Nineteen Forty-Eight

Nineteen Forty-Eight

A Story by Andrew John
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A story about a man in jail during spring, summer, autumn and - which is significant for the man in that prison for those four seasons - winter

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Spring.


It was dull and dim in that cell in which they’d been keeping him for some weeks. Since winter. He’d still not been told why he was there. That kind of United Kingdom these days. More like a Dis-United Kingdom, he told himself. Told himself that, so many times, several times a day. An absolute headache.


This incarceration was preceded by a beating. He’d forgotten why he’d been brought here, or how, or by whom. He’d asked what this captivity was about. Slap. But why am I here? Thump. So I should just shut up? Crack across the head. Oh, right. I suppose I’d better keep quiet, he told himself - silently. But he’d asked the wrong questions again. And again. Then he’d tried to remain silent - enough to prevent a beating. But somehow he’d failed - but then failed a little less, then less still. Well, that was an improvement. What had they done to his brain? Or was he learning - even at a subconscious level? Learning to ask the right questions? Learning to avoid the wrong ones?


And he had to be in isolation for some reason - first, no music, no company. And no books for the first month. Then he was allowed to choose a book to read. Cheap novels. A short, ugly guy with a little library trolley would be allowed into his four-metres-by-four-metres cell, which had a small room to one side with a shower, a handbasin and a lavatory. His cell had a camera - and so did this toilet room. Were they ever watching him when he used it? He didn’t dare to think. It was that ugly guy who would deliver toilet rolls. Yes, books and toilet rolls. Was he keeping an eye on him, too


There was a window in his cell, but it was high, and he had no way of getting up there to be able to see through it. He was aware of the sky, the season. More or less. That was nearly all, for he was now allowed to wear a watch. They’d provided one. At least he knew what time he was getting up in the morning, time he was going to bed. Time had become a luxury - if it was merely the way of seeing it on a watch face.


But he had done some thinking. He’d cast thoughts and memories around his brain: a memory here, an idea there. The odd thing was that he’d often been taken, by a tall thin man and a shorter one, to an interview room - or whatever they called it - and placed into a chair, wrists tied, and a “thing” put on his head. What was it called? He had no idea, but it was like a helmet and had cables coming from it, going to goodness knew where.


This all seemed so much like films he’d seen on TV. Those old-fashioned ones in which someone was placed under a huge dome. Or the kind of thing a spaceman might wear in those B movies.


Or were they trying to make him into a Winston Smith? Yes, that guy in the George Orwell novel, Nineteen Eighty Four. Smith was incarcerated, but before that he had been under surveillance by the authorities, but hadn’t known it. And, yes, there were cheap novels in that world, too.


No, stop thinking about this, he told himself. His name was not Winston. It was not Smith. It was . . . er. Oddly, he couldn’t bring his name to mind. He knew he’d have to force his brain to think. He often knelt, as if praying. Thumped his small bed. Please, come back, he pleaded. But he was not a praying man. Not religious.


And, occasionally, memories would spring into his mind.


Yes, was he a clerk? A bit like that Winston Smith guy? But his office was - or had been - part of a small radio station. Had he been an on-air presenter? No, a newsreader, chatting every day to this presenter or that one, to another newsreader, programme controller or the managing director or CEO. Not a bad station. It was the city of . . . Nope. He couldn’t remember. Was it Coventry? Swansea? Yes, he had worked in both the English Midlands and in Wales.


There were other memories. He’d been an amateur knife-thrower. It was a show he’d put on for Christmas events. Some office workers - well, all kinds of people - were like that. Well, he had been. Funny old memories of this, of that.


It was as if certain memories had been taken from his brain, others left there, and others returned - maybe even in pieces. What were these people doing? Who were these people? Government? A criminal organisation?


Then, again, the tall, thin man came for him - still wearing that weird grey uniform. Tight, emblems on the left breast, gun in a holster, the kind of holster that has a sturdy-looking strap over the top of it, to prevent the pistol from falling out or being grabbed by someone who shouldn’t be handling it.


