Christopher — a short story.
Christopher knew they would be coming for him soon.
He sat on the wooden porch in front of the trailer with his back to the door. His head throbbed. He wore threadbare Ninja Turtles pajama bottoms and nothing else.
The television in the room behind him was left too loud as usual. It was tuned to a re-run of a five-year old episode of Saturday Night Live; two actors as mentally-challenged children annoyed a group of adults at a dinner party.
The trailer-park was dimly lit by the yellow light from the lamps out on the main road and the flashes of blue thrown through his trailer’s doorway by the television. Christopher tapped the last Marlboro Lite out of a soft pack he had taken from Father’s jacket pocket and fished a purple Bic lighter out of the front pocket of his pajamas. He held a flame to the tip of the cigarette. He lingered on the first draw and filled his lungs with the sweet smoke. He exhaled with a sigh. His head dropped with the weight of the past few moments. He noticed a three-dot spatter of blood just above the waistband of his pajamas, wiped it with his thumb, then put his thumb in his mouth. It tasted like a penny.
A car with an ill-tuned exhaust passed by on the street and he looked up again. Cool air tickled his skin. He shivered. He realized he hadn’t felt anything in the last few minutes, like his mind was an appendage that had fallen asleep and it was just getting its feeling back.
Christopher knew his life had just changed in an irreversible way. He also knew that it was inevitable. His fourteen years of living led up to this one moment of fatal violence. He knew that from this moment forward, he would live a completely different life. A second life. He wasn’t sad about this fact. He wasn’t happy either. It just was. It couldn’t have been avoided from the moment he awoke to who he who he really was, the day he figured out the difference between the existence he was living and the existence he was supposed to live.
“Hon, are you okay?”
Christopher recognized the voice. He’d seen and heard her through the kitchen window. She was a hunched, overweight, chain-smoker who always wore flowered housecoats and ran a daycare out of her trailer for the toddlers of park parents who worked during the week. Her trailer sat cat-corner to his. She stood in her doorway, lit harshly by her sharp porch light. He took another pull on the cigarette. His body started to vibrate, to buzz as she lumbered across the road. She hesitated at his bottom step and she looked him over. Her breathing was labored.
“Son,” she said. “Is everything okay in there?” She nodded toward the door. “I heard shouting and…” Her voice drifted off. She touched the top of his head as she heaved herself up the steps and waddled into the small living room. He knew what she would see in there.
He heard her gasp. She mumbled something. He heard her cross the room. With a click, the television went silent. He looked at the ground and away from the trailer, embarrassed that if she went further in, to the small room in the back with the foam on the walls, she would see his cage.
He became aware of how still the night was. The park was usually full of hubbub, even this late, but gone was the chatter of drunken neighbors, the children, the annoying buzz of the mosquitoes that built up when rain in a horseshoe-shaped depression in the courtyard pooled and grew stagnant. It was like every living thing in the park had come to a standstill the moment he drove the knife into the man he called Father.
He heard the old woman pick up and dial the phone in his kitchen. She’s going to get a burn for touching that, he thought then caught himself and shook his head.
“Hello. I live in Desert Ridge mobile park. There’s a dead body in one of the trailers here.” Christopher flicked the long ash from the end of his cigarette onto the dirt in front of his steps. A pair of twenty-somethings from the trailer directly across the road peeked through a gap in the blinds hanging in their front window.
“No,” the woman said. “I don’t know but yes, I am sure he is. I’m a nurse. He’s dead.” She paused. Her voice grew quiet. Christopher cocked his head. “There’s a young man sitting outside.” Another pause. “I don’t know. I’ve seen him in the trailer park but I don’t know him. Jamie I think. I’m sure his father called him Jamie. He’s not talking. He looks scared. And I heard fighting. Just before.”
Her voice moved further away. Christopher turned his head. “I can see a knife yes. No, he doesn’t. He’s just sitting there. No, I didn’t. I won’t.”
Christopher heard her footsteps then felt her standing behind him. “Shoo,” she said to the twenty-somethings. “Go on. Get back.”
The buzz in his body rose to a tremor. He could no longer hold the cigarette so he wrestled a final drag out of it then dropped it on the dirt below the bottom step of the porch. The woman lowered herself beside him. The touch of her hand on his arm was light but he flinched anyway. Instinct.
The first siren broke the night’s silence. It was distant. “Honey. Did you do that? Inside?,” she asked.
He saw more eyes at the windows and doors of the aluminum neighborhood. The woman slipped her arm around his shoulder. “The police will be here soon,” she said and pressed his body to hers. She was warm. He fit into the space under her arm like a bony baby bird under mother’s protective wing.
