This Prison We Share

“Can we carry this love that we share
Into the open air?” (x)

As Anna’s fury began to drain away, like the puddles after thunderstorms, she was left with emptiness, no feeling but the throb of her cheekbone. The silent rooms around her yawned out, the music that Cally loved so much silenced. That was all her fault. She’s destroyed the music, and laughed as she did so; and the expression on her face would be something Anna remembered forever.

Oh gods, what had she done? She hadn’t meant to push the girl so hard, to cut her so deeply. Months of being cooped up on house arrest were driving her wild, but Cally was sweet and vulnerable. Snapping on her was like taking a magnifying glass to ants and watching them burn, for a lack of more interesting things to do.

Anna slipped out of the doorway, treading past the evidence of their fight; Cally’s broken records, lying smashed on the stone floor. Never again would their music fill the rooms, removing their grim reality and replacing it with hope. Now the walls pressed in, a reminder of the prisoners they were.

Anna slipped inside the room, moving to the end of the bed. In the gloom, Cally’s form was a dark island in the white seas of sheets. Even asleep, her forehead was tied up in unhappiness, and the moonlight illuminated silver tears trails staining her cheeks. She looked broken, tiny in the expanse of the room. The girl was so coiled up within herself, it seemed like a desperate attempt to hide; to make herself less of a target. Anna looked at her, and the dam inside her broke.

“Oh, gods.” Her voice, riddled with guilt, shattered the words. Lifting up the sheets the girl slid in, pressing herself to Cally’s back, wrapping her arms around her protectively. The girl stirred.

“I’m so sorry,” Anna whispered, again and again. “I’m sorry, Cally.” She was trying to heal wounds with words, perfectly well knowing nothing she said would be enough. “Cally, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” The girl in her arms turned to face her, her hair dark in the moonlight. Cally’s fingers brushed against her girlfriend’s cheek, where the bruise was already swelling. She said nothing. Burying her face in Anna’s shoulder, her thin fingers dug in and clung, and she drifted off to sleep.

Anna stayed awake. The fragile body in her arms, so tiny and easy to miss, was infinitely precious. She kissed her cool forehead, wishing she could smooth out the worries that lingered there. How long will the two of them remain like this, locked up in this tiny cage? With Anna as the feral beast and Cally a mouse of a girl, there can surely be only one ending to this story. Anna shiverd, holding the girl close, and wished things were different.



“Why is this so important?” I bark, frustrated at Sadie’s erratic behaviour.That girl has been acting weird all week, and now she demands to be taken to the Major for no reason. “Is there something wrong, Private? Some complaint that can’t go through your commanding officer?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, I’m fine!” She hollers back, but her skin is flushed and she wears the look of a cornered animal. “Just let me go, for god’s sake. I need to see the Major.”

Even as she speaks I’m shaking my head, rejecting her crazy offer before it gets too far. “No way in hell. Not unless you tell me what’s going on.” I plant my staff firmly between my feet, standing in her path. “Private, something is clearly amiss. You’ve been acting odd ever since Ravenglass. You know I can’t have you in the field if you’re a liability.”

Staring down at her feet, she scuffs her shoes. I can tell she’s upset – her bottom lip overhanging, her eyes narrowed. Whatever the problem is, it’s clearly a big one. This is far from normal behaviour. “I’m not a liability,” she spits, her inner soldier recoiling at the insult. “Just let me see Major!”

“Why?” I demand, taking a step closer. I can see every fibre inside Sadie stretch, the muscles in her neck shivering with tension. And then something inside her snaps. Her head jerks up, chin outthrust, eyes burning and it’s impossible to look away.

“Because I love her!” she shouts in my face. I’m frozen in shock, expecting any answer other than this. Sadie reads the disturbed expression in my face and her jaw hardens.

“I know that there’s no future in this. I know about her husband, family, whatever. I know all that.” She swallows, her words rushing together. It seems to me like she’s never said this aloud before.

“I’ll never bother her with my problems. It’s a crush, that’s all it’s ever been – all it’ll ever be.” Sadie looks me in the eye, and I’m scared by how young she looks. Despite everything she’s been through, this – attachment – makes her seem like a child. “Let me see her. I know she’s injured, but I’ve heard enough rumours to be scared for her life. Let me go and put my mind at rest.”

I stare at my soldier. I never knew. Slowly, I take paper and pencil, scrawling her a note. While I write she’s as tense as a bowstring, seemingly terrified of receiving an insanity order. When I hand the note to Sadie, her eyes skim the words and then flash up to mine. The ocean of relief and expectation in her face is enough to sink me. I never knew, I never guessed.

My girl turns to leave, clutching the note like it’s solid gold, and I automatically bark at her. “Private!” Normally I would follow with a reprimand – something along the lines of, ‘I dismiss you, not the other way round’, and then a suitable punishment – but I my throat closes around the words.

“Sadie.” I’ve never addressed her with her first name before, and she turns back with startled eyes. “Stay as long as you need. I’ll make sure they don’t miss you.” Her watery smile speaks of a thousand thank-yous, and she nods gratefully before disappearing.

