Prison life really suited Jimmy the Wig because of his habit. Jimmy’s nickname didn’t come from any lack of hair; he had such a thick thatch of black locks that many people thought it was a rug, but no. He got his name from being a natural earwig. He couldn’t stop himself eavesdropping conversations. He was compelled to do it, just like that disease, that obsessive compulsive thing, you know, OCD. So being in prison was just right for him, surrounded by people with nothing better to do than discuss old exploits and plan new jobs for when they got out, and Jimmy became what they call institutionalised. He was happiest behind bars.
His only troubles came from the other side of his compulsion: he felt driven to pass on whatever he overheard. If he thought he was imparting a particularly exciting piece of news he would gesticulate a lot, so it left no-one in any doubt what he was doing. At first it ruffled a few feathers when he chose to reveal something to the hotter heads in clink, but an understanding Governor solved that by putting him in a cell with Clothears Jones: deaf in one ear and didn’t listen with the other. Wig could say anything he liked and Clothears would nod and hum and har occasionally to make Wig think he was paying attention. That went on for years and life looked settled.
Wig had a number of jobs around the prison. They’d tried him on library duty but it made him edgy because no-one was allowed to talk in there, so they swapped him to cleaning the chapel. He loved that because he often overheard juicy confessions about dirty thoughts. So one day when he was polishing the brasswork and Phil Skillett came in to talk to the Padre he thought he was in for a treat. He was; just not the kind of treat he was expecting. Phil’s nickname was ‘Fillet’ and it wasn’t just a play on his name; he was renowned for his knife skills and I don’t mean he was a good cook! Anyhow, him and the Reverend disappeared behind the curtain and Wig could hear the prayer bit as he dusted his way closer to the booth. He was comfortably in place when he heard Fillet admit he was the one who had shanked one of the screws two weeks ago.
Well that was too much for Wig. He dropped his cloth and dashed out to find someone to listen. Give the boy his due, he went looking for Clothears, but as bad luck would have it the cell was empty. Wig turned back just in time to come face to face with a chatty screw and he couldn’t stop himself from telling. He was still talking and waving his arms around when Fillet came back from chapel and saw him. Of course he realised straight away what was going on and Wig’s days were numbered.
They found Jimmy dead in his cell two days later and everyone assumed that Fillet had got to him somehow, even though he had been questioned almost non-stop since the secret was revealed. At the inquest, though, the sawbones reckoned there wasn’t a mark on him and there was no hint of poison. The coroner had no option but to call it natural causes, though I know he was wrong. I know what it should have said on the death certificate. To protect him from Fillet’s attentions the screws had Wig put in solitary confinement. I reckon he died of boredom.
Copyright ©2011 MorningAJ. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce in any form, including electronic, without the author’s express permission.
This story was originally published on the Jobbing Writer site on July 12, 2011.
If you like this story, check out these other Morning AJ stories, published on this site: Disguise, Falling star, Helen's dilemma and Jetsam.
MorningAJ is a professional (science PR) writer/rebel who fends off the
restrictions of her paid-for work by creating short stories, poems and
microfiction in her spare time. She’s even managed a novel, thanks to
NaNoWriMo, and is currently working on her second.
She also paints watercolours.