This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 757 words.
Helen paused to go into the kitchen and get something. She came back with three hot sausage rolls on a plate, each one already smeared with tomato ketchup. Not bothering with cutlery, she picked one up and bit the end off of it, then waved the other hand over her mouth.
“These are hot. I probably left them in the oven too long. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the teeth. The thing was, medical attention in that camp was good. A doctor would come to my cell accompanied by a nurse, so that I was chaperoned when he examined me. Even the dental treatment had been suggested, not forced on me. I had agreed to the extractions as toothache was starting to plague me on a daily basis. Besides, I was of an age where any vanity I had left had started to well and truly slip away”.
Picking up the half-eaten suasage roll, she blew on it a few times, stuffed the rest into her mouth, licked her fingers, and lit a cigarette.
“My small cell block was surrounded by a wire-fenced compound, and when the weather improved, my cell was unlocked so I was free to walk around outside if I wanted. I could see the long lines of other prisoners walking to and from whatever work they had to do. Men and women were separated, and it was always a single sex group that went past. None of them ever turned to look at me, no doubt they knew I was a special prisoner, a foreign spy. The food was much the same. I would get some black bread with sweet jam of some kind in the morning, then an evening meal of pork and vegetable soup one day, followed by rolled cabbage leaves the next. I depended more and more on the parcels sent in from the British Consulate, although they were always opened by security, and many items stolen before the parcel arrived at my cell. I made sure to give something to Olga and Natalia every time a parcel came, and that kept them interested in being kind to me”.
She stopped and stood up, to take her plate out. Returning with a bottle of vodka and a tumbler, she asked if I wanted anything. I shook my head. Once she had filled her glass and swallowed half of it, she carried on.
“I had been there almost a year when I had another visitor. It was getting very cold again, and had been snowing hard that day. I was surprised to see a woman waiting for me. She told me her name was Barbara, and that John Holdsworth had been reassigned. From a big bag next to her chair she produced an assortment of colour magazines in English, a carton of English Benson and Hedges cigarettes, and four bars of Cadbury’s chocolate. I was very happy to see the familiar cigarettes and chocolate, but not so pleased with what she had to say. ‘I have to give you some bad news. Four weeks ago, your father died from a brain haemorrhage in Saint Thomas’s Hospital. We are looking into his will, and meanwhile he has been cremated at public expense, his ashes scattered on the shoreline near Westminster Bridge. It seems the lease had expired on his flat, and he was in negotiations to try to get an extension. Now he has died, that is unlikely to happen. I am so sorry for your loss’. With that, she got up to leave, telling me she would come and see me when she had time to do so. I was stunned. I knew my dad was old, but now he had died without ever knowing what had happened to me. And with the flat gone, I was technically homeless back in England. When I got back to my cell, I gave Natalia and Olga a bar of chocolate each, and sat smoking a cigarette. I told them what had happened, and that evening they brought me a fifty-centilitre bottle of cheap vodka to drown my sorrows”.
Sitting in thought for a moment, Helen let her cigarette burn down. She stubbed it out, and lit another one.
“Now I had nobody left who cared for me. I drank all the vodka in twenty minutes, straight from the bottle. I was too self-obsessed to even cry for my dad, and I did love him so much, Martin”.
With that, I closed the interview for the day, and told her I was leaving.