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Joan

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Joan

Preface:

When I was a small child of about five – my memory is poor as to the exact year – I remember waking to hear my Dad screaming in fear. It was just after we’d moved to Australia, a once mysterious land far away from our homeland of Russia, to be safe. It was the middle of the night, and the big, new and frightening series of rooms (I could hardly call it a ‘home’) was dark. I was scared to move from my bed but I must, I remember thinking, as Dad could have fallen out of bed and hit his head. Perhaps Dad needed help, and since he and I only had each other, it was my job to help him even if I could not then imagine how.

I slowly and quietly slipped out of my bed, and carefully crept down a seemingly endless black corridor to peek around the door into Dad’s room. I could not see very well in that thick darkness, but what I saw was terribly frightening for a small child: Dad was standing on his bed, back against the wall, hands stretched out to fight whatever it was that he alone could see in close proximity to his own torso. I could not see his face clearly, as I recall, but what I did notice was that his eyes were very wide and I could make out the whites. He was screaming for the monster or bad man to get away from him.

The most horrible part of this for me was that there was nothing I could do. I could not see the intruder, nor could I have battled something that Dad couldn’t fend off. I could not help and was far too terrified to watch. I stealthily but quickly made it back to my bed and hid under the covers, knowing full well that if Dad couldn’t stop whatever was attacking him, I would be next. Eventually Dad was quiet. I was far too afraid to leave my bed in that hard and sudden silence. I lay still, listening into the darkness to discern if I could hear any footsteps, heavy breathing, or other indicators of possible threat. I heard nothing and, eventually, must have fallen asleep and slept as deeply as children of that age are wont to do. I did not stir until the next morning, when Dad came to get me up for the day. (Unlike other children of that age, I never got out of bed until told to do so.)

As long as Dad could keep the monsters away, we would be safe. He had to protect both of us, as my mother was gone and she had previously protected us from the monsters in the house. He had only screamed a for a little while when she was in the bed next to him. I remember almost nothing about her, but I know that I always felt safe when she was around - and she was always around…until she wasn’t. Then we had to look out for each other. There was no one else. Dad told me this many, many times over. We were always trying to stay safe. I don’t know if we ever really achieved that goal because Dad never seemed settled no matter where we lived, and we moved house a great deal, especially in those early days.

 

Chapter 1: Uniform

‘I am not given to emotion. Emotions lead to mistakes, and I do not make preventable mistakes. I am singularly intelligent with a highly developed ability to observe and remember details that I see around me. I can figure out what makes a prisoner tick and know how to use that for the greater good before they have any real idea of how much I have learned. I stand strong, know how to hold my own in a fight, and I am never intimidated. I am good at keeping accurate, detailed records and know how to follow orders and fully understand the chain of command.’

This was, in part, the gist of the cover letter I sent in for my first job application to work in Corrections. I am honest about my abilities, and do not believe in false modesty. The interview that followed simply allowed the hiring officer to see that my written application was indeed accurate and that I was the perfect candidate for any position in Corrections. I easily excelled at all written and physical entrance tests, most formidably in observation. Even if there had been many applicants for the job, which there were not, I would have been the best choice despite my lack of formal job experience.

I had not intended to go into Corrections work at first, but to find a job, as my father had recommended, that had a uniform. Such a job could allow for advancement in status and power and would let me use my superior physical skills and the strategies that he had taught me. A uniform, he said, shows all around one exactly where one stands in rank and power. It shows how quickly one can rise and take that power by its changing insignia. A uniform speaks before the person wearing it. Of course, a uniform will only get one so far. After that, it was actions that proved one’s worth. I was too old at the time for work in standard uniformed positions, but Corrections would take me in happily I surmised, as the ideal candidate.

I was sent first to a prison called Boggo Road. It was mostly petty work, paperwork, handling admissions, records of visitors, noting which prisoner had been found with what contraband, that sort of thing, along with regular patrols and supervising inmates. My superior organizational abilities did tend to see me assigned to the paperwork side of C.O. duties more than anything else. I found it interesting enough, but hardly challenging. Still, there was a pleasure in keeping clean, clear paperwork that others could easily comprehend. It wasn’t always easy to bring my vocabulary and references down to the level of those I worked for, but I always managed.

As time passed, to the surprise of no one, I became extremely good at my job. I have an innate authority that spoke to the women before even the uniform. I have height as an advantage and it helps, but more than that I have force of will. As if by animal instinct, the women knew that if they challenged me, I would destroy them. If I gave an order, they marched. The other C.O.’s seemed to be a bit cowed by my presence and acted with a bit of deference when I was near them. I often sat alone to eat my food on my break, which I did not mind at all. It gave me a chance to get caught up on the newspaper or other worthwhile pursuits. Far better than trying to make small talk with those few who were in the staff room at the same time as I. Of course, I also listened and observed. I said little, all the while taking in information about each person that came into my orbit: C.O.’s, the Deputy, the Governor, the women. I knew them all very well within the first few weeks of my time at Boggo Road. I was only there for a few years before being transferred, by my choice, to Blackmoore Prison.

 

2: Blackmoore

 

Upon arriving, in full uniform – how I despised wearing nylon stockings and a skirt – I was met at the door by a young officer named Jamieson. She was a singularly uninteresting individual and I knew I could write her off as a casual ally: average build but a bit plump, unremarkable intelligence from the small talk she was desperately trying to engage me in, and most likely working here until she could find something better from what she babbled. She took me through the secured entrance for employees, through an administrative area to the office of the Governor and introduced me. She left me with him in his small, clean and unremarkable office. (Surely a Governor deserved better than this?)

“Welcome, Ferguson. How does it feel to be starting your first day with us?” the plain looking man in the uniform with the little crowns on his shoulders asked. He did not wait for an answer. “We’ll start you off easily, in the slower sections of the place, before sending you to the more challenging areas.”

“I am fine with challenges now, sir.”

He must not have read my file. Surely, if he had, he would have seen my skills and known I would be fit for duty at any post. Someone in charge, as this Mr. Bryce was, should have been more aware of the abilities and inabilities of each member of his staff. My father had always emphasized how well he had known each of the men under his command. He would never have allowed for slipshod leadership like this from anyone he served with. The people who promoted this man must have been bribed or blackmailed into it.

“Just keep yourself safe. We had a CO shivved here not long ago. It can get violent at times. That’s why we need to hire people like you. You’re a tall, solid one, aren’t you, Ferguson? I bet you could really give a convict a run for his money,” Bryce was not looking at my face when he said this, but staring me up and down. ‘His’, I thought, ‘in a women’s prison?’ I added ‘potential rapist’ to the list of observed qualities I had about him so far.

What to say to that? “Yes, sir.” I would not add anything else. Never give more than necessary when assessing a superior. Always keep contained, strong, deferential if necessary, but in control.

“Good. Good. Jamieson will show you the place. And if you need anything at all, you know that you can come and see me. And call me Ken, after all, we’ll be working quiet closely together.” He seemed so sure of himself, as if the uniform and the little crowns on it made him inviolate in this place. Still, I had to look down to connect my sight line with this rather pathetic man, even as he was still leering at me.

Bryce seemed somewhat surprised to have me under his command. He informed me that I had been put to work at Blackmoore by the Board as they felt that Blackmoore needed more organization in their paperwork, and I was to stick to the desk part of the job, at least to start. That he was intimidated by my presence was obvious. The duties of a C.O. extend far beyond the deskwork, although that is a significant part of the job. I would have to convince him that I was focused on my incident reports, etc., while still carrying out the other aspects of my work. It wouldn’t be difficult: Jamison had already mentioned that Bryce spent most of his time hiding in his office from whatever it was that he was so afraid of. This was going to be a good posting for me.

Jamieson had waited for me outside of the Governor’s office.

“Well, what do you think of the big brass?” she asked.

I looked at her, waiting for more, giving her a smile that I knew worked to comfort those lesser than I but revealed nothing. Not saying a thing put her off balance, and I was glad to see that I was already asserting my dominance in this place.

“He is the Governor,” I stated.

“Yeah. Just be careful around him. Like, I know we have to work with him and all, but you know, the women around here always warn the new girls to be careful around him,” Jamison stuttered out, clearly trying to get on my good side.

“I think,” I began, “that I appreciate the information. If there are any problems with the Governor and any other employees, then we should discuss what actions we will take to handle the problem.”

“Sure, sure. It’s just that I thought you should be warned up front.” She was looking up at me, trying to appear sincerely interested in my safety, yet she wasn’t capable of hiding her true intentions from me. Getting all the C.O.’s on side was not a bad idea from her point of view.

Such sycophantic behaviour could be useful to me at a later date, so I noted it, smiled and appeared very sincere when I thanked her and said nothing more. I knew that she would have nothing of further use to say to me at a personal level for now. After all, she couldn’t assess my loyalties and intentions in the way that I could hers.

Jamieson gave me a quick tour of the prison that I was assigned to, and then left me to the job as there was nothing more she could do for me. I hardly needed her help to start work. I was relieved when she left. I had smiled noncommittally at her before she turned and walked away.

The first day was noneventful. I walked the hallways, feeling good that the women and the C.O.’s knew I was their superior in many ways. I made a point to learn about each one, listening to their conversations in the staff room, their gossip about each other, how each responded to the other at staff meeting, etcetera. This was a job I could not be seen to be at all unsure of in any way, and the first way to prevent that was to know the other C.O.’s and how to handle them.

I went home to the small apartment I had bought after receiving my transfer. I had had to move to be closer to work. Previously, I had shared one house after another with my father until his hospitalization and death. That last house had become too quiet, too dirty, too full of the stench of his illness and I had sold it as soon as I could. He had not died there, but I had had to clean up after him more than once. The smell of bleach is very penetrating and reassuring, but can also be suffocating when used constantly to blot out the smells the unwell human body emits: vomit, fecal matter, bloody sputum, the putrid smells of the body infested with the type of cancer my Dad had. The pale, shrunken, sickly thing that my father became was not the man I had grown up under. I had thrown out the books of his that I had not wished to keep, his razor, combs, clothes and other personal items. There were a few things that I had taken with me to my new home: The Aboriginal art and the emu egg that he had bought when we had come to Australia, to prove to anyone who might ask, that we truly were devoted to our new country, our new continent. I kept his violin, not being able to dispose of it in anyway despite the bitter memories it held. I had also kept his fencing mask and foil, and the photo from when I had won the cup for my category: women’s juniors. Everything else in the new place was mine and mine alone. I had had to get rid of so much, just so I could clean and move. How could one person, who didn’t believe in having many possessions, who wanted to be mobile at a moment’s notice, have so many things? My father had been a man of contradictions.

One such was his expectations of me when I was small. As a young child I was expected to learn to react to situations quickly, to move when needed, to think fast and wisely and act in ways that were unexpected by those less intelligent. My father insisted, too, that I had to be still. He had been a soldier, a man of war and fighting, but his time teaching me was most focused on observation. I had to learn to see everything around me, from the minute to the extremely distant from as young as I can remember. I had to learn to be quiet, to concentrate to do this. As a child I found this difficult, but at his insistence, I learned the useful task of observing and extrapolating from what I observed that has served me well to this day.

Such observation and categorization of what I learned meant that I soon had information on nearly everyone and everything in the prison. I have a sharp memory that allows me to recall where someone was last seen, with whom, and how they moved, noticed what was around them and so on. Some of these prisoners were beyond stupid. Finding contraband was not difficult. If one kept oneself sharp, much could be caught quickly. That idiot, Jamieson, was taking money to smuggle drugs in through the prison in various ways. When one method was caught out, she and the women would find another. There are many ways to smuggle drugs into a prison but they are not infinite. Simply by observing I could find who was involved. Catching out Jamieson meant that I waited until I had so much information about her that she had no possible defence. I could have turned her in much earlier, but I prefer the long game. I gave no quarter with that woman.

I must have seemed somewhat supernatural to the others at Blackmoore. I would suggest a ramp, and – lo and behold – the illegal substances would turn up. The prisoners had become too lax in their ways, too sure of how they brought drugs in. I was the reason that the number of overdoses, inebriated inmates and drug associated behaviours dropped. Jamieson was fired and quietly told to leave corrections. Wouldn’t want a black mark on the prison’s files. Within six months of my being hired, the use of drugs had dropped dramatically. Again, I was extremely efficient. My paperwork was unquestionable. A report written by me was simply seen as the exact truth. Perhaps details needed to be altered to fit the necessary actions at times, but nonetheless my work always impressed those around me. The other C.O.’s did not like me, which was inconsequential. I was obviously able to accomplish much for the greater good.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Riley

 

The particular facility that was Blackmoore was old, partly stone, dark and dreary in some areas. The newer parts were more heavily used, but there were too many in the local population with deviant behaviours to keep all and sundry in those parts.

The passageways in the older part of the prison were darker than other areas, narrower and had smaller cells. The individual cells had barred openings onto the corridor, making it easy for the CO’s to see what they were up to. I had expected to see the most violent cases here, but there were not that many prisoners at all. When I arrived, the doors were open, allowing inmates to leave their cells to go to move to work assignments or the outdoor space, etc. There seemed a great deal of freedom here. At the far end of the corridor, distant from the stairs from whence CO’s entered, there was a common room. Continuing my tour down the hall, I could see that some inmates were in the communal area: two of them playing cards, one making tea, another watching the small television set in the corner. They seemed to be getting along well enough, and I continued my tour down the hall. They did stare at me, as I was new and I strike an imposing figure, but I said nothing as I moved on.

I soon knew everyone I worked with and what made them tick. It wasn’t hard. Most people are very obvious about their greed for money, status, power, sex. No one was there simply to do a good job and take home a paycheck. I may have been the only person who wanted to do just that. I didn’t need money, I needed to prove myself and move up in rank. That was all. Perhaps I truly am the only person who ever was in corrections just to do the job properly without any covert desires.

Then there was a day that everything changed for me. Not all at once but I can now look back and understand when the change started. A young woman - Aboriginal, small and vulnerable - was admitted to the facility. She was terrified of the strip search room and all that it entailed, and since she was uncooperative, I was asked to help with the situation as I was on duty in the area. It was either bring in another C.O. or drug her. I don’t like drugging inmates; one can’t learn their true motivations and identities if they are drugged. Drugs definitely have their uses, but not in these cases.

When I arrived on the scene, the new prisoner was terrified and crying. She was sitting on the floor with her head covered by her hands and refusing to move. She wouldn’t look at the C.O.’s in the room. C.O. Markham was supposed to search her. She was standing on one side of the room, near the shelf where prisoners’ clothes were to be deposited during the search, clearly annoyed with the delay. Her plump, short form rested an elbow against the shelf, trying to take some of the weight off of her legs. She had probably been standing all day. C.O. Sallow stood by the door, blocking any chance of the prisoner bolting. Sallow was thin, but young and clearly capable of restraining a prisoner like the one before me.

After asking why I had been called in to deal with the situation, Markham said that the girl, named Riley, had refused to stand up or help facilitate the search in any way and that another C.O. could be used to physically force her to do the strip search.

“Riley, look at me,” I stated. Seldom would anyone not obey a direct order from me.

I moved over to the girl, crouched down and reached under her head and took her chin in my hand, forcing her to look at me. Her eyes were huge, deep and soft despite the redness from crying.

“I’m scared,” she said, under her breath as she looked up at me.

“Of course you’re scared. You have been admitted to prison. It’s meant to be scary. But you don’t have any choices here. You have been partially processed, and the next step is the strip search. We can’t let you leave this room until it’s been performed.” Of course I was stating the obvious, but these women often failed to see what was right in front of them. “So off they come,” I ordered. “You will be finished more quickly and comfortably if you cooperate. Markham has done this hundreds of times before. She knows her job and will be efficient and careful.”

The girl had hidden her head as soon as I let go of her chin, but looked up to make eye contact with my crouching form once more.

“I don’t want to. I can’t. It’s not fair…do I really have to?” The last was clearly a rhetorical question.

Markham sighed, “Come on, Riley, I haven’t got all day.” Her shift was to end soon and her impatient nature was obvious. She was not the least intimidating, but I could see how such a delicate creature as this Riley could be cowed by her.

Dark eyes were still making contact with mine when the girl said, “Can you do it? Please?” She looked at Markham, visibly shrinking a bit from that direction. This was against protocol as this wasn’t my scheduled job for the day, and I had every right to leave and allow Markham and Sallow to do their jobs. But something in me, I don’t know what, took pity on Riley. Perhaps my knowledge that Markham was about to go home to her ridiculously demanding husband informed me that she would be rough. Markham let out her anger where she could.

I stood and looked directly at the offending C.O., “Markham, you don’t have to stay. I can take over from here.” Markham didn’t question the statement, simply gave me a perfunctory, “Thanks,” and left as quickly as her thick, stumpy legs would allow.

Riley looked up at me, still with tears clinging to her lashes, and a barely audible whisper of, “Thank you.” She stood up, slowly, and looked at Sallow.

“Does she have to stay?” Riley asked.

“Yes. There needs to be a witness to a strip search. You want everything to go as it should, don’t you?” Sallow was there for my protection as much as the prisoner’s. There always needs to be a witness to ensure that a C.O. isn’t wrongly accused of any possible mistake or slip up during a strip search.

“Yeah, but…just you. Please?” She looked so small, so vulnerable. “I don’t want people staring. I just can’t…not in front of everyone.”

It was a silly argument. Sallow was hardly “everyone”, but this once, and this once only, I broke with protocol and said, “C.O. Sallow, please leave the room and stand outside the door.”

“Really?” Sallow responded. She had never heard me give an order to another C.O. I really had no right, but I was sure she wouldn’t mind. Any fallout from the actions would land on my shoulders, not hers. Still, it would have seemed odd to her that I wasn’t doing things strictly by the book.

“Do it.” I stated. Sallow left without further comment.

Riley removed her clothes, all the while eyeing me as if I were going to bite her. She shook, and I noted that it was not from cold.

“Everything comes off,” I commanded, pulling on the latex gloves. I loathe doing strip searches. They can be vile, filled with infection, open wounds, contagions. This one, however, did not affect me that way. I was not even thinking about the dangers of the strip search as Riley undressed.

The prisoner removed her clothes down to the intimate items slowly, clearly afraid of what was to come. “Come now,” I said, “the sooner you undress, the sooner this will be over.”

She slipped her bra off, then stood there in front of me nearly naked, soft, and very vulnerable. I never thought of prisoners that way. I quickly quashed the thought. I looked down as she removed the last of her underwear.

“Please,” she pleaded, “I…can’t…I’m…” and she started crying again, softly. Tears slid down her face as she crossed her arms over her now naked breasts. Her body had bruises over much of the skin, her thighs especially. I felt a twinge of anger for the girl’s circumstances upon seeing such damage.

I had to show her how to hold her arms, how to lift her hair, show me the backs of her ears and so on. She obeyed, but never stopped crying. This is not uncommon with new arrivals, but something about this young woman seemed more vulnerable, more afraid than most.

When she bent over for further inspection I could see why. The bruises on her buttocks and thighs continued inward, where she was badly torn and bruised. Clearly, although it wasn’t my place to diagnose injuries, this girl had been violated. For the first time – and the last – I did not obey all the rules of the physical strip search. I did not do a cavity search, I did not ask her to open herself up with her hands for inspection. To be truthful, I am not sure why I didn’t. It was an emotional decision, not a rational one. Emotions lead to mistakes, my father always said, and this time I chose to deliberately not perform part of my duties. The girl could have been smuggling in anything, but I simply did not believe she was. Everything about her, including the damage, cried out to me to be gentler with her than anyone else I had ever searched. So I was. I admit this, although I am baffled by it. There was no real reason for me not to have obeyed the rules. I simply chose not to.

While the young woman dressed again, I double checked her file: Jianna Riley, age: 22, arrested for being an accessory to an armed robbery. Had she been a few years younger, she would never have seen the inside of Blackmoore. She certainly was not like the angry, arrogant, pathetic or stupid types that normally ended up here. There was something different about her, but I knew not what at the time.

Rather than passing her to a C.O. to take her to a cell, I directed her to medical. The damage she had received needed to be properly assessed and recorded. The nurse, Turner, was a scrawny middle aged woman who reeked of tobacco. She told me that I could leave but I did not. Riley looked in my direction at this, and something told me to stay. This girl needed my presence to feel safe. The entire time Turner examined her, including a quick visual pelvic exam, Riley kept eye contact with me. Tears still slid down from her eyes, but she made no sounds, even though the nurse was somewhat rough. No doubt she would have been rougher had I not been there.

After she was done, I told Turner that I would take Riley to a cell in order to inform her of the protocol necessary for prisoners to know and obey. It did not need to be me doing it but the foul nurse didn’t need to know that. She finished the procedures with undo harshness, in my opinion, and turned the girl over to me.

“Well?” I demanded of the nurse.

“Can’t say yet. Urine test has to come back before I can fill in the report and records and get them to the appropriate people,” was the reply. Then she turned her back to me and it was clear I was to take the girl away. The woman was efficient, I could say that for her, but there wasn’t anything else to commend her for. I made a note to deal with her later. She would not be allowed to treat me or someone such as Riley like that again.

I returned Riley to the admitting officer and waited for the last parts of the admissions process to be completed. I waited, pleased that I was visibly making the C.O. doing the work uncomfortable. As we walked down the corridors towards the assigned cell, Riley wasn’t crying anymore. She was walking in what appeared to be a state of shock, carrying her laundry basket of personal items in front of her as though it were merely something to be tossed out, not the basic essentials for personal hygiene. I allowed her to move at a slower pace than I would have normally. She was clearly physically uncomfortable as she walked.

Riley was not assigned to a good location in my opinion. She was put in the older area of the prison, in a single cell that opened onto the corridor. It was darker than usual and seemed inappropriate for a non-violent offender. This was not my decision to make, however, since the less iniquitous areas were already fully occupied. I indicated that she was to settle in to her particular cell.

Riley looked up at me and quietly said, “I’m to stay here?”

“Yes. This is your cell.” I informed her again.

“It’s dark. I don’t like it.”

“You can turn on a light, here,” I said, showing her the one light switch she could control. It put on the reading light over the desk. Prisoners could turn it on or off during the hours that all lights were on. “Put your own things around the cell and it will feel more personal. You will get used to it.” I wanted her to feel more comfortable for some reason, so I added, “You can put up pictures of things you like, pictures of your friends and family, or other desired images when your receive them.”

She sat down hard on the bed, shoulders slumping, head down, “I don’t have anything to put up on the…” She stumbled verbally, not sure what to call the things in her cell.

“Cork board,” I said. “You will get used to the place,” I stated, trying to sound reassuring. “You won’t be here all the time. You can go to the common room for tea or coffee and mingle with others. You will also go to the cafeteria for meals and you will be assigned work. You will settle in soon. Everyone does,” I lied. I felt a need to protect her from the truth at the moment. In fact, not everyone settled in. Some didn’t even survive. This delicate creature was small and defeated. She would either toughen up or not. Prison has no mercy for the individual. This girl would have to work to make it. I did not feel that I could inform her of that at the time. And then I did something even stranger than I had earlier.

“I will come and check on you tomorrow,” I stated. “I can help you understand what goes on here and how to manage your time effectively. This is prison, it’s not meant to be pleasant. But you can have a better time of it if you learn how.”

She looked up from her hands that lay in her lap and peered at me from under the hair that had covered part of her face. She said, “Okay,” quietly, almost under her breath. I could tell she believed me. That meant something to me. Most assuredly it meant something to her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Trust

I have never been one to let dreams bother me. I had learned to wake myself up from nightmares when I was young, as my father had suggested, but the night after meeting Riley brought terrifying dreams. I remember strong hands groping, pushing my thighs apart, searing pain and then the humiliation that followed. It was all jumbled up, events happening out of order, over and over. I woke exhausted, relieved to be going to work and getting out of the apartment. Clearly having seen Riley’s condition had upset me. It had brought back unpleasant memories that I had thought long buried and done with. I told myself that one unpleasant night would be the end of it. Force of will can accomplish a great deal, and I am more than capable of pushing down emotions and containing, no – eliminating - them.

Still, going in to work meant that I would have to check on Riley if I were to keep my promise to her. The day, however, proved to be one filled with meetings, paperwork, an employee dispute and so on. I simply did not have time to speak with one prisoner in a somewhat remote part of the prison. The next day proved much the same, and the day after as well. On none of those nights, may I add, did I have any further nightmares. Clearly, I had control over my dreams once again.

By the fourth day after Riley’s admittance, I was called in to Bryce’s office.

I knocked and let myself in at his call. “Governor?” I asked. I kept our interactions down to the essentials.

“Yes, Ferguson. You helped process this new prisoner, Riley,” Bryce said as he looked at the file on his desk. He did not invite me to sit.

“Yes. She was being difficult with the strip search, so I stepped in and took over. She clearly had indications of injuries, which compelled me to have her in medical sooner than usual for new inmates.” I came across as completely confident and in control. There was no way Bryce had learned of my breach of protocol, and I certainly would not give him reason to think anything had been done differently.

“Did you know, Ferguson, that the damned girl is pregnant?” He seemed more irritated than anything at this.

“No, sir, I did not.” I absorbed this information more slowly than I normally would have. Is that why she had seemed so vulnerable? Had it happened when she was violated? Had she been pregnant before the attack? How much had this young woman suffered?

“Of course not,” Bryce continued, as if with an afterthought, “you couldn’t have. The urine tests turned up the pregnancy hormones. You realize this isn’t good for us, right? Pregnant girls bring too much negative attention. People always want to know if the father was a C.O. who raped her, or if the girl was exchanging sex for drugs with one and such like. I would like to contain this information. Last thing we need is another scandal like before.”

Bryce was referring to a case a few months earlier, before I had arrived, where a C.O. had been fired for getting an inmate pregnant. She had claimed it was in exchange for heroine. The papers had been all over that one. Bryce had made it through by firing the man responsible, firing or transferring anyone who could have potentially known about the situation and bringing in the CSDS more often than usual for a few months, generally costing the system far more than was necessary. He would have done a much better job if he had learned which inmates and which C.O.’s had been responsible for the drugs getting in to the prison, making that the headline, and passing off the pregnancy as a stupid choice by a corrupt and greedy employee. Instead, he had allowed the focus to be on the pregnancy itself, bringing the board and the press down on relations between C.O.’s and inmates in general and ignoring the drug situation. Stupid choices all round.

“Yes, sir,” I responded, “perhaps this pregnancy can be kept quiet. The young woman in question was obviously violated, and I believe we can blame the pregnancy on events that happened before she arrived here.”

“Yeah, well, maybe. But the dates are going to be cutting it close. Apparently it’s only been a few weeks. The girl herself didn’t even know. The nurse had to ask her questions, then inform her herself. These stupid girls are always getting into the worst situations. You’d think they would learn, but no. They decide they need drugs, or they are ‘in love’ or they are just thinking with their twats, and we get stuck with the whole mess. Then comes the need for more money for their care, guards out of the prison when they have to go to hospital, and so on. Just do what you can to keep this quiet,” he continued, “She seemed to react better to you than others, so I’m making her your problem. Keep the girl away from the other prisoners if you can, to keep gossip down. If they aren’t telling their visitors, maybe that will help. Maybe you can have Barry write up some pieces ahead of time, in case the news gets ahold of this.”

Barry Czerniakowski was the prison spokesman, the person who represented Blackmoore to the press. I looked down at Bryce, never having thought less of him than at that moment. Most of the women in Blackmoore were drug addicts, prostitutes, violent offenders or worse. But even someone as dense as Bryce should be able to see that Riley was not the same and that her pregnancy was not his personal crisis.

I agreed to do my best to keep things under control. How I would do so did not need to be the Governor’s personal concern. As long as everything was contained and Bryce didn’t have to deal with any of it, he didn’t care. The man was virtually useless as a C.O., let alone a governor.

I headed straight for Riley’s cell after that ridiculous meeting. When I arrived, she was curled up on the bed, her back to the room. I opened the door and told her to sit up. When she did, it was clear that she had been crying.

“You didn’t come back,” she said. It was not uncommon for new prisoners to be depressive and cry. Normally I would have thought nothing of it, but coupled with her statement, I felt that I must have had some effect on her emotional state through my inaction.

I looked directly at her, remembering to show all the signs of authority. I had no intention of letting her know that there were grounds for her complaint. “I did not have the time. You need to understand that no C.O. is available to prisoners on request.”

“I didn’t request anything. You promised you’d come and see how I was doing, and you didn’t. I thought you were different, somehow, but I was wrong,” Riley said, anger starting to colour her voice along with disappointment. For some reason, I didn’t mind the anger. The disappointment should not have affected me either, but it did. I did not understand why, but I felt I owed her more than what I had already said.

I took a step in to the cell and looked down at her, “I should have come back as I said. I always stick to my word. But I had not made a promise, and I was not available until now. I am here to talk to you about your pregnancy.”

“You know too? Did you know before I did?” She said, pulling herself to the head of the bed, away from me.

“No. I was informed today,” why would Riley think that I would know?

Her eyelashes were once again ringed with the droplets from her tears, the streaks of which shone on her cheeks when she looked up at me. “I don’t want a baby,” she said flatly, as though it was now a rote answer, despite her knowledge of the impending child being barely older than my own knowledge of it.

“You should have thought of that before you had sex, Riley.” I scoffed. This was my usual response to the women who were foolish enough to be pregnant in prison.

“I didn’t! I mean…” she stopped, unable to finish the sentence, turning her head to face the daylight that was barely threatening to creep through the window of her cell.

I had forgotten, for the moment, how Riley had looked upon being strip searched. I had gone to an authoritarian response rather than a considered one. I don’t usually make such slip ups, but I had. Normally I wouldn’t even have cared how a prisoner felt about what I said, as long as she knew her place and was abiding by my orders. The girl had been through a nightmare, and I had forgotten. Stupid of me.

“I’m sorry, Riley. I should have taken your circumstances into consideration before answering.” This, too, was new to me. I had never formally apologized to a prisoner before and meant it.

“Yeah, well – you should have,” she replied, pouting a bit. Her response also affected me. It was both quiet and rebellious, but not meant to anger, of that I was sure.

“May I?” I asked, walking over to her bed and indicated where I was going to sit.

Riley shrugged and pulled towards the head of the bed even more, her back to the wall, giving me ample room and leaving a proper distance between us. She looked at her door, probably noting that it was wide open and no other prisoners were about. Sitting on the bed was not protocol, but it felt right for some reason.

“Tell me,” I began, “Why don’t you want this child? Surely it’s not the child’s fault how it comes into this world?” Not wanting a child when it was a real possibility seemed odd to me. Didn’t most women want children? Even a child born to a prisoner could be highly desired.

“I don’t care how it comes in to this world,” Riley said. I noted that she was starting to cry silent tears. “I just can’t take care of a baby. I’m too stupid! I will never be able to look after it or raise it alone. I don’t want a baby in here.”

So that was it: she simply didn’t want a baby while she was a prisoner. This hardly disqualified her from being a mother. Riley’s self-pity wasn’t going to help anyone. I determined that it was my job to snap her out of it.

“Listen to me. There is no reason why you cannot have a baby in here, nor is there any reason why you are not capable of raising a child on your own. You won’t be in here forever. Once out, you will find a job and look after the child as any mother would.” So many did try after all. The problem was that most of them only ended up back in jail. Recidivism is a very much a reality.

“I told you, I’m too stupid to raise a child. I never finished school, and I can’t do anything. No one would want to be my baby, and no one can help me to raise it when I get out. I don’t want to have a kid. I’m not good enough,” Riley stated, clearly being too hard on herself.

“So you didn’t finish school? Is that all that the problem is?” I said, surprised at how simple the solution to her problem would be.

“Yeah,” she said, “I didn’t get through school so I can’t get a good paid job. What good is that going to be for a kid?”

“’Good paying,’” I corrected. “If that’s all, then you will get the courses you need while you are in here and you will leave this place better prepared to find a job that will support you and your child.”

“I’m too stupid!” Riley protested again.

“Nonsense. I can set up a study regime for you. You certainly have more than enough time to study,” she glared at me from under her hair at that comment, but I continued, “For now, start reading. The library is available to you. I will bring you other things to read soon. There is no reason why you should see yourself as any less intelligent than the other women here. You won’t be the first to finish grade 12 in prison.”

“I can try, but it won’t do any good. I tried when I was a kid, and I couldn’t get through then, so why now?”

“You will get through now, Riley, because I will see to it that you do.” I vowed this as much to myself as to her. I now knew how I would take care of the Governor’s problem and Riley’s as well. I just needed to convince Bryce that his problem would be solved if he allowed her to get grade 12 certification.

Riley just looked at me, her cheeks still damp despite the cessation of her weeping. She took a deep breath and said, “Well, if you say so, maybe something good will happen. But I don’t know. I’m just not smart enough.”

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I had no official name for my job with Riley. Other prisoners studied in classes, but they were somewhat motivated. Riley needed motivation. I felt that once she learned she could do well with school work, she would find the motivation. My job was to get her that far. I suppose the best name for my position was not ‘tutor’, but ‘mentor’, as we were working on more than school work. She would need to be interested in getting the degree, and need to know how to find a job, a home and life for herself outside of prison after she left. A challenge for most, but I was sure that I would be able to turn her around quickly enough. She just had to learn to make that motherly connection with the precious being in her stomach. Research could easily overcome any gaps in my knowledge.

I had to do some thinking to figure out how to interest our pregnant prison project in graduating from high school. There was no point in trying to figure out a program for her if she simply were not motivated. Punishment was obviously a good way to motivate, but in this case I felt that there needed to be more. Riley had to want to do more than just avoid the lash, she had to want to succeed. The only reason for her to do so was so that she could look after her child and herself.

The day after our little talk, I took Riley to the prison library before her block was to proceed to breakfast. I had her sit down at one of the metal chairs that went with the cold metal table that was the library’s standard furniture. It was not a good library, the collection being limited mostly to donations for anything newer than the 1960’s, and it offered few amenities. It never seemed to be heated in the winter, although it had the same hot water fixtures as the rest of the prison, and in the summer, it seemed to turn in to a veritable sauna. It was, however, what we had to work with, so it would have to do.

I did not mind the place too much, despite how poorly it was equipped and laid out. At least it was relatively clean. There was a no food rule, which seemed to be broken less than other prison rules, and the metal furniture ensured that any mess that was made by an inmate could easily be cleaned up. In fact, it smelled of the usual prison cleansers, the cold metal of the book shelves and other necessary pieces, and that odd, pleasant smell of old books. As a library, the best that it offered was up to date newspapers. I took one of these and dropped it on the table in front of Riley.

“Open it,” I said, “to the classifieds. I want you to look for a job.”

“What?” Riley had heard what I had said, but she was indicating that she did not understand the point of the order.

“Open it to the classifieds. You are to look for jobs that you are qualified to perform,” I used a tone that ensured that she would not question my instructions again.

She gave a small shrug of her shoulders to indicate that she would proceed regardless of understanding. She took much more time to find the employment classifieds that I expected. Still, I waited, watching her as patiently as possible.

“Okay, Miss Ferguson. I guess you want me to look here?” Riley asked, her voice and face matched in confusion.

“Of course I do,” I stated flatly, and handed her a small HB pencil. I always made sure to have a pencil on hand somewhere. One never knows when a pencil would be needed. “Circle every job that you are qualified for.”

“Uh….Miss Ferguson, you do know that I can’t apply for a job until I’m out of here, right? Because this seems a bit, you know, um…early?” Riley said very quietly, clearly afraid to challenge me, but still not understanding my reasoning.

“Just do it.” I commanded flatly.

I stood over the girl as she went slowly through the columns. She was not stupid, and spent very little time looking over higher-level employment and proceeded to the page with the basic, low skill jobs listings. She glanced up at me to see if I approved and I tapped the page with my index finger. She quickly looked down again and got to work. She concentrated very carefully on each choice she made, circling her choices with far more concentration than necessary. I admit that I became frustrated with her pace.

“You’ve circled enough for now,” I pointed at the paper. “Tell me what you’ve learned.”

“What?”

“Come on, look at what you’ve circled and then tell me what you see,” this could not have been more basic.

“Um….” Riley hesitated. Then she put the pencil down and carefully counted each choice she had made. “I saw about 15 jobs that I could apply for if I want…” she trailed off.

I reached over and took the pencil back, stowing it carefully to the side in my breast pocket. I stood up, to my full height and clasped my hands in front, and said, “Now read them to me.”

“Really?” Riley asked, looking up at me. As soon as she saw my expression, she know that she had no choice in the matter. “Okay. ‘Position available for part time fry cook. Apply to McDonald’s at 344…’”

I cut her off. I saw no reason to have to stand here and listen to addresses that did not make the point needed. “Fine, fine, Riley. Go ahead, read the next one, but leave out everything but the job description.”

“’Babysitter needed for three children, ages 1 year to 4 years old. Two days a week, six hours each. Wage to be negotiated.’” Riley read without much enthusiasm.

“Next,” I commanded.

“’Dishwasher wanted for small restaurant for night shifts. Minimum wage.”
This went on for a little while, as I had her read about seven or eight of the job descriptions that she knew she could apply for. She read them matter-of-factly, without emotion, stating what we both knew simply by the look on her face as she realized how unimportant and dull these jobs were.

“Now, Riley, do you really want to spend the rest of your life working at one or more of these jobs at a time to try and support yourself and your child?” I asked.

“I don’t want a child,” she said, beginning that little pout of hers. “I don’t want to do any of this. These jobs are boring and lame. I had a job like this, at a small convenience store. The owner was a ….” She stopped there, looking up and giving another little shrug, then quickly looked away from me.

I understood her better than she thought. I crouched down to bring my tall frame down to eye level with the unhappy young woman. “Look at me,” I said. She did, meeting my look eye to eye. “You really don’t have a choice about the baby. You are here, in prison, and that’s a fact. When you are released, in about 18 months, you will be responsible for your own welfare and that of your child. If you don’t have a high school degree, what kind of life will you have? What kind of life will your child have? You will be restricted to low level jobs, and even some of these require a high school diploma. Think about it: if you choose the right way, you at least stand a chance of surviving comfortably on the outside.”

Looking at me with complete open honestly, the young woman nearly whispered, “I don’t know if I want to live at all,” bitterly. “ But yeah, I have to think about stuff. Maybe I should get my degree. What else is there to do here anyway?” Her silent tears began again, despite the small smile on her face, and I have to admit to being baffled by what she had said. It’s not like we have a choice about living, not in a real way. The instinct to survive is the strongest we have. So that begged the question: why would agreeing to work with me cause her to cry again?

Deciding that she had to make up her own mind, that I had led the horse to water so to speak, and now it must drink, I escorted her back to her cell and left her there to work out what kind of future she wanted for herself and her child.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Reading

“You’re more than intelligent enough. You just don’t try hard enough. Look at what’s on your desk!” My father had yelled at me when I was in grade 5. I remember that grade clearly because that was when I had found a book in the school library entitled The White Dragon. It was part of a series of books by a British woman, Anne McCaffrey, about people on another world who had telepathic connections to real dragons. The people rode the dragons and fought against a hostile parasite from space by having the dragons breathe fire on it to kill it. I had noticed the book on the “New Fiction” shelf at the front of the library when I had walked in during a lunch hour. The picture had grabbed my attention. My 11 year old self was fascinated by mythical creatures, and the painting on the book’s cover was of a white dragon.

I had read about half the book when my father had come into my room, as he often did to check on me, and pointed accusatorily at the work of fiction next to the homework on my desk and said, “I have told you to keep up your marks. You must read something that allows the mind to expand, not something that forces it into a make believe piece of nonsense like that! What does that tell you about the past? About the human condition? How could that possibly relate to your future?”

“I – I was just,” I stammered.

“You ‘were just’ what? Wasting your time? My time? Your teacher’s time?” Dad glared at me, daring me to defy him, “How do you expect to keep your top of the class standing when you waste everyone’s time?”

“I only wanted to read something different,” I said, afraid to make eye contact. “I’m only reading it in my spare time, when I’ve finished my homework. I didn’t waste anyone’s time.”

Dad reached over, picked up the book with one hand and pulled my head back by my hair with the other. Putting his face directly in mine, so close I could feel spittle from his mouth hit my cheek, he nearly whispered, “Do not talk back to me, Joan Ferguson. I am taking this away tonight and you will give it back to the library in the morning.” At that he stood straight up again, like the soldier he had been, and pushed my head forward as he released my hair. “You will not read anything that I have not approved first. You must try harder, Joan. No one who has come as far as we have, with as little as we had, can afford to be second best. You know that. How many times must I tell you?”

“You will never have to tell me again, Dad,” I said, parroting back the phrase I knew he wanted to hear.

“You had better be sure of that, Joan. No more nonsense. You have to be better.” He turned and walked out the door to my room, with the book in his hand.

I sat up, rubbed the back of my head where he’d grabbed my hair, and tried not to cry. Dad hated it when I cried. He hated it when I showed any emotion too vividly. I was unsuccessful that time, but managed to cry quietly, pretending to still be doing my homework. I had to have it done before five o’clock so that I could have dinner on the table for six. Dad did not tolerate his meals being delayed, as he often had to teach in the evening. The evenings were when I went for fencing lessons as well. My day was scheduled around school and my Dad’s expectations, nothing more.

When I came home from school the following day, I found a used copy of Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, on my desk. I was no fool even as a child, so when I had finished what homework I had, I read the start of the book as well as the summary and part of the academic notes. I knew I would be quizzed about it at dinner.

At exactly six o’clock that evening I put my Dad’s plate of cold roast chicken and hot vegetables in front of him. He nodded at me, and I sat down to my plate.

“Now, Joan,” he began, sure that I would respond as he wished, “What do you think of the book by Charles Dickens?”

I paused carefully, appearing to think about what I was going to say before speaking, as required when we talked about intellectual topics. “So far it is quite good. The character of Pip is believable, and I found the opening in the graveyard where he is accosted by Magwitch quite tense.”

“Good, good, Joan. What else have you noticed about the book?” Dad encouraged.

“It is in first person, the imagery is quiet detailed, the writing is very fluent and Pip’s situation as a young orphan is touching. I believe he will be a naïve narrator, not fully comprehending all that is around him, all the while believing that he is understanding everything.” I stopped at that point, not sure where to go from there. I hoped that my answer would please my father. I waited, hardly breathing, for his reply.

Dad finished chewing his mouthful of chicken, swallowed and looked at me long enough to make me uncomfortable. I looked down at my food and took a forkful of peas and carrots. One of the peas rolled off of the fork and fell back onto the plate. I stared at it, not wanting to really eat at all until I knew what the fallout from my literary summation was going to be.

“That is satisfactory, Joan. The novel is an English classic. You will learn about characters that have become part of the English –and therefore Australian- lexicon. You will see how choices and actions can affect one’s life. This book is a ‘good read’, as is said. Read more. We will talk further about it later. Now, how was school today?”

I had to list the details of everything I was doing to keep the position of top student in the class. I had to have a strategy for all goals in life, and I was not so foolish as to think I could get away without one for the upkeep of my proper standing in the world of grade 5 academia.

 

When I returned to Riley’s cell the day after our talk, she was not there. I could see that there were a couple of books on her desk. I couldn’t see what the bottom one was, but the top one was clearly some bodice ripper romance. I picked them up, prepared to take them with me when she came around the corner to her door.

“Miss Ferguson, I didn’t know you were here,” she stated. Her hair was wet and she was carrying a towel and her toiletry items.

“Clearly,” I said. “I thought I told you to do some reading?”

“I did. I did like you said and got some books,” Riley said, pointing with her bag of items at the books in my hands, “See? You’re holding them.”

“I am holding two books, Riley, but these are not what I instructed you to pick out from the library.”

“What do you mean?” She asked. “You said books. You said to read. Those are books and I am reading them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, holding the offending material out toward her, “What academic value do these have?”

She looked sheepish as she put her things on a metal shelf by the door and said, “I did what you said. I didn’t know that I was wrong.”

It occurred to me that this girl had simply not had the advantage of being taught what acceptable reading material was, as I had. I kept my tone of voice level as I said, “You did not do anything wrong, Riley, but if you are going to finish high school you will have to start with high school level material.” I put the books back on her desk, aware that she had nothing else to occupy her time with later that night, alone, in her cell. “Tomorrow I will find something better for you to read. Keep these for now, but think about what you really want to achieve with your reading.” I felt akin to a good school teacher who gave the pupil a lesson in productivity while also being kind.

Rather than understanding my gift of allowing her to keep reading her trashy novels, she replied, “I didn’t know what you wanted me to read. I don’t care what it is. I just wanted you to be happy and leave me alone.”

I was taken aback at that, “Leave you alone? I’m here to help you, and whether you like it or not, help you I will. You will either leave this place with a grade 12 standing or you won’t leave at all. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Miss Ferguson,” she said, head hanging down.

She scuttled out of my way as I strode out of her cell.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Learning to Please

 

Bryce called me in to his office at the beginning of the week, early. He was still worried about his prison’s appearance in the eyes of the media. He needed someone to reassure him that the problems he was concerned about weren’t actually his anymore.

“Have you solved the Riley problem, Ferguson?” he asked, almost with a whine. My low estimation of the man dropped even further at that.

“I believe so, sir. I feel that she needs to believe that she can take care of the baby both in and, when released, out of prison. She needs to know that she has a chance of finding work that will support both of them, or she will end up back here.” Education programs were the only ones that really worked, if the inmates were willing to do what was required to get the needed certification.

“Really? And how the hell are you going to take care of that? She’s a felon now. She tried to hold up a convenience store with a weapon. That’s not the kind of material needed to make it in the real world, is it, Ferguson?” Bryce’s tone rankled, sounding too much like my father when he was castigating me.

“Sir, Riley did not commit a violent act. She was unsuccessful and therefore is in a different category than other women who have committed such acts. Once she realizes she has a chance on the outside, I believe her mothers’ instincts will kick in and she will want to do the best she can for her child.” I didn’t see how the man could dispute this. What did he know about mothers’ instincts? For that matter, what did I? From experience, though, I knew that anything to do with “women’s business” would be an acceptable argument for him.

“So how are you seeing to it that what you want is going to be accomplished?” he asked, looking up at me.

“The prisoner doesn’t have grade 12 certification. She currently would not be able to find a job that could support her and a child. Once she achieves this, I believe she will be a model prisoner. We can prove that some of the women can truly be reformed while here. Blackmoore has had reformed prisoners before, but no one hears about them, only the problem cases. If Riley does as I expect, she can be a good news story for Blackmoore and,” I couldn’t help but toy with the man’s ego, “for you, with the board.”

“Alright, Ferguson, we’ll give the girl a chance. Maybe making her a poster child will work well for us, turn our reputation around,” he was holding his fist to his chin, thinking clearly being a challenge for him. “Ferguson, I want this to look good. Your ideas have given me ideas. I think having a pregnant, young, attractive gulley girl as a good news story is something that will pay off for us, for Blackmoore.” He was pleased with himself in a way that made me feel disgusted and rather used. “And you’re still our newest C.O., so you will be put in charge of her learning. No one else will want the job, I’m sure. If this works out, we can take the credit for it.”

Understanding Bryce as I did, I knew that his last sentence actually meant, “If this works out, I will take the credit, if not – you will take the fall.” There was a reason that the officers referred to him as ‘the Teflon man’.

 

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When I was seven years old, my Dad gave me a doll for my birthday. It was a child doll, one that supposedly could stand up, but the plastic legs and shoes weren’t even, so it never managed to balance vertically on its own. It had black curly hair, white fair skin, a red dress, a blank expression and was supposed to look about 5 years old or so. I immediately disliked the thing. Dolls had never appealed to me, and this one wasn’t a particularly nice one to begin with. I had to pretend to love it though, as the look on my Dad’s face when I opened the gift told me that he was happy to give it to me, therefore I had to be happy to receive it.

“Happy birthday, my little girl,” he said, “It’s time you had a proper toy for a girl. You haven’t had a good dolly before.”

I had been trained thoroughly how to be polite, so my response was the best I could bring up, “Thank you, Dad. I will play with this a lot.” He continued smiling, so I knew I had said the right thing.

“Yes, Joan, yes, you will. It’s time you learned to be a proper little girl. I’m sorry we’ve had to move so many times after coming here. But here we are. I think we will live near Sydney for a long time now. I have a good job coaching, and now you can settle down as a little girl should. Here, let me show you something,” he took the doll from me, turned it on its back, and said, “See? Its eyes close when you lay her down to go to sleep. Both of you can sleep at the same time. And she has such a pretty red dress. We will have to get a nice dress like that for you soon, too.”

He was trying, he really was. Being the only one raising me, he had no idea how to deal with a little girl who was growing up quickly. Had my mother survived birthing a boy when I was two years old, my Dad would have been a much happier man. When I lost my mother, he lost his wife and son, the one child he had always really desired. It wasn’t long after that that we had had to leave Russia. I never really knew why, but he said it wasn’t safe for us there anymore. So here I was, after many moves, ‘settling in’ as much as any seven year old could. Obviously my girlish desires were meant to settle in, too. Something was wrong with me, because I just didn’t want the doll, nor a red dress like it had. I was comfortable in my little girl blue jeans and t-shirts. I played outside a lot, and spent time learning fencing from a young age as my Dad was a fencing instructor. I didn’t need more than my chalk board, child’s books and plastic dinosaurs. I had never had a chance to have many toys. My Dad didn’t believe in more than one gift per Christmas or birthday. We always had to be ready to move again in an instant – just in case. In case of what, I never knew, but our lives depended upon it.

“You’ll need to take good care of her, Joan. She must stay clean and always sit up straight, and be available if other little girls want to play with her.” That last bit hurt, as Dad knew I didn’t have any friends. I wanted them, but I was always too much the outsider, never interested in their activities or games, which I considered frivolous any way. Perhaps the doll was Dad’s way of trying to get me to make friends. After all, if I looked and played like a ‘real girl’, maybe I’d be able to make friends with one.

I put the doll in my room, propped up against the wall on top of my dresser. It was a prominent position, but not too obvious from my bed. I felt Dad would by happy with that. There was nothing to worry about when it came to keeping it clean – things never touched only become dusty, and I dusted my room regularly.

 

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I had gathered information from the itinerant teachers at Blackmoore, and by writing the Department of Education, as to what would be required for Riley to complete her schooling. I was given reading material, including curriculum guides, and information as to where to send her work, how to get it assessed and so on.

To start work with, I first had to assess Riley’s current level of competence with reading, writing, mathematics, sciences, etc. We were in the prison library, which was also used as a make-shift classroom. As no classes were taught first thing in the morning, it seemed natural to place her here for early morning tutoring.

Riley sat at a cold metal table, staring at the papers and pencils in front of her.

“I don’t really know how to do this sort of thing…” she started, clearly trying to find a way out of the test.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been to school, therefore you have done standardized testing. Simply read the questions and pick the best answer for each, fill in the dot and move on. You have an hour and a half, and it really shouldn’t take you more than an hour,” I said, picking up one of the two HB number two pencils I had placed on the desk for her, and handing it to her personally. “Please begin. I will come and check on you in about half an hour.”

“Please, Miss Ferguson, I feel sick. I don’t want to do this now. I think I’m going to barf,” Riley said, trying to look pathetic.

“You’re not sick, you’re nervous. Start the test. You will feel better once you begin.” I knew there was no way for her to cheat at the exam. It required her to read and analyze a few samples of writing, work through a few mathematical problems and so on. I felt confident that she would be capable of working once I left. I know that I can be intimidating, so it was probably better if I was not present for the start of the test. No one else would be using the library until the first class, which would be in two hours. We were early, and perhaps Riley was still trying to wake up fully. She would have ideal conditions for standardized testing once she settled in to do the job properly.

Of course, I kept a close eye on Riley, walking past the library a few times, checking on her. She did appear to be trying to figure out something on the test at one point, then was playing with her pencil at another. I felt frustrated that she was not taking full advantage of the time she had to pursue this opportunity, but vowed to leave her alone and did not return for the following forty minutes. Being able to concentrate would be essential if she were going to succeed in any of the work I had planned.

 

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“You’re not paying attention, Joan! How can I trust you to act like a mature young lady when you aren’t fully engaged in what you’re supposed to be doing?” My father asked, taking my bleeding finger in his hanky and putting pressure on it. “Such a simple task, Joan. You need to be able to prepare dinner for the afternoons when I work late. Do you think I should have to come home and make dinner when you’ve been home for hours already?”

“No, Dad. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to cut myself…” I thought he should have had some feeling for my poor left index finger. I had slipped cutting up a rather large carrot, and the sharp paring knife had cut deep into the pad of flesh on the tip of the finger. This was the first time I had remembered seeing so much blood come from my own body. I had seen one of the boys in my grade two class with a bloody nose, and another child who had fallen outside and had hit her forehead on a cement stair, bleeding profusely. Neither had seemed to produce as much red liquid as my little injury.

“Of course you didn’t mean to cut yourself – you’re not stupid. But you are careless, Joan. I need to be able to trust you. I need you to understand how hard it is for me to support us and raise you, work with the men I work with, and keep us safe.” He had me hold pressure on the bloody hanky while he went to get our first aid box.

I had heard often how he had to work to keep us safe: that moving from house to house was a way to stay safe, that our name was changed when we moved to Australia from Russia to keep us safe, that everything he did was to keep us – me – safe. I had to pull my weight if we were to stay safe. I never did understand what we had to be kept safe from, but his grave manner of explaining it to me left me with no doubt as to how necessary these actions were. As a child, I didn’t realize how badly he had been damaged by what he had experienced in his life as a soldier.

I watched as he carefully and expertly applied first unguent and then a cotton pad to the finger, then wrapped gauze around it and secured it by tearing the end in half and tying the two pieces together. He took his dirty hanky and ran it under cold water in the kitchen sink before handing it to me.

“Take this to the laundry basket and drape it over the edge. You will clean it later, after we’ve eaten. For now, you and I will work together to put our dinner together, hmm?”

He gave a slight nod of his head in the direction of the laundry room. After I ferried the dirty cloth to the basket and placed it as instructed, he made me stand back up on the chair I had pushed up to the counter so that I could reach the cutting board. “Watch. You must cut with a rhythm, like when you follow a metronome. Keep it constant and you are less likely to slip,” he said, making a quick job of the offending carrot. “Maybe you just aren’t strong enough to do this right.”

That I had let him down, that I wasn’t able to properly participate in keeping us safe, seemed worse to me than any cut finger. I knew he had no patience with begging or pleading, so I did my best to look confident and said, “Please, Dad, let me try again. I won’t slip ever again. I will pay attention,” I stated, climbing back up onto the chair that granted me access to the counter and cutting board.

He looked at me with a slight smile, then passed the knife over to me, handle end first, and said, “Prove it.”

This was not a challenge I could fail. My finger hurt as I put pressure on the cucumber I was about to tame into proper salad bites, but I ignored it as best as I could and cut the vegetable carefully, paying as full attention as I could to the work while also monitoring my Dad’s reactions.

Dad watched me as I finished the cucumber, then as I put the carrots, cucumber pieces and cherry tomatoes with the torn up iceberg lettuce in the ceramic mixing bowl that we used for salad. When I was done, he nodded at me, indicating that I was to put the bowl on the table. I climbed off of the chair carefully, took the heavy bowl and placed it as he wanted on the kitchen table. Dad looked at me, nodded again, and I knew that I had done my job properly.

That simple salad, along with heated rolls and a cold meat of some sort that he had prepared earlier in the week, was to be our regular meal every Tuesday and Thursday, when he was teaching later than usual at the studio. I had to prepare the food properly if I were to do my part to keep us safe. I would not be allowed to get away so easily with a cut finger again; Dad made sure I understood that.

“Remember Joan, that pain is the body’s way of telling you it is damaged. You must attend to the damage as I did, then get on with your work. Once the wound is taken care of, any pain that you feel is only that: pain. It means nothing. There is nothing more you can do to help with the injury, so you must remember that any further pain means nothing. Only the weak will complain, beg off their responsibilities or look for pity. Your mind is always to have control over your body. Once you decide that the pain is of no consequence, you will have become a stronger person. Never give in to pain that has been dealt with. Do you understand?” He said, looking at me with his piercing, ever superior gaze.

“Yes, Dad, I understand,” I said, repeating the all-important words to him. Indeed I did understand, at least as much as any intelligent 6-year-old could.

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When I returned to the library to get Riley’s test papers, I immediately noticed a foul smell. Riley was sitting at the table, paler than usual, but looking somewhat pleased with herself.

“I did it!” She said, holding up the stapled papers for me to see.

“What is that rank odour?” I couldn’t walk into the room. I stood in the doorway, not wanting to enter until I knew why I could smell butyric acid.

“I was sick, but I finished the test. I threw up in that garbage can,” she pointed at the metal container that she had placed near her desk, “but that didn’t stop me from finishing.”

I wasn’t about to enter the room. “Riley, bring me the test, then get that waste basket out of here and clean it out.” I put on a latex glove to receive the test. I wasn’t going to chance that anything dirty may have landed on it.

Riley’s smile faded as she realized how revolted I was. She brought the test and pencils over to me. The paper seemed clean enough, so I took it. She went and picked up the waste basket, trying to hold it as best she could so that I wouldn’t see into it.

“Sorry, Miss Ferguson. I didn’t want to barf, but I had to. It does happen to pregnant women.” She scooted past me, ducking as though I was about to hit her, and headed for the closest shower room, clearly intending to fix her mess in there.

“I will wait outside for you and take you back to your cell when you are finished,” I called after her, trying to sound less perturbed about the situation than I was. I had not wanted her pregnancy to have any effect on her learning; I had thought of them as separate issues. Obviously I had been premature with that assumption.

Our following educational sessions always included a box of saltines.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Growth

I found working with Riley to be a challenge at times. She was not stupid, but simply so convinced of her own stupidity that she would not even try to understand the easiest concepts. I find mathematics very easy, and had trouble breaking down the simplest ideas in algebra to a point where she could grasp them. We had text books, of course, but Riley often put up a resistance to those as well. Her concentration was not good, and she was far more interested in the minor changes to her incubating body than in school work. I had trouble reporting anything to the Governor that sounded like any success, and he was champing at the bit for his positive inmate story.

I was called in to his office approximately three weeks after the assessment exam, to explain why both Riley and I were performing so poorly. It was easy explaining why she was not showing the success we desired, but I was having a harder time explaining why I was unable to engage her. Bryce wanted me to somehow force the girl to “be smarter,” - his words, not mine. I tried to explain that it wasn’t her intelligence at issue, I was sure of it, but he would have none of that.

“You haven’t given me any reason to believe that she has any intelligence at all!” he nearly spat at me. “I’ve put money and resources into this, taking a C.O. out of the regular schedule to give me the good news story we need, and you’ve given me nothing. Maybe you are better suited to filing your own paperwork and subduing drug addled prisoners than being any sort of tutor. Maybe that pregnant gulley is simply going to be a stone around my neck after all. You really are a disappointment, Ferguson,” he finished, half turning away from me in an overly dramatic gesture of dismissal. I was not going to leave his office until I had a chance to save my program. I simply knew that I could not be a failure at something that should be so easy.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” I began, knowing I had to get as close to grovelling as I could to regain the man’s attention, “I know that Riley hasn’t produced as you would like yet. I believe that the resources you’ve committed, such as they are, haven’t been completely wasted. Give me a little more time and I will get results out of the girl. It is my job to engage her, and I will manage it soon. I just have to think on it a bit more, and I will be able to bring you the results you so …desire.” I had wanted to say ‘crave’, but knew better than that. I was pushing it with the ‘as they are’ remark, but the man was angering me with use of words like ‘gully’ and saying that I was not able to fulfil my mandate.

The nightmares came back that night. This time I woke in a sweat, unable to wake myself up in time to avoid the worst of it. I am not a victim, and I will not be defeated by Bryce or any mental projections from my subconscious. I needed to gain control over everything in my life again. The first thing to do was to engage Riley. I needed something she could relate to. Perhaps I could find a commonality with the two of us after all; I had to, or I would fail, and failure is never an option.

 

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As a child, I grew too fast for my age. I was always taller than other children in my class and I was always self-conscious about it. I was relieved that it was one of the things my father didn’t have anything to say about at home. He never seemed to notice, and I was fine with that. Then it was brought to his attention in a very direct way.

Dad sometimes spent time with other instructors. On occasion, he would be out later than our usual dinner time to go for “a drink.” He would always telephone to tell me when dinner should be held until if I had to keep his food warmed for him. Then on a Friday night, when I was 12 years old, Dad telephoned not to say he would be late, but to tell me that he was bringing a friend home and that I was to have two glasses chilled in the freezer so that they could have a drink. I didn’t know what to do about dinner, and he told me not to worry about it. Have it ready, and we would all share. This was a new thing for me. I had never had to serve anyone other than my Dad and myself before. I was very careful to set the table for three. I made sure all three places were equal distances apart, one at the side of the table not against the wall and one at either end, and was extra careful as to how far the ends of the silverware were from the edge of the table. The napkins that held the silverware were also aligned as neatly as possible, the water glasses, side plates, and the other various accoutrements of the dinner were very precisely laid out, neat and orderly. I knew no other way to prepare the table for a new experience.

My Dad arrived an hour after he had telephoned. I was at the door to greet his new friend. I had no idea what to expect. Would my Father’s friend be like Dad when he came here, both of them stern, watching how I laid out the food? Would both of them inspect the rest of the place to ensure that I had made the house as expected? Would they be checking how the towels were hung in the bathroom? Seeing if the surfaces were dust free? It was these surprise inspections that kept me always vigilant when it came to housekeeping. Perhaps my Dad’s friend would be as demanding as my Dad himself.

