Rose and Justice — Installment Fourteen

This is Installment Fourteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters IV.vi and IV.vii. It is 6,651 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!

IV.vi

Mother spoke the words deliberately as she walked.  “From the gray-speckled boulder, 12 paces along the path, 90 degree right turn and six paces to the patch of clary sage, turn three complete circles, look directly over left shoulder and walk seven paces toward the first mountain laurel bush you see, left turn four paces, right turn three, bend down between the two large elderberry trees and wait.”

Bernard Oxley Millwright IV burst forth from the moss-hidden door almost immediately and kept rising in a flutter of wings as he straightened his small velvet jacket with one hand and ran the fingers of his other through his unruly curly hair.  He rose to eye-level of the tiny spirit-woman in front of him and then flung out both arms.  “Mother!  How delightfully delightful to see you!”

“Hello, Oxley.  You are looking well, and I do believe your wings are even more iridescent than ever.”

“Why, thank you, good Mother.  I’ve been rubbing them daily against the bark of the slippery elm.”

“And who gave you that good advice?”

“Maria, of course.  She knows the ways of trees.”

“Ah, that she does.”  Mother nodded in acknowledgement, then lifted her hand in the air, palm side up.  “Rest yourself, Oxley.”

Bernard Oxley Millwright, IV, hovered briefly above Mother’s hand and then settled down in a gentle landing.  He once again straightened his velvet jacket while his wings folded up neatly behind his back.  “Much gratitude, Mother.  Too much hovering and I might just morph into a hummingbird right before your eyes.”  Apparently Oxley thought this was absolutely hilarious and proceeded to slap his knee and laugh loudly at his own joke.  Within seconds he noticed that Mother had not joined him in his revelry, and he became instantly serious.  He cleared his throat and slid the fingers of one hand into his vest pocket.  “Well, what joyous and auspicious occasion brings you into the Mystic Wood, Mother?”

“Auspicious to be certain.  Joyous remains to be seen.  I need to see Maria.”

Oxley’s shoulders slumped almost imperceptibly.  Everyone wanted to see Maria Claricy.   His role as gatekeeper to the alchemist meant that beings had to come through him, but they never seemed to come to him.  After a few millennia, it was starting to create the smallest mustard seed of an ego in him, a slightly bruised and slightly self-pitying ego.  “Well, I appreciate you stopping off to see me then, Mother, but you know as well as I that a member of the Light Council can bypass me and go directly to Maria Claricy.”

“Of course, I know that, Oxley.  But I need you to go with me.”

Oxley’s wings gave a small, involuntary flutter.  He looked up into the small woman’s gentle eyes with a new shine in his own. “Me?  Whatever for?  Oh, do tell.”

“This mission is too big for Maria Claricy alone.  She will need an intermediary, and preferably one with wings.”

Oxley rode on Mother’s shoulder through the Mystic Wood and along the banks of the Singing River.  Several times he had to consciously will his wings not to flutter.  Maria had never allowed him to assist in any way beyond mixing the occasional potion or grinding the occasional powder, but she could hardly resist a direct request from Mother.  The path seemed longer than ever, but he fought the urge to chatter into Mother’s ear.  He knew that something important enough to bring her into the Mystic Wood would not be the fodder of chit-chat.  He also knew that although she was sure-footed and steady along the way, she was actually in a state of walking meditation.

They arrived at the larger moss-covered door and Oxley fluttered to the ground to show Mother the location of the handle.  She would have found it eventually, but Oxley knew every tendril and blade by heart.  Mother pulled the barrier open and began the descent into the alchemist’s cavern, Oxley fluttering sporadically around her shoulders, her steady step just slightly too slow for smooth flight.

Maria Claricy appeared from the smoky dark of the incense-infused great hall to meet them at the bottom of the stairs.  “Mother, the raven cawed at the window and announced your approach.  You’ve journeyed a long way.  Your mission must be sacred.”  Maria Claricy opened her arms and wrapped Mother in reverent embrace.  “Come.  Sit by the fire.  We will need fire energy, I am certain.”

