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Short Story

The Trial of Jonathon Green

by Thomas D. Conger

 

"It's so beautiful here."

Jonathon breathed deeply, savoring the fresh feel of the ozone-laden air. The smell of new mown hay and rain soaked pines permeated the air.

"Yes, it is beautiful. You help to make it so." Wendy, his mentor and friend, was always cordial and encouraged him to express his feelings.

"When I'm here, I feel free. I can speak my mind and say what I feel. It's not like that in the other place. Sometimes I wonder which place is real."

"They are both real, John."

"JONATHON." He heard his name called in his head and turned to Wendy.

"I've got to go now. She's calling."

"JONATHON, come back sweetheart, come back to momma."

"I'll be here when you come back, John. You know you can always come see me when you need to." Wendy's sweet voice lilted in his memory as he began to return.

                                           * * *

"Umma." John spoke the only word that would pass his lips. "Umma."

"Yes, Jonathon. It's Umma."

Elizabeth Green loved her son more than anything else in this world. Even so, it still broke her heart when she had to tell others her son was a three year old in the body of a sixteen-year-old boy. Too often, her so-called friends turned away when Jonathon came into the living room or kitchen while she had company.

Her hands were clasped about his face, forcing his eyes to look into hers.

"Umma loves you, Jonathon. Umma loves you."

His eyes focused. He smiled his big, slobbery, toothy grin. She mussed his sandy red hair and gave him a hug. It was time for lunch. She never tired of this routine. She understood his autism as much as any mother could. But bringing him back into her world was getting to be more of chore every day, it seemed.

Liz Green was a single mother for the last fourteen years. Her husband didn't understand, couldn't relate to "the boy", as he called him. Thoughts that he had produced a retarded son drove him from his family. Liz didn't know where he was, and by this time, didn't care. Jonathon was a real blessing in her life. Yes, he was also a point of contention between her and potential husbands, but she could not abandon him for anyone.

The hardest part of raising Jonathon was not knowing how much got through to him. Did he feel love? She thought so. He seemed to respond to her affections. It seemed that loving him was the only way to bring him back from his never-never land.

Did he feel anger and rage? There was no way to tell. The trend seemed to be that he left her more when there were angry words spoken, even when they were not directed at him. But, oh how she loved her little man.

                                               * * *

John walked slowly through the meadow, drinking in the aroma of the wild flowers, the cool pines, and wild grass. Ahh, how he loved being here. He came to the cobblestone path that led to the hamlet and found Wendy waiting for him at the well in the center of the square.

"Hi, John. Glad you're back. Is there anything you want to tell me? We can talk here. There are only my ears to hear what you have to say."

"You are so beautiful, Wendy. You are so full of life and energy. I guess there is a lot to talk about. My mother has another man friend. She talks about him a lot. I think she's going to bring him home soon. I don't know what to do. When I meet mom's friends they always shun me. I guess I understand. They don't know that I have so much to say and so much to offer, but when I'm in that world, the links don't connect. It's so frustrating."

"I can imagine," she responded. Her face showed dismay, her eyes fell to his feet as she listened, her heart aching to help him. But this world was hers. She could not move between the two worlds as he could. She could only console him and remain his friend.

"The last time I was there, mom had a party with all her friends from her work. She introduced them to me. I wanted so much to say hi to them, but the words stayed in my head. And when I looked at them, they mostly turned away. Their sour looks haunt me still. I know it hurt momma's feelings, knowing that none of them wanted to talk to me or love me."

Wendy put her hands on his broad shoulders.

"I'm so sorry to hear that. You know you're loved here. Perhaps that will have to be enough for now. Let's walk in the meadow. Maybe we can work some of those feelings out."

