Website and contents © Copyright 2016 by Peter Sexton. All rights reserved.


A Fine Day for Repose
by Peter Sexton

I

Seeing the woman unearthed troubling memories, memories Angela Poole had spent years trying to bury. Angela rose to her feet, tried to force those memories from her mind, and pushed Tyler's stroller around the Police Station and to the display of Emergency Rescue Vehicles. The red lights caught the boy's attention immediately, and he craned his neck around in an attempt to identify the source of the revolving red and blue light. The siren blared then, suddenly and unexpected, and Tyler released a startled cry. Angela scooped her son into her arms, covered his tiny ears, and rocked him and comforted him with gentle and soothing words. Within a minute, the siren faded, as did Tyler's cries, and a smile returned to his little face.

Then, as Angela was placing the boy back into the stroller, she saw the woman again.

The woman's presence struck Angela as odd for some reason. She simply couldn't understand why the woman would be attending the local Police and Fire Agency Block Party. But here she was. And the business with the woman's husband three years earlier was old news. Nonetheless, her presence unnerved Angela.

Angela Poole consulted her watch, saw that it was almost noon and time for the K-9 demonstration, and made her way around to the grass field at the rear of the building where they regularly conducted the training of the police dogs. The crowd she found there was large and eager. Angela watched from the side staging area, where she stood alongside other officers. There she met her friend, June Persson, the department's senior crime scene technician. June crouched to talk to young Tyler, ran her hands through the boy's hair and told him how handsome he was. She rose to her feet and looked at Angela.

"What's wrong, Angela? You look tired...or upset."

Angela tried to put conviction behind her feigned smile. "Nothing, really." A beat. "How's it going, June?"

June stared at her friend for a time before answering, apparently unsatisfied with Angela's response. "Can't complain. Just thought I'd watch the dogs before I have lunch. I'm leading a tour of the crime lab at two."

"It's a really good turnout this year. I bet you'll have a good crowd."

"Yeah. People always love seeing the inside of the lab. The tour's usually the highlight of my day." There were a few beats of silence. "Now are you going to tell me what's bothering you?"

Angela looked down at her son for a moment, smiling at him, wanting to avoid the truth of what her friend was asking. She looked up. And when she did, she saw the woman again. Their eyes met, and the woman stared briefly before turning away.

Angela nodded in her direction. "You see that woman over there, next to the helicopter, wearing the floral-print dress?" The woman was easy to pick out of the crowd, and June nodded.

"What about her? Who is she?"

"I sent her husband to prison three years ago." Angela glanced back toward the woman. "I almost killed him."

June followed Angela's gaze, studied the woman for a long moment. Then looked back at Angela, stared at her and waited.

"I was called out on an escalated domestic disturbance after officers found the bodies of two young boys."

"Oh, my God! I think I remember it now. Dixon, right?"

"Dillon. Lawrence Dillon," Angela said. She never took her eyes from the woman as she recounted the story to her friend. "The boys' mother was frantic when I arrived. Her husband had fled and taken their youngest son with him. She feared for the boy's life." It suddenly occurred to Angela that the woman was alone today. Her one surviving son would be nearly five now. She wondered where he was, and if he was happy and safe. "Then the woman went silent, pale. 'They must be headed to the lake,' she said. They kept a rowboat down by the water, and she knew in her heart that her husband had taken the boy there. The crime scene at the house was secure and Detective Hammond was there with me, so I told him to take charge, had a couple uniforms respond in a black-and-white, and drove the woman to the lake in hopes of rescuing her son.

"We got there just behind the black-and-white. The uniforms were running at full speed. I learned later that from the road they had seen the woman's husband heading toward the water with the boy."

"How old was he?"

"One, one-and-a-half. The woman jumped from the car and started running toward the water before I even came to a complete stop. When I reached her husband, everyone was screaming at him. I didn't see exactly what was going on until I moved around to the edge of the water."

June Persson closed her eyes, as if by closing them she could block out the images of what Angela was about to describe to her.

"They were screaming at him to let go of his son; Dillon was holding the boy under the water, trying to drown him. One of the uniforms was pulling at his arms, but he was a big man--a very big man--and he didn't budge. I couldn't move; I was numb. The reality of what I was seeing left me momentarily paralyzed. The other uniform pulled out his baton and started hitting the man's shoulder and neck. But it didn't even faze him, and he just kept on holding his son under the water.

"His wife was screaming something or other, to this day I can't say what. I remember telling myself that it wasn't really happening...couldn't be, that it had to be my imagination. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Then the boy's foot splash out of the water, the sound echoed through my ears like a gunshot. Both of the uniforms were alternately beating on the man now, but they may as well have been armed with strips of tissue paper, because their actions had no effect at all.

Angela took a long, slow breath.

"And that's when I shot him."

June Persson gasped and drew back slightly, as if from the phantom gunfire she no doubt heard within her own head. "Oh, God!"

"Two shots in the right shoulder. And I swear it took every ounce of will I could muster not to aim for his head. I don't know what got over me, but I wanted to kill that man for what he was trying to do, for what he had already done. One of the uniforms moved in and scooped up the boy, the other cuffed Dillon and led him back up to the black-and-white."

