"Huh? I'm sorry, what did you say?" She had been distracted for her entire shift.
"I said, did you want a cuppa?"
"No, I'll get it m'self," she said, and exhaled the smoke from her cigarette sharply. "Meg-" she stopped. Shit, I have to go through with it now.
Meg just cocked her head, and waited patiently for her to get the words out. Whatever was on her mind, she'd confess in her own time. The two women still weren't friends, but they'd reached a mutual agreement to stand together. Officer solidarity, Joan called it, Meg called it human decency.
"I was just wondering,” She cleared her throat. “I was wondering if you knew anything about morning sickness."
"What?" The look on her face was priceless. It was one of confusion, horror, and almost disgust.
"Not me, for Christ's sake! Vera," she elaborated.
"OH! Oh, oh my God," Meg didn't know what to say. She never in a million years would have imagined Vera Bennett was a lesbian (and would end up with Joan Ferguson!), nor that she would one day have a child. Meg only just found out about their relationship, quite by accident. She was standing in the corner of the staffroom and heard too much. Still, it was sweet to see Vera happy for once, although she couldn't fathom Joan Ferguson making anybody happy. Diff'rent strokes, Megsy , she told herself on that day. "I suppose congratulations are in order, then."
"Well save em for her, I haven't done anything."
"Of course. Well, when I was pregnant with Marty it was dreadful. For six months, I was sick day in, day out. I swore I would never do it again. I had to eat as soon as I woke up in the morning, that helped sometimes, as in it gave me a few hours to recover," She laughed. "It really depends on the individual, you can tell her that. Oh, and crackers or anything salty helps."
"Six bloody months, eh? Good God." She stubbed out her cigarette and slid her chair underneath the table. "And Meg? Don't say anything to anyone else, right?"
"Right. Good luck."
"We'll need it."
So Vera was going to be a mother. JOAN was going to be a mother. Anything could happen, it seemed. She would keep her word, though it would be hard. She didn't gossip as freely as Joyce, but some things are certainly harder to keep to yourself than others. She smiled and raised one eyebrow as she sipped her tea.
When Joan came home, Vera was on the couch watching something on TV. "I'm home," she called to her. She waved hello and turned the screen off. "How're you feeling, sweetheart?"
"I've been better," she answered. Joan sat down beside her and kissed her. "I’ve got to get over this thing."
"'This thing'," Joan repeated, trying not to laugh.
"I think I understand why my mother hated me so much," she said. "Don't look like that, I'm only kidding."
"Well, you should be drinking plenty of fluids," she brought the conversation back to the matter at hand. "Have you eaten?"
"Ugh, I couldn't bear it," she said, shaking her head.
"C'mon, at least eat some soup or something, I'll g-"
"I don't want any soup! And I can care for myself, you know," Vera said. Joan had started to get up, but sat down again.
"You're right, I'm sorry. I just hope this doesn't go on for much longer."
"You're telling me," she sighed.
Joan cleared her throat. "I was talking to Meg earlier and-"
"About what," she asked, already able to guess.
"About you. I know, I know, you didn't want anyone to know and I'm sorry," she said quickly. "But she thought I was the one at first and I'd never heard of something so ridiculous, I had to set her right. And it was either asking her or Joyce Barry-"
"Waaaait, she thought you were pregnant?" Vera interrupted, snickering. It was a little funny, Joan thought and smirked. What a horrible mental image, for everyone.
"Yeahr, I know. She said it lasted six months, but it depends on the person, I'm sure she's a rare case. She did say she had to eat as soon as she woke up and it helped. Sort of. The way she put it was it gave her a few hours to recover." She took her cigarettes out of her pocket, and lit one. Vera waited a few seconds before asking if she could have one.
"How many have you had today?"
"One," she lied. Joan raised an eyebrow. "Okay, three, but one more won't hurt, please."
"Fine. I don't like it," she handed Vera one and struck a match for her. She leaned over the flame and thanked her.
"I don't like being like this. Besides, your mother smoked, mine did, we both turned out fine."