All of my concerns about surprise inspections dissipated when the two men arrived. Dad introduced the other man to me as Mr. Avers. He was Australian by birth, which always made my Dad more comfortable with someone and, importantly, he was an award winning fencer. He was younger than my Dad, but not by much. Mr. Avers dropped his Adidas bag full of smelly gym clothes and equipment in our hallway, as if that was appropriate at another’s home. I was unsure what to do, but my Dad gave the orders that made everything more acceptable.

“Joan, please take Mr. Avers’ bag to the office,” Dad said, almost in a casual way. He was acting as if the other man’s behaviour was perfectly normal.

I took the bag, deposited it as ordered, then returned to the kitchen to finish preparing a simple dinner of spaghetti. The salad was already made, the sauce was finished and simmering on a low setting. I put the noodles in the pot, adding as much again as I usually did for my Father, hoping that his guest would consume the same portion size as Dad would. I stirred the noodles in with the large cooking fork, taking extra care to make sure that all of them were under the water as needed. I was concentrating on this so completely that the call from the other room made me jump.

“Joan! You’ve missed out the most important thing!” Dad called out.

What could that be? I had everything prepared as I would for the two of us. Clearly I was inept as a host in some way. I walked into the living room where the two men had made themselves comfortable. My Dad sat with one ankle resting on his other knee, holding it there with his hand. I had never seen him sit like that before, and I realized that having a guest could change how people behaved. My Dad looked more relaxed and casual than I was used to. His t-shirt and jeans did not look out of place on him this evening.

I stood in the doorway and awaited further instructions.

“Now what do you think you’ve missed, Joan?” He asked, smiling at Mr. Avers as he spoke.

I felt foolish, knowing I had missed something important, but not able to pull it from my mind. “I don’t know. Could you please tell me so that I can do what is necessary?” I responded, clearly not knowing what I was deficient in this time.

“Ah, my dear Joan,” Dad smiled at me. I did not understand his behaviour at all. He never referred to me with any such adjectives, and this sounded like more of a scolding than a compliment, despite the actual meaning of the endearment. “I told you to put two glasses in the freezer, did I not?”

Ah! Right! I turned, feeling stupid for having forgotten to bring the vodka. I pulled out the bottle and glasses from the freezer and put them on a serving tray, a light weight plastic one with rather baroque flowers printed on it. We had no other serving trays, and I was sorry for once about that. It seemed a silly thing to even think about, but the tray looked wrong, somehow, for serving men from.

“There’s my girl,” my Dad nodded his head towards me as I entered the living room. “She doesn’t always get things right, but with appropriate instruction, she can learn anything!”

Mr. Avers laughed at this, and suddenly I was the entire focus for the two of them. I put the tray down on the coffee table, and made to leave the room. I had to go back to finish up with the spaghetti. Dad reached over and grabbed my wrist as I turned.

“No, no, Joan. Stay a minute. Mr. Sam Avers has not met you before,” that was an understatement. I had not met any of Dad’s friends before. “He’s a champion fencer, and he is teaching with me now. How do you feel about that?”

This was an odd question, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer. I picked my words carefully, trying not to offend our guest nor disappoint my Dad.

“I think that it is good that you have a friend to work with. Dad loves fencing, as you know,” I looked at Mr. Avers as I spoke, but glanced at my father to ensure that I was getting this social interaction correct. “It must be nice for the two of you to have someone to talk to after work.” For some reason, the two men laughed. I felt my face flush as I realized I had done something wrong, but had no idea what it was.

“Ah, my little Joan, it’s far more than just having someone to talk to,” Dad began, “it is having someone I can fence with who is up to my level, perhaps even a bit better.”

Mr. Avers held up his shot glass, as if it already had vodka in it, and saluted my father, “Now, Ivan, you aren’t being completely honest here. Joan, your father hasn’t bested me in a duel yet, and he owes me more than a few drinks!” He laughed at this, and to my surprise, so did Dad. I never would have expected him to laugh at something that could be seen as an insult. “And your ‘little girl’ is hardly that! You said she was only 12 years old. Was this a lie, too? She must be older, look at how tall she is!”

“Now Sam, you may not have any children of your own, but when you do, you will understand that she will always be my ‘little girl.’” Dad chuckled, then picked up the bottle, poured for each of them and ordered me to go on and put out dinner. I left in a mild state of shock. He had never referred to me in such a way before. Clearly, having a guest was something that my father enjoyed. It seemed good for him. Hearing him laugh was certainly good for me. I seldom heard that sound, and he was so much more relaxed than usual.

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Riley wasn’t in the library when I arrived for our usual early morning session. I had prepared the material we were to use differently today, and I was annoyed that she was not ready to receive my lesson.

I had done some research into engaging students in learning. This was very basic, and teaching is something that should have come naturally to me, as it did to my father. However, I did find some information from the local library useful. To fully engage a student, one must find material that the student can relate to; simple enough concept. What was Riley most interested in? Clearly the most important thing in her life was her developing fetus. I checked out a book on pregnancy and had that with me when I arrived.

I left the prison library, checked the washroom and showers and eventually found Riley in her cell. She had never missed a session in the past, despite a lack of success, and I found this behaviour singularly unacceptable. She was lying on her bed, back to me, and jumped when I tossed the book I had so carefully selected down on the bed next to her.

“Why aren’t you in the library, Riley? You know you have to meet me there if you are to continue with an education,” I said, as evenly as possible.

Riley sat up, her eyes huge as she looked around me, then up to my face. “The other women hate me,” she said, clearly with a nervous sound to her voice.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I replied. “No one has any reason to hate you, and even if they did, that is no excuse for missing our session. Now get up and come with me,” I glared at her, then down to the book next to her on the bed, clearly indicating that she was to bring it with her.

She looked up at me, appearing not the least reassured. “You don’t understand. Several women pushed me up against a wall and told me I couldn’t leave my cell until later. I would have been beaten up if I went to the library. They don’t like me, and they want to hurt me. I got scared and didn’t want to leave. I did like they said. Please, Miss Ferguson, I didn’t want to make you angry, but I didn’t want to get hurt, either.” At this she crossed her arms, clearly trying to hide something from me.

“Show me your arms,” I ordered. Riley pulled herself tighter into her center, trying to hide whatever it was even more from me.

“Your behaviour is unacceptable. If I give you an order, you must obey. Now show me what it is you are hiding, or I will have to take punitive measures against you,” I said with a tone that brooked no disobedience.

Riley pulled her arms out from around herself, and held her wrists up for me to inspect, palm sides up.

I moved closer to her and took her wrists in my hands. Clear marks were showing on her dark skin, marks that would soon be bruises. Anger began to rise in me, a type of anger that I had not felt for a very long time.

“Who did this to you? I will have them slotted. No one is going to hurt you. I won’t let them,” I assured her, still holding her wrists in my hands. Her skin was warm, soft. I gently rubbed my right thumb over the tendons just above her left hand, where the nastiest mark was. I felt odd looking at this, as though I somehow should be able to alleviate the pain with just a touch.

Upon reflection, I realize that I also felt a bit disconnected from my own self. I felt light weight, almost as if I were floating above myself. I cannot explain that feeling, and I will not try now. I can only say that it has happened since then. I realized very quickly that I needed to control my emotions and make practical decisions.

Riley was still trying to see beyond the doorway, very much afraid despite my presence.

“I can’t tell you who it was. You know that it’s worse if I lag. I won’t lag, even to you. But I don’t want to leave here alone. Please, Miss…” she let her sentence fade off as she looked me directly in the eyes. I let go of her wrists, and she rubbed the mark I had touched, looking at it as if it had changed somehow. Then she looked up at me again, and gave a slight smile, as if my presence really had made her less pained somehow.

I saw something in her that morning, a softness, a vulnerability that resonated with me. I understood her fear; laggers were often the worst off of all prisoners, subject to beatings, shunning and worse. I would not let that happen to this young woman. I understood her fear, and I understood my job with her in detail for the very first time. I wasn’t just a tutor, or a mentor: I was her guardian. I had to ensure that she was safe, that her baby was safe and that they had a future. If she had no one else in the world, I would at least be able to give her some assurance of safety, of a future, of a protector, as my Dad had been for me. I had never felt this way about a prisoner before, but I had never been assigned to make a pregnant prisoner look positive before, either. That assignment alone must have been what triggered my determination to procure a positive future for this woman and her child.

I took her chin in my hand and forced eye contact with her because I wanted to be completely clear and prove my resolve to fulfill my duty to her. “Riley, I want you to understand this: I will protect you. You will never have to fear the other prisoners, the CO’s or even any procedures here. I will make you a priority, and I will see to your learning, your future and to your safety. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Miss Ferguson,” she said, and the look in her eyes told me that she believed me and that she actually trusted me. She finished by breaking into a sweet, small smile and whispering, “thank you.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Appearances

 

My Father and Mr. Avers spent a lot more time together than I had anticipated. Mr. Avers became a frequent dinner guest, always bringing wine, always drinking my Father’s vodka with him, and sometimes they would have drinks after dinner that one or the other provided. I didn’t mind as long as Dad was happy. I often heard them laugh when I prepared dinner, which always felt good. I was never really comfortable around Mr. Avers, but I couldn’t put a logical reason to my feelings, so I ignored them, as my Dad had instructed me all my life.

It seemed also, that Dad was more comfortable staying in this house and this locale than he had been anywhere. We had moved frequently when I was younger, and four years in one house was unheard of for us. Perhaps having a friend helped Dad to feel that we were safer than we had been in the past. I didn’t know. I just knew that I had started to feel as though I had been in that house for most of my life. When one is only 12 years old, four years is nearly a lifetime. Things appeared solid and steady to me for the present and the future.

My Dad ended up spending more time later at the studio on the days when I wasn’t fencing. He would always call to tell me that he would be late, and what to do with dinner. Then one night he phoned and told me to eat dinner on my own, that he wasn’t coming home because he had important business to attend to. That was very odd, but I did not question his words.

I knew I had to be in bed by 10pm, homework done and lunches made for the next day. I had never gone to bed in the house without my Dad there before. I found the house seemed to make more odd noises than usual, that the noises coming in through my partially open window seemed more ominous. I found it hard to fall asleep, but must have as I was startled by the front door opening later. I checked the time, seeing that it was just after midnight. With our schedules, Dad was never out and even when Mr. Avers was over, my Dad always retired about 10pm or so himself. I knew better than to come out of my room to welcome him home, so I stayed in bed, pretending to be asleep. To my great surprise, he came in to my bedroom, sat on my bed, and began talking quietly to me.

His breath was foul with alcoholic smells I couldn’t identify. He gently reached down and stroked my hair. He had never done anything like that before, and not knowing how to respond, I simply decided to stay as though asleep.

“My poor ugly duckling,” he began, “you should have had your mother. I don’t know how to look after a girl. Sam is right, you are too skinny, too tall. I have not given up hope that you will be beautiful like your mother, but it is seeming less likely.” His accent sounded stronger than usual, which was odd to me.

“You are my poor child…I can teach you to fence. I can teach you to be strong and brave, but what good does that do a girl like yourself? Oh, my poor Joan, if only you had been born second,” he sounded as though he was choking up, and this was so foreign to me that I virtually held my breath, fearing that he’d notice I was awake. “Things would be so much better if your brother had lived instead. I can barely manage without your mother…I miss her so much…so very much…and now I have you. A young lady, my little girl, growing up. What am I to do with you? How will you find a man to look after you? So skinny, so plain, so tall…nothing any man could ever be interested in,” and here he leaned down and kissed my cheek, something that I don’t remember anyone having ever done to me in my life. His breath smelled even worse, but I held perfectly still, not wanting him to know that I had heard his private monologue. He left a soft but sloppy, wet kiss on my cheek, stroked my hair one more time and stood up. I heard him bump into something as he left the room, probably my desk, and I was left in the dark trying to make sense of what had just transpired.

He had clearly been affectionate, touching my hair and kissing me. His words had hurt me, though, in a way that was new to me. He didn’t want me, a girl, he had wanted a boy. I had always suspected as much from how he had talked about my dead brother in the past, but I had thought that the topic was done as he hadn’t mentioned the boy in ages. It had never occurred to me that it would be easier to raise a boy than a girl, particularly an ugly, plain girl like myself. He had never commented on my looks much one way or the other before, simply insisting on cleanliness. But now I knew that I was skinny, too tall, plain and that ultimately no man would ever want me. This went far beyond any schoolyard teasing I had experienced. He had called me his ugly duckling, saying he hoped I would turn out like my mother. On the rare times that he had mentioned her in the past, he had always commented on her beauty. My one hope now, to please him and secure my future, was that I would turn out like my mother. It seemed I had one too many strikes against me for that already, but I would hang on to that hope until it was proved, ultimately, to be an impossible outcome for me.

 

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Riley and I had a routine that fit well into my schedule. I did not miss rounds nor meetings. I would show up before my shift, collect Riley from her cell, take her to the library and we would work on her school work there. She seemed more relaxed now that I had promised to protect her, and she was more willing to try with the schoolwork. She still had to have meals, yard time, work period, etc. with the other prisoners, but she seemed aware that they wouldn’t touch her as long as I was her protector. This was new to me as well as Riley. I had not protected anyone since I was a child, and I felt such a strong responsibility to Riley that I spent more time with her than strictly necessary. I would often stop by her cell before leaving work at the end of a shift, and check on her during my rounds. She seemed to trust me more and more, and her behaviour was much easier to deal with for all the C.O.’s.

Even Bryce was pleased with the outcome. He called me in to his office to congratulate me on the progress of Riley’s school work. She was getting ready for a number of simpler exams and was clearly proceeding towards the possibility of getting her grade 12 graduation certificate.

“Good work, Ferguson,” Bryce said, as though I had passed him an award for his wall. “We can release her story to the media as soon as she passes everything and pushes out the kid. With any luck, the baby will be cute, she’ll still look pretty and that will make a perfect good news photo and story. We’ll have to have you included, too, Ferguson. You’ve managed to turn around a street junkie; very impressive.” He stood up and moved across the short space from his desk to his filing cabinet.

“She was not a street junkie,” I stated. “She was an accessory to a hold up, nothing more. She did do some drugs, mostly marijuana before she came here, but she was never a drug addict like other women. She was used, abused and arrested, nothing more.” I couldn’t let him say such filthy untruths about Riley. She was clearly one of the easier cases we had.

“Doesn’t matter, Ferguson,” he said. “This has to work as a media thing, so we’ll have to emphasize her criminal background in order to make us look good. We’ll gild the lily a little, as it were.” He had been putting something in his filing cabinet and now closed the drawer and turned to look at me. It still seemed somewhat an advantage that I was taller than he was.

He looked me up and down, as he had in the past, and then moved a step closer to me.

“You know, you could probably help her out more if you seemed a bit kinder. I’m sure she’s intimidated by you. Most people certainly seem to be, including the other C.O.’s. You’d be so much prettier if you smiled more.”

Bryce’s words were setting off warning signals for me. I was not used to men talking to me this way, and I was not the type who had learned to flirt. I certainly was not going to smile at this pathetic governor on his command. The problem was that he was still my boss and I had to be careful how I handled what happened next. I didn’t want to jeopardize my standing at work.

So, I simply said, “I will take that in to consideration, sir,” and turned to leave.

“You do that. I think you could be much more approachable in general, Joan. You are quite intimidating, but not everyone finds that unattractive.” At that, he patted me on my butt as I was about to leave the room. This put me in a conundrum. Should I call him on it and possibly have my career, my mentoring program or my record be affected by upsetting the Governor? Would I go over his head and complain to the Board, thus making myself a target for him or other men in power over me? In the end, there wasn’t much to complain about. It wasn’t unusual for a woman to have her butt patted or pinched.

I took the easiest way out that I could think of: I turned to face Bryce directly, stared him in the eye, and said, “I will now go back to my work, Governor. That is what I am here for.” And then I turned on my heel and left his office with a quick stride.

It was strangely discomfiting to have had the Governor behave in such a way. I knew the other women had talked about his behaviour to each other. Even Jameison had warned me about him when I had first arrived. Women did this in work places all the time, warning others about men who behaved inappropriately. It was just that I had never had that kind of attention in my life from someone who was my boss. I was not the type men found attractive. I had had men’s attention when I was younger, occasionally, but it was always uncomfortable for me and, at times, frightening. To have to deal with this at work was absurd. I decided that reacting in an emotional way was more dangerous than anything else I could do, so I simply put that small, irrelevant event out of my mind. I would not let such a trifle in one man’s behaviour affect me in any way. I would simply ignore the event and behave as I always had when dealing with the Governor.

 

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I had a natural affinity for fencing, possibly passed on in my genes from my father. I always listened to what he had to say when it came to learning to fence: taking down an opponent, or how to behave whether I won or lost. I did not lose often, but when I did, I found it hard to shake hands and walk away without expressing anger. Dad would remind me that emotions would lead to mistakes, and if I wanted to continue with fencing – as though it were a choice – I would make sure that I appeared to be a good loser. It became harder for me to learn the sport when I was put in Mr. Avers class. He had taken on the juniors, including the junior girls training, and I had to be in his class. It would not have looked right if I had kept studying with my Dad. He now had the advanced adult classes.

Mr. Avers told me that he would not give me any special attention or favours just because I was my father’s daughter. I was more than fine with that. I wanted to win on my own merits.

There were three other girls in the class with me, and as expected, they were all shorter than I. After training intensely with my Dad for years, I was more advanced than the other girls my age. The class was rather dull, but I did relish knowing I would win every challenge I was given. Once the class was over, I would have to wait for Dad to be finished with his students so that I could go home with him. This gave me a chance to watch Dad’s work, to at least take in the information, stances and strategies he taught. I thought he was a much better teacher than Mr. Avers. I was beginning to think that if Mr. Avers had bettered Dad at any time, it was because Dad had let him. I had no idea why my Dad would do such a thing, but it seemed clear to me that he had.

My Dad was either at home with Mr. Avers in tow most nights, or he would not come home until late, and then he was usually drunk. Mostly he seemed to be in a good mood, so I counted my blessings and made sure the vodka glasses were always clean and in the freezer.

On a cold July night, after fencing classes were done, the three of us came back to the house for dinner. I had little time to cook, so my Dad insisted on helping. He defrosted, prepared and put one and a half chicken breasts in the oven. I prepared the vegetables, cutting and cooking potatoes for mashing, and cutting up carrots and shelling peas for steaming. It was a simple meal, one that took less than an hour to prepare, and Mr. Avers sat at the dining table, watching us work, and drinking Dad’s vodka. Dad would grab a shot for himself once in a while, but not as often when getting the food ready.

Mr. Avers stayed in his chair, moving his elbows for me as I set the silverware at his place. I couldn’t get it exactly the right distance from the edge because of his presence, but did the best I could. My Dad even helped by getting out the good cloth napkins and placing them down. Just as the oven timer let us know the food was ready, Dad grabbed a bottle of chilled chianti out of the refrigerator.

“Joan, bring over the wine glasses,” Dad commanded.

I grabbed two white wine glasses off the shelf and put them in front of the men. I went and brought over the food, already in serving dishes and sat down at the table as always.

“Something is missing, Joan,” Mr. Avers said, with a hint of a grin, all the while trying to look stern.

I looked at Dad, who nodded and said, “Yes, Sam, I believe our perfect little hostess has made a grave error.”

The table had been set right, there were no utensils or anything else missing. The only error I could see was that Mr. Avers’ silverware wasn’t quite where it should be. I stood up and looked at Dad. He gravely nodded, indicating that I was moving in the right direction, so I leaned over Mr. Avers, and took his fork by the handle and moved it down a bit toward the edge of the table. I walked behind him to get at the other utensils when the two men burst out laughing. I had no idea what I had done wrong, nor what was so funny. I felt rather humiliated, and adrift as to what was happening.

My Dad was the first to speak, “No, Joan, not the silverware,” and here he laughed some more, “but we are celebrating tonight! And since this is a big celebration, it’s appropriate for all of us to hold our glasses up for a toast!” It took me a moment to realize that he was indicating me.

“Am I supposed to have a wine glass?” I asked, both intrigued and pleased, even if a bit nervous.

“Certainly, for you are celebrating too!” Dad indicated the cupboard with a tilt of his head where we kept the glasses, and I went and got a third one and placed it at my setting. I was afraid that I might be facing a test. If I didn’t like the wine, then perhaps I would have failed Dad in some way. I couldn’t fail in front of Mr. Avers, so not liking the chianti was not an option.

Mr. Avers reached in front of me and filled my glass half way up. He smiled at me, and said, “You are growing up and should be allowed to eat with the big people.”

That was such an odd statement that I looked to Dad to try and find a hint as to what I should say or do next. ‘Eat with the big people’? I ate at the same table they did, at the same table Dad and I had always eaten at. I had heard other kids at school refer to a children’s table being set up for special occasions where there were a large number to feed, so this must have been the reference. Still, it made no sense in this context.

“Sam, don’t you think that’s a bit much for a twelve-year-old?” Dad asked, a slightly deeper tone to his voice than he had used with Mr. Avers before.

“Oh, let the kid have some fun. She’s old enough to handle half a glass of wine for God’s sake. The way you keep her tied to your apron strings, you’d think she was incapable of thinking for herself,” Mr. Avers said. He turned to look me square in the eye and asked, “So do you, or do you not, want the wine?”

How could I respond to that? I looked at Dad, who was looking sternly at Mr. Avers. I did not know what Dad expected of me. I wanted to seem grown up, sophisticated and not let Dad down. And as with other children my age, I really did want to try the alcohol. This felt like a rite of passage.

“Yes, please,” I said.

Dad made a gruff sound in his throat, but said nothing.

Mr. Avers smiled, held up his glass and said, “To friendship, partnership and being the best in the business!”

“To partnership!” Dad declared, holding up his glass.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next, so I just help up my glass and nodded. That seemed okay with them, and they both took long swallows of the wine. I followed suite, wanting to look as adult as possible. The wine tasted as it smelled, but swallowing it was a challenge. I wasn’t prepared for the catch in my throat, the way I wanted to shake my head as it went down, nor how it seemed to burn a bit. I must have made a face because both men laughed at me. I knew I had failed Dad, but if he was laughing that was probably okay. I was probably safe for the moment.

“Here’s what we are celebrating, my ugly duckling,” Dad said, taking another swig from his glass before continuing. “Sam -Mr. Avers- and I have decided to take ownership of the fencing school. We have invested half and half and shall run the school together. That means I can be my own boss, as can Sa – Mr. Avers. This is something we’ve both wanted for a while. So, we are celebrating. Tonight, we are the captains of our own ship!”

I heard only a small portion of what Dad had just said. My mind was stuck on the fact that he had called me his ugly duckling right there, in front of Mr. Avers. I took in that they were partners, but I was feeling shocked and hurt. As much as my Dad told me that I had to control, if not eliminate, my emotions, there were times when they simply flowed up and almost overwhelmed me. After being laughed at for how I reacted to the wine, I was not going to give any quarter that could allow further humiliation to be hurled at me. Instead, I tried to remember the important part of what Dad had said. Since I was dealing with emotions, I made a mistake. The first thing out of my mouth was, “Can we afford that?”

“I don’t think that’s your call, little girl,” Mr. Avers snorted, looking at my Dad, who was now looking angry.

“We can afford what I say we can. Now let’s make a proper toast, yes?” Dad first hit the table with his fist, then lifted the glass, “To Sam, who is willing to take a chance with me on a very good business proposition, despite his lack of decent sense.”

“That’s ‘common sense,’ you old communist,” Mr. Avers laughed.

Both men took a drink, and I decided I should too. I held up my glass as they had, and put it to my lips. As I was about to once again try to look adult, Mr. Avers reached up and bumped my elbow. Wine spilled down my front, and on to my jeans.

“Joan, clean up that mess,” Dad ordered, then, “You know, Sam, sometimes I despair of this girl.”

They both laughed again, I do not really know why. I used my napkin to wipe up what I could, then asked to be excused to my room to get changed. Dad told me to hurry up, then to get back and clean up the kitchen for the night.

That was the first time I had wine, and the first time I was part of an adult celebration. I wanted to crawl into bed and cry, but that would be unacceptable, so I cleaned up the kitchen and went to bed, angry and wishing my Dad had never met Mr. Avers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Not All Knowledge is Welcome

 

There was a time when I realized that Riley was able to do more self guided study. She understood the materials we had studied, I had brought extra texts for subjects that were challenging for her to work on by herself and I found her answers for all subjects improving. It had only taken a few months to get her on track for studying higher grades. I had written away for curriculum guides and materials, and the education department sent all that was needed. As much as I don’t believe in indulging my emotions, I have to admit that I felt proud of my work, proud of Riley. She had gone from believing she was unable to learn to understanding some upper level subjects almost completely on her own.

In the time that Riley had improved her academic abilities, she had also gone from having a petite form to obviously carrying a child. Her belly was showing a bit now that she was at the three-month mark. She had studied the book I had brought on pregnancy, kept her regular appointments with the doctor when he came, and took the supplements I had bought to help with fetal development. Of course, I knew it would happen, but I had never been in the constant presence of someone who was pregnant before. It was an odd thing to witness. Even though women get pregnant all the time, I had only seen them from a distance at whatever stage they were at. To watch this delicate woman physically transform over time was oddly unsettling and I felt even more the need to ensure her safety. Her being pregnant was part of what made her so important to Bryce, to his idea of bringing good news into the prison, but it also made her more vulnerable to everything around her. Other prisoners could accidentally or purposely hurt her and the child, or she could not get sufficient nutrition, or proper medical care. I vowed to ensure that she was harmed by none of the above - nor anything else.

She and I got along well enough. She trusted me to keep her safe, and I believe she trusted me with her educational guidance. I understood that she was willing to be open with me when we were discussing Lord of the Flies, a book I had chosen for its easily understood themes and metaphors. It’s a painfully obvious old chestnut, but is still widely taught and I felt it necessary to ensure that Riley had it in her educational portfolio.

The proof of her trust came to me during one of our tutorials. I asked her what the message of the book was, what it said about mankind.

Her large, intelligent, dark eyes looked directly into mine as she stated boldly, “That the white man ruins everything he touches.”

This took me aback, as it was clearly not the theme of the book and I expected better from her. It took me a brief moment to decide to clarify rather than correct, “What do you mean by that? How has Golding said that in any way?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Everything is good and healthy on the island before the boys show up. When they do, and stay confined to one area, then it’s okay. They’ve taken a small part of the island and nothing is badly damaged. But once the dead parachutist appears, the boys let their fears take over. They don’t ask where he is from, or what his appearance could teach them, they just panic. It makes sense, but it also gives Jack the reasons he needs to take a bunch of the boys to the back side of the island.

Don’t you see? It’s like World War Two that we studied. Jack is a Hitler figure. He uses fear of ‘the other’ to scare boys into doing what he says. So that fear spreads until the island is destroyed and Piggy dies. White men don’t know how to get along with anyone or anything. They always fight, they always label everyone else as less than they are, even if they have two groups that are split from one. It’s all about power. The shell, the symbol of cooperation and beauty on the island, is destroyed too. See? If the white boys hadn’t shown up, there would have been no destruction, no death – at least not on that island.”

I couldn’t really argue with that, but she had to see the intent of the author.

“Riley, it’s more than that. It’s about human nature, not just the white man’s nature. What did you learn about laws, about having leaders, about good versus poor leaders?” I said, wanting her to reach further.

“Golding was a white man. He writes about white boys. How else can anybody see it? I know it’s about a lack of rules and the downfall of society and all, but it’s the white man’s society. I think it’s fair to say that they needed proper laws and leadership, but that would also have been white men’s laws. They never ask if anyone else is human. They just take and destroy everything around them. I mean, how many prisons like Blackmore were around before the white man arrived?” She challenged me with her eyes to disagree.

“Where did you come up with all these ideas? You certainly have perhaps one understanding of the book, but it was never meant as a comment on colonization,” I responded.

“Well, it should have been,” Riley said, “because it fits so well. Did you know that until the 1960’s, Australia’s Flora and Fauna Act classified aboriginals as animals? The boys in the book accuse each other of acting like animals or a pack of savages. That’s the way I have been seen by white people too. We’re never quite the same. No matter what I do, it will always be seen as less important than what a white person does.” Riley had certainly done her research.

“I…I think you’ve put your own personal slant on the book,” What else could I say? She was not wrong.

“Yeah, but that’s okay, right? You said that as long as I could back up a thesis with proof from the book, that it was how I should do an argument or an essay,” Riley now seemed less self assured. I had to make sure that she didn’t lose that confidence.

“You are completely right. It never occurred to me to think of Golding’s book as you have. Why not write a paper on it? If you do a good enough job, we can send it in for marking and it can count towards your grades.” I really did think that she would get a good mark from one of the education ministry’s paid markers. Her thesis was not one I had heard for the book before.

“But, Miss Ferguson, I don’t know if I should write it that way. Maybe I should stick to the more conventional stuff. You know, about how Jack being a Hitler figure and all that. I mean, I can tell you about how it shows white people ruining everything, but the people marking my paper wouldn’t understand like you do. They might just get angry at me, being someone saying bad things about white people.” There is was. Riley trusted me with her theories, she trusted me not to get angry when she criticized the majority of people in the country, but she did not trust others. This had to be significant in some way.

“Perhaps I can send in your paper and not let them know your name. I may tell them it’s submitted by someone with a new thesis for the book. After all, everything really has been said about it already. Perhaps they will like the creative aspect of your ideas.”

“Maybe. Can I think about it?”

“Yes, of course.” How could I say otherwise?

“There’s just something I don’t get…”

“Go on,” this was like a game with us, my having to almost order her to tell me her weaker understandings. She always seemed to want to have all the answers, but she also knew that she didn’t. Nor did I, but I couldn’t let her see that.

“Why does the protagonist cry at the end? He cries because he lost Piggy, I get that, but about the nature of mankind and stuff, I don’t understand. He’s got a strong white man back to tell him what to do. What more does he need? It seems that there should to be more to it than this.”

“There is, and you have been thinking hard on it, haven’t you?”

She smiled, saying, “Well, I’m trying. I want to understand all the stuff in the things we look at, not just some of it.”

“I don’t know if we will ever understand everything the author wants us to, but we can examine your questions,” I offered. “Ralph was a good leader, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he’s the only one who seemed to care about the welfare of the other boys, even the ‘littl’uns’, even if he couldn’t stop the destruction of the island itself.”

“So, you see that. Clearly, he was a good leader because he kept his emotions in check as much as he could. He was a child after all. It’s much harder for children to keep their emotions in check. Ralph managed to hold them in as much as possible until the end. When a stronger, better leader came along, he knew he was free to let those emotions out because he no longer had to make decisions. Emotions lead to mistakes. I think Ralph was supposed to be smart enough to see that.” I was very pleased that I could bring some real-world wisdom in to our study time.

“Oh, but Miss Ferguson, I think that may not be the total truth. I think Ralph was a good leader because he cared, and caring is an emotion. So is the desire for power that Jack had. It’s recognizing and knowing how to handle and show your emotions that makes for better decisions,” she stated, rebuffing me.

“I think, Jianna Riley, as you become more mature you will see the wisdom of not giving in to emotions. They do lead to bad decisions; always.”

I ended our tutorial session there, leaving Riley in her cell to think about what she had said versus what I had said. My words were based on mature experience, not just on the interpretation of a book or the life of a 20-something pregnant prisoner.

 

 

I became used to my Dad either not coming home in time for the dinner I had prepared or, more often, his bringing Mr. Avers back to our place after the fencing lessons were done. The two had become fast friends, and I think that the upcoming prospect of owning the studio together had bonded them even more. I can’t say that I ever really warmed up to Mr. Avers. When he was around, Dad drank more and become different, coarser, somehow. The two of them would often eat what I prepared, but make comments about how it was insufficient in one way or another. I couldn’t say anything to Dad about it, of course, but I missed the times when it was just the two us.

When I was very young, about six, I think, Dad wanted me to learn to play the violin. His violin was one of the few heirlooms that he had managed to escape with out of the USSR. He instructed me on proper handling of the instrument, how to use the bow, and the fingering. This was after I’d shown a fair bit of comprehension at reading music. I tried my best to put what was on paper into the air via the violin, but it was not an easy instrument to play. Dad grew impatient with me, often taking the violin and showing how I should play it. I tried again and again, but I never reached a level that he found acceptable. Finally, after a few months, he took the violin away and declared it to be too fine an instrument for me. There was nothing wrong with me, he said, other than that I was slow to learn. He wanted me to start over, on a less valuable instrument, and he promised to buy a violin for me so that I could learn at a later time. That promised instrument never appeared. I have to say that, as a young child, I was relieved. I could never tell Dad that, but the pressure to learn to play was oppressive.

Instead, we would spend evenings listening to my Dad’s collection of music on records. Sometimes he would play the violin just for me, or play along to what was on the record player. Those times were a joy. There no longer was any pressure for me to learn to play, only to appreciate. He taught me why the classical music of the past was the best music there was, why Russian composers where superior to others, but not by much in many cases, and why it was important to learn to hear, feel and even SEE the music. I did not understand what he meant by all that, but I pretended to.

One cold evening, Dad was playing some Beethoven for me, after explaining its exquisite purity of sound, when I actually SAW a musical note. I saw it come off of the violin, near his fingering hand! It looked like a blue spark! To this day I know not what note it was, but I can see it in my mind as plain as I saw it then. I was astounded. Afterwards, when I told Dad, he said that such experiences were part of the joy of live music. To actually see a note is rare, but real, and that I was to always keep an eye out for such things in the future. I always did, but I don’t think I ever saw anything as vividly as I saw that note on that day.

Dad also taught me that music was a way to experience other emotions. It’s okay to allow oneself to feel the music, to indulge in what it makes one feel. It is an internal experience and does not affect one’s decisions in the real world. It is the only true expression of human emotion allowable that does not lead to mistakes. Music is a communal emotional experience that is perfectly alright to indulge, in a way that other emotional experiences are not. When Dad played, he would often have a peaceful look on his face, or a small smile or even a very sad expression. He allowed himself that through the music. I learned at a young age that music is the only way to feel and not be inferior. Classical music is superior because it has won the test of time. The good art remains while the vulgar slips away. It is true with all art, literature, music and so on. There is no use listening to current music because there is no real way to see if it is worthy of attention. Only time can do that. My Dad taught me a great deal about what was worthy of my attention and what wasn’t. Of course, that did not stop me from being curious about other, current art works, including books about dragons…

Those evenings are one of the few things I truly miss about my childhood. It was a joy to share the music with my Dad without having any expectations of me beyond experiencing and understanding what we shared together. It was a calm and peaceful time. I seldom misunderstood the pieces we shared, and, as I grew up, we were able to talk in depth about music and why it mattered to us both. It seemed to hold many more layers for him than me, as he knew so much more about music in general than I did. He said that playing an instrument was also a way to understand the music, one that often could not be explained to those who did not play. If I was unsure about anything, I would simply request another piece, or a repetition of something we had just discussed, and Dad happily indulged me. There was then no further pressure to prove myself in any way and I could just relax and float away on the music, at peace with Dad and myself. That I would never be good enough to play the violin as Dad wanted was somehow less important at these times.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Feeling

 

Within about four months of the start of our educational program, Riley and I had a schedule that worked very well. I would come in to work early and pick her up at her cell, then we went to the library for her tutorial. I was mostly supervising and sending materials to and from where needed, such as the education ministry, local board of education, professional markers, and so on. I was not teaching so much as supervising the higher-level work she was now doing. Higher level, of course, meant grades 11 and 12. There was no doubt in mind that she would be able to graduate high school before the baby was born. She was intelligent, thoughtful and more than capable. We would discuss anything she had difficulty with, or anything she found particularly interesting and wanted to talk about. This was a peaceful time for me. I had to come in earlier than normal, but I am an early riser to begin with. Riley complained about lack of sleep rarely. Despite working as much as any other prisoner, being pregnant and having to do all studies after hours as well as early in the morning, the cheerful demeanour than had started to appear just a short time ago stayed with her.

This was why I was surprised to arrive at work one morning to find Riley very unhappy. As some of the administrative offices and the staffroom were on the upper level, and this was where I came to put things away in my locker every morning, I had to head down a flight of stairs to get to Riley’s cell where she would be waiting for me to take her to the library. Instead of being in her cell as I expected, Riley was sitting on the metal stairs that were just around a corner and audibly crying. Before I had a chance to question her as to the cause, she made a blunt statement.

“The women hate me,” she said.

I moved to be closer to her on the step beside her. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know.

“That’s because you’re special,” I said, sitting down on the step next to her.

“Yeah – only to you,” she responded, almost petulant. Then with open honestly, she desperately whispered, “I’m scared.”

“I told you, I’ll protect you,” I stated, meaning it. I would protect Riley and her child from anything, by any means necessary. This was as much a part, if not more, of my job as her mentor than overseeing her education.

I did not know how to comfort her, though I felt she needed to be comforted. I lifted my hand up and toward her, again experiencing an odd detachment from myself. I don’t honestly know for sure what I was going to do, simply that I had to start doing whatever it was. Before I could do more than reach out toward her a little, she did something remarkable, something I shall never forget: she lay her head on my leg, as though taking comfort from my very presence. My hand was already above her head, so I slowly, carefully, let it come down and touched her hair. Nothing more. Just a slight pat on the top of her head. She responded to my touch by sighing, and leaning in to me even more.

As I began stroking her hair in earnest, I realized that what I had said went beyond her status as my charge, as a pregnant prisoner, or any other label one could apply to her. She wasn’t just special: she was remarkable. Everything had been against her, yet here she was, actively working for a better life for herself and her unborn baby. She was willing to trust me in a way that I simply was not used to. She took comfort from my touch, from my very presence. She knew to look to me for help and not to the other prisoners as the rest of them would. She knew I was here for her. She had known I was coming and had waited on the stairs for me because I was the person she wanted to see, to talk to, to be near when she was distressed. I knew I had overstepped the bounds of appropriate behaviour according to my Dad. I was letting emotion in and accepting the role that Riley – that Jianna – was willing to let me have. I now could think of her as not just a responsibility, not just a vulnerable inmate, but as Jianna. And Jianna was an individual in her own right, as worthy of anything that women outside of prisons were worthy of.

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As I was responsible for dinner, after about age nine I was expected to bring home whatever we were to have. Dad would give me as much money as I asked for and I would stop in at a small local store that provided provisions for the neighbourhood. After collecting our repast, I would give the change and sales receipt to Dad. We both knew I would never cheat him, but we both also liked the accuracy and record keeping of having the receipts and change returned. This went on for years. When I need clothes, Dad would go off ‘to town’ as he said, and return with what I needed. T-shirts, blue jeans, socks, running shoes, etcetera. He always seemed to know my exact size despite my constantly growing body. I was lucky that way, as I had no interest in dressing myself in anything else, nor in having to go shopping for such items.

There was a fine summer day when I was let of school early for something to do with the teachers needing time for one thing or other. Dad was teaching in the afternoon, and would be home by six pm, so I thought this was an ideal time to try a couple of new dishes for dinner. I was twelve, getting too tall for my age, and looked older. As a consequence, Dad felt I should act as I looked. He said it would draw less attention from others. I didn’t know what that meant, but Dad was often inscrutable and it was best not to question him on such things. If I ever did, he would get very angry and talk about how he had to protect us. It was better to act as though I were the age I looked (this confused me, as I knew not how to act as anything other than what I was), so I kept quiet, ran the household, did my school work to keep high grades at all times and practiced fencing to the point of being put two classes ahead of others my age. This worked well, as I looked as though I belonged in the older girls’ class. Since I was to act older, I would go to the store daily to get what we needed and the store clerks always treated me as if I were almost an adult. When one is twelve years old, it is nice to be seen as responsible and mature.

I stopped off at our store to pick up what was needed for dinner. Dad preferred things to be bought the day we were to eat them, not ahead of time. I picked out a plump chicken that was on sale and looked good, some carrots and a small bag of pearl onions. I had found a recipe for creamed pearl onions and decided to try it that night. I had also decided to buy a small container of whole milk to make a pudding. This would all have been more costly than usual, but the price of the chicken and the onions made up for the milk and cream.

The chicken with rosemary was easily prepared and put in the oven to be ready for six pm. I followed the recipe for the onions, being careful to make sure that each step and each ingredient were administered perfectly. I left them to cook while I made the pudding. We had a few recipe books, and I would look through them from time to time to see if anything that I felt I could prepare was possible. I don’t know how I missed the information that the pudding needed to set for at least eight hours, but I did. It was for something called “Spanish Cream” and required gelatin and whole milk. I worked hard on it, using the double boiler, constantly stirring, adding real vanilla, not the imitation that Dad forbade. When done, it smelled wonderful. Vanilla is one of my favourite scents and flavours. I put it in the fridge and got the carrots ready for steaming. I thought this would be a wonderful meal for Dad and me. The creamed onions looked and smelled good, and the roasting chicken filled the house with the promise of it’s moist and rich flesh.

Dad did not come home at six p.m. as he should have that night. The chicken, onions and carrots were all ready. I had to put everything on a low heat to wait for Dad. I was disappointed that I had gone to all that effort and Dad wouldn’t have the dinner anything other than warmed over. I waited long enough that an hour later, I decided to serve myself. I was hungry and the scents of the dinner and the lateness of the hour did not allow me to have the self restraint I would normally have shown. I took a leg and thigh for myself off of the chicken, as Dad preferred the white meat, and scooped enough onions and carrots to make a small but sufficient meal. I could then eat a little more along with Dad when he came in. I studied my math homework at the table as I ate. No point wasting the time, I thought.

At about 8:15 or so, Dad came home, bashing the door into the wall opposite, indicating that he had been drinking, and showing in Mr. Avers. I was not prepared for this. I had kept dinner warm for Dad, and did not want to share my new recipes with this other man. However, I had no choice, so I did what I had to. Dad called first for vodka, of course, and the two men settled in the living room as I set the table in the kitchen for another person and got the food ready. I had removed my math text and materials from the table, but they had only gone as far as the end of the counter when Dad and Mr. Avers came in to be served. I had simply left the books there because I had continued studying after I had eaten and hadn’t had much time when the men came in before I had to be the good hostess. Dad was not impressed.

“Joan, why are there school books on the kitchen counter? Don’t you know how dirty those could be? Germs could spread everywhere,” Dad all but snarled at me.

I apologized and quickly put the books in my room around the corner from the back kitchen door. I then returned and took the chicken out of the warming oven and placed it on to the platter to serve. I gave the carving knife and fork to Dad and then presented the one-legged bird on our table. Dad had stood up, prepared to carve and was holding the knife and fork when the platter was set before him. He looked down at the imperfect bird, set the carving tools down on the table, picked up his vodka shot glass, finished it off and set it down as well. Then he sat down and looked at Mr. Avers, who looked like he was trying not to laugh.

“In this house,” my Dad began, in his best commander of the troops voice, “we do not present guests with meat that looks like this. We present guests with whole birds or we present the carved meat. This is unacceptable.”

I stood looking down at the chicken, afraid to say anything. I didn’t know what to do. Should I take it away and carve it up? Let Dad carve it anyway? Throw it out and run out for something else?

“Well, Joan – what do you have to say?” Dad said, still commanding me, his child soldier.

I decided to take it away. I reached over the table and picked up the platter. I turned to take it back to the counter by the sink when Dad slammed his fist into the table, making me jump in surprise. Fortunately, I didn’t drop anything. I made my way to the counter and got a regular fork and a paring knife (since the carving knife was no longer available to me) and cut up the carcass until it was, in my opinion, ready to be presented to a guest. I then served each of us on an individual plate, dishing out the onions and carrots directly to each and not putting serving vessels on the table.

Dad scowled as I brought over his and Mr. Avers plates, but said nothing as I laid them down.

“You know, Ivan,” Mr. Avers began, in the tone he used to humiliate his students who made stupid mistakes, “your girl here is a good girl, but so forgetful. This looks like a great meal, Joan, but what did you forget?”

“I…I must have forgotten the wine again,” I said, angry at myself for being so slipshod.

I grabbed the two wine glasses for the men and set them on the table, got a white wine out of the refrigerator, and grabbed the corkscrew out of the drawer. I was preparing to hand it all to Dad when Mr. Avers said, “Oh, give it here, girl. I know how to pour wine. Your father is far too stingy with it at times,” then he laughed. Dad scowled, but nodded his head towards Mr. Avers, so I handed the bottle and corkscrew over to him.

Mr. Avers opened the bottle and proceeded to pour for Dad and himself. He then got up, walked over to the cupboard by the fridge, and took another wine glass out. He came back, put the glass in front of me, and poured it nearly to the brim. I didn’t want any wine that night, but there it was. Would it be rude of me to refuse when our guest had made his wishes clear? I didn’t know. I drank about half the glass, thinking that would be enough. My head was swimming and I had to concentrate to do things, but other than that I was fine to continue with my dinner.

Dinner proceeded from there, with Dad and Mr. Avers finishing off what was on their plates, Mr. Avers having seconds of the chicken, and both of them polishing off the wine and going back to vodka shots. Dad always had plenty of good vodka in the house.

At the end of the meat course, I told Dad I had a dessert for us. He was pleased and seemed to be at least a bit impressed with the idea. I went and took the bowl of Spanish Cream out of the fridge and brought it over to the table. When I put it down, it sloshed back and forth. Of course it wasn’t set, but I hadn’t realized it until then.

“Are we to drink this?” Dad said, looking stern.

Mr. Avers started to laugh, and had full on belly laughs after a moment, and my Dad joined him in at least as much as he laughed. I was humiliated. Dad hit his hand on the table while laughing and the pudding sloshed like a pond that a stone had been thrown into. Both men laughed until they were gasping for breath and Dad even had a tear or two roll down his cheek. I just stood and hung my head. There was nothing else for me to do.

Dad finally caught his breath, picked up the vodka bottle and his shot glass and he and Mr. Avers left for the living room. I was left to put the sad mess of a pudding back in the fridge and clean up the place. At least they had laughed, and not been angry. I had not expected that, but it was a small blessing, I supposed.

Cleaning the kitchen was awkward, to say the least. My head was reeling with the wine, and I had to concentrate very hard even to walk straight while carrying dishes to and fro. I managed not to break anything, and even made everything right in the end. I’m not sure how I managed, but I did.

The kitchen clean, the men talking and drinking in the living room and homework still needing to be done, I went to my room to study. I closed the door to try and block out their talking, but they were very loud this night and I had to concentrate very hard to read the history text I needed to know for the next day. My head was still woozy from the wine, but I had to know the information so I did my best to study. Unfortunately, I did not manage to learn anything. I fell asleep on my texts. Had I been sober, I would have been worried about the possibility of contracting other people’s germs from the book.

I jumped awake at my desk when Dad threw open my bedroom door and demanded I come and set up the couch for Mr. Avers. He had had too much to drink and couldn’t possibly drive home. This was not the first time, and I assumed would not be the last time, that this had happened. I was very efficient at getting the blankets, pillow and couch all set up into as nice a bed as possible. Mr. Avers thanked me, and I left to brush my teeth and get some sleep. It was close to one a.m. and I was tired.

Lying my head down and being able to go to sleep was never easy for me. I always was prepared for Dad to come in and tell me that we were having to move again, to hear him yelling in his sleep, or some other disaster to happen. This night was different. Perhaps due to the wine, or the lateness of the hour, I fell asleep more quickly and deeply than usual.

There were dreams, odd ones, nightmares even – and then I awoke, unable to breathe, a weight on me, and terror running through every nerve. I struggled to move, to break free of whatever was suffocating me. The pressure on my body become worse, and I believe I was starting to black out when a hand suddenly covered my mouth and a living room pillow was placed on the floor next to the bed, having been removed from my face.

I struggled to get enough breath through just my nostrils as Mr. Avers put his face nearly overtop of mine. He put his mouth near my ear and said, “If you make a sound, I will break your neck.”

I believed him.

No longer struggling, just trying to get air into my lungs, I suddenly realized that Mr. Avers had thrown off my blankets and was now pulling my sleep shorts down. He did it easily with one hand while the other was still over my mouth. I did not know exactly what he intended, but I knew it was bad and I wanted him to stop. I started struggling again and he did indeed stop. The hand he had used to pull down my sleep shorts was reaching for something else. I thought that maybe this was it, that he would leave me alone now. I was so wrong to even hope that.

What he had been reaching for was the pillow again, and once more he covered my face.

“IF you are a good girl,” he started, “I won’t shove this thing down so hard that you can’t breathe. If you try to make a sound or struggle again, I will push it down hard and you will suffocate before you can make another sound. Is that clear?” he said as he pulled the hand off of my mouth and out from under the pillow. He must have put his arm overtop of the pillow as there was pressure all across my eyes and the bridge of my nose. I held still, terrified of not being able to breathe again. I could barely breathe as it was, but it was better than before.

The next thing I felt was his free hand fumbling between my legs, pushing them apart, the sleep shorts now pulled off of my left leg. I was strong for a girl my age, but he was infinitely stronger and I was short of air. He easily shoved not just his hand between my legs, but his body as well. Then I felt pressure against my genital area, and then a searing pain. I had never felt pain like this. It was horrible, ramming into the most tender area of my body over and over again. It felt like I was being ripped in half. I couldn’t scream, couldn’t move, could barely breathe. This was, without a doubt, my 12-year-old self’s version of Hell. It went on seemingly forever. I believed I was going to die. How could I survive this? I couldn’t see at all with the pillow in place over my face, but it was not blocking my ears. Mr. Avers was making horrible noises: grunting sounds, as if he were the one in agony. At some point, perhaps minutes, perhaps hours after he had torn me open, he gave one last, long, horrible vocal noise, a physical shudder and then stopped moving. I could feel that he was still inside me, but he let the pressure off of the pillow and I gasped for air again, my ribcage compressed by his body weight. Between my legs was nothing but open, burning, torn, and bruised flesh. I didn’t have to look to know it. I could feel it.

The weight of the man on top of me suddenly was lifted. It wasn’t a voluntary movement. My Dad was there, in my room and he had grabbed Mr. Avers and pulled him off of me. Mr. Avers started to protest, and Dad hit him hard across the mouth. I do believe that if Dad hadn’t been holding him up, Mr. Avers would have fallen to the floor. Dad then turned him around and forced one arm around and up behind his back. Mr. Avers made sounds of protest, but Dad had him securely in his hold. Dad forced Mr. Avers out of my room.

I sat up, threw the living room pillow away from me and curled in to the upper corner of my bed, against the wall. It hurt to move, but I pulled my legs up anyway. I heard the front door slam, some other far off noises, then my father’s footsteps as he came back. His footsteps were noisy, hard. He hadn’t bothered to put his slippers on. This struck me as something important, but I knew not why. When Dad came into my room, he threw the light switch on and I could see that my bed had a lot of blood on it. Looking down at my half-naked self, I could see blood on my legs as well. I didn’t know what Dad was going to do next. I didn’t know if I was in trouble. I didn’t know where Mr. Avers was and I didn’t know anything other than that I was in ungodly pain and, for some reason, I felt I had been punished for something but I knew not what.

Then the unexpected happened. Dad came over to me, picked up my light dressing gown from the end of the bed and covered me up. He knelt down by the bed and reached out to stroke my hair or touch me in some way. I recoiled, not knowing why, but not wanting him to touch me.

“Oh, my poor, darling Joan. You did not deserve this. You are an innocent who has been violated. I promise you it will never happen again,” he said with so much sympathy and sorrow in his voice.

I just looked at him, not even daring to shake my head.

“Here is what you must do,” he commanded, his tone completely changed from a moment ago. This was his military voice, the one that could not be disobeyed, the one I was much more used to. “You will get up and clean the bed up. Change the sheets. If there is a mess on the mattress pad, throw it out. Put on clean blankets, too, and make it as nice as you can. Then you will have a bath. I know it will hurt, but it is essential or you will never feel clean again. Do you understand?”

This was familiar to me, Dad giving orders and my obeying them. I nodded my head, though I still did not uncurl from my position.

“Good, good Joan,” the military voice said. “Now get up and do as I tell you. Perhaps take a washcloth and wipe up your legs first. Then the bed, then the bath and you will have followed orders correctly. Understand?”

I managed to nod again, and even found enough of my voice to whisper, “Yes, Dad.”

“Alright. I will go out for a bit. You will be safe as I will make sure everything is locked up. When I return, we will deal with this further.” And at that, he left the room and I heard his footsteps stride down the hallway with quick determination.

I don’t know how long I sat curled against the wall, but at some point, I slowly started to move my legs and slide off the bed. It hurt to move, to breathe, but I had no choice. Dad had given orders. He had said I would be safe, but every noise I heard, every creak of the house or the sound of a car going by made me jump. When I stood up, I could see the mess on the bed clearly, and the blood on my legs. I carefully made my way to the bathroom, wiped myself off and then did something I would never have done at any other time. I threw that washcloth in the garbage, not the hamper. I was in a state of shock, so maybe that was why. I moved, through a wall of pain searing up from my lower half, in a haze of non-thought. I simply followed orders. I changed the bed. The mattress wasn’t damaged, and the mattress pad wasn’t too bad, but I curled it in a ball and put it in the hallway, at the back door, ready to go out in the garbage. The bed changed, with clean sheets and blankets, I went to the bathroom and ran the bath. I cringed as I lowered myself in. It hurt so much. I know it was just pain, but what if I was really damaged? What if this never healed? Would the pain mean something then? Would I need an operation? Perhaps I would die after all.

When Dad came home the sun was up. I had sat in the tub, letting the pink water grow cold, nearly the entire time he was away. I had pulled my knees up again, and sat with my arms around them and my head down, shaking.

I heard the car pull up outside, Dad unlock the door and come in. He took off his shoes and put his slippers on and his footsteps sounded as they usually did in the hall. He came into the bathroom and saw the state I was in. He picked up a large bath towel and told me to stand. I tried, but I was stiff from sitting in one position in the cold for so long. Dad spoke softly as he gingerly and carefully helped me up. I didn’t protest. In fact, I don’t think I responded to anything one way or the other. He gently folded the towel around me, had me hold it closed as he drained the tub, then he took another towel and had me step, one leg at a time, out of the tub. He dried me off in a very gentle way. I did not even know that he could be that gentle.

He left the room for a moment, with me standing on the bathmat, wrapped in the now damp towel. When he returned, he was carrying my soft blanket, the one I had on my bed when the weather was cold. He told me to drop the towel, which I did, then he wrapped me up in the soft blanket and picked me up off the floor like I was a small child again. He carried me to the living room and set me on the couch, put on some classical music and came back over to me. He sat next to me and placed me on his lap, holding me close to him, with my head on his shoulder.

“My poor, poor girl. My poor Joan. I’m so, so sorry you had that happen. That was never supposed to happen to you.” He almost whispered. He sounded as if he were going to cry, but I knew that wasn’t possible. He continued, “I know you are in great pain, and fear. But I promise you, this sort of thing happens to women. It’s part of war. It’s part of how cruel men treat women. This is very bad for a young girl, untouched as you are. I’m so sorry. My dear child, you will mend. Women’s bodies are designed for this sort of thing. It is part of how you are built to give birth. It can also be a part of loving one another, but not this way. Not like this. Not for you, not now, not ever.”

I couldn’t imagine anyone doing anything like what was done to me in a loving way, but I was relieved to hear Dad say that my body could heal from the damage.

“I promise, my poor little girl, that this will never happen to you again. I will ensure that you will have the ability to fight off anyone who tries to hurt you. You know fencing strategy, but now you will learn how to handle yourself in the real world. I promise to make you strong. I’m so sorry that I failed you tonight. It won’t happen again. It won’t happen ever again. You’ll heal more quickly than you think. You will be okay.” He continued talking softly for some time, then when he stopped, I heard the music he’d put on. It was soothing. I had never been held by my Dad like this, and I have to say that it was the only time I ever felt completely safe from everything with him. I was still in great pain, still in shock, still terrified, really, but I knew that I was safe for the moment. I eventually drifted off to sleep. The following morning I awoke in my own bed.

I did not go to school that day. Instead, Dad made me a light breakfast, gave me a pill of some sort, and let me sleep most of the day. I did feel better after another pill and another night’s sleep. I was back to school again within a few days, and that was when Dad began teaching me one on one unarmed combat in the back yard. He continued those lessons with me on weekends and when he could until he was satisfied that I could hold my own in a fight with stronger opponents or even with more than one person to fight at a time. This process of teaching me went on for a few years, but even though I was thrown, fell, and often bruised or cut, I have always been grateful for the skills I learned. Dad was much better at teaching me to fight than he was at teaching about growing up or what I should plan for my future.

Some time after the events of that harrowing night, Dad told me that Mr. Avers had embezzled the money that they had invested in the school and run off with it. The school had to close and we had to move. Dad knew he could start another school somewhere else. He felt moving would be just the right way to start over. It would also, of course, enhance our safety as it always did.

Mr. Avers never did show up anywhere ever again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Acceptance

Just as Jianna’s mind blossomed and grew, so did her abdomen. She would occasionally complain of her back being sore, or feeling ‘too fat’, but she bore it all with cheerful dignity. The school work she did that I sent in for marking always returned with acceptable, if not good grades, and she was well on her way to becoming confident of being able to acquire her grade twelve credentials. She seemed happier than ever, and worked hard to finish school work, keep her cell and surrounding environs clean and keep up with the same amount of work unit hours that other prisoners had. She was always well kempt and, overall, I would say that she was a much better success than even the Governor had hoped for.

In fact, once Jianna had her grade eleven qualifications and was working her way through her grade twelve education, Bryce called me in to his office. He informed me that he was very pleased with how ‘his little program’ had turned out for the girl, and that perhaps I could spend less time concerned with her and focus on the same hours that others put in. It seemed that some of the C.O.’s had decided that I had some sort of extra favour in his eyes for putting in volunteer time with Jianna. Had I not learned from an early age to not allow anyone else to see my reactions to their words and behaviours, I would have rolled my eyes at the man. Surely it was his job to deal with any insecurities that his staff displayed, not mine. I had done nothing wrong, had brought ‘his good news story’ to life and yet I was being told – indirectly, of course – that my work was more or less done. Clearly this was so that he could take credit for my success and push me into the background.

I would not allow that to happen.

“Sir,’ I began, as politely but firmly as I could, “the prisoner is doing extremely well, I agree with you completely on that point. I do think it best that I continue to work with her, least in a mentoring capacity, because she is still afraid of the other prisoners, and because her pregnancy puts her at a greater risk for harm. My spending my off-duty hours with her costs the prison nothing whatsoever. She is also at the mercy of her hormones and other bodily changes as her pregnancy progresses. I think a familiar female presence would help reassure her and keep her health and education on track.” I was not one to play the ‘mysteries of the female body’ card, but with this idiot of a man I felt it more than justified. Besides that, I was not wrong; Jianna did depend on me to feel safe and secure. How could I not be there for her? Keeping someone safe is one of the most important things one can do when that person is worthy of it.

Bryce leaned back in his office chair, clasped his hands over his thin stomach, and took a deep breath. He stared at me, up and down again as usual, and let his breath out. I noticed that his desk was organized, but looked dusty or dirty somehow. My mind would sometimes wander to the details in the world around me when I wasn’t fully engaged in what was happening because I could easily manage my thoughts on more than one topic at a time. It seemed to take him so very long to speak. I didn’t know if it was because he did not have an answer, that he did not want to commit to anything he could think of at the time or if he simply was not smart enough to come up with a response to what I had said. Finally, he quit looking at various parts of my uniform and made eye contact.

“I guess you could be right, there, Joan. Maybe she does need a strong woman’s presence at that. You certainly qualify, don’t you?” he looked up, grinning at me in that revolting way he had.

I said nothing, waiting him out. He did seem to get a bit uncomfortable. He straightened his tie, then sat up fully in his chair. “Alright, Joan, go ahead. Keep working with the girl for awhile. She won’t be pregnant much longer, will she?”

“She’s almost through her second trimester. Another three months or so and she will deliver,” I said as impersonally as possible. I did not like Bryce calling me by my given name and I had no intention of seeming friendly. I wanted to appear merely collegial with the man, nothing more.

“Fine, fine. Keep up the good work. Oh, and don’t forget Danvers’ farewell party at the end of the week. All staff should show up for a retirement party,” he smiled as he said this, knowing full well that I did not enjoy going to any staff social events.

“Yes, sir,” I said, and left before he had a chance to say anything else. His final sentence had seemed enough like a dismissal for me. His orders were not always clear and I had no reason to wait any longer in that small, gloomy office.

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There had been hygiene classes at school when I was young. All the grade nine girls were taken off to the auditorium, and the boys to the cafeteria. Apparently, there were secrets to be learned.

The girls, of course, were taught about menstruation. It seemed rather ridiculous to be taught to us at the ages of 13 and 14, as a few of the girls had already started their periods. I, however, had not. I had only seen ads for ‘feminine products’ and heard whispers from the other girls around me, but did not fully comprehend what was in store for my growing reproductive system. The whole thing was explained to us in, thankfully, a clinical way, with the school nurse showing us a poster of the uterus, ovaries and vagina. The cycle of bursting an egg, implantation of said egg and the sloughing off of the uterine wall was clear enough. The nurse mentioned that some girls felt some cramping and that most did not. The whole process was natural, easy to deal with and secretive. It wasn’t something nice young ladies discussed with males of any sort, including their fathers.

The nurse finished her discourse by showing us the belt and pad that we would have to wear when we got our periods. Tampons were worn by some, especially for such things as swimming, but were considered generally unhealthy. Strange to think of now, but at the time I had no idea where one acquired the necessary belts and pads.

