Scarlet StoneBy: Jewel E Ann
Don’t wee your knickers.
The kids stare at me with their owl eyes as my knees wobble with each step.
Don’t wee your knickers.
The first day of school shouldn’t be this scary. The other kids have rucksacks with animated characters and glitter. I have a brown leather case with a four-digit lock code keeping my spiral notepad, three #2 pencils, a twelve pack of crayons, scissors, and my packed lunch safe. Oscar promised I would fit in fantastically on my first day of primary school.
I’ve already been asked nine times, “Why did you bring a suitcase to school?”
“It’s an attaché case that used to belong to a German diplomat. Oscar gave it to me,” I reply—nine times.
Once all eighteen children find a seat and the room is silent, we’re invited one at a time to share a bit about ourselves. I am the fourth to go and after bingeing on too many Jammie Dodgers and a liter of milk for breakfast, I feel ready to chunder.
I don’t. Instead, I answer the same basic questions that were shared before me. “Oscar is a locksmith, but he carries a gun because not everyone respects a good locksmith.” I pick at the dry skin on my lips while slowly twisting my body side to side, as everyone else stares at me. Their mouths hang open. Why do they look so surprised? His job is boring, not cool. The boy who spoke before me has a dad who drives a train. That’s cool.
I continue, “He’s my dad, but he told me to call him Oscar because I’m not a baby.” I ignore the whispers and continue. “My mum died from doctors poisoning her.”
The whispers stop, leaving seventeen pairs of wide eyes on me. Even my teacher looks like she ate something that’s ready to come back up her throat.
“Oh …” I continue, having forgotten the most important piece of information. “My dad calls me Ruby, but my name is Scarlet Stone.”
My name is Scarlet Stone, and I am a third-generation thief.
26 Years Later – High Security Prison – South East London
It’s possible hundreds of other men have worn my dad’s underwear. I’m here to say a final goodbye.
Close the door.
Yet the thought at the forefront of my mind is communal underwear. I overheard an inmate’s wife complaining about it at my last visit. She said her husband contracted a flesh-eating infection from the shared underwear.
It could have been me in communal underwear. It was my crime. For the rest of my days, that realization will always give me pause.
“I’m leaving London.” There. After practicing that line for forty-five minutes on the drive here, my brain and mouth cooperate. A miracle.
His chin juts forward, eyes unblinking.
My hand moves toward my mouth. At the last second I ball it into a fist then slip both of my hands under my legs. I stopped chewing my fingernails six years ago. No amount of nerves can convince me to start that nasty habit again, especially not within the confines of these four walls contaminated with flesh-eating bacteria.
“Why, Ruby? I don’t understand.” On the opposite side of the metal table, my dad clenches his intertwined fingers like it’s taking everything he has to keep his composure.
“I need out.” My teeth grind as I deny my need to break down and tell him the crux of my intentions. The dull pain in my chest bears down with each passing breath.
“What about Daniel?”
I shake my head. “We’re over.” Tears sting my eyes as I avert them to the black scuff marks on the concrete floor, blinking away the weakness.
My thoughts shift to the woman beside me, talking about Joey taking his first steps. Her flowery perfume overpowers the stale, musty stench. The door behind me buzzes as another visitor enters the room. I don’t know how my dad lives here. After a week, I would drown in thoughts of despair and suicide—and communal underwear.
“Ten more years. Seven with good behavior. Wait for me. You’re young. Don’t be rash.”
Drawing in a shaky breath, my gaze meets his. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
It’s impossible to miss the flinch. Oscar Stone is as steely as his name implies, and like any good Brit, he’s perfected his stiff upper lip. But I am his weakness. I am the reason he is here.