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The Last Word

The Writing is on the Wall…

By Caroline CravenPublished about a year ago 17 min read
Runner-Up in If Walls Could Talk
7
The Last Word
Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

If walls could talk, I would tell you that I’m sorry.

***

I can tell it’s your first time inside. Your eyes widen as the metal door swings open and you clutch the pile of clothes up against you. You freeze in the doorway, blinking hard and swallowing, as if you’ve only just realized where you are. I wasn’t sure you were ever going to move, and maybe you wouldn’t have, if the guard hadn’t tapped you on the arm and propelled you into the room.

You take one last look at your name on the door – A5249VH James Jackson – before stumbling across the vinyl flooring and collapsing onto the single bed wedged in the corner. Still gripping your possessions, you stare at the leather shoes that dangle from your stockinged feet.

“You can have the laces back in a couple of days, once we know you’re doing alright,” said the guard following your gaze as he scribbles a few notes on his clipboard.

“You can put your clothes in there,” he said, pointing to the chest of drawers underneath the window. “Did they show you where the laundry room is?”

The guard looks up when you don’t answer. Setting the clipboard down, he lumbers across the room to perch on the end of your bed, the mattress springs squeaking their disapproval.

“The first few days are always the worst, but it gets easier,” he said, scratching the stubble on his chin. “I meant to ask. What do you prefer to be called? James, Jamie, Jim?”

You shrug your shoulders and continue to stare at your feet as they slice back and forwards through the air.

“Okay, I think I’ll call you Jim. It sounds less formal. Is that alright with you?”

You don’t let him know whether it’s okay or not, but to be honest, you don’t look like a Jim to me. Not with those expensive looking shoes and that haircut. I’m willing to bet you’re a James. I’m right, aren’t I?

We both jump as the guard slaps his hands down on his knees. Sighing, he pushes himself up and retrieves his clipboard before stepping into the corridor: “Okay Jim, your personal officer will be in to see you later, but you can ring the bell if you need anything.”

As the cell door slams shut, you flinch and close your eyes, your hands flying up to cover your ears. I watch as you roll onto your side and pull your knees up to your chest – it takes me a second to realize that you’re murmuring something to yourself.

I lean in a little closer and turn my good ear towards you, but then your eyes snap open. You look right at me and whisper: “I shouldn’t be here. I didn’t do it.”

***

That’s what they all say, well, most of them anyway. I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but… Maybe you’ll be different. Perhaps I’ve spent too long stuck in here. It’s hard not to become a little jaded and cynical.

The clicking sound of a key turning in the lock makes you spin round, and you press yourself up against me as the metal door clangs open.

I don’t recognize this guard; he must be new. He’s certainly younger and more athletic looking than the guy who signed you in. His eyes are kind though. I’m not sure what you make of him, but I can feel the tension in your back, and your right leg jitters up and down on the bed.

“Hey Jim, I’m Mac Harris, your personal officer. I think Graham said I’d be stopping by.”

You nod your head, and I can see your eyes dart in his direction before you look back down at your hands as they tremble in your lap. As Mac pulls the desk chair over to sit in front of you, he smiles and chatters away about the weather and if Ipswich will ever get promoted to the Premier League again. Not a hope, from what I’ve heard.

I must admit though James, I tuned out when he started running through the prison routine. I feel like I’ve heard it a million times. I probably have. But I can tell you’re not listening either. You stare out between the bars in the window, and I wonder if you’re looking at the imposing perimeter wall laced with barbed wire or if you’re imagining yourself back home.

“Come on Jim. Talk to me. You’ve got at least six months here before your case even goes to trial…” Mac trails off and waves his hand in front of your face, but you remain silent.

I didn’t think you were ever going to talk, but just as Mac pushes the chair back, you look up and say: “I didn’t kill them. They’ve got the wrong man. I would never drink and drive.”

Then rolling over onto your back, you gaze up at the ceiling and refuse to say another word. You don’t even move when the cell door slams shut.

I must admit that took me by surprise. I had you pegged for fraud. Something white collar anyway. You don’t look the type to get your hands dirty. But killing someone whilst you’re over the limit. That’s a different matter. You know you’ll never get out of here don’t you James?