"I would use a lot of words to describe how I turned out, fine is not one," Joan said.
"Yeah, well-" she stopped. Before Joan could ask what was the matter, she choked out "Oh no. Oh God!" Vera dropped her cigarette in the ashtray and ran from the room.
"You- lot- aren't-" Doreen was struggling to catch her breath from running so fast to the laundry.
"Hey, take it easy love. What's up?" Lizzie asked.
She tried again. "You lot aren't gonna believe this. First of all, you owe me twenty bucks," she smiled.
"What? Why's that?" She asked, not yet looking up from the sheets she was folding.
"Vinegar and The Freak ARE on together!" A hush fell over the room. The hiss of the press broke the silence.
"I'll be damned, I knew it," Bea said.
"No ya didn't!"
"I mean," she said impatiently, "I knew Vera's a dyke. That's obvious."
"To who?" Lizzie asked.
"Oh nevermind that, that's not the only thing. Vinegar's knocked up!"
A few snickers escaped the crowd. "Doreen, honey," Bea said, wiping a tear from her eye. "Are you sure your wires aren’t crossed? The last I checked a woman can't knock another one up."
“The Freak’s a woman?” Chrissie said, pretending to be shocked.
Doreen chose to ignore her this time. Chrissie of all people should know, she’s the one who came onto Joan and everybody knew about it. "I know that! That's what I heard. Not in so many words, Fergo was asking Mrs. Morris if she had morning sickness-"
"And? ‘ow do you know they weren't just shootin’ the shit, then?"
"Who starts a conversation like that? Anyway, Mrs. Morris looked like she saw a ghost and The Freak said 'not me, Vera'. I was standing right there, I heard the whole thing, I tell ya!"
"I'll be buggered," Lizzie murmured. "That poor little mite, having Vera Bennett for a mum..."
"And Joan Ferguson, don't forget her," Doreen quipped.
"Aww, hell, sometimes kids change people, maybe they'll both ease up. Maybe this kid is a blessing in disguise," Bea said, almost keeping a straight face.
"Maybe you're right," Lizzie mused.
"I was kidding love. Y'know, I wonder who the father is. What poor bloke had to have it off with Vera!"
Judy looked up for the first time, not wanting to engage in this conversation at first. "Nobody probably 'had it off' with her, he probably put it in a sandwich bag and they did the rest. Do you all honestly think Fergo would stand by and let some man fuck her woman?"
There were several confused looks. "What's 'the rest'?" Doreen asked innocently.
Judy sighed, and covered her face. Now she'd done it, she just volunteered herself for lesbian sex ed 101! You just couldn't keep your big mouth shut, could ya? "You know, they had to get it in her."
"How would they do that without the bloke?" Lizzie asked.
Judy was turning red now. "Well, you can do it with a turkey baster, something like that," she said quickly.
"OH MY GOD!" Doreen pretended to vomit. "ICK!"
"Well, you all asked!" Judy said, exasperated.
"Wait, is that how you, y'know, got Laurie?" Doreen asked. Several others looked as though the same thing was on their minds.
Judy sighed again. Today was really turning into something. "No, I was a bit confused about what I wanted then, some poor bloke actually had it off with me," she laughed. "I was certain about who I am after that, I'll put it that way."
“A little Vinegar running about, fancy that,” Bea said to herself.
“I just don’t reckon it’s right,” Chrissie piped up.
“Ohh that’s rich coming from you! A whore who goes BOTH WAYS, with morals, now I’ve seen everything,” Bea scoffed.
“At least Elizabeth’s got a father.”
“Yeah, some crim she’s never gonna meet and a crim for a mother too, that’s much better,” Bea rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you quit while you’re behind, eh?”
Chrissie scowled and went back to her sewing.
“Are you lot on another strike?” Meg announced her presence too late, once again. They knew, but at least it wasn’t her fault. She doubted Joan or Vera would see it that way, however. Discussing anything personal, even in private was always a gamble. Things certainly had a way of travelling at the speed of light through these corridors.
