Visitors’ Day ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was a Sunday morning in December. Freda and Julian were in the back seat of Daddy Earl’s car. Daddy Earl careened through traffic with ease, no obstacle too much for him to overcome. He had the radio tuned to some cheerful Christmas music because he knew Freda liked it. Julian held onto his teddy bear, although he insisted he didn’t need it, watching the passing scenery with absorption.
“Are you going to take that stupid bear inside with you?” Freda asked.
“Shut up!” Julian said. “I’ll do whatever I want.”
“Will they have her in handcuffs?” Freda asked the back of Daddy Earl’s head.
“I don’t think so,” Daddy Earl said. “Not on visitors’ day.”
The parking lot was full and Daddy Earl had to drive around for a long time before he found a place to park and, once he did, they had to walk a long way to the visitors’ entrance.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Freda said, as they waited to be searched and admitted.
Daddy Earl put his finger to his lips to tell her she should stop talking.
A man in a uniform took Daddy Earl, Julian and Freda into a large visiting room filled with people and showed them where to sit. He left and came back in a couple of minutes with mother.
Mother gave Daddy Earl a peck on the cheek and hugged first Julian and then Freda before sitting down.
“How’s my big boy?” she smiled at Julian.
“Mother, I don’t like for you to be in jail,” Freda said, on the point of tears.
“I know you don’t like it, dear. I don’t like it, either.”
“Why don’t you tell them to let you come home?” Julian asked.
“It doesn’t quite work that way, honey,” mother said. “I wish it did.”
“How are you doing, old girl?” Daddy Earl asked. It was one of the many names he had for her.
“I’m just peachy, darling!” she said.
“How are they treating you?”
“Like a queen.”
“How’s the cuisine?”
“Every meal like dining at the Ritz.”
“Do you need some money?”
“It would only be stolen.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Just one thing. To get out of this place and go home.”
“It feels funny having a criminal for a mother,” Freda said.
“I know, baby,” mother said. “And I apologize for it in every possible way.”
“Why don’t you just promise to stop shoplifting so they’ll let you out.”
“I’ll do that and see if it works.”
“Do you have a court date set?” Daddy Earl asked.
“No. You know what the courts are like.”
“Any chance you’ll be out by Christmas?”
“I don’t think so. No bail for me since it’s my third conviction. I’m a flight risk.”
“What does that mean?” Julian asked.
“Nothing for you to worry about, dear,” mother said.
“Is this place a hospital? Are you going to die here?”
“You don’t have a worry in the world, sweetheart. Mother will be home with you soon. If not before Christmas, then pretty soon after.”
“Are you sick?”
“No, I’m not sick. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I don’t know why you have to stay here if you’re not sick.”
“Shut up, Julian!” Freda said. “You’re only making things worse.”
“How am I making things worse?”
Mother took Julian on her lap, even though he was almost too big for it. “I don’t want you to be unhappy,” she whispered in his ear.
“I’m not,” he said.
“I’m so glad you came to see me today. This is the only good thing that’s happened me to since I’ve been here.” She hugged Julian and he hugged back. “The two of you are going to have a wonderful Christmas, with Santa and a tree and everything.”
“Maybe we don’t want those things while you’re in jail,” Freda said.
“Of course you want those things! And you’ll have them, too. Won’t they, Daddy Earl?”
“Santa already knows they’ll be at my house,” Daddy Earl said. “He’s not going to let us down.”
“I knew we could count on old Santa,” mother said.
“I’ve been thinking,” Daddy Earl said.
“Maybe they’d go easier on you if you were married.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying I think we should get married.”
“Last I heard, you had a wife somewhere.”
“A minor technicality,” Daddy Earl said.
Mother laughed. “I hear they have a special place for bigamists over in the men’s prison.”
“What does that mean?” Julian asked.
“I know what it means,” Freda said.
“Never mind what it means,” mother said. “I was just making a joke with Daddy Earl.”
“I have the feeling they’re going to let you out in time for Christmas,” Daddy Earl said.
“Oh, baby, I wouldn’t count on that if I were you!” mother said.
“You’ll be calling me to come and get you, and I’ll get here so fast you won’t believe it!”
Mother began crying, no matter how hard she wanted to avoid it. “We have to be realistic,” she said. “I might be here for a long time. I might never go home again. I did such stupid things. I didn’t know what I was doing and I swear I’m done with all that!”
“Of course you are!” Daddy Earl said. He put his beefy arm across her shoulders. “You have to look on the bright side and keep your spirits up.”
“Yes, I’ll try,” mother said. She wiped her eyes with his monogrammed handkerchief.
A guard was watching them carefully and then he came over and told them it was time for them to leave; the visit was over.
Mother gave Daddy Earl a passionless kiss. When she hugged Julian and Freda, she started crying again, which made all of them cry.
“We’ll come again just as soon as we can,” Daddy Earl said.
“I want all of you to have a good Christmas,” mother said, “and don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ll be thinking of all of you.”
“We’ll be thinking of you, too, mother,” Freda said.
On the way to the car, Freda said, “I don’t think we’ll ever see her alive again.”
Julian began wailing, so Daddy Earl picked him up and carried him the rest of the way.
Freda turned to look at the windows of the prison, expecting mother to be there waving at them, but she saw only a gray blankness that told her that nothing good ever came out of there.
On the way home, they stopped and ate a chicken dinner with cherry pie for dessert and then Daddy Earl went to a place where he knew they could get a good, real-live Christmas tree. When they got home, he set the tree up in the living home, strung the lights expertly, and then let Freda and Julian do the rest of the decorating.
In their twin beds in Daddy Earl’s guest room at ten o’clock, they could hear sleet and rain hitting the windows.
“Maybe they’ll call school off tomorrow,” Julian said.
“Did you hear mother say that Daddy Earl already has a wife?” Freda asked.
“What of it?” Julian asked.
“His wife might come back from wherever she is and tell us we have to get out.”
“Why would she do that?” Julian asked.
“She’d be jealous, that’s why.”
“Daddy Earl could always punch her in the nose.”
“Maybe we could sneak mother out of prison and sneak Daddy Earl’s wife in there in her place.”
“How you gonna do that?” Julian asked.
“Didn’t you ever hear of chloroform?”
He groaned and rolled over so that his face was inches from the wall. He didn’t want to think about school tomorrow, about mother being in jail, or about anything else. He pictured snow piling up outside, so much snow that school would be called off for the whole week. With that comforting thought, he was able to make himself go to sleep.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp