This is Installment Eleven of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters III.vii, III.viii, and III.ix. It is 7,332 words long. As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page. Enjoy!
The rest of the break was uneventful. Every now and then, Justice could feel Jared’s eyes on him, would just get the feeling that he was being watched and then turn around to see Jared staring at him from across the way. Justice knew that every move he made was being measured and weighed. For four weeks, he performed like a Malone boy would be expected to, but realized more each day that it was exactly that – a performance. He had grown up with a limited perspective on the world, yet somehow always felt uncomfortable with that perspective, as if he was a stranger in his own family. He had known nothing except what his family taught him, and yet intrinsically knew there was more to be known.
His mind was becoming free, but the rest of him still somehow remained under the rule of Jared. Justice began making plans to create more independence for himself. He decided the first thing he needed was a job. His first semester away from home quickly taught him that the outside world was run by money. He wasn’t sure just what that money would be used for, and he knew better than to make any move that would create suspicion in his father, like buying a car, but he had a sure feeling that the money he earned would be of use at some point in the future.
Thus, the first big conversation Justice and Mark had as they drove back to campus from Waycross was purely economical.
“Mark, I need to know how I can get a job.”
“Why? You got a wife and kids you haven’t told me about?”
“Yeah, right. I keep them hidden back on the compound. No, asshole, I need to make some money. For . . . well, I don’t what for exactly. I just need to start making some money.”
Mark glanced over at Justice through squinted eyes, understanding more of the situation than Justice had told. “O.k. Well, you don’t have a car, so it will need to be close to campus, or maybe even on campus. I think there’s some kind of campus job center or something like that where they post all the on-campus employment. We can check that out when we get back.”
“Thanks,” Justice whispered rather sheepishly.
Mark understood the feeling of indebtedness that Justice had toward him, even though he wished Justice wouldn’t feel that way. “No problem. Maybe I’ll even get a job. It would be nice to have more than the peanuts the folks send me. So, how did everything go? Any big blow-ups, or did the Malone clan just spend Christmas practicing their target shooting?”
“It was okay. It was just the normally abnormal compound life. It is abnormal, isn’t it, Mark? I mean, most people don’t live the way I did growing up, do they?”
“No . . . and yes. No is the big answer and the most obvious. Your family is pretty extreme. But, on the other hand, I guess we all grow up in families that tell us a certain way to act and a certain way to think. The biggest difference is that most people have more opportunity to rebel against their families than you do. But, still, I guess most of us think the way our families taught us, probably more than we even think we do.”
“What did your family teach you to think?”
“I’m so close to it that I may not be able to say exactly, but I guess they mostly taught me that America is the best place in the world – which it might be for all I know – and that Christians are the only people going to heaven. I suppose they also taught me that white people are superior, although they would deny teaching me that with their dying breath. Of course, they also taught me that Santa Claus was real when I needed to believe in him, and that he wasn’t when I no longer needed to. All in all, I have a pretty good family, but I suppose they have their way of seeing things just like every other family does.”
“What’s a good family? I mean, how would you determine that?” Justice asked. “My father has always protected us and provided for us, and my mother has always taught us and fed us and washed our clothes and stuff. That can’t be all there is to it because getting away from home feels better than anything.”
“For you and everybody else.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think everybody our age is pretty dead set on getting out of their parents’ house.”
“But not everybody our age has to escape their parents’ compound.”
“Okay. You win that round. I don’t know, Justice. I guess a good family is one that raises you up and then lets you go.”
“No. It’s got to be more than that. Maybe a good family is one you want to come back to, even after they do let you go.”
Mark grinned. It was his standard signal for the end of seriousness. “I think a good family is a rich family, rich enough that their sons don’t have to go get damn campus jobs.”
Justice had already checked on the work-study positions in the biology and math departments. The jobs had been filled, and he was beginning to get discouraged. If the last one on his list was gone, he would have to start applying at the various service stations and fast food restaurants within walking distance of the campus. He walked into the office for the department of English and waited for the secretary to end her phone conversation.
