‘I miss you so, Frankie’ were the sweetest words I ever heard. I miss you ‘SO’’ I scratched the SO into the wall next to my bed with the end of my toothbrush and whitened it with the paste, adding a small s, just in case the screws thought I was up to something. Previous decades of inmates had scribed endless salubrious messages of dripping carnal lusts, drawings of big cocks and fannies, the main extend of their incarcerated years and artistic oeuvre. Kelly’s letters I carried permanently on me. A balm soothing the pain I felt for all, mum, dad, brother and lovely Kelly.
Was it having perfected my sweeping-up skills that satisfied the authorities, or, more likely, the overcrowding, but I was suddenly ushered into a van with some others? ‘You’re going to Goulburn, matey’. All of us shackled to the inside rail of the van. It took almost half a day, after which I was ushered into a cell not dissimilar to the one I had left, except, this time shared with another grim looking character. Some years back dad made me learn to cut his and my own hair. He was never shy to save a quid on the household and I did the same to my brother which earned me half the cost of a haircut on the list of ‘shave and cut’ at Tony’s Barber-shop. When I told them of my hair-cutting skills I promptly elevated to becoming the hair cutter of Goulburn Jail.
“Dear mum, dear dad” I wrote. It would take me hours to write the letters. The combination of both my bible and psalm book offering me the words to copy, letter by letter. The word ‘because’ easily found but not so ‘wasting’ and muscles’. Brother had not improved and dad massaged him daily now, sleeping with him, turning him around and doing the tasks that required strength that mum just didn’t have. On one visit mum was happy. The family had got together and bought him a motor quad bike with automatic gears. He was full of beans when going around the paddocks belonging to someone they knew that had level areas for him to race around on, chasing sheep with Kelpie. He still had control over his body in the use of throttle and steering but needed his feet strapped to the footrests. He couldn’t attend school anymore, she said. “Some boys with dystrophy can still survive and last for many more years”, she added hopefully.
Mum was always as cheerful as a freshly baked coconut slice, sunny and exuding a crunchy kind of cosy warmth, never given much to the luxury of introspection. She had a gift for the wisecrack but not at the expense of anyone. “Drink the milk before it goes off” she sagely used to advice to anyone about life’s possibilities or foibles. Even so, her shoulders stooped and her sigh was clear. “See you in a few weeks time my son.” Perhaps the milk was starting to sour, with one son in jail and the other with a bad illness inherited from her side of the family. ‘Incurable’ the doctor told her. His need would be endless massaging and getting him to remain upright and move about as much as possible. Granddad reckoned there were a few in his background up north that had died young. “They couldn’t walk about”, “just died in the dust”, he added. “No doctor about either”.
‘Dear mum, dear dad’ I wrote again. Some words now gleaned from a real book taken from goal’s library, a medicine book with ‘dystrophy’ in it together with ‘muscular’. M U S C U L A R, I copied with a cramped hand from effort. So S O R R Y. This copied easily from the book of psalms. Lots of ‘sorry’ in that book. ‘How is brother going?’ ‘Won’t do crime ever, never no more.’ ‘Say sorry to dad, I love all.’ Your son Frankie. Goulburn.NSW.
Dear Kelly: ‘All colours are grey here.’ ‘The walls grey, the floor grey and peoples, all look grey,’ ‘even food is grey with the green for peas giving some relief.’ ‘Thinking of you gives my life colour, colour like yellow and happy orange.’ ‘I miss you and smiling, your hands I miss too.’ ‘I love you.’ ‘I want to go for the marry you’, ‘when I come again back to Muswellbrook and you.’