I came third out of fifteen entries. Not bad for a story that isn't exactly positive about Wandsworth. The story had to be 500 words or less and have some connection to the borough. The news story at the end is true, BTW.
“What's lackin' in 'ere, mate” said Bill. “Is birds”.
We were on remand in Wandsworth. I'd brought something I shouldn't have back from holiday and got picked up by a cocker spaniel at Heathrow. Never asked Bill what he was in for; seemed rude, somehow. We were both contemplating time inside and Bill, stretched out on the top bunk, was working out ways to improve the prison system.
“Yer see, John” he continued. “If they want yer to be a decent member of society once you've paid yer debt, like, then they need to expose yer to all the temptations of the outside world in a controlled environment.”
“And that would be in prison?”
“It would, John, yes. And in order to prove that I am a citizen worthy of takin' my place amongst the great and the good of 'ackney Marshes upon my release, I need to be exposed to them fings. That's beer, bookies and birds in my case.”
“We have female officers”
Bill scowled. “They're screws, not birds.” I shut up.
Next morning, 7am. “Oi Bill! Time for breakfast, mate. Bill!”
Bill sprawled on his bunk. The last time I saw anyone that blissed out they were on E.
“Kate, darlin''” Bill muttered in his sleep.
I lost patience. “Bill, you can stew in your pit for all I care. Anyway, I thought your missus was called Jenny.”
Bill stirred. “Wha'? Wassup?”
“You were talking about someone called Kate,” I ventured.
Bill smiled. “Kate... Get a move on, John. Breakfast”.
Two or three times a week for the next three months Bill slept deeply, woke with difficulty and muttered Kate's name in his sleep.
All good things come to an end, as they say. The night before my transfer I woke around 3am and was shocked to see a woman in our cell. In the moonlight I made out a long dark dress and a strange expression, cold and cruel. Soundlessly, she climbed up to Bill's bunk.
If you've done a stretch you tend not to embarrass easily, not round other men at least, but I felt uncomfortable asking Bill about this woman. He laughed it off, said I'd been dreaming. She seemed bloody real to me. She wasn't an officer but she could flit round the prison after lock up and she must have had keys. Made no sense.
I was shipped off to Pentonville the following day. I'm a reformed citizen since my release; family man, girlfriend and two kids. That night stayed with me, though. Then there was something on the news the other night that brought it back. A skull had been found in some bloke off the telly's garden, the remains of a Victorian murder victim. They showed a photo of the murderer. Kate Webster, the first woman to be hanged at the Surrey House of Correction, now HMP Wandsworth.
Bill had lousy taste in women.