“Yes, Dean Spencer, I’ll let Dr. Williams know as soon as he returns . . . you’re welcome . . . goodbye.” The secretary hung up the phone, then smiled politely at Justice. “May I help you?”
“Uh, yes, I was wondering about the, uh, work-study job I saw posted in the campus employment center.” Justice could feel the sweat start to trickle under his arms. He had felt the same way in the biology and math departments and the nervousness wasn’t easing at all the third time around.
“Oh, good. Well, Dr. Williams is not in at the moment and you would probably need to talk to him.”
“Then the position is still open?”
“As far as I know. Let me check . . .” she riffled through some papers on her desk. “Hmmm. That memo was here a minute ago. Well, maybe you could talk to Dr. Williams’ graduate assistant. Hold on a minute, will you?”
“Please, have a seat.” The secretary got up from behind her desk and disappeared down a hallway. Justice sat in one of the reception chairs, combed his hair off his forehead with his fingers, and cleared his throat. He tapped his fingers nervously on the arm of the chair. He had a chance here, and the thought of having a job for the first time in his life was exciting and just a little scary. He had waited long enough to start to relax when the secretary came back.
“This is Dr. Williams’ grad assistant. She can talk to you about the position.”
Justice stood and then froze. He would know her face anywhere.
The graduate assistant held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Rose Jackson.” Justice gained control of his body just enough to shake her hand. She smiled. “C’mon back to my office.”
Justice followed her down the hallway and felt every heartbeat along the way. She ushered him into a small, but cozy space. There was a window on the far wall and a painting just to its right. It was an oil, not professionally done, but good nonetheless. A large full moon dominated the right upper corner, with its dips and craters made three dimensional with the thick paint. The universe around it was a remarkable study in subtle shades of black and midnight blue. Stars were flecked throughout, but in the bottom left of the canvas one shooting star arced its tail through the dark night and, just as it was about to fizzle out, another joined it, crossing its path.
“Do you like it?”
“Uh, . . . pardon me?”
“The painting. You were looking at the painting.”
“Oh, yes . . . I was. And, yes, I do like it. Did you paint it?”
“It was my final project in an art class I took during my undergrad years. I never thought of myself as much of an artist, but for some reason I always liked this one.”
“It’s very good.”
“Please sit down.” Rose motioned Justice to a chair and took a seat behind her small desk. “So, you’re interested in the work study position?”
“Yes.” Justice took a seat and dropped his books on the floor in the process. “I’m sorry. I’m a little clumsy, I guess.”
“Don’t worry about it. Relax.” Rose smiled, and Justice felt that smile held a power he had never known. “So, what’s your name?”
Justice hesitated. Would she remember him from the south Georgia shore if he said his name? “Uh, Justice. Justice Malone.”
“Justice. What an interesting name. Your parents must have had an important reason for naming you that.”
The thoughts swirled in his head. Obviously, she didn’t remember. But, he did. He remembered that incredible beauty which had only grown more beautiful. And he remembered the story his father had told him on many occasions about how he came to be called Justice, how his name represented the Malone family’s stand for justice for the white people of the world against the inferior races that would encroach on their rightful legacy. “I don’t know. I’m . . . sure they did.”
Rose looked hard at him for a few seconds. “Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so.” Justice responded, a little too quickly.
“Um. You seem familiar to me. And that name rings a bell. Which is odd, because it’s not exactly a common name. Well, that’s neither here nor there. What’s your major, Justice?”
“I have a double major – biology and electrical engineering.”
“Biology? And electrical engineering? That’s a rather odd combination.”
“Well, I really love biology. The electrical engineering is just, well, you know, to be safe.”
“Tell me about it. I have a degree in English. Maybe I should have double majored in business, huh?”
“Well, it’s never too late.” Justice began to notice how calm he was becoming. What had once been anxiety over getting his first job was melting into a comfortable ease.
