A heavy rain drew welts across the courthouse lawn but spared the lemon trees. The girl watched several old men bunch around the drooped branches, stoop to pick up the fallen fruit, then set each one down precisely where it had dropped. Occasionally, a mindful dog would roll one along with its nose, mouth it carefully until it discovered its disagreeable taste, and then run off to chase errant leaves or an idle boy. This ritual seemed to happen every morning after every important summer storm, and this had been the third such storm since the Fourth.
The girl decided to wear her prettiest dress to the courthouse (turquoise, with splashes of yellow daisies, oh, and the fully frilly sleeves, thank you very much), pale leggings, which her mother insisted she wear, and brown Jesus sandals, which her father insisted she not. Her dark hair was brushed back like a boy’s, held in place with bobby pins and a penny’s worth of Murray’s Pomade. She confessed to her brother Louis the sin of shoplifting a bottle of Charlie Blue perfume at Kresge’s the day before, and her smirk was telling as to her opinion of the cleverness. The fragrance was a little citrusy, a little summery, a little grown-up, and Louis agreed it was probably worth the risk to wear such a pleasant stink.
“Frankie?” Louis, tugging on her sleeve.
The girl pulled her arm away. “What?”
“You daydreaming or something? I asked if you were nervous.”
“Not nervous. Mad. Aren’t you mad?”
“I guess so. But why do we have to choose between them?”
“Because they’re not fit to live together. They’d likely kill us if they don’t smarten up.”
He frowned. “They wouldn’t kill us, Frankie. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t.”
“You don’t know nothing, Louis. A person can die from heartbreak, you know. That’s how they’d do it. That’s why we have to choose one over the other. And that makes me mad.”
“Remember, you don’t say anything when we’re inside unless the judge asks you something. Leave all the talking to me.”
“But I still get to choose, right?”
“Wrong. If we’re gonna stay together, it’s got to be unanimous. That means I get to speak, you get to agree with me. Got it?”
“Okay, Frankie. But I don’t wanna do this at all. Why can’t things just stay the same?”
“Because the same isn’t any good. It needs to be better.”
“Oh. And this will make things better?”
She took his hand and tried to look less belligerent. “No, maybe not all at once. You just have to trust me with this, okay?”
He tried to smile for her, and it broke her heart a little to see him fail at it. He was such a good smiler, too.
She figured the courthouse was at least forty-seven times bigger than their entire house, backyard included. They walked past it almost every day, to school, to the grocery store, to the scent of lemons that drifted all the way downtown. It was built in the Classical Revival style, which she knew from her Civics class, and it was the sparkling prize in the middle of all the crackerbox houses. From the tin shingled dome, you could probably see where all the frayed pillow cases hung from all the clotheslines, and you could count all the driveways where all the cowslips spilled over onto the gravel; you would notice a whole ragged range of people, from delivery boys untying their corner newspaper bundles, to fussy Mister Tackaberry sweeping a pool of rainwater off his sidewalk squares in front of the delicatessen. And you could probably also see all the way over to Alta Street and watch the bricklayers crush out their cigarettes with their thumb and forefingers before they started their work on the new library addition. Likely, you’d be seeing the whole town of Absalom with just a simple turn of your head if you weren’t too afraid to fall.
A possible work in progress? Been working on a fairly large piece for quite a while now, with the working title of ‘Saint Louis’. I think it may be a big deal, if only to me. Thank you for reading.