The actual act of sex, of intercourse, was touched on only briefly. We were told that it was the cause of pregnancy and the way venereal diseases were spread. In sum, it was something we were not supposed to think about. Nice girls did not have sex until they were married.

As with all girls of my age who had not yet reached menarche, I wondered what it would be like to have a period. I wondered if I would have cramps, if the blood would overflow my pads and make me a pariah in front of other students, if I would not be able to attend physical education classes and so on. Most girls did not talk about the subject even with other girls.

Then it was my turn; I was shocked one lunch hour at school to see a chocolate coloured stain on my underwear when I went to the washroom. I sat looking at it, thinking it was somehow wrong, the colour didn’t look like blood, it was too thick and I should have felt something before it happened. I certainly had not felt it happen. I took myself off to the nurse’s room to ask for help. I simply did not know what else to do.

I stood outside the door to the nurse’s room for some time. I was uncomfortable about the whole thing, somewhat scared and did not want to soil my underwear and blue jeans. I switched my weight from one foot to the other, working up the courage to knock. I had no problem taking down other fencing students: that did not require courage. Nor did physical fight training with my Dad, but this was something completely different. This was…. embarrassing. I was used to feeling embarrassed in front of other students on occasion, and often with my Dad, but not with other adults because I was used to operating at their level.

I finally made up my mind to knock and the nurse opened the door. Fortunately, there were no other students there at the time. I simply could not have spoken of my situation had there been.

The nurse’s room was mostly white, everything clean - gleaming even. There were the usual jars of cotton balls, rolls of gauze, paper towels and so on. The bed for students was a low cot, across from the desk where the nurse kept her personal belongings and did her paperwork. I found it a reassuring place because it was so clean and organized. The nurse herself was about my height, but slim and blonde. She was dressed in a pants suit of pink with a white shirt that had a Victorian high neckline of lace. She was the one thing that did not seem to fit in with the rest of the room.

I hate to think on it now, but I was so poorly informed about growing up that I became emotional and almost left the room when the nurse asked me to take my pants down and show her what was in my underwear. I did not bolt, but it was an effort to do as she instructed. She saw the small mess, smiled at me and told me everything was fine. Did I have any supplies with me? I had to confess that I did not, nor did I know where to find them. That led to divulging that I was being raised only by my Dad and the nurse took pity on me. She took the time to show me how to put on the belt and wrap the ends of the maxi pad around and through the metal clasps, covering the rather vicious looking “teeth” that held the tail of the pad in place. I was very relieved to be shown all this, and very grateful to this kindly woman for taking the time to help me. She even wrote a late slip for me for my next class so that I would not be in trouble for the time I had spent with her.

There was no way that I could tell my Dad what had occurred, but I did have to get money from him so that I could add Kotex pads to the groceries I normally bought for dinner. The one pad I had would be okay for now, the nurse had said, but I would need to get some more after getting home, just in case, and to stay clean. The idea of germs building up between my legs horrified me, and I simply could not stomach the idea of not having clean maxi pads available to me at home. That afternoon, I bought a small box of ten pads when I picked up the food for dinner. Instead of the dinner I had planned, I decided to go for a casserole that had no meat in it. That was the only way I could think of to save the money. I was so infinitely embarrassed to put the box on the counter with the food items, but what choice did I have? There certainly are advantages to having learned to not show emotion.

Dad was not impressed with dinner that night. He had been giving private lessons to a wealthy man in town and came home more exhausted than if he’d been teaching an entire room full of regular students. I got his vodka and chilled glass out of the freezer and set it down before him on the coffee table, as he sat on the couch to relax and watch a bit of news before dinner. As per usual, I presented him with the receipt from the store. I had no idea how he would react to the extra purchase, and was terrified of what would come next.

However, Dad simply looked it over, nodded and handed it back to me to file. I was astonished and relieved that he did not mention the extra purchase. After all, if I could not talk about the subject with him, how was I to explain anything? Clearly, he actually understood the situation and was accepting of it.

With great relief, I went and put the dinner on the table, and we sat and talked as usual. I had to explain what I had done in school, what lessons I had learned, how much homework and housework I had done and so on. The topic of my reaching full puberty, thankfully, never came up.

Dad did tell me not to make that casserole ever again. From now on I was to calculate the money I needed from him to accommodate all necessary purchases.

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I kept up my mentoring of Jianna as expected. Her school work was fine, she was ahead of her expected progress and we had a little time to discuss other things. We did this from time to time, but nothing of great significance was discussed until the morning when I found Jianna in her cell, reading a book that was not on her required syllabus.

She looked up and smiled at me when I unlocked her cell door and walked in.

“I thought you were finished the literature unit for your school work, Jianna,” I said, sitting down on the bed where she made room for me by turning sideways.

“I did. I just wanted something to read that was more for myself and not something I was forced to read,” she said with a bright smile.

“I never thought you were ‘forced’ to read anything. You did the required reading to achieve a goal, not put through torture,” I stated.

“Oh, sure, but I didn’t get to choose the stuff I read. But last night I asked Miss Crawford if there were any good books I could read and she brought me this.” She held up the book so I could see the cover. It was Hard Times, by Charles Dickens. “You’ve read this, haven’t you, Miss Ferguson? It’s really good, with great descriptions so I can imagine a place and time I haven’t ever seen, but it’s also really sad. Miss Crawford said it was one of his shortest novels and that I should start with this.”

I found myself not happy about any of this. Why Jianna had asked Crawford for reading suggestions I did not understand. I also did not think that Dickens was the best choice for Jianna. After all, her hormones were affecting her moods a great deal and a tragedy like Hard Times seemed an unfortunate choice.

“I really do not like Dickens,” I said, testy from lack of understanding.

“Oh, I’m really surprised to hear that. His stuff is classic, and I thought you really liked that sort of thing. Also, I am enjoying it. I have a way to go before it’s done, but I have enough time at night or like today, if I wake up early, to sit and read for a while. Why don’t you like Dickens, anyway?” She looked at me with genuine curiosity.

“I guess you could say that I was ‘forced’ to read it when I was younger. A different novel, but it put me off of reading more of his works. Perhaps I shall again some time.” I said. Then I asked the question that was really troubling me, “Why did you ask Miss Crawford for advice on reading? I have worked closely with you since you came here. I know where you are at as far as reading level is concerned, and I would have liked to have found a book we could have discussed together.” There – I had said it. Jianna needed to know that her choice was arbitrary, unnecessary and perhaps even a bit foolish. She did not know what I had or had not read. She needed to turn to me for discussion of literature, not anyone else, so I had to make the blunt point come clearly across.

“Because it was last night and you weren’t here,” she said, seemingly surprised and disturbed by my question. She must have seen the error of her ways at this point. “If you had been, I would have asked you. This was just last night. I go to my cell a lot earlier than most, and I wanted something to do as my other work was done. I had no idea that it would upset you or that it would be a problem. I just wanted to read and Miss Crawford was nearby, that’s all.”

“I’m not upset, Jianna. I am inquiring as to why you chose so illogically. Miss Crawford is not known for having a towering intellect. However, I do understand that you needed something to occupy your time, and I accept that reading Dickens is not the worst thing you could do.” Then I gave her a small smile to reassure her. I did not want her to think that reading was wrong, only that the choice of advisor was. “If you like, I will bring you some books of my own for you to read. That way we could discuss them together.”

“Yeah, that would be great!” She said, genuinely pleased. “It would make things easier.”

“What things?” I had no idea what she meant.

“Well, you and I only talk school work, or about my baby, or prison stuff or things that are in the news. It would be great to talk about something else, too. It would still be books, but at least I would know they would be ones you like and know. I think it would be, well, kind of fun.” She ducked her head then, suddenly embarrassed by what she had said.

I did not know how to respond. No one had ever suggested reading books together as a fun activity to do with me. I don’t remember many people ever suggesting anything that they thought would be fun to do with me. I had not had a real friend since high school, and that had ended tragically. Unknowingly, I too, ducked my head. I stared down at my hands that were resting on my thighs for what seemed like the longest time, simply not knowing how to react.

I wanted to break the silence, and as Jianna did not say anything, I jumped on a topic I had wanted to question her about in detail since she had arrived at Blackmoore.

“Jianna, how did you end up in here? Your file said you were an accessory to an armed robbery, but that hardly seems like you. What happened?” I was still looking at my hands when I asked that, but looked to Jianna when she sounded ready to reply.

“I ended up with the wrong people at the wrong place. I thought I had someone who loved me, and would look after me, but it was just a joke. After he left, I was stuck with the people he’d brought me to. They weren’t good. I never handled the gun, and I never hurt anyone. I was caught out being with the people that did. I guess because I’m Aboriginal, they decided I must have been as bad as the rest,” she said, seemingly embarrassed and angry.

“What does being Aboriginal have to do with it? I’ve seen your file. You were convicted of being an accessory, therefore you were guilty, period.” Her answer had seemed as though she were making excuses.

“I was with a gang, but I was never part of it. They did the stuff. I just waited outside. And there was another girl who was like me, but white, and she isn’t here. Don’t you know that Aboriginals are treated really badly by the police, legal system and everything? I mean, you saw me when I arrived. You did the strip search,” she stopped short here, unwilling to discuss that particular event in detail.

“Yes, Jianna, I saw. I also saw the medical reports. I know you were -” and here I paused. I just couldn’t use the word while talking with her. It seemed wrong, as though discussing something she should never have had to know about in the first place. I found a different word to use. “I know you were badly hurt. I know it was recent to your showing up here. I’m sorry you had that happen, but it can happen when you run with untrustworthy people.”

Jianna snapped her head around and looked straight at me, and as soon as we made eye contact I could tell that she wasn’t embarrassed or afraid, but angry.

“You never asked, and I never said. But it wasn’t the boys in the gang that did the robbery that hurt me, or anyone from there.” She then spoke very clearly, almost enunciating her words so they made sense to her as she said them out loud, “It wasn’t anyone you would think – I was gang raped by the cops that took me in. At the station. We were separated. When I was alone in a holding cell, two of them came in. I couldn’t stop them. They kept saying that no one would care, no one wanted me, no one missed me. And they were right. Then another one came in, I guess when he heard…what was happening.” She glared at me, defying me to argue with her.

Upset by her story, I simply stated, “I believe you.”

“I’m glad, because no one else did. I tried to tell a woman police officer, but she didn’t care. Everyone said that I was just a slut, a drug user, a fucking gully who didn’t deserve better,” she startled a bit, “oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to swear. I just said what they did.”

“It’s okay, I understand,” I said softly, “but now we must prosecute those who did that to you. They can not be allowed to get away with this horrific act.” I stood up and started looking around Jianna’s desk for paper to write on.

“No, please, Miss Ferguson,” Jianna said in, what was for her, a firm tone. “That won’t help, it will only make it worse. I don’t want to go court again, I don’t want to have to face anyone like that again. If they didn’t listen before, they won’t listen now.”

“Of course they will. You have me on your side.” There was no doubt that the authorities would listen to an esteemed Corrections Officer.

“Please don’t,” she began again, “I just can’t. Maybe – maybe if we wait until after the baby comes? Maybe? It might be easier for me then? I just can’t do it now.”

She looked so tired, and genuinely weighed down by all that had happened to her, what could I say? I believed we should have pursued it, but I had to accept that now was not the right time.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Ground Down

 

I did not actually spend that much time with Jianna. It was usually an hour a day at the most, in the early morning for three or four days a week, nothing more. Our visits did become about much more than her education. She had done very well with her exams and managed to get her graduation requirements finished long before her baby was due. This was good, as it gave us time to talk about other things. She was not socializing with the inmates, so she needed company at some point. Not all people are as independent as I am, and I was happy to help her out and support her so that she would emotionally be in reasonable shape to raise a child. I felt that it was my duty to help ensure that her child would be as healthy as possible, and that would of course entail a mother who was herself emotionally healthy. Governor Bryce had no problem with my acting in this role, nor did anyone else that I knew of that mattered. The other inmates had little to do with Jianna, so their opinions on the matter seemed irrelevant.

As Jianna’s pregnancy progressed, so did the problems that can arise from it. She hardly complained, but told me of her aching back, swollen feet and general discomfort when asked. Then came a time when she began having headaches. They were not too intense at first, but increased over the time of a week. She saw the prison doctor, who said all was well and that headaches were not uncommon at her stage. She was told to take acetaminophen if the pain became too much to handle, but Jianna was strong and refused anything that could possibly affect the baby.

Sadly, the headaches affected our visits, as she was unable to read the books I brought. Instead, I bought a Discman and brought in music for her to listen to. As she was dealing with headaches, I chose the softer music to start her off with: Chopin, Vivaldi, and so on. The Fours Seasons is not too difficult, so it made a good place to start.

“Vivaldi wrote these pieces for a girl’s music school,” I told Jianna.

She put the headphones on, carefully adjusted them so that they wouldn’t put too much pressure in the wrong places, and turned the volume to an acceptable level. She sat up on her bed, with her back against the wall, a pillow behind her, eyes closed. I watched her face carefully. I knew the music well enough to know where she was in the score by the timing, her reactions and the odd time she spoke about it. Her expressions changed from delight, to interest, to what appeared to be utter boredom. I was disappointed to see the last response, but she continued to listen, finishing ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’. She took the headphones off and said that she could not listen to the music much longer due to her headache.

“That’s fine. We can discuss the pieces if you like and you can listen to more another time,” I said, hiding my disappointment behind a reassuring smile. I took the Discman and put it back in my large, see-through bag that I brought every day to work.

“It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s really pretty music, but it’s kind of….” Her sentence dropped off as she tried to find a word I would approve of to describe it without saying what was obvious.

“You did not keep your interest in it, did you?” I asked.

“Well, yeah, but my head hurts and I was distracted by that. And now I have to pee,” she said, looking a bit sheepish.

I left her cell so she could have privacy and heard her make a small sound of surprise. I quickly went back in, to see her still sitting on the toilet, smiling and holding her hands over her swollen belly.

“What happened?” I said, more concerned that necessary, I am sure.

“I just felt the baby kick again,” she said as she smiled up at me. I left again to allow her to clean herself.

As I waited, it really struck me that, although I had been aware of it all along, Jianna was carrying life inside of her body. She had a nearly-formed human being inside her. It was literally part of her and yet another person on its own. Not even “it”, I corrected myself, but “he or she.” None of this was news to me, yet the impact was great. I had felt protective of Jianna and her baby all along, but the sudden realization that there was a child within her body, not just a fetus or developing being, but a true person that would be dependant on her for nutrition and, indeed, dependent on her for all of his or her needs. Both she and the child would be so vulnerable for so long, and the birth was just barely two months away. I avoid emotion, but here I was, feeling – I am not sure what, to be honest, but certainly feeling. Perhaps it was all professional, perhaps it was normal to feel more protective of vulnerable prisoners, perhaps I was simply doing my job with more intensity than usual.

When I turned and went back into the cell, Jianna was again sitting with her back to the wall, waiting to talk. I sat next to her, on her left, and looked at her enlarged stomach, still in my reverie about the fact that therein lay a person. I felt both a thrill to be part of this experience, and fear as to what would happen to Jianna and this child after his or her birth. I vowed once again to protect Jianna at all times, and I included her child in this vow vehemently in my mind.

 

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I was a young woman, nearly 15 years of age, when Dad and I moved to yet another house just outside of Melbourne. Dad liked the city he said, as it had seasons somewhat more like he had been used to earlier in his life, and it had real culture. I did not quite understand what he meant by that last part, but decided it referred to the museums and concerts we could attend.

With the new house came a surprise in the form of a tabby cat who seemed to think that he had a right to the house and yard. He was very friendly, and Dad said he could stay as long as he stayed outside. I put a blanket on a lawn chair that we had in the yard and put down some water and kibble cat food I purchased at the grocery store near our house. We were closer to the city, and obtaining such items was easier for me.

I told Dad that since the cat lived at our house, we should name him. Dad didn’t want to be sentimental, didn’t want either of us to become “too attached” to the animal for some reason, so told me to choose a name that would simply describe the creature rather than be a proper name. Proper names, after all, were for people, not animals. Dad wanted to simply call him ‘cat’, so I added another part to the name to have him become Puss-cat.

Puss-cat was very affectionate with me, but tended to avoid Dad. When I sat outside, Puss-cat was always trying to get in to my lap. When the weather cooled down, Puss-cat startled me one night by climbing in through my open window and curling up on my bed with me. Dad would have been horrified, but I loved the warmth and gentle purring of the cat, so I allowed him to stay. I always shooed him out the window in the morning before Dad would have a chance to see into my room. Puss-cat was very clean, always washing himself and relieving himself somewhere other than our yard. This was the most likely reason that Dad allowed him to stay: he didn’t leave anything foul in the area.

Eventually, Puss-cat and I had a routine. When I came home after school, he would be waiting on the front porch and would come to greet me. He always tried to slip into the house when I unlocked the door, but of course this was not allowed. In the evening, when I climbed into bed, Puss-cat joined me after finishing off the one meal a day I left for him on the back porch. He came to be more than just an ornament or fixture in the yard, but something more akin to a friend. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to get attached to him, but I did. I hid my feelings for Puss-cat from Dad the same way I hid Puss-cat’s sleeping habits - I said nothing and we never discussed the topic.

Puss-cat’s presence in the yard ensured that I spent more time outside. I loved to watch him stalk and hunt insects, or lie on the porch in the sun, or even chase after leaves as I cleaned them up from the sidewalk that led to the small garage. I had never had friends at school, always keeping to myself, and Puss-cat became a presence I must have felt that I needed. He was affectionate, loving even, without asking much in return. His cleanliness was never in question in my mind, and I would have happily let him in the house all the time if I could. Dad, however, had other ideas.

“Animals don’t belong in houses,” Dad said to me, one evening when it seemed particularly chilly and I had asked him if Puss-cat could be let in just this once. “Cats are for hunting pests, nothing more. People who become sentimental about animals often end up letting them suffer. I do not think you want that. Let the animal live as it always has: outside, on its own. Isn’t feeding it and stroking it outside enough for you, or are you becoming emotional about it?”

I had to say that I wasn’t emotional. I thought quickly and said that I was concerned about pests moving inside due to the cold, and that Puss-cat would keep them under control. I don’t know if Dad believed me or not, but he just grunted and shook his head. Puss-cat stayed out all night in the cold as far as Dad knew.

Then tragedy struck. I came home one Thursday, after school, to receive no greeting from my cat. I looked for him in the back yard, even checked my bedroom despite the windows always being closed when we were out. No luck, and I was worried about my cat but had housework to do, dinner to prepare and homework to study. I had little time to spend looking for an independent creature like Puss-cat. I was able to tell myself that, but only for so long. As much as I wanted to concentrate on other things, all I could think about was my cat. Yes, “my” cat. I had become attached, despite warnings to the contrary. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do homework or anything else until I knew the whereabouts of my pet.

I searched the back yard again, then decided to look in the small garage. I had never seen Puss-cat in there; he had always avoided the place. But there he was, at the back of the garage, near the wooden wall, curled up in a strange way. As I approached him, I could see that something was wrong.

Upon kneeling down next to him, I saw that his fur on one side was matted with dried blood, and his left hind leg was sticking out in a strange way. I wanted to see what I could do to help him, but he growled at me as I touched him. He had never done anything like growling or hissing at me before. I realized he was in too much pain to touch, so I did the only things I could think of. I retrieved the blanket from the chair in the back yard and lightly covered Puss-cat with it. Perhaps it would help with shock. Then I called my Dad at the fencing studio. I was never to call him for anything but an emergency, but this did seem like an emergency to me.

Dad was angry that I had called him at work for such a thing, but he also knew what to do. “You must put the animal out of it’s misery. To let it suffer is cruel. You don’t want the cat to suffer, do you?” He asked, in a tone that did not want an answer.

“No. But I don’t know how to do …” I had difficultly saying the words, “… what you say.”

Dad sighed, then spoke in his commander’s voice, “You are not stupid, Joan. You know how to end a life. Either cover its head with a plastic back and make sure it suffocates, or fill a pail with water and hold the whole cat in until it drowns. You may choose which way is best, as you are there now and can decide for yourself.’ Then he hung up, leaving me with a task that was horrible, to say the least.

I put the phone back on the receiver, and numbly walked out the back door and into the yard. I looked around for a bucket, and found the old pail we used for various jobs around the place. I moved as though I was merely doing routine housework, and filled the bucket from the outside tap at the back of the house, then hauled it into the garage. Then I saw the cat. Puss-cat. My cat. He was still a mess, his leg still askew, but he looked up at me and registered who I was, I am sure. He had crawled out from under the blanket and was laying on top of it. I did not haul the bucket all the way to the back of the garage. Instead, I went out and got both the cat food and the water bowl and brought them in to offer to Puss-cat.

He wasn’t interested in the food or water, but tolerated my presence. He even allowed me to pet the top of his head. I didn’t try to touch his leg or anything else. He put his head back down and continued the purr he had started when I had pet him.

We sat like that for along time, Puss-cat on the blanket, me next to it with the food and water on stand-by, in case he wanted it. The light in the garage gradually became darker, and still I did not move. I should have been preparing dinner, but I did not move. I should have done homework, but I knew that was futile. So I just sat with him, and hoped my presence was a comfort in some way. Clearly, he wasn’t dying, so maybe Dad was wrong, maybe Puss-cat didn’t need to be ‘put out of his misery’. I remember one of my teachers talking about his dog being hit by a car, and how a veterinarian had put the injured leg in a cast and how the dog had healed and was as “as good as new” in the end. I don’t remember why the teacher had told the story, but decided that Puss-cat could be helped the same way. I had no idea where a veterinarian was in our area, nor did I have a way to transport the cat, so I waited. I thought Dad would let me take him to a veterinarian, and would even be willing drive us there. How wrong I was.

The garage wasn’t used to park the car. Dad preferred it in front of the house, under street lights where he could see it from the front window. I didn’t hear him come drive up that evening.

When Dad came home, he was angry that his dinner wasn’t ready. He always wanted a shower and then his dinner. He was even more angry when he found me in the garage, sitting next to the injured animal. He strode heavily over to me on his heels, his face red and his fists tightening. “I told you to take care of that earlier, Joan. Perhaps you are not strong enough to do what is needed, perhaps you are being deliberately disobedient,” he started.

I did the unthinkable and interrupted Dad. I don’t know if he let me speak because he thought I should have a chance to say something or because he was stunned that I would be so brash. I suspect the latter. “Please, Dad. I know he’s not that badly hurt. He’s moved around, he got here from wherever he was hurt, and I know he can be helped. It’s only his leg that is bad, not the rest of him. Maybe we can take him to a veterinarian? Maybe he can be healed up?”

Dad looked like he was getting ready to yell, but he surprised me by doing the opposite. He became very quiet, speaking almost in a whisper, “Do you have any idea how much a veterinarian would cost? Do you know how easy it is to find another cat if one is needed? You have spent the entire afternoon, even in to the evening, allowing that poor creature to suffer. You can not have a decent reason for this. Either you are by nature a cruel person or you have become emotionally attached to this animal. Neither of these is acceptable,” then he crouched down, met me eye to eye, and slowly, clearly, told me, “get up. Go to your room. I will do what you can not.”

The anger in his eyes was the greatest I remember ever seeing, and he left me no choice. Still, I was slow to rise, slow to move, knowing that I would have to move away and leave my pet to my Dad’s mercy. Dad was not patient with me, and grabbed me by the hair, close to my scalp for leverage with one hand, then put his other hand under one of my arms and forcibly lifted me off the floor. I stumbled as I stood up, trying to find my feet, and Dad let his anger out, kicking me hard in the butt as I tried to find my balance. I hit the floor of the garage hard, my face being grazed by the rough cement. Dad didn’t wait for me to get up this time, instead kicking me hard in the ribs. I rolled over, grabbed myself around my midsection and got to my feet. I left the garage, in pain and shock, falling into the habit of obeying orders and momentarily forgetting my argument to save my pet.

In my room I took off my shirt and examined my ribs where they hurt the most. Bruising was beginning to show already, and the area was red and swelling. I automatically went to the kitchen for an ice pack and a towel. As I reached into the drawer for the towel, I heard a screech of the like I had never heard before. I knew it was my cat, but I also knew there was nothing I could do. Part of me wanted to run out and save Puss-cat, but I knew there was no choice. I took the ice pack and towel in to my room and lay on the bed, feeling as though I would be sick to my stomach, ashamed, scared and starting to grieve the loss of my loyal friend.

When Dad came in to the house later, he opened my bedroom door and informed me that I would have to spend the night without dinner, since I had not prepared it in the first place. He was not aware that I could not have eaten anything regardless. Then he slammed the door and left me in the dark with my pain. The physical pain was a mere distraction from the loss I was feeling in my heart. Dad was right: emotions are the cause of mistakes and poor thinking, they make one weak and stop one from doing what one must. Feeling for another means suffering, always, even if that other is just a cat.

 

 

All of Jianna’s mail came to me before she received it. I had asked for this from when I first started working with her. I wanted to know everything I could about her life and this was one way to do so. Prison mail is routinely read and my request was only unusual in that one specific prisoner’s mail was to come to me, a regular CO.

There was a letter that came one morning that I did not like. It was from an aunt of Jianna’s, telling her that she and the baby could live with them if she needed to after her release. I did not like the look of the handwriting, it was hard, printed in blocky letters, and the grammar and spelling was atrocious. I suppose it was meant as a kind offering, but the result would have been Jianna and her child ending up in a household that would put her quick mind and positivity back to what it was before I met her. I withheld the letter, believing that Jianna would be better off without said offer. I put the letter aside, in a separate file that I kept on Jianna. I wanted the contact address, even if I didn’t want Jianna to know about any of this.

When I went to her cell the same morning, she was cheerful. She had started reading Middlemarch, which I had brought for her to read. It has much to say about loyalty, human nature and relationships that go sour for many reasons. It was needlessly romantic in places, but I felt Jianna would enjoy the book regardless. I had other plans for us that morning though, and entered her cell carrying a small box under my arm.

Jianna greeted me with one of her beautiful smiles, brightening my day. I must confess that I did feel emotions such as these when it came to Jianna. Despite what I had learned, and what my father had taught me, I could not help but have emotions come in to the relationship. I felt protective of her and her baby, of course, but I also felt that she had much improved her standing in life due to my work with her, and this led to a feeling of pride. That must have been the reason that I felt her smile was good for me. She needed me. She would not succeed in the world without the help I had given, and continued to give.

“Good morning, Miss Ferguson,” she said, still showing that lovely smile.

“Good morning, Jianna,” I said, softly. As much as I was comfortable using her first name, I didn’t want any other inmates or CO’s to hear me use it. “I have something new for us today,” I said, presenting her with the box I had brought.

Jianna took it from me and placed it on her desk. She carefully opened it up, almost as if I had given her something very precious or very dangerous. She put the lid aside and looked in the box.

“This is a chess game,” she said, sounding surprised and baffled at once.

“Yes, it is,” I began in my best no-nonsense voice. “It used to belong to my Father. He taught me to play when I was young, and I think you are ready to learn. This game will help you learn to think ahead, to take on an opponent and study his tactics to learn how to defeat him. You will learn strategy, when to attack and when to defend. Chess is, of course, the ultimate thinking game. It has been around for hundreds of years because it has not been bested. Just because your school work has been successful doesn’t mean you should or will stop learning. Now, how about figuring out how we can set up and board and play.”

Jianna put the black and red chequered board on the bed, allowing the pillows at the head of the bed to be rearranged so that she could sit up comfortably. It would be awkward playing on the bed, but I didn’t see any other solution to the problem. Jianna was too large to sit on the chairs in the library without a great deal of discomfort, so here we were. It was fortunate that my request for her to have two extra pillows had been approved and she could make herself as comfortable as possible.

I set up the board, telling her the name of each new piece as I did so. I expected her to know their names after seeing the two sides laid out, and she appeared interested.

“Now, Jianna, have you ever played chess?” I asked, hoping she had not. It’s easier to start with a clean slate, after all.

“I’ve played checkers a bit. It’s okay, I guess. I wasn’t very good and my….”she trailed off.

“Your what?” I asked, wanting all the details of her life that I could wrench from her. She really did not talk about the past and it was hard to learn about her family life or what came before she had ended up with her useless cretin of a boyfriend.

“Nothing. I just am not good at these sorts of games,” she stated, looking sheepish.

“Nonsense. If you haven’t played, you have no idea whether you are good or not. Chess and checkers are nothing alike except that they use the same board. Chess is about thinking ahead, as I said. Checkers is fast paced and simple. One doesn’t need more than a few games to master checkers, at which point it becomes uninteresting. Chess has so many permutations and possibilities that it can never become dull,” I explained. “I will show you some basic starting moves, how to castle, how to avoid being easily put into check and so on. Once you understand these moves, I believe we will enjoy the challenge of the game together.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll try,” she said with a disbelieving tone.

“No, you won’t try,” I told her, “you will succeed. There is no reason why you should not be good at chess. Here is the first common move. My pawn to King’s four. Now what will you do to counter that move? Try and protect your king. Go on…|

Jianna gingerly picked up the black pawn opposite mine and moved it forward to put the two pawns directly across from each other, a basic opening move. I countered by bringing up my king’s knight, putting her pawn in danger. Jianna sat back on her pillows, a graceful finger tapping her lower lip as she thought. I was glad to see her taking time, even at this basic level. Too many novice players move too quickly.

“I don’t know what to do. Can’t your knight go behind my other pawns and make it hard for me? Or should I take it and then leave the bigger pieces without that pawn…oh, this is hard,” she said, sounding defeated before she had even played.

“Here,” I said, “I will show you how a mock game could look. Follow what I tell you, and I will show you why certain moves work better than others. You need to concentrate. Pay attention to every move I make and every move I tell you to make. You will learn quickly if you absorb this now.”

The mock game progressed, and I was not surprised to see Jianna fully engaging with what I talked about. She seemed a natural, watching me move pieces about, understanding what I was telling her. This pleased me. I was glad I had read her so well. This now gave us a new activity that would make my visits worth her while beyond what they had been.

After the mock game, Jianna sat far back on her pillows, her distended abdomen seeming almost a barrier between us. She put her hands on her stomach and grinned at me. I did not know how to respond to that particular gesture, so I waited for her to focus on the game board again.

“Can we take a break, please?” she surprised me by asking. “It’s not comfortable to have to try and lean forward to see the board, and I’m feeling a bit tired now.”

This seemed odd, as we had spent less than an hour with the chess game, but I nodded.

“Alright. Perhaps you can tell me what your impression of Middlemarch is then,” I said, setting myself on her bed, sitting straight up as one in charge should.

“Can we just talk about other stuff this time?” She asked quietly, as if she expected to be rebuked for the request. “Like personal stuff or something?”

“Of course. What personal things do you have to tell me?” I said.

“That’s not quite what I meant, but whatever,” she said, appearing to think about something to say. Then she got sheepish again, and her voice became very small, “Um…. I’m scared. The baby and all makes me feel like I have so much to deal with. I mean, what will happen when I leave? I don’t know where to look for a place to live or anything. It’s scary to think about.”

She had voiced such concerns in the past, but usually in a state of panic. This time it was simply stating her concerns to the one person in the world to whom she could speak. I, too, was feeling afraid, but for a different reason. I decided to bring up something I had thought about for a while. Disregarding the letter from her Aunt had allowed me to proceed with my own thoughts, freeing up my chance of asking Jianna what I had wanted.

“You know, Jianna, that you never really have to be alone?” I began. “You’re not alone here, are you?”

“Mostly. But it’s okay, I’m used to it. And I see you a few times a week which is good. I guess, really, you’re the person I think of being as close to a friend as I have here,” she said.

I had wanted to hear her say that I was more than ‘close to being a friend’, but that was the truth. We were mentor and student, not friends, nor would we really be here, in this place. However, elsewhere perhaps, we could have been closer.

I worked up my courage and said carefully, “You don’t have to be alone when you leave here, either. I have a big apartment, with a spare bedroom that isn’t used. There’s an extra bathroom, too. You…you could stay with me, if you want, when you leave, until you find your own place,” I was surprised at how nervous I was, making this simple offer.

“Uh, thanks, Miss Ferguson,” Jianna said, “that’s really nice of you. I mean, if I were totally stuck and had no where to go, then I know I won’t end up on the street with a baby. There’s probably no way you’d want me and a baby at your place. Actually, the baby won’t be much of a baby by then. He or she will be a toddler in like a year or so from now!” this was almost a revelation to her. The idea of the child growing so fast seemed only to strike her just now.

“I really wouldn’t mind…you know,” I said, continuing on with my offer, “I have more than enough room. You and the baby would be welcome. I would be around to help out if you needed it, with the baby. It would be as if you had someone who would be there for the baby as well as you. I…I won’t just abandon you, you know. I’m here now for you and… I... will be in the future, too.” I don’t remember having sounded so awkward in such a simple statement for a very long time.

“Well, that’s really nice of you, Miss Ferguson. But I wouldn’t want to live with you until I could pay rent properly,” Jianna said, sounding unsure of herself. “Besides, can we talk about something else?”

I felt as though I had been simply brushed off after offering the most I ever had to any living soul. Unsure of what to say next, I nodded in agreement, but was flummoxed at the request as I had no idea what else to talk about. I thought for a moment about current events in the newspaper, or perhaps how the prison staff were treating her or if she’d had any further problems with other inmates. Jianna interrupted my reverie with an astonishing question.

“Well, I don’t know a lot about you, Miss Ferguson. I’ve known you for months now, but you don’t talk about yourself,” she said.

“I have nothing to talk about, really,” I started, unsure of how to proceed. If anyone else had said such a thing I would have dismissed them simply by stating that they did not know about my personal life because I chose for them not to know. I do not really have much of a life outside of corrections, and what personal life I have is just that: personal. Yet I felt almost shy when Jianna said this.

She looked at me from the other end of her bed with a smile and a look of disbelief.

“I don’t think that’s true,” she said, “Like, I don’t even know if you have a boyfriend or if you live alone or anything. You’ve never mentioned anyone except your Dad a couple of times and I really only heard that he taught fencing and was really smart. I know you fence, but that’s all you’ve really said. You never even told me any details about that. Like, are you as good as your Dad was? Do you do it just for exercise or what?”

“Oh. Well, fencing is exercise, but so much more. I have to know my opponent, learn their style and strategy, and know how to take them down. I would say I am very good. I once nearly qualified to represent the Australian Olympic team but I couldn’t go,” I had never intended to tell anyone about that part of my past, but here I was, telling Jianna.

“Really? That’s so cool!”

“No, it wasn’t. I was good, and had won trophies and moved up quickly in the tournaments for qualifications, but had to step aside at the last minute,” I said, looking down at my hands, thinking of the feel of the foil, the balance of it in my hand.

“Why did you have to stop? Didn’t you want to go to the Olympics? I think that would be amazing!” Jianna said, with real respect in her eyes.

“I couldn’t go. I had too much work to do at home, and my Dad needed me there. He was a single parent and I was only in grade ten,” I said softly. The truth of the matter was that I had qualified and stepped aside because Dad would not allow me to go to Moscow. He said that nowhere in the USSR was safe, and that I simply could not go. I told him I would not be recognized as I would travel with our team and had our new surname, but he would have none of it. He forbade it and told me to go back to fencing practice at our studio without any idea of moving up beyond local trophies. I had been defeated by him, not my opponents, but had no choice in the end.

“That’s really too bad, Miss Ferguson. I thought you’d have been good and had fun if you’d gone,” she said, sounding disappointed about my story.

“It doesn’t matter. That’s all in the past,” I stated, hoping to put an end to the topic.

“It’s still sad. I feel sorry that you couldn’t go. Hey, did you have a boyfriend at the time? Maybe that was better for the relationship if you stayed?” At times I forgot how young Jianna was, and that she could even be rather silly on occasion.

“No, I did not have a boyfriend. I was in grade ten, and too busy with school, housework and other things.”

“So, can I ask: do you have a boyfriend now?” she continued, almost teasing, trying to cajole the answer from me.

“Jianna, this is not something I would want to talk about even if I had a boyfriend. I do not. I have enough in my life right now and have no interest in romantic pursuits at the present. Why does this matter to you so much?”

“I don’t know. I guess with the baby coming, I think a lot about him or her not having a dad around. I guess I kind of want to hear about someone else being in a good relationship. Besides, it doesn’t seem like you wouldn’t have somebody. You’re too nice and pretty not to.” She said, openly and honestly.

This took me aback. “Well, that’s very nice of you, but not all lot of people refer to me as “nice”. Perhaps I have been so with you. Certainly, I’m not pretty, but thank you for the compliment.” I could feel my face reddening and I looked down once again. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and self conscious, but I did not want to rebuke Jianna for her kind words.

“It’s not really a compliment,” she stated, sincerely, looking at me with those soft and intense big brown eyes. “It’s true. You are really pretty. You have pretty eyes, and a lovely face. I think you feel like you’re too tall but you’re not. You are just…well, you are just you. And that’s okay, because you are pretty and all. “

The heat from my face was bothering me. I didn’t want to blush and show that I was uncomfortable, but Jianna’s words were so foreign, so strange to me. I honestly did not know how to react. I had had no practice with such things. What does one say to a compliment? There was only one thing that I could think of.

“Thank you,” I managed to get out. For some reason, it was hard to talk, but I continued, “but you don’t have to be extra nice to me. I am what I am, and I have come to terms with it all. You are right, I feel tall for a woman and it bothered me in the past. It is useful in my line of work, and so I no longer am bothered by it. As for the rest, I think you may be looking at me through rose coloured glasses. I thank you for your words, but you needn’t continue with this flattery.”

Jianna sighed and looked away from me.

“Can I just say something else?” she asked.

“On the previous topic or another?” I wanted it to be clear that we were no longer commenting on my appearance.

Jianna was persistent. “I don’t want to upset you or anything, but you need to know that I am not just flattering you. You are pretty, and that’s all. I just think you don’t think so. Anyone like you could have a boyfriend if you wanted.”

“A woman doesn’t need a man to complete her nor to give her status in this world,” I said.

“That’s not my point. I just think you could have one if you wanted. I don’t really care, but you should do what you want. I just wanted to know something more about you.”

“Well, now you do. And I think our time is up for today,” I said, packing up my chess set and preparing mentally to begin my shift.

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Dad drove us home over the dark, nearly empty highway back from the qualifying tournaments. I had won a trophy for best in my category not long ago, and was able to go to the qualifying tournament for the Olympic team. The fencing instructor had put me up against his best students, some of them boys, and had said that I could go for the Olympic team if I wanted. He had no doubt that I’d qualify. I was basically in the 1980 Summer Olympics as far as he was concerned. I had been excited beyond anything I’d experienced before. The very idea of being on such a team, travelling and being in the event was daunting, thrilling and terrifying all at once. I had never slept away from home and had never been any length of time without Dad nearby. I was vastly relieved when the instructor told Dad that most athletes were minors, and closely supervised, so I would be fine.

Dad had given the instructor a flat no, without reason, and told me to pack up my things as we were leaving. I had been so shocked by the one idea that it was easy to obey orders. My mind was still reeling from the idea of being on the team and I was too terrified to disobey. The honest truth was that I really did not want to go, and was afraid Dad would let me. I was also fifteen, and felt that it should have been my decision, not his. I was a teenager and somewhat stubborn, and felt that I should have a chance to have my say. As it was I didn’t have that chance, I was fuming on the car ride home. I’m sure Dad sensed my mood, but he waited until the last half hour or so of the four-hour drive before saying anything to me. I hadn’t dared to say anything to him, but I was going through words in my head, preparing for when I would dare.

Dad had put the windshield wipers on, as it had started to rain lightly, and I watched the blotches of raindrops land on the glass and be swept away a moment later, insignificant, undesired and unimportant. We desperately needed rain, but it seemed only to echo my own thoughts and feelings of impotence rather than give succour to the dry vegetation in the city we had entered.

“Joan,” Dad began, taking a deep breath to signal that he had something very important to say and that it would take a bit of a speech to get it across. “You do realize that I can not let you go to Moscow, ever. I don’t know how I’d feel if you were possibly set to go anywhere else in the world, but I know that there is no safe place anywhere in the USSR. We narrowly escaped with our lives, but it was so long ago for you that you don’t remember. I do, though, and I will never put you in danger like that again. I hope you understand that I am only looking out for you, for us.”

I didn’t want him to know that I was privately relieved. For once, I wanted him to see that he had deprived me of something important. I wanted to lash out, to hurt him, to assert my independence. As I said before, I was fifteen.

“It’s not fair,” I began, trying to keep my voice from showing emotion, but failing as a faint touch of anger entered my words. “Other girls are going. I could have been the best in the world! You’ve always said that I have to strive to be the best. I had the chance, and you stopped me. I’m not the person I was before, when you fled. I have a different name and don’t look that much like you even. I could have been safe because I’d have been part of a team and would just have come and gone with them.”

Dad became angry at that point himself, hitting the steering wheel with his left hand, hard. “You can never understand what I did for you! For your safety! I gave up so much so that we could be free. I will not put you back in that place, not after what I’ve been through. You will have to accept what I say on this. There is no more discussion to be had about it.”

Dad believed that he had made an end to the topic at that point, but I was wound up, and sitting in the passenger seat of his car. He could hit me, but not much from the driver’s seat, with the car moving. I screwed up my courage and began the lament that all teenagers bawl out at their parents at some point.

“That’s just not fair. Why have I worked so hard to be good at fencing if I can’t go further? You never let me do things just for me. I always have to do what you say. I can’t do anything else.” I ended there, wanting Dad to feel the sting of my words, thinking them more venomous than the mere whine that they were.

“Don’t be stupid, Joan. You are not stupid,” Dad raised his voice in anger, “I’ve told you over and over that we have to be careful, that we have to work hard and be better than those around us, that we need to work to stay safe.”

Of course he had, but I had never, ever understood all of this. Yes, we were foreigners when we arrived, and had had to prove ourselves. Fine. But how could my success take away from our safety? I was being blind to the truth, trying to bend his will to mine.

“I know all that, Dad. I just want to have some freedom. I want to be the best, to show people I’m the best. I hate that we’ve had to move so much. I hate having to…” I stopped when I saw how angry Dad was. I saw the tendons in his neck knotting, his pulse almost showing on his temple in the light from the dashboard. In the silence that followed, the windshield wipers seemed louder than I had ever heard. The sound of the tires on the road was sharp, segmented into tones and the slush of the shallow puddles we drove through, the sound of a rock ticking in the right back tire over and over. Everything seemed brighter, louder and more intense than it should have. I had pushed my luck, and was going to pay the price.

“Joan, you are a fool. You have far more freedom than you would ever have had if we hadn’t moved house, been careful to cover our tracks, kept ourselves to ourselves. You do not know what we fled. You are safe, free and will continue to show that you are the best with your grades and your fencing at our own studio. Now, never, ever talk to me like that again. You are being disrespectful and talking about things you know nothing of.”

His hands were gripping the wheel so tightly that I believed that he must have been trying not to lash out, not to put us in danger as he drove. Still, stupid child that I was, I had to get in one last jibe.

“I wish I had never been born,” I said, sounding, I’m sure, like every other teenager who’d ever spoken the words.

I waited for the smash of Dad’s hand on my face, or my ribs, but nothing happened. Instead, he loosened his grip, seemed to relax and just looked more tired than anything else.

“So do I, Joan, so do I. But we have no choice in these things. You were born. You are my daughter and that is that. I have no choice but to protect you. If you think I’m unfair, fine. Just do what you’re told, that’s all. If things were different, and I had what I wanted, do you think I would be just a fencing coach, earning only enough to get by? Do you think I want to live with you without your Mother? I didn’t ask for you – you happened. That is what it means to be married and to love someone. You take the responsibilities that come from it, like it or not. I may have married too young, or not well enough according to others, but we did marry. I made the mistake of letting my emotions decide my path in life at that point. I loved her, Joan, so I take responsibility for you because you are all that I have left of her. But I did not ask for the burden of a daughter. I did not ask for one as stubborn and plain as you. I simply must bear the burdens that life has handed me, as must you.”

So there it was: Dad didn’t want me. He had never wanted me. He wanted my Mother, someone I didn’t remember and could never know. I could not be a substitute for her and fill the hole in his heart. He would suffer, carry me as his burden as he must, and I could do nothing about it. He also said he wished I had never been born.

I had nothing to say to that. If I had spoken, I think I would have cried. Since crying in front of Dad was tantamount to failure, I would not do that. I sat frozen, working to control my emotions for the rest of the drive home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Bonds

Jianna never did learn chess as I had hoped. Her interest in it simply waned over time. Part of that, I am sure, was the fact that she would never be able to win a game against me. I told her that was her ultimate goal, and that I would show her everything that went wrong with each of her games until she mastered her goal, but she never dove into it as I had hoped. She did, however, keep up with reading the books I brought in. We talked about those a fair bit, yet by the end of each visit with her, she somehow managed to turn the conversation around to a more personal level. I allowed this, as she would talk about herself, the things she liked, how she felt about certain issues and so on. For someone her age, she had a strong sense of justice, in particular how the ‘system’ treated people. We would debate things at times, but she was quite capable of making her points too.

“Miss Ferguson, do you really think that everyone in here is guilty? I mean, really? Isn’t it possible that some people have been put in here because they were found guilty of crimes they didn’t commit?” she asked one day, fully knowing that I had my own opinions about the penal system.

“I suppose some women in here could be innocent, but that is not my problem. I have no say in deciding who ends up here and who does not. My job is to help ensure the smooth running of the prison, not to judge who is, or is not, guilty.” I responded. I had my opinions about each of the inmates, but that was not information I shared with anyone, not even Jianna. In fact, had she known what I did, I think she would have been more afraid of the other prisoners than she already was.

“Okay, so you help to keep the prison running smoothly. Wouldn’t it run better with fewer people in here? Why don’t we have more programs for people to get rehabilitated? Education is good, but the jobs we do aren’t exactly training anyone for anything beyond lower type jobs. If someone was innocent, shouldn’t they be allowed to try and prove it?”

“How? If lawyers can’t do that, how could an inmate? Prisoners have access to phone calls, visits with their lawyers and so on. The system does allow for people to have appeals. Frankly, I think it’s too easy to avoid the jail time as it is,” I stated flatly, knowing that I was correct. The system wasn’t perfect, but what could one do? It worked as well as it was capable of and was the framework for our society as a whole.

“Okay, how about that then? If someone is given too little time for what they did, how do you fix it? How do you keep them from doing it again when they get out?” Jianna asked, clearly thinking about how to best me in an argument by appearing to agree with me. Clever girl.

“Again, there are appeals. It goes both ways.” I said, ending the conversation there, or so I thought.

“Yeah, there are. But what if someone does stuff in jail that they should be jailed for? Shouldn’t that add to their sentence?”

I leaned forward from Jianna’s chair at her desk, towards her, closing the gap between us by a fair bit.

“What do you know, Jianna? Who has done something they should be further punished for?” I asked, intently.

At that, Jianna laughed her sweet laugh, then looked away from me. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to laugh at you, but you looked so serious and I was only talking about ‘what ifs’, not anything real.”

Sitting up straight, I looked at Jianna, unsure how to react. I just stared at her. She had insulted me, but meant no harm by it. How does one respond to that?

Jianna looked at me again, then giggled some more. I sat, still dumbfounded, and she seemed to find this amusing as well.

“Oh, Miss Ferguson, you looked so serious! You look like you think I know some secret thing I haven’t told you,” and she continued to giggle.

Not knowing how to react, I reflected briefly on my options when, for no reason, I suddenly saw the lightness of the situation as well. Jianna had been talking hypothetically, but I had immediately dropped in to work mode, not mentor mode. I could see how this could have struck her humorously. I began to smile as well, encouraging Jianna’s laughter, and I couldn’t help but to join in with a slight chuckle because I was enjoying her laughter as much as anything. There wasn’t anything particularly funny, to be honest, but she laughed until she had trouble breathing, and I laughed a bit along with her.

Her point had been well made, though. Who punishes the punished? If someone does something criminal while incarcerated, such as drug use or violence, should we not do more than slot them? There must be other ways to deal with the worst of the worst. Perhaps sometimes, when warranted, someone who acts for the greater good must go not with the rules, but around them. Someone who can see what others miss, who knows how to control the behaviour of others, needs to be in control. Most people miss what it right in front of them. I am not one of those people. If I acted for the greater good, then perhaps everything could be better for everyone, especially someone who was a mere innocent caught in the system’s web, such as Jianna.

 

 

Even though I had homework and housework to do, when I was in grade 11, I often lingered in the school or public library after school. I had the pretense of doing research for essays or other necessary tasks, so Dad had no reason to protest my library visits. I would often grab a book off the shelf and read, even though it had nothing to do with my current classes. I enjoyed some of the more obscure works, such as Kafka’s In the Penal Colony. It seemed to offer an argument against torture while at the same time allowing the reader to glory in the pain of the victim. These odd books, and the time spent reading them, was precious to me. I could not check such books out, nor be seen reading them, but I had some time to myself before heading home to the routine of cleaning, cooking and homework. Of course, handling public books always meant stopping at the bathroom to clean my hands before leaving. Who knew how germ laden such books were?

I had dallied in the school library one Tuesday afternoon, hiding in the stacks to stand and read, when I realized I had spent too much time reading (this time I was looking at architectural plans for Roman buildings, fascinated by the biggest dome that they made as they were master engineers). After glancing at my watch, I gathered my things and strode out of the library, down the hall past the rows of student lockers with their peculiar smells: sweat, teenage boys, stale and rotten food and so on. I passed the locker I had been assigned, ignoring it as usual. I much preferred carrying everything in my Adidas bag or by hand. Only textbooks were left in the locker, as they were already handled by who knows how many hands. Escaping the foulness of the school was always a relief. Outside smelled of dust, mown grass, oil that had leaked onto concrete from various vehicles, exhaust and so on. At least it was open air.

I chose to walk home by going behind the school and out on the driveway that the teachers normally used. Students were told not to walk on this road, but it was the fastest way to get home, a bit closer than going around the front of the building as I usually did. The driveway led past the school’s football pitch, including the wooden bleachers set up for those who came to watch the games. I had to pass by the back of the bleachers, which would have meant nothing had I not heard a girl’s yell, followed by muffled sounds and something hitting the far end of the wooden bleachers. I have no idea what she had said, but it was of no consequence because she was clearly in distress.

It took me some time to decide if I should interfere, as I was often told to ignore things that could get me noticed, in trouble or involved in the affairs of others. I decided I should at least check on what was happening. I made my way to the small, ragged and improvised entrance used by kids who wanted to hide under the bleachers to smoke pot or anything else they thought they could get away with. Since the bleachers were basically a solid wooden structure with seating on the pitch side, the underside allowed a graduated ceiling and a floor made of nothing more than the dirt they were built on. The thought of spiders or snakes or other dangerous creatures flitted through my mind as I climbed under the structure through the student-made hole that provided the only entrance, moving to be in a position where I could see what was going on. I dropped my Adidas bag near the entrance once I was in, not happy with leaving it in the dust, but I might need to fight and holding the bag wouldn’t aid that. The light came in through the breaks in the wooden planks, darker than the outside, but still well lit. My eyes adjusted quickly and I only had to stand up straight to see the whole area under the structure.

At the end of the bleachers opposite of me, I saw a girl pushed up against the wooden slats, and two boys holding her in place. One had her by the neck, the other was rubbing himself up against her. The boys did not see me as I moved towards them, anger rising in my entire being, but the girl’s eyes made contact with mine. They were wide with fear, almost pleading for me to do something. The training my Dad gave me came to the fore, and I felt my hands ball into fists as I moved closer.

“Let. Her. Go.” I said, each word coming out clearly and separately from the others. I have a good voice that can carry when I want it to, and even though I was moving towards the three people, I doubt that anyone else could have been heard as clearly as I was in that moment.

The boy who had been rubbing up against the girl turned to me. I was rapidly closing the distance between us, and he looked angry, his features twisted in a sneer. He said the very obvious words that I expected him to say, “Get out of here! This isn’t your business!”

“Yes, it is. You will release that girl and leave immediately,” I said evenly. I would not give in to allowing emotions to cloud my thinking. I was angry, but I contained it so that I could speak without emotion.

“Get the fuck out,” the second boy said, not releasing the girl’s neck.

“I am not leaving until you release that girl,” I stated calmly and clearly. I was now within mere meters of the three people.

“What the fuck are you going to do about it?” The first boy said, anger and frustration clearly affecting his thinking.

I said nothing more, knowing that the boys had no intention of listening to me. I had closed the gap between myself and the boys, and used the thrust of my arm to pound my palm into the nose of the first boy. He fell, long hair flopping forward as he went down on all fours. The second boy was stunned, but not for long. He charged at me, expecting to be able to grapple me and pull me down. My instincts for the fight were strong, and I easily evaded his clumsy charge, moving to his left and in behind him as he shot by. I already had balled my fists as he passed me, and slammed them down on his kidney area. He also went down. I was ready for the first boy when he stood up, thinking he would charge me as well, but he turned and started to bolt for the hole that we all had entered through. The second boy also scrambled to his feet and took off after the other, turning before he left the covered space and yelling “fucking lesbian” as he made his escape. I shook my hands out, knowing I had done them no damage, but still needing to get out of fight mode. To be honest, I was still ready to fight. I had almost enjoyed it. It’s good to know one has the advantage and can use it at will.

The girl was smaller than I, not as skinny, blonde and wearing a jeans skirt and red tank top that she was pulling back in to place. When she looked at me, she froze, as if I were her next attacker. I did not know what to say, so I just waited, trying to keep my face neutral so that she would know I wasn’t a threat.

“I know you,” she said, “you were in a class with me in grade 9. You’re that weird girl who only talks to teachers but stays away from other kids.”

That was a fair description, but seemed an odd thing to start with. However, it was all I was given to respond to.

“Yes. We studied English in the same class,” I said. “Your name is Alice.”

“Yeah,” she said, picking up an open yellow women’s shirt that had been ground into the dust. “Yeah, I’m Alice.”

That seemed to be that, so I turned to leave, heading towards my Adidas bag that I had dropped near the hole at the other end of the bleachers.

“Wait!” Alice called from behind me.

“Why?” I asked. There seemed no further reason for me to stay, so her keeping me here would result in my being even later getting home.

“I don’t want to walk home alone,” Alice said, eyes still wide with fear.

“Those boys have been despatched. They won’t be back and they won’t bother you again, at least not today. One has to deal with a bloody nose and both are too scared of me to come back.” I knew human behaviour well enough to know that Alice was more than likely safe from those boys now.

“I know you probably don’t like me,” she said, pushing her curly blonde hair back from her face. She had been wearing a scarf tied in her hair to hold it in place, but that had clearly slipped off in the scuffle. She stuffed the scarf into a pocket on the yellow shirt, balled the whole thing up, and headed towards me.

“I don’t know you, so I can not dislike nor even like you,” I said, stating what was obvious.

“Okay. I know I called you the weird girl, but that’s because everyone calls you that. But I didn’t know that you could fight like that, or that you’d help someone like me,” she continued, still following me as I was bending down to get through the make shift opening in the bleachers.

“I don’t see what difference it makes who you are. A girl was being attacked, so I stopped it. That’s the extent of our relationship. I have to get home now, or my Dad will be angry. I have a lot to do this afternoon,” I stated, feeling that this encounter should by now have come to an end.

Alice climbed after me through the hole, then stood up, brushing herself off. I understood that: more than anything I wanted to go home and have a shower to get the dirt off of me.

“Please, don’t take off. I really want you to walk home with me. I don’t want…,” and at this she began to cry, taking deep breaths of air in and sobbing them out. Her mouth twisted in fear, I suppose, and her crying became pathetic. I felt very uncomfortable at this overt show of emotion, and I am rather reluctant to admit it, but I knew that her tears would blackmail me into walking her home.

I sighed, not knowing what else to do, and said, “Fine. But we really will have to make it fast, as I have to head home straight after.”

Alice’s crying slowed, but continued with sobs breaking through her words, “That’s okay, my Mom can drive you home after we get to my place. She’s always home when I get there and she won’t mind.”

The walk was brief, Alice only lived about ten blocks from the school. I walked quickly, and she had to push herself to keep up with me. I smiled a little to myself at this. I may be the ‘weird girl’ in her opinion, but I was clearly her superior physically and mentally. I would never be in a situation like she was because I could defend myself. How had she been stupid enough to end up in such a place with those two boys?

When we arrived at Alice’s home, she opened the unlocked front door and called out for her Mother. Her Mom, also blonde like Alice, but plump where Alice was shapely, came to the front door in what seemed a hurry. She called out for Alice to tell her what was wrong, and Alice fell into her Mom’s arms, crying and going on about the two boys who had been harassing her. She pointed to me a couple of times, choking out something about my “saving her” and continued to blubber on. I had no desire to see this display, but I also was very worried about getting home quickly. I needed a shower, to start dinner and set out the things I needed to work on for school that evening. As it was Tuesday, I also need to give the bathroom a thorough cleaning. I was very late, and would probably have to change my plans for dinner as the stew I was planning would take far too long. I stood just inside the house, in the hallway, as Alice still clung to her Mother while her Mother shushed her, petted her head and told her things would be okay. I looked at my shoes, my watch, around the hallway, which did not permit much of a view of the rest of the house, waiting for something else to happen. The house itself was nicer and bigger than my Dad’s and mine. It had a well groomed front yard and seemed well appointed. At least things matched in colour from where I stood. Eventually Alice calmed down to a point where I could speak.

“Excuse me, Mrs. O’Donnell, but I have to get home quickly,” I stated. I wanted to ask for the ride Alice had promised, but didn’t know how. It felt strange to ask something of someone else’s parent.

Alice sniffed and wiped her arm across her eyes as if she were a small child, leaving mascara stains on her bare arm. It took her a moment to regain enough composure to speak clearly, but when she did, she clearly remembered what she had promised me earlier.

“Mom, I said you’d give Joan a ride home. She has to get home and do stuff before her Dad gets in,” she said, sounding as though she wasn’t sure that it was a good idea any longer.

“Oh, of course,” her Mother began, “anything. Thank you so much for helping my daughter! God only knows what would have happened had you not been there! My poor Alice, such a sweet girl you are Joan, for saving her - I’m happy to drive you home. Alice, go wash your face and we’ll drive this lovely girl home right away.”

The car was out back, in the driveway, a small Toyota Corolla. Alice climbed in the front seat next to her Mother, and I managed to maneuver my tall frame into the back, behind Alice. I felt a twinge as I put my dusty Adidas bag down on the seat next to me, but no one had offered me the trunk to put it in.

The drive to my place was only about twenty blocks or so, but it seemed to take much longer time-wise. Alice’s Mom kept asking me questions, such as how I knew how to deal with the boys, what did I like in school, what did my Dad do for a living, why did I have to get home so quickly and so on. I felt very uncomfortable talking about myself this way, and answered as honestly but curtly as possible. I could not wait for the drive to be over.

When we pulled up in front of my house, Alice blurted out, “I didn’t think you’d live in one of these houses,” as though there was something wrong with it.

“Why?” I asked, feeling insulted but not knowing exactly why.

“It’s so small! And not in…” and here her Mother shushed her, shutting Alice down. Alice sat back in her seat, quietly, and I made my way out towards the front lawn.

“Thank you for the ride, Mrs. O’Donnell,” I said, being polite as I had been taught. I turned towards the house but was stopped in my tracks by Mrs. O’Donnell’s calling back. I turned as she got out of the car and came over to me. She gave me a full body hug, throwing her arms around me. I froze, not knowing what to do. I could feel her hands on the ribs of my back, her cheeck on my shoulder. If she had been one of those boys from earlier, she would already have been on the ground.

“Thank you again, Joan,” she said into my hair, “I don’t want to think what could have happened if you hadn’t…” She became more emotional and cut herself off, giving me a tighter squeeze. I still hadn’t moved, one hand holding the handles of my Adidas bag, the other stiff at my left side.

Mrs. O’Donnell pulled herself off of me only to grab both my shoulders.

“You’re very shy, aren’t you, Joan?” she said, looking me in the eyes.

“Uh…I guess so,” I replied, feeling more like pushing her away than anything. Shyness would do as an excuse.

“That’s okay, I understand. Not everyone can be pretty and popular like Alice. She has the advantage of having a mom who knows something about hair and make-up and how to dress,” she said. The words were condescending, even if the tone was sympathetic.

“I have to go in,” I said, pulling away and heading for the front door.

“That’s okay, hon. Thank you again. I’ll figure out a way to show you how much we appreciate what you did for my Alice, I promise, soon!” She waved, then got in the car, not pulling away from the curb until I was in the house and had closed the door. I truly hoped that was the end of my association with Alice and her family.

When Dad came home, I had cleaned myself up, the dinner was in the oven, the bathroom sanitized as required, and I was already trying to finish the algebra homework for the day. I was a bit behind in things, but not as badly as I had expected. At least dinner was on time.

When we sat at the table, I looked at Dad and realized that he looked more tired than usual, even, somehow, older. I’d never quite noticed that he was getting older before. How had I missed that? His hair was greying more and he had wrinkles around his eyes and mouth that seemed new to me. Perhaps it was because I looked at him in the eyes when he told me to, and that was very different from observing his face as though he were a stranger. I must have looked at him a little too long, for he noticed my staring.

“Joan, you appear to have something to say to me. Have you committed a mistake? Are you in trouble with something at school?” he said, flatly, as though not actually interested in anything I would have to say.