“I suppose not.” She smiled again, that devastating smile, that wicked glow, that almost painful perfection. “So, why do you want to work in the English department? Looking to try out a third major?”
“No.” Justice laughed out the word. “I just . . . need a job. And I don’t have a car. So, I was hoping to find something here on campus, and the positions in the math and biology departments were already filled, so . . .”
“Oh, so we’re your third choice, huh?”
“No,” Justice almost shouted the word. “I mean, no, I just . . .tried those departments first.”
“It’s alright. I’m glad you made it to our department.”
“Me too.” Justice smiled this time. They were caught in the web of each other’s gaze. It had happened a few minutes before, but Justice began noticing it consciously now for the first time. Without any effort whatsoever, the most comfortable thing to do in this room was to look into Rose’s eyes.
Rose noticed it too. She looked away and tried to gather herself. “I have an application here. You can fill it out in the outer office and give it to the secretary. I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you with Dr. Williams.”
Justice took the application and stood up. “Thank you. I really appreciate it. I’ll, uh, . . . I guess I’ll see you around.”
“I hope so.”
Rose Jackson stared at the closed door of her office for a long while. There was something familiar about him, but it was more than that. She had not wanted him to leave. It had been like a reunion with a long lost friend, and she seemed to still feel him in the room.
The feeling was one she had never felt, yet she had no compulsion to try to explain it or understand it. Nor did she rush to label it. She spent no time contemplating whether there was a romantic attraction involved, the obvious differences between them such as age and race, or what might come of a friendship with this boy, for at this age, with 5 years between them, she thought of him as a boy. She simply sat in the feeling.
As the moment was waning, she thought of his interest in her painting. She looked again at her senior-year attempt to express what had been waiting inside her all her life. She had held no delusions about her artistic abilities. She was fully accepting of the fact that her unique gift to the world was not painting. But, the elective she had taken just for the hell of it had proven to be a conduit. There was a secret within her, so secret that even she did not know it. She only knew it was there. She had read to find it. She had written to uncover it. Perhaps a completely different expressive form would expose it. She still had no idea what the secret was. She only knew that somehow it had been transported to that painting, those crossing stars, still as mysterious as ever.
Rose had not changed much from the little girl who liked to climb trees in order to be alone with a good book. She still commanded her father’s attention and devotion. She still believed that the best part of swinging was jumping out of the swing. She still felt least alone when walking the Georgia shore with no one else around. She had made it her habit in high school. Many times her father came down to breakfast only to find Rose coming in through the back door after watching the sunrise over the Atlantic. The house she had grown up in was only five blocks from the beach on the southeast corner of St. Simons, just a few minutes walk away. He would warn her to be careful out there all alone, and she would just say, “Yes, daddy.” There was no need trying to explain the walks to her father, or anyone for that matter. They were the most intimate part of her relationship with herself.
Rose would get to the beach while night still ruled. The sound of the waves was different in the dark, like a loud whisper in church. The stars shone like jewels on a velvet cloth blacker than black. Sometimes she would see loggerhead turtles or blue crabs trying to catch the tide as it slowly receded into its daytime borders. She would walk to the edge of the wave, letting its last landward push lap over her toes. And there she would stand, waiting, as if the boat carrying her sailor-love was due to arrive any day. Without slouching, without shifting from one foot to the other, she would stand and watch the black cloth of the night sky soften at the horizon, turn a deep blue, then a dark gray, until finally the edge of the sun sped up the change sending shafts of orange and pink to bounce off the morning clouds and hide the stars. This had been familiar to her from the first time she remembered seeing it. No, more than familiar.
Her father had often asked if he could go with her, but she had gently rebuffed him. This was her time and hers alone. She would never know that he had followed her, on four or five occasions, and watched from the trees, hoping to catch sight of the mystery of his daughter.