“Come with me, sir,” he said. “Sir”? he thought. He’s still calling me “sir”?


He stood and preceded the tall, thin man. That other man, a little shorter and fatter, was waiting outside his cell. Yes, they wouldn’t have allowed just one to take him. The men walked either side of him. As usual. He didn’t feel threatened. But he did recall those days of beatings. Were they going to do those things again?


But they didn’t. He was asked - asked? - to sit in a wooden chair, facing a table. He wasn’t bound this time. His wrists were free. Were they purposefully treating him a little better each time?


Another person - one he hadn’t seen till now - was sitting opposite him. She was in plain clothes. No uniform here. The previous questioner had worn a dark uniform with some kind of emblem on it. As for this one, he knew he’d find her very attractive if he were not so bloody frightened of that possibility of a beating. How old was she - around? But hang on a minute. Just how old was he? Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen himself in a mirror while he’d been here. However long that had been. Did he feel the same age as she was? That would be about forty-five, forty-six. Maybe even a little older. But he felt a little younger, and attracted to an older person?


“Well, sir,” she said. (“Sir” again?) “We need to ask you some questions. What season is it at the moment? Autumn, summer, winter, spring?”


What a weird question! But he felt he needed to answer it - in case they decided to beat him up again.


“Er, I think it’s around April? May? So, yes, spring?”


“Nice one, sir,” the rather bewitching woman with the short, auburn hair said. “We think there’s an improvement.” She paused for a moment. Looked into his eyes. Was she puzzled - or was she trying to puzzle him? “Now, you live in a what?” She did not take her green eyes off his . . . whatever colour they were.


“Er, well it’s a . . . a cell. Aargh!


“Hmm,” she muttered. “This seems to be working. You see, you’ve had a certain treatment. Don’t picture any injections we’ve given you, or you might get another pain in your head. Careful now! Don’t think of it as a cell. It’s a room. It’s accommodation. Oh, as for those injections we give you each week, they’ll need to continue. Don’t resist them, or there will be a punishment you won’t be too fond of.”


So that was what caused the sudden painful sensations. He thought of certain things? Or said certain things? And pain. Weird pain. They seem to have brought this situation about. How would he know what to think about and what to avoid?


Each time he was returned to his cell, it was something he knew he’d have to work out: what to think of, what not to think of. He had pains now and again, but they did seem to be getting fewer. Or was he somehow accommodating them?


Summer.


Time had moved on. Time does this kind of thing. Time had moved on. He had been told his name. It was James Lucian Mason. Yes, once that attractive woman had mentioned it to him, he realised it was in his brain. Been obviously familiar to him. James Lucian Mason. Was he a James or a Jim? They called him James - they would do that, anyway, wouldn’t they? Or use his surname. But he rather did like to be called James. As for Lucian, hmm, they could dump that one. Why did his parents give him that?


Oddly, he felt a little older now. Some weeks ago he seemed to think he was in his twenties or thirties. Now, he was feeling, oh, forty-something - maybe even approaching fifty?


They still didn’t allow him to see himself in mirrors. There were no shiny metal walls or doors. And he still had no idea of when he’d been born. He knew what year this was: it was 2024. If he was, say, thirty years old, he’d have been born around 1994. And he did seem to have a good head of hair - but, then, people of all ages could be bald or have a good head of hair. Or be anything in between.


They did give him the use of a barber every week. It was that ugly guy again. He delivered books, he brought toilet rolls and he even trimmed one’s hair. Ugly, but handy, adroit, skilful, dexterous, neat and nimble-fingered. He then began to bring an electric shaver. Told James to use it, while the man waited. At one point, the pleasant woman told him that the small man was called Igor. “Well, we call him that,” she said. “He seems to like it. But he never speaks. Just does things.”


