The screws at Long Bay weren’t at all like the friendly folks in Muswellbrook. The cell measured mere two by three and half meters. I was considered low risk and given the job as sweeper. It wasn’t easy and the nights were long and boring. I swore never to do anything like crime again. Un-expectedly, a screw called ‘Punchy’ cracked me one below the belt which made me double over, racked with a busted bladder for which they gave me a couple of aspirins. A doctor was only called two days after when I was sick with fever… The fever became so bad I was put in hospital but that screw stayed on smirking as ever. It was a hostile place. The radio was centrally controlled and blaring out loud all day with ads waxing on about Cadbury chocolate bars together with 43 beans in Nescafe… The food was terrible and the mutton routinely wriggled with pale looking maggots that one just learnt to brush off. What have you done Frankie? How did you come to this? Bloody Ernie. He never told me he had a pistol.
Kelly’s lovely kiss and her bra straps kept me going as much as ‘going’ was possible. Geez, how the time crawled. My only relief was writing letters to mum, dad, and Kelly. My dear mum had tucked the bible and book of psalms inside my little suitcase, no doubt worried sick of whom else I would get mixed up with inside those forbidden brick walls. Her visits were sporadic. It’s not so easy to travel up and down from Muswellbrook. ‘Your dad is too busy with your brother’s health, has to keep massaging him to keep his muscles going”, she said each time. My brother was eleven now and his bones growing bigger but his muscles were not corresponding, keeping up. Tests were being done in Sydney but she had forgotten the complicated name. Something to do with wasting muscles, dystrophy or something like that, she added crying, her tears soaked up by her Aunt Bellum’s embroidered hanky on the little table behind the screen that separated us…’”He sometimes has trouble walking up to his bedroom”’. “‘He keeps buckling over”’ and Aunt Bellum reckons that in her family some boys had had the same disease, eventually dying from it. “Women can’t get it, only boys, but we carry it over”, she was sobbing now. I was starting to see the reason why Aunty Bellum never got married and her always worrying about me. I remembered her saying about girls, ’be careful not to get taken’. Was she considering that I could succumb to the same disease that my brother had inherited?
Kelly’s letters became a life-line that kept me from losing the will to keep going. The Long Bay ambience was getting to me. ‘Punchie’ was still creeping around with his fondness for unexpectedly knocking blokes out in the one expert punch, when no-one was looking. I stayed away as much as possible, with my broom at the ready, just in case!
(to be continued)
The job of getting money together was more driven by Ernie to buy his ‘romance’ rather than my own lack of money. For me it was more of a dare and show of bravado and wanted to somehow make up for my well- known lack of spelling in swaggering around town with money in my pocket. Kelly would be impressed! Being young and having experienced the hot wiring of cars it wasn’t such a big career deal to step up to a next level. I should have stayed at school but they were confusing times and my younger brother had also been troubled by suddenly buckling while climbing the stairs to our bedroom. My parents seemed worried.
We took to climbing a fence of the factory where we knew electric fans were being made. Sauntering nonchalantly past the factory earlier, we had seen the truck being full of the fans. The padlocked gate was easily prised with the jemmy bar. What wasn’t so easy to prise open were the jaws of the Rottweiler which, soon after, clamped itself on Ernie’s jacket, determined not to let go till the guard arrived with gun drawn. This snarling monster-dog was trained to remain out of sight till a penetration was made inside its perimeter. I reckoned the Rottweiler took a fancy to Ernie, possibly could smell the Bull Terrier on him. How fortuitous for me! We were opening the latch of the truck and admiring the boxes of fans when the snarling dog came upon us. The temerity of the guard to lock us then up inside the truck with fans was an insult not lost to me while pondering the time inside.
Still, I did not lie in Court, confessed all and was duly sentenced. Mum crying on Aunt Bellum’s shoulder. Dad hugged me and said, “don’t add anymore to our worries, you brother is getting a wasting sickness…” “Do your best in jail and write to us”. “At least you told the truth, didn’t fib like Ernie”. Ernie’s plight did not bring him any ‘romance. Instead he got 3 years, no parole. He had pinched the pistol from his dad’s shooting club. Dad and Ernie used to go pig shooting at the back of Macquarie Marshes with the help of a totally disinterested and untrained bull terrier. Ernie used to run with the dog in his arms while dad trained his rifle on the wild pig. The bull terrier just refused to engage in pigs, preferred to get stuck into the German Sheppard across the road instead.
(to be continued.)