***

I’m not sure you moved from the bed during those first few days. You picked at your food and Graham would tut and shake his head as he removed your tray. But you didn’t seem to notice or care. You just lay on your side with your back to the room and we would stare at one another in silence.

But then on Wednesday morning, Mac knocked and walked into your cell, carrying a letter. I saw your jaw clench when you realized the envelope had already been opened. You must have known they’d check your post, James. That’s what it’s like in prison. Nothing about your life is private anymore.

“We’ve processed your list and set up your pin number so you can start making calls,” said Mac, nodding at the phone on the other side of the room. “Your conversations will be monitored though, just so you know.”

The cell door isn’t even closed when you throw yourself onto the bed and rip apart the envelope, sending several photographs tumbling to the floor. As you bend down to pick them up, I lean in a little closer so I can read the letter.

It’s from your mum. She hasn’t written much, has she? I guess it’s hard to know what to say in these situations. I scan the opening line and oh, it looks like I was wrong. Apparently, you’re not a James.

“Dear Jamie, I hope you’re okay and being treated well. You are eating, aren’t you? I know what you’re like when you’re stressed. I’ve been contacted by the prison to check that I’m happy to receive your calls. Of course I am, so I hope we can speak soon. Your dad and I are looking after the boys this weekend so maybe you can ring then and have a chat. You must miss them. Has Amy been in touch? Well, I’ll write again. Take care son, Love mum xx ps. I’ve enclosed a couple of photos of the boys.

You hold each picture between your hands and stroke their faces with your thumb. A lone tear slides down your cheek and I must admit, I can feel my eyes sting a little too. They look like you, Jamie. I can see the family resemblance. White, blond hair, blue eyes. I can’t tell if you have matching smiles though.

Jumping up, you pull open the desk drawer and snatch the roll of sellotape. You tear off strips with your teeth and secure the photos right next to your pillow, smoothing down the edges. I’m glad the pictures hide some of my scars and blemishes.

You stretch out on the bed and right before you close your eyes and drift off to sleep, you smile at me and the boys.

It’s later that night after you’ve eaten your first proper meal that you pick up the handset to ring your mum. You drag the telephone cord as far as it will go so you can sit down on the bed with your back pressed up against me.

Your mum starts crying as soon as she realizes it’s you. I can feel your shoulders sag. It must be hard Jamie, hearing her so upset. As you chew at your fingernails, you ask how your dad’s doing.

“You know what your dad’s like. Won’t talk about anything and just pretends that you’re away on business. It’s… ”

There’s a long pause and I wonder if the call’s been disconnected, when your mum chokes back a sob and says: “Oh Jamie, why did you do it? What were you thinking?”

“Bloody hell mother, I can’t believe you can even say that! It wasn’t me!” You bash your fist down on the bed and I can feel the anger pulsing through you.

“But the police said… Amy said that you crashed out of the house. She told me that she could hear the car tires squealing as you hurtled out of the driveway.”

“I wouldn’t have gone out in the car. Not when I’d been drinking.”

“Amy said you’d had a row. That things got pretty heated. I didn’t realize she’d asked you for a divorce?”

Your fingers claw at your hair. “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to worry you. We haven’t been getting on for a while. Says I’m always working and haven’t got time for her and the boys. It’s not true.”

“So maybe that’s why you were so upset and stormed out?”

“No.”

“But maybe you…”

“No!” you shout, not letting your mum finish. Honestly Jamie, it’s hard to listen to the wounded silence that follows.

“I’m sorry mum. I just don’t remember much of that night. Yes, Amy and I argued about the divorce and yes, I was drinking hard. It helped to take the edge of things but…”

You pause and take several deep breaths. “Amy was screaming at me. She was right in my face, yelling that I was a terrible dad and how unhappy she was. I remember springing up and being so unsteady on my feet that I had to sit back down again.”

“And then suddenly it’s morning and I hear a hammering on the door, and I have a horrible taste in my mouth. My head is pounding but the knocking won’t stop, I stumble to the front door and there are two policemen standing there.”

Your words tumble out so fast…

“And then the taller one asks if I own a dark blue BMW, registration plate AV71 XCR and when I nod yes, the other one says that I’m under arrest. But I’m so confused. I’ve got no idea what they’re talking about.”

