Authors: Keisha Orphey
Edward Miles greeted Lydia at the door when she sauntered into the garage entry, and one look at his face told her he hadn’t slept much the past few days. Edward Miles was as pleasant and hospitable as her colleague had described him. He was at least in his late fifties, she assumed, his black curly hair greying at the temple, and he stood with his arms uncrossed, a welcoming gesture -- an invitation -- even though this meeting meant his only daughter could spend the rest of her life in prison for something he was sure she wasn’t guilty of. As Lydia climbed out of her two-seater Mercedes, he walked the length of the pavement to meet her, and extended his hand.
“Mr. Miles?” said Lydia. Why am I asking? She thought seconds after the words slipped off her tongue. She knew who he was. And he knew who she was.
Leave formalities at the door with these people. It’ll only make them nervous.
He nodded, struggled a smile. “Thank you for coming.” Then, he studied her small car with a grimace, as if it was unearthly, “You drove all the way from Texas in that?”
They shared a laugh. Lydia knew he needed it. And she was happy to oblige. Was certain he’d spent many nights awake questioning his parenting skills, interrogating himself about what would cause his daughter to make such a poor decision. Hurt him so badly.
“You don’t like my car?” she retorted with a chuckle.
“It’s nice, but --“ he gave the tires a thump, then glanced inside at the interior. “Just small as a pumpkin—“
What was it about females and fast cars? In his mind, he recalled the day Dawn parked her Mitsubishi 3000GT on the street in front of the driveway; the car sat too low to clear the incline. He thought how irresponsible the purchase had been. You had a new car! Why'd you buy that car?
"I hope you're hungry,” he said.
“Starved," she followed him into the house, and Lydia saw hardwood floors and coffered ceilings. Beautiful custom-made draperies adorned a large patio door and the long windows on either side of the chimney reminded her of the movie Amityville; they were like eyes peering out at the rest of the world. But this home was filled with love, from the tasteful decor to the brick fireplace.
Edward Miles proffered a seat in the living room, placed a wooden folding tray in front of her, then disappeared into the kitchen. She heard pots clanging and smelled the aroma of Louisiana cuisine. Moments later, he returned with a plate fit for a queen-- sliced stuffed pork roast, homemade rice dressing, potato salad, candied yams and a Caesar salad.
"This looks great. You must enjoy cooking.”
With an appreciative smile, he asked: "What would you like to drink?"
“Water will be fine. Thank you," And before she could pick up her fork, he’d returned to the kitchen and an attractive woman in her late fifties entered rubbing her hands together lathering herself with lotion.
"He's been in the kitchen all morning cooking." A smile spread her lips. "I'm Sylvia. So nice to meet you, unfortunately under these circumstances.” She had brown hair styled big, but fancy, almost reminding Lydia of Al Bundy's wife, but tasteful. Her hazel eyes were tired and mournful yet she'd still managed to apply makeup. Sylvia sat across from Lydia in a recliner. "Your trip was okay?"
Yes, ma'am." She spoke between bites, the meat melting in her mouth. "Surprising there wasn't much traffic coming down here.”
Edward Miles returned with a glass of ice water and a glass of Coke. "You won't be able to fit in that little car when I'm done." He laughed and returned to the kitchen.
"How's Dawn?" Sylvia searched for a glimmer of hope in Lydia’s face.
“She seems to be holding up well. I visit her every day, actually. I put some money on her books for snacks. She asked me not to, but I did anyway". Lydia took another mouthful and thought about the jail food Dawn was eating.
"Do you think she's coming home anytime soon? She's my only daughter."
"I'm doing everything I can. I think we have a good chance at probation at least."
Edward Miles returned with another plate, placing it in front of his wife on a similar folding tray. "I've withdrawn fifty thousand from my retirement in case we need it.” He'd said in passing, retreating to the kitchen returning a minute later with his own plate.
“If I can make a deal with the prosecutor in exchange for Dawn’s testimony, the most you'll need is twenty-five hundred for surety. I'll put the twenty-five-thousand-dollar bond on a credit card which will be returned after trial and you'll get your twenty-five hundred back."
"You're kidding." He smiled wide. “You think the judge will lower her bond that much?”
"It won't happen tomorrow or the next day. She may be there another month or so. Just depends on how soon I can make a deal with the prosecutor. “
Lydia literally watched his smile turn to dismay and she could see Sylvia starting to crumble -- she'd not even taken a bite of the delicious meal. Probably hadn't eaten in days. "It’s standard procedure and this
a drug case. Amos Jones posted a million-dollar bond last night. Cash. No one knows where he is. He's gonna get at least forty years if he shows up at trial. Leaving Dawn behind only proves to the state she wasn't involved. And that she indeed knows nothing. Had she any ties to this case, whoever bonded
out would've certainly bonded her as well just to keep her quiet. Your daughter isn’t a drug dealer, Mr. Miles.”