Maria led the way across the chamber to two cushioned wingback chairs near a stone fireplace.   Several logs were already engulfed in small orange and red flames.  Maria chose a piece of split pine from the pile next to the hearth and gently tossed it into the fire.  Sparks spit into the air and the flames sizzled higher.   Mother was already settled into one chair when Maria turned around.  Oxley sat on the arm of Mother’s chair with one leg resting over the other at the knee and his arms crossed in front of him.

“Thank you, Oxley,” Maria’s voice was soft and sweet, but her words were obviously meant as a dismissal.

“I want Oxley to stay,” Mother intervened.  “He has a part in this mission as well.”

Oxley beamed with pride and knew now beyond doubt that he had indeed grown an ego.  Maria smiled at his joy.  She was still ego-free and did not take the request of his presence as an affront to her own magical ability.   Maria sat in the other chair and waited for Mother to speak.

“They have still not met.  The Council has decided to intervene.”

Maria squinted in thought.  “Far be it from me to question a decision of the Council, but is this the wisest course?  Shouldn’t we give them time?”

“Time on the earth-plane is not as time is Here.  You know that, Maria.  There has already been much interference in this mission.  Rarely does any return trip require the services of the alchemist.  This meeting that must happen has already needed your magic twice.  Now we seek you yet a third time.   A potential member of the Light Council has had to return to the earth-plane, and an entire Council meditation was devoted to this challenge.    There have been too many resources used already in this endeavor, so postponing fulfillment to a future incarnation would seem, well, a waste.”

Maria sat straight up.  “A waste?  But, there is no such thing, Mother.”

“I know.  But, still.  Doesn’t it seem that way?  They’ve waited long enough.”

Mother and Maria talked until long past dusk.  In the Mystic Wood there were no source-less glows as there were around the forum and the baths.  There simply were not enough beings in the woods to create the overflow of light which lingered as a residue where many were gathered.   Only the fire and several large candles added a flickering light to that which the beings themselves exuded.

When a plan was devised, the two women rose and went to the long laboratory table in the center of the room.  Maria Claricy pulled corked bottles of powders, liquids, berries, and leaves from the cabinet behind her.  She stood behind a large wooden mortar and closed her eyes.  Mother held silent vigil on the opposite side of the table.  Oxley paced across the planks of the table, anxious for his first important mission and going through the plan in his mind over and over again.

After several moments Maria opened her eyes.  Oxley noticed right away that her always sparkling green eyes were now blue, as blue as the ocean mixed with the sky.   She glanced over at him, smiled slightly, and then winked.  Oxley blushed.  He was in on something big, and the alchemist herself had just signaled his admission into an incredibly exclusive club.

Maria chanted syllables of sound, ground berries and herbs into powders and pastes, and combined ingredients under the watchful eye of the Snowy Owl.  It seemed like Maria might grind and stir and mix all night until suddenly the Owl hooted with a deep, hollow, reverberating tone.  The alchemist stopped instantly and looked at Mother, then to Oxley.  “We’re ready.”

The three beings went up the stairs and into the night air of the Mystic Wood.  The Singing River was louder in the darkness and babbled a song about sparrows and roses and a beautiful goddess.  Crickets chirped an accompanying rhythm.  Maria and Mother walked to a small grassy patch on the banks of the river, Oxley riding on Maria’s arm.  She would not let him fly, insisting that he save his energy for his task.  On the edge of the tiny meadow sat three wolves, their eyes shining golden from the full moon reflected off the river.

Maria Claricy sat the bowl containing the mixture in the center of the grassy area.  She held out her right hand so that Oxley could jump onto it.  Maria lowered Oxley slowly to the rim of the wooden mortar.  He turned and looked at her, then looked to Mother, and then back to the contents of the bowl.  Suddenly he jumped from Maria’s hand, dove headfirst into the soupy concoction, and disappeared.