“Maisey,” he said, with a shake in his voice.
“Maisey?,” she said. “What’s Maisey dear?”
“What does that mean dear?” The old woman lifted his chin with her hand. “You aren’t making sense. The police are going to be here soon.” She pinched his chin a little and he lifted his eyes to hers. The siren grew louder. “I know what’s been going on here,” she said. “I was a nurse for many years. I know what I’m looking at.” She picked up his thin arm. “These bruises. On your wrist. Him?” She rubbed her thumb against his cheek. “And your eye.” He winced.
“You’ve got to get it straight in your head before the first policeman gets here. If what I saw is the only way things could have worked out for you, you’ve got to be ready to say it. Do you understand?”
“Maisey Stephenson. Please. Maisey Stephenson.”
“Oh you poor soul,” she said and pulled Christopher into an hug as the first patrol car rolled to a stop in front of his trailer.
A young Deputy Sheriff stepped out of the cruiser. From behind his open door, he scanned the trailer park, his hand on the butt of his pistol. He looked at Christopher and the woman for a long beat.
“You called us ma’am?”
“Yes,” she said as a second patrol car slid in behind the first. “Dead man’s in there.”
The young cop unholstered his sidearm and lifted it toward the door. He spoke into a microphone clipped to the epaulet of his uniform. “Up there?”
“Go on,” she said.
The deputy from the second car stepped out. An older man. “What do we got?”
“Not sure yet,” the first officer said. Then to us, “What happened?”
The woman shrugged. “I don’t know. I found him and I called you.”
The first officer tipped his head at Christopher. “Him?”
“I think he lives there.”
“Son,” the cop said. “Do you know what happened here?”
“The kid’s in shock,” the woman said. “Go see for yourself.”
The two officers exchanged a look. The first stepped out from behind his door. “Do me a favor,” he said. “Show me your hands.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” the woman said with a heavy sigh. She turned her palms out. “See. Nothing.” She lifted Christopher’s limp arm. “Nothing here either.”
“Would you mind moving away from the door?”
With effort, the woman stood. She guided Christopher to his feet. They walked down the three porch steps and moved away from the trailer. Christopher clung to the woman’s side. “Happy?,” she said with a glare.
“Stay right there,” the first officer said. He exchanged a subtle nod with his colleague, mumbled again into the radio, then stepped up into the trailer.
Christopher pressed himself into the woman’s warm side and listened to the officers progress.
“Up here Charlie,” the first cop said from the doorway. The second officer followed his younger colleague into the trailer. Christopher heard urgent mumbling from inside the trailer. A new siren popped up in the night. And another.
The two deputies came out onto the porch. There was caution in the older man’s voice. “Ma’am. Did you…”
Christopher’s teeth chattered. He looked up at the old woman. Her brow furrowed. “No. And dammit, can we sit down? These old legs do go for standing out here like this.”
They both looked at Christopher then conferred a moment. Christopher heard “He doesn’t look strong enough to hold a knife and fork, let alone do that.” The older officer separated and went to the trunk of his car. The other started toward them.
“Look,” the old woman said and pulled Christopher tight, “don’t go rushing to any conclusions. I have no more idea what went on here than you did.”
“All the same ma’am.” The younger cop gingerly reached for Christopher’s right wrist, lifting him out from under the woman’s arm.
Christopher tensed and clung to the woman.
“Relax,” the officer said gently. “I’m just going to sit you in the back of my car until we can get this all sorted out.”
The woman clutched the emotional boy for a moment then said “It’s okay honey. Go with him. I’ll be right here.” Christopher let himself be led.
“Detectives are on their way ma’am. Stay right here. They’ll need to get a statement from you as well.”
Christopher looked at the old woman as he was led across the road to the squad car. He said “Maisey Stephenson.”
“Wait for the detectives,” the cop said and lowered Christopher gently into the back of his car.
“Maisey Stephenson,” Christopher croaked as the car door closed.
‘Who is Maisey Stephenson?,’ he heard the cop asking the old woman and the world went silent again.
Christopher curled himself into a ball in the hard-plastic curves of the patrol car’s rear seat. He was no longer shaking; he felt numb.
The car smelled of oranges. Not the natural, drink-yours-ice-cold-with-the-pulp-left-in kind, but the slightly chemical orange of the gritty hand cleaners you find in the bathrooms at off-main-street service stations.