“I fought two boys off of a girl they were attacking,” I stated. Of course, I had planned to tell him, but I hadn’t wanted to just yet. I didn’t have anything else to offer up, so this information simply had to be presented.

I then described every movement of the fight and Dad nodded approval, seeming pleased with my stratagem. I ended the story by telling him a bit about Alice herself, and walking her home. For some reason, I did not mention that I had been driven home. Somehow, that would have sounded weak, I thought.

“You did the right thing, Joan,” Dad stated, then he sat back and become the lecturer that was all too common anymore. “But remember Joan, not all girls in that situation should be helped.”

I was appalled at this. How could he possibly think such a thing?

“No,” I said, “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t a girl in that situation need help?”

“Ah, you see, Joan,” he continued to lecture, “there’s a reason that the girl was in that situation. How is she to learn if she is rescued each time? How are others to learn to avoid being attacked if every girl were to be rescued?”

This seemed horrid. One is supposed to simply let boys attack girls at will? The females in such situations have no way to fight off the boys. Males simply have much more upper body strength than females. It’s too easy to be overwhelmed by males.

“But…” I had to say it, “what about me? It happened to me….” I faded off when I saw the look in Dad’s eyes. He was staring so hard at me, his face showing controlled anger.

“You were an innocent, Joan. You did not put yourself in danger. You were unjustly attacked and, had I been more aware, I would have stopped that man before he hurt you. But I was not aware. I failed you. I didn’t keep you safe that night. You did nothing to deserve being hurt like that.”

It seemed odd to me that neither of us could use the word. We never referred to that night, but now, it was part of the conversation. Yet, the word “hurt” stood in for “raped”. I don’t think Dad could have said the word aloud concerning me. He found it too hard to live with the memory as it was. Naming the act would have made it somehow worse, somehow more real and closer in time than it actually was.

I didn’t want him to think that he had failed me, yet he was right: he had. I was torn and debased before he came to my rescue. The reality now, however, was that I had been in time to save Alice from all of that. She was still intact because of me. My thoughts were interrupted by the lecturer once again.

“You have to understand, Joan, that women who make themselves vulnerable will be hurt. If you walk alone at night, wear provocative, showy clothing, lead boys on or such, you will become a target,” he continued.

“Then why did you teach me one on one unarmed combat? Why bother to teach me to fight if I only have to learn the correct behaviours to avoid situations like that?” I truly wanted to know.

“You are different, Joan. You are my daughter, the child of a soldier. You know strategy, you know how to assess enemies and you can defend yourself because you are my daughter. I would not have you vulnerable to such things again. Even if you take precautions, you could find yourself in a situation you can’t control. War happens, Joan, and women are often the victims of war,” Dad leaned forward as he spoke, his voice taking on not just a teaching tone, but the tone of knowledge, of experience.

“Men are told how lovely the women in the areas they are going into during a war are. It’s part of keeping up morale, it’s part of ensuring that soldiers will be able to help control a population. Think of it, Joan – if women are made pregnant by their enemy, then the population can be changed, the new generation is the product of the victors, not the defeated. In many cases, this changes how the children are raised, it can mean that the conquerors’ children are genetically spread far and wide. It can wipe out certain cultures and have them replaced by that of the victor in a year or so. The men are killed in a war, the women are kept and produce the children of the superior strategists. So, you could have ended up like that, forced to carry a child that…” His voice drifted off, becoming smaller, somehow distant. The look in his eyes was sad, holding his own personal history within, making him seem like a different man. His emotions were showing through the cracks of his armour.

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. Surely something had happened in his past to make him emotional on this topic. He never shared his past with me, not in detail, so to this day I have no idea what had happened to Dad to affect him so. In a brief moment, however, he came back to himself, emotions supressed and deeply buried once again.

“I hope you understand the gift I have given you of being able to fight, Joan. You used it to help this girl today. I am glad you did so. Just be careful who you help; sometimes people deserve what they get. Sometimes they need to learn,” and with that last statement, he went back to eating the baked fish and vegetables I had prepared for our Tuesday dinner.

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My time with Jianna continued to become more and more personal. I did not have much to say about my past, nor did she, but we shared opinions and managed to converse in a companionable way. I looked forward to our visits but was finding, by now, that Jianna’s pregnancy was almost always the only thing I could think of when I saw her. Our conversation inevitably turned to child rearing, a subject that I was not exactly an expert on. I had done my reading, however, and had advice and opinions to offer. Jianna always listened to me, asked questions when needed, and was happy to talk about her child as much as she could.

“I never thought that I’d be able to raise a child on my own. I never thought I’d have a real future, to be honest,” Jianna said one day, almost out of nowhere. We’d been discussing something quite different a moment before.

“How do you feel about it now?” I asked.

“Better - way better. I have a chance at getting a good job. I’m scared, though. I don’t want to be all on my own, raising a baby,” she said sadly.

“Jianna, I think you will be a fine mother. You certainly care about this child and his future. You don’t have to do it all on your own, you know,” I was trying to make the offer of my place again, and somehow this made me feel awkward. I was aware that Jianna could say no, could push me out of her life once she was released. I could no longer imagine my life without her in it. Visits with her were the one thing that I looked forward to in my day. It wasn’t just ‘work’, just doing a job; it wasn’t even mentor and student anymore. We couldn’t really be friends, because of our relative positions, but I had sworn to protect her, and I felt that protectiveness in many ways.

“Yeah, thanks, Miss Ferguson, but somehow I think I will. I wrote to an aunt of mine some time ago to see if she could take me and the baby in for a bit. She has a son, my cousin, and I thought he’d be kind of like a father for the baby. She always offered me a place to stay when I couldn’t stay at home, but I haven’t heard back from her” she said, starting in on that little pout of hers.

I remember the letter well, and this only reinforced my belief that I had done the right thing by withholding it from her.

“Perhaps she will write soon,” I said, simply to reassure her. “If you don’t hear from her, please remember that I…have offered…” I uncharacteristically lost my voice. I simply became quiet, unable to say more.

Jianna turned her head to the small window in her cell, still pouting.

“I think you’ve done a lot for me, Miss Ferguson. I’m not always sure why, but I appreciate it. I don’t think I would have survived in here on my own. I would have been scared of the guards and the other prisoners all the time. Just knowing that you are protecting me has been really good. Having you help me to get my grade 12, and teaching me and everything has been really amazing,” and here she became quiet, she almost whispered the last few words. How odd that the two of us, who talked about many different things all the time, would not be able to talk about each other with each other.

“I…” I hesitated, then said the only thing that made sense at that point, simply stating, “thank you.” Then it was my turn to look away, down at the hands in my lap.

We sat like this, awkwardly, for just a few moments, neither of us quite knowing what to say to each other. Perhaps we had nothing further to say.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Together and Apart

 

Things can happen in life, dangerous things, situations that can maim or kill. Prisoners can be creative as to how they procure or create weapons. It takes only a smuggled razor blade and something used for a handle to have a shiv capable of threatening, cutting or killing. If one works as a C.O., one has to be prepared to deal with such things. I was perhaps the most prepared person working in any prison in the country. I had mastered one on one combat, fencing and simple force of personality to control and subdue. Yet that is not always the only way. Sometimes one is forced to do things that are not openly sanctioned, things that solve problems for the greater good, but mostly one is simply engaged directly in the problem.

At the end of a day shift I was doing the final count for the day, the prisoners in the hallway I was in were standing next to their open cell doors. Each would wait until her name was called then I would check her off and lock her in for the night. I had checked off four of the seven in my assigned wing when I had the radio sound off.

“Ferguson here,” I responded, as was the way at Blackmoore.

“Ferguson, get over to A wing common room. There’s a code red situation and we need C.O.’s. there asap,” came back the staticky voice from what must have been the monitor room.

I had a moment of pause, longer than I should have. I am always a woman of action, for me to freeze in place seemed impossible, yet for that split second, I could not respond, could not react as trained – all I could think was ‘that’s Jianna’s wing”. I was literally frozen in mind and body while this realization hit me hard.

The radio sounded again, taking me out of my moment of inaction.

“Ferguson?”

“On it!” I replied, gesturing at the last three inmates still standing by their cell doors to move into their cells. I slammed each door locked, then ran full out for A wing. It was not far from where I was, but it seemed that the corridors had suddenly become endless. Still, being in the shape I was with my long stride, I made it to the situation before anyone else.

There were indeed two inmates holding a third one in the common room. I immediately was relieved to see that Jianna was no where near the fray. These three women were simply ordinary prisoners, not anyone I would have had to defend as I would Jianna.

I then noted the prisoners involved. One of the two was holding a make-shift shiv in one hand, gesticulating wildly with it, bent at the waist to move it around the face and upper body of the victim, who was in turn being held by the other attacker. The first inmate was small, wiry, lean but muscled, with her brown hair shaved close to her scalp. Her eyes were wide, and she appeared to be under the influence of some sort of drug, probably methamphetamine from the look of her. The second attacker was restraining the victim by the elbows, using her arms linked through the restrained woman’s, to hold her in place. This attacker was heavy-set, one could say ‘fat’, stocky, with her fair hair in a braid down her back. This was hair I could grab if the opportunity arose, I noted. The victim was virtually hanging from the elbows, head down. I could see a small puddle of blood on the floor that could have come from a head wound, but I couldn’t see details because of her hair that fell in front of her face. She was small bodied, so probably easy to restrain. The woman doing the restraining and the victim weren’t from A wing. They were women from an adjacent wing: Brodsky and Frank. The one with the shiv was Bryant, from A wing.

They were standing between the sink area and the sofa, with the coffee table in front of it. This was to my right as I approached. I noted that the sofa could be used to sprint over, move around and so on, as well as what the coffee table could be used for, strategy-wise. Of course, I wasn’t actually conscious of these observations, they were as natural as breathing to me. I also could smell blood, the scent hitting me hard as I approached. I knew that my job would involve this sort of thing, but I certainly did not want to come in contact with any prisoner’s blood, so this had to be located as quickly as possible.

I approached as I had been trained to do, carefully, making my presence known so as not to startle the attackers.

“Put down the shiv and let Frank go,” I said in my most commanding tone.

Bryant turned to look at me, as did Brodsky. Frank remained limp in Brodsky’s arms.

“Fucking screw!” Bryant yell, and started to move toward me, holding the shiv out at arm’s length in my direction, held in her left hand. “Fuck you all! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I’ll fucking cut you, I’ll fucking cut everyone….” She proceeded to sputter out. But for the illegal substance in her bloodstream, I believe she would have been talking much more slowly. She had a habit of talking inanely non-stop when sober, yet more slowly than now, letting her lower lip hang down when not speaking. I would have no challenge with strategy against her, she was too stupid to do more than simply act.

Brodsky wasn’t even moving, just allowing the limp woman to hang from her arms. She also had a smile on her face from the moment Bryant had started talking. The puddle of blood at her feet was growing, I noted. The iron smell of the blood was becoming stronger.

I stood my ground, tilted my head and talked as though I was addressing a small child, or an idiot, the latter being closer to the truth.

“You’ll do no such thing. Put the shiv on the floor and step back,” I commanded.

“Fucking screw and your fucking ….” The rest of Bryant’s speech became incoherent and I couldn’t make it out. No matter, I hardly needed to hear her words.

Bryant made a move, coming towards me, covering the few yards between us more quickly than I would normally have given her credit for. However, I had calculated the addition of drugs to her overall ability, and was more than ready for her. I dodged, moving to my right. Bryant stopped short, just past me, her back to me. I had already spun around and was able to grab her left wrist, holding it in my left hand. My right arm went around her throat, as she had tried to move away from me in a fashion that opened up the space for my grapple. I heard the sound of Frank’s body hit the ground, and knew that Brodsky was free, either about to get away or add force to Bryant’s attack. I put pressure on Bryant’s wrist until she dropped her weapon, then I kicked out with my left leg, to my side, not letting Bryant go as I moved the shiv out of the way and turned, putting Bryant between me and Brodsky as a shield of sorts. My tactic of using her ally against her did not slow Brodsky down one bit. Once she was moving, it obviously took a fair bit of force to stop her, due to her size. She plowed into us, and the three of us went down, myself on the bottom.

For a moment, unable to breathe, with the weight of the two women on top of me, I felt a familiar panic start to set in, the same panic I had with the nightmares. Yet this was no nightmare, not a thing I could wake myself up from. I used force of will to push the feeling down and gathered my strength, knowing I would have very little energy left after my air ran out. Using all the power I could gather for one big movement, I shoved hard, pushing the two bodies to the side, enough that I could breathe, shove again and get away from the pile up. I was concerned that Brodsky would be able to lash out and hit the back of my knees as I was standing up, but she made no such move, instead she was trying to stand up as well. This was a stupid move on her part – no one should overlook an opportunity provided. I admit that standing was perhaps a foolish move on my part, but I had taken the attacker’s intelligence into consideration and was correct that she would miss her obvious chance. I easily shoved her back to the floor with my upper arm wedged against my body for power.

With Brodsky down, I was able to grab my handcuffs and cuff her arms behind her. She was now successfully subdued. Bryant had stayed down whilst I was handcuffing Brodsky, but was then on her hands and knees, appearing to be searching for the shiv, moving away from Brodsky and myself. She reached under the sofa, unaware that I was right up on her. I used my foot in the middle of her back to push her to the floor. She went down with a sound that indicated that she had had the wind knocked out of her.

I moved toward Frank, assuming that I would have to do first aid. Other C.O.’s had now shown up and were dealing with the two aggressors. Frank was still down, her head in what was now a fairly substantial pool of blood. I put on my medical gloves and rolled her over, checking for the head wound. I realized there was something not quite right about the way she looked as someone passed out, I don’t know what it was, but I knew that she was not as she appeared at first.

Frank suddenly opened her eyes and, from her prone position on the floor, she lashed out towards me with her own weapon. I didn’t bother to try and disarm her, as I had a clear shot to the temple that was opposite the arm with the weapon, and I took it. The kick was enough to actually knock her out. I almost fell backwards in an effort to avoid the pool of blood as I scrambled away from Frank. I caught myself and stood up, backing away from the prone prisoner so that another C.O. could deal with her. I no longer would if I had a choice. I had no desire to help someone who had just tried to attack me.

“Jesus Christ, Ferguson, how did you manage to take them all down before we got here?” the C.O. who was now applying pressure to the wound on Frank’s temple said. He was Markus, a stocky, dark man, with block-like teeth and a fairly quick mind. He seemed genuinely impressed with my work.

My thoughts were no longer focussed on the conflagration, but on Jianna. She would have surely heard the noise even if she hadn’t seen what was going on. I didn’t want her unduly upset, thinking it would be bad for her and the baby. My response to Markus was curt and professional.

“I didn’t really have much of a choice, did I?” I stated, then turned and headed for Jianna’s cell.

She had heard the sounds of the confrontation and had stepped out of her cell to see what was going on. She was standing in the hallway, looking in my direction. I peeled off the latex gloves in the prescribed safe manner and held them tightly in my left hand. I wasn’t going to risk letting any possible blood anywhere near Jianna.

“Miss Ferguson, I heard you telling someone to put down a shiv, then I heard more and came out. You were in a fight – are you okay?” Jianna looked genuinely concerned for my well being as she spoke.

“I’m fine, Jianna. I know how to handle myself in a fight,” I stated, wanting to ensure that she was not overly stressed under the circumstances.

“You’re bleeding,” she said, pointing downwards, indicating my leg.

I had not been aware of it, but I had been cut above the knee on my right thigh. Frank must have caught me with her shiv as I stood over her, before knocking her out.

“So I am. Get back in your cell. Everything is over and there is no more danger to anyone,” I said, just to reassure her.

She stared at my leg rather than moving as I had told her to.

“Uh…maybe you should go to medical?” Jianna said, her voice seeming full of concern.

“I’ll do that. You go back into your cell and I will visit you after.”

Jianna nodded, waddled into her cell and I assessed the damage on my leg. It wasn’t deep, from what I could tell in the corridor, but it was messy. The worst part was that my new nylon stockings were ruined. I hated wearing the things, and I hated having to buy them. Dealing with that was perhaps more aggravating than knowing I had been slashed during a fight by a prisoner.

Annoyed with the circumstances, I went to medical. The new nurse, a slim Asian woman who usually smiled most of the time for no reason that I could see, was busy with Frank, who was still passed out and on one of the gurneys that doubled as a medical bed. It was good to see that she was still unconscious and I knew from experience that she would have a terrible headache when she woke up.

“How is Frank?” I asked upon entering the facility and throwing my used gloves in an appropriate medical trash container.

“Uh – just a moment,” the nurse, Chan, said. She was applying a bandage to Frank’s temple.

“I have no problem tending myself,” I stated, then realized that she was right, her report would also be my report, going into my file. Receiving an injury in the line of duty would look good because I had subdued all three inmates without more than a small flesh wound. Perhaps I am being dramatic, and having received no injuries would have looked better, but I was hoping that returning to duty right away after having first aid would give me an advantage over others who had come late to the fight, so to speak.

I waited patiently for a few moments, then decided that I may as well treat my wound myself. I grabbed a few gauze pads out of a glass jar and sat on a chair near the counter that held the glass and metal containers filled with the usual small medical necessities. I tore my nylon stocking open, shredding it as I went. No sense trying to preserve any of it. The part that stuck to the injury came off slowly, blood binding it in place over the torn skin.

Chan came over to me, washed her hands at the small sink across from me and put on fresh gloves, all the while lecturing me. “You shouldn’t be doing that. I can help you with your injury. I’ll have to write a report anyway.”

She squatted down to take a close look at my leg, which now had blood running down bare skin.

“Frank will probably be okay,” Chan said, answering my earlier question. “But she got a couple of blows to the same spot on her temple. I don’t know if she has a concussion yet but the doctor will check for that. Hang on, this is going to sting,” she said as she was readying a gauze pad with alcohol.

“No matter,” I stated. It did not matter. Stinging was simply the side effect of sterilization, a necessary step in cleaning, indicating nothing more. It hurt, but it did not matter.

“Okay – you’ve cut a nasty cut here, but it’s pretty clean, so you’ll heal fast. You may want to see a doctor, but I don’t think you need stiches. There, I’ve covered it for now. If you don’t see a doctor, make sure to clean it and apply sterile covering again later and tomorrow morning,” she said, standing up, throwing out her gloves and clearing up the counter.

“Thank you.” I nodded in recognition of her service, took one last look at Frank’s prone figure, and left medical.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 – Together and Apart, part 2

 

The Monday morning after the incident with Alice was lovely. The air was soft, warm and just feeling spring-like. These were the days when I liked walking to school. I was alone with my thoughts, not having to get anything ready for Dad’s inspection or consumption, and I could enjoy a swift pace without feeling the need to answer to anyone. It was not a long walk, only about sixteen blocks, and the fine weather made it most enjoyable.

As always when I arrived at school, everything changed. I was still paying attention to see, hear, smell and feel everything and everyone around me, but at school I was always on alert. Well, almost always. This morning’s walk had been relaxing as well as invigorating, and I was paying little attention to the other students around me as I took textbooks out of my Adidas bag and exchanged them for the other ones needed for the morning classes. Text books were virtually the only things I would put in a school locker, and they were enough that I was paying attention to their weight and bulk as I deposited them on the upper shelf of the steel locker. That was a mistake, for in the next moment I was suddenly slammed up against the lockers to the side of mine, and most of my frame was pinned in place by a body as tall, but heavier than mine.

“You thing you’re real tough, don’t you, bitch?” A boy’s voice snarled in my ear.

I said nothing, but was able to carefully pull my right arm into a position where I could deliver a sharp jab with my elbow to the boy’s solar plexus. He doubled over, backing away from me. I leaned over him, this time putting my mouth near his ear.

“No, I’m not tough. I am simply prepared to deal with anyone who tries to hurt or threaten me,” I said, thinking this a straight forward reply.

The boy was the dark haired one who had tried to attack Alice last week. David Robertson, I believed. I finished up with my locker as he slowly straightened up and headed away from me.

“Fucking dyke, you’re going to hear about this,” he said, his voice breathy as the wind had been nearly knocked out of him.

I said nothing more and headed off for my first class of the day.

 

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I still have no regrets about getting rid of the letter from Jianna’s aunt. The woman was not capable of caring for Jianna and a baby in my opinion, and I don’t see how a young cousin could be a father figure. I was proven correct when I walked in to Jianna’s cell one evening, to see her sitting on her bed with her back to the wall. On her desk was an open letter, the one I had read and allowed her to receive. I knew the contents of it, but pretended I did not for Jianna’s sake. She still needed the illusion of having some privacy, after all.

Jianna was downcast, looking at her enlarged belly. I knew the reason, but still continued with the pretense of not knowing.

“You look very down, today, Jianna,” I stated, “why is that?”

“My aunt finally wrote to me. She said she was willing to offer to let me stay before, but she can’t now. She has to look after her mom, and there wouldn’t be room for me and a baby,” she said, in a slow, troubled voice.

“That isn’t the end of the world,” I said, softly, trying to remind her that there was another offer available.

“I was hoping my cousin could be around so that the baby had a father figure, and I had some help from my aunt. I would have had a bedroom and people around. Now I have nobody. I thought I’d have family. My baby won’t have anyone but me. He’s going to grow up without a dad,” she finished, pouting.

I moved over to her bed, and sat down next to her. “He doesn’t need one.” I said, letting the weight of the that truth come through in my voice.

Jianna just continued to look down, shaking her head slightly as she spoke, sorrowfully, “I’ve got nobody now, I’m alone.”

“Don’t say that – you’re not,” I said, exasperated. Her words cut through me. After all the time we’d spent together, after all the offers I had made, she still didn’t see that I was willing to help her out after she was released. Perhaps she felt I was only doing my job. Perhaps she didn’t want to burden me further once she was free. It was even possible that Jianna didn’t want me in her life, and what could I do about that? She had every right to end our relationship after she was released, if she chose to. I only hoped that she would not. My life was fuller for having her in it, and I was more than willing to continue having her in my life. I tried to get through to her, to let her know that she had someone – if she wanted.

I was trying to make a point; I wanted her to acknowledge the offer I had made, to understand what I intended. With emphasis and the desire to make my offer heard, I continued, “You don’t have to be alone – never.” I don’t know how I could have been clearer. I was looking in her eyes, trying to see even a small flicker of acknowledgement. Instead, she reacted to something else, taking a breath and reaching her hand to her stomach.

“Little bugger kicked,” she said, suddenly brightening up. Her baby certainly was the most important thing in her world. Indeed, he or she was becoming important to me, as well.

I was still feeling that odd mixture of disbelief and awe that struck me whenever I fully recognized that there was a human being inside of Jianna. Of course I knew this, intellectually, but there was something more at times. Perhaps the child itself was eliciting protectiveness from me in a way that I was unused to.

Jianna unexpectedly reached out and took my larger hand in her sweet, soft hand, and placed it on the exact spot where she had felt the baby kick.

“Can you feel it?” she said, smiling.

I shook my head. There was nothing but the warmth of her body. The only other thing was the depth of her feeling that showed through her every movement and look. She loved this being that lay within her.

Then, of a sudden, I felt a kick! It was as if I was being poked by someone’s finger from the inside of another’s body. It was… I don’t know. I find it hard to express exactly how I felt. To say I was moved would be a correct description, and I am forced to admit that I had overwhelming feelings of wonder, even joy and yet also of the gravity of the situation. It was, I shall say, remarkable. I gave over to my feelings, my emotions, despite having lived for years with my Dad’s command to not do so. I simply could not help myself. Jianna and her baby, here, now, were all that mattered. I am almost ashamed to admit that I felt this way, but it is the honest truth.

I jumped, a little surprised by the kick, and couldn’t help but smile at Jianna, and she was smiling back at me with that pure joy that could light up her lovely face. My reaction triggered her to laugh a little, and I couldn’t help but respond in same. This moment, this understanding of the delicate life within, this joy seemed to spread through both of us in the same instant. Jianna and I were both feeling the same things, sharing something I can barely describe, but it was a moment that I will always treasure. Perhaps this was the happiest I had ever been in my life. I knew then that I would do everything in my power to protect, support, and look after these two people who gave me something indescribable that I never wanted to be without.

It was at home, that evening, when I had to acknowledge to myself that I had given in to my feelings, that emotion ruled the way I saw Jianna and the baby.

I sat at my dining table, having finished my heated-up lamb stew, drinking the last of the red shiraz I had chosen to go with the meat. I watched the legs of the wine on the glass, contemplating what I had experienced.

My life had been ruled by the lessons Dad had taught and reinforced in me for my entire youth. I had gone against everything Dad had taught me about human relationships. He had loved my Mother, and this, he had once said, was his true undoing and hers as well. I never knew what happened to them, he would never tell me, but his lessons had stuck fast until now. I had always believed that he was right. Perhaps he was only correct for himself, in his life.

These thoughts moved through my mind as I put the dishes in the sink and dishwasher. I cleaned the table, the counter, washed and dried what didn’t go in the machine, and continued to ponder all of this. It was difficult to process.

Maybe it wasn’t so wrong for me to have these feelings about Jianna? Maybe I could, at some point, allow myself to admit that I loved (is that really the right word?) someone – no, two people. Is it logical to think that it is allowable to feel this way? Should I have stopped the feelings, pushed them down, and moved on when the time came for Jianna to leave Blackmoore? Possibly, but the truth was that I did not want to.

I held on to these thoughts as I showered, cleaned up the bathroom and eventually curled up in bed. The night was cool, and I should have slept soundly, but I was too churned up with my thoughts. The one thing I contemplated and dismissed was following Dad’s instructions. It was difficult to deal with these intense emotions, but the thought came to me that it would be even more difficult to let them go. I knew then that I would do anything for Jianna and the baby, anything at all.

In retrospect, it is astonishing how wrong I was, letting my feelings rule my actions. I was a fool in the end. One should never, ever give over to emotion as it truly is a weakness. It leads to mistakes – and worse.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

During Wednesday’s dinner, the week after I had assisted Alice, the phone rang. Dad never answered the phone during dinner unless he was expecting an important call, and those were few and far between. I had learned to look to him for instruction, and he would generally give a slight shake of his head, letting me know that we were going to ignore the ring of the phone once again.

This evening, Dad surprised me. The phone rang, I looked at Dad, and he gave a slight nod. I had not known he was expecting a call, and he would usually let me know ahead of time, but this time I had to answer the phone without being aware who it could be.

“Joan Ferguson speaking,” I said, my usual greeting for the phone as Dad had taught me years earlier.

“Hello, Joan,” a familiar voice said. It was Alice’s mother. I was not happy to hear her voice, but I suppose I should have expected it. She had said that she would think of something to do to thank me for helping Alice. “I have an invitation for you! How would you like to join our little family for Sunday dinner? Then perhaps you and Alice could have a sleep over, get to know each other. We could do some make-up lessons, maybe watch a movie or play a game. How does that sound?”

I couldn’t tell Mrs. O’Donnell how that actually sounded to me. After all, she was trying to be nice. However, there was an innumerable number of things I would rather do than what she had offered, none of which included her or Alice. My response was polite, as always, and I kept my voice void of emotion. “I will have to ask my Dad,” I said.

“Of course you will, sweetie, that’s fine. Just call me back in a bit and let me know the answer.” Mrs. O’Donnell replied. She then gave me her phone number, which I wrote down on the hanging wooden notepad with the paper scroll that was on the wall next to the kitchen phone.

“What is it you have to ask me?” Dad said as I sat back down at the table. I knew that we would finish dinner before I was to call back, and for this brief respite I was grateful.

I explained what Mrs. O’Donnell had offered. Dad took this very seriously, sitting back in his chair, one arm across his front and the other reaching up to stroke his moustache in thought. This was the first time anyone had asked me to do anything outside of school time or fencing, and I don’t think either of us really knew how to respond.

Dad put both arms down on the table on either side of his plate and let out a quiet sound of breath. “I think, Joan, that you should accept the invitation. I agree to it all, except the sleep over part of it. I do not see the point of spending the night elsewhere when you have a perfectly good bed here. The next day is Monday morning and you know that you must be well rested to do your best at school. Perhaps the afternoon would be more appropriate?”

“I don’t want to go at all. I should be at home and getting things ready for the week. I have no interest in being with Alice or her family,” I said, quietly, keeping my voice level.

“You may feel that way, Joan, but it’s not the correct thing to do. You did a favour for someone, and now her mother wishes to repay that favour. You should accept the invitation, with my amendments,” he finished, command given.

Mrs. O’Donnell answered the phone when I called back after washing, drying and putting away the dishes. She was fine with my coming over in the afternoon rather than staying for the evening. Unfortunately, she told me to bring a bathing suit.

 

The evening before my mandatory visit with Alice and her parents, Dad sat me down in the living room to explain what I needed to do during that time.

“You need to learn about people, Joan, even more than you do already,” Dad began, “There are ways of making people trust you, ways of getting them to talk about things that they may be reluctant to talk about. Observation is the first step, of course, but you need to move beyond that if you are to be interacting.”

I paid close attention. I wanted to know how to behave whilst at the O’Donnell’s. In truth, I did not want to be the center of attention as I was never comfortable with that. I voiced my concern to Dad.

“Never worry about that,” he lectured, “People are selfish. They want to talk about themselves. As an adult, you can loosen someone’s tongue with a few drinks. As a younger person, you will have to work a little harder. Watch how the family interacts, what gestures, movements, phrases they use to convey approval or disapproval. Mirror what they do: that shows you are interested. Be careful to keep your facial expressions appropriate. Smile if they smile, laugh if they laugh, be serious when they are, flatter them when you can. Ask questions constantly – this will lead them to believe that you are genuinely interested in them. As a final confirmation, touch works well.”

Here Dad leaned a bit toward me and put his hand over mine. “You see? It need not last long nor be much, but it conveys a trust, an intimacy that words can not.”

He removed his hand from mine and I continued to stare at my hand. Physical contact was not something I was not comfortable with, and I couldn’t imagine touching a stranger in a friendly way. If nothing else, there was the possibility of contracting germs from him or her. But I knew that other people did such things, so I nodded, and let him continue.

“Once they believe you’re interested, you will be able to ask whatever you want, learn what you want from them. Start with simple questions about things that are everyday, common, and work your way up to things that are more complicated,” he said, looking so intent and earnest.

“I can’t imagine what I would want to know from Alice or her parents,” I stated, truly baffled.

“Oh, Joan – don’t be so simple!” Dad said, genuinely surprised that I had made such a remark. “There are many things that you could learn that could be useful some day. Do Alice or her parents have connections to anything that may be useful: career-wise, politically, socially and so on. What is her father’s work? Could it be of use to you in the future? Do they have any pull with the educational community? Could being seen with Alice or her parents benefit you in any situation? Are there things that you could learn from them, with formal lessons or not? Do they have any resources you may need at some point? You see? There are innumerable things that can be gleaned from people who appear almost to be complete strangers. Alice and her parents are in your debt, and someday you may be able to have them pay it off,” here he sat back, his lesson taught.

It had never occurred to me before that I could be able to use someone like Alice for anything, but perhaps her parents would be of use. Her father was a lawyer – there were no end of legal services that I could need some day. I spent the night thinking about what Dad had said, practicing in my head how I’d respond to things, what I would ask, how I would gather information for future use.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The call came at 10:15 pm.

I had been in the break room for a late dinner as I was on the night shift. I had finished my food and was reading about the fall of communism again in an intelligent news magazine. I couldn’t help but wonder what my Dad would have made of all of it. I don’t think he could ever have imagined the Berlin wall being taken down, let alone the USSR dissolving and his home country being called Russia once again.

I nearly jumped when my radio went off, so intent had I been on the article.

Chan was on the other end and asked me to report to medical. Jianna had gone into premature labour, and there was no time to get her to a hospital. She was going to deliver in the prison medical room and there was no time for an epidural, or indeed any of the usual treatment that delivering a baby entailed.

When I arrived, Jianna was flat on her back, on one of the stretcher beds. She was already drenched in sweat, breathing hard and clearly distressed. I had never seen her like this, and was not prepared for the feeling of fear that filled my very being. It came to me that Jianna could die during this labour, the baby could die, and there would be nothing I could do. I could in no way protect her nor alleviate her distress.

I would stay there, with her, though. I pulled a chair up next to the bed, and Jianna reached out for me. I didn’t know what to do, so I took her hand. This seemed to be what she wanted, so I vowed not to let go. The poor girl was dripping with perspiration, and as Chan and I were the only people in the room with Jianna, it was Chan I had to ask for a towel to wipe Jianna’s brow.

“It will be okay, Jianna,” I said, giving her hand a little squeeze. I had always been taught in first aid that it was essential to reassure anyone in distress.

Jianna still seemed to have a sense of humour because she answered me with, “That’s easy for you to say,” before another contraction overtook her.

I will not go in to all the details of that night, of the labour. Needless to say, it was horrible. Jianna screamed and cried, despite my trying to convince her that the pain was only pain: we knew what it was and she did not have to be afraid or engaged with it. She did not hear me, I believe. At times she squeezed my hand so hard that I had bruising the next day, not that it mattered. The smell of the blood, the sweat and – other things involved in this process – became overwhelming at times. At some point, Chan brought over ice chips that I fed one by one to Jianna. Chan also brought me a drink of water once or twice. I did not move from my seat, unable to let go of Jianna’s hand, even when it went slack in mine.

I had never seen a birth before, never seen a person split open to allow the arrival of another human being. The pain and horror Jianna went through would have been inconceivable to me had I not witnessed it. A live birth is nothing like what one sees on film or television. It is long, harrowing and at times, vile. Nothing compares to it. The child, once free of the mother, is covered in afterbirth and blood, the still pulsing cord is attached at mid-stomach.

This baby was small, apparently, and far too quiet. He was not moving, not breathing on his own. I believe that, had Chan cut the cord, he would not have survived. Instead, she placed the baby on Jianna’s chest. Jianna was completely worn out and I was so relieved when the child was free of her. I did not know what to expect next, but Chan was clearly bothered by something. She did not want to speak in front of Jianna, and I was too moved, and too relieved to leave Jianna’s side. She held the child to her chest, still attached to her through the umbilical cord. She had little energy left, but smiled up at me, touched the child’s face and laid her head back on the pillow.

When the ambulance arrived, there was no discussion as to whether or not I would accompany Jianna and the baby to the hospital. I did not care that someone else would have to cover my shift, or that it may not be covered at all. I did not care if I were fired for the act. I simply had to be with her. I walked with the ambulance attendants through the prison, opening doors as needed, and then climbed in the back of the ambulance with Jianna. I had to sit closest to the cab so that the attendant could have access to her. He continually took her blood pressure, monitored the oxygen that was being delivered to the baby and so on.

At some point, just before arriving at the hospital, Jianna asked the attendant if her baby was alright. The attendant told her everything was fine, but he shot me a look that said otherwise. I didn’t know what to do, but I was able to reach out and gently stroke Jianna’s hair. Again, I felt next to useless, a feeling I despise and have rarely experienced as an adult.

I waited for Jianna for what seemed an interminable length of time, but in the end, it was only over an hour. It was nearly five o’clock in the morning. The long night of the labour was not as long as it had seemed, harrowing though it was.

Since there was no family to contact for Jianna, the doctor came to talk to me. He told me that there had been a concern about the child not having enough oxygen at first, that the premature birth could have been lethal, that Chan had done everything right, that all was going to be well and that Jianna was sleeping. She and the child would be resting for some time, so there was no reason for me to stay at the hospital

I called for a taxi back to the prison from the public phones in the waiting area. That cab ride back to Blackmoore was not long enough for me to process everything fully. Jianna was alive and well, the child was doing fine and despite the early delivery, everything looked good.

I resumed my shift, tired, worn, elated and sad at once for some reason. I do not understand why I felt this way, but I do know that the nightmares came back that night, and I endured them for longer than usual before being able to wake myself up.

  ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The walk to Alice’s place would have been pleasant had I wanted to go. I kept reviewing what Dad had told me the day before. I did not want to disappoint him by not having information about the O’Donnell’s that could some day be of use.

I purposely did not take a bathing suit. It was bad enough that I had to change into shorts and a regulated t-shirt for gym class; I certainly wasn’t going to wear a bathing suit in front of Alice and her parents. The idea seemed repugnant to me. It was none of their business what I looked like in a bathing suit. Other students already had enough to harass me with, they did not need new fodder from Alice.

When I rang the door bell, I heard swift, almost bouncy, footsteps coming from inside. Mrs. O’Donnell flung the door open and greeted me with a smile that almost seemed ridiculous. Why would she be so happy to simply see it was me at the door? After all, she expected me.

“Well, don’t you look nice, Joan,” she said, in a tone that somehow seemed to imply that I was not looking particularly nice. Nonetheless, I gave a small smile and thanked her. What else should I have done? I really did not know.

Alice’s mother beamed at me as she lead me up the carpet covered stairs, past the bevelled and stained wooden pillars of the banister that separated the stairway from the open living room. Directly across from the top of the stairs was the kitchen, to my right the living room, and to my left a hallway that appeared to have a closet and four other rooms, one of which must have been the bathroom. The place was decorated tastefully enough for the time, with brass ornaments on the mantle above the fire place, overstuffed furniture, wall to wall carpet, plants near the windows at the front, and a coffee table in front of the large sofa. I did not see a television, but there was a stereo, with one of those arms that indicated it could play multiple records without anyone having to get up to change them. Pastel colours were everywhere: the furniture, the drapes, doilies under plants and ornaments, and so on. Mrs. O’Donnell led me into the kitchen, which had an island (as it is called) in the middle of the room. The kitchen at least looked clean, which was reassuring. I would make up my mind further when I saw the bathroom, I decided.

“Would you like some ice tea? It’s sun tea, I steep it by leaving a large jar with teabags in it outside, and it makes the best tea,” Mrs. O’Donnell babbled on at me. The idea of drinking anything that had been sitting outside was disturbing, to say the least, so I asked for just a glass of water as she seemed somewhat desperate to offer hospitality of some sort.

I looked around the room, noted the sliding doors that let to a backyard that indeed had a swimming pool. I did not see Alice nor her father. I did not want to be alone with Mrs. O’Donnell any longer, so I said, “Where is Alice? I expected that we’d be visiting.”

“Oh, of course you young people want to be with each other,” and here she gave a false little giggle and then spoke dramatically, as though this was some great revelation, “You certainly don’t want to be hanging around with the fuddy-duddies.”

I could infer what that strange phrase meant, but I did not know how to respond. To say yes would be to insult her directly, to say no would be to disagree with her, and I expected that such behaviour was as forbidden here as at my own home. Unsure of what I should do, I just looked down at the tap water sitting in the glass with the brown to yellow sheaves of wheat stacked neatly on its sides in stamped glaze.

“Well, go on – Alice’s room is on the right, far end of the hall, just after the bathroom. You can’t miss it because, if you did, you would walk straight into the wall!” Mrs. O’Donnell seemed to think her statement quite amusing, looking at me and expecting a laugh. A smile I could do, but not a laugh. There was nothing funny here, just a woman who seemed nervous around me making stupid jokes.

I nodded, left the kitchen and went down the hall. What was I supposed to do? Was Alice in her room? If so, why did she not come out to greet me when I arrived? Isn’t that proper manners? If she wasn’t home, surely I wasn’t supposed to sit alone in her room, waiting until she appeared. This whole visit was making me quite uncomfortable.

Alice was indeed in her room, headphones over her ears, lying on the bed on her stomach, holding her chin up with her hands, elbows on the bed and perusing a magazine. She had a scarf around her neatly permed honey blonde hair once again. She was wearing yet another vivid tank top with an oversized shirt covering much of it, and a pair of shorts of pastel pink. She looked rather beautiful, her large earrings catching the sun that came through the gauze curtained window at the far end of the room. She was wearing make-up, as always, and I noted that for some reason, the lilac colour of her lip gloss gave her a very modern, very stylish look – not that I knew precisely what that meant, but I did know what I saw in pop culture around me, and Alice was certainly the pinnacle of all that a teenage girl was supposed to be. She was thin, but with curves, larger breasts than mine, and a pretty face. In comparison, my long black hair must have looked positively frumpy, as did the plain green t-shirt and older blue jeans that I was wearing. Alice’s appearance practically screamed ‘designer’, whereas mine quietly stated that I didn’t know how to dress, nor did I care. I felt so very out of place, standing in her bedroom doorway, not sure if I should walk in or wait for an invitation. Alice wasn’t looking in my direction, so I stood, knowing she wouldn’t hear me over her music as I could hear the music quite well even though it was only emanating from her headphones. I could not have felt more out of place had it been intentional for me to do so.

I looked around her bedroom from the door. It was bigger than my own, but not by much. Unlike my room, it had an easy clutter that seemed simply flung about. She had a dresser/desk with a chair, but all that was on the surface were decorative things: a pair of ceramic unicorns, a note pad with flowers on it, a hairbrush that obviously needed cleaning, and a crumpled up bundle of fabric that must have been some previously worn clothing that simply did not belong on a desk. I could see no signs of books or schoolwork of any kind. Her bed was large, at least a double, her room a more enclosed version of the décor elsewhere, but with the addition of posters of musicians tacked to the wall. Apparently, she believed David Bowie’s face was worth more than a casual perusal.

I noted that there was clothing strewn about the floor, on the back of the chair at the desk and that most of it appeared clean from what I could see. Of course, I couldn’t tell much from this distance by appearance, but I did not smell the offensive odor of sweat or other contaminants that normally clung to used clothing. Even her cast off running shoes had no distinct odor from where I stood. This bode well, as I did not want to stay if the place was dirty.

Alice casually turned a page of her magazine, glossy bright colours flashing by as her fingers crunched a corner of a page to grab purchase and flip it over. She turned her head slightly to catch the next page and must have seen me standing in her doorway. She jumped, sat up quickly and hauled her headphones off, dumping them on top of the magazine.

“Jesus Christ, Joan! You scared the hell out me! Don’t you know how to knock?” Alice yelped, catching her breath back after having nearly been breathless from fear.

“I didn’t think you’d hear me.” I stated.

“Shit, does it matter? Christ, standing there like an axe murderer isn’t the best way to say hello to someone,” she said. “Well, you’re here now, might as well come in and sit somewhere,” Alice seemed to not like her own idea very much. I looked around and saw nowhere to sit, except the chair at the desk, and I didn’t want to touch the clothing that hung from the back of it as I didn’t really know its condition.

“I don’t know where to sit,” I stated as a matter of fact.

Alice rolled her large blue eyes and pointed at the bed, next to her. As awkward as it felt, it did seem that my only option was to sit next to her. I sat down near the foot of the bed, narrowly missing the headphones and magazine.

“Not on my stuff,” Alice said, a bit angry, “God, are you ever awkward.”

I looked down at my hands that were in my lap, folded together. “I suppose I am.”

“Yeah, well, you need to fix that. You should really look a lot more like a high school kid and not an old librarian. Why do you dress like that? Why do you look like that?” There was a sneer in her voice as she spoke.

“I suppose it’s because I only have a Dad, and not a mom to help me get clothes and things.” There wasn’t a better explanation.

“Yeah, okay, but you’re lucky because my Mom sells Mary Kay, and she’s an aesthetician, so she can help fix you. She’s good at it, too. You need a make over, big time,” she said, looking me up and down as though I were a pile of her discarded clothing and nothing more.

“I’m not sure I want that. I don’t know how my Dad would feel,” I had to say. There was genuine trepidation there for me.

Once again Alice rolled her eyes. “God, Joan, does your Dad rule every minute of your life? What would he care? If you look better, maybe you could be a bit more popular, and then maybe your Dad wouldn’t care anyway. Honestly, you look kind of gay, you know – like a lesbian or something.”

I didn’t know what to say to this. I wasn’t a “lesbian” so all I did was shake my head a little and stare at her in turn.

Alice turned her head to the door and yelled, “Mom, are you ready yet?”

I heard her Mother shout back a “yes,” and Alice hopped off the bed and gestured for me to follow.

This time I was ushered into the dining room next to the kitchen. I could see out the back sliding door to the pool. It did look nice, but I knew I’d never swim in that pool.

The large, expensive wooden dining table was covered with an array of instruments of beauty enhancement. There were bottles, vials, brushes, sponges and so on. I didn’t know what to make of it all. Mrs. O’Donnell pulled out a chair and chattered away as she had me sit where she wanted me. Alice perched on a chair at the opposite end of the table, one leg tucked up under her, and started playing with the things in front of her. She seemed particularly interested in a certain shade of lipstick and started making streaks with it on the back of her left hand.

“Now, Joan, let’s see what we can do with your hair. You have lovely hair, but you need to do something with it. How about a trim?” Mrs. O’Donnell smiled at me, waiting for – I suppose – an enthusiastic agreement from me.

“I don’t know,” I said, nervous about all of this, “my Dad may not want to me to trim my hair without his permission.” It was true that I gave little thought to my appearance and had simply accepted that I was forever to be an outsider at school. It was also true that I never would have changed anything without Dad’s permission. It just didn’t seem right.

“God, your Dad will either like it or he won’t care,” Alice said, not looking at me.

“I think Alice is right, dear,” Mrs. O’Donnell chattered on, “your Dad will like it. He probably feels bad that you don’t have a mom to help you look good. You need a bit of training, that’s all. I can help you out with that. Maybe I can be a substitute mom for you? At least right now? Then you can go home and tell your Dad how happy you are to have had a mother’s help. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you looking nice.”

I didn’t have an argument for that, so I agreed to let Mrs. O’Donnell trim the ends of my hair. Apparently, I had some split ends and needed to trim to keep it healthy. No one had ever pointed that out to me before, nor had I ever cared. Mrs. O’Donnell then proceeded to remove a couple of inches off of the ends of my hair.

Mrs. O’Donnell held up a mirror for me to check my appearance in. My look had not changed a bit, except that my hair now ended in a blunt manner a little higher up, rather than the random and natural way that I had worn it before. It was hardly noticeable, but I saw it clearly. I decided that the trim had done no harm, and gave Mrs. O’Donnell a small smile.

“You see, dear? You’re going to love what we can do!” she said in that forced cheerful way of hers. “Now, how about we give it some life?” She went back into the kitchen and returned with an electric curling iron. I knew it was already hot from the smell of it, and Mrs. O’Donnell clearly intended to keep it that way as she plugged it in to an outlet near the table. She then started spraying my hair with some sort of ‘product,’ as she called it, and went to work with the curling iron.

I wasn’t sure of any of this, and voiced my apprehension. “Mrs. O’Donnell, I know you are trying to be kind, but this seems to be too much work.” I didn’t know how else to protest.

“Nonsense! I enjoy this sort of thing!” she nearly trilled.

“What if I don’t like it?” I said, an edge of hesitancy creeping into my voice.

“Oh, simple! Just wash it out. I’m not going to do anything permanent to you.”

That was somewhat reassuring, so I decided to make the best of it and allow Mrs. O’Donnell to do her best. When she had decided that she was done, she reached across to Alice, snatching the hand held mirror from her and showing me my own reflection.

I was surprised, to say the least. My hair had ‘life,’ I suppose. Everyone had ‘big hair’ at the time, and mine wasn’t like Alice’s, or much like the other girls at school, but it was different. I had curls around my face and down the sides. Mrs. O’Donnell had turned my hair from the flat, split down the middle, look I normally had to a lifted, side parted somewhat more fashionable look, I supposed. I was no expert on such things.

“That looks way better,” Alice said, scrutinizing my face and hair.

“Okay. Thank you.” I said, being polite. I had hoped we were done, but the scatter of bottles and tools on the table said otherwise.

“Now let’s do something with that pretty face of yours, Joan,” Mrs. O’Donnell said with determination.

I didn’t want to have to say no, but I also did not want someone experimenting on my face. If any of the make-up before me had been previously used, well, the idea was disgusting, to say the least.

Instead of make-up, Mrs. O’Donnell picked up a pair of tweezers and told me to tilt my head back. I did so, and she began pulling out eyebrow hairs.

“You need to pluck your eyebrows, dear,” Mrs. O’Donnell said, picking away.

“You look like a werewolf,” Alice said, looking in the mirror that she had grabbed back. She was trying out a shade of lipstick that was pale pink and a bit shimmery.

“Now that’s not very nice,” Mrs. O’Donnell chided Alice.

“Well she does. Or she did. It’s better now, I guess,” Alice continued. She reached across the table and handed the mirror back to me.

I looked and was surprised. My eyebrows were sculpted, and it did change my look. It made me more feminine, I suppose, and my eyes looked more open. Perhaps – it was hard to tell with the red and puffy skin that was left behind. I noticed that there was a bit of blood on the tissue Mrs. O’Donnell had used to dab at my eyebrows. Odd – I wouldn’t have expected that.

“Now you just need to keep up with what’s done,” the older woman continued, picking up the tissues and taking them into the kitchen to dispose of them.

“Wow. You had some deep roots there,” Alice said, staring at me from the other end of the heavy table.

“I did, I guess.” I gather that was what the blood was from.

Mrs. O’Donnell returned to the dining area and started looking through the stuff on the table. She picked up a palette of shimmering colours, a couple of brushes and came at me with them. This felt a bit like an attack, and I had to make my boundaries clear.

“Please, I won’t allow anything that’s been used on someone else to be used on me. It could contain bacteria and be harmful,” I stated. I had been wanting to say this for some time, but now it was essential that I protect myself.

“Oh, of course! We always say that at demonstrations, and it’s not a good idea to share. I have plenty of samples that are unopened, and everything has been cleaned. Not to worry!” Mrs. O’Donnell said as she hovered over the table, picking up one item and checking it over, then on to the next. “Hmm…you have fair skin. I think you need to stick to lighter colours. No metallics or anything.”

When she had gathered the right bits and pieces for me, she set them down in order in front of me on the table. I looked at the things, knowing what they were but not how to use them: eyelash curler, mascara tube, blush, cover up, lipstick, eyeshadow.

Mrs. O’Donnell then proceeded, having me hold the eyelash curler in place for 20 seconds over each set of eyelashes, forging ahead despite my brief moments of protest. I was very uncomfortable about all of this, but the other two women in the room were determined to have me covered in hues that were foreign to my skin.

I don’t think it took long, as we seemed finished within an hour or so. I was so wrapped up in getting through this process that I forgot to keep an eye on the time. Mrs. O’Donnell fluttered about, applying one thing, then the next. When she was satisfied with the results, I was allowed to look in the mirror.

I saw my face staring back at me, but with unusual additions. My eyes had no shadow, but there was eyeliner top and bottom, mascaraed lashes, rosy cheeks, and a shimmering pale- almost lilac- lipstick. I thought it looked mostly alright, although the lower lid eye liner seemed a bit over the top, and I did not think the lipstick looked right on me at all. I examined myself carefully, looking at one side as best I could, then the other. It was my face, yes, but not a familiar face. I had no idea how to respond to this. I just stared.

Mrs. O’Donnell seemed very pleased, and was picking up the samples she used on me and putting them in a plastic bag which she tied with a twist tie at the end. She handed it the bag to me and said, “This is for you to keep, Joan. You can use these up, then ask me for more. I’ll get everything for you at a good price. You can go to a drug store for other things, like a curling iron, and make sure you condition your hair, but not too much. My, but you look nice. I think we’ve really accomplished today!” she beamed as she handed the plastic bag to me.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep the little bag or not. After all, I still had no real idea how to apply the things it contained, yet I wanted to have some nice feminine things for myself. This was all so new to me. An unfamiliar, hyper aware self-consciousness was setting in, and I did not know how to handle it. As always, the best thing was to not feel, not let emotions have anything to do with my reactions. I simply couldn’t think of anything else to say but, “thank you.”

Alice was still fiddling with things at the end of the table while her mother gathered up bits and pieces. Mrs. O’Donnell stopped all of a sudden when she looked at the clock on the far wall.

“Oh no! I have to get dinner started. Your Father will be back from his golf game in a bit. Alice, finish cleaning this up, then you two can sit outside and have some ice tea and chat.” At that she hustled back into the kitchen and started banging pots and pans about, fetching things out of the tall fridge and so on. Alice begrudgingly swept up what her Mother had left behind, putting everything back into a pink fishing tackle box and setting it aside.

“Come on, we might as well go out. At least it’s not too hot. Want to go for a swim?” Her question at the end sounded like a last-minute throw away thought. She certainly had no enthusiasm for the idea.

“No, I think I would rather not,” I replied.

“God, Joan, why do you have to talk like that?” she snarked at me.

“Like what?”

“Like you’re some 40-year-old or something. You don’t sound like a normal person. You seem to be more like a grandparent than a high school kid. It’s weird, and it puts people off,” she said, telling me nothing that I didn’t already know.

“My Dad believes that everyone should speak correctly and have a good vocabulary. Is that so wrong?”

“My God, yeah, it is. You even did it there. Just stop and listen to people. Like people our age, and maybe you will catch on. You need to sound and look like it’s 1981, not 1881,” she finished her lecture. She was sounding a lot like a simpleton to me, but she did have a point: if I listened, I could learn to talk as though I were part of any group I chose to observe. I had never wanted to be anything other than an A student, and I was far too busy with study, housework and fencing to want to be part of any peer group, but this was a chance to practice observation and see how well I could master the illusion of being an “ordinary” high school student. Perhaps this skill would be of use to me in the future.

We had moved outside, two glasses of that suspicious iced tea on a small glass and metal table between the lawn chairs we sat on. We were out of the direct sun, under the overhang from the house. I could hear Mrs. O’Donnell making dinner in the kitchen through the open window.

I remembered Dad saying that I had to ask questions, to get to know people and learn about them. I looked at Alice, who was very busy trying to look in any direction but mine, and asked, “Does your Dad go golfing a lot?”

Alice turned to me, looking at me as if I were an unwanted blemish in her pristine world, and responded with, “Yeah. Most Sundays. Saturdays too, if he’s not got a lot of paperwork. He says he’s working out there, too, getting people to be clients and whatnot. Whatever.”

She reached down and picked up her iced tea and drank it through the paper straw that her Mom had provided each of us with. I noticed that her nails were a pastel shade of pink. Everywhere she could put some sort of feminine enhancement, she had.

 

“What does your Dad do?” Alice asked me, sounding like it was an afterthought.

“He teaches fencing,” I stated.

“Huh. I guess that’s okay. I mean, it’s kind of cool. Fencing always looks cool. It’s like medieval knights fighting sword fights,” she said, working hard to get all of her meagre thoughts out.

“It’s nothing like that,” I corrected her, “It’s much more elegant. There’s rules, and the foil isn’t like a broadsword that is used to swipe at an opponent, it’s much finer, used for specific strikes.”

“There you go again,” Alice said, rolling her eyes once again.

“What do you mean?”

“You just had to correct me, didn’t you? I was trying to say something to relate to what you’d said, and you don’t just agree or something, you tell me I’m wrong and make it sound like I’m stupid or something,” she said with a huff of breath at the end.

This was useful to me: if I made sure people understood things that I knew about, they could feel “stupid,” even inferior. If I simply agreed or added to what they said, I would look like I was supporting them, whether I was or not.

I knew how to respond to that statement: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to feel stupid or anything,” I said, purposely trying to follow her pattern of speech.

“Yeah, okay. Just be careful of how you talk to people. You have no idea what they think of you,” she said, and followed her point with a long draw of the tea with her straw.

“I think I have some idea, but I get your point,” I said, still being careful with each word.

There was the sound of tires on gravel and I looked up to see a spotless red BMW pull up the driveway and into the garage which had opened its gaping maw on command. A few moment later, in which Alice and I had said nothing to each other, a tall dark-haired man came out of the side door of the garage. He was wearing tan pleated pants, a sporty shirt with a monogram on the pocket and loafers without socks. His hair had obviously been recently washed and groomed, and he seemed the perfect example of a stereotypical suburban dad. I suspected that he would next light a barbeque and grill some steaks or hamburgers for us.

To my surprise, Alice jumped up and ran over to the man, and gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek, all the while saying, “Daddy! I’m so glad you’re home!”

“Fine, fine, Alice. Let me get settled first, will you?” he said, sounding rather gruff for one who had just received such a jubilant welcome home.

Alice let go of him, still beaming, and followed him back to the house. He walked right past me, not bothering to introduce himself or give me more than a passing glance. I wasn’t offended as I was used to people not acknowledging me at school, so it felt like part of the normal routine of the day for me.

As father and daughter went into the house I was left on my own in the back yard, sitting in the lawn chair, staring at the pool and wondering how I could appear to have had some of the iced tea without drinking it. I certainly couldn’t just dump it out because someone would probably see me do that.

I was working through the conundrum of the full glass of iced tea when Mrs. O’Donnell threw open the back door and called to me, “Joan! What are you doing out there on your own? Come in and get a seat – dinner’s ready!”

My problem was solved as I picked up both glasses and took them into the kitchen, depositing them on the counter near the sink, the place that seemed most likely for soiled glasses to wait for washing. Mrs. O’Donnell did not have to know which glass had belonged to which one of us.

I walked into the dining room to see Mr. O’Donnell sitting at the head of the table, where I had previously sat for the transformation of my appearance. Alice was sitting on her father’s left, leaning towards him and talking on about some flippant thing or another. Mr. O’Donnell looked as if he were vaguely interested, occasionally nodding his head as she spoke.

I sat opposite Alice as her mother had indicated, and Mrs. O’Donnell brought in the roast beef that was to be our main course. Roasted potatoes, carrots and green beans were already on the table, along with something that was covered in marshmallows with an orange substance peaking through the cracks of the white gooey topping. Mr. O’Donnell carved the roast, passed the plates back to Mrs. O’Donnell and she then piled the vegetables on each plate, followed by a ladle full of gravy. It seemed quite a lot of food for each person to consume.

The marshmallows turned out to be the topping for sweet potato casserole. I must admit that it did indeed taste sweet and hardly seemed like something for the main course.

Alice took her plate from her Mother, gracefully placing it down in front of her, and introduced me to her Father. Her Mother couldn’t allow a moment to go by where she didn’t have some input into the conversation, so she had to punctuate it with, “Joan is the girl who saved our Alice from those awful boys.”

“Yes, I know,” Mr. O’Donnell said, in a voice higher than I’d expected. “Thank you, Joan.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, a little nervous to talk at all at this busy and unfamiliar table.

“So, how is it that you knew how to fight? It seems an unusual skill for a girl, to say the least,” he continued.

I ended up explaining that my Dad had been a soldier, that he wanted his daughter to be safe (I certainly did not tell anyone about the event that had precipitated the training), and that I already knew fencing, so tactics were not unfamiliar to me. We continued talking in this way for a bit, just the two of us, with the occasional interjection from Mrs. O’Donnell. Alice made it clear that she was uninterested by playing with her food, pushing a chopped green bean through the gravy and back. She didn’t look at anyone else at the table.

In turn, I asked a few questions of my own. Mr. O’Donnell did all kinds of law, it seemed, but specialized in corporate law. This would perhaps be of use to me in the future, but I wasn’t sure how. He occasionally made a demand of Mrs. O’Donnell for an extra helping of vegetables, more soda water and so on. She immediately jumped up and obeyed his commands without protest.

The evening continued, and we finished the dinner with apple pie and vanilla ice cream. The pie was homemade and very good. I made a mental note to get apples and make the same pie for Dad in the next few days. It seemed that there was not a great deal to learn about this family. Mr. O’Donnell was a corporate lawyer, yes, and a rather dull man. He played golf, read magazines on current events, watched football on tv when it was in season and was the stereotype that I had surmised when he first came home. He was the epitome of a suburban dad. Mrs. O’Donnell was very obedient, and at times I could hear a harsh edge in the man’s voice that sounded much like my Dad when he was angry and giving commands, so it made sense that his wife jumped when he wanted anything. Alice was their princess, given nearly everything that she wanted, and doted more on by her Mother than her Father, yet she was more partial to her Father rather than her Mother. I saw little use in my spending much time in that household.

After dinner, Mrs. O’Donnell spent her time cleaning up while Mr. O’Donnell went outside for a smoke. Alice and I went into the living room and sat down across from each other, she on a recliner in a corner, myself on the sofa. We didn’t have much to say, so I talked about how good the dinner had been.

Alice waved that off, then asked me if I wanted to go home. Indeed I did, but I said that it was up to her when I should leave. She sighed and looked out the window.

After I had said my good-byes and thanks to Alice’s Mom and Dad, I insisted on walking home rather than being driven. I wanted time on my own, but more to the point, I wanted to get away from that family, from other people.

My Dad had gotten his own dinner earlier, and was sitting in the living room, watching something on television when I came home.

I had barely said hello to him when he stood up, walked over to the hallway I was still in, and glared at me.

“What have you done?” Dad said, staring at me in a way he never had before. He drew closer, and I forced myself not to flinch away.

“I didn’t do anything,” I said, “Mrs. O’Donnell put some make-up on me.”

Dad continued to glare at me for a moment, then grabbed me by the arm, forcing me around and putting my right arm up against my back, forcing me to move as he wanted. He pushed me down the hall and into the bathroom.

“Look in the mirror, Joan!” Dad commanded.

I did. I still had the curled hair and make-up on, so that was clearly what he was referring to. I hadn’t gotten used to how I looked at all, so we were both staring at what appeared to be me, but not me.

“You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” Dad said, his voice filled with what sounded like disgust. “You have no business wearing your hair like this, or putting paint on your face. You are supposed to be my daughter, respectable and strong, not some weak female that needs to enhance her appearance to please men. Wipe that stuff off your face, now!”

