phone and dialled down to the reception.

“Hi. I'm going to need you to put me through to the police.”

Fuck.

Nothing But Time

(first published in Pulp Pusher, 2011)

 

This is it, then.

Prison.

Stripped of my right to freedom. At the mercy of screws and rules and timetables. I'm a grown man, can't even decide when to flick my own light out. Wish they could switch off my mind when the darkness comes. Maybe tomorrow I'll ask somebody where I can get some pills. Control that much, at least. Or maybe I should be looking for something else. A shiv or a shank or a blade. Whatever the name; something to put holes in any bastard that comes near me.

It's been four days. I haven't fought to maintain my anal virtue. Struck lucky. No cellmate, you see. The guy I was meant to bunk up with died of an overdose the night before I arrived. Bad news for him, but it's made life easier for me. I'm not going to be anybody's bitch. I've seen the TV shows and the movies. Even read a few books. None of them were set in Northern Ireland, but you could bet the same thing happened in HMP Maghaberry. I saw some of those body-built freaks eyeing me up in the shower yesterday. Fucking fruits. I'll stick my thumb in their eyes before any of them stick their steroid-shrivelled dicks in me.

My heart thuds like a jungle beat.

Lights out. I put down a book I've been trying to read. My mind keeps drifting. None of the words have stuck. I'll need to start it again tomorrow night. Before I came in here, I heard the cells all had TVs and Playstations… sounded like a hotel. I've fuck all in mine. Sink, desk, chair, bunks and the dark. Don't even have a toilet. You can shout to be let out for a piss in the middle of the night, but I just make sure I've emptied my bladder before they lock the cells. I need my sleep.

Food's shite. That's another myth. I heard that it cost more to feed a prisoner than a child at school. I don't believe that anymore. Frozen chips and a microwave pie has been the best on offer since I got here. Stinking.

I half-doze for hours. Maybe all night. It can be hard to tell. I'm sitting up, legs swinging off the top bunk, when they unlock the doors. It's been years since I quit, but suddenly I'm craving a smoke. I make a decision: First chance I get, I'm starting up again. And I'll find drugs. Anything I can get, at all. Dope, E, coke, speed, meds — fuck it, I'll take heroin if I can get it. The shiv can wait. I'll take care of the inner conflicts before worrying about the external.

I need drugs.

A quick piss-stop, then breakfast. A step up from gruel. A joyless refuelling. There's laughter in one corner of the hall. A screw wanders over to investigate. I feel cold. The screw has his back to me. He's laughing with the prisoners. Is that allowed? Another screw joins them. I scratch at my scalp. Dry flakes ball up under my nails. An urge grips me. I should look over my shoulder. Be alert. Senses tingle. But I'm safe here, right? Just being paranoid.

A heavy hand clamps down on my shoulder. Hot morning-breath on my ear.

“We remember you, you touting bastard.”

I try to shrug the hand off my shoulder. The grip tightens. Hot breath gets hotter. Heats my whole head. I'm almost choking on the sour smell.

“One of my cousins died in this shithole because of your loose lips. You're fucked, son. I'm going to kill you myself.”

And that's it. My real sentence.

The morning-breath retreats. Blood flows once again in my shoulder, but ghostly fingers remain. I shudder. The screws have stopped laughing. They're on watch again. Not good enough. I've seen it now. They can be distracted. Long enough for a knife in the back to follow the blast of hot, sour breath in my ear. I'm so fucked.

I consider my juice. Leave it. I better forget the drugs for now. There's no real escape here. They know. They all know. May as well tattoo TOUT on my forehead. And there's no fight in me now. I'm at the bottom of this heap of scum. Lower than the thieves, dealers and murderers. I thought I had nothing but time for the next six years. But the promise of death twangs on my nerves now. I'll be lucky to see six days.

Unless…

There are steps down from my place on the prison food chain. Some are worse than touts. Rapists and paedophiles. The lowest of the low. I'm just a little better than that. But just a little might be enough. Is this hope?

I scan the canteen. One of these dodgy-looking fucks can help me out. They'll stick out like a sore thumb.

Ah, there you are.

