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Southern Justice

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Precious gifts - Editor

Southern Justice

by Peter Howard

The Krufts motel on Water Street faces away from town like a man who believes hiding his face makes him invisible to strangers. Sheriff Doug Porter had paid an official visit here more than once in his career and despite the best intentions of the owner this was still the shallow side of the law in Eden, Kentucky.

Inside one of the rooms the Sheriff stood and walked the information around his head using the floor boards for traction.

''You can''t be serious? You can’t be?''

''Kid needs a dad.''

"'Your daughter probably has one. That’s no reason to do something stupid!''

''Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it depends on how you look at it.''

''You can''t be serious.''

''As cancer,'' said the man, ''serious as cancer.''

#

Sometimes a missing child is a good thing. Social Services threatened to take kids all the time, some that shouldn’t be but could, and others that should be and never were. Some were just ignored altogether. If there was ever a kid that needed to be, it was Molly Sanders.

Molly was not on the white chair outside Darrell’s motel room. He usually put her there when he was high enough clouds looked like comical snow drifts under his feet. No, not every child was better off at home.

The threat of rain seemed more real in the moonlight, like a solid thing touching the Sheriffs skin, making it wet. He stood for a moment outside a different room. He was thinking about two pieces of paper, one clutched in each pocket.

Eventually a man in black slacks and a shirt opened the door. His hair was neatly brushed across the top of his head. He made the Sheriff uncomfortable.

Molly was sitting at the desk opposite, coloring bright pictures of boats with a bag of crayons perched at her elbow.

''Bobby.''

''Sheriff, I’m pleased to see you again.''

''What’s she doing here?'' he said pointing to Molly.

''I need to talk to you about that. She was sitting outside, at night, all the time. Can you believe that?''

The Sheriff was struggling with what he had to say and strayed just a few steps through the door before he said it, ''I've got news.''

''My daughter,'' the smell of rain found its way over the threshold and wound its way into the room; ''you didn't find her.''

If justice was real, if it was a thing, a force that acted on the world instead of something dreamt, then Molly never would have met her daddy and Bobby McGee never would have met the Sheriff. Justice wasn't real: life was just a choice between all you could do and the most you could take.

''I don''t like cases that involve kids,'' said the Sheriff.

The man nodded.

He sank back against the door as if the paper in his pockets was weighing him down, ''sit down Bobby.''

''It’s okay Sheriff,'' said Bobby sitting on the end of the bed. People surprised him sometimes.

''You sure about that?'' said the Sheriff. He knew Bobby was not perfect in his own way and no social worker would pick him out as a good man or father. Yet he was. The past just didn’t leave the record as quickly as a mistake washed of a person, re-made anew with every passing moment.

The Sheriff drew out the first piece of paper.

"I found her birth certificate,'' he said holding it out in front of him like a confession, "found it an hour after I left."

Bobby came over and took the paper carefully and let his eyes run over it, "Molly come see this?"

The girl put her crayon down and came to see,"is this it?" she said.

Life should not be so hard, and it should defiantly not be harder for the people who suffer the hardest things. But it was.

"Bobby," the Sheriff began.

"Why’d you take so long to bring it to me?'' Bobby said cutting him off.

The Sheriff winced. He was hoping not to get into that. The truth was the small bell, which had rung three days ago, had become louder when he’d seen the birth certificate. It was the Sheriff’s nature to run down his hunches and he had wanted to be sure, absolutely sure, before he came back.

"Thought I’d try to find out all I could,’ he said, "took me two days to do it."

"Why do you look so down?"

"Because some things aren’t right, Bobby, they should never happen."

"Don’t worry about it, she’s the right age, we even look alike. No one will guess. And you know she’ll be better off with me, and in Texas."

"I know," he said looking at Molly next to the man who wasn’t her father, "I guess."

"Besides, Sheriff," said Bobby, "my kid got taken from me on someone else system, right? Well, I’ll put mine and yours up to theirs any day, it’s the same thing; just without the clipboard."

"It’s not that, Bobby," said the Sheriff stepping back outside, the second piece of paper was heavy in his pocket.

"You said it yourself; my girl already has a dad. She hasn’t known me for five years and I don’t intend on breaking what she may have built." Bobby’s eyes were wetter every time he talked about the parents he didn’t know, the girl he still loved, "I’m not looking to feel better about myself at the expense of that. But I can make it better for Molly. That’s important, Sheriff, that’s the best I can do, for both of them."

The Sheriff looked at Molly through the doorway; she was already packing up her new toys. One by one the new crayons went inside the yellow bag, all in a certain order, all precious new things. She was ready to go, had been for a long time. Some kids should run, and never did. Molly wouldn’t be one of them.

He let go of the paper in his pocket to shake Bobby’s hand.

"Maybe you’re right," and maybe this was the best the Sheriff could do to.

Molly would have a daddy worth something, Darrell wouldn’t have a kid made to feel like nothing, and Bobby’s daughter could stay where she was. There wasn’t even a need to tell Bobby where that was. After all, the death certificate in his pocket could stay there and as long as someone visited Katie McGee’s grave, she wasn’t a lost child. Besides, the Sheriff had no other plans tonight.
 

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