We joked about what might happen if and when they closed the door on the room with the bars on the windows. You wanted to be banged up with Burglar Bill – swap stripy shirts, stories of swag bags. Mum walked out whenever the subject came up. It wasn’t a laughing matter, she said.
The acoustics in courtrooms are awful. It was all white noise until suddenly everyone was standing and the solicitor ushered us into the hallway – said we could have five minutes but only if we made it quick and then we were downstairs and you were there.
I wanted to remind you about Burglar Bill but the words were cotton wool in my mouth.
Outside, I watched the van leave, tried to imagine you inside, locked into a box within a box, staring out the slit of glass at the slivered sky. I tried not to imagine then.
Later, I learned rules, so many rules:
No phones, no cigarettes, no chewing gum.
Wait. Lots of waiting.
Take your passport, like you’re going on the shittest holiday ever.
No drinks, no touching, no food (your own).
You can buy food inside, where the chairs are bolted to the floor: crisps, chocolate bars, fizzy pop. And tea. Always tea.
No sharing, no lids off, no shaking hands.
You told me later they strip-searched you after anyway.
You’d sit in your netball shirt and I’d sit with hair loose (no hairclips) and we talked around the edges. I carried in soft-cornered anecdotes, left the darkness in the lockers with my mobile phone. You did the same.
You changed. Burglar Bill stole you like a jigsaw, sneaking you into his swag bag piece by piece. Your skin greyed, your witty asides became splinter-sharp, peppered with prison slang: screw, shiv, shank. You tried to keep the darkness out but it crept in, snaking into the space between us.
Outside, I would stare up at the tiny windows, wonder which was yours. Try to imagine your face behind the bars, Burglar Bill grinning in the background. Each time, your image faded a little more.
No photos. No me. No you.
No laughing matter.
Abi Hennig lives in Brighton and spends her time teaching, writing mini stories and losing gracefully at very complicated board games. She has had words pop up in various places, including Storgy, Molotov Cocktail and Splonk. Twitter: @abihennig