In a corner of the canteen, a thin man sits. His eyes are puffed and ringed in purple, fading to light blue to yellow. His nose is kinked and crimped. His face is scarred. This man has been through the wars. Worse. He's in Hell's waiting room. Those forced to sit at his table are angled away from him. He's invisible for now. Insubstantial. Until the opportunity once again arises to punish him. Then, I imagine, he'll be the most visible bastard in this place. For now, he picks at his food, snags the odd nibble and makes eye contact with no man.

I've found my new friend.

A bustle of activity and we've cleared our plates. I spend the morning in a head-spin. Screws tell me what's what. Rules, rules, rules. Then a load of shite about rehabilitation. I have to choose a National Vocational Qualification. Horticulture sounds good to me. Might give me some tips for growing weed.

I say very little throughout the morning. One screw jokes:

“You're very quiet. Didn't you used to be a ten-pound-tout? Must have been quality over quantity, what?”

Fucking prick.

Lunchtime rolls around about thirty seconds before I crack up for good.

I try to eat, but I can't. My mind races. I glance over my shoulder every two seconds. Then I notice the thin man with the battered face. The pervert. I keep an eye on him, and when we're given permission to go to the recreation area, I shadow him. He takes a seat. Another corner. Nearby, a couple of big lads play pool. The pervert glances at them occasionally, but his eyes never linger. He's on guard. Looking out for himself. Alone.

Like me.

I take a deep breath.
Time to introduce myself.

The eightball is smooth and cool in my grip. One of the big lads complain. I ignore him. He reaches out to take the pool ball back. I slap his hairy-knuckled hand away. He's surprised. Steps back. I breeze past. The blinkers are on now. All I can see is the lonely perv. And he sees me. Instinct stiffens him. There's no doubt in his eyes. I'm here to do him harm.

It's how it works in the movies. Show everybody how hard you are. Mash up some poor fucker and gain some respect. I get that, maybe somebody who matters will watch my back.

I grab a handful of the perv's shirt. It's a nice material. We don't do prison uniforms here. I yank him from his seat. Some buttons ping away and skitter across the cold linoleum. I pull back my eightball-weighted hand. The way is clear. If I land it on his temple in the first shot, the rest of the beating won't hurt him too bad. I'll make a show of it. Make it look more vicious than it really is.

I stare into his eyes just as I'm about to pound him, expecting fear.
What?
He glares at me. His swollen lids frame mere slits of eyes. He's not resigned to this beating. I pause. Worst thing I can do. The blinkers evaporate. Panoramic view. Dolby surround sound. Excitement. Shouting. Are they cheering for me or the perv? Why would they cheer for him? Isn't he the bottom of the heap?

My knees buckle. I'm wrestled to the ground. The screws. They're folding my arms like they're shirtsleeves. Pain shoots from wrist to elbow. Burning electricity. I want to wipe the tears from my eyes. The snot from my nose. Can't.

“You're breaking my fucking arms!”

Laughter.

The eightball rolls across the floor. One of the big lads stops it with his foot. As he bends to retrieve the black orb, he stares me in the face. Makes kissy lips at me. Then he plonks the ball on the table and goes back to his game. I'm hauled to my feet and the commotion fades. Some of the inmates make a point of grinning in my face.

Then the hotter than hot, sour breath blasts in my ear again. Same voice from breakfast; “Stupid fucking tout. Couldn't even fuck up wee Ronnie no-mates.”

“Please,” I say. “Don't hurt me.”

I try to turn and get a look at the screw with the hot, sour breath. I can't quite see him.

“It'd be a kindness to kill you, mate,” he says. “The animals in here are going to have a field day with you. I can only hope my cousin is looking down on you, laughing his balls off.”

Six years, I got. And the promise of death would be a mercy.

Day-Tripping

 

Mattie squinted at me through a cloud of smoke. I wrinkled my nose at the stink of burning weed. My wake-and-bake friend didn't acknowledge the disapproval. He pulled a huge hit and offered me the joint. I waved it away.

“It's eight in the morning, man. I haven't even had a coffee yet.”

“Caffeine's bad for you, James.”

I shook my head. “And what are you? The picture of health?”

Mattie's build would have given Buddha stomach-envy. He was big before he started toking but since those marijuana munchies took hold he must have doubled in size. I patted my own flat stomach and once again felt grateful that I'd left drugs behind me in my early twenties.

“I'll be around a long time after you're gone, James.” He knocked a length of ash onto a saucer on his kitchen table. “That heart of yours won't hold up to the stress of the rat race.”