He hugged his knees and watched the trailer. Yellow plastic ribbon had been tied off to fence posts and tree trunks in a rough rectangle containing it. The tape twirled and twisted in the dry breeze. A dozen uniformed cops were the little park now. They seemed mostly excited, keyed-up, but were serving no real purpose; there simply to look at a body.
The name had been rattling around in his head for a week, it came back to him suddenly after a particularly rough visit when ‘Father’ let his friends…
The name bathed him in sadness. And anxiety; he had just gambled his whole life on the promise that the name meant something.
The pack of young officers huddled by his trailer scattered as a mid-fifties black woman with swimmer’s shoulders trailed by a short white man in a rancher’s coat stepped up the porch steps. They wore black leather billfolds on lanyards displaying gold badges. An older officer by the front door nodded at the detectives then wrote something on a clipboard as they entered the trailer.
They came out a couple of minutes later and stood on the top step of his porch and talked to the officer at the door. The female detective looked toward the car, at Christopher, and held her stare on him while the officer read notes from sheets of paper on his clipboard.
Christopher felt his face heat up. She turned back to the officer. He looked puzzled then flipped one page back and spoke two words. Christopher followed the movement of the officers lips and could understand the words easily. “Maisey Stephenson.”
The detective made a loop in the air with her hand a few times and the officer repeated the name. She looked back at Christopher. Her mouth was the tiniest bit open. Her eyes were narrow. She spun to her partner, grabbed his arm, and pulled him away from the trailer. Christopher smiled and closed his eyes.
With his eyes closed, Christopher tried to conjure up an image to go along with the name that kept repeating itself in his mind, but all he saw was a silhouetted face framed in long curls looking down at him from above.
Frustration flooded him and before he could control it, the man who demanded to be called Father was in her place. This face he saw clearly; the hollow of his red-rimmed eyes, every ingrown follicle, every smudge of filth, the line of drool that formed at the corner of his mouth as he panted.
A rasp on the window startled him. The white detective looked in, contempt on his face. Christopher straightened himself as best as he could. The man looked over his shoulder and shook his head. His partner stood at the foot of the porch to his trailer and was speaking. Christopher couldn’t make out her words. She held a white plastic three-ring binder as thick as a big-city telephone book in one hand and shook it toward them.
The detective at his window barked at someone. The first officer that had arrived on the scene ran over to the car, unlocked and opened the rear door, then immediately jogged away.
“What’s your name?” the detective said. “Julian, right?” Christopher lowered his eyes. “It’s not Julian?” He shook his head. “Jesus, kid. You don’t know your own name?” He pointed back to the trailer. “You did that?”
“You can’t talk to him without a parent or guardian,” the woman said from the other side of the car. The detective stood up quickly.
“Hey,” he shouted. “Back off lady. This is none of your concern.” He crouched back down and lowered his voice. “Come on kid. You can level with me. We’re here to help. You did this, didn’t you? Just tell me you did this and we can take you somewhere warm and comfy.” Christopher shrunk away.
The detective glared and said nothing for a long moment. “Ah, fuck it,” he said finally and pulled Christopher off the back seat roughly and onto his feet.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said to his partner as he marched Christopher toward the trailer.
The book she held was open to a page she had marked with her thumb. She grabbed Christopher’s head and tilted it toward her. She pulled his ear-lobe forward and said “Huh.”
She let him go and lifted a cell phone to her ear. She turned away and spoke softly. He stood tall when he heard her speak a name into the phone. His shaking was gone. His malaise was gone. His heart raced. His face grew hot. The hairs on his arms rose and waved like Dakota wheat fields in a warm Spring breeze.
After a moment, she said “Okay, if you’re sure.” Christopher heard the person on the other end of the phone speak. He couldn’t make out any of the words but the sound, the timbre of the voice, seemed to vibrate the air around him on a frequency that resonated in every cell in his body.
The white detective tightened his protective grip on Christopher’s arm as his partner closed the gap between them. When she got close, she lifted Christopher’s chin so she could see straight into his eyes. “There’s someone on the phone who wants to speak to you.” She held the phone to his ear. The binder fell open at her side. Christopher could see the photograph of the face of a five-year old boy he no longer recognized. The words ‘Missing since October 1997’ and ‘Abducted from home’ were typed in bold lettering across the top.
“Maisey Stephenson?,” he said weakly. He heard breathing on the other end of the connection. A dog barked in the background.
“Yes,” she said gently, carefully; pained but hopeful.
Christopher’s legs weakened and he felt the weight of his body fall onto the white detective’s arm. “Mom?,” he said.
“Oh my God.”
“Mom.” He was crying now.
“Christopher?” She was crying.
“Mommy. Can I come home now?”