Heart-Shaped Box By D.I. Jolly

On the day she was being let out of prison Gwen admitted to her cellmate that she almost couldn’t remember if she was guilty or not. It was the first and only time in the entire 10 years that she’d hinted that she was anything other than innocent. With tears in her eyes and her head on Beth’s shoulder, she whispered.

“Doesn’t matter anymore anyway. It’s not like I can get the time back.”

“Did you do it?’ Replied Beth quietly. She was never going to tell anyone but, at that moment, she just couldn’t help her curiosity.

Gwen tried a few times to take a deep breath, then slid off her friends’ shoulder to the floor to hide her face in shaking hands and said.

“No.”

Warden Jenkins, who’d rolled his eyes at Gwen for 10 years, had witnessed the conversation from the cell door suddenly believed her and his heart felt like it had just been gripped round the middle and slammed backwards into his ribcage. For a moment he almost said something, but realising he hadn’t been noticed, he stepped silently out of view to wait until he’d calmed down. In the meantime, he heard one woman cry and the other offer comfort. A few minutes later he stepped up and cleared his throat. A sound that the inmates of Syn Correctional knew all too well.

“Warden.”

Said the woman together.

“Hello ladies,’ he said nodding, then looked at Gwen and she thought she saw something different in his eyes but imminently disregarded it. He was, after all, the warden, the heartless bastard that liked putting women in cages so much that he literally made it his career. ‘It’s time to go.”

The women shared one last hug and an hour later Gwen stepped out the prison’s front door, Warden Jenkin stepping out silently behind her. For another long moment, he debated what he was going to do, then settled on saying.

“Can I ask you something?”

Gwen jumped having been so taken by the moment of freedom, that she’d forgotten he was there. Then annoyed that he’d ruined her moment with a stupid question she turned a furious look on him and said.

“What?”

“Did you do it?” He said flatly.

“Not that you care, not that I haven’t said it a million times, but no, I didn’t.”

Another moment passed as he stared into her eyes searching for something, something he’d seen in thousands of other faces, something that wasn’t there that he’d somehow missed the last 10 years. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Looking down he flipped it open and found a business card.

“This is the number of a good man. I want you to call him, and I want you to tell him… that I believe you. That’ll be enough for him. I know you can’t get the time back, but he’ll help you get something, at least.”

Gwen looked down at the card but didn’t move, then said.

“Why should I believe you? Why now?”

“Because you have no reason to lie, you’re a free woman.”

Gwen snatched the card and stuffed it into her pocket. Then locked eyes with him and tried to say something but relief, fury and gratitude collided and robbed her of words.

“Look, it’s not my job to prove people innocent or guilty, it’s my job to run a prison. I have to trust that the people out here do their job correctly and bring me the right people. And honestly, they’re right a lot more often than people like to think. But they’re not perfect, and neither am I.”

They stared at each other for another few seconds until the moment was interrupted by the rumble of the prison bus’s old diesel engine. Gwen turned at the unfamiliar sound and Jenkin’s smiled, and turned to walk back inside. When Gwen looked again, he was closing the door behind him and she was alone outside of the prison. She had been trapped for 10 years but now had the first glimmer of hope she’d had in a long time sitting slightly crumpled in her pocket.

The bus driver smiled at her when she stepped on and he said without malice.

“Congratulations.”

Then when he dropped her off at the city main station he smiled again and said.

“I hope I never have to see you again.”

Gwen looked down at the card she’d been cradling in her hands for the last few hours and smiling herself said.

“Don’t worry, you won’t.”

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