Maria and Mother watched the bowl quietly for a long moment.  The Singing River stopped its song and gave a low hum.  The crickets fell silent.  A wolf whimpered.  Maria glanced up at Mother.  She wasn’t sure how long to wait.  All magic was always brand new; she had no way to know how long to trust this spell.

And then the liquid in the bowl began to ripple and shudder.  The river’s hum grew louder, and the wolves stood to attention.  Maria reached one hand up to the selenite stone resting on her forehead and placed the other on her solar plexus.  Suddenly, the liquid showered up in the burst of Oxley’s launching.  Oxley flapped his wings with all of his might, which was considerably greater after bathing in magic.  He quickly rose to the tops of the trees and into the starry heavens.  He seemed headed directly for the moon, for his silhouette was framed by the round light of the orb and the women watched him beat his wings and position his body into a torpedo.  The river sang in full chorus, and the crickets kept a quicker time.  Maria and Mother watched him fly into the night until a wolf suddenly tilted his head back, pointed his snout directly at the diminutive fairy in the moon, and howled, at which point Oxley vanished as if a veil had been pulled between them.

IV.vii

            Justice had looked forward to the Martin Luther King Holiday.  After teaching for twelve years in the Athens school district, he had learned to appreciate the occasional day off that seemed to compensate for his small salary.  He had spent Saturday and Sunday of his three-day weekend in his typical fashion – a call to Hannah on Saturday morning, a hike along the Oconee River that afternoon, reading practically every word of the Sunday paper the next morning, some household project later in the day.  He had convinced Jared to put in a phone line at the compound a few years before.  With Justice and Marsh both gone now, Jared conceded the point so that he could call and berate his sons if he felt the need.  He rarely did.  In fact, Justice had almost no contact with his father.  He called his mother once a month and Hannah once a week.

Marsh had followed football everywhere it would take him.  He started as a high school coach right out of college, then moved up to assistant coaching on the college level.   After proving himself time and again, he was finally offered a head coaching position at the University of Utah.  He married a nice Utah girl none of the rest of the family had met and lived his life around his gridiron schedule.  He had one child, a girl, who he loved and parented as well as most fathers, but he would one day regret the time he hadn’t spent with her.

The extra day, King day, Justice had no specific plans.  He thought he might sleep in, wander up to his favorite bookstore, perhaps take in a movie.  His life was blessedly simple.  He spent a great many hours doing what might seem to others as nothing, but they were his most important times.  He spent them in contemplation, often in nature, sometimes on his own back porch, but always deep within himself.  He didn’t require much out of life.  He had never dated, never felt the need to, and knew some of his colleagues whispered among themselves that he must be gay.  He didn’t care.  His best friend at work was a gay man and Beau Franklin was one of the finest men Justice had ever known.  If others wanted to think he was gay, he took it as a compliment and certainly nothing that he needed to deny in some vehement manner while proving his tolerance for those who were out of the other side of his mouth.

Every now and then he would remember Rose.  He wondered if she remembered him, but then thought it unlikely.  They had only met twice, and he was sure she didn’t remember the first time.  He wondered if she was truly too beautiful for this earth or if his memories had simply evolved into what he wanted them to be.

He also thought of Mark and occasionally even called him.  The conversations they used to have in the dorm room that lasted until the small hours of the morning had become two-hour phone calls two or three times a year which seamlessly wove their friendship through the years.  Mark had married shortly after college and moved to South Carolina where his wife’s family was from.  The two men had not seen each other since graduation day fourteen years before, but they continued to turn to each other for advice, comfort, and an intimate exchange they couldn’t seem to find with anyone else.

The day off might be a perfect opportunity to call Mark.  Justice ate a bowl of oatmeal and washed up the few dishes he had used.  He dried his hands and looked at the phone just at it rang.  At first, he thought it might be Mark calling him.  They often did that sort of thing, think of calling on the same day, one beating the other to the punch.