“Ah, just a smoko Mrs. Morris,” Bea said. Few were still doing anything since Doreen returned with the skip, most took it upon themselves to take a break. There’s no way she doesn’t know we know, but how long will she pretend?
"You can't go back to work, you're hardly fit," Joan said, more worried than anything else.
"Oh, what, now you’re telling me what to do? I'm sick to death of sitting around here all day staring at the walls. Besides, I've been much better. Nobody would suspect a thing, it's flu season anyhow."
"It's been two days. And just how long are you planning to hide this?"
"For as long as I can. Anything they learn about you, they'll use against you."
Oh, she knew that too.
"Okay, I won't tell you what to do, but I would strongly suggest-"
"I know what you would 'strongly suggest'," Vera snapped. "Whether you like it or not, I'm going back to work. We'll have to settle this sooner or later so why not now."
"Alright, do what you like," Joan said.
"I'm not asking permission!"
She was really saying all the wrong things. Joan turned away for a moment and collected herself. She loved her, what was the use of staying mad? It wouldn't be like this forever.
"I know you aren't, you know what I meant. I'm sorry," she said as she turned to face her again. "Well, we've wasted enough time, we'll probably be late. Next time you reach an important decision tell me the night before, will ya?"
"Alright,” she said more calmly.
“You will tell Davidson, right?"
"Do I have a choice?" Joan didn't say anything, it was best to let a rhetorical question stay that way.
“What are you so worried about anyway? Even they have a thing about not hurting children,” Joan remarked.
“Have you forgotten they hate me? I wouldn’t have it any other way, but,” she said, and changed the subject. “I’d better phone Erica then.”
“I’m sorry, just one more question,” Joan was trying to keep a straight face.
“What are you going to say? Are ya gonna call it a beer gut?”
"Good morning Miss Bennett!" Lizzie sounded genuinely glad to see her. I wonder what she wants. And what the hell is she doing right outside the governor's office?
"Good morning, Birdsworth. Move along, you’re late for muster aren’t you?" She decided to let it go. Lizzie was hardly the worst of them. Although she would probably never admit it, Vera had a certain fondness for the old woman.
"Yes Miss Bennett," she said. Did she just wink at me? Nevermind, there she goes.
Vera was shaking the whole way to work and didn't really know why. When she knocked on Erica's door she broke into a sweat.
"Come in!" She took a deep breath and turned the doorknob. She walked inside and closed the door behind her. She really should've rehearsed this more, or at all, rather.
“Oh good, I wanted to see you before you started-”
"Mrs. Davidson, I thought I'd better bring something to your attention," She interrupted. Well damn, that was professional.
"What is it, Miss Bennett?" Erica didn't sound keen. She expected something to be happening with the women as usual. She had only just come back, what could she possibly suspect already this morning?
Oh no. Fucking nerves! I'm gonna throw up either right in front of her, or out in the corridor. She swallowed hard. Maybe she could just say it before- nevermind.
She lunged for the bin next to Erica’s desk. "Oh Vera!" She sounded worried now. "Are you alright?"
"Fine, thank you," she wiped her mouth and wanted to bury herself alive. She hadn’t been this embarrassed since Meg discovered her unconscious in the staffroom reeking of booze. "Sorry. I guess what I was trying to tell you is that I'm pregnant." No point in circling the airport now.
Erica managed to hide her initial shock. “Congratulations,” She said, smiling.
“This won’t change anything,” Vera said, getting off her knees and standing back up, trying to find a shred of dignity. “I know I asked for some time off originally, but I can’t sit around the house doing nothing, it’s driving me up the wall.”
“I must say, I was surprised when you phoned earlier that it only took two days for you to reach that conclusion.”
“Yes, sooner than that,” She remarked. “Well, that’s all Madam.” She turned away to leave, then remembered.
“Ah, I’ll rinse that out and bring it back,” She said, picking up the bin. She was still blushing.
“Are you sure you’re up to it?” Erica asked with genuine concern.
“Really, I’m quite alright, it’s just my nerves,” she said, walking out the door.
