This story is by Brent DuBose Rourk and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
In an instant the crimson vase involuntarily hit the wall, thrown by enraged, red-haired 18-year-old Chelle. “I am not going to court tomorrow to testify against dad. The prosecution wants me to say things that will keep dad in jail”, she yelled at her older brother Liam as she hurriedly stuffed belongings into her small, worn suitcase covered with tattered stickers: ‘ABBA’, ‘Hell is Here’, ‘Be Kind’, and ‘Don’t Judge’ were but a few.
“You must testify. Maybe dad’s lawyers can win”, replied Liam, optimistic but truly not knowing how their father Peter could escape prison for the active euthanasia of their mother Laila. “Running is crazy.”
“It will be a year ago tomorrow that mom died. Since then, I have been suicidal and in therapy. Now you think I should take the stand against our dad? No!”, Chelle said with frustration and defeat. “I love dad. He did what mom wanted. I’m leaving.”
“Look Chelle, I love dad too, but… you’re hurting dad’s case. Ya gotta show up! Come on sis!”, Liam said bravely, turning his nose towards the kitchen where reheated stew was burning.
“Damn it! Sometimes I think even you don’t have a clue about how the past year has destroyed me”, snapped Chelle.
Not even soothing, classical music piped through her cheap earbuds, calmed Chelle. She needed her depression meds, but instead threw the last few pieces of clothes and mementos into her suitcase while Liam stirred the stew and prepared two bowls.
“Come get something to eat sis”, implored Liam.
Blowing on each large spoonful, they slowly slurped the stew as they rehashed everything: mom’s long bout with terminal and painful cancer, dad’s’s arrest and jailing for ‘mercy killing’, and the additional, horrific pain inflicted on everybody because the state chose to try Peter for murder. Losses.
“We’ve been through enough. Dad has been through enough. How can I testify against him tomorrow of all days? Won’t matter what I say or how I respond to his tricky questions, it will backfire”, declared Chelle between bites of piping hot, savory burnt stew.
As they debated, Liam looked absently at two hungry blackbirds that landed on the outside window sill. Chelle stated, “I can’t go Liam. You must under…”, but Chelle’s cell phone rang loudly, startling both of them.
“Hello, this is Chelle”, she said gruffly.
He explained softly without sincerity, “Hello Chelle, this is Mr. Tanner, I’m the prosecuting attorney…I am just checking up on you. It must be hard, and I know how you feel. I am double checking to make sure that…”
“You don’t know how I feel!”, Chelle said, tossing her spoon into the bowl in frustration. “You are a terrible person.”
“I understand Chelle, but it is …”, he tried to sound sensitive for a prosecuting attorney, but she cut him off again.
“You don’t understand! You can’t possibly understand or else my dad would be home now with Liam and me”, she shouted.
“You’ll be there tomorrow, right?”, he tried to verify.
“Liam will be there. I don’t know where I’ll be”, cried Chelle, now in a spiraling emotional crescendo marked by raised voice, tears, and a reddened face.
“You need to be there Chelle”, he stated without warmth.
“I’ll be where I’ll be”, responded Chelle. “Go away!”, she screamed as she hung up.
“Come on sis. Let’s cool down and talk about how this might help dad. His attorney Ms. Sophia has reassured us that she will not allow Mr. Tanner to make us say things to convict dad”, claimed Liam.
“We were called by the prosecution. He will twist everything. He will convolute things for a jury to hear. He would just as soon try me, and maybe you too Liam”, Chelle declared.
Finishing the tasty, strong stew, Chelle called the jail to talk with her father. After waiting several minutes, the call went through. “Dad, I’m so happy to hear your voice!”, she stated.
“Yes, my dear Chelle. I’m fine. One of the guards smuggles snacks and the best meals. Lucky me, huh? Then to the courthouse tomorrow morning. Chelle, please don’t worry! Everything will be fine. I have confidence in Ms. Sophia. Please have confidence in her too. Be calm when the prosecuting attorney directs questions at you. Slow down, think, and answer. Don’t be bullied or rushed. Stay calm…like you did when you answered your social studies teacher who degraded your opinions in class. Remember?”, recounted Peter, trying to calm his daughter.