As she goes I wonder why I said that. I seem to be softening in my old age, like rotting fruit. Soon I’ll be a good-for-nothing old sap . But it was something about the way she spoke – the awful, awful loneliness of it. She’d locked herself into a cell with those feelings, and no-one knew better than herself that she was doomed. I hope that she receives some relief from seeing the Major, even if she can be no more than a Private to her.

The Storm I Dreamt Of

I stare out at the city in ruins, the streets piled high with stinking rubbish and bodies. Flies move in swarms, devouring rotting food and flesh alike. The sun winks off a million shards of broken glass that line the sidewalks. To the west, thick black smoke rises sluggishly from the Court of Justice. We are the law now, and the scum cower in their homes. This is my world. I am the ruler of this city. But I can’t find the bloodlust I had before.

Arms wrap around my waist, a sharp chin on my shoulder. I breathe in Kit’s perfume, pressing into her embrace, reaching for her body. I want her comfort, I want to feel – something. Her sly voice whispers in my ear. “Look at it. Isn’t it wonderful?” I look, and can’t feel the wonder she does.

“It’s chaos.” My voice sounds empty, even to my own ears.

Kit laughs, her hot breath against my scalp. “It’s the storm you always dreamt of,” she murmurs, pressing her lips into my neck. She’s right. I’ve wanted this ever since I was a child. Having nothing makes you greedy, and in me it created a thirst for power and wealth. As I grew older I grew stronger, more ambitious.

My bitterness grew as I watched the rich, owning more money than they could ever need, while they pushed the rest of us into starvation. There was a storm brewing, gathering on the horizon, burning inside my heart. I vowed revenge on everyone that pushed me down, on the corrupt and powerful and selfish.

But this city – a burning hulk, spread out beneath my feet like a map – this lawless anarchy is out of my control. I thought that I’d created this storm, but now it’s taken possession of me and I am lost. This city is wild, power-crazy, and more people die every day. Their bodies rot on the streets and in houses behind boarded up windows. There is no rich or poor, there are no good and evil. It has become a war between the people – each man for himself. The heartbeat of the city is the constant throbbing of gunshots.

Kit’s warm hands reach for the buttons of my dress, her calloused palm sliding over my stomach. I’m so numb. No guilt; no triumph; no regret. The war is won, but I’m so lost. My hands itch to tear my skin from my bones, just to feel the pain, just to embrace the ache. Kit pulls my dress off my shoulders, her tongue tracing bare skin. I want to feel her. I need the heat of her skin on mine.

I surrender, closing my eyes so that I can’t see the hell I brought to earth.

Dare or Truth

The bottle span slowly, laboriously, and gently rocked to a stop, its top pointing towards one of the five girls.
“Marianne! Your turn!” Josie squealed, tossing back her braids triumphantly. She smiled a wicked smile, leaned in and whispered ominously, “Truth or dare?”
Marianne raised her eyebrows. “Truth,” she said without hesitation. She crossed her legs, excited for her question, while the others waited in giggly expectation.
Josie rocked back on her heels, thinking. Then her eyes grew wide and she grinned as she said, “Name one person in our school you want to go out with.”
For the briefest of moments, Marianne smiled and her eyes filled with warmth. Her lips opened around the first syllable of a name. But then her joy fell away and her mouth snapped shut, her eyes falling to her lap in shame.
At the back of the room, one of the five girls frowned. Her name was Alice. The other girls called her ‘Alice in Wonderland’ because she tended to daydream, preferring to sit and think than join in the game. But Marianne’s reaction to a simple question snapped her out of her fantasies and she tilted her head to one side, suddenly very interested in Marianne’s answer.
She fiddled with the hem of her t-shirt. She looked up, but Alice could read nothing in her expression. Her face was like a mask.
Marianne’s voice was cool and impassive, “That’s an impossible question, there are thousands of people at our school.”
Josie whined. She was waiting for some juicy gossip, unaware of Marianne’s inner struggle. “Come oooon!” She squealed. “There has to be one boy in the school you like!”
Marianne’s mind was racing. She was an honest girl, she hated lying, and was painfully bad at it. The others would notice if she tried to tell a mistruth. So she seized Josie’s choice of words and said, in complete honestly,
“There isn’t a single – guy in our school that I would want to go out with!”
The group of girls sighed, and Josie whined again. “You’re no fun,” she said, bored. Within seconds, the bottle was spinning again and Marianne was forgotten. The other girls giggled as the bottle landed on someone new, and the spotlight was moved away. She blushed, grateful of her freedom.
Alice’s gaze, however, was fixed on Marianne. She alone had noticed. She’d heard that pause before she said the word ‘guy’, and she knew the connotations attached to it. And she vowed that she would talk to Marianne about it at the earliest opportunity.

Freedom is…

…when an insomniac can walk the streets at night and feel completely safe
…when everyone loves the way children love – blind to colour, race, gender and sexual orientation
…when you can be yourself, and know that people will not judge you
…when you can disagree with people no matter what their status is, without fear of persecution
…when you can make your own decisions based on unbiased knowledge that is freely available to you
…when you can choose who you want to represent you and speak for you