It's Not Lying if You Call it Fiction*

The Tennessee Bar Journal’s First Fiction Contest Draws Creative Stories, Tall Tales

Since we had never done this before and we didn’t want to mess it up, for the Tennessee Bar Journal’s first fiction contest we spent some time pondering, researching, pondering some more. That didn’t seem like enough so we consulted with other bar associations that have serious, long-term creative writing contests. We would not want to begin such an undertaking without the expertise of our friends at the State Bar of Arizona, the State Bar of Texas, and the State Bar of Georgia. They and many others gave excellent advice, cautionary tales, as well as a couple of tales of actual woe. But on we pressed in our quest to provide an outlet for the pent-up creative writers among you.

The members of the TBJ’s Editorial Board, avid readers themselves, of course, were game to serve as judges. So our staff constructed a shadowy system where the judges would not know the identities of the writers of each submission, and our conversations with them became full of convoluted sentences to avoid use of personal pronouns and other identifying information. This turned out to be fun.

The rules in the contest had been few: the writer must be a Tennessee Bar Association member, the entry could have no more than 3,500 words, and must have a connection, no matter how remote, to the law. (There were others in the fine print, but these were the biggies.)

The top award, which includes a $100 gift card to the bookstore of choice (she chose Nashville’s Parnassus), goes to Nashville lawyer Kristi Wilcox Arth for “The Sentence.” Honorable Mention goes to Knoxville lawyer D. Adam Moore for “Get Through Together.” The two stories are printed in these pages and can also be found online at tba.org/journal_fiction2017.

The deadline for our second contest is March 12, 2018, and the winning entry will be published in the June 2018 issue. We look forward to reading your stories.

— Suzanne Craig Robertson, editor

*No fact-checks or footnotes!


FIRST PLACE:
THE SENTENCE

by Kristi Wilcox Arth

a hand tossing green pills into the air

Inmate No. 1127

I am inmate number 1127. At the Winfield Medium Security Facility, they are already up to inmate number 5181, which makes me the old-timer — the cock-of-the-walk, if you will. We don’t have time for me to tell you all the stories I’ve got from my stint here on the inside — 99 years, 364 days to be precise. And I’m very precise.

The crime that noosed me with such a long sentence happened so many years ago that it doesn’t even feel important any more. The guy is gone. His children are gone. There are some grandchildren somewhere, I’d bet — not that I been looking.

This guy, he was my best friend. We shared an enormous amount of beers together in college, shared a road trip to California where we both dunked into the Pacific Ocean for the first time. We shared poker nights and our men’s Bible study. So, I guess it wasn’t too illogical that Mr. Scott Murphy thought he could share my wife, Lilah, too. Maybe not illogical, but definitely stupid.

Because I had a temper on me in those days; and, when I found out, I got him real drunk on Jim Beam and offered to drive him home. Then I got him in his bed and took off his socks and tucked him in real good, just like a baby, swaddled so its arms and feet can’t flail. So it feels safe. Then I slit his throat in one clean line, like my Pa had taught me to do with the hogs. He didn’t suffer at all. I wouldn’t have wanted him to.

But then I just got to thinking about all that I had done for him. And I got to thinkin’ about him pawing at my wife, all sweaty, like he gets when he’s been drinkin’, and I was just — well, I was angry. So, I stabbed him seven, 10, 12 more times. But he didn’t feel nothing. I was a housewife jabbing a pin absent-mindedly over and over into her pincushion. Pincushions are not sentient; neither are dead people. It was just an absent-minded, pincushion catharsis.

They got me for premeditated murder, which earned me 100 years. I might have gotten the death penalty had those stab wounds not been inflicted post-mortem or if there hadn’t been, you know, the mitigating factor of Mr. Murphy being a general skirt-chasin’ bastard.

Judge Randall’s voice was steady, wooden. You are hereby sentenced to 100 years in the Winfield County Prison, the full term of which shall be served under the State’s medicine-assisted imprisonment program. That gavel thunking down was just the beginning of my life really.