But it wasn’t Mark.  It was his mother.

He moved through the call as if in a dream.  His father had suffered a stroke, apparently a severe one.  He was in the hospital in Brunswick, in intensive care, and they weren’t sure he would make it.

At his mother’s request, Justice called Marsh.

“Does mom sound okay?”

“As well as can be expected, I guess.”

“Well, gee, this really sucks.  I wish I could be there, but I’m leaving this afternoon on a recruiting trip, and we have meetings as soon as I get back to get ready for spring practice.  I mean, I guess I could get there if you really needed me to, but it’s a bad time of year for me.”

Justice was sure it was difficult being a college football coach, but the season had just ended the month before.  If this wasn’t a good time, he knew there would never be one.  Justice also knew that going home this time would be more than a two-day visit.   It would seem, as much as he dreaded the return to an unknown amount of time at the compound, that it would fall to him to care for his mother, look after the compound, and make any decisions that would come to bear because of Jared’s questionable health condition.

Justice packed a small bag and was on 441 south within 20 minutes.  For the first hour of his trip, he drove in a daze, letting his mind’s auto-pilot do the driving.  Just past Milledgeville, he began to cry.  It surprised him that he felt so deeply about his father being ill, possibly dying.    He had grown to abhor his father’s beliefs, despise his treatment of others, and resent his hardness and intimidation.   Justice had often thought that whether his father was here or not would make no difference to him, that Jared was a nonentity in his life.  Yet he sobbed, driving through the fog created by his own tears, gulping in huge breaths, his entire torso heaving from the tumult of his feelings.  He cried for the father he would never have, the one every boy wishes for.  He cried that there might now be no hope that his father could still become that.  And he cried simply because the word “father” made Jared a part of him no matter how poorly Justice might think Jared had fulfilled the role.

He cried from Milledgeville to Savannah.  There was a lifetime of tears that needed somewhere else to go.  Justice mourned everything his father had not been and everything he had.   It seemed he felt every pain he had ever known in those few hours, the ones he had not been able to cry about as a boy because Jared Malone’s sons weren’t allowed to cry, and the ones he had not been able to cry about as a man because so much time had passed that he had forgotten where he had buried them.

By the time he reached the Southeast Georgia Regional Medical Center, he was wrung out, exhausted, and cleansed.   He felt bone tired, yet somehow able to take the load from his mother.  Melinda was in a mild state of shock.  She seemed to remain in the same fog that had overcome Justice that morning.  Hannah was with her.  Aaron had stayed home, unable to face the hospital again after spending so many years there while his wife was in chemotherapy and then sitting by her bedside while she slipped away.

Hannah had been an amazing source of peace and strength through her mother’s prolonged sickness and eventual death, and she was providing the same again for her aunt Melinda.   Every year Justice was more amazed at the depth of understanding Hannah seemed to possess so naturally.   Whenever he would acknowledge it to her, she would just say, “You have everything I have, Justice.  Just slow down and remember.”   And he would try.  But when he did, he thought of Rose, and sometimes berated himself for not being able to focus on his own self-actualization because of a silly fantasy about a girl he knew for ten minutes eighteen years ago.

The first few days back in Glynn County were a blur of inactivity.  Justice, Melinda and Hannah stayed in the waiting room around the clock for two days.  After that, they moved only to go home at night for a few hours of fitful sleep.  By the end of the week, Jared had been taken off the respirator and was out of his drug-induced coma, but was still in ICU.  He was to be moved to a rehab hospital for a few weeks, but the prognosis was not good.  He had lost most of the movement on his right side.  His doctor predicted a recovery of extreme limits, confinement to a wheelchair, speech difficulties, questionable mental capacity.