He released my arm, shoving me toward the sink so that I had to grab the edge of the porcelain to keep from hitting my head on the mirror above it. I grabbed the bar of white soap that was on the edge of the sink and a facecloth from the nearby rack. I ran the water, used the facecloth to wet my skin, then scrubbed at my face with the soap. I scrubbed hard to make sure that my face would be back to normal. I rinsed my skin and looked in the mirror. I was horrified at what I saw: the eye liner and mascara had smeared all around my eyes and run down my face.

“You see, Joan?” my Dad growled, “you have no idea how to fix yourself. You looked ridiculous before, and now you look worse. You have no business trying to look like that, none at all. You must know your place, know who you are. You’re not some flighty, idiotic school-girl. You are my daughter, and you must carry yourself with dignity at all times. How can you do that looking like a fool?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, just loud enough to be heard.

“Speak up! What did you say?” Dad commanded.

I straightened up, met his eyes in the mirror, and said what I knew he wanted to hear, “I’m sorry I tried to be something I’m not. It will never happen again.”

“It better not. I am beyond disgusted with you. Get in the shower and fix yourself,” he said, stepping heavily as he walked out and slammed the door.

After my shower, may face looked better, but not completely clean. I had remembered that I needed some sort of make-up remover to get rid of the eye make-up, but of course I didn’t have anything like that. I had tried to compensate by scrubbing harder. I saw in the mirror that my skin was red, puffy and still a bit streaked with black colour when I stepped out of the tub. I had no idea what else I could do to get rid of the foreign substances, so I didn’t even try. I wrapped my hair up in a towel, and began to cry. I don’t know why.

I was almost sobbing, almost audible to my father when he banged on the door with his fist.

“I’m coming in Joan, make sure you are covered up,” he said.

I grabbed my wet bath towel and wrapped myself in it as he came in. Dad looked me up and down, judging what he saw, being fully the commander inspecting a foot soldier. I looked down, self-conscious, holding the towel tight around me with both hands. I didn’t see it coming when Dad reached out and grabbed the towel off of my head, pulling my hair, hard.

“Fix it,” he demanded. I turned to the mirror, picked up a comb, and started pulling it through my hair. I didn’t want to take both hands off of the towel, so I just yanked, straightening my hair back to what it was used to, pulling out any knots in clumps.

When I was done, Dad nodded and said, “Now, isn’t that better? Aren’t you more comfortable? You look like you again, not some slut from the street.”

I don’t know if I felt better or not, but I agreed, knowing that to disagree would have put me in a far worse situation.

“Get dressed,” the commander ordered. He left me alone, and I put the same clothes back on. I didn’t even feel comfortable to go to my room to get fresh clothes.

When I came out of the bathroom, Dad was standing by the door, arms crossed. He looked me up and down again, this time nodding his approval. He then pointed to the back door at the end of the hall and said, “Now that you look like my daughter again, you can take out the trash.”

So I did. I gathered up the trash from all the waste baskets and garbage cans in the house, and carried them out to the larger bins at the edge of the alley behind our house. I was still trying not to cry when I came back, reached out to open the door, and found it locked. I jiggled the doorknob, thinking I must have been mistaken.

“Dad, the door’s stuck,” I said, raising my voice to be heard behind the closed door.

Dad yelled back, “It’s not stuck, it’s locked. You came home looking like trash, and now you will stay out overnight like trash.”

I didn’t actually believe that Dad would do this to me. I guess I thought he was still trying to teach me a lesson, to scare me.

“My hair is wet,” I said, keeping my voice even, “and I’m only wearing light clothes. It’s getting dark and it will be colder soon.”

There was no reply. I stood staring at the door for a while before realizing fully that I was indeed going to spend the night outside. I briefly considered walking back to Alice’s to stay there, but that was an absurd idea. Dad would have been even angrier had I left. I curled up as best as I could in the folding lawn chair we had on the small backyard porch, and tried to keep from shivering as the night came on and got colder. I had no blanket, no jacket and no choice. I didn’t sleep at all – how could I? I was too cold, too upset and too afraid of Dad coming to see that I was still there. It was a miserable night.

The next morning, Dad opened the door. I went in, made our breakfast as usual, and left for school as though nothing had happened the day before.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 – Changes and Discoveries

The weeks and months after Shayne were born were probably the happiest of my life. I had had no idea how much one tiny person could come to mean to me, and moreover, to his mother. Jianna wasn’t exactly a natural mother, though I don’t really know if anyone is. She loved the little boy, but she also spent time being tired, depressed and frustrated with much of what being a new mother involved. I walked in on her one morning, just after she had returned from the hospital, before my shift. She was holding the boy and crying with frustration while he was fussing and waving his fat little hands around, pushing against her.

“Jianna – what’s wrong?” I said with genuine alarm. After his harrowing birth, I was always prepared to hear that something more had gone wrong, that somehow the child was in danger again.

Jianna lifted her face to me, tears making stains all the way down to her chin, and said in a near whisper, “He won’t latch on. I can’t get him to feed. He’s lost weight since he was born and I’m scared I’m no good as his mother. He needs to latch on, I….”

Her voice drifted off and became too faint for me to hear. I was relieved that the problem was such a simple one.

“Don’t you remember what we read? That it’s instinctive to suckle but not latch on? That he may even be scared to, or upset when you get frustrated and thus he will be unwilling to cooperate?” I stated.

“Yeah, well, even when I was calm, he wasn’t doing it. I am afraid for him.” She said, still in that whisper.

I sat down next to her, and said softly, “Now, just be quiet and calm. You do realize you are asking him to latch on to something that’s almost as big as his own head? It must be intimidating for him. Give him another chance.”

Shayne continued to let out his quiet little sounds that were of distress, but not overly so. I was sure that he would settle, although I had no real frame of reference for expecting such behaviour. Jianna tried to shift him around, but found it awkward, and the baby started to cry in earnest. From a nearby cell someone shouted, “Make that thing shut the fuck up!”

I was about to deal with the rude inmate when Jianna thrust her baby in my direction.

“Please, Miss Ferguson, will you take him? I need to get more comfortable,” she asked, startling me with her request.

To be honest, I was not comfortable doing so. I had never held a baby and did not know how to hold him beyond theory. I was afraid I might hurt him, or somehow even drop him. I had already stood up, so I would have to bend over to take him, and I simply could not do so with any sense of confidence. Of course, I wasn’t going to let Jianna see that, so I told her I had to go deal with the other inmate, turned and left before she had a chance to ask again.

When I finished my night shift, I returned to Jianna’s cell. It was early morning, and I was relieved to see Jianna asleep, with little Shayne in his make-shift crib next to her. There was no need to worry. Both looked content, and I knew the baby would not be sleeping if he were too hungry. She had clearly calmed down and had been able to feed him. I wasn’t about to wake her, so I left. I had known Jianna’s fears were unfounded, and this seemed proof of that.

At home, trying to get myself settled for a daytime rest so that I’d be up to my next night shift, I found myself not settling. My mind kept going back to the prison, to Jianna and her precious child. I had never felt for a child before, and this was new to me. Of course, I knew I wanted to protect Jianna with everything I had, but I felt much the same about Shayne. This was odd. He had only been in the world a short time, yet I thought of him as part of Jianna, and also as a separate being. All of this was somewhat logical, but I still couldn’t understand my depth of feeling for the child. Perhaps I cared about him because he meant so much to Jianna. There could be no other reason.

Unable to read as my mind was so busy, I had lain awake with my thoughts. That day, once I did sleep, I dreamt of holding a baby boy, one that smiled at me, that was my own. I was unbearably sad upon waking, as I knew this would probably never happen for me. I was almost already too old as it was, and had never had a conventional relationship. But I had Jianna and Shayne, and that was so much more than I had any right to expect.

 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

When I came home after school on Monday, exhausted from no sleep the night before, Dad was waiting for me. I had expected him to be teaching, but his client had cancelled. He had decided that it was the right time to teach me more of what I needed to learn.

He stood in the front hallway when I came in, arms crossed, looking at me from under his eyebrows as though I had committed yet another atrocity.

“Do you know what I have to talk about with you today?” he said, his voice pitched as low as I had ever heard.

There was no way I could know, so I simply replied, “No, Dad, I don’t know.”

He sniffed, then drew in his breath, and said, “You should. Had you learned your lesson, you would not have to be taught more on the subject, but you don’t learn, do you?”

“I suppose I must not have, or you wouldn’t be saying all this,” I responded, trying to choose words that wouldn’t anger him further. I did not succeed.

“You ‘suppose not’? You are not sure? You are such a disappointment, Joan,” he said, shaking his head.

I stood looking down, not knowing what to do next. It seemed that no matter what I said or did, it would be wrong. I already knew I was a disappointment to him, so that was not as cutting as it could have been. Yet I had no idea how to appease him.

Dad clearly was frustrated with my stupidity, and reached out and grabbed my upper arm, then proceeded to drag me to the bathroom once again. I started to protest that my shoes were still on, but he just told me that I could clean up that mess later.

Once in the bathroom, he had me turn and look into the mirror once again.

“What do you see, Joan, when you look in the mirror?” he asked.

“I…uh...I see me,” I began, not the least bit sure of what I should say.

Dad grabbed my hair into a bunch at the back of my neck and pushed my head toward the mirror, forcing me to grab onto the sink for balance.

“You ‘see you’. Don’t be facetious with me, Joan Ferguson. Tell me what you really see,” he said, putting his face close to mine.

I blinked hard, ignoring the pain from his fist full of my hair, pulling harder and harder on it. “I see a 15-year-old girl,” I began, grasping at straws.

“Yes, you do. Describe her to me,” he said, letting some of the pressure off of my neck and hair.

I was surprised that I had given him the right answer, but that hardly gave me confidence. What now? I thought hard, trying to figure out what to say, when he gave me more parameters to work with.

“What do you have to offer any man? Hm? You know you are too tall, and that is not attractive to most men. You are not feminine, Joan, you are all angels and hard looks. Tell me, what is attractive about you?” he smiled a bit, knowing that he was putting me on the spot.

“I…I don’t know,” stuttered, afraid to answer incorrectly and also afraid of being called vain if I mentioned anything.

“Fine. Let’s ask a much easier question. Tell me what is unattractive about you,” here he let go of my hair, pulled himself up to his full height and waited.

I made a show of looking at my face in the mirror, as though I had not examined my own face and asked the same question innumerable times before. I paused, stood back a bit, and then began the list. “My eyes are too narrow. They aren’t open and as large as those of other girls. My skin is too pale, I don’t have the suntan that is considered attractive these days. My face is too long, I guess because of my height, and my ears are too large. Is that what you were looking for?”

“Yes! Good, Joan, good! You have a clear understanding of your faults. Your overall size makes you too thin and bony, and makes your face a strange shape. You don’t have what other girls have, and you need to be aware of that. Now, what do you have to offer that other girls don’t?” He said, very emphatically.

“I don’t know.” Again, I was afraid of giving the wrong answer. At this point, it was impossible to think of anything positive at all.

Dad hit the back of my head with an open hand, hard, as though trying to slap the knowledge into me. “You are either being intentionally ignorant, lying, or you have not paid attention to what I’ve told you. Think! What have I told you that you have that was like your mother’s, what is it that you have that other girls don’t?”

I was trying not to cry and had to concentrate hard to put the pain at the back of my head out of my mind so I could think. I saw Dad raise his hand again, getting ready to hit me once more if I did not give the answer he wanted. Then, in desperation, I remembered, “My hair! I have long dark hair like my mother’s!” I shouted out.

“Yes! Finally! At least you can remember something I’ve told you. Yes, your hair isn’t the beautiful dark brown with red highlights that your mother’s was, but it is long, thick and healthy. It shows the world that you are in good health, able to take care of yourself, clean and that you eat a good diet, despite being too thin. Your hair is the one thing that tells the boys that you are a possible girlfriend, a possible wife and mother. It’s attractive, unlike your other qualities, and you need to remember this. You cut it yesterday, not by much, but you cut it. The other stuff on your face washed off, but your hair is not back to being what it was.” He finished, smug with how well he had made his point.

I wanted to tell him that my hair was only trimmed, that it would grow back, that trimming it was actually healthier for it, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t talk. I concentrated on breathing, on not being openly upset, on not feeling the pain that was still at the back of my skull. I bowed my head and looked down at the sink, trying to focus on the drain, on any possible signs of soap scum, or any dirt or hair. My attention was caught by water stains at the back and on top of the spout. Focusing on such things could help me to not be aware of what was in my mind, or my body. I did this often as a teenager.

Dad had one more thing to say before his ‘lesson’ was done.

“You are forbidden to ever cut your hair. As long as you live in my house, eat my food and spend my money, you must keep that one thing that is attractive intact. No man will want you if you can’t offer something that they don’t mind being seen with. Styles will change, even if you don’t have the style that other girls have right now, the way your hair is will eventually come back into favour. You need to keep your hair long and healthy as a sign of your femininity. What else is there? You are a passable cook, and you know how to keep house, but you have to attract a man first before they learn these things. Don’t ever forget this, Joan. What will happen to you if you don’t find a man?” He left his lecture there and walked out of the bathroom.

When he left, I cried. It wasn’t because my head hurt – that was just pain. It wasn’t because I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair – I didn’t care about that. I wasn’t really sure why I cried, but I knew I was ashamed for crying.

I pulled myself together after a few moments, took a few deep breaths, then gathered the cleaning supplies that I needed to remove the water stains on the sink and to clean up after the dirt my running shoes had left in the hallway and bathroom.

 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________-

Jianna had never looked more beautiful than when she was happily holding her baby, or playing with him, or even feeding him. She was completely engaged, completely loving and tender. I would see the two of them and I felt different – I’m not sure how, but I was not quite as on edge as usual at work. I was alert, of course, but not as on edge. I looked forward to seeing the two of them because it made me feel what I had not before.

I made the mistake of giving in, of to allowing myself to actually feel my emotions. I knew, as my father had said so many times in my past, that emotions lead to mistakes. I knew this, yet I had no desire to separate myself from my feelings for Jianna. I only wanted to protect her, to see her and her child, to be with her. When I wasn’t with them, I was thinking about them. I really don’t know what was wrong with me, but I had let my emotions control some of my actions and plans. I knew it was wrong and unhealthy, yet I let myself feel concern and other things – I truly know not what - for the two of them.

One of the first things that happened, because I let my emotions come to the fore, was that I was vulnerable to manipulation from the one person who could have changed the situation for the better or the worse.

When I was back on day shifts, I would get up early and head to Jianna’s cell before going on shift. This was my time to use as I wished, and I would often take time to see her again before leaving at the end of the day. This was a lot of time to spend with a prisoner, and more than I had in the past, but the excuse was there that I wanted to check on the baby regularly and ensure that all was well, and that I even liked seeing the child, so I felt that there was nothing wrong with my actions. Technically, there wasn’t. I was not working at those times, so it was my private time to use as I wanted. Of course, others noticed, and I supposed they talked. I didn’t care at the time, but I should have.

One morning I was sitting with Jianna and watching her burp Shayne after his breakfast. Normally such a thing would have been rather abhorrent to me, but watching this baby spit up wasn’t the nauseating scene it would have been from anyone else. I don’t know why. I was getting another rag for Jianna to put on her shoulder out of her make-shift baby bag when another officer stopped outside of the cell. It was Sandra Jeffers, a petite but scrappy middle-aged woman who I respected somewhat.

“Bryce wants to see you before your shift, Ferguson,” she said as she paused briefly, before carrying on as if she hadn’t said anything. She never needed a reply from me, as we both had an understanding that a message passed on did not have to be acknowledged formally. We understood each other, and I appreciated that. She never made small talk and I never talked to her except when dealing with work issues. It was as good a working relationship as I could imagine.

The last thing I wanted to do was see Bryce, but it wasn’t as if I had a choice. I said something encouraging to Jianna and headed off to the Governor’s office.

Governor Kenneth Bryce wasn’t in his office when I arrived, so I sat down across from his small desk and waited. His desk was organized, but cluttered, and I couldn’t help but feel that a Governor’s work surface should be more open, ready to receive anything important. He had a computer, one that could do word processing and so on, one that would be considered large, bulky and primitive by today’s standards, but at the time it was almost prestigious. The rest of the room was as cluttered; there just didn’t seem to be enough room for the essentials. Everything looked out of place, despite most of it being essential: filing cabinets, a coat rack, another chair next to the one I was sitting in, and in one corner, inexplicably for the Governor’s office, there was a net full of half a dozen basketballs. There was barely room to move about, and only the one small window that was far above the level that I would have considered acceptable. One could not see out of it at all at that height, and it let in only a little light. Why the man hadn’t changed offices, I could not fathom. There were certainly better offices to be had.

I sat and waited for about fifteen minutes, time that was my own, and was not pleased. Making someone wait is a power move by a superior, showing the inferior person which of the two was forced to concede to the other. I loathed such games being used on me, but understood that it always made a point. It was possible, I suppose, that Bryce had something else important to do and was late with good reason, but I very much doubted that. He was a short man, and like many short men, he did everything he could to force his authority on others. This was usually through petty, transparent moves such as this.

My patience was wearing thin when Bryce blustered through the door, forcing me to stifle a jump of surprise. Never, ever, did I let anyone see me react as though surprised. That makes one look too much like prey, too much like someone who could be easily made afraid. I had learned long ago not to react to the sort of things that startled people with less self control.

“I hope you didn’t mind waiting, Joan, but I had something to take care of,” Bryce lied through his teeth. I could tell. Everything was somewhat off; when a person lies, there’s always a layer of having to take note, to remember the lie to keep everything straight. Lies should only be used as needed, life becomes too complicated otherwise.

How to reply? I decided to pick my battles at another time, and simply said, “I have waited patiently, sir.”

“Yes, well, good and all that,” he seemed a bit surprised. My guess was that he had expected me to be more deferential, to say I didn’t mind waiting, that I was happy to be available as he wished.

He worked his way past the back of my chair, I had stood up when he had entered, so I moved the chair closer to the desk to allow more room for him to get by. Still, the man was as near to me as he could be without actually looking like he was trying to force me physically close him.

“Please sit down, Joan, we have something important to discuss,” he said as he sat down, straightening himself in his chair, moving as though he had no intention of staying in his chair long. This is the opposite of how a superior should act. The person who moves the least, who does not shuffle around, is the person in control of a situation. I held myself still and made eye contact, sure of my ability to intimidate this man without being obvious about it.

“Governor?” I said, waiting, sitting straight up and keeping a controlled gaze on his small, unremarkable eyes.

“I have an offer for you. How would you like a promotion? A big one?” He said, smiling and leaning back in his chair.

There was only one promotion that could be given someone in my position: that of Deputy to the Governor.

“Of course I would like a promotion,” I stated flatly. I wasn’t going to act as though I were overeager for the job.

“Yes, well, the position of Deputy Governor is coming up. Carter is leaving us for personal reasons, and there has been a decision to promote from within rather than transferring someone here,” he made it sound as though the decision had been his, but of course it would have been the governing body that he answered to that had made that decision. “I think you’d be as good a candidate as we have. You helped get the drug situation under control when you got here, your paperwork is excellent, you can certainly handle yourself well in a fight, and you’ve dealt with that gully girl fairly well. You have made sure we’ll have our good news story. I think it would be fair to say that you are the best person qualified for the job. There’s a couple of other applicants, but I don’t see how they could beat you for it. Carter isn’t leaving just yet, but put in your application and I’ll personally ensure that you get the job. It will be nice to work more closely together, won’t it, Joan?”

No, it would not. That was the one downside of the prospect of being Deputy Governor. However, whatever work I had to do with this annoying little man would be more than made up for in the status I would gain in the eyes of everyone in the prison, inmates and C.O.’s alike. I put in my application directly.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

I had always done schoolwork with the attitude that I had to maintain an A+ average. It wasn’t just so that I could show that I was intelligent and better than others at what was asked of me, but also to keep Dad and myself safe. As I became older, that rationale seemed to make less and less sense. However, I could not question Dad on the issue, so I had to accept what he said as the truth, regardless of how odd it seemed.

Keeping up my marks was one the reasons I loathed group work. Others would take advantage of me, knowing I would always get top marks. They would do little and my marks could be dragged down with them, depending on how the group was marked. One of the reasons I preferred my grade eleven history class over many others is that there was an odd number of students in the room, and when students were paired off, I was able to volunteer to work on my own. My gracious sacrifice was always appreciated by Mr. Armstrong, our history teacher. The other students never wanted to work with me, so they too were pleased with the situation. That all changed with the addition of a new student to the class.

A young woman was stood up at the front of the room as the other students got to examine her up and down. She was small of stature, dark skinned, a bit plump and clearly scared of the situation. She hugged her books close to her body over her chest, and looked down at the floor, only glancing up at us briefly before casting her eyes down once again.

“Okay everyone,” Mr. Armstrong said, in his friendliest tone, “I want you to welcome Genevieve to our class. Her family just moved here, and she is joining us for the rest of the year.”

The class mumbled a grudging hello, and Mr. Armstrong pointed Genevieve in the direction of the only empty desk in the class, at the back of the furthest row. I watched her walk right in front of my desk, as I always sat at the front in every class I could. She was wearing a short black skirt and a red knit top with a decorated over-sized jean jacket over top. She also had large hoop earrings that were bright green and was wearing some sort of shiny lip gloss. I noted all this, marked mentally where she was in the room in relation to everyone else, then thought nothing more of her at the time.

Halfway through the hour of the class, Mr. Armstrong announced that we were to work in pairs on a new project. We were studying colonization and its consequences, and he stated that it would require a lot of research. I waited patiently as I always did for everyone else to pair up. I intentionally looked friendly, with a slight smile, so that Mr. Armstrong knew I wasn’t putting others off on purpose.

I should not have been surprised, but I was, when Mr. Armstrong brought Genevieve over to my desk and informed me that I would have to work with her. I had no desire to do so, but had no excuse not to, either, so I grudgingly made room for her to pull her desk to the front of the class and sit near me. We were to talk and decide exactly what our thesis would be for the project from a list written on the chalkboard.

“I guess we should look at what we want to do,” I said, so irritated by the situation that I could not keep it out of my voice.

Genevieve didn’t make eye contact, just nodded and opened her three ringed binder to an empty page. It was clean, the binder well organized, but even though this boded well, it told me nothing of her intellect or work ethic.

“Well, what interests you?” I said, trying to get this other student to speak up. I needed to know where she saw herself in relation to me. Deferential was a good start, but it could indicate that she was simply very shy or uninterested in what we were to do.

“I don’t care,” she barely spoke loud enough for me to hear.

“We have to work together for some time on this, certainly it should be something we both agree on.” I wanted to force her into saying more.

We had arrived at nothing together, so I decided to put in that we would come up with an original idea, which was an option. I felt this would give me the greatest control over the work and if Genevieve wouldn’t participate, I could work on my own without her being able to put much into it.

When the class ended, I handed in the sheet with both our names on it and “other” check marked, and paid little attention to the new girl as I packed up my books and left.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

As time passed and Shayne grew healthy and strong, I had technically less reason to visit Jianna as often as I did. The truth was that I enjoyed being with the two of them very much. The thin veneer of an excuse was that I was still mentoring her and watching out for the child. On reflection, I don’t think anyone really believed that it was purely work-related visits any more. I became a bit reckless, I suppose, and did not cover the fact that I was on good terms with this one prisoner. To the other women, I was the strong, capable C.O. as always. To the other C.O.’s, I was the odd one out all of the time anyway, so it made no difference as to how they saw me. At least that’s what I believed at the time, so I allowed a few indulgences that I would not have at other times.

One such indulgence was being around at the end of the day when Jianna had nursed and was settling Shayne in for the few hours he’d sleep before needing another feeding. Jianna was always tired at these times, but once the baby was asleep, she was happy for a bit of conversation and I was happy to be able to talk to her without the child as a focus. Of course he really was, but other topics could come up as well when he slept.

One such evening I had decided to raise the question as to where they were going to live after Jianna was released again. I wanted to be clear once more that she was welcome with me. To be honest, I could not imagine myself having much of a life without her being near, and she could go anywhere after she gained her freedom. It wasn’t going to happen for nine months, but I wanted her to have the seed of the idea at the fore of her mind once again.

As I walked towards Jianna’s cell I could hear the baby’s crying cutting through the air. I hurried my pace, concern rising for the two of them. Upon arriving at the cell, I once again saw a frustrated Jianna and a fussing, crying infant. I let myself into the small living space and immediately sat next to Jianna, looking at Shayne’s wet, crumpled up face.

“Oh, Miss Ferguson, he won’t settle. He’s dry, he’s fed and he’s crying again. He was ready to sleep, but a couple of women started shouting and he woke up again. He’s been crying ever since,” Jianna said, jiggling the boy to try and calm him.

“If it’s a noise issue, why not try giving him a more pleasant noise, then?” I suggested.

“What?” Jianna replied, only half paying attention to me.

“Mothers sing to their infants, do they not? Have you tried singing?” I asked.

“I can’t sing. I try, but he doesn’t seem to care. Can you sing?” She asked, her tone pleading.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I should sing, but I could. I certainly understood music and had sung in choir classes in school. I nodded to her, then tried to think of what I would know that would calm a baby. Most likely the pieces we had done for choir were not appropriate as they were mostly silly musical numbers. Then I remembered one that would be appropriate from my days of listening to music with Dad.

I began humming some of Mozart’s A Little Night Music. It was perhaps a bit fast for an infant, but the moment I began, the baby became a bit quieter. His wailing turned to sobs and he seemed interested in what I was doing. I hummed louder and “conducted” the music with my hands. This intrigued him more, and before long, he was quiet just watching me. I was very pleased to see that my plan of action had worked, and continued humming. Shayne started to kick his little legs and wave his hands around, smiling and looking like he wanted to somehow grab hold of the music.

Jianna laughed at his wriggling and then smiled up at me. I had never calmed a child down before, and was surprised to see how much of a difference I had made for the two of them in such a short time. When Shayne seemed happy enough, I stopped humming, whereupon he began to fuss again. I was more or less forced, not by fear or need to overpower or anything I was familiar with, to continue humming and conducting until Shayne yawned and stretched and started to fall asleep. It didn’t take long, I suppose, but it seemed a long time to me to be sitting and humming in a prisoner’s cell.

When the child had drifted off, his little face placid and his breathing regular, Jianna placed him in his makeshift crib carefully, covering him up with the folded prisoner’s blanket that went over his softer baby blanket. I would have thought it too heavy for a baby, but Shayne seemed to relax even more. Jianna sat back on the bed, looking at him and smiling.

“Miss Ferguson, thank you so much,” Jianna whispered, “I can’t believe how fast he calmed down. You really helped him. You helped me, too.”

Then Jianna did the strangest thing: she leaned over and wrapped her arms around me, holding me to her in this awkward sitting position. She laid her head on me, on the top of my chest and gave me a slight squeeze. I had never expected such a thing, and was caught completely by surprise. I sat nearly frozen; arms pinned to my sides by the circle of Jianna’s arms around me. I did not know what to do or say. After a few moments, she sat up again, pushing away from me. I looked at her and then she began to giggle, quietly so as not to disturb the baby. I could feel my face reddening in embarrassment, a feeling I thoroughly dislike. Still, I said and did nothing.

“You are so funny sometimes,” Jianna said, still with a giggle in her voice. “Your eyes look huge! Like I just scared you instead of hugged you.”

I looked down, still very embarrassed. With anyone else, I would have been quick to anger at such words, and would have put him in his place. I did not do that now, with Jianna. It would not have been right. I don’t know exactly how I knew that, but I did.

Jianna’s laughter had stopped, and her voice was soft as she said, “It’s okay, Miss Ferguson. I get it. You’re not supposed to hug prisoners. I guess I should be sorry because I could get you into trouble or something, but I don’t feel sorry. I really appreciate what you did for Shayne, and I just had to do something to show that.”

Not only had she thanked me, but she had given me a way out of the situation that allowed me to keep my dignity intact. I do not think that she did it on purpose, but it did solve the problem.

“That’s okay, Jianna. If no one is watching, I won’t be in any trouble. Just please remember to ensure that no one is anywhere near if you were to touch me in any way again in the future.” I’m not sure why I didn’t tell her not to touch me again. It was a very nice gesture, in the long run, I suppose, and I should not discourage her from relating to others. Part of my mentoring job was to ensure that she would be able to manage in the world after she left Blackmoore. I told myself that was the reason for my decision to not rebuke her nor forbid her from such gestures in the future.

I was really becoming very clouded with emotion as far as Jianna was concerned.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

Whether I wanted to work with Genevieve or not, I would have to. Part way through the following history class, Mr. Armstrong had all the students sit with their partners for the research project and I had moved to the back of the class to sit in the desk next to Genevieve’s. I hated being at the back of the room. I had spent most of my school years sitting at the back because of my height. Upon being able to choose seats in some classes in the senior high years, I always sat at the front. This time the teacher had once again used my height as the reason that I should move instead of Genevieve. None of this put me in a good mood, to say the least.

Our teacher had wanted us to work on topics that fit under the title of “What colonization brought to Australia”. It seemed a rather obvious and trite topic, but we were to get more deeply into it than in previous years. We were to look beyond the obvious trade, government, resources, etc., that had been the focus of earlier classes, and try to find new ideas that had not been discussed. Fine. I could do that.

Mr. Armstrong had then brought out a folder that had pockets containing many different, sometimes colourful, pages of paper. They were of different sizes and did not look all typed as most published things are. Of course, from the back of the class, I could not see much of the detail clearly. He explained that the folder was a Jackdaw, a book that contained many reproductions of primary sources. This caught my attention even more: primary sources were what historians used to piece together history as we know it, long before it was written in text books. These were letters, government documents, drawings, anything that was done by the people at the time of the events being covered. We were to use the Jackdaws to find information and piece together history from an original point of view. There was a low groan from many in the class upon hearing this, but I was very pleased. Inferring, puzzle solving, seeing how seemingly disparate things came together to make a narrative was something I knew I could do, and do very well. To add just a bit more to our grades, Mr. Armstrong wanted us to try and find our own primary materials.

Hands shot up around the room. Students wanted to know how to find such things.

Mr. Armstrong smiled, then said, “Here’s where the project gets interesting, people. You will have to access resource centers other than the school library. You’ll need to go to the public library, or maybe the city archives. You’ll have to see if you can get your hands on at least one or two primary sources if you want to get an A on this project. Of course, you don’t have to do this, if you like lower grades.”

Another groan.

This was going to be good for my marks, I decided, Genevieve or no Genevieve, I would find the resources and secure my A by having all that was needed. We just needed a solid thesis, something that wasn’t being done by everyone else. Our “other” would have to be very ‘other’ indeed.
We were instructed to work with our partners to narrow down the parameters of the thesis, and I reluctantly turned to my partner. This was as good a time as any to discern how much I’d have to work to get her out of the actual final product that we were to hand in.

“Do you have any idea what you’d like to have for a thesis, Genevieve?” I asked, keeping my voice neutral as I wanted to see her reaction without giving her any indications as to my ideas.

“Please, call my Jenny,” she said, quietly, looking at the books on her desk top rather than at me. “I hate ‘Genevieve’. It’s so long and pretentious.”

Good: I now knew that her vocabulary was above that of most of the other students in the room.

I nodded succinctly, and stated, “Jenny, then. What would you like to have for a thesis?”

She shrugged, and then pushed some of her attractive, curly brown hair out of her face. “Whatever. I don’t know, I figure you’ll have your own ideas anyway.”

“I may,” I stated, again keeping my tone neutral, “but we are working together. I would like to know if you have anything to put into this or if I am to be working on my own.” There. I had said it, just flat out said the truth. I didn’t usually do that, but I was tired of always doing all the work and getting only part of the credit.

“You can do it all alone if you want, but then I’d get the same grade and that’s not fair,” Jenny said quietly.

“You’re right, it’s not fair. However, I get better grades than anyone else and am used to doing the work. I don’t mind,” I said. In truth, I preferred doing the work to losing marks, of course: Jenny did not have to answer to my Dad.

“I think we should do something different,” she said, starting to draw circles at the top of the page of her open three ringed binder, her pen going over and over the same lines.

“Alright. How so?”

“Well, I… I don’t know,” she scratched her circles more deeply.

This was frustrating, to say the least. I started to think on my own about what the best source of primary materials would be, how to access them, and how to build a thesis around them. No point doing something that wouldn’t allow for that. I started jotting notes: ‘Colonialism: benefits - farming, organization, freedom, time, city living, water, waste control, and so on.’ I opened the binder and handed the sheet to Jenny.

“Look this over. It’s rough, but there may be ideas in here that you will find interesting,” I said, handing the sheet to her. In truth, I was doing this only for the sake of looking like we were working together. Mr. Armstrong was watching the class, and he clearly wanted to see cooperation on the project happening rather than being social or shutting some students out. Cooperation would lead to a better grade.

Jenny looked over the sheet, puffed out her breath and handed it back, saying, “Whatever. I know it’s going to be the stuff we read in textbooks, so I don’t care. We’ve done it all before.”

“But that’s just the point,” I stated, “we’re supposed to be doing something that hasn’t been done before. This should be different, something that requires resources that, hopefully, no one else has thought to use. I want to come up with something that Armstrong hasn’t even seen before. A new idea about colonization, or a new result.”

“That’s easy, if you are willing to look at it from a different point of view,” she said, making eye contact for the first time, challenging me deliberately.

I wanted to ask her more, but the class ended, and I was left both annoyed and intrigued by this partner I had to work with.

 

When my shifts were changed around, I was able to spend more time with Jianna in the evenings. I enjoyed the time, and often sang to Shayne to help him fall asleep. I had learned Brahms’s Lullaby, and a few other pieces that seemed appropriate for a baby. Shayne did react positively to my singing and Jianna was always grateful that I could help put him down. I have to say that these moments with Jianna and Shayne were the happiest of my life. I had begun to believe that feeling isn’t all bad, that emotions don’t always lead to mistakes. I could not have been more wrong.

Not a week after Bryce had called me into his office for the offer of my application for Deputy Governor, he called me back again. This time I did not have to wait for him as he was waiting for me.

I knocked and entered at Bryce’s call. He gave me his insufferable grin as I walked in and indicated that I should sit down. His office was a bit more acceptable to me as the basket balls were at least removed.

“Thank you for being so prompt, Joan. No need to look so tense, you can sit back and relax in here. You and I don’t have to be so formal. If we are to be working together, let’s be a bit more comfortable with each other?” He said, sitting back in his chair and folding his hands over his stomach, interlacing his fingers. He was trying to appear relaxed, but he didn’t fool me. There was much more going on here than he wanted me to notice.

I looked directly at him, still sitting up straight as I was accustomed to, and simply nodded. I did not want to openly agree with him about our being “more comfortable”.

“You’re not getting it, are you, Joan?” He continued, “We are to be coworkers, you and I. There needs to be some basic trust and informality so that we can discuss matters at hand. I can’t work with someone who doesn’t know how to communicate with me in a way that gets things done.”

I tried to look a little less formal, but simply could not relax around Bryce. I did not see a need to at the time, so I asked the obvious question, “Are you positive that I will be the next Deputy Governor, or am I just in the running?”

“You’re in the running, Joan, but you’re at the top of the list. Of course, the Board will have its say, but ultimately, with their approval, the pick will be mine. I’m spending a bit of time with each candidate to see who I feel I will work with best. I like you, Joan. You’re very good at your job, you can’t really be faulted for anything, but you lack accessibility and you seem to be lacking in social skills. Now, I understand that. God knows I’ve had a few awkward moments myself, so I think we can learn to work together if we can touch base at some level. You need to help me with this, to meet me in the middle.” He sat up straight, his chair coming back to a level position, and leaned forward across his desk, his arms in front of him with his hands palms down on the desk. Clearly he had been to some sort of group meeting about physicality on the job and how to look in control.

Not sure what to say, all I could come up with was, “How do you recommend we proceed, then?”

Bryce smiled, got up from his chair and came around to the front side of his desk. He lifted one leg and perched on the corner. This forced me to look up at him, and I knew he was using another power position to force his point.

“It’s easy, Joan. We just get to know each other. Learn to relax in each other’s presence. I have been informal with you here, now it’s your turn to be informal with me. Tit for tat, as it were.” He laced his fingers and put his hands over the knee that was bent.

I was still at a loss. I would never feel comfortable with this man, everything about him was false, cowardly, underwhelming. I decided to offer what I could, “I am very good at my job, sir. I will tell you everything you need to know; I will work with you to the best of my abilities. You need not be concerned about our working relationship in any way.”

He decided to change positions a bit once more, crossing his arms over his chest, closing off to show that he was in control, that I wasn’t getting through to him. He was still forcing me to look up at him, trying to push his superior rank through intimidation. Needless to say, I was not intimidated. I was simply getting a stiff neck.

He took a deep breath, learned towards me a bit, then said, “I know you will, but that’s not enough. I need to get to know you better. You will just have to trust me more. After all, it’s not like we haven’t been working here together for ages. You intrigue me, Joan. I really think we should get together informally, after work sometime. The C.O.’s often head to a local bar to chat after work, maybe you and I should do the same.”

I do not eat anything I haven’t prepared for myself, and the idea of drinking on an empty stomach with Bryce was not something I would ever have wanted to do, but what choice did I have? At least for the moment, I could indicate that I was cooperative. I gave a small smile that was calculated to let people know that I was on their side, that I was friendly, and nodded in a polite manner.

Bryce smiled back at me and said, “Good, good. Let’s set a time later that we can meet. Thank you for coming,” at that, he indicated the door.

I had to push the chair away from the desk quite a bit to avoid coming in contact with the man I as stood up.

As I turned to go, Bryce called me back again, “Oh, and Joan – it’s time for the feel-good story. I’ll get Carter to contact the media. Tell your little prodigy to expect the fuss.”

I nodded and left. He was correct in that there was no reason to wait longer. Jianna was nothing if not a shining example of what a prisoner could become with the right program. I felt that this did not bode well for Jianna and Shayne, but I had no reason to object.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

My first meeting with Jenny outside of class was on a weekday after school, at the public library. It wasn’t a large library, but it did have some cubicles at the back where one could work or read in relative peace, away from other patrons. I usually sat at one of these when I was there. Jenny was fine to sit wherever I wanted, so we each took a cubicle next to one another. We simply had to pull our chairs out a bit and face them somewhat towards each other to discuss the project.

I had a thesis ready to go, of course, but Jenny had one too, so I had to listen to her idea before getting down to work. It was a good thing I did. She wanted to look at the negative sides of colonialism, the effect on the people and the land. This wasn’t exactly new, but it wasn’t a popular idea at the time. The idea that cinched it for me was that we could get information about the past from Jenny’s grandmother. Of course, that was only two generations before Jenny, but it would be a way of getting a solid primary source. Jenny’s dad was white, but her mom was Aboriginal, and her grandmother was willing to talk with her about her school project. Jackdaws were all well and fine, but an actual interview with a living person, and an Aboriginal one at that, would be different from what other students would do. I agreed immediately, and we set off looking for information to outline our project with.

As the afternoon wore on, I found Jenny easy to work with. To my great surprise, she was happy to talk openly with me outside of school and was a hard worker. She knew how to write effectively, if not very engagingly, and she could find encyclopedia articles and other things with a great efficiency. It was almost like working with another version of myself, and for the first time in my life I appreciated working with a partner. We never got to work for very long as I always had to go home to get dinner and ensure that the house was ready for Dad’s return from work, but we did work each on our own, and when we met up, our work meshed well for the most part. It was even easy to decide on a thesis: animal invasions due to colonization. We were focussing on rodents taking over the land: rabbits, rats and mice. We agreed on this as an interesting topic, one that was unlikely to be used by anyone else, and proceeded with some enthusiasm.

Mr. Armstrong had given the class a couple of months on the projects and, in class, we were examining other parts of history around exploration, colonization and the beginnings of Australia as a civilized country. Having a couple of months to work with Jenny didn’t seem to be too aggravating in my opinion. My other classes continued as usual, as did my fencing, and things seemed fairly normal. Except they weren’t. I kept wanting to put more time into my project with Jenny. I spent almost more time on that then I did on everything else. I told myself it was because we were working well together and we had a unique thesis, but under all that there was something else lurking. I simply could not understand what it was or why, but there was a drive there that kept me thinking about the project, about Jenny’s contributions, about seeing Jenny at school and when we would meet up outside of school. I told myself it was because this was the finest piece of grade 11 work Mr. Armstrong would ever see. I certainly couldn’t have lived with any other reason for these thoughts.

Jenny always gave me a big smile when we met up at the library. She was never like that at school, and in class we were both subdued and focussed, but outside of class we were much more animated, if still rather quiet overall. Working with Jenny was a highlight of my day. We met at least a couple of days a week after school, and eventually started talking about things other than the project. Never for long, as we were very disciplined about staying on topic, but we did take breathers from organizing and collating information. One of these conversations took me a bit off guard when Jenny started to ask personal questions.

We were in the cubicles, at the back of the public library as usual, books spread out in front of each of us, notes neatly in place, when we began talking off topic.

Jenny had made a comment about invasive rodent species, then, mid-sentence, blurted out a question.

“Joan, have you ever been in love?” She asked, almost in a whisper.

“I...uh…no. I don’t believe so,” I responded, suddenly feeling very awkward.

Jenny then started drawing her little circles at the top of one of her notebook pages, an activity I now knew was a nervous habit and nothing more. “Really?” She continued, “I thought everyone has been. It’s pretty normal for teenagers to have crushes and to fall in love, even if the object of their affection isn’t even aware of it.”

“I suppose so,” I stated, “it is quite normal, as all the articles and teachers have said. But I don’t have time for such things, so I have not experienced them.”

“How do you not experience feelings that come on, out of nowhere? It’s not like you choose who you will be drawn to, it’s that it just happens. I know of kids who’ve had crushes on teachers, other students and so on. It’s just normal,” she went on, her Bic pen drawing over the same circle numerous times.

“I suppose it is. I have had to keep my emotions in check because, as my Dad says, ‘emotions lead to mistakes.’ One can only afford so many mistakes in life, and I’ve made a few, so I try to steer clear of that sort of thing,” I finished, thinking we would then get back on track for our work.

“I wish I was like that,” Jenny said, softly.

I looked at the encyclopedia in front of me, turning from her and hoping that she would drop the topic, summing it up with, “You can learn. It’s not hard.”

“I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. But falling in love is just that: you fall. You don’t walk into it, you don’t just discover it and decide whether or not to do it, you just fall. You can’t decide where you will land or who you get to fall with, because it’s not a thing you even think about. It’s just there. All the time.” She started to pack up her books after that, not making eye contact.

I looked at my watch and discovered that she was correct, it was time to leave the place and head home to make dinner. How had she kept a closer eye on the clock than I had? I vowed not to let that happen again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 – Happier Times

____________________________________________________________________

 

When the day came to show Jianna off to the media, I took her to the visitor’s meeting area. Governor Bryce had chosen it as an appropriate space for photos as it was more cheerful than anywhere else in the prison. It had rules posted up all over the walls, but also posters of a more “uplifting” nature. I found such so-called motivational posters absurd, even annoying, but Bryce was very happy to have them plastered in the staff and visitor’s areas.
There were plenty of tables and chairs for the members of the media, and this also would allow for Jianna to either be seated or standing for photographs.

I walked Jianna down to the visitor’s center while she carried Shayne in her arms, holding him as though he would be snatched from her at any moment by another prisoner or a passing C.O. For his part, Shayne looked around with what seemed curiosity, taking in the new area and bright colours. He seemed happy enough, not fussing, just looking. I felt that this showed a superior intelligence in the child, but I could have been mistaken. I certainly didn’t know babies well enough to determine such things, but still I felt this to be the case.

One of the things that Bryce insisted Jianna do in preparation for the media was to write a thank you letter to me for my help. After all, I had been her mentor, and Bryce wanted to prove that ‘his’ mentorship program had had a successful launch. Having Jianna and her baby shown off was one thing, but having her word for it was another. I had not helped her write the thing, so I had no idea what its contents were. Apparently, Bryce had told her what needed to appear in the letter, but not how to say it, and she had not wanted me to see it ahead of time for some reason. Jianna had asked me to carry the letter, in its envelope, so that it wouldn’t become crumpled or messed by her if she had to deal with Shayne. I honestly didn’t think much of it at the time.

The visitor’s center was not overly full when we arrived, but there were a couple of local reporters and photographers there, as well as the local radio station newsman. Barry Czerniakowski was there, as our spokesman for the media, as well as a couple of other C.O.’s who had nothing better to do, and the Governor, of course. Jianna saw this crowd of people and balked at the idea of entering the room. She slowed down, nearly causing me to walk into her, and I snapped at her for it.

“What are you doing? Keep walking!” I ordered, not giving the best first impression I could have.

Jianna looked up at me, her eyes large with nervousness, and softly said, “Sorry.”

Bryce came up to Jianna as soon as he saw her, indicating with a gesture that she should move forward, put his arm around her as soon as it was possible and propelled her to the spot he had chosen as appropriate for photos. He was all smiles, happy to talk about his success with this young prisoner and to show everyone how his ideas had given hope to her and the baby. Jianna said nothing, just smiled as much as she could, holding Shayne close and being nothing more than a prop for Bryce to display. He could have been showing off a prized cow for all she mattered; her humanity seemed to disappear behind his nicely packaged little event. Czerniakowski had a few words to say, Bryce many more, and Jianna none. No one asked for the letter, so I folded it up and put it in a pocket. The whole event was all over very quickly, and I was relieved to be able to walk Jianna back to her cell.

Shayne was starting to fuss upon returning to the small, dark room that he and his mother lived in, and Jianna had been silent until we returned. She sat down on her bed, and I stood, well aware that other C.O.’s and prisoners could walk past at this time of day without notice. Normally I would sit down with Jianna, but we both knew that would put me in unnecessary jeopardy, job-wise.

“That was rather embarrassing,” Jianna said, settling Shayne on her lap.

“I can see how it would have been,” I said in response. “All that attention, without having any say in the matter.”

“Yeah, I felt weird the whole time,” she said, looking up from Shayne to me.

“It’s alright, Jianna. The Governor is happy with how well you’ve done, and he wants people to know it.” That was a rather weak thing to say, but I was unsure as to what else I could have said.

“They didn’t even ask me anything, or when they did, the Governor or Mr. Czerniakowski answered for me. It was like they didn’t even trust me to speak for myself. I guess they didn’t, really. They didn’t even ask me for the letter,” she said, sounding disappointed.

Having been reminded of the letter, I reached into my pocket to retrieve it for her. Jianna knew what I was doing and shook her head.

“No, Miss Ferguson, I want you to keep it. I was asked to write it, but I want you to know that I said what I wanted to, even though I had been given stuff to say. I think you should read it later, at home or something. I followed what they said to for the first paragraph and the last, but they wanted it too short, I thought. I put in what I feel, and that’s important to me. Please, don’t be mad at any of it – I wanted it written like it is.” Her voice trailed off at the end, becoming quiet as she looked back down at her baby.

I nodded and walked off to continue the rest of my shift.

The rest of the day was unremarkable, and I finished off and left work as usual.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Meeting up with Jenny was something I looked forward to. Most things in life simply have to be done, or will be at some point. I did what needed doing and that’s all. With Jenny, it was different. I felt comfortable with her, so much so that I could relax a bit, slouch down slightly in the library chairs, smile if I read something funny or she made a witty quip. We worked, but I found it to be more than just trying to get good marks or finding research interesting. There was a social dynamic to this project that I had not experienced before and I actually had something in my days that I looked forward to now. There was one aspect that threw me off, however, and I must admit that not only did I not look forward to it, it was most uncomfortable to get through. This was meeting Jenny’s grandmother and conducting the interview with her.

Jenny and I walked to her home after school on a Wednesday afternoon. It was a fair day, and I was enjoying being outside and having pleasant company. Jenny had warned me that her grandmother would not talk to me. Her grandmother never talked to white people, and that I would have to communicate with the woman through Jenny. This was not for the sake of translation of any type, but because of the grandmother’s dislike of my race.

The home that Jenny shared with her mother and grandmother was a bit like the one I shared with my father. It was a smaller house, with a main room and joined kitchen, and three bedrooms and a washroom. There was nothing grand here: the furniture was at least a decade old, there was wall-to-wall shag rug in the living room, and the furniture was polished wood with patterned fabrics in the greens, oatmeal and subdued oranges that had been popular at the time. The couch was heavy looking, possibly containing a fold out bed like we had. The rest of the furniture was varied, much polished wood was visible in the large, blanketed chair in one corner, and there was also a wooden rocking chair with cushions tied in place. A dark coffee table sat in the middle of the room, and a black and white tv was placed in a dominant spot where it could be seen from anywhere else in the room. The place stunk of cigarette smoke, both stale and fresh. I had noticed the stench on Jenny, so I expected that.

Jenny took a quick look in the living room, then turned back to me.

“Mom’s not home right now. If she were, then she’d be here watching her soap. I guess she had to work today after all,” Jenny said, more or less flatly. “Grandma will be in the kitchen; she likes to read the paper and have a coffee late in the afternoon.”

I had heard a sound from elsewhere, but had not said anything. The kitchen was, again, much as I was used to at home. It was small, functional and there was the inevitable Formica table pushed up against one wall. Over the table, hanging on the faded yellow wall, was a clock in the shape of a flower, the clock’s face being the centre, the petals stood out around it in rounded shapes, and a stem and leaves ran down the wall to end with a white cord that was plugged in somewhere nearby. The clock was all in white plastic, except for the green and blue plastic that filled in the petals to add the requisite colours of the day.

There was a heavy, dark brown, glass ashtray on the table, next to a half-filled cup of coffee served in a heavy white mug. A cigarette was in the ashtray, almost finished, but still burning. There was a newspaper being held up over the face of what appeared a heavy-set individual.

A voice, harsh with years of smoking, came from behind the newspaper.

“Jenny, is that you and your school friend?” the grandmother said, without lowing the newspaper in the least.

“Yes, Grandma. We’re here to talk to you for our homework, just like I asked. Do you want more coffee?” Jenny said, with affection, as she put her books on the table.

The newspaper lowered, and a plump, elderly dark woman with cloudy eyes, more wrinkles than seemed possible and hair that would have been a mix of white and brown had it not been for the nicotine stains, was revealed. I am almost never intimidated by anyone, but there was something about this woman that intimidated me. I’m not sure I could have found my voice quickly enough had she spoken to me. Of course, as Jenny had prepared me, I was aware that she would not do so.

Jenny took the percolator off of the stove and filled her grandmother’s cup. She replaced it on the stove as there was still coffee left in it, looked at me and shrugged. I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I stayed where I was, saying nothing.

The old lady picked up a creamer that was on the table, poured some milk into her coffee and carefully put the creamer back where it had been before on the table. She picked up a tea spoon, stirred her coffee with purpose, and then put the spoon directly on the table. She then folded the newspaper very carefully and laid it on the table in front of her. Jenny said nothing through all of this, just carefully spread out the notebook she had with her and indicated that I should sit down at the table. I did so, and took out my notebook as well. I realized that there would be no introduction, so I didn’t try to say hello to the old woman.

We sat for a bit, Jenny patiently drawing her circles at the top of her blank lined page in the three ringed binder, me waiting, looking down at the table top where I’d also opened my notebook. Her Grandmother never looked at me, always at the coffee cup, Jenny or her cigarette. She was never without a cigarette either in her mouth or the ashtray. I watched as she picked up the pack of cigarettes from the table, tapped on the slim cardboard and took out a fresh cigarette, placed it in her mouth and lit it from the old one. She then added the stub of the old one to the pile of ash and butts in her ashtray. The whole thing was noxious and rather loathsome to me. I have never understood why anyone would voluntarily put something as unhealthy as smoke into his lungs, even though most people did it regularly.

What then followed was an extremely uncomfortable conversation in which I was a peripheral participant at best. Jenny asked most of the questions, and her Grandmother answered. Both Jenny and I took notes. The questions were about the past, what the old lady remembered from her childhood about what her elders had told her, without mentioning names or specifics. She described how the land she had grown up on looked, how she remembered playing as a child, the animals she’d seen in the wild, and the chores she had done. Much of what was said was not of use for the project, but some was.

If I had a question, I had to state it to Jenny, who then turned to her Grandmother and said the same thing word for word, in English. The Grandmother would answer, and then Jenny would say it back to me in her Grandmother’s exact words. The whole experience felt rather humiliating and surreal. The waste of time due to repetition was tedious and felt, to me, completely unjustified.

When we had gathered all the information we could from Jenny’s Grandmother, Jenny thanked her and we packed up our notebooks and prepared to leave. The old woman simply gave a grunt and began to unfold her newspaper when Jenny said good-bye. We left the room without another word.

I was relieved when we went out onto the front porch. I felt like I could breathe again. I took in fresh air deeply, and tried to clear the smell of the smoke from my nose. I must have been somewhat obvious about it, as Jenny felt it necessary to apologize.

“Sorry about the smoke. I know you’re health conscious and whatnot. It’s just that Grandma always smokes, always has and probably always will. She’s had a tough life, and Mom says that smoking is the only way she can relax. It does get pretty thick in there, though, doesn’t it?” Jenny said, looking up at me with her dark eyes pleading for understanding.

“It’s alright. I’m glad I don’t have to breathe it all the time. I don’t know how you put up with it.” I was trying to sound sympathetic, but didn’t know if I had until I saw Jenny’s face light up with one of her lovely, dimpled smiles.

“Oh, I’m used to it. I don’t like it, but I can’t do anything about it. I keep the door to my room closed, and my window open, so it’s better in there. Thanks for being so understanding.”

I gave her a smile in return, wanting to show that I wasn’t offended or upset with anything, and then she did the strangest thing: Jenny stood up on her tip toes and kissed my cheek. It was a quick peck, really, but such an odd thing to do. I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t even sure if I should respond.

She looked up at me again, smiling broadly, her eyes looking directly into mine.
“Thank you, Joan – you’re the best!” She said emphatically, then she turned, gave me a slight wave and went back into the house.

I stepped off the porch, bewildered by what had just happened, and headed home. I didn’t even think to wipe the spot on my cheek where she had planted her kiss. I just walked home, feeling more and more elated as I went, but not understanding why.

___________________________________________________________________________________

 

Upon returning home, I went into my usual routine. I took my shoes off, put on slippers, put my keys in the dish in the front hallway so that I always knew where they were, made sure everything was perfectly in order and went to my bedroom to change out of my uniform. As I took off my shirt, I quickly noticed that one pocket contained a folded-up piece of paper. I had put Jianna’s note out of my mind when working, and now I had a chance to read it. Jianna had been adamant about the whole thing, so I set it on my night table as I changed into comfortable clothing for the evening. I wasn’t sure if I should leave the note to read later, or take it with me to read immediately. Curiosity took a hold, and I brought the note into the kitchen with me.

I went to the freezer as usual, took out a cold shot glass and my bottle of good vodka, poured a shot, then put it on the placemat at of my table. I heated a beef stew in the microwave, got out my silverware, and did something so bizarre it was almost surreal; the whole evening turned rather strange at that point because I sat with my dinner in front of me and unfolded Jianna’s note. I would never, ever do that with a letter or note from anyone else because of the possibility of contaminating my food, but this was from Jianna and it felt almost natural to read something from her no matter where I was. Such strange behaviour is not justifiable, so I will not try to do so.

I opened the letter and read Jianna’s delicate, neat handwriting:

 

Dear Joan,

I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for your kindness and protection, I had nobody until you came along. I owe you everything.

You have no idea how much it means to me and my baby, Shayne. Nobody can put him to sleep like you do. I can’t wait from him to grow up so I can tell him about you, his Mum’s good friend and my guardian angel.

I see hope in our future now and that’s all because of you.

Much Love,

Jianna Riley

 

I read the letter, and re-read it. I had not expected anything like the depth of emotion that Jianna had displayed here. I had never had anyone say things like that to me before – thanking me for anything like that, for giving hope for the future, for doing my job and more. Clearly there was more here than the position of mentor and mentee. Jianna was saying that I had given her and her child a future, a future that would not have been available to them without my help. And she had singed it “Much Love”. Much. Love.

Love.

No one had ever written anything to me with that word on it. Never. I had had sweet words, once, long in the past, but never “love”. Not from my Dad, ever. Not from a friend or boyfriend. No one.

I don’t think I moved for at least twenty minutes. I just read and re-read the note until I could no longer see the words clearly. It took me a moment to realize that they were blurry because I was crying. I do NOT cry. I have total control over my emotions; so it was more along the lines of my eyes involuntarily producing tears without my permission. I did not understand why or how, but looking back, it must have been an emotional reaction. I must have been moved by those words. By that one word…

I put the note aside after a time, and ate my cold stew, swallowed the vodka without tasting it, cleaned up, and went to my room to change into my sleep clothes. The entire time I had the letter in view. It was on the table, on the counter, on my bed, on my nightstand. Indeed, I fell asleep that night with it next to me on the bed.

When I jerked awake the next morning, aware that something precious was near that needed attention, I found the note still on the bed, next to my pillow. I did not follow my usual morning routine until I had carefully placed the note inside the cover of a favourite, heavy art book that I kept in an area on my living room bookshelf that was reserved for oversized books. I wanted to keep it crisp, not allow UV light or other damaging elements near it. I know I was putting far too much emphasis on a mere piece of paper, a thing, but I had no control over my actions. I needed to know that it was in as safe a place as possible.

 

As soon as I arrived at work, I was told to report to the Governor’s office. I did so, and Bryce was there, in his little squalid office, waiting for me. He stood up when I entered, and extended his hand for a handshake. I loathe shaking hands: far too easy to come into contact with someone else’s germs. I looked at Bryce’s hand, then at his face. He was grinning in that insipid way he had: almost, but not quite, genuine to the situation.

“Well, come on, Joan – shake!” Bryce said, leaning further over his desk unnecessarily to put his hand closer to me. I had little choice, so I shook his hand. I made a note not to touch anything else with that hand until I could wash it.

The grin continued as Bryce let my hand go, and presented me with an envelope that clearly held more than just paper. He indicated that I should open it. There, inside the envelope, was a notice of advancement and two little gold crowns, the ones Governors and Deputy Governors wore on their epaulet to indicate rank. I poured them out into my palm, looking at the gold threads of the crowns that were embroidered into the little patches of black fabric.

“I told you I’d make sure you got the position,” Bryce said, looking pleased, as though he himself had been promoted. “Here, let me help you with those.”

He took the crowns from my hand, and put them on his desk, then carefully moved next to me and unbuttoned the epaulet on my left shoulder. He had to reach up a little to get at it, but he did so with one crown, refastened the button, and then repeated the action on my right shoulder. He then stood back, beaming, as though I were his personal creation and had not earned the promotion on my own.

“Congratulations, Deputy Governor,” Bryce said. Then he saluted me. We do not salute in our line of work, and this seemed ridiculous. However, I simply raised one eyebrow, then decided to salute back. He ended the inappropriate ritual with a crisp movement of his arm back down.

“So sit, Joan, we need to discuss what this means for us,” Bryce said, holding the chair for me. I sat down, smoothing out my skirt to do so.

We talked about necessary procedures, my new and continuing duties and so on for a long time, and it was all very official and professional. Perhaps Bryce would not be so awful to work with after all.

There was an official calling together of the C.O.’s that afternoon, organized by me, for my introduction as the new Deputy Governor. The rest of the C.O.’s seemed unimpressed, disappointed or even nervous with my appointment. Good. That would give me either the element of surprise or the advantage of fear. Either way, they had no choice and had to accept me as their new superior officer. I felt even taller than usual at that meeting.

My shift work still continued much as before but with added paperwork and authority. I was still able to see Jianna when I was off work, and that suited me fine. If there were any C.O.’s around, I could send them on their way, telling them I’d look after the area near Jianna’s cell.

When I walked in the evening after my promotion, Jianna noticed the little crowns right away.

“Miss Ferguson, you got promoted!” she said, standing while holding Shayne close to her, gently jiggling him a bit to keep him calm.

“Yes,” I said, voice even.

“Congratulations. Are you the Governor now? That would be awesome!” she continued, grinning so that her pretty dimples showed.

“No, not yet. I’m now the Deputy Governor,” I said.

“Well, that’s great. I think you really deserve it. I guess you’ll get more money now, too,” she said, genuinely happy for me.

I smiled back at her, for once feeling as though I had just told the most important person in my life about my reaching an apex in my career. I suppose I had.

“Money was never an issue, but I appreciate the thought. Mostly, being Deputy means more work and attention to the details of staffing and so on, but I do like the added authority,” I stated.

She sat down on her bed and placed Shayne comfortably in her lap and looked carefully at the little additions to my uniform that now adorned my shoulders.

“Authority suits you,” she said.

I had always had authority where she was concerned, so I was curious, “How so?”

“I don’t know, but you’ve always come across as so strong, so in charge. I know I’m a prisoner and all, but I think even the other C.O.’s have always respected you. You just seem like someone who should be in charge wherever you are,” she explained.

“I think that is probably an astute observation,” I said, “but may we change the topic?”

Jianna nodded and settled herself and Shayne down for nursing. The little boy had no trouble nursing now, and immediately latched on and fed.

“I read the letter you wrote for the Governor and the press,” I said, suddenly feeling awkward. “I think you may have overstated my contribution to your situation, you know -”

Jianna interrupted me, “Oh, no – I meant it. You are a life saver! I can really see a future for us now, and it’s because of you.”

I paused, startled, “Us?”

“Yeah, Shayne and I. I mean, Shayne and me, sorry. I know that teaching me like you did was not the way things are normally done, so I really appreciate it,” she said softly, so as not to disturb the child.

