What happened, I told John, was that my brother Rod had killed my dad.
“Why did Rod do that?” John asked.
“Dad was mean to him.”
“Was your dad mean to you, Rick?”
“Are you sure? You can tell me if he was. It’s OK. I just need you to tell me the truth.”
“He was always nice to me,” I said.
John looked like he didn’t believe me.
I said, “Dad was nice to me. But he was mean to Rod. It was like he was two different people.”
I had to stay in the juvenile hall, but I wasn’t allowed to be around the other kids. They kept me separate. Sandy, one of the ladies who ran the kid-jail, said it was to keep me safe, because I was only eleven and most of the other kids were older. But I knew that it was partly because they were afraid I would hurt the other kids. I kept saying that it was Rod, not me. But they didn’t believe me, and they wouldn’t let me see him.
They had to try me as an adult. John sounded angry and he said they should try me as a child. I leaned over to John, and I whispered in his ear. “You don’t have to try. I am a child.” He looked at me like he was sad and I think he almost laughed. When the judge left, I asked if they were going to make me stay in jail forever, but John said it was “only a preliminary hearing.”
“Who’s Roderick?” John looked at me. We were sitting in the room where he always met with me, where the window had a fence over it, and sunlight came through the window, but it was blurry and I couldn’t see outside.
“It’s what Dad said when he called for us. It’s like he never knew whether he wanted Rod or Rick, so he’d just call, ‘Roderick.’ So we both came whenever he called. I didn’t want to leave Rod alone with Dad.”
“I told you. Dad was mean to Rod.”
“Why do you think your Dad was mean to Rod but not to you?”
I looked out the window, and a shadow went across the blurry light window. Maybe it was a bird.
“Rick,” John said. “Why do you think he treated you differently?”
“Because of when my mom died.”
The room smelled bad, like mop buckets. I felt like I had to throw up, and I looked around and I couldn’t see a garbage can.
“When we were born. When my mom died.”
“You told me that Rod was born after you. That your Dad said your mother’s difficulty happened when Rod was being born.”
I felt like someone was stepping on my stomach. I started to cry, and I wiped my nose on my sleeve.
“It’s OK, Rick. Take your time. I just want you to think about what your dad told you.”
“He said that Rod killed my mom. That if it wasn’t for him, my mom would still be alive.”
“How did it make you feel when your Dad said that?”
“It made Rod so sad, and I felt so bad.”
John nodded and wrote something down.
“And I felt bad because later Dad always came and told me that it wasn’t my fault. That he never blamed me, only Rod. Because I had been born just fine. Mom had the problems when Rod was being born.”
“How did you feel when your Dad said that?”
I wiped my nose again. John gave me a Kleenex, but I just held it.
“It’s OK, Rick.”
“I thought it was unfair. My Dad was so mean to Rod, but he would apologize to me. He treated us completely different. And it wasn’t fair, because what if I was born second and Rod was first? Then I’d be the one Dad was mad at. But he shouldn’t have been mad at either of us. It wasn’t fair to be mean. We couldn’t help it.”
“I think you’re right, Rick. It was unfair of your father to be mean to you.”
“I don’t think it was right of him to treat us like we were completely different. We look alike, and we act the same. And Rod was always nice. He wouldn’t have hurt anyone.”
“Rick, you told me you know what happened with your dad at the birthday party. I know this is difficult to talk about. But I need you to tell me everything you can remember.”
I looked at the recording thing on the table. The little red light was on, which meant someone else was going to hear it later. I looked out the window, and I closed my eyes and it was just orange.
“Rick, please. This is very important.”
I opened my eyes, and everything looked blue. “It doesn’t matter. Dad is dead now, and Rod escaped.”
“Where do you think Rod went?”
“He went to be with Mom.”
“Rick, do you think Rod died like your Dad?”
“No. He just escaped. And he’s with my mom now. And they’re somewhere happy.”
The judge pounded the gavel just like on TV and the trial started, and the woman in dark blue clothes pointed at me a lot and talked about my dad getting killed. She said that I was “not a victim, but a calculating monster who would blame others for awful things.”
John kept leaning over and talking to the woman on my side, in dark gray clothes, and they would take notes, and John kept squeezing my shoulder and telling me that it was going to be OK. They kept arguing about me, and the woman in the dark blue started yelling about the “police wasting resources” looking for my brother “while the actual killer is sitting right here in this courtroom.” The judge was black and bald, and his shiny head was funny-looking.
The woman in dark gray clothes, the one on my side, kept saying, “objection,” and the day seemed really long, and John said at the end of the day that “at least they finished their opening statements.”
John said that if I didn’t tell him what really happened at the birthday party that the judge might put me in jail, for real.
“They are trying you like an adult, Roderick.”
“My name is Rick.”
“Right, right. I’m sorry, Rick. Do you know what that means? Trying you like an adult?”
The fence window was bright, and I closed my eyes to see the orange. And for awhile, I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to open them again.
“Rick, I know you listen to me. I need you to focus, OK, bud?”
“Don’t talk to me like that,” I said. I was still seeing orange. “That’s how my dad tried to make it up to me after he was mean to Rod.”
“Is that how he was at the birthday party, Rick?”
I opened and saw blue. John was blue. Also the room was blue.
“John, I was just thinking: Everything becomes blue when I open my eyes. I know that nothing is really changing, but I like the orange better.”
I can’t remember how many days of the trial it was, but they said I would have to go sit next to the judge the next day. The woman in the dark-blue suit had a smile that was ugly.
I had a nightmare that I found Rod.
John looked so tired. His voice was quiet now, more than before. He looked at his hands and then looked at me and said, “You have to give me something.”
The fence window was dull, and when I closed my eyes it didn’t change color. I opened them again, and it was the same thing.
“Look,” John said. “You have to tell them. I don’t care if you can’t tell me first. But you have to tell them everything you know. That’s the only way.”
I looked at John. I had to pee. I told John, “That’s exactly what Rod said.”
I liked being in the chair next to the judge. I felt important. They called it “the stand.” The judge’s head looked extra shiny up close, and I could see stubble over his ears.
Dark-blue clothes woman asked me to tell what I knew. Dark-gray clothes woman nodded at me, and John did too.
I told them how Dad was like two different people, when he was mean and when he was nice. And at our birthday party, he started out nice, but then he got mean. And Rod was so sad. So sad that he couldn’t stop me. And I had to protect Rod, and that’s why I picked up the brick from the patio.
And the dark-blue clothes woman looked more scared than me and said, “Roderick, do you really think you have a brother?”
© 2013 by Ryan Parmenter