Justice took an indefinite leave of absence from teaching.  He had no idea how long he would have to be here.  Over the years, Jared’s “followers” had abandoned compound life, trickling away until the Malone land was once again occupied only by Malones.  It had been difficult for Jared and Aaron to care for the 48 acres with no help.   The only ground kept manicured on a routine basis was that right around the occupied houses.  Just a few feet from the living quarters, weeds and bushes once kept neatly trimmed were taking back the land.   The homes of the others who had left were like widowed spouses, rotting away in that quick way abandoned houses have of falling apart, as if they were too sad about not fulfilling their purpose to keep standing much longer.  Even the storage buildings were flaking paint and showing evidence of bug infestation that would never have been allowed in earlier years.  Justice couldn’t decide if the ramshackle appearance of the compound was evidence of Jared’s depression over his sons not returning to the fold or of a decay of Jared himself, the decay that ultimately resulted in his stroke.  Jared was still a relatively young man, and yet had already outlived the three generations of Malone men before him.

Justice moved temporarily into the Camden’s old house.  It had been lived in most recently and was in fairly habitable condition.  Being back on the compound again, living on the compound again, felt a little like putting on an old skin he thought he had molted long ago.   He had used so much energy getting away from this place, and now his return was instant and inevitable, an act he had no choice but to perform and therefore one that happened with surprising grace.  He figured he would have to stay out the rest of the school year and perhaps into the summer.

For the three weeks that Jared was in rehab, Justice worked around the compound like it was the only possible remedy for his mixed and conflicting emotions.  The place felt like a cemetery.  Justice had grown up in a community of people, bound by their hatred, but bound together just the same.  He had not been back to St. Simons since Hannah’s mother died seven years before and was acutely aware of how still the compound had become.  Only his mother, Uncle Aaron, and Hannah were there to share the 48 acres of South Georgia barrier island land his family had owned for five generations.

His efforts started to show immediate results.  He replaced rotting boards on his mother’s and uncle’s houses and put on a fresh coat of paint.  The building which housed the guns and ammunition could go to hell as far as Justice was concerned, but the other buildings, the ones with the big freezers and dry storage, tools and four-wheelers, he repaired with the same attention he had given the houses.

The hours he walked the property, clearing out built up brush that might be a fire hazard and sawing up broken limbs that had fallen on the tower path, proved a balm of healing Justice didn’t even realize he needed.  The first few days he dreaded the work that must be done, but as each day passed he awoke more anxious to be on the land.     By the time Jared came home, Justice had transformed a generations old story of hate, bitterness and possession into his own legacy of gratitude.  He had forgotten just what this land had meant to him – how every tree could hide him, how the sun would strobe through the blowing leaves and swaying moss, how the ground would feel against his back when he sprawled upon it.   On his back, he thought he could almost feel the earth’s heartbeat.  It felt like a mother who would always nurture him and a father who would never betray him.  This land was his.  More than to his father, who had clung to it fiercely as a symbol of rightful superiority, the land belonged to Justice, who felt humbled and awed by the giant live oaks and loblolly pines.   The land took possession of Justice and gripped him more firmly each day.

He had crawled up the ladder to the east tower the third day back home, and every day thereafter, hardly believing he had grown up with this right in his own backyard. He seemed to see each time, for the first time, the way the ocean changed from green to teal to blue to gray in the sunset, painting a thousand hues between each.  The whitecaps broke gently against the shore, like the ticks of a second hand on some universal clock.  These waves had been arriving on this shore for eons of time and Justice felt that finally he had arrived also, to a place that had been calling him for centuries it seemed.  His quiet frustration about Marsh’s refusal to come home slowly evolved into gratitude.  None of this would have become his again if Marsh had come back.