I’m confused too Jamie. I thought you’d passed out.

“As they’re leading me out of the house, they show me the damage to the front of the BMW. The bonnet is scratched up and dented and the front number plate is hanging off. The tall copper says they’ll be sending round crime scene officers.

“I still haven’t got a clue what’s going on, but then they tell me that the cameras caught everything and that I’ll be going to prison for a very long time.

“They said I was driving so fast that I’d misjudged a corner and bounced up onto the pavement. I hit a woman pushing a pram.”

Your voice is just a whisper now: “They didn’t make it. They died at the scene.”

I can hear your mum sobbing and then I realize that you’re crying too, your shoulders heaving. Your body crumples when she says: “That poor woman and her baby. Oh Jamie. What a mess.”

“I don’t remember a thing! Nothing. Surely… surely, I would remember something?”

Sounds to me like you’re making excuses Jamie. None of us wants to think that we are capable of bad things. Far easier to say it’s not possible. But your mum has doubts, doesn’t she? You can hear it in her voice. And I’m pretty sure I know what happened too. You were black out drunk when you got behind the wheel and now you’ve blacked out the memory of what you did.

There’s a rustling sound of tissues and I can hear your mum’s ragged breathing: “Ring again on Friday Jamie, I’ll make sure Ethan and Henry are here.”

Before you have chance to say anything, she tells you that she loves you and disconnects the call.

You slouch back against me and stare at the silent handset for several minutes. Your mum was right Jamie. What a mess.

***

The angry, scowling Jamie is nowhere to be seen this evening. As I watch you share jokes with your boys and laugh at their stories, I see how much you miss them. How hard this is for you. The only time your smile slips is when Henry asks if you’re coming home soon.

“He can’t, can he?” says Ethan before you can reply. “Grandad told us that he’s on a top-secret mission for the government and won’t be back for ages. Remember? You’re only five so I guess your memory isn’t as good as mine.”

You blink back tears, and your voice is so faint that they must struggle to hear you too: “That’s right boys. I’m on a special assignment but I’ll bring you back loads of presents and we’ll go on so many holidays to make up for it.”

You close your eyes and hold the handset away from you. When you put it back to your ear, your mum is asking if you’re still there.

“Yes mum. I’m still here.”

“I’ve sent the boys out to play football in the garden with your dad. It’s easier when they’re all busy. They miss you so much. Even your dad, although he won’t admit it.”

“Mum. Can you speak to Amy for me? She’s not filled in the paperwork saying that she’ll accept my calls. There are things we need to talk about.”

“I’ll try Jamie, but she’s angry. And I think she’s ashamed too. The papers haven’t been kind about you. About what you did.”

“Mum, I didn’t…”

“Give her time Jamie. Look, I’ve got to go. I need to get the dinner on. Ring again in a couple of days?”

After you’ve replaced the phone, you lie on your bed, staring up at the ceiling until it’s too dark to see anything. As you roll over to face me, I notice your eyes are swollen and red. Not even the pictures of the boys can make you smile tonight.

***

The days drift by. Can you believe we’ve been holed up together for nearly a month Jamie? I think we’re getting used to each other now don’t you. You don’t seem quite so sullen, and I like listening to you talk to your boys and kissing their pictures goodnight. That’s when you’re most relaxed. I guess in those moments, it’s almost possible to forget where you are.

Almost.

This morning you’re sitting at the desk writing a letter to your mum, when there’s a knock at the door and Mac walks in.

“Hey Jim, we’ve just received a visitor’s request from your wife. She wants to come in tomorrow and see you. Just checking that’s okay?”

You chuck the pen onto the desk and sink back in your chair, your eyes narrowed. Trust me, Jamie. I’m as surprised as you are. She hasn’t written or called this entire time and now she wants to visit. I don’t think it’s a good sign, do you?

You take extra care with your appearance today. I watch you run the comb under the cold water tap and try to flatten down your hair at the back. I think the blue shirt is a good choice. It matches your eyes. And I don’t think I’ve seen you wear those trousers before. At least you have your shoelaces back, so you won’t be tripping over your feet.

It’s just before three o’clock when Mac lets himself in and asks if you’re ready to go. I nod my head to wish you luck as you take a final look around the room.

