“You won’t be tried as a juvenile. You’ll go to an adult court. They’ll try to get the maximum sentence. Do you want to see your poor mother crying in the courtroom? She’s already taking more antidepressants than the doctors should prescribe. Plead insanity. If the judge allows it, you’ll go to an institution. They’ll evaluate you. There’s a really good chance they’ll admit you. Spend a couple years there. Get treatment. You might be out sooner. Put this mess behind you. See your mother before her dying days.”
Good chance? If the judge allows? Might get out sooner? Empty promises. I see it in his eyes. He’s just trying to clear his own conscious so he can sleep better at night. Yet I know what I did and I believe it was right. I’m not going to have people think I’m a sociopath just to beat the system. I don’t want people pointing fingers and whispering. It will be worse for Ma that way.
The courtroom fills. I trudge toward my attorney’s table, the shackles jingling as I stumble in a two-step country jig due to the ankle chains running from legs to fasten to my belt of silver links. Once seated, the judge asks for my plea. I turn toward my attorney and nod firmly. He sighs and stands. A moment of silence builds the tension for it to last an eternity. Everybody gasps in a choking breath as he says weakly.
“Not guilty, your honor.”
My murder trial begins. I barely hear the opening statements, my eyes focusing on the jury bench. 12 sit in those high chairs, occasionally glancing my way. I heard the court system had a hard time finding suitable jurors. Everyone in the surrounding countryside knew of my family. I have a long bloodline. Uncle Jack Sprat. Cousin Jack De’Nimble. Half-brother Little Jack Horner.
They finally pulled in people farther out from two different jurisdictions. One was some town called Henson. The other was called Sesame Street. Strange foreigners. I gaze at their furry coats and forever smiling faces. Some yellow fellow with the biggest nose I’ve ever seen pecks at the wooden armrest of his chair. I hear a snort from the back row as a pink piggish woman in a floozy outfit karate-chops a green fellow beside her as the man lets out a croak.
They worry me. Although they sport smiles on faces, their eyes show coldness. Glassy. Stark. Uncaring. Forever fixed in a weird bulging paralysis, they stare constantly . . .
. . . constantly . . .
I shiver and turn toward the judge with the trial starting. I try not to nod off. But my sleep was interrupted last night. They didn’t house me with the regular inmates. I slept in a special ward section of jail, beside a woman crying out about feeding her mother rat poison as she asked her fairy godmother for a metal file and a pair of wire cutters.
My mind shuts down as my head droops. It must look like I’m deep in thought, staring at my lap, but I catch some zzzz’s before chair legs squeak beside me. I jolt my head upward with my attorney calling my name to take the stand.
The bailiffs escort me up to the witness stand. My arms jingle as I lift my right hand while the other automatically follows, bound together with more chains and also attached to my silver belt. I swear in front of everyone to tell the truth. From the jury box, someone whispers “Pigeon shit!”
This isn’t going to be a fair trial.
My attorney begins, “Tell us your name.”
“Jack Spriggins.” My voice is weak. I didn’t mean for it to sound this way. Jagged shrieks of weeping come from the back of the courtroom. I see my mother leaning tearfully into the shoulder of Old Mother Hubbard. Mrs. H. warps her arms around tight and gazes at me. She gives a reassuring nod.
I straighten in my chair. The exhaling breath pushes out the anxieties for the round of questioning.
“Tell us what happened during those fateful days.” My attorney opens the gate, wanting this case out and done as painlessly as possible.
I nod and tell my story. “Ma and me, we ain’t like the richest folks in the land. When my Pa ran off, we had to work the farm ourselves. But things were rough. Tax collectors, they’d be stopping by every other day, saying we owed them the sky and the moon. Took most of our things. It also was drought season. Not much growing in our fields. All we had left was our cow Blue. My favorite pet, but Ma said we had to go on out and sell her so we won’t starve. I hads to do it, no fussing or crying. Ma said, ‘Take old Blue on down to the market. Get a good price, Jack. Those monies will have us eating good for awhile until things can get a bit brighter for us.’ So I wrapped a thick rope ‘round Blue’s neck and headed down the road.”
“But you never got to the market, did you, Jack?” My attorney eases me into the next memory.
I shake my head. “Naw. Halfway there, I see this old fella sitting by the side of the road. Plum swear he appeared out of nowhere - the entire countryside was dead quiet with nary a soul waltzing here nor there. But he be there, staring with this strange smile on his face. He gets up and dusts the dirt off his rump. Then he takes out this bag. He goes on this rambling talk, saying I have a mighty fine cow and I shouldn’t have to go to the market and sell her. Don’t know how he come find out where I was going. But his speech, it was all soothing and lulling. My mind just sort of drifted away, not knowing what he was about or what I was about. Seemed like I stood outside my body, listening as he said he would trade some magic beans for my cow. Next thing I knew, the strange fella was gone and I held the bag with the beans. I headed on home to tell Ma what happened.”
My attorney's shoulders lift and fall. He doesn’t like what is coming up next in the story. Now that I think about it, I don’t much care to tell the courtroom what happened next. But he asks anyway. “What did your mother do when she found out about the cow?”
“Why she did what every Ma does. She gone and whipped my hind good with her skirt belt she wears when attending church, asking the heavens to forgive this poor child of hers while she smacked the evil out of me. Then she tossed the beans out the window and sent me to bed. I slept on my stomach all night long, after the stinging faded. When the sun popped up, I rightly felt a tickling on my nose. I got out of bed and stared out the window. Saw this huge leaf tapping the windowsill. I pushed it out the way. That’s when I noticed this giant beanstalk gone reaching up into the cloudy sky.”
My attorney rubs his eyes, his face half-wincing. If I wasn’t shackled with two bailiffs standing guard, I would reach over and smack the fool. Did he think his actions were going unnoticed to the jury? Did he think this was doing anything good for my case? Just because he gave up in his mind doesn’t mean he has to show it to the crowd. Even sleazy lawyers knew how to put on the best fronts.
“What did you do then, Jack?” My lawyer walks over to the desk and leans back against it, preparing for a long tale.
I snort my derision for my lawyer. From the corner of my eye, I see the green juror flinch, expecting a slap. The piggish woman nuzzles his earless head with her snout. I roll my eyes. “Why, I did what every kid would do. I gone climbed up that beanstalk . . .”