I looked down at my hands, trying to work up the courage I needed to continue. I felt as though I was about to say something embarrassing, something I had never said to anyone before. I grasped the hem of my skirt in my hands, smoothed it out over my knees, took a breath and asked, “Did you mean everything you put in that letter, or was it mostly for show?”

I couldn’t look at Jianna, but I listened, unnecessarily smoothing my skirt down again, as she spoke, “I meant all of it, that’s why I wanted you to have it and read it. You are a good friend, and you have given me a future, and you have protected me and been my guardian angel. I meant it all and I think you know that.”

Still unable to look up, I nodded, then said, “I do. I do know it. I appreciate what you said. It…it…”

Jianna, carefully so as not to unsettle Shayne, reached over and touched my arm gently, and said, “It’s okay, Miss Ferguson. I get it. You don’t talk about stuff like this a lot, and that’s fine. I am thankful for you, you know that. That’s what you know, but I wanted you to see it for yourself, for me to tell you. I don’t know if I could have said it out loud at first either,” then she giggled a little, perhaps feeling embarrassed herself.

“Thank you, Jianna. Would it be alright, if when no one else is around, you call me Joan instead of Miss Ferguson? I think that, if we are good friends, it would be more appropriate,” I asked. Just as I was gaining more authority and a title with real meaning at work, I wanted to have less of that with Jianna. It seemed natural now, for some reason.

“Yeah, I guess. It’s going to feel weird, though, and take a while to get used to,” she said, “I mean, I’m used to calling you Miss Ferguson. I only called you ‘Joan’ in the letter because they told me to. I don’t know why they did.”

At that I was able to meet her eyes with mine. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, if it will make you feel uncomfortable.”

“No, I’ll try. When no one else is around, maybe it will be more comfortable after a while,” she said, smiling that reassuring smile of hers.

“Thank you, Jianna. I want you to know that I really appreciate what you said in the letter. I also want to promise, again, that I will always protect you. No one will be able to hurt you while I’m around,” I said emphatically. I had meant those words before, but now they seemed even more important to restate.

“Oh, I know that! You’ve done so much for me. You really are a good friend. I don’t know what I would have done without you…Joan,” she said, touching my arm again.

I don’t think I could have spoken at that point. I couldn’t even look at Jianna again. I just stood up and quickly left her cell. I did take a moment to look back before she was out of my view, and saw her looking down at her little baby. I have never felt so protective of anyone before or since. I knew then and there that I would do whatever was necessary to keep them safe, comfortable and as happy as possible. Emotions may be a weakness, but I saw nothing wrong with promoting Jianna’s happiness from then on. What a fool I was.

___________________________________________________________________________________

 

When we were nearing the end of our project together, I believed that Jenny and I would never see each other outside of class again. After all, I had no friends, and did not expect that anyone would want to spend time with me outside of school, even if we had gotten along well already. I could not voice this thought, however, as talking about such things was also something that never occurred to me. On one of our last days at the public library, Jenny did something that changed how I saw our relationship.

We had found our usual, semi-private cubicles at the back of the library and turned them inwards so that we were not separated from each other by their high walls. Jenny was showing me her sketches of rabbits and mice and I was expressing my admiration of their execution. Jenny did very skillful pen and ink drawings.

“I didn’t know if they would work in this, or if we should just do photocopies. What do you think?” she asked me, staring at me as I looked over her artwork, eager to hear a response.

I looked for a moment longer than necessary to make an assessment, just so that she’d realize I was taking her seriously, and then gave her a reassuring smile. “I think these are very good, Jenny. You certainly have captured the horror of being overrun by alien animals.”

“Um…yeah, I hope so. Also, some of them are kind of cute, aren’t they?” she responded, saying what seemed the oddest thing.

I briefly shook my head in disbelief, then looked again at her work. “Yes, I suppose some of the rabbits that are closer to the view, as it were, look rather ‘cute’. More though, they look anatomically accurate, and I like the swarm they are in.”

Jenny smiled, then gave a short laugh, “Crap, are you ever precise about everything!”

Her words cut me a bit, as they reminded me of the way Alice had talked to me. I sat up straight, pulling away from Jenny and her drawings.

“I can’t help that. Precision ensures that I receive the highest marks. Isn’t that what you want too?” I said, my voice low and cold.

“Of course it is! I didn’t mean to say anything offensive. In fact, I like that about you,” she said, determined to bring me back to the topic at hand, at least that’s what I thought.

“Alright, then. I didn’t mean to sound so…. the way I did, either,” I said. “I have been criticized in the past for being too precise with words, or sounding like an old lady or some such. It was never meant kindly.”

Jenny reached over and put her hand on my arm, surprising me. I jumped a bit at the touch.

“I know how you feel, I do. People have said things like that to me, too. It’s okay now, though, because we found each other. We have these things in common and can appreciate them in each other, can’t we?” she pleaded, looking me in the eyes and gently squeezing my arm.

I didn’t know how to respond. I knew how to defend myself, how to walk away from others, how to manage on my own, how to cut off my emotions so that I didn’t feel the sting from what others said – but this, this was new. Someone who wasn’t a teacher or fencing coach had said something kind to me, and it wasn’t just about my work. I moved my gaze down to where her hand rested on my arm, and as though in a fog, I put my other hand on top of hers, and said, “I…. guess so. I think I…” and there I choked. I had no idea what more to add. It’s not like me to lose my voice, and it was rather embarrassing. Jenny, however, found a way to ease my discomfort.

She gently leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, softly, even with affection. Then she squeezed my arm again. My hand had not left hers, so I gently ran my thumb across the side of her hand, over her thumb. I looked back at her eyes and saw them looking at me in a way I had not noticed before. Her eyes looked deep, soft even, yet determined in some way.

“I think we have more in common than you know, Joan,” she said quietly. Then, “You have the most beautiful, deep, dark eyes I’ve ever seen. I love looking into them. But I think there’s a lot of pain there, and a lot of loneliness, too.”

No one had ever talked to me like that before, and I sat up a bit. “You can’t see things like that in someone’s eyes. I can’t see anything but the brown of yours.”

“I can feel it then,” she continued. “And I know we are alike in more ways than you know. I can tell. I know you like being with me.”

I didn’t know if that was a question or a statement, really, so I responded with, “I enjoy your company, that’s true.”

“And how many friends have you spent as much time with as with me?” she went on.

I looked down again. I had never had any real feelings about being on my own as it was simply the way things were. Now, however, it felt like a confession. “No one. I’ve never done a project of this size with anyone before, though.”

Jenny laughed a little, then gently – ever so gently – put the first two fingers of her free hand on my jaw and slowly tilted my head up so that we made eye contact again. “There’s more between us than a plague of rabbits,” she said, with that light smile.

I involuntarily smiled back; I simply couldn’t help it. Then Jenny leaned forward and kissed me again, this time on the lips. It was a light kiss, almost no more than a brushing of our lips, but it was a kiss nonetheless. I did not know how to respond, so I simply froze. Jenny took her fingers off of my chin, pulled back and gave me the brightest smile I’ve ever seen.

“You see?” she whispered, “that wasn’t awful, was it?”

I shook my head, no. I couldn’t speak at all; I had no words with which to address the situation. I felt my face turning red, an uncomfortable feeling, but deep in my stomach, lower even, I felt what seemed a flutter. It was a pleasant feeling, and I knew it was in response to what Jenny had done. I wanted her to kiss me again. I wanted to feel if the flutter would grow or not. I wanted … I wanted to be wanted. I had never felt like that before, but this was a chance to be wanted by someone – and this wasn’t just anyone. This was my friend, the first real friend I’d ever had. This was someone I valued and thought highly of. To be wanted by her was an experience that felt almost transcendent.

More than anything, I thought it would end. I thought Jenny was, perhaps, just expressing friendship in her own way, nothing more. If that were the case, I could have been happy with that. To end it there, to know I had a friend was so much more important that I could have ever imagined before.

Jenny reached up her free hand again, touched my cheek, and used her thumb to wipe away a tear I hadn’t known I’d shed. This was an involuntary act of my body, almost a betrayal of everything I had learned in order to stifle emotion. I could do nothing about it. More tears came, and I feared that Jenny would leave in embarrassment or disgust. But she didn’t. Instead, she leaned over and put both arms around me, pulling me in for the first genuine hug I’d ever had.

“It’s okay Joan, I know how you feel. It’s okay. It’s okay,” she said over and over.

And suddenly, it was okay. I let myself feel. I let myself cry and hold onto someone else. Someone so special I had no words for it.

Then I realized that my nose was running as much as my eyes, and I pulled away. I reached down and picked up my large leather purse and pulled out a small plastic tissue package, pulled one out and turned my back on Jenny as much as I could in order to blow my nose.

I looked around me for a garbage can and found none, so I put the used tissue in the small plastic bag I kept in my purse for such times as this.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized, “I didn’t mean to contaminate your jacket.”

Jenny laughed lightly. “That’s fine, I don’t care.”

My face reddened yet again. “I suppose I am rather repellent now, with my eyes and nose running, aren’t I?”

Jenny reached over and took my face in both her hands, gently as before, and said, “I don’t care how you look, but no, you don’t look repellent. You look moved, and I am so happy that it was me that made you feel that way. I am sorry you’re crying because it seems to make you uncomfortable, but I don’t care about how you look. You’re my Joan, and you look beautiful to me.”

At that she leaned right in and kissed me fully on the lips - and I kissed her back. I could taste the salt of my tears, and the artificial strawberry of her lip gloss. I felt her open her mouth a bit, so I did the same. She made an appreciative sound, and I felt that flutter grow inside me when I heard it.

Then I pulled away, fast, realizing what we were doing.

“What’s wrong?” she said, clearly confused.

“I, uh, I can’t do this. It’s not right, we’re not supposed to feel this way. We’re two girls,” I said, suddenly appalled by what had happened and how I’d reacted.

“So? Girls can - and do- feel for each other. What’s wrong with a kiss?” she asked, softly, sheepishly.

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to find the words I needed. “I really don’t. But it’s wrong when it’s two people of the same sex. I mean, my Dad would say so.”

“Did it feel wrong, Joan? Did I hurt you, or did I make you feel good?” Jenny asked, still quiet, but now sounding almost clinical. She waited a bit for my answer, as I did not know how to formulate it for some time.

When I did find my voice again, I had to say the truth. For some reason, lying to Jenny felt completely wrong. “No, it felt good. I liked it. But it is wrong. I can’t get in trouble like this.”

“If it doesn’t feel bad, then why are you so scared? No one has to find out. It’s just us, you and me. We just kissed, that’s all. But I need you to know something,” she said, becoming very serious, “I need you to know that I really care for you. If you don’t want to kiss again or anything, that’s okay; I won’t kiss you again. But I really want to stay friends, if that’s okay with you?”

I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Yes, Jenny, I really do want to stay friends. I didn’t think we’d really see much of each other after the project was done, but I would like to if we could.”

She gave a sigh of relief, then smiled that glorious smile again, “Good. Then we are friends. And I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”

“Thank you,” I replied

“But Joan, if you ever change your mind about kissing or – anything – just let me know,” she finished.

We packed up and left the library together, saying nothing more, but Jenny did give me a quick wave when we parted.

I contemplated what had happened on the way home. Surely we had done nothing wrong, but homosexuality was not acceptable. Not to my Dad, as he had said so in the past, not in detail, but I knew his feelings. The only thing I really knew about homosexuals was what I had seen as jokes in the odd movie or tv show. My understanding was extremely limited, which was fine – because I was not, and could never be a homosexual, a lesbian. I had to be above that sort of thing, or my Dad would beat it out of me.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

As Deputy Governor I had extra work to do. Mostly it was paperwork, but I also had to run interference between the Governor and everything and everyone else in the prison. My job was to see that things were dealt with and contained so that the Governor never had to address them except in a report. If something was beyond such containment, then the Governor had to be brought in. I also would bring people to the Governor who requested to see him, had appointments, etc., from outside of Blackmoore’s walls. For the first little while, things ran very smoothly. We were collegial, and I found working with Bryce to be satisfactory. I loathed the smell of his baloney sandwiches that would issue from under his office door when he had lunch, and I tolerated being at a small desk outside the office without much space for paperwork, but overall it was satisfactory. It seemed that Bryce felt the same way, as one morning he called me into his office to reward me with a gift.

Bryce had me sit down in his stuffy little office, across from him once again, as he pushed a flat, rectangular box towards me across his desk.

“You’ve been doing such a crack job, Joan, that I thought you deserved something nice,” he said, trying to sound as if there were no ulterior motives for the gift. “Go on, open it.”

I picked up the box and pulled the top off of it carefully as I wasn’t sure what was inside. The gift turned out to be more expensive than I would have expected. There, protected by tissue paper, lay a very good quality pair of black leather gloves.

Bryce smiled at my raised eyebrow, knowing me well enough by now to know that I was showing surprise. “Go on, try them on. I’m pretty sure I got the size right. I had to look in the men’s department, but these looked right for you anyway. Italian leather, hand sewn, top of the line. Nothing but the best for you.”

I did as instructed and took the gloves out of the box. The smell of the leather was almost intoxicating, organic and beautiful, speaking of strength and suppleness all at once. I tried on first the right-hand glove, then the left. They fit well.

“Thank you,” I said. “This is a kind gift.” What else to say?

“They suit you, Joan. I do love to see a woman wearing good quality gloves. I’m glad they fit. As I said, I had to look in the men’s department. But these looked like they could be worn by either men or women, and I thought they’d suit you. I was right. And they do fit, to coin a phrase, like a glove!” At that he snickered at his little joke, amused even though the noun did not match the plural pronoun.

“Thank you, Governor. Will that be all?” I asked, eager to leave his office once again. I took the gloves off carefully and placed them back in the box.

“For now, sure,” he said, then stood up, squeezed past me, and opened the door for me. I found this very odd as he had not done that for me in the past.

I nodded at him in acknowledgement as I left the office, taking the gloves in their box with me.

I realized that good leather gloves could be something that anyone might want to take for himself, so I locked them in one of my filing cabinets, behind the reems of paper. Since it was summer, I thought no more about them.

The day continued, I had more to do than usual, as well as rounds, and wanted to get things completed so that I could go and visit with Jianna. She would want me to help her get Shayne down for the night.

When I reached Jianna’s cell, she was holding Shayne on her lap, smiling and talking to him. He was reaching up to her face with his pudgy little baby hands. I thought the scene very domestic, very peaceful – and then remembered where, and who I was. This was no moment of homely family life: this was a cold, hard, noisy, often violent place. I had to admire Jianna for the way she carried on, mothering the child and trying to keep things as normalized for him as possible.

I smiled at Jianna as I strode into her cell, towering over the small woman and her baby. I do find my height useful, but at times I am still self-conscious about it, still aware that I do not fit in with my surroundings unless I am at home.

Jianna took a quick look around and me, reassuring herself that there was no on nearby, and then said, “Hello, Joan.” She turned Shayne around so that he was facing me and continued speaking in the soft, high voice that mothers use with babies and small children, “Look, Shayne, here’s your Aunty Joan. She’s come to sing you to sleep again. Isn’t it nice of her to come and see us so often?” At that, Shayne smiled, then stuck his little fist into his mouth, drooling on it.

I sat down on the end of the bed, as usual, twisting at the waist to see Jianna and the baby clearly.

“And just how are you both this evening?” I said, keeping my voice soft and low to keep it both calm for Shayne’s rest and less likely to carry should someone come by.

“He’s fine, but not tired enough. I have enough ‘tired’ to do for both of us. It’s not easy having kitchen clean up and keeping this little poop head happy,” she said. Although it was a complaint of sorts, Jianna looked perfectly happy. “Thank you so much for the little play pen. I have no idea how I could do anything without it.”

“You’re very welcome. However, I hope that you do more than just put him in the pen when you can’t attend to him,” I said, real concern in my voice.

Jianna jiggled Shayne a bit more, to keep him smiling, and looked into his face as she spoke. “Yeah, sure. I can keep an eye on him, and the other women like him. They may hate me, but having him here means they are nice to me because they want to see him. I let them play with him a bit, or talk to him and stuff. If he cries, they get annoyed with the noise, so that’s when I usually have to pick him up.”

A thought occurred to me, and not a nice one, “You don’t let the other women handle him, do you? He could pick up germs, or worse.”

Jianna let out a short laugh, a little “ha” negating the idea. “No way. I don’t want them picking him up. They can hold toys out to him, touch him, I guess, but not pick him up. Not yet, anyway.”

“Good,” I said with relief, “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Really, I’m the only one who does pick him up,” she continued.

“As it should be,” I stated firmly.

Shayne started to fuss a little, in Jianna’s lap. She was still smiling that wonderful smile of hers when she said, “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s time for his Aunty to hold him.”

For no reason I could detect, Shayne started to become upset, fussing a little, as though about to start crying. Jianna smiled and handed him over to me. I had never held him before – I had never held any baby before – yet I did not protest this time. I held him up, holding him under the armpits, looking into his face. He made another sound of protest, then went quiet. We were looking at each other. I was looking into his eyes. I realized right then and there how vulnerable he was. I could choose to simply let go and he would fall to the floor, perhaps hitting his little head on the stone and taking great damage or even being killed. How strange to hold a human being so small, so fragile, so dependent. But it was also, somehow, empowering. I knew I would not drop him. I would never allow him to come to harm, not just for his mother’s sake, but for his own as well. This little creature, for the moment, needed me to be steady and strong. He needed me to be…

Shayne started to wiggle again, having broken the moment of eye contact and was making movements as though he wished to go back to Jianna, and well he may have. I moved to make it easier for her to take him and she just shook her head, then rearranged Shayne in my arms so that he was lying there, looking up at me, just as he did with his mother. His head was resting in the crook of my elbow, his body held and supported by both my arms. Jianna nodded approvingly, and sat back a bit on her pillows, as she used to do before he was born.

Shayne wiggled around again, and I began to wonder if I was at all really able to hold a child for long without making him uncomfortable. I looked to Jianna, who simply said, “Well, go on, Aunty Joan.”

“With what? What should I do with him now?” I was rather discomfited, not sure of how to keep the child from crying out again.

Instead of looking concerned or worried, Jianna gave a short laugh and said, “Sing to him, of course, like you always do.”

Oh, yes – of course. I started humming Nessun Dorma from Turandot – it’s a strange choice of song for putting someone to sleep, but it’s a lovely tune and without the great push of sound it requires in performance, I could keep it low and soothing. Shayne immediately settled down and paid attention to my voice. He smiled, and reacted with much more expression and intent than usual. I was surprised at this, but softly sang the words to him. When I was done, Jianna leaned over and took Shayne away, placing him in his makeshift crib. He fussed a bit, even started to cry, but this was something I was used to. I stood over the crib and sang the aria again. At this he finally settled down enough that Jianna and I could sit back on the bed and chat a bit.

“Thank you. You always manage to get him to settle down. You have such a good voice,” she said, finally slouching a bit now that the burden of keeping Shayne interested in things was done for now.

“I enjoy singing, at least to him. He does seem to appreciate it. He even seemed more attentive the first time around than usual tonight,” I stated, thinking of how he had reacted when I held him.

“Well, yeah. He was next to you. He could feel you breathing, your body moving with the song, and he maybe even hear your heartbeat,” she said, as though it were plainly obvious. Perhaps she was right and I should have realized that the closeness changed the dynamic. “Anyway,” she continued, “you’re a natural. You never held him before, but you were fine. See? He didn’t mind and you didn’t hurt him or anything”

I turned my head so that I was looking Jianna straight on and stated, “I would never hurt him. I would never allow anyone to hurt him.”

“Of course not. I wouldn’t let you hold him if I thought you would. But he likes you and you can hold him any time. You two looked sweet, you singing and Shayne watching you like that. It was nice to see him happy in someone else’s arms, I guess, at least for a little bit,” she finished, then yawned almost audibly, and covered her mouth at the last moment.

I stood up to go, smoothing my skirt, and spoke softly so as not to disturb the child, “You need your rest. I’ll leave you now, and see you tomorrow.” At that I walked out of the cell.

I always checked the hallway when I left Jianna, to make sure that no one was around. As usual, it was relatively quiet at this end of the hall. It really was fortunate that the one prisoner with a baby in this place had an area mostly away from other, less respectable, inmates.

______________________________________________________________________________________

 

I found myself working harder on my homework to finish it as early as possible. Jenny did the same, and that allowed us more time to talk, take a walk or just read together. We usually met at the public library, but there were times when my Dad was out of the house that I could invite her over. The excuse was always that we worked on our school work together, but that was only one part of the time we spent. We also talked about things that interested us; I talked about architecture, literature and the other topics I found interesting. Jenny talked about geology, biology and the things that made up her world. We often spent lunch hours together, when she wasn’t volunteering to shelve books in the library over that break. When she did shelve books, I often went to the library and read or studied there, and I was happy to skip my lunch if it meant I was in Jenny’s company, even in a peripheral way. I found the time since I had met Jenny to the most pleasant of all my school years.

On one hot December afternoon, Dad was teaching a solo lesson to a wealthy client, so I knew he would be later coming home than usual. Since there was never a guarantee that Jenny and I could get the study carols we preferred at the library, it only made sense to invite her to my place. She had been before, but it was never longer than an hour or so as I always had to have her gone before Dad came home. I was not allowed to talk on the phone for more than practical reasons, so once Jenny left, we could no longer communicate until we met up again. Having her over after school for an extended amount of time was something special for us.

I would always pour us a couple of glasses of ice water, and put out a snack, usually some fruit or bread and butter. We would eat in the kitchen, I would clean up the table after, and we would then move to whichever room suited us best for studying. It was usually my bedroom as it had my desk, reference books and other necessary items for academic proceedings.

On this particular day, we had green grapes and ice water, then moved to my bedroom as usual. Jenny left her Adidas bag in the front hallway and brought only the books and supplies necessary for what we had chosen to work on first. Since we both took a literature class, a more advanced and prestigious class than the usual English classes, we had a fair bit of homework that we could do together. Today we were both reading Taming of the Shrew. We settled on the single bed, next to each other, and read separately. I found this comfortable, even though I disliked being in such close proximity to anyone other than Jenny.

Jenny suddenly spoke up, startling me a bit, and rolled her head to look at me. She gave a small grimace and said, “God, is it ever hot. Can we get a fan or something?”

I was surprised, as I did not notice the heat the same way she did. I replied, “We only have two electric fans, one in the kitchen window over the sink, and one in Dad’s room. I am not going to bring either in here, as Dad would not like that.”

She huffed out a breath and started pulling at her pastel pink blouse to move air around her torso. “Fine, but lets at least open your window some more.”

I got up from the bed and did so, making sure that the screen was in position to keep insects out of the room.

“That’s as wide as it can go,” I said, turning to look at Jenny.

“Okay, then that will have to do,” she said, resolved to the situation.

I looked at her on the bed and was suddenly struck by how beautiful she was. Perhaps not according to the standards of the day, but very feminine, even Rubenesque. She had soft female curves, beautiful dark skin, a lovely face and her hands were elegant. She didn’t notice my looking at her, and I didn’t dare do it for long, so I lay down on the bed once again.

I tried reading the play, but I have to admit that I was still thinking of Jenny and how she looked on my bed. Of course, as she was right next to me, I wasn’t going to look at her again – and then the strangest thing happened. I felt as though I were out of own body, disconnected from myself. It was as though my super ego was superseded by the id. I had no real control, as I seemed to be floating above myself. I turned over on my side and without thinking, I lifted my hand and stroked Jenny’s hair lightly. I hadn’t known how she’d respond, but she just turned her head to look at me and smiled. I think I may have smiled back; I don’t know. I do know that I leaned over her and gently kissed her. Not much of a kiss, really, just a peck on the lips as she had done before.

Jenny put her copy of the play on the bedside table next to her, then turned back to me. I know I was terrified of what would happen next. I still had no real control of myself, but I was observing and afraid of a negative reaction. I was frozen in time, waiting for a response, not sure if I had done something wrong or not.

I had no reason for fear. Jenny turned on her side and looked into my eyes, then moved in and kissed me back. This time it became more serious. This next kiss was open mouthed. I found the feel of her lips on mine soft and pleasurable, and I was surprised at how pleasant it felt to have our tongues touch. This was all new to me, and I would have stopped it there had I been in my right mind, but I was not. The kisses continued for a bit, each becoming longer and more intense. I knew that I was having a sexual experience, and that I was doing something I shouldn’t, but I didn’t want to stop.

When Jenny pulled back, I thought that the experience might have been over. What else could we do? Then she put her hand over one of my breasts. I drew a sharp breath at this, as it felt good, even over the t-shirt and bra. She massaged my breast for a bit, watching my face and seeing my evident pleasure. I even felt my nipple rise and grow hard under her hand. All this was so new to me. I was sighing, and still not in my own body, really, even as I was enjoying the bodily sensations. When she dropped her arm down enough to give me room, my free arm lifted up, and I reached over and put my hand on Jenny’s most available breast and felt around it. I explored the shape, the feel of it, my hand moving around. Jenny’s breasts were bigger than mine. Through her thick bra I didn’t know if she were reacting physically the same way as I had.

Jenny looked me in the eyes as I was touching her. I didn’t know if she was happy with what I was doing or if I was doing something wrong.

In a low, quiet voice, basically a whisper, I said, “What is it? Is something not right?”

She smiled and said, “No, it’s just that, my God, your breasts are perfect…”

I smirked, bent my head down, chin towards my chest, and felt the flush of embarrassment come to my face. “No, they are not,” I said, trying to diffuse her silly comment.

“You have no idea, do you? Your boob feels really perfect, you know…shape-wise,” she said, sounding a bit shy and very sincere.

“That’s very nice of you, but I know what I look like, besides, I’m wearing a bra,” I said, still too self-conscious to look at her.

She propped herself up on her elbow, looking down at me a bit. “Wow. I am so surprised at you sometimes,” she said. “Come on, I’ll prove it.”

I started at this comment, looking at her, both expectant and nervous about what would come next. Had I been myself at the time, I would have ended the entire experience, as it was clearly leading me into the realm of emotional reactions.

Jenny sat up, so I did too. She moved to sit cross-legged at the head of the bed, and I moved to the lower part of the bed, kneeling with my heels under my behind. Jenny reached out and held both my hands. She seemed to know that I was uncomfortable, that I was unsure of what was happening between us.

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” she said, with a touch of humour in her voice that was almost drowned out by her need to reassure me.

I was blushing very hard at this point, I am sure. “I don’t…I…” I stammered, not sure what I was afraid of.

“It’s okay, Joan. You don’t have to; I just want you to appreciate what you’ve got. I mean, you are really gorgeous and you just don’t see it,” she said, while moving one arm up, putting it behind my head and drawing our foreheads close together, touching.

“I think you see me through rose coloured glasses,” I said, whispering.

“Do you trust me?” she asked, our foreheads still touching.

“Of course I do,” I replied, pulling back to make eye contact. I wanted her to see that I meant it, that I wasn’t just saying something to elicit the desired response.

“Okay, so… You take off your t-shirt and I’ll take off my blouse. Then we each have seen the same thing of each other,” she said, rather awkwardly. She then giggled a bit, covered her mouth, and said, “I should have said we would see the same ‘things’…”

I couldn’t help it, I smiled at her silly joke. I know I was still observing myself, but I was also thinking. I can’t really describe how I felt in a precise way. Perhaps none of this makes sense. I do know that I was curious. I did want to see what Jenny would look like with her blouse off. I wanted to see her because it was her, it was Jenny, and I wanted to see all of her at this point. I also, as a side note, had never seen another woman’s breasts in person before. At school we changed into gym strip in cubicles with curtains. We had private shower stalls. The only images of women’s breasts available were either medical drawings that were just outlines or sexualized pictures for men’s pleasure – and I had had very little exposure to the latter.

I watched Jenny undo her blouse button by button. Her breasts were slowly revealed, two beautiful swells contained by her bra, which was much more structured than what I wore. I was a bit mesmerized by how she looked. I wanted to reach out and touch the skin that was visible to me, but I did not. I just watched. Then she looked at me and said, “Your turn.”

I crossed my arms over and grabbed the bottom of my shirt. I paused, unsure about myself and how I looked. Jenny reached out and put her hand on my knee. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

That would be wrong and unfair in my opinion. Jenny was sitting there in her bra, so it was my turn. I shook my head and then pulled my t-shirt over my head. I folded it carefully and placed it behind me, on one side of the bed, near my feet. When I was finally able to look at Jenny, she had grabbed her blouse up in her hands and was holding it over her chest, pulling it close. I had supposed that we were only exposing ourselves for a brief moment, but Jenny looked almost horrified, as though she’d had to cover up before I contaminated her or something.

“What is it?” I said, wondering what was so wrong that she had suddenly become so uncomfortable.

“My God, Joan… I was right. You’re perfect. Your bra doesn’t even have any support, it’s just fabric…” she said, staring at my chest. She then dipped her head and continued, “Sorry. I just thought you’d be really nice, but not quite so perfect. I feel like I’m letting your down or something. I can’t give you what you can give me. You can’t look and see someone as beautiful as you are,” she sounded like she was almost in awe, but also ashamed, perhaps even near to tears.

It was my turn to reach forward and touch her knee. “I’m not perfect. I never have been and won’t ever be. No one is, but I know what I am. I think you are beautiful. I think your breasts look lovely. You have nothing to be shy about. Your breasts are bigger and they make me want to…” Here I stopped. I could not possibly continue that thought.

“Thank you,” Jenny whispered. She slowly let her blouse come down, letting her hands rest in the space her crossed legs made, blouse still crumpled in her hands.

We looked at each other for a moment longer. I was holding myself back, I know that now. I wanted to kiss her again, to reach out and hold the weight of her breasts in my hands. I wanted to kiss her breasts, the gentle swells out of the top of the bra, her soft skin. Instead, I just sat there, in my underwear and blue jeans, not moving. Then Jenny reached behind her and undid her bra. She gently took the straps down off of her shoulders one at a time, then pulled the entire thing off, revealing her breasts in their natural state. They were lovely, with large aureola and they were heavy, hanging downwards.

I didn’t want to contain myself any longer; I leaned forward and kissed her again. She untangled her legs and stretched out on the bed, kicking my t-shirt to the floor without realizing it. I noticed, but barely registered the fall of my shirt to the filth of the floor. I would put on a clean one later because right then, in that moment, I didn’t care. I could only look at Jenny’s breasts, full and available. I lay down next to her and kissed her fully on the mouth again, and let my hand move up to one of her breasts. I kneaded it a bit, then ran my thumb back and forward over the aureola and felt her nipple stand up hard, giving my thumb something to circle, to explore and stimulate. Jenny moaned a bit in pleasure, and I felt bolder. I lowered my mouth to the nipple and kissed it. I held my mouth over it, and felt it with my tongue. Jenny moved under me, as though she couldn’t stay still. “My God, Joan…does that ever feel good,” she whispered.

Then it hit me: I had done something that brought another person physical pleasure. I was doing something new to me, making someone else physically feel something. I was being intimate with another person, something I would normally feel rather repulsed with, but here, on my small bed with Jenny, it felt good. I was filled with the power I had over her at this moment. I could continue and make her feel good, or I could stop and leave her wanting more – I could even hurt her if I so chose, not that I ever would. She could even decide that she had had enough; but that was clearly not the case. The sounds she was making were of raw pleasure. Then she pushed me back, away from her. I was horrified once again; afraid I had caused her pain or had done something unpleasant.

Instead of acting as though I had done something disagreeable, she smiled, and said, “Your turn.”

“Why? Isn’t this nice?” I asked, unsure of what to do next. I was not comfortable being as exposed to her as she was to me.

“It’s amazing. But I want to do the same for you,” she said, looking into my eyes.

It would only be fair, I thought, yet I didn’t want to allow her to do to me what I had done to her. I was genuinely uncomfortable with the idea. I did not want to hurt Jenny’s feelings, but I did not want to yield to her request. Instead, I came up with the best possible answer to accomplish the ends I wanted. I said, “I’m afraid my Dad may come home at any moment now. Maybe we should cover up.”

She jumped a bit. “Oh, shit! I thought he was coming back later.” She quickly sat up and began putting on her bra. She had to twist around to get at her blouse as it had ended up underneath her.

I put on a fresh shirt and took the one that had hit the floor to the laundry basket in the bathroom. Dad wouldn’t be home for about an hour, I knew, but my rouse had worked and Jenny was unhurt.

By the time Dad did get home, Jenny was long gone, and I had finished reading Taming of the Shrew.

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Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Collapsing

 

The last time I saw Jianna truly happy was when I stopped by for a regular after-shift visit. She was sitting with Shayne on her lap, having just fed him, and was playing a game with him, touching his nose after making a buzzing sound. This caused the baby to laugh, and Jianna in turn laughed. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her play with him in this manner. I let myself in and sat down on the foot of the bed, as was my habit.

Jianna smiled at me and asked, “Do you want to hold him?”

I can not say if really did or not; my feelings were still mixed about holding the child, but it seemed to make Jianna happy when I did, so I took him into my arms. Shayne knew me well, of course, and continued to smile and make his little baby happy sounds.

“Did you have a good day, Deputy Governor?” Jianna asked, in a cheeky way. Since my promotion, she liked to call me by my title just to tease me, I suppose.

“Not particularly.” I said. “A bit of drama with a couple of C.O.’s that didn’t get along and a lot of paperwork.”

“I thought you liked paperwork?” Jianna replied.

“I am good at it. That doesn’t mean I like it,” I clarified.

“Oh. Okay,” she responded.

There were times when Jianna and I would run out of things to talk about. At such times I would ask her questions about her future, what she planned after her release. She never talked about my offer, and I was never happy about that, but there was nothing I could do about that. Still, I continued to ask her about her future, what sort of job she would look for, things she planned to do for Shayne, and so on. Today was no different. I asked her if there was anything special she wanted to acquire for Shayne.

She looked down and softly said, “You’re going to think I’m being silly,” in her shy voice that she used when uncertain.

“Nonsense. Have I ever told you that you were silly?” I asked, slightly irritated at being told how I would respond.

“Okay. See, I never had a real pet. My Grandmother had a dog, but it died when I was still a kid,” she said, then stopped speaking and just sat there as though she didn’t want to share her thoughts further.

“Go on, Jianna,” I prodded, “are you saying that you want to have a dog for Shayne?”

She smiled slightly and fiddled with Shayne’s toes, gently squeezing them between her fingers and making a big smile for him to see. He wiggled in my arms with the pleasure of the attention.

“Yeah, some day, if he wants,” she said, looking up from Shayne to me. “But a dog is a lot of work. You have to walk it every day, clean up after it, play with it, and all that stuff.”

“Then a cat? They are easier to look after.” I said, giving a logical choice.

“Yeah, but I just don’t like cats. I saw one kill a bird once and it was awful. I’d rather have something super easy to take care of. I know this is kind of lame, but I’ve always wanted a fish.”

“A fish?” I said, indeed a bit surprised. “They are hardly interactive. Do you think that would be the best choice for a child?”

“I don’t know. But it would be easy to look after, and I cold hold Shayne so he could watch it swim around. I just think they are pretty. They are super cheap, like ten cents or something, and all you have to do is feed them and clean the bowl sometimes. I just always wanted a fish…” she drifted off.

“Well then, you should have a fish,” I said, seeing no reason to say otherwise. I couldn’t see keeping such a creature myself; a goldfish is indeed rather dull and even rather disgusting at times. I certainly had no interest in dealing with any creature’s waste.

“Yeah. I will. When I get out, Shayne will have a fish to watch. It will be something, anyway, that’s living and he can learn about pets and stuff that way,” she said, her eyes even lighting up a bit with the idea.

We continued talking for a bit, then I put Shayne down in his crib for a sleep. I sang to him as usual, and Jianna watched his little face settle as he became more relaxed. He had a soother in his mouth, so there was little chance of his crying. When I left the cell, Jianna smiled at me, then turned back to her baby. She was genuinely happy because of his presence, and such happiness seemed as though it should be impossible in a prison.

 

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My two or three meetings a week with Jenny were the highlights of my life during grade eleven. We had very little time alone at my home as Dad had changed his schedule again with the new fencing classes starting up. Of course, Jenny’s home always had her Grandmother present and I was never comfortable with even the idea of spending time there. We were more or less relegated to the public library, often in our favourite carrels, but not always.

Jenny and I still spent time together at lunch hour, and I’d often walk with her to the library after school or walk her home. We both had obligations at our places of residence, and we could seldom dawdle. Often we talked bout school work, as that was still our focus, but at times our conversation would drift to more personal subjects. This happened one Wednesday after school at the library.

We had been fortunate enough to find our carrels free and did the usual moving of them to have our own space to work together. The librarian had given up on us ages ago, and no longer asked us to leave the carols in place. After all, we were quiet, worked, never brought food and always put things back the way we had found them. We were most likely ideal patrons for any library.

Jenny had brought her algebra homework that day, as she found it a challenge. She was more than capable, but she balked at some of the longer equations. We began working through them together so that she could see the correct way of working them out. Halfway through the second equation Jenny heaved a sigh and sat up in her chair, stretching her arms above her head.

“I really don’t like algebra,” she said, a look of distaste on her face.

“You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it,” I said.

She slouched down in her chair and looked a bit defeated. “Can we take a bit of a break?” she asked.

“Of course. What do you wish to do?” I offered.

“Just talk. I need to air out my brain with non-school stuff for a sec,” she said, then checked around to ensure that no one was near by that we would disturb with talking. I had heard the main door of the library open and close a few times, and other people doing what library patrons do, but no one had come to the back area where we were.

“Alright. What shall we talk about?” I asked.

“How about, just for a minute, we talk about you,” Jenny said, her expression soft.

“There’s not much to talk about,” I said, dipping my head down in that self-conscious moment. “You know all there is to know.”

“Not really. You’ve been different lately. I want to know why,” she said, reaching her hand out and resting it on my knee, as was her habit by then.

I smiled slightly at the touch, and not wanting her to move her hand, I indulged her request. “I’ve been tired, I guess. My Dad is working more than usual, as you know, and it’s showing. He’s been getting headaches. He doesn’t tell me, but I’ve seen him take aspirin, and he gets short tempered.”

“’Gets' short tempered’?” Jenny said. “You mean more so than usual? I think your Dad is rather hard on you.”

“I know - you’ve said that before,” I was not comfortable talking about him with anyone, but since Jenny was sincere and truly my friend, she was the only person I would talk about him with. “He is getting more and more upset with things I do that aren’t perfect. If dinner is a minute late, he yells. If the breakfast is cold because he took longer than usual to shave, he gets mad at me. I can’t change the physics of heat loss beyond covering the food, but he hates eggs that are too hard or porridge that is lumpy.”

“I thought you looked more stressed and tired than usual. You can tell me things, you know. You always keep stuff inside and it’s not good for you,” she said, sincerely.

I had no idea how she had everything so wrong. It was almost as if she had bought into the pop culture ideas that were everywhere at the time. “Emotions lead to mistakes, I know that to be true, so I try not to feel emotions so that I don’t make mistakes.”

“Yeah, you’ve said all this before. I never know what to say in return. I mean, you feel something for me, right?” she said, putting me on the spot.

“Yes, of course. You’re my friend. I…enjoy…your company,” I said, blundering along a bit.

“And I enjoy yours. But talking about your Dad and other things may help you let those emotions out so you don’t have to deal with them alone,” she continued, moving her hand from my knee to take my right hand in her left one.

“Thank you, but I know how to deal with my own emotions,” I said, “I’ve had lots of practice.”

“Okay, but don’t forget that I am happy to listen if you need to talk,” she said, now taking my hand in both of hers.

I don’t know why, but I felt something moving up in me, as though I were going to cry from it. Of course, that was absurd, and I never wanted to cry in front of Jenny or anyone again. I had to work not to. My voice was barely a whisper when I spoke, “You are too kind, but you needn’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I know my Dad is hard to deal with at times, but that is just what is. I can’t change him.” I felt a bit of moisture run down my cheek and I ignored it, thinking that if I ignored the tear, no others would follow.

“It’s okay Joan. You can talk about it or not. I just want you to know that you can talk with me about anything,” she said. Then she lifted my hand to her lips and kissed the skin on the back of it.

Her lips were soft, and I moved unconsciously towards her. I leaned in, not thinking, and reached to take her chin and jaw in my free hand. I turned her face up to mine and gently laid a soft kiss on her lips. She made a small sound of pleasure and kissed me back. This was the only thing we ever dared to do anymore, not having privacy, but when we were at the back of the library as we were then, we had a small level of privacy. That was, until that moment.

When Jenny kissed me back, someone suddenly appeared, looking over the top of the carols to fully see us. He yelled, “Ha! I knew it!!! You’re a fucking lesbo!”

I jumped back, as did Jenny. It was David Robertson again. I had been so involved with Jenny that I hadn’t heard him approach, which was unbearably stupid of me. He was wearing his letter jacket, his face was a mask of angry delight, and he was pointing right at me.

“Go away,” I said, with all the authority I could manage, my voice low and threatening.

“Fucking right I’ll go away!” he responded, “I have news for everyone. I knew you were a fucking lesbian! Had to be!”

The librarian, a middle-aged woman wearing a pastel, vertically striped cotton dress, full coifed hair and half glasses, came swiftly over to the rear of the library. Her face was red with anger. “How dare you use language like that in here! Get out of my library,” she said, loudly, waving a hard cover novel in the air as though she could wield it as a weapon.

David Robertson put his hands up as though he had been caught by the police, and turned to walk out – but not until he’d shot me a nasty, smarmy smile. I was so angry that it was hard not to go after him. I wanted to hurt him again, I wanted to stop him, show him what would happen if he made trouble for Jenny, and I wanted to smash that smile right off his mouth.

I did no such thing. I just sat in my seat and watched as he walked out the door. He gave a nasty laugh as he walked out.

The librarian turned to us after she was sure Robertson had left. “As for you two, that’s enough for today. I don’t know what made him say what he did, but if you two are engaging in anything inappropriate, you can’t be here. This is my library, I’m in charge, and you have to behave as I see fit. Get out!” She waved her book around in the air again, a preposterous threat aimed at us. Her anger was intimidating, even though I knew she could do nothing physically to either of us. I had enough anger like that at home, so I am not sure why her anger was so motivating.

I walked Jenny home after that, not wanting to take a chance on her encountering Robertson again. We were both shaken up, but agreed that there was nothing that he could really do to us without getting himself in more trouble. Jenny was worried that his being the star football player would leave him immune to punishment, but I assured her that I could handle him if necessary. We parted without so much as a wave, now afraid to be seen by anyone else.

 

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I liked the time of day when I could sit in the staff room and read the newspaper. It gave me time to observe the C.O.’s coming and going. I could watch their walks, the way they held themselves, the way they interacted. Often they would not say much, I suspected it was my presence that muted them, but I still heard enough to understand their personal dynamics. One can learn a lot just by reading a newspaper and not appearing to be paying attention to what is going on around one. I found that the only C.O. I still had much respect for was Sandra Jeffers. She would often nod at me and sit at the table I was at, coffee mug in hand and a crossword puzzle book under her arm. She would then take out a pencil and quietly work on her crosswords as she drank her coffee before starting her shift. It was as good a working relationship as I could imagine. Therefore, I was taken off guard the morning she started talking to me.

Jeffers didn’t look up from her pulp paper puzzle book when she asked, “So, how’s it going with Bryce? He been a problem for you?”

I put my newspaper down on the table and looked at her. “No, he’s been very professional, most of the time. I don’t always agree with him on things, but he’s at least willing to discuss matters with me. I think we have a satisfactory working relationship.”

“For now. Just be careful. You never know what can happen,” she said quietly, after checking to make sure that we were the only ones in the room at that moment.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I said, taken aback. Why would she not have taken my word for what it was?

She turned her pencil around and erased something she’d written in the book. I noticed that she used little force with the erasure, ensuring that the paper wasn’t damaged. She then paused and looked up at me, pale blue eyes earnest as she said, “Yeah, he’ll be that way for a long time. Then he’ll pounce. I think you can handle yourself with him just fine, physically, but he can make your life hell if you don’t do what he wants. Just be real careful.”

“I am always careful,” I said.

“Sure, sure. But you do know there’s a reason he has his office where it is, right?” she went on.

I was curious. I had always wondered about that dingy room at the back of the office area rather than the brighter, more open one that would have suited a governor more. “I have no idea why he chose that room,” I said, curiosity coming through in my tone.

“Yeah. I thought as much. He likes his privacy. He likes his female employees. He waits, then he pounces, like I said. He likes the room that’s less noticeable, that’s as far away from the others as it can be. He’s a complete octopus, given the chance, and he has lots of chances back there.”

I had known Bryce to pat my butt, and make inappropriate gestures or comments, but nothing beyond that. He had never pushed his luck with me. Perhaps this was because I was significantly taller and he knew I could handle myself in a fight. Perhaps he even had some respect for me as his Deputy Governor. I sniffed and said, “I have not had any problems with him. He has always behaved appropriately with me, at least since I received my promotion.”

“That’s good, good,” Jeffers said, but with a tone that sounded a bit unconvinced. “Just remember that a lot of us have had problems with him. He tends to move on you when he thinks you trust him completely. He can be an asshole, so just be careful.”

I thanked her for her warning, and then folded up my newspaper, stood up and left the room, after putting the newspaper on the lower table by the staff room sofa. Just because I would not pick up a paper someone else had read did not mean that another person would not get use out of it.

Sandra Jeffers was back to her crosswords with her full attention as I left the room.

 

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I had not known what to expect from the other kids at school when I returned the day after the incident in the library. I had not thought about what would happen to me, my concern had only been for Jenny. I did not want her hurt because of what had happened. I feared for her physical safety and also her emotional security. I knew that she would be more affected than I either way.

I walked to her house the next morning, before school, as I wanted to walk her there. There was no way I wanted her on her own. If I were with her, then she would be safe. After all, keeping other people safe is the most important thing we can do in life.

Since I was uncomfortable with knocking on the door, I simply waited at the appropriate time for Jenny to come out, ready for school. I was not wrong: Jenny appeared as expected, Adidas bag in hand. She waved to someone, presumably her grandmother, before closing the door and seeing me standing on her walkway waiting for her.

“Joan!” she said, jumping a bit as though she’d seen a spider. I was a bit taken aback that she did not seem to be happy to see me. Considering the events of the previous day, I should have expected that, I suppose. “What are you doing here?”

I looked down at the small sidewalk I was standing on, unsure of myself for the first time in a long time around Jenny. “I wanted to walk you to school, just in case there are any problems…” my voice trailed off.

Then Jenny’s face lit up with one of her smiles and she replied, “That’s really sweet. You don’t have to worry; I don’t think the fallout will be all that much.”

“You sure?” I said.

“I don’t know. But I think we’re okay. Others will tease us, I suppose, but what else can they do?” she said, clearly not believing it.

I tried not to think of the situation I had saved Alice from when I replied, “I hope you are right.”

We swung into a comfortable pace walking, as we always did, and proceeded to discuss the upcoming English essay and other academic issues. We even got into a friendly debate about whether the nuclear threat from the USSR to the USA was likely to end in an arms exchange and how that would affect Australia. It was the early 1980’s, after all, and that threat seemed very real. The conversation was still going on when we got to school and walked to my locker, which was the first one on the way in.

We both stood stock still when we saw the word “dyke” spray painted in bright red letters across my locker. The letters were large enough that the word stretched across the metal doors on either side of mine.

When I regained my composure, I walked up to the locker and found that the paint was still tacky. Someone had done this within the past hour or so, I guessed.
Jenny had not moved from where she had first seen the graffiti. “Shit,” she said, “I’m sorry, Joan.”

I was surprised at this and turned quickly to look at her. “This isn’t your fault. Don’t be sorry.”

“Now what do we do? Report this to the office? Ignore it and walk away?” she said, sounding a bit dazed and scared.

“I suppose we should report it. After all, someone will have to come and clean it off,” I said.

Jenny nodded. “Yeah. Shit. I guess.”

We went the school’s office and asked to see the principal. Who else should we have asked for? I turned out that Mr. Moretti wasn’t in yet, but Vice Principal Miss Ellis was. She came out to see us, not letting us into her office for some reason. I told her about the graffiti and she decided to see if for herself.

She walked us back to the offending red paint, took a quick look and told me not to use my locker that morning. I did not respond the way I wanted to, which would have been to say something along the lines of, “That’s obvious,” to her. She seemed a bit dim, and full of her own authority rather than concern for the situation we found ourselves in.

I hate to admit it, but I was not as concerned as perhaps I should have been about the incident. The problem was, I didn’t really understand what “dyke” meant. This may sound ridiculous now, but I had only heard the word a time or two, or seen it spelled out. I knew it had to reference lesbianism in some way, but precisely how was beyond me. Accessing the dictionary was beyond useless. Looking up “dyke” led to “see ‘dike’”, which led only to “gap, fence, furrow, gulf, conduit, defense,” which left me as ignorant as before. I was left with a teenager’s last resort for information.

That night, at dinner, I asked my Dad what the word meant. His first reaction, of course, was to ask how I knew of it. I simply said that I had seen some graffiti aimed at a girl at school; no need to mention that the girl was me.

Dad sat back in his chair at the table, put his fork down beside what was left of his spaghetti, and said, “Joan, you are old enough to understand what ‘lesbian’ means, yes?”

I nodded, “Of course.”

He continued, “It is an offensive word, used against homosexual women the way ‘faggot’ is used against men.”

“Oh. But why ‘dyke’? I don’t understand,” I said, genuinely wanting to know.

“I think it may reference the Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike. You can understand how that may be the origin?” Dad said, his voice very serious.

“Of course,” I lied. In truth, I would need a bit of time to think about it, and that would not happen while sitting across from my Dad.

“Alright. Now I want you to understand something,” Dad continued in his serious tone. “This is a horrible thing. Homosexuality is a disease. It affects men more than women, but it happens to women, too. You need to know that I have seen what it can do to men. When I was in the army, I saw things. I witnessed things - terrible things,” and here Dad’s eyes seemed to cloud over with his past memories. “Men who do not have access to women, in a marital sense, can turn vicious. They take it out on other men. They hurt each other. I have seen men so hurt that their bodies never fully heal. Men are not built to handle such things as women are.”

Again, I have to admit to a foolish ignorance. I had some idea of what homosexual men did to each other, but I had never considered that they would turn violent, nor how that would manifest.

“Men who are hurt this way often want to hurt others in turn. Women too. As a commander in the armed forces, it was part of my job to ensure that these things did not happen among my men. I had to punish the ones who did such things, whether consented to or not, as fiercely as possible. They had to learn that their behaviour was abhorrent, unacceptable in any way. That is one of the reasons we tell soldiers about the beauty of women in the places we go to. They need to focus their lust elsewhere,” Dad said. He picked up his wine glass and had a long swallow of the red Cabernet.

“That’s men,” I said, still wanting to know more. “But women can’t attack each other the same way. We don’t have the same body parts.”

Dad made a face of distaste and I supposed it was at my foolishness. “Women certainly can. What they do not have given to them by nature, they can improvise. Pray, Joan, that you are never the victim of such a thing. It can be more damaging that being attacked by a man.”

I shuddered. I couldn’t imagine anything more damaging that what had happened to me. Dad must have seen my involuntary action.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But you are old enough to hear the truth. I want you to know that men and women are built to create children, not to engage in bestial acts of lust and violence. Any such behaviour is disgusting. Never allow yourself to be lulled into thinking that it’s okay in any way. There are those, these days, who think that whatever consenting adults do alone is fine. That is just not the case. There is love, and there are unnatural acts that are worse than what any animal could do.”

Dad stopped there. He had made his point, and I couldn’t help but see that it made him angry to discuss the topic at all. I certainly would not have had the courage to press him further on the topic.

That night, after finishing the dishes and my homework, I went to bed and could not sleep. I could not help but think that what Jenny and I had done must have been wrong. That somehow it had been disgusting, even unnatural, perhaps even somehow violent. The odd thing about all of it was, though, that I simply could not feel that way. I could intellectually understand what my Dad had said, but I could not feel that Jenny and I had engaged in anything that was truly wrong.

Clearly, I would have to force myself to feel otherwise.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

As I had said to Jeffers, Governor Bryce had never acted inappropriately with me, not in his tiny office nor anywhere else. Oh, he had his leers, his little jibes (or were they supposed to be flirtatious? I could not tell), but there was never anything beyond that. He had not even patted my butt since the first time. I had not felt too uncomfortable with him since my promotion. That changed one afternoon when I was called into his office for what seemed the regular duties of the Deputy Governor.

Our regular time for discussing basic paperwork and items that I needed to share with the Governor was at two pm on Wednesdays. I had chosen Wednesdays that was when we would know most of the week’s pressing issues and still had time to deal with those and other problems that could come up during the last two days of the week. Simple, really, but choosing a mid-week time and going over things with the Governor at that time had streamlined a number of issues for us.

On this particular Wednesday, I met with the Governor in his office as usual. I had my file folder with me, which I opened on his desk, facing me, as soon as I had sat down across from Bryce. He, in turn, would take notes, sign permission forms for financing and so on. Dreary, small matters, but they had to be dealt with. Half way through the regular meeting, Bryce spread his hands on his desk, took a deep breath, and stretched himself – not unlike a cat stretching after a sleep.

I was surprised by this action, but not overly: Bryce could be distracted while working on such dull matters, and I was rather used to setting him back on track. I did my best again this time, with, “Everything alright, Governor?”

“Yes, I suppose,” he responded. “I just didn’t sleep much last night. My wife made me sleep on the couch, again, and I just can’t sleep well there. My shoulders end up tensing up, and I find the light from the street outside keeps me awake.”

I gave a half nod, indicating I understood, and tried to continue, without being completely unfeeling. “Really? That’s too bad. Now, as to Chan’s need for maternity leave in -”

Bryce interrupted me, mid-sentence, something I had to tolerate from him on occasion, “Don’t you find it lonely when you have to sleep alone?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, “I am used to being on my own,” and cast my eyes back to the notes in front of me.

Bryce leaned forward, deliberately putting his elbows on his notes. “I do find that sad, Joan. A beautiful, strong, intelligent woman like you shouldn’t be alone.”

Feeling uncomfortable with the direction that the conversation was headed, I responded with, “No worries, Governor. I’m perfectly fine. Now, as to Chan’s…”

It was no use; Bryce was determined to move away from the work on hand.

“Are you sure you’re fine?” he asked, looking up at me from under his eyebrows. “After all, how would you know? If you have always been alone, how do you know you wouldn’t want - or even need – more companionship? What frame of reference do you have? Maybe you’re lonely but you won’t admit it, not wanting anyone else to see beneath the surface. You could be hiding your real self from everyone. Aren’t we all doing that, after all?”

“I assure you that I am fine,” I stated, firmly.

“Well, I’m glad to hear it. I wouldn’t want someone as valuable as you to be unhappy, not at work, nor anywhere else,” he said, leaning back in his chair, and lacing his fingers behind his head. I would never have said anything, but the sweat stains in the armpits of his shirt were distasteful, to say the least. He had previously taken off his Governor’s jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, using the summer heat as the impetus for the action. I felt that he was being sloppy, being out of uniform on the job, but had no say in the matter.

I gave a half smile, calculated to show acknowledgement, but not real interest, and said, “Indeed,” expecting to move on.

“Yes, well,” Bryce said, quietly. “You may find yourself happy, or think you are, but I personally know the difference. I used to be happy, when my wife and I were first together, but things have changed. We don’t get along anymore – haven’t for some time. I miss the companionship, the comfort and closeness. You don’t know what it is to miss something unless you’ve had it and then lost it.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said yet again, glaring intentionally. In one way or another, I had to make my displeasure at being off topic known.

Bryce leaned forward once again, his usual fidgety nature showing. “Damned shame, that. You really should know. I imagine a woman your age misses having a man around, someone to care for her, to make her happy in … many ways. I think you should be treated like a queen by somebody. Perhaps it would help with how uptight you seem all the time.”

I was getting annoyed. My personal life was none of his business, and this meeting would already be long enough without going off topic. “Governor, I think we need to finish the employee leave report, get on to the expenditures for inmates for the week, then attend to other matters. I do not think I have enough time to get all that done and attend my other duties by shift’s end if I don’t.” I thought shifting his focus from private to professional would help him to focus on what was needed.

“There you are: that’s the tension. You are always so focused on work that you never talk about anything else. Even that gulley girl of yours isn’t on your mind like she was. I think you really do need to relax, think of other things, even have a bit of fun. You do like to have fun, don’t you Joan? What do you do to relax? I bet you have a great time when you decide to.”

I did not like his bringing up Jianna, and certainly not as he had. He had never seen her as anything other than a possible tool for publicity, and now that that was behind him, he did not refer to her at all anymore. Until now. He could have just mentioned her in reference to my behaviour, as he had appeared to have done, or he could be subtly making a point. Regardless, he had moved quickly back to my personal life as a talking point.

“I enjoy myself in my own way, on my own time,” I said. “Here, I like to keep things strictly professional.”

“Yes, I see,” he said. “Yet you spend time with that Riley girl and her kid, singing to it and so on. How do I know that such behaviour isn’t an indication that you want the same thing for yourself? You must be feeling pressured for time, a woman your age? Unmarried, no children of your own? Don’t women always want kids at some point? How do I know you won’t turn around and ask for maternity leave at any moment, like Chan?”

This was becoming rather bizarre. There was no need to talk about such things with my boss, and his suppositions were becoming insulting. “Sir, I think we need to focus. I am not now, nor in the near future, planning on asking leave for any reason.” I tapped my pen on the page in front of me to drive home the point.

He heaved a far too dramatic sigh and we headed back to the topic at hand, at least momentarily. Just before we had managed to finish the paperwork, he became fidgety again.

“I’m just going to hang my jacket up on the back of the door,” he said, pointing in the direction of the door to the tiny office, as though I wouldn’t know where he intended to go.

I felt like tossing my pen at him, hard. I was getting frustrated, wanting to finish the meeting and get away from the little man in his little office. Instead of throwing anything, I crossed my arms and waited impatiently for him to resume his seat.

Rather than moving, he stood at the door after hanging up the jacket, turning his back to it so he was facing my left side. I waited, not saying anything. Then he moved, coming up behind the chair I was in, and deliberately placed his hands on my shoulders. He then said, “You shouldn’t worry about finishing a meeting so fast. You are too tense – here, let me help.” At that he proceeded to rub my shoulders. I was so shocked that I didn’t move at that moment. Instead, I tried to be reasonable.

“Would you please not do that?” I said, keeping my tone neutral. I uncrossed my arms, carefully putting my hands on the arms of the chair, freeing them and lowering my shoulders.

Bryce leaned forward, putting his mouth near my ear, and said, “Why not, Joan? Doesn’t that feel good? It can get better…” and with that, his hands slid down my front and over my breasts. Of course, I was fully dressed, but this was not something I could tolerate from anyone. Not considering the possible repercussions, I put my hands together and thrust them up my chest, between his arms and forced them outwards, pushing his arms right off of me entirely.

“No!” I said, not loudly, but forcibly.

Bryce backed off, towards the back of his office, moving away from me. I stood and turned, facing him.

“Now, now, Joan,” he started, “I didn’t mean anything. I just thought you’d appreciate a bit of attention…

I restrained myself with some difficulty. After all, this wasn’t much, really. He hadn’t attacked me. He had touched me in a sexual way, but I had stopped him, and there was nothing he could do about it. I clenched and unclenched my fists, making myself stand still. I would hold my ground, but not attack. Not that there was much ‘ground’ to hold in that office, but still I would make my point. I kept my voice steady and low, “No, I do not appreciate such attention. I will not allow anyone to touch me without my permission, not even my boss. Don’t ever do anything like that to me again.” And here I stood up straight, reaching my full height. I waited for him to speak, to make the next move. To his credit, he walked past me, back to his chair, and sat down. He did not appear afraid to move past me, but did flinch as I moved to keep facing him the entire way around the desk.

“Alright,” he said, sounding far more shaken up than he appeared, “I understand. I won’t do anything like that again, you needn’t fear.”

And he never did. Instead, he did something in retaliation that was far more insidious and hurtful, far worse than any physical attack could ever have been

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Violent Retribution

 

Although Jenny’s locker was not defaced the way mine had been, she seemed to have a worse time at school than I did after the incident. She was pushed in the hall, called names by the other girls in the washroom, and started hearing more racial slurs mixed with the insults hurled at her about her sexuality. No one dared to walk up to me and say things like that at close range, but they had no problem insulting poor Jenny to her face. She was even tripped at one point during the change of classes, and fell in the hall, her books and other items scattered about and kicked away from her by other students. She told me about these things reluctantly, but I insisted on knowing what was upsetting her when I walked her home after school the day of the incident. When she finally broke down and told me, she truly broke down: crying and sobbing in a way I had never seen in another person close up or for any length of time. I had never had another person’s emotional state affect me the way that Jenny’s did there and then. I wanted to help her, to stop the flow of tears, to somehow take her off of the public street and away from people who could see her crying.

Jenny, however, simply kept walking. She had a rather dilapidated tissue that she kept using to blow her nose. I was carrying both of our Adidas bags in my left hand, heavy though they were with text books, so that on my right side where Jenny was I had a free hand. I have no idea why, but I felt I had to have a hand ready to assist her, should she need it.

When we arrived at Jenny’s front walk, she took her bag and went into her house on her own, after looking back at me. Her red, swollen eyes and blotchy face etched itself into my mind, and I walked home in a state that moved between despondency and anger. I wanted to exact revenge on the other students for Jenny’s sake. I could not do so to anyone in particular besides David Robertson, so what was I to do? I wanted to turn back and go to Jenny, to sit with her at least, not that I could really do anything to help. It was in this mindset of deep focus on one particular issue that I arrived home.