Rose hadn’t been the least bit interested in dating in high school, which made Phillip happy. He never bemoaned the possibility of Rose not having a “normal” adolescence. Rose had always been the kind of child who lived outside the norm, yet did so with such precocious confidence and self-acceptance that it seemed simply natural. She had a few good friends, but seemed content to get close to no one. Rose was not unpopular; she just made popularity seem overrated without ever even speaking of it. She seemed to feel no sense of want – except for that deep aching which she and Phillip both knew existed, but neither could name.
They never spoke of this ache. Somehow they both knew that acknowledging it would make it harder to identify. Instead, when Phillip would become acutely aware of it, he would say something such as, “Baby, you know you can tell your daddy anything, don’t you?” To which Rose would smile and say simply, “Yes.”
When Rose went to Spelman, Phillip was immensely proud and deeply saddened. He had become almost dependent on her daily presence. He wanted to guide her into a good life, but mostly he wanted what he learned from her. For two years nothing much changed except that Rose was in Atlanta. Then in her junior year she began dating Michael Jones, a student at Morehouse. Rose and Mike were perfect for each other. Both were straight-A students, determined to go to graduate school, and destined to lead scholarly lives. They spent most of their dates in the library. Phillip was happy for her, but struggled with his jealously. He knew he would get used to Rose having another man in her life, he knew he would have to, but it was going to take some effort on his part. When Rose graduated and announced her plans to attend graduate school at the University of Georgia in Athens, Phillip asked about Mike’s intentions, assuming they intended to be together. But Rose told of Mike’s plans to spend a year in Europe before starting grad school, and did so as if passing along the news of a family friend, pleased for him and not the least displeased that he was going away.
At UGA, she was on track to finish her Masters in a year and a half. She wasn’t certain which school she would attend after that, but knew that she was going to plow through the Ph.D. without taking a break. She was interested in Georgetown and Boston University. She was even going to give Harvard a shot. She hadn’t even considered schools not on the eastern seaboard. Wherever she went, she wanted to be close to her ocean and its daily show at dawn.
Rose stared at the painting until it was just an unfocused and fuzzy mass of black and blue. She began to refocus on the room after a time and eventually looked down at the undergrad papers stacked on her desk, waiting for her to cover them in red ink and profound feedback. She didn’t mind the paper grading, but tonight it seemed far too pedestrian. She went to her car and drove east. Hilton Head was only three and a half hours away. She could get a room for the night in Beaufort, watch the sunrise in the morning, and be back to campus in time for her noon class.
Justice didn’t get the job in the English department. Unbeknownst to Rose, Dr. Williams had already given the position to a senior English major. Rose had called Justice to let him know, partly because it was the proper thing to do and partly because she wanted to talk with him again. Their conversation was short. Neither could find a good enough reason to extend it. They signed off with “see you around” and both hoped they would.
Justice accidentally caught a glimpse of her one day. He had been asked to deliver some supplies to the history department in his finally-landed job as general gopher for the acquisition department. He had unloaded the boxes of copy paper and was pushing his empty dolly through the halls when he glanced through the window of a classroom door and saw her. He came to a stop three feet beyond the door then backed up slowly until he could see her through the long narrow glass again.
She was teaching a freshman class, standing in front of the room and talking with complete ease. Even as a graduate teaching assistant, she was already an accomplished lecturer. He watched her move about the front of the room, write something on the board – he didn’t know what and strained to see which words might have known the singular pleasure of the touch of her hand – and turn the pages of her notes. She must have said something funny because the class laughed. Justice saw the side of her mouth turn up in that smile that had so captured him before. He felt jealous of the students in the class, people who were required to listen to her, to look at her, for a solid 50 minutes three times a week. He imagined himself as her student, having the courage to ask to speak with her after class, going back to her office with her.
He had no idea how long he stood there and watched her, but suddenly the class was standing and coming toward the door like a wave of humanity. He regained his senses and hurried down the hall to the stairs. This was not the way to keep the first job he ever had.
From then on, he would arrive at work as early as possible to sign up for any deliveries to that building between 9:00 and 9:50. He couldn’t get there every time the class met, but he managed it once a week or so. He would think of good reasons why that particular trip had taken so long, but they weren’t really needed. Like most government jobs, it didn’t take too much to please his supervisors and a few lengthy deliveries raised no one’s suspicions.
