Warden Hackett brought a box with him before breakfast. On top was a gift, badly wrapped in pastel paper, which he handed to Alice without a word. He busied himself with moving one of the chairs over to the window, then produced a drill from the box to begin the process of installing a curtain rod into the stone.
Alice turned the present over, but there was nothing written on the outside. With curiosity, she pulled open the tape and folded back the paper to reveal a pink baby blanket with a matching teddy bear on top.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, holding the blanket up for examination. It was covered in adorable hearts, and the fabric was the softest that she had ever felt, so she rubbed her cheek against it as she closed her eyes, feeling happiness bubble up inside her chest. “This is for you, baby girl!” she announced as she wrapped the blanket around her stomach. “It will keep you nice and warm after you’re born. Isn’t that exciting?”
It was then she realized that the sound of the drill had stopped, and she whirled around to find Hackett silently watching her from his perch on the chair. He looked amused.
“What?” she asked haughtily, holding her chin up to hide her embarrassment.
“Nothing,” he replied, turning back to his work with a big grin.
Alice swaddled the teddy bear up in the blanket, and sat down on her bed as she cuddled the bundle. She wondered who would have sent her a baby gift, though as far as she knew the only people who were aware of her pregnancy were the handful that she occasionally interacted with in the prison. The only ones who knew that she was expecting a girl were Dr. Westley and his nurse … and Hackett.
“Was it you?” she blurted.
He slid the pink curtain onto the rod, then carefully secured it in place over the window before stepping down from the chair and moving that back to its place. Alice began to wonder if he hadn’t heard her, or was ignoring the question. It wasn’t until he placed his tools back into the box and moved it outside of the room, that he answered, “I thought that you’d like it.”
It tickled Alice to imagine Hackett standing lost and overwhelmed in the middle of the baby section, so she giggled and hid her face in the new blanket. “You did it for me?” she asked, peeking out.
He nodded. “Yep.”
“Thank you.” Alice grew somber as she touched the teddy bear’s nose, the reality of her circumstances pressing back down on her. “I never expected to get a baby gift.”
“I brought this, too.” Hackett pulled out a paperback novel from his pocket. “It’s the book I told you about.”
Instead of cheering her up, it brought tears to her eyes, and she quickly wiped them away. “Is this what normal people have?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Hackett asked softly, kneeling next to the bed and brushing his fingers against her hand.
“Baby gifts, and talking about books, and …” Alice turned away, not wanting to continue.
“Yes, I suppose,” the warden answered slowly. “You have that now, too.”
“How did I survive it?” Alice asked quietly, then continued, “Not one single person cared about what I thought, they just wanted to use me – and I really believed that made me desirable, you know? So I did everything I could to feel like I was wanted, including some really stupid shit. Now here I am in prison, and absolute fucking train wreck of a human being, and the warden is sharing books with me because he wants to know what I think about them. It’s just … fucked up.”
Hackett paused to consider what he should reply, taking a good minute to think, then answered in a soothing voice, “Should we review our vocabulary lessons?”
Alice stifled a laugh by grabbing her pillow and shoving it in Hackett’s face. “I can’t think how else to say it, you frickin’ prig.”
“I see that all of these books are somewhat rubbing off on you.”
“I meant prick.” Alice stuck her tongue out at him.
“Hush now, do you really want your little girl hearing her mother say words like that?”
“No, not really.” Alice turned away again, lying down to pull her blanket over her head.
“Well, it will take me a few minutes to return with our breakfast, so you can have a good cry if you want to.” Hackett patted the blanket over Alice’s shoulder. “Just remember: although you can’t undo the past, the future isn’t yet written.”
Alice curled up around the teddy bear bundle after he left, staring at its shiny black eyes as she fingered one of the ears. “He’s right, my little baby,” she whispered, “I need to start thinking of myself as your mother from now on.”