Dad was waiting for me. I had not expected him home so early, but sometimes he would have student cancellations or other such reasons. He had been watching out the front window for my return. I saw him turn and move toward the hallway as I approached the house. All I could think of was that this could not be good in any way. I was right.

I entered the house to be hit with the full force of my Dad’s rage. “How dare you to lie to me?” He snarled, voice low and dangerous.

Since I had no idea what he was referring to, my ignorance was entirely genuine when I responded with, “About what?”

He took a deep breath in through his nose, then faster than I could think to react, he hit me across the face with his full strength. I staggered, lost my footing, dropped my bag and stumbled into the area where we hung the coats and sweaters. My hands struggled for purchase but found none, and I awkwardly fell to the floor, my face landing almost right in one of Dad’s sneakers. Afraid to enrage him further, I chose not to move for a moment. My face began to sting, my eyes watered involuntarily, and I waited for the next blow. It didn’t come.

“Get up and look at me when I am talking to you,” Dad said, his voice still dangerously low and quiet.

I pushed myself out of the shoes and coats and managed to stand up. I turned to Dad and said nothing. I only looked at him as he had commanded.

“After everything I told you, after everything I’ve ever taught you – how dare you have the audacity to lie to me? To commit offensive acts in public? Sometimes, Joan, I swear you are not my child,” he continued.

I had no idea what to say, but I was starting to understand. The only possible “offensive act” I had ever committed in public would have been that one kiss in the library with Jenny. I was terrified that Dad was referring to that.

He was barely audible when he said, “You disgust me. You lie. You do things I’ve told you are inexcusable, and then blame someone else,” here he glared at me, waiting for a response. I gave no satisfaction. Finally, he shouted, “Well?! Speak to me, child!”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about,” as a teenager is want to do. I was not telling a real lie, as I honestly wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but I did have some idea. I was still hoping he was not referencing what I was.

“Do not lie to me!” he all but screamed. “Take off your shoes and follow me,” Dad said. I did as instructed. We ended up in the kitchen.

“Read that,” he said, pointing at the wooden notepaper holder that was attached to the wall next to the phone.

My heart sunk as I read the words that became less clear as they scrawled down the paper. There was the school principal’s name, a phone number, David Robertson’s name and the letters “dy.” Nothing further. It wasn’t as though I needed to see more to know what had happened. I looked down after reading. I shouldn’t have. That gave Dad the excuse to grab my hair at the back of my head and force my face closer to the notepad.

“You asked me a question yesterday, but did not bother to tell me that it was your locker that was defaced, and that you had committed the act that precipitated it,” Dad smacked my forehead into the wall on the words he was emphasizing.

“I’m sorry,” I said, keeping my voice neutral. I had no idea how to diffuse his anger because I had indeed done as he said.

He then pulled me back from the wall, released my hair and hit me hard in my lower back, knocking me once more to the floor. “I do not understand how this could have happened,” he said as he knelt down next to me, while forcing my right arm up behind my back. I made no sound at the pain of it, as it was only pain, after all. He then grabbed my hair again, and knocked my head into the floor, twice, to make his point known, I suppose. Then he let me go altogether, stood up and walked into the living room.

I lay there, on the kitchen floor, noticing that oddly my face wasn’t in pain so much as itchy. I gingerly moved my arm around to push myself up and then saw the small pool of blood on the floor where my face had been. I touched the blood, in a bit of a daze, I suppose, unsure just what to do. I decided that I would have to clean the place up – which was my natural default state for something to do. Once I stood up, my vision seemed to close in, almost going black, and my nose felt hot and was throbbing on the bridge. I reached up and realized that I was bleeding from my nose.

The bridge of my nose was throbbing, and Dad have given me a nose bleed, I thought as I reached for the paper towel. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I should somehow stop the bleeding before trying to clean up the blood that had already contaminated the kitchen floor. I took some paper towel and held it up to my nose, only to discover that touching the end of my nose hurt the rest of it. I couldn’t breath through my nose and started coughing when the pain made me take in my breath sharply.

Dad heard me and came back into the kitchen. “Get over here,” he said, indicating one of the chairs at the table. I was afraid to move, but also afraid not to. “Come on,” he said, in his regular tone of command, “I need to look at that.”

It wasn’t easy, but I managed to make my way to the chair and sit down. The pain, the blood and my unclear vision were not the reasons that it was a difficult act. I was much more afraid of what Dad would further do to me than of anything that had already been done.

“Take your hand down,” he instructed, so I did. I jumped and let out a noise when Dad touched the bridge of my nose. “No need to make a fuss,” he continued. I tried not to make further sounds as he prodded at it again, but I could not stop from flinching.

“You must have broken your nose when you fell,” Dad said, as though I had simply tripped and hurt myself on my own. “Nothing is pushed out of place, so it will heal and no one need know about it. It may leave a lump, but I think not. You will have bruises and black eyes for a bit, but nothing more serious than that. You are lucky, some people end up with their noses bent out of joint from such a fall. Now stop that crying, it will only snot up your nose and make it worse when you try not to gag.”

I had not been aware that I was crying. The shock of hearing that my nose was broken went through me, and I surprised myself by quietly saying, “I didn’t just fall.”

Dad spoke to me in a matter-of-fact way: “you endured the consequences of your own actions, Joan. Had you not made me so angry, you would not have a broken nose now,” he said, logically. “We will talk further about this later, but first you must stop bleeding.” This last was said as though I had some sort of control over what my body was doing in response to my injury.

Dad brought me some of the clean rags we kept in our rag bag, and put some ice in a plastic bag. I held the rags to my nose until the bleeding slowed, then Dad took a large rag, wrapped it around the bag of ice cubes, and had me hold it to the sorest spot on my nose. It was awkward, as the ice cubes were not shaped to my face, and the touch of them felt surprisingly hot on my broken bone. I gagged and coughed a few times more, but did my best to suppress it, as the coughing only made my nose hurt more. The pain had spread out to other areas of my face, with the throbbing at the center of it all. I wanted to vomit, having swallowed some of the blood, and from the pain, but I choked that back too. I had the feeling that such a weak act would only make Dad angrier, despite his seeming calm at that moment.

I was very surprised when I saw Dad take out more rags, wet them in the sink with cold water, then bend down to clean the worst of the mess up off the floor. Still daring to say nothing, I watched in awe at the sight of my Dad cleaning my blood off of the floor. He said nothing as he did it, just worked away until the smear was removed. He then got out the bleach and gave the area a quick wipe with paper towels. He made sure that any further blood that was on the floor was cleaned up. When he was done, he stood up and inspected his work. “I think that’s it for now,” he said, finishing with, “you’ll have to clean up your clothes yourself,” before taking the dirty rags to the bathroom to rinse in the sink there.

When I moved from where I was sitting, I was hit by wave of nausea. I gagged again, then coughed, swallowed and made my way to my room. I slowly pulled off my blood splattered t-shirt and splotched up jeans. At least my bra and panties weren’t stained. I put on an oversized t-shirt that I used as a cover up at times, thinking I’d spend the rest of the day in it. I just did not want to bend down to pull up underwear and sleep shorts or anything else. It hurt every time I moved, and bending down was the worst move. I made my way out of my room and to the bathroom after that. I put my shirt in the sink, and was trying to figure out how to rinse my jeans without bending down at the tub when Dad walked in. He took my blue jeans from me and left the room. I really didn’t care what happened with the pants after Dad left. I didn’t care about much of anything, but what had to be done. After all, that’s what I always did.

I pushed the t-shirt down into the cold water with the rags, then looked into the mirror. I was not really recognizable even to myself at that point. My eyes were red and swollen from the crying, but they were starting to look like more had happened. My nose was caked with dried blood, and there was more dried blood all over my upper lip. I also noticed a goose egg forming on my forehead where Dad had pushed me into the wall. Seeing myself like that was upsetting, but there was nothing to be done. I would simply have to deal with the shock myself, which I did, forcing the emotions down, covering them with my will power until they were invisible from sight. I was so practiced at this that it wasn’t nearly as much of an effort as one would imagine.

Dad came back to the bathroom and told me to go to bed, to push my pillow and a few others into the corner wall that my bed was up against, so that I could sleep sitting at an angle. He said it would be easier on my nose that way. I did so, and then he came and told me to crawl into bed. I was surprised that he wasn’t telling me to get dinner for us, but even the thought of food made me queasy, and I realized that cooking wasn’t really an option at that point. Dad was well aware of that, and told me not to worry about anything further that night. I made some sort of remark about homework, but Dad shook his head and said that I wouldn’t be going to school in the morning, so not to worry. He then brought me a pill I didn’t recognize and a couple of aspirin, and left me to fall asleep. I didn’t think I could sleep, with the throbbing in my head, on my face and the caked blood in my nose – I absolutely despise mouth breathing – but whatever it was that Dad had given me did the trick, and that was how I managed to fall asleep at about seven pm that night.

 ________________________________________________________________________________________

It was not long after the incident with Bryce in his office that he called me in for an “informational meeting” between the two of us.

He was in his chair, sitting up straight, jacket done up, as though the weather had suddenly cooled off, which it certainly had not. He wanted me to think that he was all business at that point. What a shallow, transparent little man he was. Even so, I had underestimated the extent of his vindictiveness.

“Sit down, please,” he said, indicating the only other chair in the office, the one I always sat in. The politeness was a bid odd, I thought.

“This concerns Riley, so I thought you’d want to know,” he said. I saw a slight – very slight – smile at the corners of his mouth.

I sat down and looked at him, waiting. Bryce slowly opened a folder in on his desk, pretended to read it with great care, then closed it. I kept my expression neutral, not wanting him to think he had done anything to provoke me.

Eventually, after he had dragged the waiting out as long as he reasonably could while still looking business-like, he said, “There’s a problem with allowing a prisoner to have a baby with her. There have been a few prisoners who have done that, but there’s always been problems. The child could be in danger from other prisoners.”

I felt my body stiffen. I knew this was a threat aimed at me personally, and Bryce was going to hurt Jianna to get back at me for rejecting his advances. I had to try and protect Jianna and Shayne. “There is no evidence that this particular child is in danger,” I said, evenly. “And Riley is a competent mother. I see no reason for concern.”

“I disagree. If nothing else, she’s not that good of a mother – why else do you have to go and help her put that baby to bed every day?” He said, now openly smirking.

I have no idea how he knew that I helped put Shayne to bed, but I had to address his error. “In fact, I visit Riley often, but not every day. When there, I do help with the baby, but how could someone who is there not help when able? I simply sing a bit and it seems to settle the baby more quickly than otherwise.”

“Yes, yes, so I’ve heard,” he continued, still with that smirk in place. “But don’t you think that the child is a bit of a distraction for you? What if you are needed at, say, the other end of the prison when you are taking time to sing to a baby?”

I was getting angry, but in no way could I allow that to show. I continued in my logical, reasonable tone, “I only see Riley when I’m off duty. You never need to fear that I would shirk any of my duties at any time.”

“Oh, I understand that. You are most efficient,” he said that last word as though it was an insult. I suppose it was. He didn’t want an efficient Deputy Governor; he wanted a woman who would have a physical relationship with him. “But I don’t want the child to be a distraction for you – or anyone else. I have arranged for a social worker to come and assess the situation.”

I felt something within me freeze. If a social worker decided that Shayne was in danger, he could take the six-month-old away. Shayne could end up in foster care, which is never a good thing. I took a deep breath and cleared my mind a bit. I had realized that it was unlikely that there would be a problem. Jianna was an excellent mother and Shayne was a happy baby. There was no reason for any competent social worker to find any problem with the situation. This was simply Bryce trying to use what leverage he could to let me know that he was in power and I was still his subordinate, and a disappointing one at that. All this was just intimidation tactics aimed at me. It had nothing to do with Jianna and Shayne in any practical way.

“When is he to be here?” I asked, wanting Bryce to see that I wasn’t going to rise to his bait.

“I’ll let you know, thank you, Ferguson,” he said, almost in an offhand manner. It was clear that I was dismissed and that there would be no further discussion of the issue.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

When I returned to school, a few days after my nose was broken, I had a swollen nose, black eyes and a slowly reducing goose egg on my forehead. I felt more self conscious than usual, and tried to keep my head down so that my hair fell across my face as much as possible.

When Jenny had her first glance at me in my damaged state, she stopped dead in her tracks. We were in the hallway, in the change between first and second classes, and there were students all around. I didn’t want to talk to her there, so I shook my head. Jenny nodded. Her eyes looked like they were welling up as she continued on her way.

Jenny and I met up at lunch, outside, at a picnic style table that students could use in fine weather. It was so hot this time of year that most of the other students were sitting in the hallways of the school, which had the doors at the ends of all corridors open to allow for air to move, or they were in the shade near the school. This was our way of avoiding others, although Jenny found it too hot and would complain at times. There was no complaining on this day.

“Shit, Joan, what happened?” she said, sitting down across from me, putting her books and lunch bag on the table.

“I fell,” I stated, matter-of-factly. I had even rehearsed how I would sound in my head, over and over, so that I would be completely convincing.

“How? Where? I mean, you look so… It looks painful,” she said, correcting herself before saying something to make me feel worse. Her expression was filled with concern.

“I slipped in the kitchen. I was clumsy. You don’t need to worry, Dad said I’ll heal just fine. He thinks I broke my nose, but that it won’t have a lump or anything in the long run,” I said, evenly.

Jenny looked away, as though she didn’t want to meet my eyes, “You’re not that clumsy, Joan. I’ve watched you, and you have the balance and grace of a fencer, because you are.”

“There was something on the floor that I slipped on. Accidents happen,” I said.

Jenny took her sandwich out of its little plastic bag with the fold-over flap, and carefully picked up the half she had chosen to eat first. Then she looked at me again and put the sandwich down. “I know accidents happen. I’m not stupid, but neither are you. And you are not clumsy. I won’t ask any further questions as you don’t want to talk about it,” she knew me well enough to know that my tone had meant I wanted to drop the topic, “but I don’t think you’ve told me everything.”

“Fine,” I said. There was nothing more I would say on the topic. I couldn’t tell her that Dad had been angry about the fact that I had been called a “dyke” because of our actions. I knew she’d be even more upset, and I really just could not face that.

We continued to sit in silence for a while, Jenny eating her sandwich, me sitting quietly and eating a pudding cup. I still didn’t want to bite things like apples or other harder foods. There were advantages to being the one who did the grocery shopping.

The sun was hot, and I was about to suggest that we move somewhere else for Jenny’s sake, when I saw Alice and a few of her friends approaching. I did not know what to do. I didn’t want to have Alice come and talk to us, but I didn’t have a reason not to face her, either.

Alice and her friends had a uniformity of appearance, wearing fashionable clothing and jewellery, make-up bright and obvious and hair done in the style of the time with volume and accessories. Jenny and I looked like dun coloured hens next to a group of peacocks. Normally I would not have thought such a thing, nor let them intimidate me, but it did at this point. Perhaps it was because I was preparing for what was to come next. Perhaps I understood Alice’s intent before she spoke.

“Look at this,” she said, turning to her friends but indicating the two of us at the table. “It’s the local lesbians. Oh my God, what happened to your face? I didn’t think you could be any uglier, but I was totally wrong.”

Jenny visibly shrunk down in her seat, obviously uncomfortable, and even appearing a bit frightened. I didn’t care what Alice said about me, but I could not allow her to intimidate Jenny. I had to protect her. I stood up to my full height and glared at Alice. “Go away,” I said, using my Dad’s tone of command.

“Of course we’ll go away,” Alice said, clearly afraid, but emboldened by her accompaniment. “Who wants to be seen with a freak like you anyway? The only people who’d hang out with you would be more lesbians anyway.” At that, she tossed her head and turned, her bunch of friends following her as though they were a flock of bright birds all moving as one, giggling and shooting glances at us.

I watched Alice leave, anger having risen in me. I wanted to go after her and make sure she never came near Jenny again, but I knew that such was just not possible. I could in no way ensure that Jenny’s feelings wouldn’t be hurt. I could keep her from physical harm, but the emotional damage I could not prevent.

“I’m sorry,” Jenny said, packing up her things.

I was surprised at this. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“Yeah, well, it was me that got you in trouble. If I hadn’t started things with you, then none of this would have happened.

“I never got along with others before I met you,” I said, “and you know that. You never did anything to cause me any problems.”

“Maybe. It just feels like I did. I guess we shouldn’t be seen together at school so much,” she said, looking down, hiding her face from me. I knew she was starting to cry as I could hear it in her voice. The last thing I wanted was to be separated from her in any way, but perhaps it was better for her not to be seen with me. I was the one Alice had called ‘a freak’ after all, and it was my locker that had been defaced.

“I suppose,” I said, keeping my voice even, not wanting Jenny to know that I was upset at the idea. If protecting her meant staying away from her, I would do that. I hated the very idea, but I would do whatever was required to keep her safe.

We walked back to the school together in silence, and went our separate ways after entering the building. I looked behind me briefly to check on Jenny, and I could see that her head was hanging down, and she was carrying her books and lunch bag awkwardly in one hand so that she could wipe her face with the other.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

One of the better things about being Deputy Governor was having more regular hours. I wasn’t subjected to as many double shifts, or night shifts backed by day shifts as I had been before my promotion. The Governor took Saturday and Sunday off, so I usually had Monday and Tuesday for my “weekend.” Normally this was fine for me, but it did not work out on one horrendous week because the social worker came in on a Monday to assess whether or not Shayne was at any risk at Blackmoore. I was not there to have a say, nor to try and ensure that Jianna felt safe with the situation.

When I came to work on the Wednesday, I saw an unfamiliar vehicle in the staff parking lot. Normally this would not concern me beyond being prepared for seeing someone from the Board, a visiting psychologist or some sort, and I wasn’t concerned beyond the usual. Things changed as soon as I entered the prison. I felt a tenseness to the place as soon as I entered. The people who let C.O.’s in and out nodded at me as always, but looked away even more quickly than usual. Leadbetter, who always had a coffee with him at the sign-in desk, had no coffee, as though he’d been rushed to get to his station. He was never late to work, so I was surprised at this detail. I nodded to him as I signed in, and he didn’t look up from his records long enough to do more than mumble a quiet, “’morning, Deputy Governor.” Usually the man made a comment about the weather, or some other trite small talk would issue forth.

I followed my usual routine, going to my desk and surveying the paperwork for the day. I had planned on seeing Jianna after work, as Bryce would have left by then, and I frankly didn’t want his knowing where I was headed at that time. It would be easy enough for him to find out, but at least he couldn’t stop me before I had a chance to head for Jianna’s cell.

I was just starting to read a list of prisoners’ requests when Sandra Jeffers came hurriedly up to my desk. She seemed full of concern for some reason, and her manner ensured that my full attention was levelled at her. Jeffers was not the type to be dramatic.

She met my gaze and said, “Deputy Governor, I think you might like to know that the social worker is here.”

How she knew that a social worker of special concern to me was in the building, I didn’t know, so I simply assumed we were on the same page and asked, “The one to see Jianna? The one who is to decide about Shayne’s staying here or not?”

“That’s the one. He wouldn’t be back here if the news was good,” she said, stopping at the end to take a deep breath.

For myself, I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I felt my face drained of colour as I asked the question to which I already knew the answer: “When was he here before?”

Jeffers noticeably reacted with a bit of surprise at my not knowing, but didn’t waste my time by elaborating, simply stating, “Monday.”

I knew what this meant: the social worker was here to take Shayne away. Unless this was another assessment, that was the only reason he’d be here again so soon. I nodded to Jeffers, said a quick, “thank you,” and took off at top speed in the direction Jianna’s cell block.

Walking so fast that I was almost running, I turned and went down the metal stairs headed towards Shayne and Jianna, and in my haste, I had to catch myself so as not to run into Governor Bryce on the stairs then and there.

He knew that I was aware of what was happening, “Now, now, Joan – slow down. There’s nothing to be done now.” He was holding on to the railing with one hand and holding up the other in front of me to indicate that I must stop.

I did so, but only to say, “What have you done?”

“My job, as you will have to do too, Ferguson,” he said, looking up at me like a small child who was trying to convince an adult to let him do what was forbidden.

He would have been no challenge to me had I just pushed past him, but I realized that he could be the only hope for Shayne’s staying where he was and I had to contain myself enough to be reasonable, so I kept my voice even as I said “I want to see Jianna - she’ll be in need of me.”

“Ferguson, the social worker will be there at any moment, if he’s not already. You’re too late to stop him. He’s made his decision and it’s final. It won’t matter if you are there or not: there’s nothing you can do,” Bryce said, even as I was starting to move downwards again.

I did push past, and started head long down the stairs, when Bryce said, just loudly enough for me to hear, “If there’s problems, then that girl will have to be moved, too.”

I stopped dead. Hand firmly on the rail, I turned to look up at the Governor. “What did you say?”

“You can’t stop the social worker; he’s made his assessment. But if you do anything to interfere with the man or his job, I will have the gully girl moved somewhere else. Hell, I’ll fire you, too. If you want to see her kept here, you’ll be reasonable,” he said, a touch of delight at his own cruelty in his voice.

It was clear that he meant what he said, and I had to contain my anger in order to stay professional and not make the situation worse. I just looked up at the man, keeping my face completely neutral. I did, however, feel my left eye starting an odd twitching. I did not let that distract me. I waited for a beat, then said, “I am always reasonable.”

Bryce sneered, knowing he had the upper hand. “Almost always, Joan. Almost always.” With that he continued up the stairs, knowing full well that I could do nothing to stop Shayne being taken forcibly from Blackmoore.

I began to hurry again, until I heard Jianna crying out. She was nearly hysterical: a mother having her baby torn from her grasp, begging for her child to stay with her. I stopped dead. I knew then and there that Bryce’s words rang true: there was nothing I could do. Still, I had to get to Jianna, had to be with her. I stopped at the cell before Jianna’s just as the social worker was carrying Shayne out. Jianna’s crying and begging had changed, becoming the sound of the utter despair she felt at that moment, the word “no” being emitted over and over. Again, those words: there was nothing I could do. I positioned myself just inside the door of the next cell so that I could see but not be seen by anyone exiting Jianna’s cell.

I watched the social worker carry Shayne awkwardly, as though the baby were being presented to someone as a trophy. My eyes watered against my will because the pain I was feeling for Jianna was so very strong. I watched as the man walked away from me, away from Jianna, and I’ve never felt such a hard, cold hatred for anyone. I had allowed myself to feel for Jianna and that had given me permission to have feelings about anyone who harmed her. I watched as he headed for the stairway that I had so recently been held back on. I watched as two prison guards left the area, after noises that indicated that they’d had to push Jianna back into her cell in order to leave. I listened as Jianna wailed and screamed by turns, crying for her child to be returned to her. I stayed and listened until her cries became sobs. I did not do as I had thought I had wanted. I did not go to Jianna. I left the area soundlessly, not wanting her to know I was there. Not wanting her to know I had failed to keep Shayne safe.

I had let them both down. I had to have something to say to Jianna that would make things better before I saw her. I could not be the person that allowed the child to be taken after promising to keep her safe – always. The only thing was, how could anyone possibly make things better for a woman whose child has been taken?

  _______________________________________________________________________________________________

Although Jenny and I purposely spent less time together at school to deflect the bullying away from her, I still met up with her a block or two from the school after afternoon dismissal. I was afraid to let her be on her own, thinking that Robertson or some such could come after her and that she was vulnerable on her own. There was very little I could do about the situation, except keep Jenny safe. Sadly, I lost that time for us and Jenny had to walk home on her own after that.

Dad’s headaches got worse over time, and he became more irritable because of them. He finally had to admit that he was getting them when he realized that he couldn’t keep working as hard as he had been.

“Joan, it’s time you started to earn your keep around here,” Dad said when I returned one Tuesday after walking Jenny home. Dad was sitting in his office, which was the darkest room of the house, drinking a cup of coffee which I identified by the smell. I noted that he had not turned his desk lamp on, and was surprised to see the coffee as Dad always drank tea, and he never drank anything caffeinated after lunch.

His statement came as a bit of a shock. After all, hadn’t I been ‘earning my keep’ for ages by cleaning, shopping, cooking, doing the laundry and so on? “What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“You are going to start teaching at the school. Not advanced groups, of course, but the youngest and newest students. Being my daughter means that you already have a good pedigree, and you are a fairly decent fencer for someone of your experience,” Dad said. Even now he wasn’t willing to say that I was a very good fencer as he didn’t want to encourage me to think I could go further and compete elsewhere.

“I’m not a teacher,” I replied, thoroughly shocked by what Dad had said.

He gave a sort of “harrumph” sound, then stated, “I will coach you on how to teach the children. You will not be paid, of course, as you’re taking the classes I have had for some time. It’s a small school, Joan, but very prestigious. You will have to keep up the quality of training expected by the clients.”

I couldn’t believe that he’d bothered to make the last couple of statements. I had been going to classes there since we had moved into the area, nearly four years ago. I knew everything about his school and work there. Then it hit me, and I became concerned. “How will I find the time? I am already being coached, doing school work and what is needed here. I doubt I’d be able to keep everything going.”

Dad stood up from his desk and moved to meet me eye to eye. This was his intimidation stance, and it always worked on me. I looked him in the eye, because I knew he wanted me to, but it was a difficult thing to do. Dad moved even closer, leaned forward and nearly whispered into my ear, “You will do everything you have to.” Then he stood tall again.

The obvious answer was the one I gave, “Yes, Dad.” There was nothing more I could say.

Dad moved back to his office chair, sat down and took a sip of the coffee. I stood in the office, looking at the floor. I wasn’t sure what to do, or if Dad had more to say.

Eventually, Dad turned back to me. “What are you doing still here?” he asked, tone gruff as usual.

“I thought you might have more to say,” was the only response I had.

“I’ve said what I meant to say. You will do as I have ordered. You are dismissed,” and with that he turned his back on me and continued to drink his coffee.

Dinner that night was fairly simple, chicken breast with Italian herbs, buttered green beans and saffron rice. When it was ready, Dad and I sat down in the kitchen as always. I wasn’t sure how to bring up the topic he had surprised me with early, but it turned out I didn’t have to.

“Joan, have your fencing equipment in the car before you go to school tomorrow. You will start teaching tomorrow,” Dad said, as if this wasn’t news to me at all.

I stopped in mid-chew, then remembered to swallow. “How can I start tomorrow? I have no idea what or how to teach anybody anything,” I said, truly concerned about the situation. After all, if I wasn’t as good a teacher, or nearly as good a teacher as Dad was, he would be unhappy with me.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, pushing his buttered beans away from the saffron rice. Dad hated it when the different foods on the plate touched. “It’s basic, and you have learned how to teach by being a student, and not just any student. You have learned from me, and you will simply perform as you’ve seen me perform with newer clients. It will be mostly safety, where to level your eyes, stance, a few steps, nothing more. Each lesson simply builds on the one before until the student is ready to move up to the next level. You will find it fairly simple.”

It sounded simple to the point of boring, but it was also terrifying. I would have to stand up in front of others and act like I knew everything they needed to know. I would have to talk in front of a group: a small group of about five or six kids, aged eight to twelve, and this scared me. I didn’t know how to control kids, and I had no experience doing public speaking beyond what I had had to do in school for marks. Yet I dared not question Dad further; his last sentence made it clear what he expected and that he had given as much of an explanation of things as he was going to.

Of course, while cooking dinner and washing up, my thoughts kept going between my starting to teach the next day and how I would protect Jenny. Dad’s schedule no longer let me leave the house in the morning in time to get to Jenny’s and walk to the school at her pace because his breakfast had to be at the same precise time every day. And if I were teaching after school, I couldn’t walk her home. How was I to keep her safe? After all, isn’t that the most important thing one can do for another?

________________________________________________________________________________________

Poor Jianna was inconsolable. It was understandable; to have lost something so precious and so hard to bring into this world could destroy those who didn’t have complete control over their emotions. Jianna had been happy when she was with Shayne. Now that he was gone, she was just going through the motions of work shift, keeping her cell clean and other things she had done before, but there was nothing but tears and dreary, quiet words spoken seldom and only if forced. I had no idea how to console her until I realized that there would be a fairly easy way to have her feel better and make sure she would be alright after she left the prison in a few months.

After I had finished my paperwork and cleared up everything at the end of a Saturday day shift, I headed down to see Jianna. She was even more pathetic than earlier, no longer crying but just lying on her bed, staring at the wall most of the time. She had grown a bit pale and was losing weight as she barely ate anything. I knew my plan would cheer her up. I opened her cell and made my way over to her bed to sit on the end of it, as I was used to doing. Jianna looked at me, but otherwise did not acknowledge my presence.

“I have an idea,” I said, to which Jianna did not respond. “We will get Shayne back.”

This provoked the response I expected. Jianna sat up and her expression became interested for the first time in ages. “How?” she began, “when? Can you do it now?”

“Just listen, Jianna, and don’t get too excited just yet,” I said, trying to keep her from thinking everything could be accomplished at once. “When you get out, you will move to my place and I will assure your income. At that point, you can apply to have Shayne back, as you are his mother.”

Jianna sat still, taking this in.

“I’ve told you before that my place is large enough for you and Shayne, and if I can guarantee that you will have a roof over your head and food and so on, I don’t see why you can’t have him back as soon as you’re out,” I said, allowing myself a small smile to show Jianna that I was confident about the plan.

“I’ve thought a lot about getting him back when I get out,” she said, quietly, “and I know I can apply, but I have to have a job and a place they think will be good enough.”

I smiled a bit more and reached my hand out and placed it deliberately on her calf, wanting to show her my sincerity. “Well, now you can apply right away. You’ll have a place, someone with a solid income helping out, and someone who is a solid citizen as well. I have no problem with babysitting or anything else. If you still need to get a job, then I can look after Shayne. Otherwise, you are more than welcome to stay at my place and live there, not having to worry about money.” I said, proudly.

I knew that she was impressed and grateful by the way her expression changed. Then it grew dark again, “I can’t live off of you, Joan. That would be…weird.”

I gently rubbed my thumb against her calf and said, “Nonsense. I have more than enough money for both of us. All three of us. If it means you can get Shayne back right away, then that is what you shall do.”

“You really mean it, don’t you?” she said, looking right at me.

I felt my face start to flush, and some how I became awkward with words. Only Jianna ever had this effect on me. “I do mean it. I meant it before…when I said it…but now it’s imperative that...”

I did not get to finish my sentence because Jianna suddenly shot up and threw her arms around me. She hugged me, tightly, and said “thank you” over and over again.

This was so unexpected that I didn’t move at first. My arms stayed by my sides and I was unprepared for that much of an emotional reaction. I did move my head so that my mouth was closer to her ear, though, and softly said, “it won’t be until you’re out. That’s a few months.”

Jianna pulled back, her hands on my upper arms. She was kneeling, sitting on her heels, and crying again. Her crying wasn’t from sorrow and loss this time, but from sudden, unexpected hope. She almost forcibly moved my shoulders so that I had to turn at the torso to be facing her more.

“I know,” she said, still looking directly at me, “but now I know I can get him back way sooner than otherwise. I will pay you back for everything, I swear.”

There was a stab of pain in my heart at that. Jianna was seeing my offer as short term, or at least something that needed paying back, not as the permanent solution I wanted it to be. I looked down so that she couldn’t see my expression, even though I was skilled at keeping my face neutral, and quietly said, “You will never need to pay me back for anything. I…I want you and Shayne with me. I want us to…” And there I stopped. I couldn’t say anything further.

Jianna still held on to my shoulders as she replied, “You have become such a good friend to Shayne and I. Sorry, Shayne and me.”

All at once I felt that unusual, odd, detached feeling I have had only a few times before in my life. I felt as though I was leaving my body, yet wasn’t. I was no longer in full control, yet I was. This was something I will probably never understand. I tucked my legs up on the bed so that I could properly face Jianna, put my arms up between hers, took her face in my hands and leaned in and kissed her. It wasn’t a long kiss, but I was gentle and the feel of her lips against mine was wonderful. It was so natural, something that was okay to do, even though I knew it wasn’t.

Jianna tried to pull back from me, but couldn’t, because I had her face held firmly in my hands. She started to speak, saying, “Joan – I –…” and I silenced her, putting a finger over her lips and uttering “sh-ing” sounds. She quieted down and I moved in and kissed her again, this time a bit harder, more determined. I wasn’t myself; I wasn’t doing this, I was not able to stop myself. This time, Jianna kissed me back. It was so delicate a kiss, but so full and warm. I moved to sit up more and get a better angle and she was finally able to pull back. She moved quickly, almost scooting to the head of her bed then said, “Oh shit!”

That was a surprise. I jerked back, not knowing what was happening until Jianna pointed at the bars of her cell and said, fear in her voice, “Shit! Someone saw us, someone was there.”

I wasted no time. I jumped up and was at the door in time to see someone in a prisoner’s uniform dash around the corner at the far end of the hall. I recognized the hair and the scrawny figure: Kelly Bryant. She had no business being at this end of the prison, and I had been careless, not listening for others, allowing her to see what Jianna and I were doing. I knew I couldn’t let her say anything.

I took off down the hall at a run, covering the length of the hallway and the turn around the corner much faster than Bryant could have ran. I am a superior athlete and, despite wearing heels and a skirt, quickly over came her and pushed her up against a wall. The problem I had at this point was that there were now other prisoners around. I surely couldn’t address the situation in front of them. I had to move her elsewhere. I cuffed her, and said all the right things to make it appear as though she had behaved in a threatening manner toward me.

“I didn’t do anything,” she was spitting, trying to argue her case in the court of public opinion that prisoners always seem to think will help them. “You’re a fucking screw! You are the one who did shit. I can’t help it I was there! Fuck!”

“Quiet!” I said, increasing my grip on her upper arm as I propelled her down the hallway. I moved her in the general direction of Jianna’s cell, but only because I knew there was a mostly disused supply room further down in the opposite direction. We turned down the corridor, which I was greatly relieved to see was empty, and I took out my key with one hand, held tightly to Bryant with the other, and opened the door.

The room was dark and smelled musty and full of dust. I hesitated only briefly before shoving Bryant into the room, followed her, and then locked the door from the inside. It was an old door and would allow the user to do so with the one key. I found the light switch, and a single, bare bulb lit up in the center of the room. I had been in the room only once before, to store old cleaning fluids that I was sure had expired. It was perhaps four times the size of the average jail cell, but that was a bit of an illusion, as there were cement steps further on, at the far side of the room. Shelving lined the walls on either side of us, and I suspect there were more pests in the room than anything else, despite the shelves being lined with old cleaning supplies, a few unused moth-eaten wool blankets and pails and used sponges and the like. Basically, if something was unusable but couldn’t be thrown away for whatever reason, it could end up here. I suspect that many things were in this room because someone had been too lazy to drag them to the dumpster or dispose of them properly.

Bryant stumbled in and caught herself, turned to face me and as fiercely as she was able, and spat out, “Fucking hell! I didn’t do anything!” Then she took in the environs, realizing that we were completely alone in this filthy room. She changed her attitude completely and, after swallowing hard, “What…what are you going to do to me?”

“First, you are going down those stairs,” I said, pointing.

Bryant looked around. She was stupid enough that she had to search for the stairs, identify them as such, then look back at me. She was nervous now, “I don’t think it looks too fucking safe….”

“Then you have a choice to make: either go down the stairs under your own power, or have me throw you down,” I said, cold, commanding, like my Dad used to be. I would not have actually thrown her, but I would have forced her down.

Bryant’s stupid face showed the thought process that moved through her mind. Her eyes widened a bit when she put it all together and then took in my full size in comparison to hers. She muttered, “Well, fuck,” then headed over to the stairs and down.

I had not wanted to stay in the first room as someone could go down the hallway and perhaps hear something coming from there. The second room, down a short flight of stairs, was made from cement, not stone like most of this wing of Blackmore. There was the smell of old grease and oil. This had once been a place where prison vehicles were worked on, but had since been closed off. The area that had once been driven through to reach this garage had been converted to more yard space for the growing prison population. For the sake of keeping it from being breached, the doors had been walled off with bricks. The place was one small garage, having been used only for one or two vehicles at a time. It was however, very isolated and, I was sure, fairly soundproof. I could talk here and not be found out by anyone else.

Bryant had not moved far from the base of the cement stairs as the light petered out further into the room. I walked down the stairs, and she moved a bit further away, trying to avoid me. She had no hope. As afraid to move around the dark, unknown and filthy room as she was, she was more afraid of me.

“What are you going to do to me?” she reiterated, sounding more scared each time she spoke.

I walked towards her, more quickly than she could back up, and stood looking down at her. “That depends on you, Bryant,” I stated matter-of-factly.

“What the fuck does that mean?” she said, swearing this time out of fear, not anger.

I smiled a humourless smile that indicated that I was completely in charge and not the least concerned with what she could do. “You have to make a decision. You can have the handcuffs removed and leave here in the same conditioned in which you entered, or I can cuff you to a pipe on the wall and leave you alone in the dark.” I couldn’t see as clearly as in the upper room, but I had already noted the old plumbing affixed with metal bands to the wall on my left.

Bryant look around, taking her time to figure out where I intended to restrain her. It was amazing to see how long her brain took to process anything. When she saw the pipe I was referring to, she said, “I don’t fucking want to stay here…and I don’t fucking want to…”

Her words disappeared when she looked back at me. She just stared up at me, waiting. I took my sweet time to make my point. I wasn’t going to move first. Bryant started to become agitated as I just stared down at her, not moving a muscle. She looked around again, stepped back half a step, then held up her cuffed wrists in my direction, hoping I would act right away. I kept still as a stone pillar, waiting.

“Jesus fuck, what am I fucking supposed to do? You’ve made your point. I’m not telling nobody what I saw. I can be really quiet, you know? I won’t fucking say a thing,” she babbled, her words getting faster as she went on. She was starting to panic. This was good.

I took a deep breath and looked down my nose at her, then said so softly that she had to strain to hear, “No, you won’t say anything. I could do a lot worse than leave you here in the dark to be eaten by rats. I have done nothing to you, Bryant, nothing at all. If I wanted, I could leave you here and no one, not a C.O. nor another prisoner, would know where you are. No one comes here. You would simply be left to die of dehydration or predation. I could do that right now if I wanted. Now tell me, Bryant, is that what I want to do?”

I was amused to see her big round eyes get even bigger as I leaned in closer to her. She shook her head quickly to make her point as she said, “Fuck no! You don’t want to do that. I can be super quiet. Like, I don’t fucking remember shit anyway, so you don’t have to worry. No one believes me anyway. It’s always ‘Jesus, Kelly,’ like that was my name. I fucking swear I’ll be fucking quiet.”

“Good,” I said, keeping my voice low and smooth to show how comfortable I was in the situation. “Then I can trust you to keep mum about anything you think you saw this afternoon.”

“Uh, yeah – I’ll stay mom, whatever you say, like I’ll be dad and sister and everyone else too,” she said, showing both her ignorance and fear.

“You will have to, or you’ll end up here,” I said, indicating the room. I ushered her to the steps, and she fairly ran up, stumbling a bit at the top, but recovering herself before falling. I followed and walked confidently past her to the door, took out my key, and unlocked it. I indicated that Bryant should come closer, which she did, still very afraid. I took out the key to my handcuffs, and she held her arms up. I unlocked the cuffs, freed her and let her out of the storage room. I locked it back up as Bryant scuttled off towards her own cell block. I was confident that my indiscretion with Jianna would not be reported back to anyone.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

There came a time at school when I only saw Jenny in class or in the hallways between classes. We were careful not to spend time together. Jenny was simply unable to deal with the bullying that resulted. I assumed that her size was the reason she was picked on and I wasn’t. Not being able to walk her to and from school was worrying and frustrating. The one person I wanted to spend time with was the one person I had to steer clear of. We took to writing notes and leaving them in each others’ lockers, shoving them through the vents on the metal doors. It was contact at least. Mostly I told her what I did in my day, and she did the same, but would also add something to indicate that she was missing me, or that someone had made fun of her. In one note, she mentioned that she had been shoved around in the girls’ changeroom before PE, and that the girls there had said they’d seen her put something into my locker. The notes began to peter out after that. We would then meet up at 9:17 a.m. in the girl’s bathroom, as we had devised, to get in a few words, but that was hardly enough to sustain a real friendship. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jenny started to spend time with another girl, Mary, who was new to the school. Mary was also someone who would have been alone, the only Vietnamese girl in the school with a strong accent. Truthfully, I had trouble understanding some of what she said, but Jenny never indicated that she had that problem. They sat together in some classes, Jenny told me, and sometimes would eat lunch together. They were never seen alone, never just the two of them off hiding, but always very public, as we had learned to be. Jenny said I should join them for lunch at some point, but I felt no desire to do so. I don’t know why, but I wanted to avoid Mary as much as possible.

Jenny and I couldn’t meet up in the washroom every morning, as that would look suspicious, nor could we make the same request of the same teachers every week. There were days when I would wait for her and she would not show up, and vice versa. It became harder and harder to communicate, but at least I could see her. At least I knew she was alright and in one piece, that no one had hurt her. All that changed very suddenly.

The afternoons I spent teaching fencing were tedious at best, frustrating and annoying at worst. Parents would sometimes watch the lessons, and I disliked that, feeling that I was always being judged. Some would sit up a bit higher or stare a bit harder when I had to touch their child to show him how to hold himself physically, or when I had to raise my voice to get attention. There were eight beginners in my largest class, and a then a class of three who were a step up. The beginners were once a week, the others twice a week and a solo student whose parents paid for one-on-one training twice a week. All these were after school. My Dad would have taught the solo student and perhaps the intermediates, but he handed them over to me. At times he would watch me, which was worse than the students’ parents being there. He would criticize everything I had done afterwards, often on the ride home, or even in front of the others at the school. I hated every minute of the teaching, so I indulged myself even more in the senior competitions. I could only do the competitions that were at the school or a bus ride away, but at least these were a challenge and I loved the feeling of winning against a good fencer. I seldom lost, but when I did, it spurred me on to work harder at improving my technique. Dad was almost never at these tournaments, so I had a bit of freedom there. Often just taking on a challenge from someone else taught me what I desired to know, but it was necessary to get Dad to help with my form on occasion. He would do this by fencing against me, or, rarely, watching me against another challenger. He seemed to become more and more critical each time he worked with me, and often would simply criticize without telling me how to improve or change what I was doing. I found these sessions beyond frustrating, but I knew better than to show my frustration to Dad.

“Joan, your footing was terrible. No wonder I could win against you with such a simple parry,” he said one day, testing the tensile strength of his foil as he spoke.

I looked down at the mat we were standing on, then said as evenly as I could, “Then please show me how to fix it.”

“Why? It’s not as if you’re going to get better. You have plateaued and there seems to be no way to teach you anything anymore,” he said, turning away and virtually dismissing me with a wave of his hand.

I was not going to give up quite so soon, so I said, “You don’t give up on your other students. Mr. Moretti was at about my level when you took him on, and you helped him improve.”

“That’s because Mr. Moretti listened to me, and worked at improving himself. He has a future in competition. You have already walked away from that. Why should I waste further time on you? It’s not as if you are paying me for my time,” and with that Dad went off to change into his regular clothes.

He had never said such a thing to me before, and I did not how to respond. I simply went and got changed, then packed things in the hatchback of the Hondo when we met up outside the school after he had locked it up. I didn’t look at him. I was feeling as though I wasted his time as it was. Dad drove us home in silence, which was not unusual between us, but as he pulled into the driveway, he made an announcement.

“Joan, you need to start packing. We are moving,” he said, as though he were announcing that we were having something ordinary for dinner.

I didn’t say anything at first, in part because I didn’t want to believe him, and in part because it simply didn’t seem possible. We’d been settled at this current location for some time, and I thought I would be able to do my grade twelve year at my current school. I also did not want to move away from Jenny. Perhaps Dad only meant to another house, or across town, not our usual across-continent transplant. I clung to that idea as I said, “When?”

Dad turned off the ignition and undid his seatbelt, refusing to look at me. “When I say, Joan. I have told you to pack. Why are you questioning me?”

“I – I’m not. I just need a timeline to know what to pack and when,” I said, keeping my voice as even as possible.

Dad slammed the car door as I stepped out of the passenger side. Had I slammed the door like that, he would have berated me for it. Instead, he glared at me over the roof of the car, almost daring me to do the same. I carefully closed the door and Dad moved to the hatchback. He unlocked it, then indicated that I should get my equipment. I reached into the car, and Dad gave me a shove. I stumbled, catching myself by putting my arms down on the equipment bags. “You do not question me, ever,” he said, “next time I will close the hatch on your fingers. You have no idea how hard I’ve worked for you, to keep you safe, to ensure that you will have a future. I am doing that now, and you will do as I say.”

I picked up my equipment bag and then realized I had to carry Dad’s stuff too, as he started to walk away without it.

The rest of my evening was miserable as I contemplated moving. We had been at the house, in this town, for about three years. I had met Jenny here. I still had her as a friend, even if I couldn’t spend time with her, at least she was here. I made dinner, we ate, and I went to my room and started thinking about leaving. I hated the very idea, but I started cataloguing what needed packing first, and when I was to begin finding boxes and necessary packing papers for the china and so on. My mind kept slipping back and forth between these thoughts until I fell into a restless, nightmare-filled sleep.

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Jianna was, of course, still miserable without Shayne. I hated seeing her like that, her eyes swollen from crying, her head almost always bowed, her energy low and lacking. The only time she looked up and had a hint of a desire to live was when I went I spent some time visiting her. She talked on endlessly about how we would get Shayne back, with me filling in the more realistic or legal details for her. She wanted to have a place ready for him that no one could not approve of, she wanted to have a good job and prove she could keep him. I balked once, when she mentioned perhaps opening a daycare center at my house. That would not happen. I could easily accept Jianna and whatever mess or disasters ensued with Shayne’s presence, but the idea of more children in my own home was disturbing. Regardless, she prattled on, painting pictures of domestic bliss with her words. I enjoyed this because this was what I wanted as well. The three of us could live comfortably together. There would be no problems with money or time for looking after a child. I could even quit my job and we’d be fine. The idea of quitting was not unpleasant, as I would be able to put all of my time into being with Jianna and raising Shayne, and having a goldfish. Jianna never let me forget about the somewhat ridiculous goldfish.

One such visit started with Jianna talking about how she had always wanted to be a mother. Of course, that led to asking me about such intentions. I had to be careful with my answers, as I did not want Jianna to think I would not want children, nor did I want her to think than Shayne wasn’t my first priority, after her.

“I think I’ve always wanted to raise a child,” I answered her query, “but I don’t see myself as someone who will get married. I may want to consider adopting at some point, I don’t know.”

Jianna shifted back on her bed and looked up into my eyes, being as serious as one can be. I noticed that her eyes were looking a bit sunken. She was losing weight rapidly: her milk had dried up and she had little interest in eating. I would bring her treats on occasion, and this was one such occasion. She was eating gummy bears out of the plastic bag I had brought them in for her. “I just don’t think I could even get through a day anymore without knowing I can get Shayne back. My gut hurts all the time because I miss him so much. I don’t know where he is, who is looking after him, if he is hungry or hurt or tired or…”

I cut her off because tears were running down her face and she was becoming increasingly distraught with each passing thought. “Now, now. He will be fine. He’s being looked after now, and we will get him back.”

“You don’t know that. If social services has him, he could be anywhere. Aboriginal kids don’t do well in the system. I’m so afraid he’ll get sick or…” she trailed off, clearly thinking the worst. I was at a loss to say much more, other than to insist that he would be fine. Jianna was very much aware that I had no proof of that.

“What if I were to go to social services and see where he is being fostered?” I asked. “Perhaps I could even get news of him, or even a photograph.”

Jianna sat up suddenly, reaching for me has she had in the past, and wrapped her arms around me. I had never gotten used to physical contact, but I would allow Jianna to hug me for this sort of thing. I must admit, I rather enjoyed being hugged by her. Most of the physical contact I had had in my life was negative. This was appreciation, caring and mutual affection. I was able to put my arms around her too. I could smell the residue of the last green gummy bear she had eaten on her breath, her sweat from her earlier work detail, and her hair. I wanted to sit like that forever, hugging and being hugged, but of course it couldn’t last. She eventually sat back and looked at me again with her huge, dark, beautiful eyes.

“You have no idea what this means to me,” she said with complete sincerity.

I looked down, feeling my cheeks warm, and said, “I have some idea. I feel responsible to him too you, know. I will check on him as best I can.”

Jianna reached her hand that held the plastic bag of gummy bears out to me, offering to share. I hadn’t intended it, but I decided to take one. She gave me a slight smile as I took it. “I am so grateful to have you as a friend, Joan,” she said, softly, “I just couldn’t manage without you.”

I smiled at her and took another gummy bear, popping it in my mouth, then said around it, “I thank you for that. You can trust me, Jianna. I will always look out for you and Shayne.” I had wanted to say “always care for”, but that may have seemed a bit forward. I was always careful with words when I talked to her.

When I left Jianna after that visit, I couldn’t help but notice a thin figure with short hair disappear around the turn in the corridor. Bryant had been here again. Had this been a coincidence, or had she figured out my schedule and decided to try and catch me out again? I would have to keep my ear to the ground and find out what was motivating this behaviour.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: Pride of Actions

 

And so, we moved. We went into Melbourne. We had a small house this time, part of a duplex. Dad didn’t like the idea of having neighbours attached to our house, but it was all that was available at the time and it was the right price. He had told me that we simply couldn’t afford anything more. It wasn’t in the center of the city, of course, nor the better neighbourhoods, but I didn’t care. It was another house that I had to clean. I had to go in there and virtually sterilize it after the paid cleaners had done their work. I spent several weekends on this, moving things about to get at the floors, the walls, the closets. I unpacked slowly, starting only with necessities, as I wanted to be able to move everything easily until the place was perfectly clean. Dad was not impressed by this.

“Joan,” he said, on a Wednesday evening as I was putting our lamb stew with dumplings on the plates for dinner, “why haven’t you finished unpacking yet? It’s been nearly three weeks and I still see boxes. I have unpacked everything for my bedroom and office. Why are you taking so long?”

I sighed, but quietly so that he wouldn’t hear me, and placed his plate in front of him. “Because I’ve had to clean everything to an acceptable level (his words, not mine) before we can put things away. I can’t unpack the items we put in the linen closet until the linen closet is clean. Between school, teaching at the new fencing studio, homework and whatnot, it’s just taking time.”

Dad wasn’t impressed, but at least he wasn’t angry. His moods had become more and more erratic and unpredictable in the last few months. I put it down to the stress of the move, but it was more than I’d seen from him before. He took a bite of his stew, made a face that was meant to show that the food was at least edible and said, “You need to learn to be more efficient. You can do more if you plan things better. Know what you’re doing and when. I learned that in the military, and you are perfectly capable of learning it, too.”

I thought I had been efficient. After all, I had finished almost all of the cleaning and unpacking, transitioned for the last two months of my grade 11 year to a new school, took up teaching fencing at a new studio and managed the household, including the new jobs that always come with moving house. I was afraid to say any of this, of course, as I didn’t want to make Dad angry. Instead, I went with, “Okay, then show me how. I need to learn from someone who knows what he’s doing.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Dad stood up, threw his napkin down on the table and said, “You should know how to do these things by now. What good are you, a girl your age, unable to handle simple physical work like this? When will you ever manage to figure out how to live as one must in this world? I have done all I can with you.” With that, he left the room, stormed over to his perfectly clean and unpacked office, and left his dinner to get cold.

I didn’t know what to do, so I took his plate of stew and put it over the bottom of the double boiler to keep warm. I didn’t feel much like eating at that point, but I made myself at least eat up the meat, carrots and peas. I couldn’t face the dumplings, but I could never let the meat be thrown out – after all, it was the expensive part.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________-

When I went back to work the morning after Jianna’s long hug, I was called in to Bryce’s office. We didn’t talk at all, except for work related things, and I was much happier with this. I had no reason to think that there would be anything out of the ordinary on this day, but I was wrong.

“Sit down,” Bryce ordered as I walked into his tiny office.

I sat. There was nothing new to the office; it was still small and stuffy. Bryce sat at full attention, back straight, jacket and tie perfectly arranged on his small frame. He had his hands in his lap, and he was pushed back from the desk a bit. I knew things were not going to go well for me when I noted his expression. He had a hard glint in his eye, if one could describe it as such, and the corners of his mouth were slightly turned up but it appeared as though he were trying not to grin. He cleared his throat a bit, an unnecessary thing for him to do but a status thing, showing me that he had something formal waiting and that I should pay attention to his rank as well as what he said.

“It has come to my attention that you have been in physical contact with prisoner Riley in an inappropriate way more than once. I will have to give you an official warning, Ferguson, and let you know that you could be fired pending an investigation of this alleged activity,” he said, clearly looking for me to squirm and feel uncomfortable.

Not about to give satisfaction, I didn’t move nor change my expression. “Really?” I started, “who has made this accusation?” I wasn’t really allowed to ask this question as the identity of the lagger would be kept undisclosed, but I wanted to see his reaction. If he balked at all, then I would know that it was Bryant: she was not a reliable witness, to say the least. If he stayed completely secure in his composure, I would know that someone more reliable, perhaps even a C.O., had made the complaint.

Bryce’s eyes opened a bit more widely: that was what I was looking for. It had to be Bryant, or at least someone as untrustworthy. He leaned forward slightly, losing a bit of his strong, straight, perfect posture. “I can’t tell you, you know that. But I can say that it’s been more than one report and I will have to investigate.”

“Then do so. I will be happy to have this over and done with and to keep my unblemished reputation,” I said, keeping my composure perfectly neutral.

The Governor was surprised at this. He had expected me to panic, I suppose. After all, being accused of inappropriate physical contact with a prisoner was one of the worse things that any C.O. could be accused of. To accuse the Deputy Governor made it that much worse. I was scared about the whole thing, but in no way could Bryce see that. If he did, it could very well prove me guilty. I had to appear perfectly comfortable in front of him. I was still, not flinching or showing anything different from before the accusation, but I did feel a strange movement in my left eye, a twitch of the skin. I ignored it and hoped that Bryce simply wouldn’t notice. He did not appear to. In fact, if anyone was discomposed, it was he.

He looked about the room a bit, as though he were to see the words he needed to say to me on the wall or his desk top. He then took a sharp breath, sneered somewhat, and spat out, “Yes, well, it would be good if you could cooperate with any and all aspects of the investigation. I am counting on you being found innocent.” That last was a lie. He wanted to punish me, to continue to show me who was in charge of things. He was one of those pathetic men who used his position at work to take out his anger at being rejected by a woman with every little move he could make. I would never, ever, let him see that I knew he was doing that, and I would never give him the satisfaction of seeing me become uncomposed in front of him.

“Understood,” I stated, “will that be all, sir?”

The Governor scratched his head without thinking, and nodded. I left, shutting the door behind me.

Now I knew that I had to do something to stop this whole investigation in its tracks. Even if found innocent, the stink of such an accusation would stick. From the moment it became public, the first thing that would be said about me wherever I worked, was that I was the one accused of inappropriate physical behaviour with an inmate. I would always be seen as somewhat tarnished, perhaps even dirty. This simply could not be allowed to happen.

I sat at my desk, appearing to be doing paperwork, but actually trying to find a solution. I kept saying to myself, in my mind, “think, Ferguson – think! How to derail this accusation? How to end this? What must I do?” Wracking my brain led nowhere. I couldn’t really accomplish much until I knew who had made the accusation. I resolved to find out that night.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finding Bryant and singling her out of the prisoners in her cell block wasn’t hard. All I had to do was tell her to come with me. She had no choice, after all. I made her walk ahead of me. She was swearing, going on about my being unfair to her and so on until I told her to stop it or she’d get the handcuffs again. She settled down a bit after that, at least her vocal level was quieter. She knew where we were going, too, and the closer we got, the slower she walked and the quieter she became. This pleased me. Not only was she scared, she’d be discomfited and more likely to blurt things out, knowing her character.

When we arrived at the storage cupboard’s door, Bryant balked, letting off her usual stream of near nonsense words, “Oh fuck no, I ain’t going in there again. I may say stuff and do stupid things, but I’m not so fucking shit stupid that I’d go in there again. You can’t do this. You fucking know this is illegal. I have my rights! I can’t be treated like this. You’re a fucking Deputy Governor – this is so fucked up. Shit, Ferguson, shit….like I…”

I stopped her stream of verbal diarrhea by putting a finger up towards her mouth and “shushing” her. This surprised her enough to keep her quiet. I unlocked the storage room door, opened it and gestured for her to go in. She kept frozen to the spot, so I simply pushed her in. She stumbled, regained her footing, and stood up looking at me like a rabbit in the headlights. I must admit, I liked that she was scared. I liked that she knew I had all the power. There was nothing she could do to me physically, and she knew it. I knew it. There it was: all the power was on my side. She may not want to talk, but I could do whatever I liked to her and she could only endure it.

Bryant moved down the cement stairs to the old garage area and cowered at the bottom. I stood on the top step, having turned on the single lightbulb that hung above the area. I could see Bryant, but she would be looking up at me with stronger lighting behind me. This was all good. I stood up to my full height, looked down at her like the cowering human garbage she was, and used my most commanding voice to say, “Why did you do it? You promised me that you would keep silent.”

Bryant said nothing for a moment. She was looking around, trying to sum up what aid the room she found herself in could give. There was none, of course. Then her usual noises started again, “Fucking shit, Ferguson. I didn’t say nothing to nobody. I fucking kept my mouth shut. Like, only fucking Burgermeister knew, and she only knew cause I told her before I promised. I told no one but her and she fucking must of talked. She’s the fucking cunt, not me. I wouldn’t…”

I shushed her again, this time putting the finger to my own lips. She stopped talking. Now it was my turn to say something from atop those narrow cement stairs. “You did tell someone, I know that. You told her after you promised to keep quiet,” I said, using my lowest tones to connote strength and power.

“I only fucking told Burgermeister, and that was before I promised you anything. I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t fucking tell anyone if I told you I wouldn’t. I’m not that shit stupid. I know I can be, but I’m not, I fucking swear!” she begged, terrified of me and her surroundings.

I stepped down one step closer to her. I was slow, deliberate, in control. I moved only the muscles necessary to complete the step, focusing everything else I had on this pathetic little being. “You lie. I know you lie because you did not have the chance to talk to anyone after spying on me. I caught you right away. The only time you could have seen Burgermeister, or anyone else, would have been after you made your promise.”
Bryant backed away another step, and I took another step down toward her. This was a cat and mouse game, and I had all the teeth and claws. She was trembling a bit, and I was pleased to see that I had that effect on her.

“Fucking hell, I wouldn’t, I swear to God, I fucking wouldn’t…” she sputtered, ending when I took another step forward. At that point she just stared. I could see a bit of moisture on her forehead, an uneasy shake to her limbs. I just glared at her, my expression neutral, waiting, wanting, controlling.

The little mouse lost her nerve and bolted towards me. I finished the last step down into the garage pit and simply body-checked her. She had run towards me, and I had moved towards her, causing the impact to be more than she expected. I sincerely doubt she had expected any impact, really, as she was trying to get away. She hit the cement and sprawled out on the floor. Before she could recover her footing, I had her right wrist in my handcuffs and was able to drag her back to that pipe on the wall. She was restrained before she even knew what hit her. I hauled her to her feet by her neck, lifting her off the floor, choking her somewhat before letting her go. I let a heavy breath out through my nose as I released her, then pushed her against the wall, my arm across her throat. Her pupils were huge as she looked at me, and I could see, even in this light, that she was crying a bit. This was all so satisfying.

“I am going to leave you here, just as I said I would,” I told her, pushing a bit harder with my forearm against her throat when she began to struggle. She tried to talk, but I wouldn’t let her. I pushed harder the more she tried to do anything. I truly wanted to crush her windpipe, leave her dead on the floor, but that obviously wasn’t an option. A dead body would be hard to explain, harder than an accusation at any rate. I pulled back, letting her catch her breath.

I stepped back, allowing Bryant to feel the full cold of the concrete, the lack of light, the damp chill of the air. She was able to speak, and speak she did, “I can’t be in here. I like am, fucking terrified of - ” She stopped there, clearly thinking better of telling me her deeper fears. Instead, she tried another tack. “Please, just don’t fucking leave me, I can’t be here. Oh shit, I’ll miss the count…I need to go!”

“The count was before I brought you here, remember? No one will miss you. No one knows where you are. No one cares about you. If I left you to die, do you think anyone would miss you before tomorrow’s count, or do you think they would all enjoy taking a break from your nonstop drivel? Maybe they’ll be happy to have you missing, the women and the C.O.’s. After all, you talk all the time, barely making sense with your constant swearing. I bet the rest of your cell block are even now resting comfortably without having to pay any attention to you, the annoying little druggy, the parasite. No one cares, no one wants you, no one will miss you.” I repeated that last again, just to see her reaction.

She hunkered down, pulling herself in to her core, trying to crouch and be small, perhaps less of a target. She almost whimpered at me, “Just fucking let me go. I won’t do nothing wrong, I promise.”

I leaned forward, making sure my face was right in hers. “It’s not like I can trust you, Bryant,” I said, “after all, you broke your promise before. You’re hardly reliable.”

