He wanders past the boarded-up businesses in town with a look of guilty surprise, as if he’d been tapped on the shoulder while spying on something he shouldn’t have seen, startled behind binoculars, and never bounced back from the shock. We’re sitting on a wooden bench in the creaky hallway of the county courthouse during a recess, on the dustiest afternoon of a country summer, my sister and I, trying not to touch each other while Dad is in the chambers renting a judge. He only needs him for an hour. Dust like gnats, gnats like yellowjackets, swirl through the sword blades of sunlight from the transom, that stab the floor beneath our feet. Our feet don’t reach, as I recall. It doesn’t stop people from thinking we’re all grown up. The bailiff, standing, leans against the wall and snores, hat down over his eyes. We could run, and hop a train to Mexico, and play at husband and wife. I scrape a sticky century of furniture wax and dirt from the seat of the bench between my thighs and draw initials in a heart down to the wood with my fingernail. I look at her and tilt my head to show her what I’ve done. She looks between my legs and claps her hand over her mouth. If we’re not careful. Dad may never convince the judge. He didn’t scrape together much. His Honor emerges first in a tattered vest. He stands in front of the bench and talks about me, uses my name, but only looks at her. I watch Dad come from the chambers, seeming stricken. He looks at us and sees my upside-down heart. I’m destined for some lonely time at the state correctional, I do believe. My sister gets a job at the courthouse.

Copyright © March 28, 2007 David Hodges