Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Maria’s Story Pt.4

He had come to her before. The bushy grey-haired man from The Brenlee News smelled of stale coffee and cigarettes and a made a point of her calling him Phil instead of Bergoyan. He was the only person from town who had said any more than ‘Sorry’ to her about her son. Most acted as though she didn’t speak English and/or avoided her entirely. Tomas’ teacher and Ms. Schmidt paid her visit, but they simply wept with her.

Phil Bergoyan, for his part, wanted to offer Maria Batista more than tears. His sympathy, the town’s sympathy, soft words and sad eyes, all these things felt cheap and disposable. She and her son deserved something more. He hesitated before words as grand and over-bloated as Justice, but it was the thing most lacking and the only thing one might offer as real consolation.

The first time he visited her house, Bergoyan asked her simple questions about Tomas, his father, and herself. It was the day after they found her son murdered in the orchard and the facts seemed clear and devastating enough. Three months after she buried her son, Maria buried her brother and Bergoyan came a second time.

“My brother drank too much.”

“Did he always drink too much or only since Tomas’ murder?”

Maria simply did not answer. Bergoyan moved on, sticking to the facts, keeping things clear and devastating enough again.

Six months after Neto’s death, Bergoyan returned to her. Mike Boone had been convicted in an uncharacteristically brief trial. The prosecutor claimed that Boone had tried and failed to molest Tomas and killed him out of frustration. When Boone took the stand and mumbled, “…but I liked him,” too scared and too simpleminded to understand how to speak up for himself, the jury took it all for shame and found him guilty.

“No one proved anything and no one cared.” Bergoyan told her.

When he wrote an editorial criticizing the verdict, Bergoyan was called a ‘bleeding heart’ and a ‘sick soft-headed old man’ from a dozen of Brenlee’s fifteen pulpits, all down the Grady’s breakfast counter, and in the City Council and School Board meetings. He drank more than usual and sold The Brenlee News to a younger man who still believed words could matter.

So, on his way out of town he went to see Maria Coates one more time. This time he smoked his unfiltered cigarette in front of her, something she had never seen him do before. “Ms. Batista. I’m leaving town.”

“I read that in the paper.”

“My leaving is the happiest news in a long time for this town, I’m afraid.”

“Probably.”

“I’m going to be rude.”

“Excuse me.”

“Do you know why someone would want to kill your son? Do you know who killed him? Do you know anything?”

She looked at him. “You know, no one ever asked me that before.”

“That’s not exactly an answer.”

She smiled at him. “You don’t know anything about the $5,000 left in my mailbox the other day?”

He did not return the smile. “If you ever want to answer those questions, I hope you’ll find me.” And he started down the porch to his car.

“That’s not exactly an answer either.” She called after him.

He stopped at his car and spoke loudly and very seriously, “You should leave town. Start a new life.”

“Would it be any better?”

And Philip Bergoyan drove away to try to ruin himself once and for all, soon to fail at even that ignoble task.