I was 49 when I was arrested. Fifty by the time I was sentenced. They aged me to 65 before they started dosing me with the Preservatrol. The scientists had been working on Preservatrol for a dog’s age, as they say. They had run all the tests on all the lab rats, then the rabbits. They even graduated to monkeys (and I’m sure some Third-World elderly that everyone keeps very hush-hush) before the FDA approved it for limited use in the United States. I was the first inmate to be sentenced to “medicine-assisted imprisonment,” which is a fancy way of saying that they force feed you these little pills that prevent cellular degeneration in order to keep you alive, indefinitely, so that you can serve any sentence they want to saddle you with — 50 years, 100 years, 200 years.

Never you mind the expense of keeping us alive, the lobbyists and politicians thought it would be more punishment to draw out the lives of criminals like me — give us 50 more years of consciousness than the good Lord would have otherwise seen fit to give, 50 more years for us to contemplate our crimes. They thought I would feel 50 more years of sorry. Well, tra la! I do not. See, this weren’t no heat of passion decision. I chose to kill Mr. Murphy for what I consider to be a fairly understandable reason. Besides that, those Kelly-green Preservatrol pills may stop you from aging, but they do not change the way memory works. Mr. Murphy’s pincushion corpse has long faded into the background of my psyche. I can’t really even remember his blood-mottled face no more.

Mr. Murphy is only being drug to the forefront of my mind now, like a crushed soda can trolling to the lake surface by an errant fishing line, because tomorrow I get released. I have served my time, all of it, and now they have no choice but to let me go.

But let me tell you, there is a lot of nail biting going on around Winfield right now. Because they do not have one single clue how to do this. Most times, inmates get released and they are given an ‘atta boy and cab fare to momma’s. My mother, God rest her soul, has been in the ground for over 70 years now. I never had kids with the lovely Lilah, and even if we had, they’d all be dead by now, too. I haven’t had a visitor in over 80 years. So, these suits just have no idea what to do with me. But let me tell you one thing, they cannot hold me here any longer. No, sir. No, ma’am.

This used to be the intake room. I remember it too well — my first strip search. What a treat. I stared at this cucumber-green tiled floor hard — like I was looking at a long lost Vincent van Gogh. Then it was a storage room for a while. It was the warden’s office during the first and second remodels, and now it is an interview room where they do the parole hearings and the occasional press briefing. I’ve turned down almost all interviews for decades. I don’t want to be watched and dissected like some fish in a bowl. I won’t swim ’round and ’round for these people while they enjoy their science experiment.

But they are making me do the interview dance today. They’ve got me set up here in this plastic chair, at a wide rectangular table that looks like a lunchroom hand-me-down (cafeterias don’t change that much from generation to generation). They’ve even got me this cup of coffee, which does not have an aftertaste of mold or soap; so, all-in-all, it is a good day.

Lauren Kilpatrick, M.D.

Edmund Bernard Rotier. Caucasian male. Actual age: 150; Bodily Age: 65. Hypertensive. Walks 3 miles a day. No alcohol or cigarette usage.

I am kind of sad to be losing Mr. Rotier. He is an affable old man. I’ve been treating him ever since I became Winfield’s resident physician five years ago. His chief concerns are arthritis in his fingers and some bilateral sciatica nerve pain. All very treatable.

The psych department says that recidivism is drastically reduced after age 45, and after retirement age, most men never return to the criminal element. The scientist in me really wants to know if that reduction is because they’ve lost such a significant amount of testosterone, or is it something else? But there won’t be time for recidivism to be an issue for Mr. Rotier.

“They are ready for you, Dr. Kilpatrick.” A guard pokes his head into my office to escort me to the interview room.

The heavy door clinks shut behind me, and I take a seat on the other side of the table from Mr. Rotier. His color looks good today. He has a thin white stubble sprouting on his chin like hoarfrost. He also has a full head of hair the same color as soba noodles. My father thought health could be measured by the thickness of one’s hair. If he could have seen Mr. Rotier, he would have run his hands through that mop and declared Mr. Rotier fit-as-a-fiddle, the very picture of health.

“Mr. Rotier, how are you feeling today? You know you are getting released tomorrow,” I say, testing him for his mental awareness, his sense of time.

“Dr. Keel-patrick, have you been sneaking peeks at my calendar?” He winks at me. He was probably quite charming in his day, way back then.

“Me and half a dozen girls,” I say.

Mr. Rotier laughs. He has a practiced smile, one that shows just enough teeth without being too gummy.