What of James’s face once he’d used the shaver?  Smoothness of skin? Possible wrinkles? Hard to tell. And whenever he thought, “How old am I?” he received a jolt of pain. So it was one of those thoughts, sentiments, opinions he was not allowed to hold. Not at the moment. Summer was depriving him of such thoughts. Would this change?


He wasn’t aware of the actual month, but it was summer, and he opted for July. They allowed him to go out, walk a little, sit with his back against a wall, even be offered a cigarette by a guard. Yes, there were guards he hadn’t seen till now. He turned down the cigarette, though. There was an automatic memory: clearly, he was a guy who didn’t smoke. Yes, another memory. Had he ever smoked? It would come to him, just as his act as a knife-thrower, a knife-user, had come to him, and so had other funny memories.


They called this place “the yard” - like a jail yard - but, after a while, he realised it was covered. Ah, yes, it was daytime, but it seemed they wanted to keep it quite dark. He thought of Oscar Wilde, and how he spoke of a prison yard in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, that long but quite impressive poem he’d written in the eighteen-nineties. But Wilde’s prison yard didn’t have a roof on it, whereas this one did.


Yes, they had to allow it to remain quite dark, and he wasn’t allowed to be near any of the other guys within it, see the face, maybe recognise it if he were to be released and see that guy out there in the street, and recognise him. Hmm. Well, it was a thought, his theory. They simply didn’t want him - or others - to see each other’s face, then recognise it later. Add two and two. Make five.


He was allowed an hour of walking or sitting in the yard. He opted for walking, continuing to walk. He needed the exercise. And then he would be taken back to his cell. By the tall man and the shorter, more portly one. Once in his cell, he would be visited by the short ugly guy called Igor, and given his lunch of, perhaps, sandwiches. Had Igor made them?


Being allowed to go out was a more appealing situation than that of being kept in the cell, even though this was just that hour-long break. So this was summer. Would he still be here come September, October and November?


Autumn.


Life continued to be boring. James did his best to prevent tedium, to forbid it from getting the better of him. He did have books. There was an improved choice of titles available on the little trolley that Igor would bring to his cell - ouch! Shouldn’t allow that word to enter his mind. He should think of the word “room” or “accommodation”. He was allowed to choose titles, yes - and they were better than those cheap novels that reminded him of the ones that Winston Smith saw in Nineteen Eighty-Four.


They did seem, though, to be controlled. Sex titles? No. Thrillers? Yes, some types of thriller, but not others. It was hard to determine what he was allowed to read and what he wasn’t. Historical books? Yes, but some types of history were simply not there. What were they depriving him of? Types of subject matter, yes, but what? It was so hard to tell. But his choice of title was, after all, a little better. Yes, they had some control over his reading matter - but they used less now; he had more control.


And certain words would always bring a stab of pain into his head. That word he ought not to use, but should say “room” or “accommodation”, was one of them. There were others, yes, but he couldn’t at the moment bring them to mind. He had, yes, unconsciously - or subconsciously - pushed certain thoughts and ideas further down into that subconscious. He couldn’t form certain thoughts, recollections, of those words and their meanings. Yes, his mind, it seemed, had been played with.


One morning, James had risen at four, performed within, and then cleaned, his bathroom, and left a bucket he used for his discarded underclothes and other used cloths by his main door. Igor would call at four-thirty, of course, and take them away. But, again, he would have popped into that bathroom to ensure nothing had been done that shouldn’t have been done. And on occasions Igor would cast his eye at the camera, and wink. Hmm, so Igor did perform some communication. In a way. Was there a smile with that wink? No. No smile. This was Igor.


The tall man and smaller man took him to that interview room. The woman was there. Yes, she too, was an early-up-getter. After their chat, she would go for a walk. He knew. She’d mentioned it as part of their less formal conversation. Yes, she liked to go out into the street for an early walk. Hardly anyone around. Was this a small town? A village? Where the hell were they?


