[Inspected & cleared]
DANIEL JAMES PENMAN
Her Majesty's Prison, Rother Valley
Hey up Scotty
Mam gid me your address. She came to see me last week and it were in her purse all folded up tight behind a picture of dad. I new I had to get in touch brother as soon as I saw the state she were in. She dint have your number. Tryin to use a phone round heres a totel bastard anyway so that's why your holdin this letter. I rit another a few months back for somebody else so maybe Im gettin the hang of it now?
I know you and mam dont talk nowadays. But you need to know shes not lookin so good. Worn out and stick thin and sickly. Shes got that yeller look to her like when uncle Patricks liver went. Even her eye balls look like cig staines. Dont think shes eatin much. Definitely drinkin though. She had that back of a pub stink. Like those barlywine mornins when we were kids. It brang a lot back mate. That reek.
Mam made a mistake Scotty. And now dads dead. That means she cant ever say sorry to him. Just think about that for a minute. Imagine needin to say sorry but you cant. So instead you just get the pain. Can you hate someone in pain? Im not sure I can cos I know what that pain feels like. We both carry it about with us like guilty humps on our backs. Its always there. Always.
When we were nippers it were like mam and dad were these champions of the world! They looked after everythin so we could fuck about. Climin trees. Makin dens. Playin docters and nurses with Tracy Keen next door! (remember her? Still in junior school and buddin). But there comes a day when you realise thats all crap. And then youve got to come to terms with your mam and dad bein as cluless as everybody else. And then its like a pop pop pop of bubbles burstin.
First they tell you theres no father christmas. Then theres no god or baby jesus. You go in hospital and you quickly learn all the docters are just the little runts from school who had there hands stuck up in the air all day. Coppers just want to throw you in jail and the priminister really dunt give a fuck about you or your family. Not no poor bastard off Cattercliff estate any way.
SO! Whats life like in London brother? Picadilly square? Bright lights? Flash motors? I never got round to goin. Never really got round to goin any where to be honest. People up here always say theyd never live in London but what they mean is there too shit scared to leave Rother Valley!
You looked diffrent when I saw you at dads funeral. Changed. More serious. (Well it were a serious day I suppose.) But also more content like. Your missus looked nice. Very pretty but in a proper way. Not cheep or owt. It were a shame I couldnt meet her properly and speak to you both. Even if just for a minute.
But things arent so easy when your chained to a prison screw. He were bein a right twat that day an all. At least I got to hear your speech for dad before I got dragged back. Yeah right glad I heard that. You did really well gettin up and speakin like that Scotty. Everybody were cryin and snifflin. Even the blokes. It took it out of you though dint it? You looked broken in bits by the end. Thats what did it for me. Seein you choked up like that. The tears just started pourin down my cheeks. They felt really old them tears. Like water from the quarry.
I were glad of that speech cos my memorys of dad arnt so good. I never had that same bond with him. Youve said as much your self. He were a lot harder on me than you. When I think back its his voice I hear in my head. Shoutin at mam usually about me. "The little twat! Swine! Too fuckin wild. Wont be told! Trouble at school. Trouble with with next door! He's gonna drag Scotty down an all! Mark my words!" Every day the same tune. Not really suprisin how things turned out eh?
Truth is most of the time I were just doin what others told me. The stuff they dint have the bottle to do themselfs. Shimmyin up the roof of the pakishop. Postin dogshit thru the Baldwins letter box. Puttin Mr Lazenbys window through with that airgun you kept hid under your bed. My problems always been I cant say no to a dare. I mean thats why Ive ended up in here in it? But its still MY problem mate. Im not blamin anyone but me. If you learn anythin from boxing its when your flat on your back youve only one bloke to blame.
Mind you. We did all right the night of the ABA semis at Cattercliff W.M.C. dint we? Its still crystal clear in my mind. That old hall were packed to its rafters! From inside the ring I could see mam and dad sat next to uncle Patrick and aunty Sheela all smokin away like chimneys. The place were hangin thick in smoke! It were a wonder we could box more than a round without coughin our selfs senseless!
Uncle Patrick hadnt turned yeller yet and mam were smilin and holdin half of stout. I saw dad talk into mams ear as he clapped and I new he were sayin somat like "Dont get upset when he gets banged out". I remember bitin down hard on that old gumsheld and knowin just knowin that I were gonna win that night. Even dad smiled when I had that lad down twice in the 3rd. I tell you Scotty that smile felt even sweeter than when the ref lifted my arm.
But what goes up must come down. Theres always the next day. You with your smashed up hands rapped in ice packs. Dad back to mutterin shit under his breath in the kitchen. Mam nursin another major hangover. I could feel everythin grindin back into the usual crap routine. The same shit Penman state of affares.
I could have fought all night Scotty. Knocked out who ever were put in front of me and it still wouldnt have changed a thing. And I couldnt stand it anymore. Thats why I fucked off. I had to.
But have you noticed how good things can grow out of bad. Like when you see the farmers spred shit on the fields. Its really all about how you look at things. Like on a beutiful day decidin if your gonna stand in the shadow or the sun. Or how all those xrays on your hands lit a spark somewhere in your head and off you went to uni. It led to a good job in a hospital in London takin xrays of other smashed up foke.
You see what I meen? Everyone thought movin in with Heather when I were just 16 were such a bad idea. Dont get me wrong there were some bad times especially just before the accident when the skag got out of control. BUT little Tyler came out of all that crazy mess dint he? And Im never standin in brighter sun than when Im with him.
