Aunt Sue was on trial. For what, I didn’t know.
We were sitting at the back of the courthouse. It was hot, and the benches on our side were empty and less dusted. Cobwebs painted the fan blades like icing. I looked at the other family sitting closer together and watched blood rush to their faces when the judge called Sue.
“You’d make a fine lawyer,” Mom whispered, breath peppery, like the skin of cold turkey. “Like most women, you got good sympathy—understanding what comes between lies and truth.” I reached up and flattened the patch on her shoulder—a habit she said was making the other go away.
If it was Dad I would have asked for Tylenol, but I stayed with Mom on odd-numbered weeks. I could feel sweat billowing off the newborn fat near my armpits. My nipples ached. Mom placed her hand over my thigh, and we watched Aunt Sue swear on the Bible. The watermarks on her jumpsuit made it look like she’d just showered. Her eyes were glassy, elliptic; like the frog eyes I dissected in school.
Dad had moved in above the train station. Enough space for his guitar and a twin bed. Mom said it was unfit, but I told her I was fine living there. Nights I had bad dreams Dad would spoon me to his prickle chest and sing over the trains passing; rocking me back to sleep.
“She didn’t hit him on purpose,” Mom said, puffing her cigarette. The judge had called for recess. We were standing outside on the marble, not touching; sweating past our clothes.
“It was dark, and the boy wasn’t using the crosswalk. There wasn’t anything she could do. ”
Then Mom did that thing with her callouses. Swabbing the torn skin with her wedding band. I had tried to stay subjective, but it was hard not to think about when Aunt Sue was my babysitter; watering down Dad’s liquor after she’d had a few.
“What if she’s guilty? What happens then?”
The lines in Mom’s face flattened. I could sense that a great distance was growing between us, like we’d soon be worlds apart.
“Don’t be like your father. Everything’s so black and white with him.”
We didn’t stay for the verdict. Mom held my hand the entire way home. I didn’t say anything about Dad or Aunt Sue or the boy she killed. When we passed the train station, I listened for his voice.
© Will Yarbrough