Bryant tried to pull further away from me, but there was no where left for her to go. I wanted to keep baiting her, telling her the truth about her life, making her afraid and even smaller than she normally was. However, the truth was that I still didn’t know how to deal with the situation. She’d confessed to telling someone else, but Burgermeister was a much more reliable human being than Bryant, others might believe her. If the story had just been from Bryant, things would be easier. But Bryant had talked, perhaps to more people than she confessed to, and they could talk. Then it occurred to me how to solve the problem and it was so completely simple. I didn’t have to worry about the other women, I simply had to discredit the original witness. Bryant was the only eyewitness to my so-called indiscretion. If she were a completely unreliable source, no one would believe any of the others. How hard could it be to make a junkie look unreliable?

I turned and walked away, leaving Bryant yelling a mixture of threats, pleas and genuine horror at her situation. I turned out the light and she became silent. The light from the upper level was all that was left now, and that wasn’t much. I moved up the stairs, slowly so that Bryant could see I was in no hurry, saying nothing. I continued through the forgotten storage area, turned out that light and continued out, locking the door behind me. It was all so satisfying knowing that she was contained and that I was the only one who knew where she was. Leaving her in the dark for a while was all to the good.

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Grade eleven finished, the next school year started once again, and I simply went to school and did my work. I had no friends, did not expect any, and was too busy regardless. I had a class at the studio now on the weekend, before I was coached, and I just kept up with all of that. I was tired all the time, didn’t care about things as much as Dad thought I should, and often felt like I was just walking through everything, observing myself but not being really attached to my own body or mind. At times I felt like nothing more than a pair of eyeballs floating down the hallways of the school from one room to the next, moving as the dictates of bells and teachers demanded. I still kept up my near-perfect marks, I still cooked, cleaned and looked after the house, and I still taught younger kids to become better fencers. This was life: an endless crawl through time from one moment to the next, none more important than the previous. I noticed that Dad was getting more erratic. Sometimes he’d yell at me to do something I had already done, or he’d scold me for the way I did something even though it was the way he had always approved of. My cooking became worse, according to him. I was becoming disorganized, I couldn’t pay close enough attention to him and so on. I simply weathered his rants the way I endured everything: I did not care. I just did as told. He could hit me, and I would fall or be stunned, but nothing more. In fact, he used less physical discipline than he had in the past, something for which I should have been grateful, but again, I just didn’t care.

Then a surprising thing happened at the studio. I had been given a student, fourteen-year-old Tyler, to coach one on one. He had trained in a group Dad had been teaching, and Dad had told his parents that Tyler had skill and could learn more if he did the solo class. So Tyler came to me at the same time on the schedule that Dad took the rest of his class.

Tyler was, to put it diplomatically, ‘difficult’. He loved the idea of private lessons, but took one look at his new teacher and declared that girls couldn’t teach as well as men. His parents had spoiled him over his short lifetime, and he fought everything in his life that wasn’t exactly as he wished. I was one of those things. When I said his stance was incorrect, Tyler had to tell me that my Dad had said it was the best in the group, and I had no business trying to correct him. When I challenged him one on one, he expected to win and would accuse me of cheating. Perhaps he even expected me to let him win. I grew very frustrated trying to work with this boy, and he grew angry with me, period. He complained to his parents, and his parents took the complaint to Dad. I was ready to be told how inadequate I was for the job, and to do as Tyler wished, but that’s not what happened.

At the lesson after the complaint, Mr. and Mrs. Marsh came to the studio and talked with my father before my lessons for Tyler. I was supposed to be working with Tyler as usual that day, but when he came to the small room of the studio that I worked in, he merely stated that I was useless, that he wanted my Dad to teach him and that his parents were going to show me who was really in charge of things. Alright, I thought, this is it. I will be fired. In truth, I wouldn’t have minded. I did not get paid for coaching, as the money went into the household. If I hadn’t had to work there, my life would have been much easier.

The Marsh’s came in to watch my work with Tyler, only to see him sitting on the ground, fully suited, refusing to cooperate. They asked to have a minute alone with Tyler, so I left for a bit. I waited in the hall, wanting to hear what was said, but all I could make out were murmurs and nothing more. A few moments later, Mr. Marsh opened the door and asked me to come back in. Tyler was on his feet now, foil in hand, appearing ready to work.

Mr. Marsh nodded at Tyler, looked back at me, and in a rather condescending voice said, “We’d like to see you coach Tyler now, if you don’t mind.”

As if I had I choice, I said I would be happy to. I walked over to Tyler, told him to take his place on the mats, and began the grinding process of trying to mold him into a decent fencer rather than just another stubborn teenager. He didn’t verbally complain to me this time, but every time he was unhappy with something, he would look knowingly at his parents. His mother smiled weakly at me once or twice, but always nodded along with the father. I found the whole thing rather humiliating. I wasn’t there to be judged by anyone who didn’t understand the sport, and certainly not by the parents of a spoiled brat. It was a very long forty-five minutes.

When I called the time, Tyler went and sat with his parents, rather than going to get changed. When I inquired about this, his father informed me that my Dad would be coming to “deal with the situation.” It wasn’t long until he showed up.

Dad was very professional and rather grand at this point, being the supreme expert that he was as well as the one person that Tyler would allow to work with him willingly. Dad took in the scene, understood exactly what was expected, and said, “Alright, Tyler, on your feet. Joan, please review today’s session for me to see.”

‘Please’ sounded a bit odd coming from Dad, but I was used to following orders, and ensured that Tyler and I were ready to start over.

Tyler was the same as he had been previously, but this time he would look at my father, rather than his, when he wasn’t completely happy with what I was doing. It was, again, humiliating. I was fearing my Dad’s reaction more than anything, and what came next shocked me as it was so unexpected.

Dad stood up from where he was standing, walked over to me, indicated that I should sit down, and put on his mask and held his foil in the en garde position. “Come now, Tyler, let’s try something new,” he said.

Tyler put his mask on and a short duel ensured. Tyler was quick on his feet, but not nearly the expert he thought he was, and Dad made short work of him. He did seem pleased, however.

“Now, did you understand what just happened?” Dad asked Tyler, with a nod to the parents.

“I was beaten,” Tyler responded, tilting his head up as though making a challenge with his words, daring anyone to disagree. He clearly felt that something unfair had happened. I am sure he thought it unfair that his body had to digest food, sleep or go to the bathroom. This was a moody, spoiled, nasty kid.

Dad nodded again, “Yes, yes. But last time we dueled, you were disarmed and down immediately. This time you fought back for much longer. Do you know why that is?”

Tyler huffed, then said, “Because I am good. I’m a good fencer, just not as good as you.”

“No, Tyler. It is because you have learned more. You have become better. It’s not an inherent ability, it is a learned one. You have talent, yes, but that must be molded, shaped, taught. You have become better and learned more because you are working with Joan,” at this Dad put his foil down and indicated I should walk over to him.

“How long have you been working with Tyler one on one?” Dad asked.

“Three lessons, one last week, two this week,” I responded. I looked at Tyler, expecting him to disagree with basic facts, but he did not.

Dad walked over to me and put his arm around me. I froze. I had no idea what he was going to do. He then used his commander’s voice to state, “This is Joan Ferguson, daughter of Ivan Ferguson. She is as competent as they come. She could have been in the Olympics except for one small snare. She has learned from me and others. There is no one – absolutely no one – who can keep me on my toes, duel with confidence and great ability and best me, except for her. If she is not good enough to teach you, then I will say for all here,” and at that he looked over at Mr. and Mrs. Marsh, “that you are unteachable. You will work with my daughter or you will find elsewhere to learn.” Dad kept his arm around me. I stood in stunned silence. He had never said anything remotely like this to me, and I could never have imagined him saying it had I tried.

Tyler looked down at the mat, refusing to look up. He had been shamed, and for once in his life he had no come back. He just stared down. His father, however, had other ideas. Mr. Marsh stood up and walked right over to Tyler. I was expecting some sort of reprimand aimed at me and Dad, but instead, Mr. Marsh addressed his son. “Well, do you want to continue with lessons or not?”

The teen-aged redhead just shrugged, still looking at the floor, and said, “I don’t know. I guess. Maybe.”

“If you do,” continued Mr. Marsh, “then you will be taught by this young lady. There isn’t another studio near enough to home for you to go to.”

Tyler shrugged again and dragged his feet as he walked towards his mother. Mr. Marsh turned and reached out his hand to my Dad. Dad took it and they shook hands. I wasn’t really sure what was going on but it was all fine for me, so I didn’t need to know more. Dad and Mr. Marsh shared a few words, a cheque was handed over to Dad, and I watched as Tyler packed up then left the room to change. He seemed smaller, shrunken even, and I was pleased at that. Maybe the spoiled brat had learned something.

On the way home, as Dad drove the Honda Civic down the quieter roads back to our place, he said to me, “Don’t let what I said go to your head. You tend to get full of yourself at times, and that is not a good quality for any woman. You are very good at what you do, but I am still much better. You have far to go. Just because you can best a stupid boy at something does not mean that you have reason to feel pride in it. The day you win against me is the day you will be right to feel proud of yourself.”

Of course, I should have seen that coming. When had Dad ever let anything good said about me stand? Even when he said it, it wasn’t anything I could relish for long. I was never good enough. I knew that. I just had hoped I could ride high on his earlier words for longer.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Discrediting Kelly Bryant was not hard. I had left her overnight in the old garage pit, allowing her to have a good think about her actions. When the morning came, I had decided to ensure that others saw her as the drug abuser she was. I came in early and went to the storage used for medical supplies. As the Deputy Governor, I had keys for all of the cupboards in medical. I had thought that I would need to find a way to avoid leaving fingerprints, and had decided to use medical gloves, when I remembered the black leather ones that Bryce had given me. I had never worn them, as I had no desire to be reminded of that man at any time I didn’t have to be, but this would be a way to ensure that I wouldn’t leave fingerprints and they would be far more comfortable than medical gloves. I had planned on wearing the gloves for longer than I ever wanted to wear latex; I abhor how sweat can build up in them.

I had taken them out of my filing cabinet after ensuring no one was around the office that early. I put them on, feeling the stretch of the leather as they formed perfectly to first my left, then my right hand. I admit that I do enjoy the smell of leather and I held them up to my face when I first put them on, inhaling and taking in the strong, vibrant smell of something once alive that had been fashioned into something different, wearable, useful – and now, really, mine. Bryce had never, ever assumed that I would wear them for anything other than to keep my hands warm - but now they were to be used to keep a distance between me and the person I needed to deal with. I never liked touching prisoners, and always thoroughly washed my hands when I did. Now, however, I had a layer between me and the prisoner. I had a second skin, literally. I was glad they were form fitting and comfortable. They were much better than latex.

I went to medical, ensured I was not seen, and grabbed a container of methadone. It’s a stupid drug, given to addicts with the idea of “weaning” them off of street drugs. It acts in the system longer than heroine or other drugs, and is therefore supposed to help. Personally, I find such things absurd. If one is stupid enough to allow oneself to become addicted to something illegal, then one should suffer when forced to stop using it. Sometimes we coddle prisoners far too much.

It was early and I had not had more than a couple of hours sleep. However, what I had to do was far too important to worry about something as mundane as sleep. I walked quietly past Jianna’s cell and looked in through the bars to see her silent, sleeping form. She was curled on her side, as usual, and I could see her blanket move with the rhythm of her breathing. Once again, I swore in my own mind to do anything and everything I could to protect her. She was so peaceful now, lost in sleep, perhaps dreaming of her baby. Seeing her like this only reinforced my desire to ensure that Bryant would never be believed. What I was about to do was for the greater good.

When I opened the door to the unused storage space, I heard a muffled sound from the garage pit below. Not much, really, but just a sound that indicated that Bryant was there, and not asleep. I closed and locked the door after turning on the light. To my surprise, I heard Bryant call out for help. She was saying that she was “in here” and needed help. Indeed.

I walked over to the garage pit, turned on the trouble light, then walked to the top of the few steps that lead down to it. I knew that Bryant would be blinded by this dull light as she had been in the dark all night. I waited until she could see me silhouetted by the stronger light from the storage area.

When Bryant realizes that it was, in fact, me standing there and not someone else, she shut up immediately, after uttering one last string of expletives. I knew she couldn’t see my face clearly, so I allowed myself a smile for a moment. I took a step down and slowly, deliberately, walked over towards her, saying nothing, reacting to nothing. Bryant squirmed, pulling against her restraint, futilely trying to get beyond my reach. This was good. I wanted her scared, then I could surprise her by giving her what she wanted.

I inhaled through my nose and said, “Good morning, Bryant. I’ve brought you a little treat.” I put the container down, and walked until I was in her personal space, reminding her that she had no right to such a thing.

“Fuck,” she started, “No. You fucking can’t have brung me anything good. I don’t want nothing from you for fuck’s sake. Just let me go. My arm fucking hurts so bad. I have stood her all night. You got me scared shitless. I’ll never do nothing wrong again, just let me the fuck out of here,” she continued on.

I leaned in and grabbed her jaw in my right, leather clad, hand. I turned her face towards mine and softly said, “Oh, but you’ll like this. I’m giving you a reward for being so good about being here. You’ve managed to stay all night…” I let my voice drift off a bit, putting my face directly in hers as I squeezed harder on the jawbone.

Bryant squirmed, trying to get away from me. She reached her free hand up and tried to take my hand away from her jaw. When that didn’t work, she pulled her arm back and hit me on my upper arm. She did no damage, of course, but the act was stupid and she needed to know that she would never have any choice about anything in this situation. I let go of her jaw, pulled back, and hit her full force across the face. She reacted and the back of her head hit the cement wall with an audible whack. I waited until she regained some composure before speaking to her.

“That was stupid. Never, ever, try to physically affect me again. You can’t. Just look at us: I am much larger than you, in shape and capable of fighting. You’ve experienced that before and know this to be true. You, on the other hand, are a skinny heroine addict who is handcuffed in place. What did you really think would happen?”

When she didn’t answer, I pulled back as if to strike her again. She put up her free hand to defend her face and yelled, “No! Wait! I fucking didn’t think! I’m sorry! I fucked up. I won’t do it again!”

“Just like you wouldn’t talk when you promised not to? Really, you are very unreliable,” I said. “And yet, here I am, being generous to you. You’ve complained to the nurse and others that you don’t get enough methadone. Well, here I am to give you more than you are actually entitled to.”

At that, she put her defensive hand down and looked at me in disbelief. “For real? Like, you fucking got extra for me?” She asked, then looked suspiciously at me. “Why would you do that for me? What the fuck do I have to do for it? Shit, this is fucked up.”

I smiled a bit, looked at the hand I had hit her with, safely ensconced in its leather sheath, and inspected it. I turned it around, purposely admiring my hand as though it had acted on its own. “You don’t have to do anything in particular,” I said, still looking at my hand, “just drink it. I’ll let you go from here, too. You need to be good, though. No more sneaking around, no more lies told about me to anyone else. Not a C.O., not another prisoner. You just need to enjoy it.” I put my hand down and looked at her. She genuinely looked hopeful; her need was disgusting.

The plastic container of methadone on the floor drew Bryant’s attention, and I handed her the small paper cup I had brought for the purpose. “Hold this,” I said, as I uncuffed her. She had to hold the cup, so she didn’t even try to rub her wrist. Her attention was on the methadone container alone. She dropped the arm that had been restrained and just stood, staring, silent for once. I then reached down and picked up the container by it’s handle, opened the screw-on lid and poured a good dose into the cup. Bryant looked at it, then back at me.

“Go on,” I said softly, “drink it. It’s the same stuff you get from the nurse.”

Bryant sniffed it, and realized that it was the fruit flavoured cocktail she was used to. She drank it up, as if to finish it before I could take it away from her. I put my hand out, and she gave me the cup back, as she had been trained to do from the doses the nurse had given her. Unlike the nurse, however, I poured some more in the little cup. Bryant stared at me as I held it out, then grabbed the cup and downed the second dose. I took the cup from her, then used my other hand to grab her jaw again. I wanted to see the effect of the methadone close up. This time she didn’t struggle. She just looked at me, confused, and I watched her pupils change as the drug hit her system. I smiled, held her a bit more tightly, and said, “Say ‘thank you’, Bryant. Always say thank you when someone gives you something nice.”

Of course, she couldn’t talk with my hand gripping her jaw, but she tried. I shoved her down to the floor and said, “What was that?”

She looked up at me, her dull wits already being absorbed by the methadone, and sputtered, “fucking thank you already.”

“Good, good,” I said, nodding approval. “Now we’ll go back to your cell. You can be there when everyone wakes up.”

Bryant struggled to her feet and I grabbed her upper arm. I wouldn’t hold on tight enough to leave bruises, not that it would matter, but I wanted to leave no trace of what had occurred. The other prisoners and staff would simply assume that she had bought gear somehow and was high. She would certainly be high enough on that dose to last for some time. As I walked her back to her cell, I was pleased with how everything had gone. She would be high and unreliable and Jianna and I would be safe once again. I flexed my free hand just to feel the leather move against my skin.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: Changes and losses

In my grade twelve year, the counselor at the school had all of the members of the graduating class apply for any and all post secondary institutions that they wished to attend. I applied for quite a few Australian universities, and even some international ones. I thought perhaps attending a prestigious university in the US or England would look good on a resume. It would also allow me to move out of my Dad’s home and be on my own, which I wanted more than an education at that point.

Dad had become more and more erratic in his behaviour, and I never knew how he would react to anything nor what sort of mood to expect him in. There were times when he seemed rather happy, and that was as unexpected as anything because I wasn’t used to it. He also continued to complain of headaches. They seemed to worsen and were becoming a real concern for me, but Dad continued to refuse to see anyone about the problem. Doctors, he insisted, were hired by the state and seeing one wouldn’t allow us to be safe. I was more skeptical than ever about the whole “staying safe” thing, but what could I do? There was no way to force my Dad to do anything he didn’t want to.

By the end of school, I had received acceptances from all but a couple of places I had applied to. The counselor had said that my being an honour student would allow me to go anywhere I wished and to keep the applications limited to a few select places. I had also won a number of scholarships and awards that would allow me to attend university for much less than it would normally cost. I decided that perhaps I would look into architecture, literature, history and so on for first year. I had done the research and found out where I could best study these subjects. I informed my Dad that I would be attending UCLA for my first year.

Dad had other ideas. “Why do you think we moved here, Joan? Why do you think we are living in Melbourne in a duplex? Why do you think we moved when we did?”

“For safety’s sake,” I said, giving him the usual answer.

“No!” Dad yelled, pointing a finger at me. “No! Not this time. It was so you could attend the university here. You will go to the University of Melbourne. You can commute from here, and that will be much cheaper than trying to live at the university itself. How did you imagine we’d pay for your higher education?”

“With my scholarships,” I said, simply answering the question. I did not mean any disrespect, but Dad seemed to think I did.

“No, Joan – that will cover the coursework. What about living costs? Food? Shelter? Do you expect that I can pay for all of that?” Dad said, his face going redder as he spoke.

“I can work. I’ve worked all through the last couple of years, I can continue,” I replied, keeping my voice steady.

We were standing in the narrow hallway that was the way in to our place, as I had picked up the mail, opened it there and had the acceptance papers for UCLA in my hands. Dad grabbed them from me. I expected him to crumple them up or rip them, but he did not. Instead, he calmed down and carefully folded them. “Give me the envelope,” he commanded. I did so. He then put everything back in the envelope and stated simply, “I will keep this in my office. You can re-apply, with this, in a year or two. However, for your first year, you will stay in Melbourne. It will be an easier transition from high school for you if you have some familiar surroundings. You can still work at the studio and be here evenings and weekends.” With that, the decision had been made. I was to attend the University of Melbourne in the fall and I had no choice in the matter. I would still be at home, still teaching at the dreaded studio. Still under my Dad’s control.

The only time I felt any real peace was when I was fencing, being challenged and not just training some child. I could lose myself in it, concentrate on winning and learn how to improve my game. I took lessons from Dad at times, which did allow a bit of peace due to the concentration, but there were other instructors at the studio, and I enjoyed sparring with them. Dad was never happy when he heard that I had lost any challenge, and would lecture me as to why I needed to win more, but at least I had the time on the mats, focusing, keeping my strength up. Despite loathing the teaching aspect of fencing, I did enjoy the genuine challenges that came my way. At times, Dad would actually watch and coach me when I worked with one of the other coaches. I would listen to him and try to improve my game. Dad was, after all, the best of the best. The other coaches even looked up to him in a state of something akin to awe. I never got to know these coaches, all men, and never wanted to. Some came and went, a couple stayed longer. Despite the fact that the studio was owned by someone else, Dad was always in charge. I never questioned this odd arrangement, even though it should have seemed bizarre to me even then.

When I was about to start university, after a break intense with both coaching and being coached, Dad told me that I needed a better way to get back and forth than public transit. I had been prepared for that, but Dad insisted that I needed a car. He actually gave me the Civic. I was surprised greatly by this. Part of that break was spent getting my license. Dad had been teaching me to drive, on and off, for a couple of years. I was older than most of my peers when it came to starting lessons, but Dad was not an easy teacher and I had put off learning to drive. Now that I had the Civic, and a driver’s license, I would be able to get around much easier. I was pleased to have the car. At the time, petrol prices were not too high, so Dad was willing to give me money to cover the costs of fuel, insurance and so on. I had to find money for parking, but the rest was covered. I should have been far more grateful, but it was hard to feel gratitude when the whole arrangement was so that I could still keep house and work for Dad. I did enjoy driving and having a bit more freedom that way, however.

I actually liked university much better than high school. The students were there, for the most part, to learn. There was much less focus for the people teaching the classes on the behaviour of the students, and far more on the subject matter. I enjoyed the sessions we had with the T.A. for small group discussions in Russian literature. There, I was not the only student willing to speak up voluntarily about things. I felt more at home on the campus than I ever had in high school. A lot of students would sit outside and read or study. I was no longer the strange kid who spent all her time with her nose in a book – others did too. There was ample opportunity for social events, but my life was too full outside of classes to have time for anything else. I had no interest in socializing anyway, so I did not look into anything to join. Once, a counselor told me that I should look into the group for students who were different in “that way,” that I could find more people like myself. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, so I simply showed her the paper that allowed my marks to be processed, said “thank you” and walked away.

My grades, as always, were top of the class. I could easily have been the top student in my classes, win more scholarships and move up the academic ladder, but that was not to be. Halfway through the year I was called out of the sociology class by a secretary that worked in the office of the building the class was in. There was a phone call for me.

The call was from the local hospital, and I was informed that my Dad had collapsed in the front yard, and our neighbour had called an ambulance. I left the university and went straight to the hospital. I abhor hospitals as they are pits of contagion, but at some time, I supposed, I would have to enter one. This was that time.

I parked, found the nurse’s desk and was given directions to the room my Dad occupied. He was sitting up, with the back of the bed raised, and looking angry. He looked at me and said, “What have you done?”

This surprised me. As far as I was concerned, I had not done a thing. I told him so and he didn’t even react as though I had said anything. “I told you that we were never to go to a hospital, that I can take care of us. I could even find a doctor for us that would be safe. But no, you had to have me put here, like a sack of flour, without any say in the matter. What is wrong with you? Why would you compromise our safety like this?”

“I didn’t put you in the hospital, it was our neighbour. I wasn’t even around when you fell,” I said, trying to convince him of the truth.

“Lies. All lies! I don’t think I will ever be able to trust you again. My own daughter, and she does something this stupid.” He crossed his arms and turned his head away from me then and refused to look back. And then he muttered something into the air, as if talking to another person. I was quite alarmed by this. My Dad had never had any problems with his mind, really, except perhaps how he was so contrary with me.

I went into the hallway and tried to find someone to talk to. I was thinking that perhaps Dad had been given drugs that were making him muddled and unable to think straight. A nurse came along and informed me that a doctor would be along soon and that I should wait in Dad’s room. I chose to wait in the hallway rather than with Dad. I just did not see the point of being with him while he was in that state.

The doctor that came along for us was perhaps in his late forties, and looked a bit harried, as many do. Still, he carried himself with the air of superior authority that all doctors had at the time, and looked at me as though surprised that I was even there for my Dad at all. One can tell a lot about a person, and even their thought processes, when one has studied such things for a lifetime. He didn’t try to shake my hand, for which I was grateful, but he was very curt, telling me to go into the room with him without so much as a hello.

Dad looked at the doctor, but still refused to even acknowledge that I was there. I was about to find out why. The doctor informed us that Dad likely had a problem in his brain. X-rays had been done to see if there was any indication of why Dad had collapsed. In fact, he hadn’t just collapsed, the neighbour had informed them that Dad had had a seizure. I took all of this in, methodically, not really alarmed. What the doctor stated was facts, and I simply accepted them as such. Then Doctor Amanpour told us that the X-rays had shown both calcium deposits and a small misshaped area of the skull.

The doctor fell silent for a moment, then asked if we knew what that could mean. Dad responded with, “How am I supposed to know? You’re the doctor.”

“Some people are aware of the meaning of certain things,” Dr. Amanpour said. He seemed to me to be almost pleased that we had no idea. “There is the possibility of damage from the fall, of course, and there are indications of a concussion, but there is also the possibility of a tumour in the area.”

The doctor gave us a moment to get our minds wrapped around the idea. Dad was even willing to look at me again, then said, “So what? I have a possible brain tumour?”

“There is pressure in the area, and the x-rays don’t lie. There is also the danger of a brain bleed. We will have to do more tests and then we’ll know for sure how to proceed,” the doctor said, as though talking about something as mundane as the weather.

“You mean a stroke?” I asked, trying to get details straight in my mind.

“Possibly. I do think, however, that there may be a build up of blood around the brain itself. You will get more details after we do the tests,” Dr. Amanpour stated.

“Tests?” Dad asked, “What tests? I have no desire to do tests. I am fine. I feel fine. I think I will go home now.” With that, Dad made motions to leave his bed.

The doctor put down the folder he was holding on the hospital table that reached over the bed. “I think not, Mr. Ferguson. If you leave now, you could very well be assuring yourself a death sentence.”

Dad suddenly looked alarmed, as though actually afraid. I had never seen him afraid of anything, and this was more alarming to me than anything the doctor had said. What doctors say could be challenged, but my Dad’s fear was something I had no idea how to handle. I just stared at his face and watched him cease movement.

Since nothing was said by either man for a moment, I spoke up. “What kind of tests are you talking about?”

The doctor looked down at the chart again, then said, “More x-rays, but after we get a dye into your system, Mr. Ferguson.” Dr. Amanpour was set, it seemed, on ignoring my presence and talking just to Dad. Fine. At least he answered my questions.

“I don’t want to do that,” Dad said, uncertainly.

The man in the white coat simply shrugged and said, “Want or don’t want doesn’t matter when it comes to tests. The question becomes one of whether or not you want to live. If there is a tumour, as I believe, it may or may not be malignant.”

Dad looked more concerned than ever, and laid back into the bed and said nothing further.

“I will get the tests going,” the doctor said, then turned to leave, acknowledging my existence for once by indicating with a nod of his head that I should follow him.

“Has you father had any peculiar behaviours of late? Or has he complained of headaches, nausea, hearing loss, visual problems?” Dr. Amanpour asked once we were outside of the room.

I took all the points in, trying to remember something for each. “He’s had headaches for some time, but not hearing or sight problems. He…uh…tends to be contrary with me, but I think that’s just because of…” and here I let it drift off. I really did not want to say ‘because of me’ for some reason.

The doctor nodded, then said, “Have his headaches become worse at any point?”

I nodded back, “Yes, he’s complained about them more lately.”

“And his “contrary” behaviour? What do you mean by that?” the somewhat patronizing man asked.

“He says I should do something one way, then gets mad at me for doing it and tells me to do it a different way. But he’s always been very…um…particular about everything and how it’s done,” I said, trying to make clear that Dad’s behaviour was relatively normal.

The discussion went on for a bit, the doctor asking questions and taking down notes awkwardly in the folder a couple of times. I said that Dad had used aspirin for headaches, and still complained. I talked a bit more about Dad’s behaviour and Dr. Amanpour became more and more assured of his own ideas. I wanted to know more, about what might happen to Dad, about the tests, about the whole “death sentence” he’d spoken of. The man had other ideas, “You’ll have to be patient. No one can say anything for sure until we get further tests done. There’s the x-rays and a blood test, of course, then we’ll go from there.”

I wanted to ask more, to get more information out of the man, but he simply put his pen in his lab coat pocket and closed the file. “It’s best if you go home for now. You’ll get a call when we know anything more,” with that, he turned and walked off down the hall, leaving me with a lot of questions and a great deal of concern about Dad. However, there was not much I could do. Dad had not been happy with my presence earlier and I honestly did not want to see him again. I drove home and waited for the call from the hospital.

________________________________________________________________

I decided to keep the leather gloves with me. After all, it was winter, and no one would question my having gloves. Parts of Blackmoore were very cold at times, and it wasn’t unusual to see C.O.’s bring extra items to keep warm. Prisoners simply had to make do with what they had and to wear the blankets from their beds around their shoulders. It seemed cruel, but there wasn’t much to be done. The heating of the place was poor at best. Some had warmer clothing, but not many. Jianna had lost enough weight after Shayne was taken away that I decided to bring her extra t-shirts that she could wear under the clothes she normally had.

Bryant had kept her mouth shut after that last encounter, and looked at me with eyes full of fear and longing. She wanted the methadone again, but was afraid to push the issue. She asked once or twice when no one else was around, but I simply ignored her and walked away. I had only to glare at her to make her walk away if that was my wish. I felt relatively secure about things at work. Jianna was depressed, but hopeful now that I had promised a home for her and Shayne, and perhaps even a photo of him if possible. She told me that I had given her hope, and a reason to keep living.

Finding Shayne had not been easy. Technically, only social services was entitled to know where he was being fostered. However, there is always someone in every department, every job, every place where one could want anything, that is crooked and willing to take money in return for what is desired. Everyone has a price, and it didn’t take long to find the information I needed.

Getting the photograph was another issue. The only answer for it seemed to be that I should sit outside the foster home, in my car, and take a photo from a distance. Getting and using a telephoto lens was not a problem for me. However, when I drove to the neighbourhood where Shayne was located, I discovered that my car did not fit in very well. It was too new and the wrong type. No one in that area had a car quite like mine. Had I kept the Honda longer, it would have been ideal. Instead, I decided to rent a vehicle. The rental decals did not stand out very much from the company I had hired the car from, and it was sufficient enough to disguise my presence.

I had put aside an entire Monday afternoon to sit outside of the given address and wait for someone to come out with a baby, but my time was wasted. No one came or went, and I saw no one with a child anywhere nearby. People walked by on occasion, determined to go quickly to get to their destinations, but that was all. Cars moved up and down the street, and I sat in my parked car, mostly still, camera ready, waiting. It was a frustrating exercise indeed. It took two more such afternoons, two more rentals on the given days and many more wasted hours before I achieved my goal.

When I did see a woman come out of the house, carrying a baby, I knew at once that the child was Shayne. The movements, the fussing, the shape of him – it was all there. I quickly got as many photos as I could, then put the camera down as the woman carrying Shayne walked away from me. When she was far enough not to really notice, I drove off and felt a great burden lifted from me. I finally had what I had promised Jianna. I only needed to drop the film off at a fast developer and pick it up a couple of days later.

Bringing the photographs into work the following Friday made me feel full of pride and I had a small thrill at the idea of showing them to Jianna. She would be so pleased, I thought. At least half a dozen showed Shayne’s face and though it was from a distance, it was distinctly him. Now Jianna could see that he was alive and relatively well, and being handled by someone who appeared to know how to handle a baby. I imagined Jianna smiling broadly as I presented the photos to her.

I arrived at Jianna’s cell, early in the morning before work, let myself in and sat on the end (of) her bed as usual. She startled awake, rubbed her eyes and looked at me. This was much earlier than usual, after all. Jianna did indeed smile when I told her I had the photographs, and when I handed them to her. It was upon looking at them that her smile faded and her eyes began to fill as they had so many times since Shayne’s departure.

“What’s wrong? I thought you wanted to see pictures of him?” I asked, thoroughly confused. Had I made a mistake?

Jianna shook her head, sniffed and nearly whispered, “No, it’s okay. I want them. It’s just that it hurts so much to see him and know that I can’t be near him. Look at him: he’s lost weight and he’s not happy. He’s not smiling. I just can’t handle this. He’s my baby. This woman has no fucking right to have him…” At that, her voice just drifted off until she realized her error. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to swear,” she said, pitifully.

“That’s all right, Jianna,” I said, “I understand that this is difficult for you. Perhaps he has lost weight, and he isn’t smiling, but at least he is being looked after. You know you will get him back and that we will get him back to himself again.” I wanted to sound reassuring, but she didn’t take it that way.

“You don’t know that!” Jianna said sharply, jumping to her feet, her flannel pyjamas hanging from her thin frame. “You don’t know if I even can get him back, even with your help. You don’t know if he will be changed for life, hurt and upset that his mother wasn’t around. You don’t know how he’ll feel because you aren’t his mother. I need him and he needs me. Some pictures aren’t going to change anything. You want to help but I don’t even know if you really can. You get pictures but you can’t bring my baby to me,” at that she turned her back to me, threw the photographs down on her bed and began to sob.

I did not know what to do. I had already done everything I could think of to help Jianna. I had promised her a home, my knowledge and authority, and had spent three days of my weekends sitting in a car waiting to get these photos that she had thrown down next to me. I felt useless, used and angry all at once. How could she not see that I was her one road to salvation? That I alone cared about her and Shayne? That I was the reason she had any hope at all?

I collected the photos up and organized them again, then squared them off by gently hitting them on my knee as I held them in both hands. I picked up the white and green envelope the developer had given me the pictures in and then carefully placed Shayne’s small images back into to it. I stood up and for a brief moment, I thought very carefully about my next words. “I think, Jianna, that you should be very careful how you talk to me. I have gone far above and beyond what you should expect of me. I have given you the way to get Shayne back, and you have no idea how much time, energy and money I put into getting these photographs. I don’t think you know exactly what you are saying right now, and I know that this whole topic is highly emotional. I am going to go to the office now, and I will talk to you when you’ve had a chance to think things through for a bit.”

At that, Jianna turned towards me, face blotched and streaked with tears. She moved as though to reach for the envelope, and I pulled it back and away from her.

“I’m sorry, Miss Ferguson, I really am. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just miss him so much. Please, please don’t be upset with me. Can I have the pictures, please?” And again she reached for them.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said as I stepped through the cell door, then locked it behind me. “They seem to be too much for you to deal with right now. And I am not upset, I am just thinking that you need to be a bit more grateful for what I have done for you.” With that I turned and headed towards the stairs that would take me to the office and the mountain of paperwork I had to start on for the day.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

The phone call came late at night. I had not gone to bed and had been reading while sitting next to the phone. It was from Dr. Amanpour himself. “Miss Ferguson?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, nervous about what was to come.

There was a short silence, as if the man were reading his notes or something, then, “I think it’s important for you to understand that your father’s situation is very serious. He does indeed have a brain tumour. We are keeping an eye on him for now, but I have scheduled a visit with an oncologist for tomorrow morning. You father is lucky that the oncologist will be available on a weekend day. That does not happen often.”

There was a long pause after that, as though the doctor had wanted me to say ‘thank you’ or some such. I saw no point in that. “What happens then?” I asked.

“You’ll have to talk with the oncologist tomorrow. You will get options on how to proceed at that point. I have other calls to make, Miss Ferguson, so good night,” and without waiting for me to say good-bye, Dr. Amanpour put down his receiver with a heavy clunk.

I sat there by the phone for some time. I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Dad could be very sick, and I wasn’t sure what exactly that entailed. I knew about people doing chemotherapy, radiation and trying to survive different cancers. I wanted to know more right away, but the doctor clearly wasn’t available and it was far too late to go to even the university’s library. There was nothing to do but go back to the hospital in the morning. I had never felt so alone in my life, not even after moving away from Jenny. After all, my Dad had been in my life always. The idea of him not being in my life was terrifying, even if he was a hard man to deal with at times.

I called the hospital the next morning and found that my Dad’s appointment was at eleven am. I arrived at my Dad’s room as a nurse was getting him into a wheelchair. Apparently, one goes to the specialist, the specialist does not come to the room.

I followed the nurse, who was pushing Dad’s wheelchair, to an office that was bright and airy. It had room for two chairs at the desk as well as the wheelchair and there was a padded, large leather chair for the oncologist. There were windows down the right wall that looked over the parking lot and across the road at a park. It was picturesque. The desk held a photo of a smiling family with two children. There was a painting of the ocean on the wall opposite the windows. Behind the desk there was another painting, this one of mountains somewhere unidentifiable. This was far too cheerful an office to be in when told news about one’s cancer diagnoses, regardless of the outcome. It felt false.

Dad hunched down in his wheelchair after taking a quick look around the place. He was unshaven, of course, but this was so unusual to me that I found it somewhat alarming: Dad would only have been unshaven in the worst of circumstances. I suppose this was just that. He had barely acknowledged me when I had first seen him, but now he decided it was time we had a conversation. “Joan,” he began, in his teaching voice, “what does this room tell you about the person to whom it belongs?”

I gave another glance around, then responded as though he were coaching me of old, which he was. “That he’s a family man. The large chair indicates that money has been put into his work space, but since it is not worn, perhaps it’s either new or he doesn’t spend much time here. This is a nice office, well appointed, and the view out the window is good. The person who works here is clearly important and valued,” I surmised.

Dad shook his head slightly, then began his lecture. “He’s important, but there’s more. Do you see a name plate? Anything personal beyond the photo? Engraved pens? Desk ornaments? Anything besides a common blotter? No. The photo was placed there by the person using this office today. The office is bland except for the view. This man is either happy to have someone else decorate for him – always a mistake – or this office is shared. I suspect the latter. Look at the top of the desk. There is no dust, but you can see where something has scratched the top corner on the left. Something heavy has been taken on and off of it. Perhaps the others who use the office bring their own personal items when they are here.”

Fine. There was nothing else to do but talk as we waited. It was a distraction for both of us, and we continued with our guesses about what was and wasn’t likely to be the regular use of the office. Dad never tired of trying to make sure that I was as observant as he was.

After about fifteen minutes, the oncologist showed up. He was a short, sandy-haired man with freckles and a sunburn. He was younger than I expected, perhaps only in his early forties. He walked with quick determination that indicated that he needed to be somewhere in short order. I suspected that this was how he always moved.

“Sorry for the wait,” he said as he pulled out the leather chair and sat down quickly.

Dad looked briefly at me and nodded his head towards the doctor. I had no idea what he wanted me to notice, but I gave a short nod to indicate that I understood. I felt humouring him here was best.

The doctor had a file with him that he opened on the desk. He looked it over briefly, then looked up as though we were an afterthought. “I’m Doctor Reynolds,” the man said, “and yes, I’m the oncologist for this place. I’m also experienced with cases like yours, so I’m sure we’ll be able to understand things together.”

Dad wasn’t in a good mood, even after having put me through the ringer about my scrutinizing of the office. “Then get on with it,” he said, as though he wanted to give this new specialist orders himself. Knowing my Dad, he probably did.

“Yes, well…” the sandy-haired man said, a bit put off by Dad’s manner, I assumed, “There’s not a lot of good news here, I’m sorry to say. You have what appears to be a very aggressive tumour. I think surgery is the first, best option, followed by chemotherapy and probably radiation. It’s going to take time, and it won’t be easy, but there is a chance that you can pull through.”

I froze. My breathing became shallow. I felt the blood drain from my face, and I shoved down a wave of fear that threatened to colour my responses. Dad looked away, towards the bland painting of the ocean. I took in as deep a breath as I could, after a moment, and said, “Are you sure about all this?” I felt stupid as soon as I said it. Of course he was.

Dr. Reynolds nodded his head, leaned forward and clasped his hands, his elbows leaning on the desk. “Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s ‘Joan’, right?”

I nodded in return. Looked at my Dad, who refused to turn his head towards me, and then back at the doctor.

“So, Joan, I understand that you don’t have a mother at home, so it’s going to be up to you, primarily, to look after your father when he is not able to do it himself. Of course, you can hire people to help out,” he said, sitting back as though everything was taken care of.

I looked down at my hands that were in my lap. My dark hair fell forward on both side of my face. At least I couldn’t see Dad in my peripheral vision. “We can’t afford help,” I said, still looking down.

“Well, that’s okay. We usually find that most patients are good with one caretaker. If things go well, your Dad won’t need intensive help for long. Of course, with surgery, he’ll be in the hospital for some days, so you won’t have to worry about him then,” Dr. Reynolds said. I hated him talking about Dad like he wasn’t right there, in the room. I hated how cheerful he seemed in the midst of this terrible situation. He was, indeed, sitting in the right office.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: Control

The surgery to remove Dad’s tumour went as well as expected, Dr. Reynolds had told me over the phone. Dad would be in the hospital for a few days, then could come home. There would be more appointments, more tests, and when he was healthy enough he would start chemotherapy. I saw no point in visiting Dad in the hospital as he had not been happy with my presence there so far. I waited until I could bring him home, a week later, before seeing him again. In the mean time, I went to school, taught at the studio and continued much as before. University involved more homework than high school, and I was glad to have the time on my own to study.

One of my favourite classes was English Literature, and I found myself enjoying the poetry I studied. I loved taking the poems apart and understanding them. One that I liked enough to memorise was The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

At first the poem stymied me. I had to put it in the context of the year it was written: 1919. The First World War had ravaged Europe and the Spanish flu killed more people than the war itself. The poem was about Yeats seeing the world as though it was ending. The ‘rough beast’ was the sphinx, a pagan god, and it represented evil itself. I could see it very easily once I had done a bit of reading about it. I loved the wording, the idea of the center not holding, the blood dimmed tide and all that; beautifully written words of chaos. When there is no control for the individual, it does indeed seem like the world (at least for that person) is ending. This is about the one who should be in control, the falconer, losing control of the falcon. From one image, the poem grows to show no control in the world, and the end of the world beginning.

My world started to fall apart, to feel out of control, when Dad came back home. He needed care, of course, and I took time off from university to be home with him. I tried to do extra homework to make up for it, but not being in classes was not conducive to my academic growth. I still worked, of course, as without Dad working, we would soon be desperate for the money. Dad was alright enough to be left on his own for a few hours here and there. I was always around to take him to and from his chemotherapy appointments. I would be home to clean up after him. When he was too weak to make it to the bathroom to vomit, I would carry the basin back and forth, cleaning it thoroughly. I helped him to and from the bathroom for his other needs. I brought him water as needed, and did my best to be available to him. We did not talk much. What was there to talk about? Since both of us were capable of keeping our emotions controlled, we did not speak of much beyond the practical. When he was well enough, Dad helped me with ideas and details of paperwork for the fencing studio, and I continued to do my best to go to university, teach, look after Dad and keep house – until I couldn’t.

I do not want to go on about my Dad’s health slipping. He had come home with his head shaved, his face not shaven, and bloody bandages over the area of his skull that had been cut open to allow the doctors to remove the vile tumour that had grown into his brain. He had appeared hideous to me at that point, but still my Dad. I had shaved him, which he accepted without comment, when he was unable to do it himself. Compared to how he looked as time went on, his first appearance at home made him look like a god. Over time, the chemotherapy took his strength, and he was unable to eat much, causing him to lose weight quickly. Everything about him changed. He lost his hair altogether. He needed constant help. I dropped out of university to look after him. The counselor there had me fill out forms so that I could come back into classes in another semester, for which I was grateful, but we both knew that I had no idea when that would be. I left the university, one last time after seeing the counselor, to become a nurse to the man who had raised me.

I looked after Dad as best I could. He had his own personality, more or less, until the final month or so. I remember hearing him talking while in his bedroom. I assumed he had somehow gotten the phone cord to stretch that far, but that was not the case. He seemed so animated that I stood outside the door and listened to him. I was hearing one side of a conversation, and he clearly seemed to think that he was hearing the other person. It did not take me long to figure out that he thought he was talking to my Mother.

“Anna, I’ve done the best I could,” he was saying, an almost pleading tone to his voice. “She is what she is. I have done what I can.” Then a pause, and then, “I know, I know. I did what you asked. None of it was easy. I had no idea what I was doing. A child so young, and a girl at that.” Pause again, as if hearing my Mother again, then more. “I did, Anna. She has her own mind, right or wrong, I could only do so much. She’s not got what I wanted, but she has strength. I know that. I did try to love her. Maybe I do. I don’t know. I only know that I wanted you with me.” Pause. “I took her with me for your sake, you know that. I have missed you so much. You were my life. You look so beautiful now, just as I remember you. It tore my heart to talk about you. How could I tell her anything? She was just a child.” Pause. “It’s too late, too late. I am done now. I don’t want to. I just want to sleep, to be with you. Yes, I am. Don’t go, please. Not yet… I just want you here with me. Thank you.”

Whether or not my Dad was in his right mind, I do think he was expressing his own feelings. I knew what he thought of me. I supposed I believed, in his own way, that he loved me. It seems he didn’t know if he did or not. I thought I loved him, as a daughter owed her father. What else was there between us? Just that, and history. I suppose a commonality was my Mother, yet I never knew her. I think, perhaps, I wanted more of a connection to my Father, but he was a hard man to love. He was who he was. I had accepted that long ago. Still, the words stung a bit. Maybe the best lesson he ever taught me was that emotions lead to mistakes. Certainly I had learned to hide, and then suppress, all of my feelings. It was not hard to do so now. I pushed it all down, and tended to him as usual. I was glad his ‘conversation’ was over and that I didn’t have to interrupt to bring him his afternoon pain killers.

I will not dwell on the months of looking after my Dad. It was unpleasant, to say the least. We had nothing to talk about. He was quiet when he was in pain, and he seldom asked for much. I fulfilled what was required of me. It was a long few months, and ones that I would sooner forget. The strong man who had taught me to fence, to fight one on one, to be frugal and strong about it, to learn to ignore pain, and everything that I needed to be able to look after myself, was now becoming like an infant. He was smaller, and shrank as time went on. He needed feeding and changing and I did things I would have found unbearable had it been for anyone else. In this case, I had no choice. Had I the resources to hire a nurse I surely would have, but we were on our own, as always.

The months passed slowly. I did the routine I had to learn: I cleaned up for Dad. I cleaned up after Dad. I cleaned him. I cleaned the floors that messes landed on. I made food that he should have been able to consume, but he reached a stage where that was almost impossible. Everything I did for him came to naught. He died only eight months and four days after being released from the hospital. He did not die easily, and ended up back in a hospital for the last few days of his life. I saw no point in visiting him at that stage; with the painkillers and his deterioration, he seldom seemed to know who I was. I cleaned the house, but felt that I would never get the smell of human waste out of the place. Whether I was sensitive and picking it up, or just imagining it, the foul odour was everywhere. It clung to everything. The house must have been full of germs, as well, despite my liberal use of bleach and other cleaners. I wanted to move, to go somewhere for my own health, but did not have the resources to do so, nor the knowledge. I would have to read up on real estate before attempting such a move.

There is so much to do when one loses a family member. I was responsible for letting all interested parties know that he was dead. Everyone from the newspaper delivery boy to the tax office had to be informed. I had to arrange something to do with the body. After all, the hospital didn’t want it. I had to arrange a funeral, or so I was told. My head swam with it all, and in the mix was the feeling of being truly alone. I was, even as an adult, now an orphan. It was an odd realization. I ignored the feelings as best I could, but it was hard not to feel angry at being left with so much to do, all on my own. I still had to teach fencing, too – after all, it was the only income now, as it had been for months. I will now say that I don’t remember everything that happened after Dad’s death. I don’t even remember the order things happened in. There was so much paperwork. I do, however, clearly remember that first visit to the lawyer to discuss Dad’s will.

I had to go to Mr. Carr’s offices after teaching one morning at the studio. The office was one that had been given its look in the early 1970’s, and nothing had been changed since then. Perhaps, because Mr. Carr was an older man in what appeared to be his seventies, he did not want change. The room was filled with dark wood, a red carpet, heavy red curtains open around the windows, and it all came together as though it were a steak house of the time. Even the desk organizer was heavy looking: the black pens in their holder, pencils next to them, a stapler, extra staples, paperclips, ink and a rubber stamp of what was probably the company’s address – all neatly arranged in the dark wooden, stepped box. I didn’t quite know what to make of it all, but I felt as thought I had stepped a decade back in time. Mr. Carr was sitting at his massive desk, but stood to shake my hand. I looked away as though distracted for a moment, and the old man left off shaking hands, for which I was grateful. I sat down in the chair offered.

Mr. Carr’s manner and tone was grave, but he did try his best to put on a slight smile that was, I guess, supposed to make him seem friendly. He began with all the appropriate sympathetic things one is required to say to a virtual stranger when that stranger has suffered a big loss. I nodded, accepting the condolences, and then we got down to business.

“Miss Ferguson, I have your father’s will here. Just so you know, I knew Ivan for many years. I’ve worked for him for a long time, as well as with associates of his. He will be greatly missed,” he said, as he looked through the file that was open on his desk.

I nodded, and he continued, adjusting his bifocal glasses as he spoke, “Of course, as expected, everything that was your father’s has been passed down to you. Some will be held back, a paltry sum at that, for probate, but the rest will come to you in cheques as soon as they are ready. There will be the cheques from the savings, investments and special accounts held by your father. You will need to visit the different banks that he used to get documents signed. I have the first cheque for you now, but it’s only the savings that your father wanted ready for you upon his passing.”

There were many papers to sign, and though I understood enough of law and how this was supposed to work, I felt as though it was all too much to take in. I seemed to be signing one page after another.

At the end, after a few more summaries and explanations, Mr. Carr started using numbers, telling me the full amount in one account, then another. I sat in stunned silence, then regained my composure and shook my head as I stated, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have the wrong will. Maybe you have another Ivan Ferguson’s will, another man having the same name would be an unfortunate, but understandable, mistake.”

Mr. Carr sat up straight, took off his glasses and wiped them with his hanky. This seemed more a display of some sort rather than a necessity. I waited as he put the heavy glasses back on his rather thin, frail-looking face. The he looked directly at me and spoke very clearly, to make sure I understood him, I suppose. “Miss Ferguson, Ivan did mention that you may be surprised at what he has left you. He had resources, of course, from those who got him out of the USSR. He always had people to turn to, ways to get money through, and he squirrelled everything away in different banks and accounts all over the country. He has left it all to you. You are, in fact, a very rich woman.”

I sat stunned until Mr. Carr handed me an envelope. I opened it and saw the largest monetary figure I had ever handled in front of me. It was over a hundred thousand dollars. I held the cheque, not sure that I should actually be doing such a thing, as I never thought I would handle that kind of money. I was finding all of this so hard to wrap my mind around. After a few quiet moments, I spoke up, still staring at the cheque, and said, “This doesn’t make any sense. We’ve never had money. I can’t afford to go to university without working. We have always had to be frugal. This can’t be my Dad’s. This just doesn’t make sense.”

“I assure you, this is exactly how it is supposed to be. As I said, you are a very rich woman. You can afford not to work, maybe travel the world, buy a ranch, whatever you wish. I wouldn’t be incautious and spend it all at once, but you really are free to do as your heart desires,” the man said, as though speaking to a child. I suppose I must have seemed like one, refusing to believe what he told me.

I began to understand, slowly it seemed: Dad had had money. We had always had resources. His money was there from the time he left the USSR. With me. We could have lived anywhere. I began to feel anger welling up inside, resentment at the years of scraping and saving, of having to buy the cheapest available products when shopping for food, for household supplies, for clothes. I stood up, tucked the cheque into my bag, and thanked Mr. Carr for his services. He walked me to the door. I left the office, keeping my rage down so that none there would notice as I passed the secretary’s desk, and the other lawyer’s offices that occupied the building.

I didn’t quite know what to do. I knew I had to go to my bank to deposit the cheque. I had to buy something for tonight’s dinner. I had to go home and shower. I had to get ready for an evening class. I had to... My mind kept thinking in short bursts, going over my usual routine, but also rebelling at it. None of it was necessary. It had never been necessary. I felt the small muscles under one eye twitch.

Instead of going home as I would normally have done, I decided on my first ever act of rebellion against my Dad. I walked across the street from the lawyer’s offices to the first hair salon I saw. Someone was able to take me right away, and I told her that I wanted it off. I wanted short hair. Something fashionable. I sat in a chair as unfamiliar to me as a king’s throne while the overly made-up woman snipped away. Chunks of my hair, the hair Dad had always said I could never cut, fell on the floor. The very thing I had to preserve for all time, because he had said so, piled up around me. All of his commands, his demands, fell away bit by bit. I began to feel a little lighter, a little more as though I would be able to have the freedom to move without my hair falling forward or blinkering me, blocking the view on either side.

With this new freedom though came also a strange thought, one that seemed so trivial as to be absurd at this point, one that pricked at my emotional control. Tears began to leak out despite my best efforts to hold them back. I was having my hair cut for the first time in my life by a professional. Everything in the world had just changed for me, and here I was, crying in front of the hairdresser over something that had happened well in the past, something I should not been affected by at all now. This was something I should even have forgotten or relegated to childhood dreams. The past was the past and nothing could be done. I should have had much better control over myself. Instead, in that shop’s mirror, I watched myself cry as the woman who was cutting me out from under the oppression of my Dad’s rules worked away. The thought that so affected me was this: we had had money: we could have saved Puss-cat.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: What Rough Beast

 

I spent my twenties reading, still teaching at the studio, learning how to buy and sell a home and car, learning how to live on my own and adjusting to being completely alone. I still taught fencing because I really didn’t know what else to do. I eventually quit, sold my part in the place – yes, Dad had always owned part of the studios he worked in, at least for the past few years – and travelled in Australia a bit.

I saw Sydney, a few times, a city that was quite different to me from an adult perspective. That odd Opera House took far too much away from the rest of the place, but I went to performances there regardless. I always took an apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, as I wanted to be able to cook all of my own meals and not have anyone in my place cleaning up incorrectly. I couldn’t let that go. Since Dad’s illness, I found myself becoming more and more leery of dirt and germs. Dad had taught me a positive attitude towards keeping things clean, but now I never wanted to smell anything like what I had gone through with him ever again. I needed my home to be absolutely clean. I needed to ensure that I never became sick if it were at all preventable. I could not imagine the indignity of going through what Dad had gone through. If I’m not in control of myself and my surroundings, what am I? One has to be able to look after oneself and one’s environs. The idea of being dependent on others became anathema to me.

In the end, I felt I had been too long from university to return, and in truth, I did not want to. After all, my drive behind attending was to be away from home for at least a good part of the day. Now that I was free, I could read and study whatever I wanted. Law interested me, but I had no desire to be a lawyer, always having to either do mundane things such as wills or perhaps to end up having to defend those who did not deserve it. I read as much as I wanted about the subject, then moved on. I began to find myself not distracted as much as I wanted to be. I realized that I needed something routine, something engaging. I had to have a focus in life. Not having one had begun to feel as though I were too much adrift. I didn’t need a job for money’s sake, I needed one to be someone, to have others know what I was good at, what I could accomplish. There is little joy in being expert at anything without others knowing about it. I needed new things to challenge myself with. I looked through want ads, hoping for ideas, and nothing pleased me there. Then I remembered Dad’s words about finding a job with a uniform…

_________________________________________________________________________________________

The worst day of my life changed everything. I had gone to work as always. I had done paperwork, fielded questions from C.O.’s, done some petty make-work things Bryce had set up just for me, and so on. I had lunch break on my own, ate nothing as I prefer to eat only at home, and used the time to finish up some scheduling for the month. I did a patrol. I could have gone home right after my shift, but instead decided to visit Jianna. We had not parted on the best of terms the last time I saw her, and I wanted to make sure she understood that I wasn’t angry with her, merely displeased. I even had some more treats for her: peppermints in a roll. She had said once that she liked peppermint when she wasn’t feeling well, and I thought the mint candies might stimulate her appetite a bit.

I went along the hallway towards Jianna’s cell as always, but there was something wrong that evening, something ‘off’. I don’t know what it was exactly, and I suppose it was the sounds that one expects to hear in the area - they weren’t as usual. It was too quiet. There wasn’t the muttering, talking, yelling voices of the women near or far. There was a stillness to the area, something not right. I hurried my pace. As I got closer to Jianna’s cell, things seemed more and more off. I kept moving more and more quickly, only to make it to the stairwell before Jianna’s cell to look up and see –

It was an inmate. Hanging. From the neck. It could not be Jianna. It would not be Jianna. It was Jianna. I know I got her down, hope for a rescue fading fast, but I don’t remember how I got her down at all. All I remember is the cold, horrid knowledge of the truth sinking into me, from my mind right to my abdomen. I know I held Jianna in my arms, her cold body unresponsive, limp, heavy in a way that only a dead body is. I know I screamed in horror. There was no hope of controlling my emotions. I know I yelled the word “no”, over and over, wanting to make the situation change through will alone. It did not.

I was on my knees, holding Jianna. Jianna was dead. I was going to die. I wanted to go with her, whatever that meant. I know at some point I crawled over to the wall and wretched. I know that I pulled Jianna back into my arms and held her. I pushed the hair out of her face, I even tried to plead with her to come back, as irrational as that was. There was nothing left. There would be nothing left of me. My eyes and nose ran, and I coughed because I couldn’t breathe. I felt physical pain merely from emotion. My hands and arms went numb. I shivered, and still I held my Jianna. Still I crooned to her, trying to get some reaction from her, even though I knew it to be impossible.

Then I heard a voice I had not heard in over a decade.

“Joan, look up,” the familiar voice said.

I looked up and saw my Dad standing in front of me. He wasn’t as I had last seen him. He was younger, strong, as he had been when he was healthy and in control. He was wearing his dark coat and looking down at me. I don’t know why I felt that this was perfectly normal, but I did. I was not afraid. I was far too wrung out emotionally to have any reaction to seeing Dad there. His eyes looked stern, but there was a compassion to them that I had only seen once before. I wiped my arm across my face, like a small child and said, so softly, “Daddy?”

“Yes, Joan, I’m here,” he said, bending down to my level. “You are suffering now, aren’t you?”

I nodded and felt my lower lip stick out a bit.

“What did you do that brought this about?” Dad said, and took my jaw in his hand so that I’d have to look right at him.

“I – I gave in to emotion? I let myself be weak. I…” my voice faded out as Dad’s eyes grew even more stern.

“What did I always tell you?” Dad asked.

“’Emotions lead to mistakes,’” I whispered.

Dad nodded and let go of my jaw. “Yes. Now you are suffering because you let yourself have feelings for this girl. You allowed your emotions to make you weak. You are now feeling things that could have been avoided.”

I started crying again, the pain inside of me threatening to break me to physical pieces even as Dad spoke his words of wisdom. “I know. I can’t not feel right now. I just can’t… I want to go with her. I want to…”

Dad nodded, I knew, though I wasn’t looking up at him, but down at Jianna’s too pale face. He spoke without chiding me, “You want to go with her, don’t you?”

Again I nodded.

“I know. I felt that way when I knew your Mother was dead. But it is a vain and selfish thought. Jianna is dead. Why?” Dad asked, forcing me to confront the worst of the situation head on.

“Because that man took her baby. Because she missed her baby so much. Because I…” I let my words drift. The fact was that I had not protected her. I had promised to, and I had failed her. I was going to look after her and Shayne, and I failed her. I had failed her. I had failed her. I had failed her I had failed her I had failed her I had failed I had -

“No, not just you,” Dad’s words cut into my thoughts. “Her baby would still be here if not for the actions of one person. Who decided to take the child? Who had men holding her down as her baby was taken from her? Who caused her the pain that led to this?” Dad said, making sense of it, a bit, for the first time.

I looked up at him, to see him being strong, looking at me with fierce determination. Dad was advising me, helping me, getting me to understand why I had to keep going.

“The social worker. He took the child. He made the call,” I stated, my voice going flat, a bit of anger seeping into it.

“Good, Joan, good. Now what has to be done?” Dad asked, helping me shape my world back into something that could be lived in.

“I have to make sure that those responsible will suffer as much as Jianna did. I will have to find that social worker. I will have to take away what he loves. I will take his life apart the way he took Jianna’s life apart,” I stated.

Dad stood up, tall, and folded his hands behind his back. “Yes, Joan. You will play the long game. You will do what it takes to destroy this man. Find him. Find out how to hurt him. Learn who his friends are, his loved ones, those he cares for. Take them away. Make him suffer. Jianna didn’t deserve to be treated as she was. The least you can do for her is make sure the one who made her suffer, in turn, suffers.”

“I will, Dad,” I said, gently putting Jianna on the cold stone floor, grabbing my radio to call in the code black. I could barely handle the thing, but I still managed to say something that alerted the nighttime staff of an emergency.

I looked back at Dad, and he was smiling, nodding his head. “You know what to do, Joan. Do not fail. Do not let anything get in your way. Remove any and all obstacles in your way. If you do not accomplish this, you will have failed Jianna, yourself, and me. I do not want you to fail me again. This is what you must do. Take years if you need to, but do it right. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Dad,” I said, repeating the words I knew he wanted to hear, “I will do as you say. I won’t let you – or Jianna – down again.”

I looked down at Jianna, then back to see that Dad was no longer there. I gathered he had left because he had said his piece. But now I knew what would keep me going. I knew that others had to suffer. I would learn how to make them suffer to the utmost. I would never, ever, let myself be distracted by emotions again. I would make sure that the pathetic individuals who taunted Jianna, the stupid women who were incarcerated, would suffer. I would find that social worker and take everything from him. He would suffer more than anyone.

My life had a new purpose. I no longer could protect and help Jianna, but I could make sure that anyone who had ever hurt her would suffer, and that the social worker would suffer more so than any. This was my promise to Jianna – the one I would make sure that I kept.