When Jared came home, the others were nervous around him.  The man who had once ruled all their lives through the strength of intimidation, was now a weakened and hobbled man, sitting for hours in that chair looking out the window of the house he had built with his own hands.  At first they thought the man he had become was even scarier than the man he had been.   Before the stroke, Jared was mean and hateful, but predictable.  Now he just sat, quiet and morose, eating when told to, sleeping when tired.  He rarely tried to speak, but when he did it was not understandable.   In a few weeks, they stopped being afraid of him.  A few weeks more and they were no longer even afraid of the man he had once been.  A lifetime of fear was washed away in just a few months of Jared’s incapacitation.

By the time summer arrived, Justice knew he had no choice but to stay – to help his family, and because the land wouldn’t let him go.  Leaving his mother, his feeble father, his still mourning uncle, and his blind cousin to fend for themselves seemed the essence of selfishness.  He had learned enough in the outside world to know that he had to see to his own needs in order to be capable of helping others, yet this decision felt exactly as if it was best for him, and just coincidentally best for everyone else as well.   He officially resigned his teaching position and went to Athens only twice more – to put his house up for sale and to attend the closing.   After so many years away from home, it felt odd that he would miss it when leaving for just a day, but both times, as soon as he returned from Athens, he would almost run down the path to the tower.  For the closing, he had left early in the morning and returned home that evening at midnight.  Still, he went to the tower, feeling the salt air and hearing the ocean’s rush even when he could see nothing but the endless black of night and the tiny flickers of a thousand stars.

The day after his house in Athens was sold and he knew he would never return there again, he met Aaron on the elder man’s front porch.  Aaron poured his nephew a cup of coffee and they settled back into two roughhewn rockers Aaron had made years before.

“Uncle Aaron, I suppose we need to be figuring out where we go from here.”

“What do you mean?  I’m too old to go anywhere.  Wanted to once, though.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep.  Guess I didn’t have the guts.  Now I guess I just don’t have the gumption.”

Justice chuckled.  “I can understand that.”

“Aw, you’re just a young man.  Plenty of gumption left.  So, where are you off to?”

“I’m not off to anywhere.  I guess now that I’ve come home, I’m here to stay.”

“Well, I can’t say I’m not happy to hear that.”

“But, this land, and the money.  Dad always seemed to be able to get his hands on some when we needed it.  Where did that come from?”

“That was the government money.  I reckon it’s probably about gone now.”

“But, where are the documents?  The bankbooks and all that?  They have to be somewhere.  Did you never see them?”

“Jared handled all of that.  He never told me anything and I never asked.”  His voice softened as a confession.  “I suppose I was too scared to ask.”

“None of us have to be scared anymore, Uncle Aaron.  But you and I, I guess, are kind of in charge now.  I mean, it would really be you, Uncle Aaron, but I’d like to help if I can.”

Aaron stopped rocking and leaned forward, staring into the distance at nothing in particular.  “I’m 63 years old, Justice, and I’ve never been in charge of anything in my life.  Don’t suppose I’d know how.  No, it’s you, boy.  You’re the rightful heir to the throne.”

“Then I abdicate.”

“Pardon me?”  Aaron didn’t know the word.

“I don’t want the throne, but we do need to make some decisions.  We could do it together.  I really am gonna’ need your help, Uncle Aaron.  The first thing I need your help with is finding any financial papers.  I’ve looked through dad’s house and found nothing.  Do you have any idea where something like that might be?”

Aaron paused in deep thought for a moment.  Even now he struggled with what seemed like defiance against his brother.  His indoctrination into the ways of Jared had been the strongest and he had to work the hardest to let the fear go.  Finally he spoke. “Yeah.  I think I might.  I would look in the safe if I were you.”

“The safe?  There’s a safe?”

“In the floor of the gun shed.  I don’t think Jared ever knew that I knew where it was, but I figured it out once a few years back.  Caught him pushing the ammunition trunk back into place one day.  C’mon.  Let’s go see what we can find.”

The two men went to the gun shed, a 20 x 20 foot building behind Jared’s house, and pushed with all their might to move the ammunition trunk.

“Jesus!  You say dad moved this all by himself?”

