'Release/Reprise' by Alicia Bakewell

The gates open. You can walk out and save yourself, or fuck up and find yourself inside again. Half the women you’ve done time with here will be back. You too, maybe. You find it easier to imagine relapse than redemption.

You’re soft around the middle. Treats coveted, hoarded, crammed in on lonely nights now evident as fat, to be dealt with in a gym or some such place. You wonder: can you even join a gym? Can you do anything that requires you to fill forms, to sign your name, to tick a box? Will there be a question that might trip you up? No guards now, no locks, just a feeling of eyes on your back. You will sleep with a light on like you did when you were a kid. You will hear things and you will jump in the night.

A free woman, you have nowhere to sleep. You plead at hostel doors with promises not to drink (they’ll be broken like bottles). Arrange to bed-share with an insomniac who’ll come and relieve you of your pillow at 8am when you’ll stagger out into daylight looking for … what? A job? A friend? Another bottle of wine? Thoughts are deafening, and what you’re looking for is silence. A sharp memory was once something to be prized, now there’s so much you want to forget.

For months, you have fantasised about being alone, performing simple acts unwitnessed. Now, you can eat fresh strawberries, send letters in sealed envelopes, get sunburnt, wear clothes that are not dark green, window shop for things you don’t need, dream effortlessly beneath soft blankets. Some of these you did often before you went inside, but they don’t seem right for a person like you now, these indulgences.

He’ll come looking for you, maybe. The city is small, your name easily traced, your face remembered though you’ll be many, many fucks ago now. And if he does, what will you say to him? Lines you rehearsed in your cell feel inadequate. Violent acts are out of the question while on parole. Blame scrambled. His fault? Yours? Sober, you’ll be anxious. Drunk, you’ll say something regrettable.

You remember your last day of freedom, can’t forget it. Blue eyes shining as he told you the plan. The steak dinner you shared, expensive but it didn’t matter because soon you’d be cashed up and heading east, or north or wherever he was going to take you in that stolen car. Can’t fail, he said. Can’t fail. He sped off from the agreed spot at the time he’d told you to be there. You were already in the admissions wing, waiting to be stripped down.

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