Gently reaching down into the battered crib, Cassie pulled her baby’s blanket closer around her. She needed to make sure she was warm; these old cells were draughty, and she wasn’t entirely sure that there weren’t cockroaches scuttling around the edges of the small room.
It seemed strange, having something so precious in somewhere so grim. Even the mother and baby unit, a section of the prison for mothers with newborns where each cell had a cot and nurses were on standby, was no real place for a baby to be. Ivy was three months old now, and the only outside she’d ever seen was in the exercise yard, still walled into this awful place.
Still. Cassie wouldn’t have to worry about that for much longer.
The soft movement of her blanket roused Ivy who reached out for her mother, wanting a cuddle. Cassie smiled and picked up her child, holding her close. As if she’d ever say no to a quick snuggle!
‘Hiya, Ivy… Are you alright? Just wanted a quick huggle, hey? Don’t blame you. Everyone needs a hug in this place from time to time.Especially little babies like you! It seems so wrong, you being cooped up in here. You didn’t break the law. Well, neither did Mummy, but that’s a whole other complicated mess that you’re too little to understand yet…’
Cassie’s voice started to shake slightly. ‘Ivy, sweetie, just know that your Mummy loves you. With all her heart. No matter what happens, no matter where you are, even if… Even if I’m not there with you, to hold you and comfort you. I love you. Your Daddy loves you. We always, always will.’ She dabbed her eyes with the corner of the pink blanket, trying to put a smile back on her face. She didn’t want to worry Ivy, who was gazing up at her mother with a look of pure adoration. She didn’t pay any attention to the cell door opening. Cassie simply chose to ignore it.
‘Cassie. Come on. It’s time.’
Cassie swallowed the lump that had been stuck in her throat all morning, dreading this moment. ‘Please. Just five more minutes.’
‘Come on, love. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. You know the rules.’
‘But why? Why?!’
The governor sighed. ‘You know full well why. Three months old, then they’re handed out. There’s limited space on the MBU, and we have seven heavily pregnant women on the wings who’ll be needing a room in here soon. There has to be a limit.’
‘But I don’t understand why Matt can’t -‘
‘Cassie, we’ve been over this! Mr. Forest broke the law when he engaged in intimate relations with you; no matter what your status before either of you came here you were in his charge and he had a duty of care, he had responsibilities! The law simply won’t let Ivy go to him, not after that. Social services will have a lovely home for her -‘
‘Stop… Just, stop.’
Cassie looked into her baby’s eyes, trying to make the mental image engrave itself into her mind, trying to make the memory last. She knew that there was a good chance she would never see Ivy again, not until she was eighteen at least. Once children were taken in by the social they often became ‘lost’ to the system. Even if Cassie were let out next week completely cleared of all charges, Ivy could be anywhere.
‘Okay.’ Cassie reluctantly handed her baby over to the governor, before wearily collapsing onto her bed.
‘Go. Just… Just go.’
‘I am sorry, Cassie. I do wish it were different. You’ll be moved back onto the wing tomorrow.’
With that, the governor turned and walked out of the cell, taking Ivy with her. Cassie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Ivy was finally getting out of prison. If only her mother could follow her.
* * *
The nurses had taken pity on Cassie, as they did all mothers who’d had to hand over their children to social services, and had brought her breakfast to her cell. They were a lot kinder than the majority of the prison officers were. Grateful for the final few hours of privacy, Cassie had relished the solitude.
Brushing her teeth, she saw Ms. Sheeran open the cell door in the reflection of the mirror. Her heart sank; she wasn’t sure if she wanted to deal with her today. Sheeran had clearly lost any passion she once had for the job a long time ago, and simply viewed the inmates as evil warts on the face on humanity with no consideration for what some of the women in the prison may have been through. She just assumed she was better than all of them, simply because none of the mistakes she’d made through life hadn’t had such drastic consequences. Cassie had quickly discovered that the only reason she’d tried to warn her about Alicia was because she hated her over all the others!
‘For gnomes’ sake, Rivers! Aren’t you ready yet? Honestly, bone idle, the lot of you!’
Cassie rolled her eyes and finished brushing her teeth, trying to ignore the heavy feeling in her heart. She wasn’t looking forward to going back to share with Alicia.
‘Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant? You weren’t preggers when you got here, were you? Hang on… Have you been screwing a screw?!’
‘…No, Alicia. I must’ve been just pregnant when I got in here, I just didn’t know -‘
‘Oh, whatever! D’ya think I was born yesterday? I cannot believe you would go there, with one of them! You miserable little tart!’
