Anniversary: Literary Crime Short Fiction By Leonard Henry Scott
Leonard Henry Scott, author of Anniversary, is a Bronx born and raised graduate of American University. He has an MLS degree from the University of Maryland and was a long-time staff member of the Library of Congress.
It was the 20th of May, a very unpleasant anniversary. Exactly four years ago on this date, the water sodden body of Marcie Lomax, age fourteen was found floating face down on the green, still surface of the Little Saranac River. She had been brutally murdered and discarded like a piece of garbage.
Right now, as Ellen Lomax greeted the morning she knew that it would be impossible (on this anniversary) to find any refuge from the stark memory of her daughter’s murder. The police photographs presented at trial were graphic beyond all mercy. One in particular would stay with her all day.
It was the indelible, immutable image of poor Marcie floating face down in the quiet dark water, dead bugs and weeds mingled in her hair. That image would be her constant thought on this date. But soon she would come to know something else that would make this particular day even more special. And her facile mind would create the “memory” of a new image in commemoration.
As a growing teenager, Marcie was graceless and uncertain, sometimes unable to pass from one room to another without getting snarled up in her own long legs.
Marcie had been a rising sophomore at North Hampton High School. She was bright and creative. But in contrast to her mother (a long ago high school prom queen) she was not then, nor would she ever have been beautiful, at least not in the classic sense. Her eyes were much too large, two great black discs in a long-chinned, curly-headed face.
A sharp dominating nose stuck to the center of it, almost as an afterthought. Her thin-lipped, inquisitive mouth seemed to be an endless straight line across her face. Oddly however, this scramble of features when taken together, gave her a certain interesting, exotic look that was not at all unappealing.
As a growing teenager, Marcie was graceless and uncertain, sometimes unable to pass from one room to another without getting snarled up in her own long legs. She was a helper, who loved animals and picked up carelessly discarded candy wrappers and soda bottles on the sidewalks because she wanted to live in a clean community.
Marcie was a good girl with a pure soul, her mother’s only child and only friend. All of the hope and promise that she represented came to an end when she tragically intersected with another individual. His name (never to be forgotten) was Jimmy Hawkins, a barely literate 22 year old homicidal maniac.
Oh, the acts of painful, brutal retribution that Ellen had conjured in her mind; things that she would do to Jimmy Hawkins if she could only be alone with him for half a minute. She could have (should have) just walked quickly across the few meters of echoing wooden floorboards that separated her from the table where he sat in the courtroom.
She should have (could have?) pierced one of his large deceptive angel eyes (baby eyes, cherub eyes) with the wooden knitting needle she had smuggled into the courtroom; pierced him hard trough his brain, hard into the boney inner wall of his skull. Would they, could they have stopped her? She was just so angry and now just as angry still these long four years later.
Jimmy Hawkins had taken away her precious daughter. But unforgivably he had taken so much more than that. For now, every time she thought of Marcie, Jimmy Hawkins appeared in her thoughts as well. He appeared as the shadow of a great voracious animal looming over Marcie; covering her and smothering her with his darkness. Not only had he killed her daughter in the most horrible way, but he had also tainted the pureness of her memory,
Ellen Lomax once had a husband. But that was years ago. Mark was his name, and he was long gone to greener pastures by the time Marcie was four.
But even now, so many years after Mark had left there were still no boyfriends. There was a time when she began to emerge from her long post-Mark period of distrustfulness. But, that time ended abruptly when Marcie was murdered. Interested suitors then became quickly discouraged by her relentlessly flat unsmiling face and her inability to discuss any subject other than the tragic death of her daughter. Every day since Marcie’s death she would stoically plod through the long empty hours with scarcely any other thoughts. Although she never smiled, she also never cried. It was not her way.
Today was Saturday, Ellen’s day off from her job at the C & G Furniture Rental Company. She would have an abundance of undistracted time to remember the trial; and to ruminate bitterly over her belief that true justice had yet to be meted out. Although Jimmy Hawkins was in prison, most likely there would come a time when he would be released to enjoy the remainder of his life in freedom. Marcie would still be dead. It didn’t seem right.