"We know that. Dawn is a descent girl. She worked for everything she has including her car. My son and his best friend picked it up from the tow yard last week. He's even taken over the car payments." She sighed. “All she had to do was tell us she needed help, but she was always closed up in that room."
That room – Dawn’s room -- looked like a shrine amidst the large queen bed and oversized television. Novena glass candle jars lit on every possible table space in the room. A rosary on one of the night stands and a pillow on the floor in front of it. Someone prays here, Lydia thought.
"A few years ago, Dawn met a lady at a copy center where she worked while she was in school. She said the lady was there making color copies of prayer cards and gruesome pictures of Jesus hanging on the cross. She asked me to go visit the woman. She doesn't live far from here. Just a few blocks away. Her name is Anne. She gave me all of these candles. Even came here and prayed over Dawn's room. As soon as she stepped in, she said there was an evil presence trying to get ahold of Dawn’s soul. One day, I noticed a dark thick soot had congealed on the top of one of the candles and the glass even broke. I threw it away and immediately called Anne for another one. She told me that was the evil coming out. Told me to get it out of the trash and continue burning it. That’s it over there.” She pointed at a lone candle burning on the nightstand. “It’s white again, but the glass is still broken of course. Scared the heck out of me. I've been praying in here every day before I go to work in my sewing room. It’s like I can feel the presence dissipating.”
The story chilled Lydia. She could feel goosebumps on her arms and quickly changed the subject: "Did you make these curtains?" Lydia adored Sylvia's work hanging over the window in Dawn’s bedroom.
"I made every one you’ve seen in the house from scratch. I work with interior designers. They bring their custom orders to me and I make it right here at home."
Lydia recalled the admirable tapestry above the sliding glass door in the living room and the cornice hanging in the kitchen as she’d followed Sylvia down a brick-floored hallway to Dawn’s bedroom.
"I've tried teaching Dawn a few times but she was always so anxious to be out on the streets." She shook her head, dismayed. "Now look where she's at. Threw her life to the dogs." She closed the door to Dawn’s room, as if sealing it off from the rest of the house like a crime scene.
Lydia didn't respond. She simply gave Sylvia an apologetic gaze, then followed her to the sewing room.
"Edward and I saved every dime we could to build this house." She sat on a stool at a commercial grade sewing machine and proffered a seat at an adjacent machine where Lydia sat facing her beside a large three level rectangular table, which filled the center of the room. The top level was upholstered with a flat flannel fabric. The bottom two were neatly filled with supplies. "I'd even go without pantyhose just to save a dollar." She gestured, as if swatting the memory. "But that's so long ago. We built this house in January of 1980. Dawn was five when we moved in and her brother was eight. There were maybe three houses around us, but we were the only one on this block. When construction would start on a new house, Dawn and Xavier used to take wood and build tree houses in the backyard,” she chuckled. "I'm laughing now, but I'd be
mad when I'd go out there and find them hammering away at all of that stolen wood. They'd make mud pies and build camp fire pits --" she was talking too much. "Where’s your family from?"
Sylvia quickly sat up straight. “You’re from here?”
“Yes, ma’am. I grew up in Truman.”
“What? We lived there five years before we built this house. I didn’t know you were from Louisiana, much less Lafayette. It’s a small world. Where are your parents?”
“My father passed last year. Complications from diabetes. My mother still lives in Truman. In the big white house with the tall fence around it—“
“I know that house well. I’ve always admired it.”
“I have two sisters and four brothers. My sisters both live in Dallas. Shelly is a gynecologist and the Lauren is an engineer. My brothers practice law in Chicago. Of all places. They moved where crime is the highest in the nation.”
“That’s amazing. Such a big family and all so successful.”
Lydia saw the disappointment in Sylvia’s face. If only her daughter had chosen a different road. Doctors assured her Dawn could be anything she put her mind to.
"The informant in the beeper shop was one of my old students.” Edward stood in the doorway. “I met with him last week. He had me fooled with his lies until he told me Dawn didn't buy her car. That's when I knew he was full of shit and trying to burrow his way out."
Lydia registered the surprise on Sylvia's face. There were so many secrets in this house. And the more she listened to Edward speak, the more afraid she became of Dawn’s chances of returning home to the mother who loved and believed in her daughter’s innocence. "How'd you know his name or where to find him?"
"I’ve been doing my own digging. A lot of other people I plan to talk to, too. I'm not letting Dawn go to prison without a fight. I believe she’s innocent of the charges against her, but
things just aren't adding up,” Edward added.
"Why would she entertain someone like Amos Jones? That kid has been in and out of jail his whole life for dealing drugs."
"How’s your relationship with your daughter, Mr. Miles?”