“Mr. Rotier, we have to be serious for a minute though,” I say.

Mr. Rotier sets down his coffee cup and spins it round and round in one hand, waiting for me.

“You know that when you are released, you will no longer be receiving your daily Preservatrol?”

“Yep.” His eyes are down at his twirling coffee.

“Okay. The medical community does not know how to predict exactly when the effect of the drug will … wear off.”

“Why don’t you just say what you mean, Doc?” Mr. Rotier looks up at me, concern fringing his eyes.

“We don’t know how long you’ll survive once you are no longer receiving Preservatrol. The rats die immediately. The rabbits take a day. The monkeys around a week. We don’t have definitive results on humans yet.”

“This Preservatrol is only good if you keep taking it,” Mr. Rotier says to his coffee cup.

“Yes, your body has been aging underneath. The Preservatrol just kind of stops time on the surface for awhile, but it cannot stop the latent aging.”

“So, it’s like The Picture of Dorian Gray, then. My inner portrait is just rotting out.”

There were a couple years in there where Mr. Rotier read nothing but the classics, so he could be “Well-Rounded” and a “Renaissance Man,” he told me once, while making extensive use of air quotes.

“That’s actually very eloquently put, Mr. Rotier.”

“So, I’m the guinea pig, huh?” he grunts.

“Yes, and there will be intense interest in you because of it. If you let anyone into your, um, process, it should be someone you trust,” I say.

“Like who?”

“Someone who has treated you, who knows your medical history inside and out.”

“Ahhh, like you then, Dr. Keel-pa-trick.” He spits the last two syllables.

“Yes. Let me write an article on you — we could get published in the New England Journal of Medicine.”

Mr. Rotier releases his coffee and raises a flat hand. “Let’s get one thing straight here, Doc. We ain’t getting published. I won’t be listed as a second author, will I?”

I hesitate, and Mr. Rotier doesn’t wait for my response.

“No, I won’t,” he says. “You’d be getting published, so that you could write your one-way ticket out of this hellish prison physician job you somehow fell into — probably because you went to a third-tier medical school somewhere in the Caribbean and finished in the middle of your class, and when you woke up and realized you couldn’t live on a beach for the rest of your life, you couldn’t get a proper residency. See the thing is, Doc, I don’t owe you anything. And if I grant you an exclusive to my ‘process’ — I think is what you just called my death — well, you are going to need to go ahead and make it worth my while.”

I think about the picture of my classmates and me juxtaposed against the jeweled blues of the ocean, skipping class in our last year of med school at St. James School of Medicine in Bonaire. Collapsing onto sugar sand, breathing in air tangy with salt, I thought I was so free; but, it just landed me here, in Winfield, curing cases of athlete’s foot from the disgusting prison showers or the occasional stab wound from someone’s makeshift toothbrush shiv. I haven’t been published in four years.

Mr. Rotier just may be dangerous. Someone who has observed so much, learned so much, who can read people at a snap like that, outthink people who have only lived for a normal, non-criminal amount of time. Yes, someone like that is quite dangerous, a definite recidivist. I am glad he will die soon.

To glance at him casually, he seems like your grandpa. Jolly, if achy. Gentle, yet outwardly cantankerous. But then you look at those deep brown eyes, and you get the distinct feeling of looking down a well that’s drunk in years of rain, or a black hole that has just been sucking in everything it could see for years. And you think, I might be next.

I slide the last Kelly green Preservatrol pill toward Mr. Rotier in a paper medicine cup. “Here’s your last dose. Enjoy it.”

Mr. Rotier pops it into his mouth and washes it down with a swig of coffee. Smiles.

“Open up.”

Mr. Rotier obediently gapes his mouth.

“Tongue up.”

I see no evidence of the green pill. It is well on its way to saturating his cells one last time, before it is pooped out along with the rest of his miserable life.

Berry Oberlin, Esq.

The curvaceous Ms. Kilpatrick — excuse me, Doctor Kilpatrick — (I’ve been corrected on that front one too many times) walks out of the interview room in her scrubs and her crisp, white lab coat. When she sees me, she hugs the flaps of her lab coat together and scurries away.

