The bell rang for the end of recreation and tally count of heads throughout Barlinnie. Prisoners milked it, flinging down the last domino in disgust as if it was a surprise, potting the last ball at pool, or tried to finish a game of table tennis with renewed grunts and whacks of plywood bats. Slowly, they shuffled past prison guard Paul Burnie towards their cells. Aged twenty-nine, he was stocky and soft-bellied, with a buzz cut, the type that drank ten pints after playing fitba with his mates and woke up in the morning without a hangover, smiling with a daft story swirling in his head. On a double shift, and a hot, hot day, sweat and the stink of the prison clung to his uniform as it did his charges, who were much the same age as him. He hitched his fingers through his belt and automatically fingered his key, making the cluster of smaller ones chime. They gave access to the office and library and gym. He waited and stood and wearied for them to pass before him like a many headed beast retired to slumber and for the rituals of day to play out as they always did and he could get home to his wife, shower, and wash the day off him, and his real life could begin.
‘Congratulations on your wee baby daughter, said Thompson, smirking.
Burnie had been there long enough to know Thompson was worth the watching. Cannon headed and hitting fifty, but with the gymed body of a thirty-year old it wasn’t his physique that caused unease. There were younger, fitter and much physically stronger men than Thompson. Some of them real psychos, but Thompson knew how to deal with them. He had the smarts and the run of the wing. What he said went.
‘Cheers,’ Burnie whispered, scowling and waiting for him to move on. Never give anything away. Never give a prisoner personal information to play with had been drummed into him in his training. Never get friendly. It was a reframing of the old stitch in time adage. He wasn’t going to fall into the trap of asking how he knew or what he knew. ‘Move on.’
Softly Thomson smiled and rested his hazel eyes on Burnie’s and mused. ‘Nice that. But you’ll be stuck for a bit of extra cash now, eh?’ And he wandered away with slow measured steps, pausing and turning his head to look back at him and nodded as if he knew him vaguely.
Sue was feeding the wain when he got home and half-watching the widescreen.
‘How’s my wee girl been?’ Burnie asked, splattering the baby’s head with kisses and cooing noises and drinking in the softness of her skin and the smell of her.
‘Nightmare,’ said Sue. Her hair was like castoffs from a seagull’s nest and her skin the same hue. She slouched across the leather couch in a short stonewashed denim dress. Her bare feet, pink painted toenails, her small slight frame and rosy cheeks made her seem like a child playing at being an adult. ‘She’s been sick and all she does is greet.’
Burnie lifted Samantha, his daughter to shoogle her, but the baby cried even more and he swiftly handed her back. ‘I’ll need to get a shower, anyway,’ he said.
Sue dipped her shoulder and cooried the baby and it settled onto her breast and began to feed. Paul bent down and untied the laces on his shoes, kicking them off and picking up the remote from the couch beside her. He flicked through to the Sky Sports channel, looking for football.
She shook her head. He could see from the expression on her face that she wasn’t happy. ‘Whit?’ he said.
‘You’re going for a shower and you’ve turned the telly over. And you know I can’t stand football.’
He unbuttoned his shirt and balled it up, flinging it on the couch beside her. ‘I’ll no be that long. And it’s no as if you were watching anything. There was nothing on but the news.’
‘Aye,’ she said, rubbing the child’s soft downy head. ‘That’s no the point.’
He leaned over and placed a smacker of a kiss on the baby’s head. The remote was held out as a peace offering. Stepping out of his trouser, his hand went over his Y-fronts and he shook his cock through the material. ‘I’ve still got it yeh, know.’ His cock jumped a little and he flashed her, pulling his waistband down to give her a mock leering look and laughing.
She laughed with him. ‘Aye, you have, but I’m not sure whit. And I’m sure it’ll be staying there a while, until this one’s at least sixteen.’ Flicking through the channels she paused and left the STV news on. ‘Did you hear about that Northern Rock?’
‘To be honest,’ he said. ‘You’re not my type. I prefer a woman with a fuller figure.’
Her guffaw made him laugh.
‘Not your type,’ she said. ‘Sure if I hadn’t felt sorry for you, you’d be still living at your ma’s, the oldest virgin in Clydebank. I certainly wouldn’t make the same mistake again.’
‘Nah,’ he said, absent-mindedly, scratching his balls and looking out the veranda doors. They lived on the second floor in a one-bedroom modern apartment near the canal. It cost more than they could afford and at the end of most months, even with overtime. He wandered through to the bedroom, and turned the shower to cold. He shivered when under the water but after a few seconds his body adapted and the water seemed more lukewarm than cold. By that time he was stepping out of the shower, a fluffy towel in his hand. He rummaged through the drawers and pulled on a pair of Scotland football shorts with the blue diamond pattern down the side. It was too warm to put on a T-shirt.
The baby was dozing when he went back through and she was watching Emmerdale. He looked at the remote beside her bum and went to pick it up, but the way she turned her head and stared had him backtracking.
‘You had dinner, yet?’ Burnie asked.
‘No,’ she said.
‘You know where the kitchen is.’
He took a step in that direction, dithering. ‘I suppose we could get a Chinky.’ Turning to face her, he grinned. ‘You fancy it?’
She looked down at the baby’s sleeping face. ‘I’m not that bothered.’
‘Chicken curry, fried rice, chips and a portion of chicken balls with barbecue sauce. We could share it.’
Stroking the baby’s head as it mewed and opened its eyes to cry. ‘I suppose that means I get a chicken ball.’ Sue smiled. ‘You want me to order it in?’
‘Nah, just as quick going down and picking it up.’ Now he’d come up with the idea Burnie was even hungrier and anxious to feed his face. ‘I’ll jist nip doon to the bank first.’
Samantha started screaming and Sue held her tighter, rocking her and rubbing her back, but the baby shrieked louder. She tried putting the baby to her breast but it wouldn’t feed. It’s face purple with fury and legs kicking.
Burnie left and came back into the living room dangling the car keys, wearing a white cotton T-shirt with a red Tennent’s insignia and a pair of Adidas Samba on his feet. Sue shook her head and stood up facing him the child’s screams a backdrop to their conversation.
‘That’s whit I was saying earlier,’ she said. ‘You might have a bit of trouble at the bank. I seen it on the news. With that Northern Rock people have been emptying the bank machines. Trying to take all their money out of their accounts. It’s crazy. Some of the petrol stations are shutting, they’re sold out. People have been stocking up on food. You cannae get a pint of milk unless you go to Asda.’
Burnie blew out his cheeks and laughed. ‘I don’t want a pint of milk.’ He put on a stupid face and mocked a Fu Manchu accent. ‘I wan chiken curry and fly lice.’
The baby was sick on Sue’s cheek and after a few seconds smiled.
‘I’ll leave you girls to it then. Don’t worry about the bank thing; I’ve no got enough money in there for a cat to piss on.’