Nothing rang quite so unpleasant for her as the sound of footsteps upon the floor. There was a comfort in the silence, a reliability that she could depend on and burrow into. The sound echoed down the hallway, racing to and fro creating a chorus of sound, a mask, hiding the number of people approaching. One, it was always one. Few people ever set foot at this depth and fewer still willingly. Brisk and light. They were the footsteps of authority, of power, of one who was accustomed to a certain deference in life. Arrogance in the heel. These were not the usual footsteps. Within the cell she shivered and pulled the tattered remains of the blanket closer as the bright lights outside flashed on. Her hopes for just another uneventful day in the care and hospitality of the penal institution were dashed. The footsteps stopped outside the cell, there was nowhere else for them to go.
“Where’s Derek?” she asked in her parched voice. It didn’t echo like the footsteps.
“Sadly Mr Mason passed in the early hours of this morning,” there was no trace of warmth or sorrow. “I am to be your new liaison” said a prim voice, he smelled of lavender and camphor, a distinctive cologne indeed. She mouthed the word liaison to herself, that was a new one.
“I remember his first shift with me, he was sweating like a dog in a kebab shop, he was handsome though in a boyish sort of way,” she shifted but remained lying on the cot, “Good man Derek.” A small sniff from the newcomer.
“So I am told. Age however has its way of defeating even the greatest among us,” she ignored his unspoken accusation.
“Always going on about his missus, Barb-”
“The board has deemed that given your…status, nourishment shall be provided on a bi-weekly basis with the exception of water to be given every two days,” a small ruffle of paper, “forcibly if necessary.”
“-from what he told me it was as sound a name as there was ever given. She had a sharp tongue see, but Derek had a thick skin. Never shy of a bit of banter was Derek-”
“I do however hold such measures as too lenient.” It seemed the newcomer had a sharp tongue of his own.
“-all my insults were just like water off a duck’s back for that man,” the scratch of pen on paper. Always paper and folders with these people, always policy and regulation. She found it all to be far too clinical, at least Derek had some passion.
“It seems you will miss Mr Mason” said the paper man.
“I don’t like having things shoved in my mouth, words least of all,” She sat keeping her back to the light and the newcomer “Shall we at least try to get off on the right foot?”
“You will find that I am not a man to be taken lightly,” he paused for what she assumed must be dramatic effect “Nor am I to be crossed,” he let the threat linger in the air. Cute.
“And he comes out of the gate swinging,” she smiled going to the small desk at the back of her cell. “I imagine everything you know about me has come out of some file somewhere,” moving a small pile of her own paper she found what she was looking for. “Subject displays violent tendencies, subject does not interact well with others, subject does not respond well to authority figures,” turning into the blinding lights she slipped the small card through one of the spaces in the bars. “I’m not a model prisoner,” she waited until she felt him take it and then sat back on the cot, “But it seems some folk like me.” A heartbeat passed and the sound of tearing card filled the space between them. She nodded to herself and kept her hands relaxed on her knees, no point in being sent to The Tank for a card. It was just piece of card.
“You are an aberration,” spat Papers. True enough she supposed, true enough.
“One of a kind,” she said with a brevity she didn’t feel. The remains of the card floated back into her cell, she ignored them.
“Ignorant too,” he noted, pen scratching at paper.
“You got a name or should I just make one up for you?” she turned trying to get a better look at her new tormentor, but the lights outside the cell obscured his features, casting him only as a living silhouette. One arm held a ream of papers whilst the other adjusted the spectacles on his face.
“You may address me as Mr Highdale,” he replied.
“May I? That is awful gracious of yourself Papers,” she rolled to face the wall, ready to be done with the conversation.
“Water every three days,” the pen made a note. Check out the brass set on Papers. She sat up again.
“I’ve suffered your kind before,” the paper man said nothing. “I tell you what kiddo, go and find yourself a bloke who isn’t shy of doing a little knife work. This place should be full of them,” she stood suddenly making a stabbing motion “Test that way, shiv the freak,” her thin arms grasped the bars, “And then fucking feed me. It’s quicker for the both of us,” she slumped back down pulling the blanket tighter and made herself as comfortable as she could. “Or don’t. Run your little tests and experiments. When you and these bars are nothing but dust I will let myself out. Don’t worry Papers, I’ll be sure to turn the lights off before I leave.” She yawned loudly.
“You sound very confident of that,” she could tell he was smiling.
“And you’re an idiot if you think it will play out otherwise. Send my condolences to Barb though, tell her I’m sorry but it doesn’t look like I will be able to make the funeral. Good man Derek, good man.” The pen scratched briefly once more and the lights went out leaving her with dancing after effects in the dark. The footsteps, if anything, were much more confident in leaving. Her fingers found a scrap of card, Rasputin, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Derek and Barbara. She let it fall back to the floor forgotten. Just a card, she had time.