I clunk my supple leather briefcase down on the plastic table. Mr. Rotier does not jump. He just stares at the briefcase as if I am going to open it and show him some hidden treasure. And here is some gold bullion; and here are some excellent hand-cut emeralds; and here, oh look here, the judge said you can just take the pills and live forever.

“What are your plans tomorrow?”

I ask.

“Well, you know, I figured I was just going to try and find a place away from the paparazzi, a private place to die, like an old dog that scurries off behind a bush once he’s been run over.”
I’ve been Ed’s attorney for the last 15 years. I know when he is lying. I know when his harmless, simple country boy routine is dialed up.

“How long do you think you’ll last?” I ask him. “What did Dr. Kilpatrick say?” Yummm.

Mr. Rotier shrugs his shoulders, the worn orange jumpsuit leaping toward his face, giving his olive skin a garish glow. “Hopefully long enough to get me some real, made-from-scratch biscuits with some of that homemade grape jam like my momma used to make on Sundays after church — deep purple with some seeds still in it.”

“I have to inform the prison authorities where you will be going tomorrow upon your release, and I can’t put down the diner,” I say.

Ed motions for me to slide my legal pad and pen toward him. I look down at what he’s written in a careful, studied cursive.

“What’s this address?”

I was expecting him to find a nice mid-range hotel with soft white towels and free scrambled eggs served in generous portions for his last few days.

“That’s my new apartment,” he says. “My publisher paid out some of my book advance for a deposit on the place. Two bedrooms, big bath, wrought iron balcony. Very middle class. You’d like it, Berry,” Ed says. 

Ed’s publisher is 24 Titles. They are an independent publisher that only puts out two books each month, just 24 titles each year.  I helped him with the contract for the new book Extended Sentence: Ed Rotier’s Story of Two Lifetimes Behind Bars, which is set to be released tomorrow in conjunction with his release from prison — the bookworms at 24 Titles think this is very meta.

“What is the term of this lease?” I ask.

“A year.”

Something isn’t adding up. I pencil the address into the release form anyway. All indications say he only has a week — two at the most — to live once his Preservatrol is withheld. I straighten my forms.

“Ed, we’ve discussed what the Court of Appeals ruled. It is not considered cruel and unusual punishment to discontinue your Preservatrol after your release. That means you will not be able to receive the medication, and I don’t really know how else to put it, but you will die.”

“We will all die,” Ed says.

“You are 150 years old, Ed. You are going to die really soon.”

“Funny, I feel like I’m 65,” Ed says.

I consider whether to ask him if he is up to something, but then decide, no — I want to be able to tell any judge with an absolutely straight face that I had no clue about whatever crazy scheme he may pull. When it is splashed on every news outlet and they come hunting me down, I will know not a thing.

“Can’t you do something?” Ed asks finally. “I’ve served my time. I just want to live awhile. That Preservatrol is my medication. They couldn’t just take away someone’s blood thinner or asthma inhaler, could they?”

“You know Preservatrol is not like that. It is not a medication. It is a highly regulated imprisonment tool,” I say.

He wipes at his eyes with a sleeve. I am not sure I saw any tears.

I stand up, extending my hand toward Ed across the table. “I’ll come to your release tomorrow. I’d like to see you in a different color than orange, I think.”

Ed stands up, his leg chains clinking, and shakes my hand.

“We should get a biscuit sometime, Berry. I’d like to see you in something other than this monkey suit, I think.”

“Well, we should do it soon, then. There’s not much time, right?” I ask.

“Right. Guard!”

Edmund B. Rotier

They kept refilling my Styrofoam coffee cup as my agent and the minister and the warden and the public relations gal for the prison were ushered in and out of that stuffy room. But after the parade of lunatics, they have finally left me to my bunk — Bed 12, Cell Block D. It has been home for at least 40 of the last 100 years. My thoughts are tongues of flame, lurching without pattern, burning everything they touch. I have never felt more alive.

I count down to 9 p.m. when the buzzy, fluorescent lights overhead will click off. Three, two, one — and I roll towards the wall, tug open the slit in the mattress, and remove the Kelly green pills from the stuffing one by one, until I’ve retrieved all 62 of them.