I thumped my chest. “Nothing wrong with my ticker, Mattie. It's your lungs I fret about.”

“There's no tobacco in this spliff.” His lips bowed into a disgusted frown. “I gave up that cancerous shit ages ago. I roll them with dried parsley now.”

I sniffed the air again. That cloying dope scent was prevalent – and okay, maybe it held a nostalgic charm – but I could smell something more subtle underneath. It reminded me a little of the stew my ma used to make.

“Parsley?”

He pointed to a little glass jar on the table. Honest-to-God dried parsley.

“Can you use any herb?”

Mattie shrugged. “I haven't tried anything else. Some Scottish guy told me he used it so I gave it a go. Stick with what works, you know?”

I realised my leg was pumping up and down under the table. Jitters. I wanted to leave, get on with my day. Already it was going to be hell finding a parking space anywhere near the office.

“You invited me for breakfast,” I said.

Mattie leant forward. “Right enough. Sorry, man. How do you want your eggs?”

I glanced around Mattie's kitchen. Dirty dishes in and around the sink, crumbs on the floor, bin overflowing with takeaway cartons and blackened banana skins. I noticed muddy paw prints on the worktop. Mattie didn't own a pet. I suppressed a shudder.

“Boiled, please.” They'd be harder to contaminate that way.

The stoned behemoth rocked himself out of his chair and trundled across the sticky linoleum. He tugged a pot from the unwashed stack in the sink. The dislodged crockery settled with a clatter. Without so much as a rinse, he dropped six eggs into the pot and poured hot water from the kettle on them. He dumped it on the ceramic hob and dialled up the heat.

Slapdash bastard.

“Do you want some tea?” he asked.

“No coffee?”

“I told you about that caffeine.”

“Tea it is, then.”

Mattie rummaged through the crap on his worktop and found a teapot. It was covered up with a knitted cosy in Rastafarian colours. I didn't pass comment. Too easy. He plonked the teapot on the table and I heard the liquid contents slosh.

“Brewed this earlier.”

“Ah, man, I've been here for ages. It'll be like cold piss.”

“Don't worry, James. This is proper herbal. It needs to soak for a while to diffuse.”

He pulled off the cosy with a magician's flair then fetched us two cups from a cupboard. At least
they
were clean. The teapot, not so much. Brown stains formed thin rivulets down the spout and something was fused to the side. The something looked like it might have been a condom, but in what circumstance…?

“Maybe I'll just have water, Mattie.”

“Water here's stinking. You're better off with this. The badness is boiled out.”

Mattie slopped the tea into the cups and pushed one in front of me. He eased himself back in his chair, graceful as a sumo wrestler, and raised his cup.

“Chin, chin, James.”

I forced a tight-lipped smile and lifted my cup. The murky liquid had greasy patches on the surface, like petrol in a puddle. I sniffed it but couldn't distinguish a scent other than the heavy stench of dope so thick in the air.

“Come on, James. Drink up.”

“No harm to you, Mattie, but this looks pretty rank.”

“Never mind how it looks. Just swallow it down. I promise it'll knock your socks off.”

“I don't—”

Mattie slammed a meaty hand down on the table. The wallop shocked me. I almost threw the cup in the air.

“Drink the tea, James.”

My friend smiled at me. He gave me those eyes I remembered so well. It was how he looked at me over that first joint we shared in his mum's garage on a rainy Saturday afternoon. His stare was soft, unthreatening and it held something else. A deep kindness, I suppose. And then I remembered that time he lent me money to pay rent when I'd lost my first job after Uni. This was before I cleaned myself up and put some distance between us. I couldn't be a proper grown-up with friends like him.

Mattie had called me the day before. First time I'd heard from him in years. He needed to see me. There was something big going on. And I had figured he'd been going through some sobriety programme and a quick visit to check in on him was the least I could do. But he hadn't changed at all, except for the extra weight he carried. But then, in some cultures that was a sign of wealth and good fortune. And I always liked Mattie. He wasn't a bad influence so much as somebody who thought he could show the world a good time. And he'd just offered me a cup of herbal tea that was spiked with God-knows-what. Maybe I'd gotten a little high off his second-hand dope-smoke but it suddenly seemed very important that I drink Mattie's tea.

BOOK: Other Stories And Nothing But Time
5.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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