Issue 5
Craig

Craig

Philby was surprised by the glossiness of prison. Before entering, he imagined it to be an untouched and dull place, purposely grim. But no, not at all, there was a sharp, reflective quality to the surfaces and a broadly positive atmosphere. It was full of vigour and fascination. He passed his valuables to a merry guard and marveled at the sheer cleanliness of the operation. 

        Philby could see his supervisor waiting behind bars. She was leaning against a wall, checking her nails, digging into one or two of them. When he told her how delighted he was by the glorious, bright spectre of prison, she smiled in her typical way, mouth clasped, making her as inscrutable as ever! They walked in silence all the way to the counselling room. Philby sat in one of the two opposing chairs and unraveled a rectangle of tin foil, checking with his supervisor if it was alright to munch a quick sandwich. He was nervous. This was his first day as a prison counsellor. Philby had completed his training only last week. His supervisor watered the plants in the room, straightened artwork, adjusted furniture to optimal angles, and told Philby his first client would be arriving shortly. It should last fifty minutes, no more, no less, she said. These were the boundaries. As she turned to leave, Philby saw her produce a crumpled packet of cigarettes and exhale deeply as if she were already outside, smoking in peace.  

        Philby had five minutes to wait. He wiped his mouth and crunched a mint. He thought about lighting a green candle on the table, but these burly prisoners could take offence, retch at the smell, making for an awkward beginning to the session. Philby’s aim was to create a nonjudgmental environment suited to the attainment of selfactualization. Just like the textbooks said.  

        There was a knock at the door, and a ravaged, redfaced guard, perfectly suited to the TV interpretation of prison brutality, shoved his client inside the room with wonderfully gruff and obvious disapproval. 

        It was Craig. Remarkably, it was Craig. 

        “Would you believe it. Take a seat, Craig. 

        “Do I know you, mate? 

It’s Philby! 

Philby? 

        “Look… 

        Philby squared his hands so that they framed his face, like a portrait, to jog Craig’s memory. When Craig showed no sign of recognition, Philby began pointing at himself, like a child in line to be picked for the school football team. 

        “I’m Taylor’s brother. You went out with her when you were fifteen. You practically lived with us for a year. 

        “Who the fuck is Taylor? 

        “Im her little brother. You must remember. Taylor was your first love, presumably. 

        “I don’t know what you’re on about, mate. 

        “Oh, come on. You used to lock me in the pantry, and I’d come out wearing mums aprons, with my face covered in flour, saying I was the ghost of Delia Smith. You had thick chunky hands that always smelled of cigarettes and you used to carry me upside down and take me into town. You had purple puma trainers and an orange puffa jacket and you swore, like all the time, every other word, my dad reckoned, and you were always trying to sneak me into 18certificate films when I was only 12! 

        “What the fuck are you on about? I’m afraid I don’t know you, mate. 

        “Alright, try this.” Philby cleared his throat. “We used to play cricket in my garden, in the dark, and you would bet what little money I had that you could hit the stumps in the pitch black, and you did, Craig, you did! You could bowl really fast, even though you said you hated cricket. And tennis, too. You said you hated tennis, but you broke into the school tennis courts and played with me; you were really good at that, too. 

        “I don’t know you or your sister, mate. You sound like a twat, to be honest. 

        “She was probably not your type, but you fell in love! My parents did not like it, but you could talk your way round anything. She’s doing well, by the way. Taylor, I mean. She’s married now, couple of kids, her husband works in finance, don’t ask me what he does, nobody in the family knows, even though we ask every time we see him. He’s not a patch on you! 

        “Lets get on, shall we, mate? You’re going off on one here. 