I’ve got deep gums. That’s what a dentist told me one time, and it gave me my brilliant idea. If they want to drag out my life, well, Miss Molly, that’s just what I was gonna do. I experimented with how long I could go without taking the daily Preservatrol dose. I once got to day 5 but then my chest started squeezing like someone wringing out a wet towel, and I drew the line there. So, when it was safe to — when the dumb nurses were on med line — I’d stow away a pill here or there in the recesses of those gums. I’d managed to hide 62. If I spaced them out by about four days each, it could keep me alive for a year or so. One rollicking, brilliant year of freedom. And I’ll watch those scientists scratch their heads at how long he’s lasting, and I’ll gloat.

I once had a cellie who was a drug mule. I’ve had a lot of cellies, and I’ve learned a lot of different things that I’ve socked away for later use. Whatever wasn’t useful, whatever droll, background fluff they injected into our airspace, I summarily forgot. It’s called mental editing.

It was not that hard to get a few condoms from commissary. You tell ’em what they wanna hear. After 100 years, you know what I’ve missed, Gerold? Wink, wink. And Gerold and the other guards laugh, and they elbow each other knowingly, morbidly fascinated with the 150-year-old man’s virility.

The young are so short-sighted. Screw, reproduce, die. They don’t know what it means to live. Gerold throws in an extra on the house.

And here we are at 9:07 p.m.

The Kelly green pills drop silently into the translucent white condom, and I smother it with the violet, off-brand paste they pass off as jelly around here. I lifted the packet from breakfast two weeks ago.

I made sure I’d be able to swallow the condom by practicing with the hotdogs and breakfast sausages. One gulp. No gagging. You can’t attract the attention of the guards who expect you to be sleeping. So, I do it on three, in the echoing quiet of Cell Block D.

The whole thing goes down smooth, tastes like Sunday morning. end of article

Kristi Wilcox ArthKristi Wilcox Arth practices civil litigation and intellectual property law at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Nashville. She won the grand prize in the 2016 Nashville Reads contest for her poetry, as well as the Arty Party prize for fiction at the University of Alabama, where she earned her bachelor of arts in English with a minor in creative writing. She also holds a master of arts policy & administration; she received her law degree from the Ohio State University.

Dedicated to supporting a literary culture in Nashville, Arth provides pro bono representation to artists through the Volunteer Lawyers & Professionals for the Arts and has served on the board of directors for Southern Word.

“My non-fiction work has been published, but this is my first publication credit for fiction. So, thank you! I love to write in many different genres, but fiction is probably the one where I spend the most time. I have a minor in creative writing and I have taken some online classes through the Gotham Writers Workshop; but, I otherwise just study the craft by reading books on writing.

“As lawyers, we spend a lot of time being logical and analytical, but you can’t know the ‘big truths’ that way. Fiction enables you to explore and understand the spiritual and emotional undercurrents of your world. I love the idea that Peter Maurin encouraged — that we should strive to create a society ‘where it is easier for people to be good,’ instead of focusing on how to make people be good.

“I am really interested in dystopian fiction right now because it is fascinating to contemplate the inverse of that ideal. How would humans react when any particular limit of modern society gets pushed, when we are thrust into a society where it is not so easy to be good?

Photo of an old cabin

HONORABLE MENTION:
GET THROUGH TOGETHER

by D. Adam Moore

Millie Lawson
Springville, Tennessee:

We lived so far back in the country, they had to pump in sunshine. To an outsider, we probably looked pretty pitiful. Us kids handed down clothes to the next in line, no matter boy or girl, because clothes were clothes and we were lucky to have them.

“Somebody always has it worse,” at least that’s what Momma told us. We had sideways homemade haircuts, thanks to Momma’s big silver scissors in the kitchen drawer by the fridge. Our kitchen was a place to eat when we were hungry, but a beauty shop when our hair got long. We didn’t know any better. That was just our life and it was a good one, for the most part. Things were slow and simple then. It was summer and the days were long and lived full. Work first, play later. That was the Lawson family rule.

The creek out front hid bullfrogs and crawdads. The water stayed cool even on the hottest of days, thanks to a large willow tree that dropped down its shade. Out back were woods, just woods. No neighbors, no noise, just trees and a lot of them. I was Daddy and Momma’s first-born, but I had three younger brothers and sisters, and we did everything together. As far back as I can remember, it was my job to “be a good example.” What did I know about being an example? This is the first time I’ve been through this life.

