It was a knock on the door that woke Kate in the middle of the night. The first time she stirred slightly, thought she was dreaming and didn’t really fully wake. The second time she nearly hit the roof from shock as the sound thundered through her as though someone had just shook her from sleep with the gentleness of an air horn.
Kate reached her hand out and clicked the light switch on her bedside lamp to illuminate the room in mild yellow light. She activated she screen on her phone with a tap of her finger and the time read after midnight. She instantly knew that there was only one possible person who could be knocking on her door at that time of night, and she wasn’t at all mad about it. Kate knew what Joan had been dealing with the last couple of days. She had been to work early every day, home late, and Kate knew that nothing in between those times would have been easy for her with everything going on. She grabbed her dressing gown from the hanger and tied it around her naked body as she stepped into the hallway, flicking on the lights and unlocking the door.
Joan stood on the doorstep dripping wet from the rain that had been pouring down for hours.
She looked exhausted. Like she had been tested and failed. Kate’s heart sank at the picture before her as she reached out to unlock the screen door for her lover. She hoped that the look on Joan’s face didn’t mean what she thought it meant.
“Come in,” Kate said quietly. “I’ll make coffee.”
Kate left Joan to lock the doors back up as she went to the kitchen and flicked the switch for the kettle. The noisy appliance screeched like a monster through the quiet house in the midnight silence of the neighbourhood. Backpedalling to the lounge room Kate dug a particularly warm woollen blanket from the linen cupboard and wrapped it around Joan’s shoulders as she too found her way to the lounge room.
Joan looked stunned, like nothing was real, but angry at the same time, like something in the lack of reality had made her furious.
Kate kissed her gently on the lips and guided her to the lounge, pushing her gently to make her sit. Joan looked beside her and saw Ludo swimming circles happily in his bowl on the small table next to the couch. She generally detested animals, they were dirty and loud, but she had come to not only accept Ludo as the quiet and clean companion that he was, but Joan also found that she greatly enjoyed his company. There was something about the way the light glimmered off his scales that was soothing as he ferreted around his bowl.
With the blanket wrapped around her shoulders Joan stared into the small bowl that was his home and felt her stresses ebbing away with the movements of the golden body that slithered through the water. It took her a moment to realise Kate had left the room again.
Sitting back into the overstuffed lounge that directly matched nothing else in the room she pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, realising just how wet she was from her walk in the rain to the car when she had left the prison, and then from her driveway to Kate’s front door. She couldn’t believe what had happened, and she knew it wasn’t going to be long before she lost her job with the way the women were acting. Using chaos as a descriptor would have been an understatement.
“What happened?” Kate’s soft voice broke Joan from her reverie as she sat on the couch beside her lover and passed her a hot cup of coffee.
“There was a riot.” Joan’s voice was her normal low monotone, completely devoid of emotion. She looked paler than usual and completely exhausted as she snuggled the blanket tightly around her body, the coffee cup held tightly in one hand while the other held two corners of blanket together at her chest. “An officer was taken hostage.”
“Taken hostage, how? Tell me what happened, Joan.” Kate knew by now that when Joan got like this it wouldn’t get her far to ask questions that were too long or to push her too hard about the subject, she knew Joan would immediately throw the walls up, or she would completely shut down and either way the communication would end. It was a matter of getting to the facts quickly with as little questioning as possible, and then letting the tension release. More information would come later.
“The prisoners had set a fire in the exercise yard.” Joan stared ahead as she spoke, not willing to make eye contact for fear of what Kate might see in her lack of emotional empathy at the situation. All she felt was rage, a deep, boiling rage at the gall of the prisoners she was dealing with and holding tight to the blanket and coffee mug was all she could do to contain that anger as she controlled her voice. “All the officers were diverted to the yard to contain the situation, but it was only a distraction while another group kidnapped my deputy and held her hostage with a needle of blood to her throat.”
Kate understood the threat of that immediately and her heart went out to the deputy. She couldn’t imagine what the woman must have been feeling throughout that time, she must have been terrified. Kate wondered how she was tonight, was she home with someone who loved her? Was there someone to take care of her? Or was she like Joan used to be, going home to a cold, empty house with no one to be there for her after the ordeal. “What did you do?”
The word echoed around the empty room in the silence of the night.
There was a sudden feeling of sickness in Kate’s stomach and she had to turn her head away from Joan as that one simple word wreaked havoc inside her head, her mouth flooded with saliva and she had to swallow hard to right herself. It took her a moment to gain her own control once more and she felt her heart racing as the word played over and over again in her head. Nothing. How could you do nothing? Kate thought to herself. Nothing. What sort of person does nothing in a situation like that? Nothing. Surely she didn’t actually do ‘nothing’, did she?