                                               * * *

Elizabeth, Liz to her closest friends, brought her new beau into the living room. Jonathon sat quietly, his face aimed at the blaring television. One look into his blank eyes told her he was gone again. She choked back a tear, wishing that she didn't have to go through this same routine with everyone. She really thought that Benjamin Jarmain might be the one. She had dated him steadily now for six months. Somehow, she had avoided this moment until now. This would be the real test for Ben, she thought.

She put her hands around Jonathon's face.

"Jonathon."

                                       * * *

He looked at Wendy. "She's calling again. It seems we have so little time together any more. I'm sorry. I must go now."

"Don't be sorry, John. We'll just have to cherish the time you're here. Come again soon, Okay?"

"Yes."

                                       * * *

"JONATHON." Her tone was more insistent than usual.

Liz looked away from Jonathon's face momentarily. "Ben, I'm sorry. I should have told you more about Jonathon before now. I guess I was just afraid--"

She thought for an instant that she saw disdain in Ben's face. But, instantly, he smiled and allayed her fears. Maybe I'm too sensitive, she thought. She didn't want this one to get away. She thought Benjamin Jarmain might be the one who could reach Jonathon and bring him back into her world more permanently somehow. She thought of Benjamin as a strong willed person who was able to make things happen. At least that was how he was with his business. He was feared and admired by associates.

"Nice to meet you, Jonathon." Ben reached for the non-responsive boy's hand. He took it into his own and shook vigorously, then dropped Johns hand back into his lap. It landed like a dead fish.

"Well, I guess he must be pre-occupied." The lack of sincerity in his voice was troublesome. Liz let it slide. At least he tried.

Jonathon focused momentarily, then his eyes dimmed again as his mind left for another world.

Liz spoke openly to Ben about autism and her trials with Jonathon. She told him that the only way to get Jonathon back was to force him to look directly into your face and speak loudly. She confided how difficult it was to have a son who could only be with you mentally for seconds at a time. Sometimes minutes passed while he ate, but even then, he never gave her his full attention.

                                              * * *

Jonathon started another journey through the lush greenery and vibrant flowers. His eyes brightened as he spotted Wendy at the bottom of the hill. He rushed to embrace her. He picked her up and swung her around as she giggled in glee.

He abruptly stopped and set her back on her feet. He spoke reflectively.

"Wendy, I know it's only been a short time, but I've missed you so much. It's getting harder and harder to go back. When I'm here, I can be me, but when I'm there, you know. The words are all jumbled and won't come out. I hear momma and her friends, I hear all those about me, but I can't communicate with them. It's like the train has left the station empty. I try so hard."

Wendy gently touched his cheek. His face was uncharacteristically lined, his eyes were harsh, seemingly hiding something hurtful. She encouraged him to let go of his pain. He asked her once if this were her calling. She had only smiled and turned away.

"It's started again," he began then stopped abruptly.

She took his hand in hers. "What's started again?"

"Momma's new friend. When momma's not around, he says nasty, hurtful things to me."

                                        * * *

Elizabeth went into the house through the front door. She made her way to the kitchen, calling for Ben and Jonathon on her way. She puzzled for a moment when she got no response, but proceeded. She put the groceries on the counter and put the milk in the refrigerator.

It's so nice having someone to watch Jonathon for me while I run errands. Her thought was happy for the moment. She called to them again.

"Yes, we're upstairs, in the bathroom."

Odd, she thought. Why would they be in the bathroom?

She hurried upstairs and peered through the open doorway.

"What happened?" she asked rather loudly as she saw Jonathon's bloodied face. Ben was wiping the blood as she spoke.

"The little--he tripped on the carpet and fell on his face when he went to get a drink of water." Ben's face flushed momentarily.

"That's not like him," she said quizzically. "Jonathon's usually a study in grace when he walks. He has a hard time feeding himself, but that doesn't translate to clumsiness in other ways. How did it happen?"

"He must have caught his foot on the edge of the carpet."

