[This was written a long time ago]

It was on a late Autumnal day that Jack got out. He had imagined this scene many times falling asleep in his cot. The doors closing behind him with a heavy thud. The bright, happy sun. His family. His world back. Freedom. But this was different. The closing doors only seemed to shut him off from home. This had become his home. Almost six months he’d been here. Longer than he’d been living anywhere. Always on the move. He remembered the day he was put in. It was early spring and the soft yellow sun was just starting to hint at the blistering golden orb it would be in a few weeks. He was looking forward to swimming. And to work. He’d just lined himself up a job with a builder. Through a mate of his. He’d never got the chance to turn up. Even late. And now all he had was the blustering and biting of the wind.

He knew he wasn’t guilty. He was guilty of things, he knew that, but he wasn’t guilty of that! Yeah, he was there earlier, and he didn’t like the guy, but he’d always just gone there, bought a few hits and left. He’d fought the charge but junkies killed their dealers all the time and the jury just wanted him out of their sight. And then, by accident, they’d found the real murderer. He’d confessed to it almost by mistake and they’d let Jack go. No compensation. Not even a goodbye. Just, leave, your family will be here to pick you up.

He felt like he was back waiting to be collected after school. His mom picked him up. She was her normal ditzy self. Chirpy, chatty. But she didn’t look at Jack. How are you? Good, good. She still didn’t look at him. He’d been dreading the hugs, the kisses. To be embarrass by her love ‘in front of the class’. But now he wanted them. He wanted her to acknowledge he’d been gone. But everything was the same for her. Nothing had changed. He’d been on holiday. She would not look at him.

Home. It didn’t feel like home. Before being caged he’d only been here 3 months, and he’d hardly spent any time here anyway. Looking for work, hanging with friends; stuff. He’d only spend a few days a week at home. But it felt time he belonged then. The only thing that told him he was home was his younger brother. Everything else had changed. His brother was still the same little shit. Ass fucker boy! Enjoy your time inside! Ow! I’m telling mum! And that was reassuring. Dad had changed. But unlike Jack’s mom he was fussing over him. Continually asking if he was all right. What he needed. Is there anything I can do? There must be. He’d been inside too. When he was younger. And he’d had a hard time. Jack wished he could find comfort here but he just wanted his old father back. He wanted the distant but encouraging man he’d known before. He wanted something he could hold onto from the past. He wanted to talk to his sister. But she’d left while he was gone. Gone north. He didn’t know where. He used to be able talk to her. She would be there for him. But she was gone. No more than the others.

He hoped his room would be his retreat. The past. It always had been. No matter how many times they’d moved he’d always been able to have his room the same. Not changing. Having a place that was his. His mum had moved in. Most of his stuff was still there but over in the corner was his mum’s easel and canvases and nothing was where he remembered it. It all looked like it had been rushed back into the room the day before. Placed here and there to look like it hadn’t been moved. But he knew it wasn’t the same. No one knew his room like he did.

He lay on his bed. What used to be ‘his bed’. And he cried. He hadn’t cried in prison, or when he was sentenced, or charged. He knew what was happening then. He knew he wasn’t guilty. He had hope that it would all be all right. And now it was. But everything was different, alien. He didn’t belong. He had nothing to hold on to. His bed felt wrong. Too soft. When he opened his eyes there were no grey walls. No scratched and scraped graffiti. He had stark white. Blank.

His brother saw him as he left. How ya goin’ bro? Concern in his eyes. Yeah alright. He had changed.

It was still cold outside. Getting dark. He’d been able to give up cold turkey when he was inside. It kept his mind off wanting out. Needing out. Instead he could just be with the physical ache inside. It only lasted a few weeks and after he thought he could do without. But the despair he was feeling had turned into a throbbing, intense need. Where to go? Where? He’d only ever known one place. And that was gone. Maybe the ‘shades’. The whores, their pimps.

Vagrants and drunks made their hovels here. Old warehouses now forgotten, dumped and disposed of; their houses. He’d only been here a few times, and never with the intention of buying. He went for the more upmarket stuff. He’d passed through before. Now he became aware of the people, the trash, the dirt. How could people live like this? But he felt an affinity with them. He had no home. He could not find his past. His future. He had somewhere to sleep, to lie, but nowhere that was home.

A neon sign. Open late. He bought the cheapest, most toxic bottle. Sitting on a concrete step, he scrunched the paper bag into a ball, threw it into the gutter and lifted the bottle’s head to his mouth. Maybe he could just forget. And pretend. He was home.

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