“What do you mean you did nothing?” Kate spoke to the coffee table in front of her and tried her hardest to keep the anger and disappointment out of her voice as her face burned hot. She wondered if Joan had been right when she had confessed that there was something wrong with her.
“I mean I did nothing.” Joan’s monotone remained low and cold, she knew she had done the wrong thing ethically by other people’s standards, but she felt no guilt or shame whatsoever in her actions. “I told them no, I wouldn’t open the doors they requested and I wouldn’t negotiate with them. It’s policy. Board policy. I followed it. But the General Manager overrode me and gave in to their demands.” Emotion finally started to show through her steel facade as the anger began to ebb over, her rage at the man who removed the control from her fingertips in the heat of battle shone through as her words were growled through clenched teeth. “He ordered the security officers to let the gang into the isolation area, leave their keys and evacuate. The prisoner who previously escaped was freed from her isolation, and was replaced by my deputy.”
Kate finally found the strength to look back at Joan as she heard the emotion in her voice and wondered exactly where the emotion was placed in Joan’s mind. “Is your deputy okay?” Kate had grown a solid understanding of Joan’s mental processes in the last months that they had formed this closer bond. Her choices and dictations weren’t always on par with the assumed standards of general society when it came to matters of empathy and compassion, but rarely was she this far from the mark. Kate had never expected to hear what she had just heard. Surely Joan knew the dangers of blood born diseases and what they can do to a person, Kate thought to herself as her eyes studied Joan for a hint of compassion, but there was nothing to be found. Nothing. Only anger.
“My deputy hasn’t got two brain cells to think for herself. They probably did her a favour, forcing her outside of her comfort zone like that.” The coffee had started to thaw her insides and she was feeling slightly more awake than when she had arrived. Joan took a deep breath and looked up into Kate’s bright green eyes for the first time that night; she saw that they were hazy from tiredness but at the same time fiery from the discussion they were having. Joan felt the slightest stab of guilt flow through her veins, not for her deputy, or what had happened that day, but for Kate. “I’m sorry I woke you,” she said with genuine care. “I needed to see you.”
For a moment Kate was angry, she wanted to yell at Joan for what she had done and how she had reacted that day. It was cold, unfair and downright wrong. But under the loving gaze of those black eyes Kate felt herself melt instantly, she reached out and placed her hand on Joan’s wet knee as a smile warmed her face, she felt herself soften to the woman once more as she looked into her lover’s raven eyes. “You are always welcome to wake me.” Kate wondered what might have happened if Joan didn’t have her to come home to in times like these. “What happened after the prisoner was freed?”
“They all stood around their burning tower of freedom in the exercise yard and requested to speak to me, face to face. I walked into the yard and the women were chanting her name. The top dog. She knew I wasn’t going to call in the squad, my job is hanging on the line as it is, calling in the squad would be admitting defeat to the prisoners, and a death sentence for my job, perhaps even my career at this point. She handed down her demands on me. She said I need to run everything by her first if it affects the women. She said that I don’t run the prison, she does.”
“What did you do?” Kate already knew the answer.
“I saw how the women reacted to her, their herd mentality and how they follow the strongest personality on their side of the bars. I knew she was right, so I agreed. And as simple as that they all went back to their cells.”
Joan left out the part where she agreed to the terms simply so she could end the riot and save face with the board. She could have called the squad in; any other Governor would have called the squad in. She could have had all of the prisoners who were majorly involved slotted into isolation for long periods and those who were involved in only a minor way would have lost all privileges. An investigation would have ensued regarding the hostage situation and which prisoners were involved; they may have even secured a timely answer and subsequent conviction, and the deputy would have received the care and mental support she would have needed after the incident. But that would have meant Joan had admitted to losing control of the situation, losing control of her prisoners. And she wasn’t about to admit to that. Not to her staff, not to the prisoners, and certainly not to the board.
Kate was quiet but she kept her hand on Joan’s knee to help keep her grounded to the moment they were in, it was her only means of controlling Joan’s occasional emotional meltdowns. Not many people understood her, and even less people got to see the Joan that Kate knew, but yet in the back of her mind Kate heard a whisper of Joan’s voice saying ‘I’m not what you think I am,’ and she wondered just in what context had she meant those words.
“The prisoners, they call me a Freak.” Joan’s black eyes were glassy as she stared forward at the lacy window and her voice was a quiet whisper as though she were admitting to something dark and shameful.
She felt bad for admitting it to herself, but Kate understood why the prisoners called her that, especially after the ordeal she had just heard about.
Joan spent an hour on Kate’s couch drying out and strengthening her resolve once more. Kate was good for her in that way, she had the ability to calm her mind and ease her frustrations. Joan didn’t know why and she couldn’t find a reason that would explain what Kate did to her, so she simply accepted it. Then she went back to the prison with a new plan of control.