For life: a novella in progress 8

Eight: October 2018

Pru was writing her third letter to the lads in jail. The Frack Free Three they called them, and she’d ordered her Free the Three T-shirt, which she’d wear with pride and outrage. Not that it was T-shirt weather anymore but she could layer up underneath and as winter drew in, they’d all have to. One of the men claimed to have worn seven up at the gates of hell but she wasn’t planning to beat that or she’d be too solid to jiggle when her leg allowed.

   The letters had to be A5 for some reason and she supposed the lads wouldn’t be the first to read them, in case she was sending details of the escape plan. She’d emailed the details to people who’d be writing too – like young Gem in London and Manda who lived somewhere expensive where they had vegan cafés. Chance would be a fine thing in Lancs.

   To the victims of a miscarriage of justice! She underlined her heading. I am no less angry as the days go by. You have a right to be angry too but I know you’ll be model prisoners, the three of you. You’ll be making the best of it. I hope knowing you did the right thing gives you peace. We’re all so proud of you. The crime is fracking and by jailing you so unjustly they’ve made a good few protestors out of people reading the news and crying, “What!” but it can’t be any fun and I’m sure you miss your loved ones like they miss you. What you did was brave and it inspired people. You’re still inspiring us now and they’ve got another think coming if they think we’ll give up now. Lots of love, Pru. (One of the old girls at PNR) x

   She hoped that was legible because her handwriting wasn’t as neat as it used to be now her hand didn’t hold the pen as still as it should. They’d be getting hundreds of letters and quite right too. That was more than conscientious objectors like her Uncle Jim ever had in the war, unless you counted hate mail through his letterbox and the odd bit of saliva aimed his way in the street. Pru remembered growing up with him as her favourite, and a kind of stand-in dad after hers died of T.B. And how in the family people were proud of him – same as Uncle Ted who was in the Navy, same respect. There was a difference, though, because the Navy fired torpedoes and guns and Uncle Jim wouldn’t use a weapon against anyone, so she thought the biggest hero was him.

   She’d like to think the young had learned from all the wars the West tangled with, and all the mess that followed. Gem was light years ahead of the mum she’d been at that age. The young joined everything up and it was heartening.

   Pru didn’t dare dwell on the appeal against the sentence that had put the lads behind bars when they should be on that spare plinth in Trafalgar Square. There was always hope and she didn’t let it go but at the same time it was a mistake to focus too hard on miracles or the law. She hadn’t believed they’d actually start drilling but they said that would begin tomorrow in spite of everything – the crowds, the celebs and the injunction on top of the evidence.

   And she’d be there for the darkest day because they had to face that together. No other way.      

   Looking around the living room with all its clutter – years of the Ecologist, books she started but didn’t always find time to finish, and letters she might as well keep now as a record of who she was and cared for – she supposed she should do some sorting, find some surfaces, neaten things up a bit and shake a duster round the place. That’d please Ed, who was always saying, “Isn’t it getting a bit much for you to manage?” when she could keep it spick and span if she wanted to. If she thought that was the best use of the time she had left.

   She’d just finished her third letter when a message popped up on her new ethical phone – from Gem, with a photo of Skye. Pru chuckled at the child’s plaits, which stuck out at angles and were no tidier than her old writing desk.

   What a hopeless mother!  Does she look like a naughty girl in a cartoon? x

   Pru’s fingers were a bit slow and stiff for messaging but it was quite fun.

   Cute as ninepence I’d say. I had bendy ones too when I was a girl. Ma called them my pipe cleaners. X She knew how to add a green heart; Gem had taught her all the tricks.

   Are they really going to start this week?

   Until the first earthquake. I give them two days.

   I’ll write to the prison tonight. Are you allowed to send in your ginger cake?

   With a breakout kit baked inside? A file for the bars and a rope to swing over the walls? Haha.

   Gem told her to enjoy her day off because she had to have one now and then. So she put a cassette on, of Vaughan Williams and his lark, which would do nicely for her funeral. Good job she never switched to CDs in spite of Ed’s remarks because they were all piled up on landfill now. It was funny that Gem and Mia and the other young ones received her just as she was when her own family wanted to update her relentlessly, every birthday and Christmas. The latest this and handiest that. And it all became old hat in five minutes, obsolete, waste.