I wish his mam would bring him thats all. Just once.
I have to keep my mind off all that. Mixin a bit with some of the others can help. Theres a bloke in cell [redacted] that everyone calls Albert. You know like Eienstien. I talk to him at meal times or when every body else is watchin telly. He were a professer at the uni over in Sheff before gettin pissed one mornin and havin some kind of nervus break down.
He drove his car around a playground in Mexboro with opera music blarin out. He killed two little kids before the coppers stopped him. He got a 7. Same as me.
When your inside you stop thinkin about what other cats got put away for. It stops matterin. You start buildin your own values I supose.
This is the sort of thing that Albert goes on about all the time. Always talkin about this bloke Neecher who thought people need to stop being cows and grow into lions so they can go it alone. Albert reckons everyone inside are mainly cows kicked out of the herd. So theyve had no choice but to grow into lions. Probly not the type Neecher had in mind though.
Most of the time in pompy I feel more a mouse than a lion. Scuryin around bottom of a cage. Sometimes I think about this thing that happened at school. I dream it an all. More nightmares really.
Remember Tony Machen? He were between our years so below you but above me. One dinner time I went in to town with him and some other kids. Cant remember why I ended up taggin along. Probly just wanted to be seen with some older lads. He leads us all down to this little petshop above the market. Theres these puppys in the window and inside the place is alive with birds cherpin and other animal noises and smells of sawdust and piss.
Tony walks up to the man and asks about these mice. Theres loads of little furry animals in cages behind the counter. One rows full of white mice with little pink eyes. The shopkeeper wants ten bob a mouse so Tony tells all of us to coff up our dinner money. Ive 30p or somethin. Enough for a pack of crisps but I hand it over anyway.
Tony ends up with enough for 3 mice. The bloke asks no questions and fishs them out from a cage and puts them in a cardboard box with holes in it. Im blown away that kids can just buy animals like that.
We walk back to school through the park and I see Tonys got this funny look on his face. Blank. Like that school clock that never worked. We stop at the sand pit and kneel down. All of us in a circle. All of us wantin to have our turn holdin and pettin the little things. I get my turn and the rascal runs up my sleeve and I panic a bit but Carl Jackson manages to get him by puttin his hand up back of my shirt. So were laffin and muckin about maybe 10 mins or so until it looks like we might be late back to school.
Then Tony stands up and I notice hes dug a deep hole in the sand pit. "Giz em ere" he says holdin the box open and we drop em jently back in. I get this drained feelin when I see the hole but that crule peice of shit Richard Lonegan starts sniggerin. Tony dumps all 3 mice into it and they start scamperin about down there puttin there paws on the sides and lookin up at us. Then while we all just watch Tony sweeps a pile of sand into the hole with the side of his foot. And like that there gone.
Carl Jackson says "Come on we got to go". His voice sounds like how my legs feel. But Tony tells us to "wait". Hes starin at where that hole had been and I think hes regretin it! He wishes he hadnt done it! Im just about to throw myself down and start diggin the poor bastards out when this little nose pushes up through the sand. Then those pink eyes and a tiny mouth gaspin and full of grit.
"Here they cum!" Tony shouts and I realise hes done all this before. Hes grinnin ear to ear as he kicks another pile of sand over its tiny head. Now another of the mice brakes through and Tony and Richard both laff and kick more sand over it. Carl Jackson has already started walkin away and I follow him listenin to the 2 behind me shoutin "Here! Theres one! Av it!" We can hear them stampin and jumpin on the sand and I see Carl Jackson start to run back towards school with his hands clamped to his ears.
At school I tryed to work out what had just happend. What I had just been part of. But I couldnt. It were like foldin a sheet of paper in my brain so tightly you couldnt fold it any more. All I new were I couldnt make it disappear completly. No matter how small and tight I folded.
I think about them mice. I think that petshop mustve been like prison to them. Funny and unnatral. They probly longed to get free of them cages. But they had no idea how crule and evil outside can be.
Albert lends me these books about the world. Philosophy he calls it. I struggle to understand them to be honest. You know me and books. But he says to just keep readin and bits will stick. I dunno. Just cos I understand this place is one massive mouse cage doesn't mean Im not a fuckin idiot.
It were my fault I raced that Capri down Valley Road at 80 m.p.h. It were my fault Id been drinkin and doing too much wizz. And now its my fault that young lass is dead. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Ive had to accept all this. Stop tryin to fold it up in my head until it wont fold any more. Best to keep everythin open so I can keep tryin to understand it. Just like them books Albert gid me.
I said some of this in another letter. The one I wrote for the dead girls mam.
She came to visit me. Last month. Dint say a word for the whole 30 mins. Just stared at me over the table a bit like how dad used to stare at me at brekfast. She had exactly the same eyes as the photo they showed me of her little girl. I just sat there knowin I deserved to feel every last drop of pain I were feelin. She were only 14 when they put her in the ground under all that soil. And like that shes gone.
When the screw leaned over and told her times up she took my letter from her purse and slowly ripped it into tiny peices in front of me. Then she walked away leavin all my words jumbled up on the table. The smilin cunt of a screw swept them into the bin.
Will try and write to her again. Eventually.
Write back? Call mam.
Love your brother.
[Inspected and cleared]
About the Author
Born in Rotherham (UK) in 1971, Johnny Gaunt left school with no academic qualifications. He worked as a builder, a door-to-door salesman and on a railway gang before going to college and then on to Sheffield University to study English Literature & Philosophy. He is now completing an MFA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.