"Average, I guess. A normal father- daughter relationship."
"Do you think you’re too strict?"
"No, I just voice the importance about getting an education.”
Sylvia gave a huff. "You pushed too hard! Dawn was never interested in getting a college degree. All she ever wanted to do was write. Been writing since she was a child." She turned her attention to Lydia, "Look at the middle finger on her right hand when you visit her again. It’s dented from writing so much. Her first story was about a Chinese family in California who had a killer tree in their backyard."
Lydia was surprised when Sylvia interrupted, a woman who projected such loyalty to her husband had burst from her shell. Over dinner, she'd held Edward's rule in high regard, how he'd been the perfect father and role model -- the only college degreed of his siblings -- now in her sewing room, Sylvia stated how she really felt about his dominance. "Yeah, she's was telling me about a horror novel she's been
high school. I brought her a pack of paper but security wouldn't allow it."
"Why not? What can you hide in paper?" Sylvia retorted.
¤ ¤ ¤
“Is she breathing?”
Dawn opened her eyes and rolled over, facing Ruthie, Cassandra and Kristen.
Ruthie handed her a slip of paper wrapped in toilet tissue.
Dawn tore at the tissue. A pencil-drawing of tall buildings.
“Happy Birthday. It’s New York City.”
“Is that supposed to be the Statue of Liberty?” Dawn pointed at one of the poorly drawn structures on the page and giggled.
A big smile spread Ruthie’s lips, a large gap between rotting teeth and dark gums. “I’m no pro when it comes to drawing, but it’s the closest I could get you to The Big Apple.”
Kristen stood beside Ruthie with a smile full of braces and bad acne. “She doesn’t speak English, but she real good people, “ Ruthie said.
Kristen smiled and handed Dawn a bracelet made of rock beads and thin rope. The beads had been carved to spell out D-A-W-N.
“I love it. You made this for me? How sweet.”
Kristen smiled wide and shook her head ‘yes’.
When Dolores entered with Cassandra, Dawn recoiled. Her smile dissipated.
“Happy Birthday, chica. I just wanted to come by your crib and say ‘what’s up’. Cass’ vouches for you. You good people. I believe her, ya dig? We can never be too sure about the newbies in the spot.
Dawn replied with relief. “Thank you.”
“You understand what she just said?” Ruthie joked. “You’ve been accepted.”
“Does that mean I have to stay?”
Everyone laughed and said, “Hell no!”
“What’a’ya say we all sleep in your celly tonight?” Ruthie was feeling festive.
“We can do that?”
“Those bitches don’t care. Just as long as they don’t catch us licking on each other.” Cassandra added and laughed.
“Cass’, you one dirty old heffa.” Dolores loved that word ‘heffa’, Dawn thought.
Dawn, Ruthie, Kristen, Dolores, and Cassandra lied like sardines from Dawn’s cot to the cement floor on make-shift cots. Kristen braided Dawn’s hair into tiny plaits, as Dolores rolls Ruthie’s hair with rollers made of rolled toilet paper. The inmates doused one another with powder, laughing and horse-playing like they didn’t have a care in the world.
Cassandra lied on her back, hands behind her head, her face and hair covered with white powder. “When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor
a lawyer. A doctor so I could cure my grandmother’s disease and a lawyer so I could keep my brothers out of jail.
“How many brothers do you have?” Dawn asked.
. My oldest brother went to prison when I was five. I never found out why, but I do remember the day the cops took him away as I played hopscotch on the sidewalk. Everyone used to call him “Big Coop” because he liked to fight roosters.”
“You still seem really hurt by that.”
“I miss Ray-Ray the most, though. He was just fifteen when him and my other brother Dozer gunned one another down over a piece of crack.”
“What about your parents?”
“I never knew my father. My mom was a junky. She overdosed on some bad shit when I was just twelve. I moved in with my grandmother, but she was always pushing me so hard in school. I hated going to school, so I ran away. I been on the streets ever since. You look like a good kid. I heard you talking to your folks yesterday on the phone. Don’t fuck up more than you have already. I would do anything to have your life and you throwing it away.”
Dawn thought about her life, wondered what her family thought of her now. Would they bail her out of the mess she’d made? Sylvia, definitely. Edward, out of obligation. She didn’t have a boyfriend, although everyone back home would think Amos was a secret lover.
Ruthie and I are one in the same, whether she realizes it or not, and we will rot in this space together …
Ruthie squirmed in her sleep on a make-shift cot on the floor. With her eyes still closed: “Y’all bitches need to shut the fuck up so my black ass can get some sleep.”
“Shut up, puta.” Dolores retorted. “You gotta lawyer yet, chica?”
“Yeah and she said I’m looking at ninety-nine years unless I testify.”
“Testify to what? I thought you didn’t see anything?”