   Gem could probably write her biography after all the chatting they’d done that summer but the lass kept her own story to herself. No mention of Skye’s father so Pru didn’t ask. She had resolved a while ago not to use her old age as an excuse for sticking her nose in where it wasn’t required.

   While the lark ascended she found a duster she hadn’t meant to bury, and started with the photos. In the black and white wedding one she appeared to be laughing her head off at something Tom said and she wish she could track it down, whatever it was, and laugh again, because that would help her to bring back the sound of his laugh, which she couldn’t hear anymore, not properly. Her mother didn’t think it was decent or something; brides were meant to be demure. But the picture was her favourite. It made her happy. And so had Tom, mostly. There had been moments when they scraped against each other, but that was life. When young Mia brought her girlfriend along, she couldn’t help wondering whether, on account of them both being school teachers with nice manners, their garden would be all roses without the thorns. Because for all her spirit  as Tom called it, what he shared with her wasn’t equality. These days young women like Gem expected that, and quite right too. And thanks to social media they knew more about the world than she ever had, which made living hard but at least they knew exactly what had to change.

   She was still holding the photograph, lingering over it as if she’d never seen it before. The truth was she didn’t really remember Tom at twenty-two, with those boy’s cheeks that thinned and dropped in the end. Not the way she remembered his hand on his stick: the shape of his fingers, his nails cut straight across, the raised veins and brown spots, the yellow and purple and thin white. Or the hang of his trousers, loose over the backside that used to be so soft and firm she didn’t suppose a baby’s could be… what? More charming.  

   “Tom, love,” she said, “I can’t recall much but I haven’t forgotten your bum!” Not that she’d seen it before the wedding night. In the old days she stuck to the rules!

   She hadn’t talked to him for a long time – as if she’d decided he was best off not knowing what was going on in the world, and up the road. “Still miss you,” she told him, so quietly she didn’t hear it herself.

   “Is it teatime?” he used to ask on a Sunday afternoon, any time after half- three, however many roast potatoes he’d eaten for lunch. She’d make him wait but now she didn’t put much store by the kind of time the clock showed.

   Her leg was being a nuisance today but it wouldn’t stop her swinging her way into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

Three days later, she felt like the most popular person on the ward. Everyone rang in case she hadn’t heard, but Gem was first.

   “Hey Pru, are you outside the prison? You must be so excited!”

   She didn’t like to spoil things so she just said, “No, I couldn’t make it. Are they out?”

   “Any time now. I’m keeping an eye on Twitter. No one minds at work – they all want to see. I can’t believe it – justice for a change! I feel like standing up and telling everyone on the bus.”

   “Wonderful!” said Pru, and she thought she might cry. “I shall imagine you and Skye doing a freedom dance when you get home.”

   Someone rattled in on a trolley and the loudest, breeziest nurse seemed to be trying to make the place sound like a holiday camp. Pru preferred the shy young Romanian who put a hand to his heart when he showed her his kids.

   “Where are you?”

   “Oh, in hospital. I had a silly fall on Sunday and they kept me in because I live alone.” No point in mentioning the heart that wasn’t behaving itself. “I’ll be home soon, like the Frack Free Three.” She heard in the silence that Gem was worrying now. “We needed good news here.”

   Gem knew what she meant.

   “If the tremors get bigger, they’ll have to stop, won’t they? For good?”

   “Or a quake can damage the well and then all those toxic substances they use down there can leak into the water supply.” Pru had raised her voice in case anyone needed educating.

   “Don’t! How is this even legal?”

   Pru heard Skye needing Mummy. “You go, love. I’ll let you know when I’m freed like the lads!”

   “I’ll call you tomorrow, Pru.”

   She said there was no need. Soon Enid called, elated, and told her to make sure she saw the six o’clock news. She promised not to miss it. And her T-shirt hadn’t even arrived yet. She couldn’t waste it so she’d have to get a fabric pen and edit the slogan from a demand to a cry of triumph.

   It was lovely to think of families reunited. She felt a bit weepy, and tired. It didn’t suit her being out of action and if they didn’t discharge her tomorrow she’d vote out with her feet.

Part Nine will be posted on Friday 8th March at 5:30 UK time.

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