Daddy was stern, with tough over-worked hands, but he had kind eyes and a soothing voice. He picked out a song for each of us kids when we were born and he’d sing it to us before bedtime each night. He drank too much whiskey, but he wasn’t mean about it. He and Momma loved each other, and we knew it too.

They had been together forever; I think they must have met in grade school. Daddy never met a stranger he liked. He didn’t trust much of anything, people especially. He’d shake hands with squinted eyes trying to “figure out the other fella.” He was always worried about something, mostly nervous and anxious about stuff that never would happen. He worried about us kids the most. Our grandpa died of a stroke, probably because of all the worry he passed on to Daddy.

Daddy and Momma rented our small house from a greedy ol’ fat man, who ran the bank downtown. He owned more houses than he could ever live in. I never knew why he had so many houses. The ol’ fat man’s face was always red and he sweated … a lot. He wore expensive suits that stretched around his big belly. Each button on his bright white shirt would hang on for dear life, just ready to pop loose at any minute. He’d stand in the sun in front of our house with his chubby hand overflowing with a red handkerchief he kept tucked away in his back pocket. He’d circle his big balding head and chubby face over and over again, trying to keep up with all that sweat.

He never spoke to us kids, and we knew to stay out of his way. He had that kind of look on his face that told us kids not to come near. We’d all laugh when the shiny tires of his fancy car got dirty pulling into our driveway on the first of each month to get his rent money from Daddy. The driveway wasn’t much of a driveway really. It was a collection of gravel and mud puddles, one after another.

I loved my Daddy so much and I hated the way that ol’ fat man talked to him. I hated even more that Daddy just stood there and took it. I didn’t know then why he always kept his mouth shut. Now I know it was for Momma and us kids.

Things weren’t easy for our family. Daddy’s truck was always breaking down, and it seemed there was never enough money to go around. The last time that ol’ fat man came to get his money, he yelled at Daddy worse than ever because he was “light.” To the world our Daddy may have been “no count,” but to Momma and us kids, he was everything and then some.

Daddy made money but Momma made our house a home. Each morning started with breakfast and a prayer. Momma was a good cook but even on the occasion when she wasn’t, she served two things: take it or leave it. Before we could eat, Momma made us hold hands and shut our eyes. She started each prayer with “Father.” “Father, be with Daddy today.” “Father, help Millie’s headache go away.” “Father, thank you for this house.” Momma prayed as she lived life, asking for nothing and thinking of everyone but herself.

Momma use to say, “Jesus served others and we should too.” She never finished school, but she always sounded smart enough to me. Momma always knew what to say, and she taught us all about life. Some kids at our school had Mommas that gave them lots of things, but our Momma gave us something more; love, lessons and confidence.

We had three old ponies we rode bareback because we didn’t have saddles. Daddy said “If you can wrap your legs around, you can ride.” We had a wood barn that leaned sideways, tired of standing up straight all of those years, I guess.

We also had a big pond but no fish. The only thing our pond was good for was collecting the rocks we threw to the bottom. That and floating logs that gave snapping turtles a place to lay in the sun. Our chickens and roosters roamed around busy and never stood still. I guess they shared that in common with Momma.

Most afternoons I finished the day by laying on the front porch swing. The same swing that gave me a ride and a scar when I leaned too far over the back a few years earlier. Under my chin still hurts if I think about it real hard.  Before the other kids came along, Momma used to swing me for hours. If it got too cold in the evening, she’d wrap me in a big thick quilt her Momma made. I’ve never felt more safe or more happy. Just me, Momma and the stars.

Each morning Daddy was up before the sun. Us kids would lay in bed and hear the sound of his stubborn old truck refusing to wake up as he turned the key time and time again. Once the loud stubborn engine groaned to life, the heavy metal door would slam hard, and off Daddy went.

Daddy worked for a lawyer one town over. Momma said the lawyer owned a big farm with lots of livestock. He had lots of money, I guessed. Momma said Daddy mended fences, fed livestock, cut hay, and did pretty much whatever needed to be done. Daddy didn’t talk about his work but he told us kids more than once about how that lawyer was different than the ol’ fat man that owned our house.