“Good morning, James.” She smiled. But was it a pleasant smile? He smiled back. No punishment here. He was allowed to smile. And she was looking rather attractive: that auburn hair, very short. How wonderful it would be to go out with her, walk, do some chitchat, chew the fat, shoot the breeze, natter, enjoy company. But this was not to be so. She had become a smiler, was pleasant and conversational - but only so far would she go. One thing she did that pleased him was tell him her name. It was Claire.


“I don’t see anything wrong with allowing you to know my name,” she said. “Anyway, as far as you know, I could be lying. But, really, I do feel I can tell you. Yes, it’s Claire. And I know that your middle name is Lucian, and you’re not too fond of it. Yes, I did hear you talking to yourself now and again. Probably in your sleep. There are mics on those cameras, of course. And we do have recorders. But what’s wrong with ‘Lucian’? The name means light. Claire means clear and bright. There you go. We do have something in common.”


After about half an hour’s chat - more from her than from him - he would be taken back to his room, his accommodation, by the tall thin man and the shorter one, in their uniforms. Later, he would, of course, be given that hour in the covered yard, where there were three or four others, whom he would not be allowed to speak to, and whose shapes or faces he could not make out.


Then, back to his room, his accommodation. Life continued to be boring.


Winter.


He stretched and yawned. It was four in the morning. He was in what seemed to be January. OK, mornings were getting a wee bit brighter, so maybe it was January, because light would be increasing a little after the twenty-first or -second of December. They never told him. Days went by; days went by. Could even be February. He did still find it hard to keep up with time, for time to keep him informed of what it was doing. Funny brain. But he did feel things were getting better. Must be a year since they brought him into this establishment and put him in this room, this accommodation.


Occasionally, he would use the word “cell”. Very quietly, of course lest anyone should hear him. And saying that word - and others he knew he shouldn’t say - did bring on a head pain. But that seemed to be getting less. Had he trained his head? Had his brain disciplined his brain? Were they doing something, or was it - really - his own doing? He suspected the latter, because they’d never tell him. A difference of opinion that would remain a difference of opinion.


Igor came at four-thirty - of course - and took away the bucket and cloths, once he’d looked into that bathroom, glanced at the camera, winked at it. But he hadn’t smiled. This was, after all, Igor. He was very useful by bringing new toilet rolls. At least once a week.


Later that day, the woman called Claire sent for the man called James Lucian Mason. He’d rather come to like that name: Lucian. She liked it, so he liked it. He did rather like her. But, nonetheless, she had him as a prisoner. He couldn’t entertain a special feeling for her. Or did he find himself liking her while disliking her? Was that possible?


Once again, the tall thin guy and the shorter tubby guy walked on either side of him. He felt - well, a little better. Was it knowing Claire’s name - being allowed to know it?


Another strange feeling that had been coming over him was his age. Yes, again, spring, summer, autumn and winter seemed to represent different ages. Was this, also, part of what these people were doing to his brain? He must be in his sixties or even seventies. Yes, he was an old man. Well, oldish. Ha-ha. Were there deep wrinkles? But where was that mirror?


“James,” she said, bearing almost a frown. Oh, dear! He thought she was about to pronounce his fate. A dreadful, painful fate. But he was wrong. “I do have a little news. They’re transferring me to another part of - well, the government. Yes, this is part of a government department. I have no idea what sort of person will take my place here, but the good news is that it’s almost time for you to be released. Your treatment here seems to have come to an end. We’ll both be leaving this place.”


“Well,” said James, “I’m wondering if I can ask questions.”


“Ah, yes,” she said. “I can assure you that you won’t get any pain. You can even use that word ‘cell’ and you won’t be bothered. I just need to adjust this.”


She took from a pocket a small device. It looked a little like a mobile phone - a thing he hadn’t been able to use now for at least a year. She hit two buttons on it and pointed it at him, as though she were shooting at him, receiving thoughts from him or creating a relationship with him.


“OK,” she said.


“Are we in a town? A city? Where I used to live? Where was that? Was I married? Did I . . .?”