"How was the boy?"

"Frightened. Confused. I woke to the look on that boy's face for nearly a year: helpless and confused. But he lived; he was lucky."

"What about Dillon?"

"He was hardly affected by his wounds. He's serving two back-to-back life sentences at Folsom Prison."

A profound, and perhaps uncomfortable, silence floated between the two friends. June looked toward the woman again. Angela was looking at Tyler and thinking of the woman's husband, wondering why she hadn't simply shot the man to death. She knew she could have justified her actions had she killed him outright.

One of the K-9s started barking, and the attention of both women returned to the demonstration before them.


II

Thirty minutes later Angela and June were walking with Tyler, making their way to the corner of Walker and Ralston, the area of the block party where all the food booths were. Tyler was awake and alert, head turning from side to side, ears perked at the ready, not wanting to miss out on any of the activities.

From the booth of the local marching band, Angela purchased a slice of pizza and a Coke. June ordered a Gardenburger and bottled water. They found a seat nearby and sat down with their lunch. Before digging into her own food, Angela retrieved a cup of juice and some crackers for her son.

The women sat together in silence as they ate their lunch. They could see and hear the country music band performing on a small stage less than twenty-five yards away, though the music was not so loud as to hinder pleasant conversation. And Angela had almost forgotten about the woman from earlier, when she slowly approached their table.

"I'm sorry to bother you," the woman said, her voice a hesitant squeak, "but I was hoping that I could talk to you for a minute." She was looking down at her own feet as she spoke, but it was obvious she was talking to Angela.

Angela said nothing, and the woman looked up and made eye contact. "Please," she said.

Still Angela said nothing. June was glaring at the woman. The woman, dressed in a sundress that was certainly a tad too short, and brown sandals that looked older than the woman herself, appeared tired.

"I don't think we have anything to talk about," Angela said.

"So you do remember me?" She brushed through her tired hair with the fingers of one hand.

"Yes, I remember you."

"It would mean the world to me if you could give me a few minutes of your time."

"For what?"

"To talk about my husband." Her gaze fell again to her feet. "He doesn't blame you for what you did."

This revelation, coming as casually as it did, nearly won a laugh from Angela. How the hell could this man blame me for anything? Angela thought. She would have been within her right to take his worthless life--and would have if she could have done so without fear of harming an innocent child. It took Angela a moment to make up her mind before she turned to her friend.

"June, would you mind taking Tyler for a little walk?"

June Persson shot a final scowl at the woman, then rose to her feet, took Tyler from his mother and placed him gently into the stroller. She was still glaring at the woman as she started away from the table.

The woman sat down.
        

III

"You still hate him, don't you?"

Angela's answer came in her silence. She looked from the woman to the Coke in her hand.

"He's a good man," the woman continued. "Decent."

Angela looked up from her beverage, still silent.

"I can see that you want to say something," the woman said. "Go ahead, please. I want to hear what you're thinking."

Angela dabbed moisture from her mouth with a napkin. "I guess I just don't understand," she said.

The woman's smile displayed a careless confidence. Angela thought she was going to say something, but she didn't.

"He killed two of your children," Angela continued. "And he was trying to kill the third when we got to him. You were there!"

"Yes, I know what he did. Yes, I was there." The next words came slowly, calculated perhaps. "He didn't want to hurt them. He loved them more than anything."

Angela could think of no response to this statement.

"He didn't have a choice."

"What?" Almost a shout. "Everyone has a choice."

"That's not always true. Did you have a choice when you shot your father?"

How the hell does she know about my father?
Angela wondered. Or the details of how he lost his life? Angela wanted to protest, to argue that her circumstances had been different, different from taking the lives of children, to argue that the shooting of her father had been justified. She chewed on the inside of her cheek, however, and said nothing.

"You see? You understand. You know that sometimes you're left with no choice."

"That was different."

"How was it different?"

"History played a huge part of it; that incident didn't just come about."

"And you're assuming that there wasn't any history to what happened with Larry; you're assuming that he just decided to do what he did one day out of the blue."

The truth of the matter was that Angela hadn't ever considered the man's motivations. She simply saw him as a killer of children and knew in her heart that she had wanted him to die for what he had done. End of story.

But apparently, it wasn't.

"Larry loves me, Detective Poole. He loves me more than life itself. He loved our children, too." She took a moment before she continued, her next words appearing to require considerable effort. "He did it for me; he did it because he loves me."

Angela imagined her face at that moment must have been the perfect picture of shock, because the woman laughed out loud.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to laugh, but you look like you've sat on a tack or seen a ghost or something." She paused. "I can see you don't understand."

And though she wasn't sure she wanted to hear what the woman had to say on the matter, Angela said, "Then please explain it to me."

The woman remained silent for a long time, creating a degree of suspense for her impending litany. Angela felt herself growing impatient.

"I was dying," the woman said finally. "Slowly, day by day, but I was, and Larry saw it, and he loves me and wanted to save me."

"You're not making any sense."