“Your father was a strong man, Justice.”

They finally got the trunk moved aside.  Beneath it was a trap door.  Justice opened the door and there it was, the twist dial of a safe front.

“Shit.”

“What’s the problem, boy?”

“The combination.  Do you have any idea what the combination might be?”

It took Justice and Aaron two weeks to get the safe opened.  They searched Jared’s papers for a clue, asked Melinda, but she hadn’t even known there was a safe, and even just started randomly selecting numbers.  Justice knew more than his uncle did how incredible the odds were against them lucking on to the combination.   He was about to try to hunt down a safecracker, call the manufacturer or a banker or somebody who might have an answer for him, when Hannah walked in on them.  She had been told about the safe since Justice didn’t care to keep the secrets his father had guarded so closely for so long.   He was determined that family business would be the business of everybody in the family from now on.

“Try 10-28-57.”

“What’s 10-28-57?”  Justice asked.

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember.  That’s the date the government condemned the land and bought it, or took it as Uncle Jared used to say.  You’ve heard it often enough in your life, Justice.”

“God, I had completely forgotten.”  He shrugged.  “Worth a try.”

The tumblers fell into place and Justice knew before he even pulled the handle that it had worked.   Justice reached in and started pulling out the contents.  There was more than he had expected.  He sat it all on the table in the center of the room.

“Sit down, you two.  Let’s see what’s here.”  Hannah sat across from Justice, but Aaron didn’t move.  “Uncle Aaron?”

“I don’t know.  It just feels weird.”

“Uncle Aaron, you have every bit as much right as anybody to whatever’s in this safe.  You always have.  It’s about time you got your inheritance, whatever it may be.”

Aaron sat.  “Some inheritance.  Probably just pieces of worthless paper.”

There were two folded documents.  The first was the deed of the property.  Underneath that was a surveyor’s plat from 1957 showing the original property with the government’s section and the leftover 48 acres outlined in thick black ink.  There was a small black strongbox and three bundles of envelopes held together by twine, each about five or six inches thick, more yellow the closer they were to the bottom, apparently kept in chronological order.   Justice opened the strongbox.  It was packed with hundred dollar bills.  He thumbed through it quickly.

“There must be about $20,000 here.”

“Shit, we’re rich.”  Aaron’s eyes were wide.

Justice picked one of the bundles and looked at the return address on the top envelope.  “That may be just the beginning, Uncle Aaron.”

Justice cut the twine with his uncle’s pocketknife and began sorting through the collected mail.  The early ones had been opened, but it seemed that for the past four or five years they had just been added to the stack, still sealed.  The first bundle, the one with the return address that had caught Justice’s eye, contained years of quarterly statements from Merrill Lynch.  The other two bundles were also from brokers.  Justice was amused that his father, the paranoid man who didn’t even trust banks enough to have a checking account, had ultimately entrusted his family’s wealth to the capitalist system.  Justice would never know that his father, the man who seemed intimidated by nothing, had been overwhelmed with the prospect of money management, had indeed been intimidated with the figures he inherited, and trusted but one man in his life — Joe McCafferty, Jim McCafferty’s brother, the uncle of the girl raped the night before Justice was born, and an investment consultant with a brokerage and insurance company in Brunswick.  Justice opened the most recent statement from all three stacks and quickly added the balances in his head.  Now it was his eyes that were wide.  He looked up at his uncle and whistled.

“Are you ready for this?”

“What?”  Aaron looked cautious, like he was about to witness a train wreck.  Hannah just sat there smiling as if she was in on the secret.

“We’re millionaires.  We are rich, Uncle Aaron.  I could almost get pissed off about this if I wasn’t so happy about it now.”

“Why would being rich make you angry?”

“Because we lived like dirt farmers most of our lives, Uncle Aaron.  And besides, this money didn’t just belong to dad.  Half of this should have been yours all along.”