“Oh, steady on,” she said, with a rather pleasant smile on her face. “One question at a time. A do have a rather better suggestion. We’ll be leaving here in a couple of days. I think we should meet out there in the street, walk, talk, and I can assure you that you won’t get any more head pain - no matter what you say. My little instrument will leave with me. I’ll still be in a government department. Just not this one.”


It was three, not two, days later that she was about to leave. She’d summoned him to that interview room. One of the two guys - the taller, thinner one - called at his accommodation, his cell.


“You know the way, sir,” he said. “Won’t need to accompany you. Off you pop.”


So James Lucian Mason found himself in a corridor, then entering a room. Claire sat at her usual place. He sat at his.


“OK,” she said. “Here are some papers. They’ll tell you where a temporary apartment is for you. You’ll find your belongings there. There’ll also be documents there that tell you about yourself, and you’ll find your brain changing, anyway, and returning to its old state.”


“I still don’t understand this,” said James.


“You will,” said Claire. “And in the papers is a small card from me that suggests where we might meet up, have a walk. Up the street, down the street - you know the procedure. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to have a proper chat with you - a person-to-person conversation. Wouldn’t happen if I were staying here. But, as you know, I’m transferring.”


This was weird, he told himself, as he walked back to his accommodation - or that cell that he’d spent those months living in.


Three days later. It was a Sunday. He was in a small street, where she’d suggested they meet for that walk up the road, down the road, into a café. Yes, it opened on Sundays, rarely had anyone in it till a little later. He’d been to his accommodation, of course, seen his reflection, found nothing unusual about it. Things were getting back to normal - although he couldn’t help wishing he were as old as he’d felt during those spring months when he thought he was in his twenties or thirties. He knew things would continue getting back to normal. He was remembering a wife who died some years ago, his retirement at the age of about sixty-five from that radio job. Yes, more memories were coming back. He had a son and a daughter. Where were they now? It would come back to him. And, yes, the year he was born was nineteen forty-eight.


Why had the government put him into that place? he wondered. He still hadn’t got to the bottom of it. Should he ask her, or find some way of dealing with her? He placed his right hand into his coat pocket. A knife was there. It was one he’d practised with. He could open the blade - even with a gloved hand.


“May I ask,” he said, “why? Why was I in that place?”


“Ah, well,” she said, “it’s a hospital. A hospital for those with mental problems.”


“But it’s . . .” he said. “And I . . .”


“Ah,” she said, “but no one will ever believe anything else, see? Even the government believes that - apart from the small part of the government that uses the place and studies people. It’s kept rather hush-hush. And I know I can tell you this because no one will believe anything else - not even from you. As far as anyone can tell, you’ve been looked after by a hospital. A hospital that looks after people with brain problems. No one can possibly believe anything else. That’s why I know I can talk about it. And the reason I don’t mind talking about it is that you did turn out to be an interesting guy. The right age to be a, well, a father.”


More memories seemed to be coming back into his brain. He used to do that knife-throwing exercise as an amateur performer. Yes, he so remembered knives. He did have one in his pocket.


She was attractive, yes. But she was Claire. She had been part of a government department that had wanted to hold him - and others - for up to or beyond a year. Experiments. That was what had been happening. Experiments. She’d told him. So he knew that now. And a father? No, surely not.


Here she was. It was a fairly empty street. One figure in the distance turned into an alley.


“There’s that nice little café up here,” she said. She was walking to his left. It was a situation he welcomed. He put his gloved right hand into his pocket, felt that knife. He began to pull it out, then dropped it back. Then he lifted it again, then let it fall, then took hold of the knife, dropped it, took hold of it . . .



END

© 2024 Andrew John


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Added on April 15, 2024
Last Updated on April 15, 2024
Tags: prison, jail, release, spring, summer, autumn, fall, winter

Author

Andrew John
Andrew John

Carmarthen, Wales, United Kingdom



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