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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Saturday Story - 'Give me a chance, will you?'

This story took a long time to evolve. The core was there for years, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. A reading in the Writers’ Circle helped to identify elements that wouldn’t work. After several rewrites, it was finally published in Costa TV Times in 2010.


Nik Morton

“It’s a challenge, Joseph,” the Governor had said.

            Just like the times before, Joe promised he would make an effort. 

            Now, weak grey eyes squinting in the summer sunlight, Joe Clancy stepped through the prison gate and looked back over his narrow sloping shoulders at the only home he knew. 

            Reluctantly he ambled away and hesitantly viewed the outside world again.

            At least inside he had status.  A regular.  The psychologist called him a recidivist, which didn’t sound as good.

            The deep rumbling sound of the prison door closing was as familiar as a nightmare.  Ever since being sent down he’d dreaded hearing that.

            He was already uncomfortable and sweating.  But he remembered his promise.  “I’ll really try this time, Governor.”

            It was easy to make that promise while safely locked in HM Prison, but once he faced the reality outside, the streets teeming with people, he was frightened.

            Of his fifty-four years, he’d done bird for thirty-two.  Mostly for petty crimes. He was not a violent man. Just a simple one.

            But he kept coming back because he needed the security.  True, it wasn’t like the old days. There was a much nastier sort of criminal now.  But he still yearned for the place and its predictable schedule.

            The “economic climate” was a problem. Why offer a jailbird a job when there were plenty of unemployed honest citizens?  Then, amazingly, he got the caretaker’s job at Wetherington Warehouses.

            Soon there was a spring in his step, and he held up his head with pride.  He locked offices, cleaned toilets, and did an hourly fire and security check.  He was left alone, and nobody bothered him.

            The pull of his old home, the prison, lessened.

            Then, one morning, he was confronted at his boarding house by two detectives.  His emotions were suddenly scrambled. A familiar flock of butterflies gyrated in his stomach. Here was the prospect of going back, surely?  The reasons why didn’t much matter.

            He soon realised that he had been hired as a scapegoat.  Possibly it was an insurance swindle. He didn’t care.  They’d done him a favour, by giving him a chance to serve another prison sentence.

            However, the judge claimed the prosecution had produced insufficient evidence.

            Joseph was staggered.  “But, your Honour!” he protested.  “You can’t let me go!  I don’t want to be free!”

            The judge leaned over solicitously.  “I have studied your rather unique record, Mr Clancy, and I am of the opinion that you still haven’t been able to come to terms with life outside prison walls.”  He shook his white-wigged head.  “I urge you to try.  I’m sure that, given time, you’ll find an honest niche in society.”

            Trembling, Joseph left the court, eyes downcast.  The other accused people sitting in the corridor looked enviously at him.  If only they knew!

            “Excuse me, Mr Clancy...” A woman’s quiet, gentle voice.

            He backed off, risked a glance.  The blonde woman was about thirty. She didn’t have a wedding ring but the mark on her finger suggested that at some time she had worn one. Her blue eyes showed concern. For him?  Surely not?

            “My name’s Mrs Donovan - Lynda... I’m your new probation officer,” she explained, brushing aside a stray wisp of hair from her flushed cheek.

            He lowered his gaze.  “I don’t want to talk,” he murmured.  Turning, he hurried for the entrance.

            But Lynda kept up.  “Joe, give me a chance, will you?” 

He paused at the door to let a barrister in. 

“Anyway,” she persisted, “I’m going past your digs.  I’ll drop you off.”

            He couldn’t be rude. She meant well. She obviously didn’t know he was a hopeless case.  Most of the other probation officers had tried with him, and failed.

            “All right.  But no fancy sneaky questions, all right?”

They approached her Ford Escort.  “Here we are, Joe.  No sneaky questions - promise!”

            Then he noticed a movement on the back seat.  He froze, hand on the door-handle.  A little girl, about five years old, in a pretty blue dress. Blonde hair almost reached her waist.

            He let go of the door and was about to go round to the front passenger seat. 

            “Don’t mind my daughter, I had to pick her up from playschool early today.”  Lynda opened the rear door for him. “Go on, she won’t bite!”

            “My name’s Clair.”  The child held out a small hand.

            The door clicked shut and his world seemed confined, but he didn’t feel safe.  He was not good with relationships, of any kind. Joseph hunched into the seat’s corner and nodded curtly. “Joe,” he grunted, folding his arms and shunning her hand.

            As Lynda pulled out into the traffic, Clair said, “Are you really a bad man, Joe?”

            His lower lip trembled.  Sitting next to such innocence disarmed him. “I - I - Yes...” he finally managed, throat abnormally dry.

            “Well, you don’t seem so bad to me. I think I like you,” Clair declared.  Eyeing him sideways, she giggled, “You’ve got a big nose!”

            “Clair!” Lynda exclaimed.

            Joe smiled into the rear-view mirror.  “Clair’s right - I have.”

            Clair leapt up and grabbed the back of her mother’s seat, startling him.  “Mummy, can we stop at the park?”

            “Well, we’re dropping off Mr Clancy...”

            Clair’s face crumpled in disappointment.

Joe said, “It’s all right, Mrs Donovan - I’ll walk the rest of the way – it isn’t far...” Get out, be alone again, that’s what he wanted...

            His heart jumped into his mouth as Clair grabbed hold of his clammy hand.  “Come with us, Joe!”

            The car stopped and Lynda let her daughter out. They stood by the kerb, waiting. 

But he held back.

            “Come on, Joe,” Lynda urged, holding Clair’s hand. 

            If he had married, he’d have wanted a daughter just like Lynda.  He wondered what had happened to little Clair’s father – dead or divorced? Probably divorce, otherwise she would still wear the wedding ring. Unless she never married; one of those single mums who coped somehow... More than he did, cope... Whatever, Lynda was coping while holding down a job. He thought, God, why can’t I keep a job?

            He peered through the park railings.  The shimmering lake, the lush green grass and the sycamore trees. Birds were singing. Strangely, at this moment the open spaces did not seem to pose such a threat.  A little apprehensively, he clambered out of the car.

            Lynda slammed the car door after him, and it echoed in his memory like the prison doors.

            Clair ran up to him.  “You could be sort of part of our family,” Clair said seriously, arms akimbo.  “Like an uncle or something, couldn’t you?”

            He could almost hear his heart beating now.  “An honorary uncle.”  He glanced at Lynda for reassurance and she nodded, smiling. He said, “I - I’d be proud to be part of your family.”  He smiled as Clair turned and started taking small steps towards the lake.

            “Go on ahead,” Lynda suggested.

            ‘You’re sure?” he asked.

            “Yes.  Since her grandfather and father died, she hasn’t had a male figure in her life. You’ll be good for her, I think.”

            The butterflies in his stomach abruptly migrated and all he felt was a warm glow.  He might be good for someone, after all.

            Joe soon caught up with Clair.  She skipped along by his side. He breathed in the fragrant flowers and actually felt trusted again.

            This recidivist, he vowed, isn’t going back.


Copyright Nik Morton, 2014

My short story collection Spanish Eye featuring Leon Cazador, private eye in 22 cases is
published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

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