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.