“I love you so much Chelle. Don’t worry about me or what is going to happen. Remember? Worry is negative goal setting. Don’t worry about things you cannot control”, stated Peter, trying to give her strength.
She had heard those ‘daddy sayings’ and several other nuggets many times throughout her life. Chelle again thought about the seriousness of tomorrow’s court and how it was eating away at her. Even her prescribed medications had less impact at calming her. “I love you dad!”, she said through tears.
Continuing through sniffles, Chelle cried, “I just can’t think about testifying against you. Our family has suffered enough. First mom’s cancer and death at 44, then you jailed…then my emotional trauma and breakdowns. Even Liam has a rough go of it daddy. I’d rather die than say something that the attorney can twist to put you in prison.”
“Get off the phone Peter. You’re not the only killer who needs the phone!”, shouted another inmate from his cell.
“The law is the law Chelle. Hopefully, my attorney has a few cases to use as convincing precedents. Remember that while you sit in court”, said Peter with unimaginable hope.
“Maybe daddy, maybe. But I’ve had enough. I can’t imagine what you are going through. I love you so much daddy!”, said Chelle, now crying loudly while being consoled by Liam.
“Love you and Liam. I know it’s hard. See you two tomorrow”, said Peter before the phone went dead.
Liam ladled more stew into their bowls. It was undeniably savory, but had a burnt taste to it. Everything did now. Chelle went to the living room to retrieve two photographs; one of the family and one of mom and dad. Placing them on the table to stare at, she nodded towards the photographs, and within seconds, they both broke down.
“My college history professor says that history is ‘pocked with people between a rock and a hard place’. That’s where we are now sis”, stated Liam as a consoling offering to his distraught sister.
“Sorry, I don’t want a history lesson. This is now. It’s been a horrible year. This is our history, and I hate it”, said Chelle to her brother while she continued to stare at the 11×14 inch photographs. They were larger than life yet she felt lifeless… and powerless.
“I miss mom and dad so much”, said Chelle.
“Me too sis!” replied Liam.
As Chelle went to the bathroom and then to her bedroom to retrieve her suitcase, Liam said, “I won’t restrain you, but I beg you to trust the court and have faith.”
“Ha! Faith? In what? Archaic and insensitive laws? He broke the stupid law. The kindness of prosecuting attorneys? Right! More misery? Imprisoned dad? No Liam. I’m tired. I hope dad gets set free, but I don’t have hope in that”, stated Chelle.
As she reached for her suitcase, she became more resolute, more defiant, and more convinced. “Nobody in that courtroom except for us saw mom’s last three months. Dad did what he thought was best. It was also mom’s firm wish. I want dad freed, but I do not want to be a part of the court or part of the prosecuting attorney’s brutality”, explained Chelle with worn tear tracks on her cheeks, defined and hardened by her running mascara.
Setting her suitcase down, Liam and Chelle hugged, tears flowing fast. Bottomless sadness. Speechless, they remained standing in a long embrace. Liam knew that Chelle was going to leave. He could only hope she would come to her senses and appear in court tomorrow. He could only hope if not, then she would be safe somewhere.
“I love you sis”, whispered Liam to his broken sister.
“I love you too Liam. I’m sorry, but I need to get out. I told my therapist I probably would. She didn’t like the idea either, but asked if I had safe places to go. Hope the prosecuting attorney has a stroke tonight!”, replied Chelle.
“That’s not a Christian thing to say”, said Liam.
“There is no heaven, only hell”, whispered Chelle as she left the apartment.
The following morning in the cold, nearly full courtroom, Peter turned around to see who was there. He saw his mother Astrid sitting next to Liam, and he smiled. Comforted. But no Chelle.
The tasteless train station coffee offered Chelle slight warmth. “I’d rather die than go to court”, mumbled Chelle to herself while squeezing her train ticket and staring at ominous clouds.