Justice would always watch from his spot in the hall. If someone came along, he would calmly turn his attention to the bulletin board on the wall, feigning interest in a poster advertising how wonderful it was to get a graduate degree in political science at Duke. He thought about waiting after the class was over, timing it so that he could be strolling down the hallway just as she left the room. He could say, “Hey. Rose, isn’t it? Good to see you again.” He would be ever so cool and she would smile that smile and maybe they would even walk together for a while.
But he never did. Some days he thought he would, but then he would chicken out at the last minute, almost running down the hallway to keep her from seeing him.
Justice told no one about Rose. For one thing, what would he tell? I met this girl and she makes me feel all warm inside and so I stalk her when she’s teaching? And he felt that if he did tell, even Mark, just admitting it would make something real out of it, something palpable that Jared could sense in the air.
Jared. That was what kept Justice from waiting for her after class. He didn’t dare take even the first step down a road that would have dangers he couldn’t begin to imagine. He knew that one hint of this would send Jared into a rage that would end Justice’s college career and any possibility for Marsh and Hannah. Of course, there was really no this for Jared to hear about. But there was something, and Jared would sniff it out like a blue tick hound on the trail of a rabbit. No, he would have to stand still. He would have to watch her from his hallway, moving only to finally and regrettably move away. Whatever he hoped for could never happen. Whatever he thought might become of standing outside her door and catching stolen glimpses of her must remain potential and not even approach the probable.
Justice felt he was the lone student on a campus of thousands who was sad to see the school year come to an end. He thought he might have worked up the nerve to talk to Rose, knowing that an entire summer stood in the way of seeing her again. But he didn’t.
Instead, he reluctantly packed and drove home with Mark, making the same rendezvous with Jared at the same Piggly-Wiggly.
Justice had been plotting out his summer for three weeks. Before he left Athens, he opened a savings account. Mark went with him, shaking his head in disbelief when Justice said he had never been inside a bank before. He had earned $1,436 and spent just $72. The campus cashier’s office cashed his paychecks and he kept the rolled up bills in an empty peanut butter jar under his bed. The change jingled in the bottom. If he ever wanted a soft drink or to go see a movie with Mark, he used the change only. The paper money was off-limits, except for that one bookstore purchase he had made.
When the teller handed Justice his bankbook, showing a balance of $1,364, he realized for the first time that he had to find a place to hide it. His instant agitation was apparent to his best friend.
“Let’s talk over here,” Mark pulled Justice to some chairs in the lobby of the bank after saying thank you to the teller. “Now, what is it?”
“The bank book. I can’t take this home, Mark. I mean, my dad cannot find this.”
“Hmm. Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Mark thought for a moment. “I could keep it for you. No, that wouldn’t be good. I wouldn’t do anything with it, but my dad always says you should never do business with friends. He says it’s the best way to turn a friend into an enemy, and I don’t want us to be enemies.”
“No, I don’t want that either. But I would trust you to hold my bank book for me.”
Mark grinned. “Thanks. But we’ll figure something out.” And then his grin changed to a smile of a-ha. “I’ve got it. Come with me.”
Mark led Justice to one of the desks. The woman behind the desk looked up from her paperwork, then smiled her best customer service smile.
“May I help you?”
“Yes,” Mark said. He had a frat boy way of sounding extremely businesslike in situations like these, even in jeans and sneakers. “We’re interested in a safety deposit box.”
“Do you have an account with us.”
Justice jumped in. “I certainly do.” And he proudly displayed his new bankbook, the same bankbook that had a $15 deduction a few minutes later, the same bankbook that would spend the entire summer in the dark environs of safety deposit box #492.
The only problem was that now he had a key to hide. If there was one thing Jared had taught him, it was how to be resourceful. He pulled up the insole of his boot, put the key underneath, then glued it back around the edges. All summer long the key to his ultimate freedom would be right under his left foot, and right under Jared’s nose.
