F. John Sharp

Justice System

They have emptied all the prisons in Arkansas, like racing pigeons from a coop. Something about budget shortfalls; it's all over the news. Banks and shopkeepers board up windows, and police work 24 hour shifts. The National Guard fuel tanks and Humvees, and parents pack for unplanned trips out of state. I watch all this on TV, pistol on the bed, waiting for you to knock on my door.

Mama doesn't know where I am; I've moved four times. You can't use her to get to me like that time when I was working produce at the BiLo, and she convinced me to let you steal the night deposit. She said brothers got to stick together. I should have known they'd look at me first; I was always the one getting caught. They couldn't prove anything but they fired me just the same. I was out of work eight months. Had to live with Mama and you and all those chickens.

Then she got me to go in with you on that scam taking old ladies' social security checks. Besides the drive all the way to Fayetteville, which I hated, that one old lady shot at us. Lucky she didn't know the kick on a .45 or we'd have bled out right there on Leverett Ave. I had told Mama the BiLo was my last job but she worked me little by little, sitting next to me on the couch, bringing me those pudding cups I like, telling me how she had plans for us all but life wouldn't stop holding her under the water, and she needed me to watch out for you cause if anything ever happened to you she'd die. I said, "What about me, Mama?" and she said, "You can take care of yourself, you got your daddy's grit, but Bobby Jr., he's delicate, like an albino in the desert and you gotta be his shade, Lester, you gotta be his shade." After that I always pictured you all par-boiled in the exercise yard. I imagined flying over in a blimp to shield you from the sun, but the blimp was being driven by Mama because I didn’t mind if you burned.

I figure you'll ask cousin Berty where I am. She never could keep a secret, and I'm sick of moving anyway. I did my six months after turning you in. It was a sweet deal but I knew this day would come, I knew it long before I saw the police on TV in their riot gear, long before I sat on the couch with Mama eating pudding. I knew it the day we did our first job, you stealing pizzas out of the Dominos car while I fumbled for tip money for the driver. That pizza didn't taste as good to me as you and Mama thought it did, and that was the day I knew we'd end up here.

I wish I knew where 'here' was, though, Bobby Jr. I wish you'd walk through that door, your scraggly beard framing that stupid grin, so I could know for sure where I ended up. I wish you both would come, you and Mama, so I could figure out where I'm going next.