***

I don’t need to ask how the visit went. I can feel your rage, smoldering and dangerous. Your face is flushed, and your eyes are wild. As soon as Graham closes the cell door, you hurl yourself at me and throw punch after punch. I deflect some of the blows and even manage to hit back, but after a couple of minutes we’re both exhausted. We slide to the floor and slump against each other, bruised and bloodied.

The door flies open, and Mac scours the room, until he sees us curled up together, a tangled, battered mess in the corner. Crouching down, he takes hold of your arm and carefully lifts you from the floor and onto the edge of the bed.

Your body shudders and you gulp for air. You’re crying so hard that it’s a struggle to get the words out: “Amy says she’s going to apply for full custody of the boys. That I’ll never see them again. She says they won’t want to anyway once she tells them what I’ve done.”

Mac listens as he applies antiseptic cream in smooth, gentle movements to the worst of your cuts. He tells you over and over that it’ll be okay and that you need to speak to your lawyer: “A dad has rights too. Even in here Jim.”

Eventually your breathing slows, and your sobs become less frequent. You heave yourself up the bed and lie down on your back, eyes clamped shut.

As Mac opens the cell door, he turns and says: “Hit the bell if you need anything okay, mate? That’s what we’re here for.”

He pauses and I can tell he’s worried about you. We both are. “There’ll be someone round to check on you every hour or so, okay Jim?”

You nod, but don’t say a word.

I stay awake watching you. Watching over you. You’re so still that I think you must have fallen asleep but then I hear you sigh in the darkness. Eventually though I can feel my eyelids flutter in time with your snoring. I’m trying so hard, but I struggle to shake off this overwhelming sense of weariness.

I jerk awake as the lights in the cell power on. I feel sluggish and can’t make sense of the raised voices or the sound of footsteps pounding along the corridor. As I blink in the harsh light, I look round to see where you are. When I do, my screams are drowned out by the wailing of the alarm.

***

It must be a little after shift change when Mac steps into your cell with Graham. They both look pale. Mac’s hands are shaking, and his eyes don’t look kind anymore. Just sad and weary.

The anger swirls in my chest and I want him to feel my pain. I scream that this is his fault. That he should never have given you the shoelaces back. He can’t even look at me. But deep down, I know I’m blaming the wrong person. I’m the one who is responsible for this. I should never have fallen asleep.

Mac leans up the cell door as he watches Graham pack up your clothes from the chest of drawers. He runs his hand over his face and says: “Did you hear? The police arrested the wife last night. Apparently, they uncovered CCTV footage showing her behind the wheel, not him. What a bloody mess.”

Their voices trail off as they slam the door shut behind them.

What? I don’t understand. You weren’t driving? You really didn’t do it and now you’ll never get the chance to prove it. I should have known you were telling the truth. I hope you can forgive me for doubting you. Please believe me when I say that if walls could talk Jamie, I would tell you that I’m sorry.

Short Story
7

About the Creator

Caroline Craven

Scribbler. Dreamer. World class procrastinator.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  1. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (7)

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  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    😱😱😱😱😱😱😱 Those poor boys 😭😭😭😭😭😭

  • Donna Fox (HKB)10 months ago

    Caroline, I love the narrative voice you gave the jail walls. It feels comforting and friendly, like an old neighbour just observing everyday life. I also like the way you personified the wall, making them feel more relatable. That scene with the pictures of the boys really tugged at my heart strings. 💕 I totally suspected the wife the whole time!!! But I love the mystery you built around it! My heart is broken for Jamie though, I didn’t see that ending coming! This was an intense, heartbreaking and encapsulating story Caroline! So well done!

  • Joe O’Connor12 months ago

    This was an intense read Caroline! I like the sense of voice your wall has, and the responsibility it feels it has to keep a watch on Jamie. Well done:)

  • Caroline Janeabout a year ago

    Oh my... devastating! I was utterly hooked from the opening line. Great job. Congratulations to you!

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago

    Heartbreaking!!! Congratulations on runner-up!°

  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    Omg this is masterful. I couldn’t look away even in parts where I kinda wanted to!! 😩

  • Shanon Normanabout a year ago

    well written with a bittersweet plot twist...

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