The other plan he made concerned how he would get through the three long months at home. It wasn’t a plan so much as a resolve. He decided that he would not just endure the time under his father’s watchful eye, but he would find a way to relate to his father, meet him on his own grounds. He wanted Jared to not just accept his going to school, but to begin to see it as a truly good idea. He thought if he could pull it off, then each time home he might become more and more convincing.
Shortly after arriving back at the compound, Justice installed new lighting in the supply building and a security video system around the perimeter of the fence. His father had bought the system during the spring and must have paid quite a bit for it. Justice never asked where the money had come from. He wouldn’t have dared. He just knew it was waiting for him and constituted some kind of test, which he passed with flying colors. Jared seemed almost happy about his son’s new skills.
Because he had positioned the cameras, Justice knew where the one weak spot in the system was, the one place you could leave or approach the compound without being taped. He had thought at first that he wouldn’t leave at all. He didn’t want to risk angering Jared in any way. But after a couple of weeks, he decided he could safely leave for short periods of time and walk toward the beach. There was a certain mossy-haired live oak tree calling him. He went to the spot where he had found Hannah those many years ago and sat in the same low, solid branch where the beautiful stranger rested as she had played clapping games with his cousin. He stared out to the ocean, thinking about Rose, imagining the woman he saw on his delivery rounds sitting next to him here in South Georgia. This place where they first met seemed holy ground. The distance between them seemed as vast as the body of water before him.
At times he would laugh at himself and even question his own sanity. He wondered if he was obsessed, and then thought that obsession must be a tyrannical sort of passion. He counted the days until he could return to Athens, to Rose. Just to be able to watch her through a classroom window was enough for him.
When in the compound, Justice spent more time than he ever had observing his father. Each day away from Jared wore away the edges of the extreme ideology he had planted in Justice’s head. After a year, he was beginning to see his father in a perspective he had not possessed before. Justice began to realize that anger defined his father. He was a rageful, bitter, hating man. Justice had heard the stories growing up, how the government had taken their land, how the government was not to be trusted, how the government was slowly being taken over by Jews and nigger lovers. He could understand being angry about the land, but it was in the past. There was nothing they could do about that now. As for the other things his father believed, Justice saw no evidence in the outside world he had come to know. He didn’t understand how his father could carry so much hate for people just because they were a different color or had a different religion. From what Justice could see, the rest of the world was doing a pretty decent job of getting along with each other, even appreciating each other. Slowly it became clear to Justice that his father had stewed in his hate for so long that he no longer had it; it had him. Jared had taken on the anger of his father like a birthright and, like any good son taking over the family business, had made it grow. Justice knew just enough about his family’s past to know that his great-grandfather had built the distrust, his grandfather had built the hate, and his father had built the wall. He wondered what was his to build. What he wanted to build seemed as impossible as constructing a bridge across the Atlantic.
During his freshman year, Justice had made inquiries in the education department until he found what he wanted. Among the clothes and books he brought home for himself was a textbook for teaching Braille. It was his lone $72 purchase. He was determined to teach Hannah how to read this summer. He decided that this was one thing he was not going to hide from Jared.
“Dad, can I talk with you for a minute, sir?” Justice found his father in the east tower the morning after he came home.
Jared eyed him warily, still waiting to see what changes had taken place in his son. “Yeah. What is it?”
“While I was at school,” Justice cleared his throat, trying to hold back his nervousness. It wouldn’t do for Jared to think this was too important. “While I was at school, I happened to hear about Braille, it’s a way for blind people to be able to read, and I was able to get a hold of this book about it, and I thought, if it’s okay with you, that I would teach Hannah Elizabeth. How to read.”
“And what would be the purpose of that?”
“Well, Hannah is pretty smart, sir, and there are lots of things that blind people can do. She might be able to learn enough to maybe go to college some day and . . .”
“Who said I’d let her go to college?”
