#6 in the serial story Don't Kill Me I'm in Love
I walk through three heavy gates and shoot the breeze with the security guys as I get the minimum level check for personnel. A few minutes later I’m in the cave - the staff room of the Redemptor Correctional Facility for Women.
The room is empty except for the resident roaches, and I eat my lunch, checking my cell phone and counting the days until I’m done with this job.
Still no message from Tina.
I should write up some case notes, but I don’t. Instead, collapsing onto the staff room lounge I rub my eyes as they prickle with exhaustion. How long is it since I’ve had a decent night’s sleep? At least that’s my excuse as I see my pasty reflection in the mirror on the back of the door, fluorescent pink streaks running amok through grey curls. It seemed a good idea at the time.
My appointment with the boss is half an hour away, so is freedom. I check that my resignation letter is still in my pocket, written last night after another fight with Tina and a bottle of wine on my balcony, alone.
I should have resigned years ago, when I stopped believing in the justice system, stopped being idealistic, stopped drinking the Kool Aid.
My eyes snap open at the sound of a human battering ram at the door. Years ago I would have pissed myself, but I drag my body off the lounge. Only one person throws herself at doors like that.
‘What’s wrong Bianca?’ I ask as I check the camera and unlock the door. A woman in her twenties is wringing her hands, grossly obese in a huge prison gown without trousers, tears streaking her face.
So much mental illness.
Bianca flies into my arms and we totter together at the door, doing a strange hug-like waltz. I only just prevent us from falling down, me pinned under the whiffy mass of her body.
‘Lorraine!’ she cries, squeezing me tighter. ‘Jasmine said I stink, told me to f-fuck off from the chow hall while she’s eating.’
I wonder how Bianca has made it this far down the corridor without being noticed by guards or cameras. Especially with the trail of blood behind her, like red breadcrumbs on the polished floor.
‘Have you run out of pads again?’
Bianca frowns, clutching the front of her gown. ‘Lost them.’
God only knows what that might mean.
‘Come and we’ll get you sorted,’ I say, walking her back to the low security wing where she’s often allowed to roam free. Looking around, I wonder again how she made it this far, undetected. Bianca would never mean to hurt a fly, even when she got swept up in the armed robbery, even when her so-called mates told her to mind the gun.
Seriously, people should earn a licence to breed. This poor girl’s life is one sad story of neglect and abuse, and her mother never had her full quota of kangaroos in the top paddock either.
We get wolf-whistled from behind the bars as we walk down the corridor of lost souls.
‘Catch you later, Lorri,’ calls a deep voice from a darkened cell.
‘Sure, Serpentine, same as usual,’ I reply.
A smoker’s laugh hacks from the stud femme who rules the roost, who is so powerful she has her own cell.
A hawking sound comes from the next cell and Bianca whimpers, shuffling faster to catch up.
‘It’s okay,’ I say, glancing at the time.
‘Why are you resigning, Lorraine?’ The superintendent will ask me in twenty minutes.
Because I’ve seen enough misery, abuse and corruption for one lifetime.
I just need a change, I’ll say.
A guard approaches, hand ready on his baton. God only knows why. ‘You okay, Lorraine?’
‘Yeah, Brian, I got this one.’
The woman’s correctional centre is a world within a world, like all prisons. Everyone is trying to survive, even the staff. Staff or inmates, it feels like the same rats in the same wheels, and that’s how I know it’s time to get out.
It never ceases to amaze me how creative prisoners are - when it comes to obtaining weapons and drugs, fulfilling grudges, or slashing their own and each other’s bodies. Also what they can fit in body cavities, and how often. Most of all I’m surprised how desperately we all want to be loved, how we try to get love no matter what, and how we manage to fuck that up.
What will you do? the warden will ask.
Surgery to repair my shoulder after last year’s riot? Lie in the sun and not think of you?
A holiday with Tina would be a good start, maybe home to Melbourne, I’ll say.
Tina knocked me for six that first night at the Verbena Bar. Immersed in a reread of The Bell Jar in a corner booth, I’d glanced up as she came to collect my empty glass. Our eyes locked, and Tina leant towards me, one deceptively cute pigtail trapped in the glass.
‘This might sound strange, but …’ Tina gave the table a vigorous wipe, then rolled her eyes. ‘Fuck it. Look, I know you don’t know me from Eve, but do me a favour - tell your parents not to drive anywhere in a car this week.’
Two weeks later I was back at the Verbena, looking for Tina, my parents dead from a front-on collision. That’s why I think she should share her last episode with the authorities, what she saw about the missing woman; not that my wife’s listening to me. The look of horror on Tina’s face as she lay there in Glory’s office told me enough, that she’d seen something police could use as a lead.
Someone is wailing in the distance, not from physical pain but a caterwauling - to get attention. I know this because I’ve worked with incarcerated females for too long, and we’ve gotten inside each other’s heads.
‘Shut the FUCK up!’ someone screams.
I glance at Bianca who’s stalled behind me, watching blood drip down her splayed legs, onto the floor. She gives me a look through her bad hair-cut and I see the ghost of who she might have been.
I sigh. The OCD inmate who polishes the lino will go nuts when she sees this mess.
‘Almost there, Bianca,’ I reassure her.
Up ahead is the minimum security unit, and the meanest female guard I know storms out of the entrance.
‘Bianca Jackson!’ she barks like a sergeant-major. ‘Where in Hell have you been?’
Yep, so much mental illness.
The Rottweiler guard grabs her flinching charge by the back of her gown, and I see way more of Bianca than I need to.
‘I should put you in the Hole for this!’
Bianca hunkers towards the ground, resisting, whimpering again. Her fleshy thighs lock, smeared with crimson, and she isn’t smelling any better. Her breath alone could kill at ten paces.
‘You can’t and you won’t,’ I warn the guard whose name I can’t recall, and Rottweiler throws me a filthy death stare. Bianca is leaning into me, blubbering now, as the officer yanks her arm.
This is why I am leaving.
Ten minutes later I’m half-running to my manager’s office, late. I wipe my hands on the tights under my tunic and rehearse the words that will set me free of this place. I can’t remember if I’m supposed to give two or four weeks notice; one week is way too long right now.
The superintendent’s door is half open and I hear her gravelly voice on the phone. Her tone oozes military competence, and I’m surprised to hear my name.
‘Yes, I’ll let Lorraine know.’
She catches my eye and raises a hand to indicate more time before our appointment. I give a short nod, sinking onto the wooden bench outside her office and rub my eyes again until I remember where my hands have been.
Minutes pass. I just want to get this over and done with.
My work cell phone rings in my pocket, and I look at the number. Private.
‘Hello?’ I say.
There’s a rustling sound and voices in the background, inside somewhere.
‘Hello, is that Lorraine Templeton?’
‘Yes. Who is this?’
‘You don’t know me, but I was just given your number. My name is Harriet Pennington and I’ve been told my son is the Lightning Killer.’
I hear my manager pushing back her chair, and my hand searches for the reassurance of the letter in my pocket.
This story follows on from Reply Hazy, Try Again - #5
This story continues with No Good Deed - #7
published 11 April 2015