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Atheists in Foxholes

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The first night in Germany, Norman nearly found himself wishing he’d popped his clogs instead of Chubby. Chubby himself was part of the reason of course, the main part. With Norman just sitting there in his prison clothes, having to live with the knowledge that he’d been responsible, or nearly responsible. Him and Alex both. And having to think about Shelley and the tyke, and Chubby wondering whether the haul would even be worth it, with the fights they’d been having. It wasn’t an easy thing to live with.

Then another part of the problem was something else entirely. He’d always been on the claustrophobic side; funny that he’d go about organising the whole plan around a tunnel. And just his luck that it would collapse. He couldn’t relax, even when he did let go for a minute of Chubby and Shelley and the baby, of the prospect of a decade or more incarcerated. Every time he started to close his eyes, he got thrown back to the tunnel. Jerked awake with the sting of the dust in his eyes and nostrils, tasting the orange earth as he tried to breathe. It didn’t help that he couldn’t see the sky. All in all, Norman wasn’t sure it wouldn’t have been better to die in the cave-in than have to relive it.

Even those thoughts felt selfish, especially as no one would miss him, not the way they would miss Chubby. Not the way they would have missed Alex.

The start of his prison term was really so bleak that there was no direction for it to go but up.

*

It surprised Norman, the first morning he woke up and realised he’d slept through the night without waking up clawing at the sheets, trying desperately to breathe. But another night followed soon after, and another. The weeks turned into months, and at some point, Norman found he’d adjusted shockingly well to life inside a cell.

They’d planned their heist for the money, of course. That was what it meant to him: money, and the security of not having to worry as often as he had done. And there had been the rush of adrenaline too, building it up, making him sure this was just crazy enough to pull off.

The adrenaline was gone now, but the worry was too, largely. Here he had nothing but time, and the books Alex thought it was funny to pass along. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The Count of Monte Cristo. Books about small, enclosed spaces with small, enclosed notes that no one else caught.

And there was an odd sort of comfort to the stability of prison life. No surprises, no need to worry about fucking up for Queen and country and everyone to see, because the hard part was already over.

It had been weeks since Norman had felt the flash of rage and helplessness that usually preceded a poor decision. Weeks since he’d found himself waking in a cold sweat, or seeing the tunnel every time he closed his eyes. In six more years, society would have forgiven him and he would be eligible for parole. In the meantime, he was coming to forgive himself.