I want to be in prison this Christmas, in a cell so small it cannot feel empty. I want to be unpersoned, unmade, made small and forget my name, which is Daniel, an anagram of denial. I want to bunker, wait out the season, trade blows and discover just how much the soul can fold. I want to make small talk with killers, traffic contraband, watch sports and cheer for both teams.
I want to go inside for a crime which is petty, of which I alone am the victim. Something that proves I am my own worst chemistry: I’ll trespass in the house I grew up in; commit fraud against the self and tell lies that change shade, yield their form like tap water to a drain.
When I was born, I was made of glass. On my edges, the doctors cut their hands. Mum had to have an emergency cesarean, twelve stitches; that was the first time I drew blood.
‘You were both so fragile,’ Dad told me when I was old enough. ‘We were very lucky.’
When I said I was sorry, Mum was quick to say it wasn’t my fault; I was her little miracle, you couldn’t have the good without the bad, nobody blamed me, her body would heal.
‘I understand,’ I said.
By then I had turned to stone but could still be seen through.
When I’m in prison, I’ll make something up and say I am innocent of that, too.
I want to be in prison for Christmas and receive no gifts, no letters, no phone calls. I want to be unreachable, an ivory tower in my top bunk. Where there’s a rule set for how to be a man, how to act, where respect comes from having run out of luck. I want to forget my mother’s voice, the way she would whistle along to bird song even in winter, when all the birds had fallen silent.
‘Nothing,’ Mum called it, the song she would sing when she thought she was alone.
In spring, that same nothing would visit the garden, sometimes in pairs.
In prison, I want to hear no melodies, no carols. I want there to be no tree, no decorations; goodwill for no men. I want to sleep through the church service and wake up in January; be beaten, shanked, savaged. I want to do time and have time do me. Measure the days in the way one might do a stone before it is lobbed.
When I was ten I nearly drowned because I told my swimming instructor that I was strong enough to go in the deep end but I was never strong enough. The instructor had to save me with everyone watching.
In prison, I want no one to try and save me: no CO with kind eyes, no pastor with God in his pocket. Where every time someone dies, someone else is waiting to take their place. I want to run in gangs, extort, give myself to group think, be legion, mob, mass. I want to watch a man walk free through the front gate, catch the moment the convict falls off him and know that he’s family, that he’ll always be with us, and us with him.
I want to be miles from the small lot where Mum and Dad are buried, where the gravestones all huddle together and lean in the direction of home.
Dad told Mum that if he went first, he would wait for her, risking limbo, and Mum said she would do the same.
They died together: neither of them would haunt the other.
In prison, I will stay up late hoping for ghosts. I’ll wait for a door to slam or for the air to grow cold, but no ghosts will come. Everything I feel will arrive cut, mixed, tainted like cell block gear, the letter from home that arrives opened.
I want to be in prison on Christmas Day and wake late, lose track, have nothing to look forward to and then be told that my family has come to visit. They’ll arrive after lunch and sit at the best table, near the window. They will buy snacks from the vending machine, laugh loudly, drink coffee.
The guard will collect me from my cell and point at the table where my family are sat and I will say there has been a mistake.
‘I don’t know these people and they don’t know me.’
My family will share jokes, wear gaudy jumpers and paper hats, pull crackers, wait with arms open.
‘You’re sure?’ the guard will reply.
And I’ll say, ‘There must be another man in here with the same name as me. Simple misunderstanding.’
And that will be that.
I’ll let myself be locked back up, mistake surrender for retreat, boredom for God, forget that everyone I’ve ever loved is seventy percent water. I’ll tell myself again that I want to be in prison for Christmas, except I don’t, not really. Those hard, armoured men; I am nothing like them. But then in solitary, I’ll find a way to be flesh, rather than glass or stone. I’ll grant myself pardon, learn to listen to Mum’s nothing, be a version of my father free of guilt, a man of which they’d be proud; I’ll carry their names free of weight, say goodbye.
And when my term is done, I’ll emerge, throw off my prison threads, the hands that hold me down, and walk through the front gate changed, open. I’ll start over, be thankful, and find a way to begin again.
This was gripping, tragic, devastating. So well done.