by James

Five in the morning and he was awake. It was the postman’s fault, eighteen years up with the sparrows, and he carried his training through into the cell they shared together. John never worked out was it the postman woke then broke wind lovingly and lingeringly, or was it the wind came first and that’s what woke him?

Either way, it always came next, the man murmuring, ‘How’s that Cynthia? You like that?’

Five in the morning and he was free of the postman. He had swapped one cell for another, this one with a single bed and a wardrobe, both of them taking one entire half of the room, an unpadded wood chair and white sink beneath flat plain mirror cluttering the other half.

The postman in his head, telling John that Cynthia never moved or made a sound as he got up and dressed, dead to the world she was, but sure could she bitch about him waking her when he came home from the bookies. When the postman said it again – dead to the world – and then began his cackle, John threw back the blanket and rose.

He pulled on his jeans and took the family size of supermarket own brand cornflakes from his larder in the wardrobe. Barefoot he went down the corridor, lights clicking into harsh brightness a step after he’d passed, following him down the stairs and tracing his own footsteps the floor below to their shared kitchen.

The room was slick and Spartan as per rule number two on the laminated typed sheet stuck to the fridge, two dozen rules in over small font to make you squint, most of the page given over to a badly drawn hedgehog underneath a speech bubble that read “Sheriff Stan Says!”

Why was it a hedgehog? How about a special forces badger, or a mole who spent his hours off from the riverbank moonlighting as a Special Constable? John wondering that out loud day two in this place, a sea of blank faces looking back at him and he hadn’t said a word since.

He fetched a bowl and a spoon and set them down next to his box of cornflakes. From the fridge he took the pint of milk with the J scraped in the lid with the tines of a fork. Sitting at the table he turned the bottle slowly, squinting to be sure that the plastic seal at the top was still intact. He ate five small bowls one after another, sparing with the milk to stop them going soft. They were delicious.

First in the showers, and first out of the front door, going from the chill of the home he shared with eight other men recently paroled, out into the only slightly colder rest of the world. Spray in the air, misting down, settling in little globes on the raised bobbles of his sweater, slicking up the peak of the cap he pulled down across his eyes.

Day four of freedom and so far they had all come with rain.