Justice recognized his mistake. He had gone too far and needed to backpedal a little. “Well, maybe not college. But, you never know what she might be able to learn and do. Around the compound, I mean.”
Jared studied his son through squinted eyes. “Well, she is pretty smart. Aaron bought her that damn guitar last year and she picked it up in no time. Plays it like she’s been playing it all her life. And she sings all the damn time. I don’t know what earthly good it would do to teach a blind girl to read, but as long as it don’t interfere with your chores then I don’t guess there’s no harm in it.”
“Yes, sir.” Justice started to turn and go, but Jared spoke again.
“You think Marsh would get anything out of that college? I mean, when he gets older, of course.”
Justice felt his pulse quicken. He instantly knew that how he handled this one moment in time could have a huge effect on the future. He spoke as if he wasn’t quite yet convinced. “Well. . . I don’t know.” Justice shrugged his shoulders. “He’s not quite as interested in studying and all like I am. But, come to think of it, there’s a whole lot of different things he could learn there, and not everybody there is all that smart, to be honest with ya’. He’s a whole lot smarter than some of them. I would think it could probably be useful. Maybe he could learn about mechanical engineering or even biology, you know, pre-med kinda stuff. Now that would really be useful.”
“Hm.” Jared mulled it over. “You’re right. He’s not always the brightest bulb in the box.”
Justice heard only “you’re right.” He tried to remember if his father had ever said those words to him before. “You know, I could maybe teach him too. Help him brush up on a few things.”
There was a slight pause before Jared said, “Yeah, maybe you oughta’ do that.” He turned around to look through his binoculars out into the ocean and Justice knew he had just been dismissed. He went down the ladder two rungs at a time and almost skipped back to the house. He had something to show Hannah.
Teaching Hannah to read was one of the easiest chores Justice had ever undertaken. She had been taught to say the alphabet and even learned basic spelling from her mother. No one had given her formal instruction beyond that, but they had no idea how much she was absorbing through careful listening and talks with Justice. By the time Justice showed her the Braille textbook, there wasn’t much to do except familiarize her with this new bumpy writing. They breezed through the alphabet and numbers in one afternoon.
Hannah was so excited she could hardly contain it. From that first afternoon, the textbook became her property and Justice was only allowed to use it while they had lessons. It wasn’t long before Justice knew he had to get his hand on other reading material for his cousin. The education professor who had suggested this textbook to him had also told him about an organization which would send blind people Braille books or books on tape in the mail for free, like a postal lending library. Justice had written the address on the flyleaf of the book. After explaining it to his father, who gruffly agreed, Justice wrote to the company asking for a catalog and other information. Within a few weeks, Hannah was the proud “borrower” of To Kill A Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, and The Miracle Worker. She devoured them. And then she reread each one. The story of a young Helen Keller she read four times in total. She couldn’t fathom letting her books go, but when Justice explained that she couldn’t get any more until she had sent these back, she offered to wrap them up herself. Her books were returned with a request for Life on the Mississippi, Heart of Darkness, and The Awakening. Justice didn’t know these works any more than she did, although he had read some Mark Twain in his Freshman English class, so he would read her titles out of the catalog and when one sounded interesting she would say, “That one, Justice. I think I would like that one next.”
Often they would sit under their live-oak tree and Hannah would read out loud to Justice. They both loved it. Justice would lie on the ground, his eyes closed or looking at the clouds. He quickly learned to always bring a dictionary. The holes in both his and Hannah’s vocabulary were filled by Mr. Webster himself. Hannah would sit cross-legged at the base of the tree, her book open on her lap, her right hand moving swiftly across the page with a soft sliding sound. For the rest of his life, whenever he would rub his finger across paper, Justice would hear Hannah reading to him.
One particular afternoon, as Hannah was about to finish the horror of Conrad, she stopped suddenly and said, “Justice, do you remember that girl?”
Justice opened his eyes wide. He instantly knew who Hannah was talking about. It was the only girl she had ever met. “Yes,” he said quietly.
