BE QUIET by Dale McMullen

Man, I’ve messed up.

Two years in prison or a year here, that was my choice – and I’ve made the wrong one.  How hard could being a silent monk be I thought.  This is the government’s new thing, send criminals off to learn the values of inner peace, come back a year later a changed man.  It made sense on a lot of levels; it cost them pennies to run it, you get criminals shipped away (out of sight, out of mind), you run a success story on the news every now and again and everyone is happy.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think this works for the majority of people, I just hate it.  I was shipped to The Holy Isle just off Arran.

As I was saying, I’ve been here now for about nine months, I think.  There are no communications with the outside world, no TV or newspapers, no letters.  I have no idea how my wife is, she could have been hit by a car months ago for all I know, surely they would tell me that?  Wouldn’t they?  All I know it was freezing when I got here and now it’s sunny.  I make that about July.  I have been living a routine of daily meditation, rice and readings.  It’s not this that’s driving me mad, I need to talk, I have always talked,  even when it was inappropriate, I talked.  I can’t stand the silence.  So why don’t I talk you ask?  Because I can’t.  I’ve been fitted with a device, if I talk, if I make a sound, a month will be added to my sentence,  I’ve learned to sneeze and even cough silently, I can’t be here for any longer than I need to be.  I need to get home to her, I need to make sure she’s okay.

Now that I am coming toward the end of my sentence I will have interviews to see if I am ready to be returned to the outside.  Today is my first one. I sit at a small desk with a small screen in-front of me, no bigger than seven inches.  A young woman sits across the desk from me, she’s the first woman I have seen here, she’s beautiful.  Long brunette hair swept back, official looking thick rimmed glasses frame her face.  She crosses her legs with her clipboard resting on her lap.  She begins.

“I’m here to conduct your good behaviour interview, the monks have reported that you have been a model prisoner and because of this you have been granted this interview.  You will have the opportunity to ask one of the pre-selected questions shown in-front of you.  This is also how you’ll answer my questions.  There will be pre-selected answers shown on-screen and you simply select one.  I ask you to remember that your vow of silence is still in effect and speaking shall be punished by a further month of incarceration.  Do you understand?”

The screen separates into two, a white background with the words YES and NO are displayed so big that it’s almost comical.  I select yes, it makes a beep – and the words disappear.

“Excellent.  Now I will continue.  Now please, stay relaxed, this is just an informal review to see how you’re getting on.”  She clears her throat and shifts in her chair, smiles then resumes.

“Do you feel that you have learned from your time here?”

I select YES.  A further two boxes now appear.

I ENJOY BEING A MONK AND WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE WITH MY LESSONS

I FEEL LIKE I AM READY TO RETURN HOME

I select the second option.

“So, have you enjoyed your time here?” She’s scribbling down a lot of information.

YES

NO

I select yes, even though it’s a complete lie.  I just know what these guys want to hear, “I’m better now I promise” blah blah blah.

“So why don’t you want to stay if you’re enjoying yourself?”

I FEEL I HAVE LEARNED ENOUGH

I COULD LEARN MORE

I select the first one.

“And what would you say you have learned?”

I HAVE LEARNED INNER PEACE

I HAVE LEARNED THAT I WANT TO GO HOME

I have learned inner peace.

“Excellent – and do you have any feelings of resentment toward the court for your sentencing?”

YES

NO

Of course I do, I fucking hate this place.  I select no.

“OK, I have to admit I am getting slightly confused.  You enjoy staying here but want to go home.  You want to go home and yet you are not angry about being sent here.  I don’t mind telling you that I would be angry about being here.  I would not want to be here at all.  Frankly, I feel like you aren’t answering my questions honestly.  I ask you to please relax, and please answer these questions to the best of your ability.”  She smiles and bounces back up to a fully upright position on her chair -man she’s gorgeous – I take a long blink to regain my composure.

“Okay, back to the questions.  Do you feel like your sentence of a year is long enough, too long or not long enough?”

The three options appear, I select long enough.

“Do you think you’ll continue your practices when you get home?”

YES

NO

MAYBE

I honestly select maybe.

“Could you elaborate?”

I MAY CONTINUE WITH PRAYER

I MAY CONTINUE WITH MEDITATION

I MAY CONTINUE MY VOW OF SILENCE

I MAY CONTINUE WITH MY READINGS

I select I may continue with meditation.  If I take anything away with me it would be that, it’s the only thing that has got me through this.

“Do you have have any feelings of frustration?”

YES

NO

I select yes.

“Do any of these options apply?”

SEXUAL

IGNORANCE

FOOD

BOREDOM

I think all would apply here, I didn’t realise I was sexually frustrated until I saw her today – I haven’t had sex in nearly a year!  Ignorance, I guess this means I have no idea what is going on in the world, with my family, friends and everything else in-between. The food is shit and I’m getting a bit bored of this fucking interview.  I do however: select ignorance.

“Yes, that would be the most common answer, although I do have to admit sexual frustration is a close second.  Do you feel sexually frustrated?”

I select yes.

“I understand, now how do these options apply?”

I AM SLIGHTLY SEXUALLY FRUSTRATED

I WANT SEX NOW

I select the slightly one without looking at her, although I can feel her looking at me.

“And if you were to be offered sex now would you take it?”

YES

NO

I select no quickly.  Further options open up.

I AM MARRIED

I DON’T HAVE THE URGE

I HAVE NO FEELINGS ON THE MATTER

I instinctively say I am married, like all married men do.

“Thank you, I know that is an awkward part of the interview.  We have to cover it, there are a lot of sex criminals to process, so we just cover everyone.”  She flips a page on her clipboard.

“Okay, we are now coming towards the end of our first interview, I see it as a success and I will be conducting more with you from now until your release.  How do you feel it went?  One being bad, five being the best.”

The number one through to five appear on a horizontal line on screen.  I hit four, I have no idea how it went really, I’m just a bit confused.

“Brilliant, glad you agree.  Now you have the opportunity to ask me a question.”

WHEN WILL I BE RELEASED?

WHAT IS TODAY’S NEWS?

HOW IS MY FAMILY?

CAN I BE MOVED TO ANOTHER HOLDING MONASTERY?

Without thinking about it I ask how my family is.  Is she OK?  I need to know.  I look at her desperately for news.  She notices my answer and flicks slowly through her papers.  I sit forward with anticipation, my stomach fills with nerves.

“Family, family….Ah!  Here we are.  Your mother and father are in good health and still in the same home.  Your brother has had a son, they named him Shaun. The baby is in good health.  Congratulations!”  She looks up from her sheet, smiling.  She nods.  Wait, is that it?  What about my wife?  She clearly notices my face and looks confused back at me.  I panic and blurt out.

“My wife!?”  I give myself a fright, I didn’t mean to speak, it just happened.   I don’t even sound like myself.  My collar bleeps, shit.

“Sorry, this is all the information I have.  I’m sure it’s just a clerical error.  I’m disappointed you spoke, just as the interview was coming to an end.  I’m afraid your collar logged that.”

I open my mouth to plead my case but think better of it and just slump in my chair.

“Please don’t be disheartened, most people slip up two or three times.  I look forward to our next session.  Hopefully I’ll have some answers for you then.”

I don’t know how long ago that interview was, months at least.  Now I lie awake every night in silence.  I’m starting to forget what my wife looks like.  I’ve learned to cry silently.

 

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Dale McMullen is Head of Fiction at Speculative Books (@spec_books). You can find him talking garbage on Twitter @DalePMcMullen.

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