Aaron let the realization sink in.  “I could have taken my family away from here years ago.”

“But it all worked out the way it was supposed to,” Hannah was still smiling.  “God is workin’ in every situation.  Right, Justice?”

After several days of debate, Aaron convinced Justice to handle the family finances.  Aaron’s years of being intimidated by Jared were now replaced with being intimidated by the amount of money Justice told him he had and his first taste of freedom coming far too late in his life.  Justice tried to include Melinda as well, but her stance was even more firm than Aaron’s.

Justice contemplated the options for several days before making any moves.  Finally, he called his uncle, mother and cousin together for a family meeting.  He wanted their complete agreement before he did anything.  He got it without a single balk.  They were just happy he was taking care of it all.  After years of resenting his father’s control, it seemed Justice now had it whether he wanted it or not.

The first thing he did was to tear down the wall.  He thought about hiring a contractor, but decided it was his own perfect therapy.  Aaron wanted to help too, so they both spent several weeks demolishing the 12-foot monstrosity that had kept them from the rest of the world for so long.  A few times he thought he caught a gleam in his uncle’s eye as he ripped down another section.

The second thing he did was to get rid of the guns and ammunition.  He wasn’t sure how to go about this, then decided to be as legal as he could possibly be.  He had known Frank Jenson, the county sheriff, since he was a teenager.  He had a private meeting with Frank about the situation.  Frank set up the sale of the guns to a local gun dealer who was thrilled with the haul, some of the weapons having reached the status of antique and quite valuable.  Justice gave the profits from the sale to a wildlife conservancy group.

The next thing he did was to divide the money and the land into five equal parts.  The compound ceased to exist, at first only on paper and then in reality.  Melinda, Aaron, Hannah, Marsh and Justice would each have their rightful share of the money and the land.

Marsh was happy enough about the money, but insisted he wouldn’t ever be coming home, to just divide his part of the land among the others.  His offer on the land was more generous than Justice had expected from Marsh, but Justice turned it down.

“You might want to retire on it some day.  If nothing else, you might want to sell it some day.  At any rate, it’s yours and it’s going to be yours until you decide to do something with it.”

“You probably deserve it, Justice.  God knows, I haven’t been any help since dad got sick.”  Marsh had kept in contact with the family through Jared’s illness, but had held off on coming until “it was necessary.”

“Marsh, if you had come home, I probably never would have.  It all worked out the way it was supposed to, and this land is yours.  Keep it until you want it or get tired of paying the tax bill.”

Justice worked like a dog, but a happy one, for the next three years solid.  He contracted and helped build a house for his mother, his uncle, Hannah, and then himself.  As each house was built, the old one it replaced was torn down.  Hannah and her father had separate houses, but they were just a few yards from each other across the line between their abutting properties.  Melinda’s house, Justice never would refer to it as his father’s house, was built with the appropriate features for her invalid husband.

Jared moved through all of the changes without acknowledging them.  He eventually stopped trying to communicate at all, just sat silently at his old window, then his new one, every day.   He never got any better, but he didn’t seem to get any worse either.   About three months after the house he had been born in and lived in all his life was torn down, Jared Malone went quietly to sleep one night and simply didn’t wake up, his death ever so much more graceful than his life had ever been.

Justice built his own house on the spot where the tower had stood.  He missed the tower once it was torn down, but wanted nothing of the old life left on the land.  Justice often felt that the land was being freed in a way similar to him and his family.  He didn’t want the earth that had mothered him to have to carry the old symbols of hate any longer.  He compensated for the loss of the tower by building a three-story house with one half of the third story an observation deck.   He found tile the color of the water on summer mornings and color-coordinated his patio in the sky to the ocean he so dearly loved.  When the house was finished, Justice felt as complete as he thought he might ever hope to feel.

All of this had been done by the time it had taken Bernard Oxley Millwright, IV, to fly into another dimension.

© Deborah E. Moore — 2011

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