        “I suppose I knew you would end up here, everyone said it, but Taylor was mad about you and she loved how you looked out for me. You nearly suffocated me under ten cushions in the lounge once. I genuinely couldn’t breathe for a few minutes, but I knew you wouldn’t kill me because you wanted to lock me in the pantry and see the zombie Delia Smith come out and give a cookery lesson again, because it really made you laugh. You had such a good laugh, it made me feel great. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. In our training, you have to remember your past; there’s a lot of digging about, figuring out your issues, your weak spots, so that when you’re working, like now, you know what areas you’re sensitive to. And, when a client raises similar issues, you can take a breath, knowing it might be difficult for you, but you try your best not to let it get in the way of selfimprovement. 

        “Whatever, mate. I think you’ve lost it. 

Why are you in here, anyway? Armed robbery, assault? You were nice to me, but not to many others. 

        “Forgery. Bank notes. 

        “Clever. Victimless crime. That’s a relief. Have I changed much? 

        “How would I know? 

        “I haven’t aged well, I don’t think. I wanted to be you for a long while. You were my hero, in the archetypal sense. That’s something I figured out, in the training. I was a bit weird, wasn’t I? Let’s face it. Taylor worried about the bullying; she probably didn’t know that my lack of parental emotional connection also played a role in my downfall. That’s something I picked up in training, too; you explore these kinds of things. Sometimes, when I got a bit negative and I wasn’t too happy with myself, you got angry and told me I could do whatever I wanted, you squeezed my hand really hard and asked me if I could feel anything. I screamed loudly, if I remember correctly, because I was in a lot of pain. You said, ‘See, you’re not fucking dead yet, matey. You’re alive and you can live however way you want, as long as you want.’ 

        “You’re mistaking me for someone else. 

        “It’s you, Craig. Come on, you must know it’s you. 

        “Why must I? It doesn’t sound like me. I never helped anybody. 

        “I talk about you all the time, I know you. When you and Taylor split up, after you went to youth detention, I struggled to get over it. I found your deodorant and sprayed it on my coat and jumpers to smell like you. 

        “That’s fucking weird. 

        “You never minded me being weird. You took me under your wing for no reason whatsoever. 

        “Must have been something in it for me. I’m not like that. Not got good bones, mate. 

        “You’re the most decent man I know. 

        “Now you’re taking the piss. 

        “I was beaten up. 

        “Who by? 

        “Some people who didn’t like me very much; so they hit me over and over. 

        “I’m sorry. 

        “You weren’t there. 

        “No. 

        “But it wasn’t your fault, Craig. 

        “I’m not Craig. 

        “You need to know it wasn’t your fault. 

        “I think you’ll find it probably was; most things are. 

        “You’re not happy. What do you want to change? 

        “For fucks sake. I want to change everything, mate. I want to go back to my fucking birth and start again, from scratch, change my first fucking breath if I could. 

        “You haven’t liked your life so far? 

        “No. And you’re here to remind me, aren’t you? 

        “Yes. 

        “Back from the fucking dead. 

        “Sort of. You do remember, then? 

        “I remember squeezing your hand. But you didn’t scream, you didn’t say anything. You were dead. Those boys did you, mate. 

        “No, you’re right. I didn’t scream that time. I was dead, albeit briefly. 

        “They did it and I was too late. 

But do you remember when you squeezed my hand before and told me I was not dead, that I could live as long as I wanted?” 

        “No. 

I think it was that experience, Craig. I think it was you who stopped me from dying. 

        “That doesn’t sound like me. Not in the slightest. 

        “Oh, but I think it does. Because that first time you squeezed my hand, I was so close to death and you brought me back to life. 

        “You’re fucking mad.’’ 

        “That’s why I’m here. To say thank you. To make you see who you are. 

        “What’s that, then? 

        “I told you, a hero. The best person in the world. 

        “Doubt that, mate. 

        “It’s all right, we’ve got plenty of time. These are weekly sessions. Fifty minutes. I can’t run over or I get in trouble. Your sentence is what, fifteen years? Trust me, Craig, we’ll get there, you’ll see. I’ve been training for a really long time.