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Writing (Short Story)

A drawing down of blinds

Just how bad can it be?

If you have to ask the question.

Don’t start that. Tell me straight. How bad can it be?

You are aware, I assume, of the figures.

Don’t play with me.

It’s as bad as it can get.

I don’t appreciate exaggeration.

Overall our best guess is… over twenty… at least.

As bad as that.

We can’t even estimate it’s so bad. It will be more.

And our share.

We’re looking at two.

Are we sure.

If you’re asking me to be precise.


Then yes, we must own-up to at least two.

And our maximum exposure is.

Maybe double that.

Four.  Does that include the colonies?

In part, maybe five then. We won’t know for months maybe years.

You speak in maybes. If this is as bad as that.

You above all know it ended up a shambles. And I mean ended-up when I should say almost from the beginning. Too many seniors, too many egos. It was impossible to control. You know that.

So now we have to clean it up.


You have to clean it up.

Will we get back in.

Uncertain. The men are… aware.

All of them.

Certainly the ones who come back. They’ve seen too much… too much miss-management, too much privilege. They’ve no respect left.

And those who stayed at home.

They sense something went badly wrong. They feel it without knowing for sure. And then there are the mothers, wives… the sweethearts.

Women. Surely they don’t count.

They’ve become sure of…themselves. The work in the factories, mines, on the land…

But we paid them nothing, less than nothing.

It wasn’t about money. They… they gained self-respect and they realise they have power, always had.

The men coming back will soon put them in their places.


You’re back into maybes again.

I’m looking in the round. The men who come back we hope will be able to sort out their wives, their sweethearts. But…

Spit it out.

The women… they’ve seen better with all those foreigners especially the Americans… they have aspirations now. They may not be as malleable as they were.

A leather belt will sort that out.

Perhaps, but then there are too few coming back… there are too many women who’ll never have a… man. All too soon they’ll realise that they’re the ones who’ll have to provide, for themselves and the others. They have a role, they want a voice.

Not yet.

No not yet but… soon.

How soon.

You mean the women or the end.

The end. We can manage the women when we have to.

Don’t ignore the problem. As for… we’ve been in negotiations for almost a year now. Everyone wants out, except for the military, it’s…

I can handle the military… if we get in.

Well then the deal is almost done, just some loose ends need tidying up.

How long.

Maybe three and I say maybe because they… we all want to arrange things for the end… before it ends. None of us want to have to provide… answers.

I take it our people are organising things.

Mostly. The industrialists are happy with the boom we promised would follow, as are the manufacturers. They’ll back us and their workers but… we may… we will have to deal with Labour and the trade-unions.

There’s nothing like a wage packet to secure support.

The land-owners will come in on our side when they appreciate the subsidies we’re offering.

You seem reticent.

It’s the media.

Gongs all round. A Knighthood here and there may be a Baronetcy… always guaranteed to garner support… and silence.

It may not be as simple as that. There’s anger, passion.

An empty belly and a cold hearth soon quench passion.

There will be bad press. It’s inevitable.

The official secrets act. Never fails.

It’s not the official press we need be concerned about, it’s literature. We can’t muzzle literature and that brings us back to this particular… difficulty.

But he’s just a scribbler. A nobody.

Have you read what he writes.

How much harm can he do?

Well not only can he write, and he can write, he’s brave too. His men love him.

I’ll ask again. How much harm can he actually do?

Think about a small snowball rolling down a steep slope, gathering all the while.

Are you telling me this man, this scratcher is a threat, to us.

He’s a spark in a petrol station.

You’re sure.

You know we need to… contain, micro-manage every situation and this one’s definitely threatening.

Where is he now.

He’s been invalided out unfortunately. Currently he’s here recovering.

Is he due to go back?

No but he’s due an award. Recommended for conspicuous bravery. I told you he’s a bit of a hero. He has the very worst of all possible things.

No games.

He has a reputation and it’s growing.

But he’s not published yet.

Not yet but there are those in opposition who’d like to see that happen.

And it might be to our disadvantage.

Not might. No not might. He’s seen it all and he’s not afraid to speak out, tell the whole truth…in prose.

Can we stop him.

He’s got a get out of the war free card. It could be difficult.

But you say he’s a bit of a hero.

Has a reputation for it.

Then he would go back for the right cause.

I suppose but everyone knows it will end soon. The trenches are full of it.

Still he would go back.

Under the right circumstances.

And we have… there are those still ready to fight.

A phalanx of xenophobic public schoolboys for certain. Yes.

Will…would they go over the top.

Every pink cheeked boy to a man. They’re absolutely gagging for it.

Simple then. Send him back to the front, one final push.

A last vainglorious charge for King and… us. It would be… suicide.

See to it… and anyway he’s just a bloody shirt-lifter.

HMP Magilligan

1st Prize Short Story Advanced, Listowel Writing in Prison Awards, 2019

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