Daddy would say, “Money don’t make people mean, Millie. It’s their hearts that do that.” I didn’t know what a lawyer was, but Daddy said that lawyers helped a lot of people. Daddy said he was fair and he was kind, and that I believed because Daddy never said that about anyone. I think that lawyer liked Daddy too, probably because Daddy worked so hard for him.

Daddy never stayed home sick, and he never missed work, except Sundays. Sundays were days of rest, or play if you were one of us kids. Every evening Daddy worked he would limp up the stairs, onto the porch, and into the house tired, sore and hungry. His boots never made it past the front door, and he scooted his dirty stained socks down the hallway into the kitchen and up to the table where Momma had dinner waiting. We’d hold hands, shut our eyes, and give thanks for all we had.

One early evening when us kids were outside playing, we saw the shiny tires of the ol’ fat man’s car pull down our driveway. It was the middle of summer and the right smack in the middle of June, so we didn’t expect to see the ol’ fat man for a few more weeks. He had come back to talk to Daddy about “being light” a few weeks earlier. After he had yelled at Daddy long enough, he threw a paper at him and waddled back to his car. He left so quickly his tires kicked up gravel, and we had to jump out of the way so we weren’t hit.

After the ol’ fat man was out of sight, Daddy slowly bent down to pick up the paper off the floor of the porch. When he straightened back up, he stood staring at the paper and rubbing his head. He always seemed worried and anxious, but we knew this time it was more than just worry.

A few nights later, it was my 12th birthday. I was almost a teenager, and I was so excited. I knew not to expect toys and gifts we couldn’t afford, but I also knew Daddy and Momma would always let us kids pick a place to eat dinner when it was our birthday. I don’t know who looked more forward to our birthdays, us kids or Momma because she didn’t have to cook and clean up after everybody else.

I picked the drive-in downtown because they had the best milkshakes. I hardly ate any of my hamburger because I was too excited about that milkshake. The milkshakes were so thick you couldn’t use a straw, which is why they were served with a plastic white spoon sticking out of the top. We all sat on Daddy’s tailgate and talked and laughed. I guess birthdays help you smile no matter what else is going on.

The ride home in the back of Daddy’s truck was cool and sure beat the sweltering heat from earlier in the day. All the stars were out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to block out the light.

Not many folks traveled the road that led to our house, so besides Daddy’s squeaky truck bed and the muffled sound of Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass music coming from inside the truck, the air blowing around the sides of the truck hushed out everything else. More beautiful than the stars were the smiles on Daddy and Momma’s faces. I looked through the dirty back glass of Daddy’s truck to watch the way they looked at each other while Daddy drove us all home. Momma always sat as close to Daddy as she could and they always held hands. Always. Seeing them happy made me happy.

Pulling into the driveway, the mood quickly changed and our faces stared in disbelief as we saw all of our things laying in the grass beside our house. I didn’t understand why someone would do that. Who could possibly be that mean?

The few shoes us kids owned, laid mismatched in the grass, the clothes we all shared were thrown about, and the legs on one of our kitchen chairs was cracked and broken, like somebody threw it from the front porch in a hurry. That wasn’t the way I wanted to finish my 12th birthday. The smile I saw on Mommas face a few minutes before in the front of Daddy’s truck was gone. Her beautiful dimple was replaced by a stream of wet tears.

The house Momma always made a home was empty and our things were scattered and broken like garbage on the ground. Maybe someone broke into our house, but why would they leave our stuff behind? Who put that big lock on our front door? Daddy helped us gather a handful of our clothes. Us kids were scared and confused, but from the look on Daddy’s face, we knew not to ask any questions. Daddy told us all to load up in the truck, and back out the driveway and onto the road we went.

We drove for a while not knowing where we were going or why. Soon enough we pulled up to a beautiful farm with a long driveway lined in bright white lights. The fences looked strong and new, with a fresh coat of black paint. Not a single board was missing from the entire row.

The long driveway was clean grey concrete all the way to the house. No gravel or mud puddles in sight. The grass looked just cut and laid in perfect rows of light and dark green. There wasn’t a single blade of grass out of place and it looked like carpet rolled out neatly. The flowers out front were brighter than any picture I’d ever seen. There must have been 100 cows and a handful of horses roaming around in the big open field beside the house. I’d never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life.