The explanation made little sense. There was no seam or elevated edge for him to stumble on between the living room and kitchen. Though she puzzled over the scenario, she tried her best to dismiss the accident as she thanked Ben for watching Jonathon. She rushed him out of the house, hoping that she was not too obvious to make him suspicious of her thoughts. She needed time to think about this. She knew Jonathan would not be able to shed any light on the truth but she had to try to figure it out anyway.

                                          * * *

"He did what?" Wendy was appalled at this tale from the other side. How could people act that way to others, especially helpless kids? "Thank the good Lord that could never happen here."

"I know. I wish I could tell momma so she wouldn't leave me alone with him anymore. Wendy, what can I do if he hurts momma? I'm so bound up there, I'm afraid to go back."

"You know you must, John. Somehow, I know you'll get through to her. Somehow."

                                          * * *

Liz pondered Jonathon's broken nose for a few days, making excuses not to see Ben while she thought things over. How could it be? Why can't I find a decent man?

Ben was sitting quietly in the living room waiting for Liz to come down. She said she had something she had to discuss with him. He suspected she knew his temper had gotten the best of him that night, but he was a smooth operator. He'd get her under control just like the others.

She gathered her confidence and made her way down the stairs.

                                           * * *

"911 emergency. What is the nature of your emergency?"

"Umma."

"I'm sorry, I didn't understand. Do you need the police or an ambulance?"

"Umma."

The operator was quick. While she was trying to solicit information, she dispatched both a police car and paramedics to the address on the screen.

"Please stay on the line. Help is on the way. Can you tell me your name?"

"Umma."

She understood that she had a special circumstance unlike most of the 911 calls that came to the call center. She talked soothingly to keep the line open. She couldn't give the dispatcher any details, but somehow she knew there was a real problem. This wasn't just some special needs kid trying the number out of curiosity.

The knock on the door was loud and clear followed by the announcement that the police had arrived. Jonathon stared at the front door, phone in hand, repeating "Umma, Umma."

He was not heard. The Officers drew their guns and tried the door. It was unlocked. They flung the door inward, one on either side on the porch. One officer quickly peeked inside. By that time Jonathon had stepped out of sight. The officers burst inside, cautious and alert. One officer stepped forward enough to see that the kitchen was occupied. He aimed squarely at Jonathan and stood in a squatting profile, both hands on his weapon.

"Drop the knife, now," he shouted.

The other officer made his way into the living room. He first noticed the bloodied body of Ben draped over Elizabeth. He approached cautiously and quickly determined the Ben was dead.

Elizabeth moaned and opened her eyes. Clarity quickly found its way into her face as she heard the officer facing Jonathan down. She was barely able to shout "no" as the paramedics entered.

The kitchen table stood between Jonathan and the officer, in its way, saving Jonathon's life.

"Drop the knife now. I won't say it again." The shout was loud enough and shocking enough to bring Elizabeth fully awake. She pushed Ben's body off her as best she could and screamed at the officers.

"Dont shoot him. He doesn't understand."

Tears welled in her eyes as she recognized what had happened.

"Joe, hold on. Put your gun away." The officer attending to Elizabeth was looking intently at Ben. "My God. Joe, its Benny the Fleece. Ben Jarmain. Well, it looks like it all caught up with you, pal."

The other officer holstered his gun. "Don't that beat all. Do you know who this man is?" He queried Elizabeth.

"I thought I did." She was still groggy.

She started toward Jonathan. She shook visibly as the officer explained how Ben was wanted in three states for fleecing young widows with his charm. She didn't hear much as she stared straight ahead and reached for her son.

She took the knife from his shaking hand and put her other hand to his cheek.

"Jonathan, you saved my life."

"Umma." He stared blankly then focused on her face. "Umma, he hurt? He hurt?"

She threw her arms around him and cried. "I'm all right, John. I'm all right. Umma loves you."

 

Thomas D. Conger is in the process of finishing his first novel, "Ripples on the Pond". He has written several dozen poems and short stories.

Horizon at sunset