"I guess he knew all along what I didn't want to accept; he knew I was dying when I didn't have the first clue. He knew that they were killing me, slowly, from the inside out."

Angela beckoned more explanation with her eyes, unable at this point to speak.

"He wanted to save me. That's what he was doing that day."

"Saving you? From your own children?"

"Yes. I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth. I wasn't cut out to be a mother; I didn't have it in me. And every day the flame that gave me life was burning out...little by little by little."

"I'm not sure I was cut out to be a mother," Angela said. "But we cope, we grow, we learn, we adapt and go on. We don't kill our children."

"I didn't kill them," she reminded Angela, "Larry did."

"What difference does it make? You. Him. The fact remains that it happened and--"

"Please." The woman held her hand up to stop Angela. "I didn't come hear to fight with you. I just wanted to get this off my chest."

There was a long stretch of silence.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it. They were my children; I was their mother." She started to cry. "I could never have done what Larry did. I would have just gone on letting myself die more and more each day. I would have tried to be a mother until it killed me. You see what I'm saying? What he did he did for me, he did out of love."

Angela tried to understand what the woman was saying, what she was trying to explain. But she couldn't shake the image of the woman's husband holding his young son under the water, the sound of the boy's foot splashing out of the lake.

"I'm not looking for absolution, and I'm not looking for sympathy."

"Then what are you looking for? What is it you think I can give you?"

"Understanding."

"Understanding?"

"Yes."

"What is it you expect me to understand? I understand what your husband did to your children and--"

"But you need to understand more than that."

"What more is there for me to understand?" Angela's patience was waning. She wanted nothing more than to have Tyler in her arms right now, to hold and squeeze and love. She looked around through the crowds of people, as if simply to do so would make her son appear before her.

"I don't know," the woman said. "Maybe it was wrong of me to come here. Maybe I was out of my mind to think you could understand." She rose to her feet. Slowly. There were tears in her eyes, but she didn't bother to wipe them away. "Thank you for listening to me," she said.

She didn't look back as she walked away.


IV

It was several minutes before June Persson returned pushing Tyler's stroller. Angela took her son into her arms and sat down with him in her lap. She kissed his forehead and clutched him to her breast. There were tears in her eyes.

"So what was that all about?" June asked.

And Angela told her everything the woman had said, careful not to leave anything out. She realized she was still trying to understand the conversation herself.

"So what does she expect you to do, forgive the man?"

"No, I don't think so. She just wants me to understand why he did what he did. And that by reaching that understanding, she believes I'll realize that it's wrong for me to hate him."

"She was wrong to come here, Angela. And she was wrong to tell you how you're supposed to feel. She was just plain wrong." June Persson's words drifted off, and Angela stared silently at the top of Tyler's innocent, little head. She tried hard to believe what her friend had just told her.

"I don't know, June. Maybe she was right."

"You can't be serious."

"I think there might be something to what she came here to say."

"She was wrong, Angela. She was wrong for coming here, and she was wrong for confronting you."

"But I'm not so certain that she was." Angela took a moment to gather her strength. "I think she was right. I do hate her husband...or at least I did. But I hated him for all the wrong reasons."

"What do you mean the wrong reasons? You're losing me."

"I hated him because what he did and what he was doing angered and repulsed me. All I saw in him was a killer, and it made me angry. I didn't care about why he did what he did; why he did it never even entered my mind. I'm a cop, and he's a killer, and that's all I could see."

"There's nothing else you need to see."

"Maybe that's not true. Maybe there's a lot more to see. I'm not saying that I shouldn't have shot him, or that he shouldn't be in jail. He's a killer. What happened happened due to the circumstances. But what she was saying was that I shouldn't hate him for what he did, because he was only doing what he thought he had to do."

"How could anybody believe they have to do anything like that?"

"You're judging him by your own standards and morals."

"How the hell else am I supposed to judge him? Jesus! Are you hearing yourself?"

"Yes, I'm hearing myself. Maybe that's my problem. I wasn't hearing anything else but myself. Maybe I should have tried harder to see things from his perspective."

June Persson shook her head. "I don't think I agree with you."

"Of course, you don't. I didn't either, until his wife came here today. She made me see."

"What did she make you see?"

"That there are viewpoints other than my own; that there was nothing I could have done to change what happened that day; that my hating Lawrence Dillon serves no purpose."

The two women sat together in silence for a long time. Perhaps June Persson was trying to understand what Angela had told her, perhaps she wasn't. Tyler had fallen asleep, and Angela could feel the gentle rise and fall of his little chest against her breast. There was lots of noise surrounding the three, but none of them seemed to hear it.

Then Angela realized she was thinking about her father. She had no idea whether or not she would ever be able to forgive him for everything he had done to her, for the pain and humiliation he had put her through. But for the first time in several years she found herself capable of considering the possibility. And it was this thought that remained on her mind as June Persson left to go conduct her tour of the Oak Hill Police Depart

A Fine Day for Repose Copyright (c) 2013 by Peter Sexton. All rights reserved.
The official website of Peter Sexton, creator of Chrysanthemum Stone and Angela Poole.