“Miss Bennett? I haven’t quite finished yet,” Erica said. She entered again.
“Right, I’m sorry.”
“Normally this would be a suggestion, except it’s not. Our new secretary couldn’t make it, would you mind going to reception today?”
“No, I don’t mind,” She lied. Isn’t there anyone else?
“Good. That will be all.” Again, she went to leave, and closed the door behind her.
She didn’t take three steps before Joan came around the corner.
“Oi, how’d it go?”
“Fuck!” Vera said, and playfully swatted Joan’s arm. She didn’t answer her immediately. “About as well as it could’ve gone, I suppose. If one more person asks me if I’m ‘up for it’ I’ll scream. This doesn’t make me an invalid.”
“No, of course not,” Joan said, pausing to sniff the air. “Do you smell that too?”
Vera started to walk away. She turned back and said, “I’ll see you later. We really shouldn’t be seen together like this, they’ll start talking.”
Joan took a few steps toward her. “This corridor is deserted. Besides, whether or not we’re seen strolling merily hand in hand won’t stop the talk,” Joan pointed out.
“Oh, of course there’s already talk!”
“Hell, I don’t know if there really is any I was just saying,” Joan assured her. “Well, I’ll be gettin’ on then. Love ya.”
Vera said it back, looking over her shoulder before she did. Those bitches were always lurking in dark corners, prisoners and staff alike!
"G'day Bea," Lizzie said, sitting down at the table.
"You look pleased with yourself, what's up?"
"I found a-" she lowered her voice. "I found a place to make grog!"
"Aww, this again, where? The roof?" She picked at her food with disinterest.
"No, the boiler room! We've had blokes in and outta there makin’ repairs right?"
"Well, some screw must've forgotten to lock the door after them, I went in there this morning just to have a look around, there's an old one that would be perfect!"
"It's not gonna stay open forever. How do you expect to get a key?"
"I just have to get back there again before they come back-" she was interrupted by Doreen coming to sit down.
"Whatcha talkin about?"
Lizzie had an air of pride about her when she broke what she had of a plan down to Doreen.
"I dunno, Bea's right, how're ya gonna get a key?"
"I'll think of something, don't you worry," she said, without losing her confidence.
Bea finally pushed her plate away. "How anyone can eat this muck I'll never know. How come you wanna do it in a boiler this time and not a mop bucket like you always do?"
"I wanna reach a wider audience," Lizzie said. "Plus, there is something to celebrate."
Bea rolled her eyes. "You mean Vera? Since when do you give a shit about the screws?"
"What if you're right and she does ease up? And she's already done us one favour, you know," Lizzie pointed out.
“The Freak has someone to lay, so she lays off us,” Bea said. “And thanks a lot for making me think about it.”
Reception! I could’ve stayed home for this, Vera thought. At last, the phone rang and she had something to do.
“Wentworth Detention Centre,” She said. The other end was silent. She was about to hang up when someone clears their throat.
“C-could I speak to Vera Bennett?” It was a man, badly trying to cover up an accent. She hardly knew any men anymore, nevermind any with Scottish accents.
“Yes, this is she-” As soon as she got the words out, the line went dead. She put the phone back down. “Why do people insist on wasting my time?” She said to herself, not looking up.
“Who’s wasting your time?” She had no idea Colleen had been standing there.
“You’ve got to stop sneaking up on people,” She said. “Some man called, asking for me, when I told him it was me, he hung up. I just don’t understand people.” And who the hell could it have been? Colleen shrugged, and ran into someone coming in. “Oh, excuse me,” He said.
“Quite alright, I assume you’re here to see someone?” Colleen said, brushing herself off. “Just sign in over there and I’ll take you through.” Just her luck, someone coming in just as she was leaving. Across the board, everyone had the same luck in this place.
“This way,” Colleen said to the man, pointing to the corridor. “Oh and Vera, before I forget, welcome to the club.”
“What club might that be?”
Colleen just looked at her and walked away. How many other fucking people knew! “Joan, I am going to kill you...” she muttered.