When Daddy’s truck finally came to a stop, he got out of the truck and walked to the back door. I was staring at the horses in the field when I heard the back door of the house open and Daddy was greeted by a man in his pajamas. Momma told us all to “be on your best behavior” because the man Daddy was talking to was the Lawyer he worked for.

Us kids were trying really hard to hear what Daddy and the lawyer were talking about, but they were talking too quietly and too far away. I did hear the Lawyer say “We’ll get through together.”

A few minutes later Daddy came back to the truck and told us to grab a few clothes and follow him. We walked behind the house to a basement door. Walking inside, the room was dark and unfamiliar.

There was a staleness that hung in the air. There was a kitchen area, a couch, two chairs and a door to a bedroom. Somehow us kids knew this was where we were spending the night. I laid awake on the couch in the dark, while the younger kids were sound asleep with Momma. Fighting off sleep, I could hear Daddy upstairs talking to the Lawyer. After trying to listen for a long while without hearing anything but the mumbling of their voices, I finally gave up and closed my eyes.

The next morning Daddy loaded us kids back into his truck without telling us where we were going. We sat in the morning sun for a few minutes as Daddy started his routine of turning the key to his truck. Daddy’s truck finally came to life, but we weren’t pulling away. We watched as the Lawyer’s car pulled out of the garage and onto the long clean driveway to the main road, and we followed. We didn’t take the usual way to our house, and after a few minutes I realized we were heading downtown. When Daddy’s truck finally came to a stop, I stood up and read the sign on the big building in front of us, “FIRST STATE BANK.”

Daddy and the Lawyer went inside and Momma and us kids waited in Daddy’s truck. After waiting outside for what seemed like hours, Daddy and the Lawyer came walking out of the front of the big brick bank together. They stopped on the sidewalk just in front of Daddy’s truck, and when they finished talking, the lawyer put his hand out for Daddy to shake. Instead, Daddy wrapped his arms around him and gave him a hug. A hug! I’d never seen Daddy hug anyone besides our Momma before. No handshake and no squinted eyes this time. I didn’t know it right then, but I learned later that night, that the Lawyer had bought our house. We’d never have to see that ol’ fat man again.

Daddy worked for that Lawyer for years after that day. On occasion Momma would invite the Lawyer over for Sunday supper, and each time he was invited, he would come. He always sat in the chair beside Daddy. The chair that Daddy fixed after it laid broken in the grass beside our house on my 12th birthday. Before we ate, the Lawyer would always shut his eyes and hold my hand as we gave thanks for all we had. He was kind to us kids and never spoke down to Daddy. He brought us each a present at Christmas time and always asked about our school work. Momma said the Lawyer never married or had kids of his own and that “he needed us like we needed him.”

Years later when I was away at college, the Lawyer died. Momma called to tell me a young man from the lawyer’s office brought by a piece of paper and handed it to Daddy on the porch. That piece of paper was a deed to our property. Another man now owned our house. That man was my Daddy.

As I reflect on that summer and the lessons I learned, I smile knowing that lawyer was right: somehow we had managed to get through together. end of article

D. Adam MooreD. Adam Moore is senior vice president/trust advisor with Pinnacle Financial Partners in Knoxville. He received his law degree from Appalachian School of Law in 2006. An active member of the Knoxville Bar and Tennessee Bar associations, he has served as a district representative and as E-Dict editor for the TBA Young Lawyers Division.

He has “only very recently started writing short works of fiction, but I am working on a longer piece currently that I’m excited about,” he says. This is the first time a work of his fiction has been published.

“I have no formal training in fiction writing, but it’s a growing passion and area of interest,” he says, “so hopefully with time and practice I can develop a skill for it. I love the art of storytelling. I love getting lost in a good story and finding myself in a character’s shoes and circumstances. It’s a great way to clear my head and remove any outside stress from the day.

“I’m not sure why I’ve delayed writing for so long because I’ve always been an avid reader. I’m very excited, humbled, and grateful to be recognized by the TBA. I think this will give me the confidence and motivation to continue writing and see where this goes.

“I would encourage anyone else who has an interest in writing to just start writing … or typing as the case may be.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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