Cassie had spent the next few months being taunted and teased by Alicia, and Lexi when she wasn’t doped up or in solitary. She’d spotted Kym, the red-head who’d come to see her on her first day, watching her with a look of concern a few times but hadn’t dared to go over. It would only be giving more ammunition to Alicia; she hated Kym purely for the reason that she was a lot, lot cleverer than her. Alicia didn’t like to feel second best.
Resignedly Cassie bagged up her belongings, being very careful with the two pictures she had of her baby and the teddy of her’s she’d kept, and trudged along behind Ms. Sheeran back to G Wing. Expecting to walk down the whole length of the corridor to the end cell she had shared with Alicia, she nearly bumped into the back of the prison officer when she stopped abruptly three doors from the end.
Dropping her bag on the floor, Cassie looked at the number on the cell door confusedly. ‘Um, Miss? This isn’t the cell I had before…’
Ms. Sheeran rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t you think I know that, girl? You’ve been moved.’
‘Moved? But, why?’
‘How should I know? Honestly! Now pick up your things and get in there!’
Roughly opening the door, Ms. Sheeran pushed Cassie through it before slamming it shut again.
Cassie could barely speak. ‘…Kym? What -‘
‘What are you doing in here? Well, I had a quick word with the governor. While she strictly doesn’t do favours for inmates, I gave her some good advice on growing potatoes a while back so she’s liked me since then. I mentioned that it might be an idea for you to share with me when you got back. Figured you might want some peace and quiet from Alicia and Lexi! Although strictly speaking, I told the gov that you’d been asking me about getting onto some of the education courses, and that I’d be able to help you better if you were in here.’
Kym grinned and winked at Cassie, who was still mostly speechless. She gazed around the cell, and suddenly noticed what was so strange about the room compared to Alicia’s.
‘There’s… There’s a proper desk. And shelves! And -‘
‘I know! Practically a palace in here, isn’t it? No ensuite, sadly,’ Kym laughed. ‘I’m on a higher band than Alicia is, cos I do work in the gardens and I’m doing a degree through the Sim University. Plus I try and keep my nose clean! It does have its privileges, as you can see. I’ve already cleared a space for your things on that shelf up there, plus some space on top of the best of drawers. Had to move a few of my books under my bed, but I don’t think the roaches will be too interested in ‘The Warlock of Palladia’!’
‘Yeah, I do like to. My degree’s in literature anyway. Keeps me busy! Everyone needs a hobby in here. I read. It’s a less destructive pastime compared to Alicia making people’s lives hell, and Lexi getting smacked off her face. Something to do! You can borrow them, if you like.’
Cassie could hardly believe her luck. As she’d munched on her french toast that morning, she’d been full of dread for the day ahead, going back to being targeted by Alicia all day. And now, here she was, in a far nicer cell with a far nicer room mate!
‘Kym, I… I don’t know how to thank you!’ Cassie found her voice, stumbling a little over her words in her gratitude. ‘You’ve saved me! I honestly didn’t know how I was going to cope, going back to sharing with… Well, you know. How can I ever repay you!’
Kym grinned. ‘You thank me now, but wait till I get you out into the gardens! You can repay me by helping me with the veggies! You’ll be getting your hands dirty!’
* * *
Cassie and Kym were soon getting on like a house on fire; Cassie had never thought she’d make such a good friend in prison, of all places! They’d spend lock up in a companionable silence, each buried in their respective books. Kym had roused a passion for reading in Cassie who’d not really read anything other than Jimmy Sprocket with Maria since failing High School. It wasn’t just a was to pass the time, it was an escape. With a turn of the page, Cassie was no longer stuck within the grey walls of the cells, she was out having adventures in exotic lands. It only took one glance up from the book to bring her back to reality, however; the picture of herself holding Ivy looked down on her from the chest of drawers over her bed. Oh, how she missed her baby girl!
The other picture, the one of her daughter’s smiling, rosy face, was placed on the shelf where Kym had cleared away some space. It was under this one that Cassie kept her letters from Matthew. Rather than move to another prison, he had simply left the prison service altogether, and had taken a job in the Military in Sunset Valley. Due to the manner of his departure from the service he wasn’t allowed in through the gates, so had only been to see Cassie once shortly after Ivy’s birth. The governor had turned a blind eye on that occasion.
Had Cassie gone back to Alicia’s cell, even if she were getting on with her, she doubted that she would have coped. Alicia did very little other than plot her next vendetta, so Cassie would have been sat with nothing but her thoughts for company. There was no time for thinking, sharing with Kym!