“I think about her all the time. Her name was Rose. I remember it because it was such a pretty name and I just knew she had to be pretty too. Was she pretty, Justice?”
“Sometimes I wish I could see her again. Just be around her again.”
“Yeah. She was so nice to me. Are the people outside nice like her, Justice?”
“Some are, I suppose. Some aren’t.”
“Well, she was awfully nice. I really liked her. I was almost mad when you called my name and said we had to go back. It would have been nice to stay with her awhile.”
Justice took in a deep breath and put his hands behind his head. “Yeah,” he whispered. “That would have been nice.”
Teaching Marsh was another matter. For one thing, Marsh liked being on the compound now that Justice was out of his way and never once thought that he would follow his brother’s path and go to college. Justice cornered him when he could, but didn’t push him too aggressively. That would only pull out Marsh’s own aggressive nature and that was never a pleasant thing to see. He realized that turning Marsh around would be a long process, that he would have to wear him down like water wears away the beach and changes the shape of the islands, slowly and consistently.
Marsh felt pulled between his position on the compound and his love for his brother, outwardly showing little affection for Justice, but secretly admiring what Justice was doing. Marsh felt simultaneously drawn to emulate his brother and despise him. The more he felt love for him, the more he would act out in rage against him, responding to great emotion within him with the only passion he knew.
By the time Justice was ready to return to school in the fall, he had convinced Marsh that learning something, and possibly even going to college one day, might just help him secure an important place in compound life. And as some extra security, he talked up the football team to the point that Marsh was actually anxious to see a game.
And thus Justice felt his summer had been a great success. His father seemed easier somehow, Marsh was coming around, and Hannah had been introduced to the world of books. Not bad for three months’ work.
Returning to Athens felt like a homecoming for Justice. Once he saw Mark, he felt the residue of the summer at home wash completely away. He had just two things on his mind – get his job back, and see Rose.
The first part was easy. His supervisor in the acquisitions department was happy to see him back and offered him his job again on the spot. During his deliveries the first couple of weeks and sometimes even on his own, he would roam the hallways of the building where the English classes were taught. He ticked them off in his head – 110, 112, 113, all the way to 144 on the first floor, then four floors up. Rose was not in any of them. After four weeks, he gathered the courage to become more assertive in his mission and went to the English department office.
“Good afternoon. May I help you?” It was the same secretary, though she didn’t seem to remember him.
“Yes.” Justice had a story prepared. “I was looking for the graduate assistant. She had a painting I liked and I wanted to talk to her about what kind of paints she used.”
“Oh, you must be talking about Rose.”
“Yes, that’s right. Her name is Rose.”
“The star-crossed lovers painting.”
“That’s what Dr. Williams always called it. After Shakespeare. You know, Romeo and Juliet?”
“Oh,” Justice wasn’t familiar with the bard, but had become a little sensitive about some of the gaps in his education. “Yes, of course. Shakespeare. Anyway, is she in?”
“No, I’m sorry. She finished her degree in August and has gone on to get her Ph.D. She’s at Harvard.”
Justice stood still, shocked to hear what he hadn’t even thought to expect.
“Are you okay? Maybe Dr. Williams would know what kind of paint she used. Should I get him for you?”
“No, no. I . . . thank you. Sorry to bother you.” Justice was out the door before the secretary could even get out the words to tell him that it was quite all right.
He walked down the hallway and into the stairwell where he fell back against the wall, looked at the ceiling and exhaled a deep breath. Why did it feel like something much bigger had just happened? She was a woman he hardly knew, who might not even recognize him if she saw him again, but she had been something more, something unnamable, unattainable, unbelievable.
And Harvard. Where was Harvard anyway? He knew he could find it on the internet. He could track her down, maybe even find a way to get to her. He would hitch or take a bus or do anything he needed to do to be where she was.
He let out another deep breath. Now he was convinced he might really be going over the edge. “Forget it,” he muttered. And that’s exactly what he tried to do.
© Deborah E. Moore – 2011