But Ellen (in her faith) believed that there is always justice in the end, if not in this world then surely in the next one. She believed that when Jimmy Hawkins ultimately appeared for his final judgment, that trial; would be very much different from his earthly trial. There would be no sympathetic jury to be improperly swayed by his angel eyes, his childlike slight build and inoffensive demeanor.
There would be no slick talking lawyers or anyone else to plead for him. He would be alone. And in that Day of Judgment he would suffer retribution even beyond her imaginings. His stained, imperfect soul would serve as kindling for the fires of Hell where he would burn forever and ever, screaming in endless agony to pay for his sins. That is what she believed.
At some point during this anniversary Ellen would most likely take out her scrapbook of newspaper clippings and recall everything all over again from the beginning.
On the night of her disappearance, the school band had been rehearsing for the Spring Concert. Marcie was late returning from practice. It was just a short walk and she should have been home by 7:00. But at 7:35, when there was still no Marcie, Ellen called the Carol Fisher, one of the other band mothers.
“Practice is over. Zoe’s been home for a while.”
Ellen remembered so clearly. She was talking on the phone, but it seemed then that she wasn’t talking at all. She was listening to other people.
Even before Zoe said anything, she knew (a mother knows).
“All of us left school, 6:45 maybe. Marcie was headed home. We waved and I yelled….”
The very next time Ellen saw Marcie, she was laid out on a stainless steel cart at the morgue. Her body was puffed grotesquely from days in the river and her skin was covered with small dark marks (cigarette burns). The police had counted them. In all, Marcie’s body contained 17 cigarette burns. Each had been inflicted (as she found out later) before Marcie died from several hard blows to the head with something blunt and heavy, a hammer they later concluded. Police Sgt. Finley said that he had never seen anyone so savagely beaten in all of his thirty two years on the police force.
Ellen had slept until 9:00 a.m. but did not manage to dress herself and go down to the kitchen until 10:30. She had dragged her feet as much as possible, lingering in the shower, brushing her teeth a second time, all to slow the arrival of this dreaded anniversary. Now, she finally sat at the dinette table with her coffee and newspaper. But as she flipped through the pages she spent more time remembering than reading.
Jimmy Hawkins would come to court each day swallowed up in a dark blue suit. The slight childish mustache and uneven scatter of peach fuzz stubble that he had on the day of his mug shot was gone. His face was now clean-scrubbed and radiant, the face of an acolyte. His eyes were the eyes of a child in a Margaret Keane painting. Large and vacant of sin, they brimmed over with youth and wonderment. Because he seemed to be so much younger than his twenty-two years one reporter dubbed him “The Baby Killer.”And that became his name.
In court, throughout the long agony of trial, Jimmy Hawkins was big eyed and sad faced, the personification of a thoroughly whipped dog. He had been routinely brutalized by a cruel father and rejected by society. It was almost as though he had become the victim, and not Marcie. Marcie was just tragic collateral damage.
Throughout the trial he sat round shouldered and sorrowful at the defense table. He did not testify. His head was bowed in apparent contrition and his eyes rarely left the table top. Ellen was certain that despite the look of him, any tears that may have been in his heart were strictly reserved for himself.
His lawyers paraded the ghost of his drunkard father through the courtroom.
“He was a brutal man who beat young Jimmy every day of his life until he could bear it no more and finally ran away at the age of thirteen.”
They talked about his frail, sickly mother “a wonderful, God-fearing woman who withered away from poverty and abuse.” They talked passionately about how she finally died when Jimmy was ten and left him to the “cruel hands” of his father.
There were graphic details of young Jimmy’s life on the streets and all the terrible things he had to do to survive. Naturally, he’d been in trouble time and again. But regardless of where they’d send him, he’d always wind up back on the streets. His lawyers blamed the state for not recognizing the fact that Jimmy Hawkins was a sick boy who desperately needed help.
“It’s too late to do anything to help Marcie. She’s gone. She was an innocent victim and her death was a terrible tragedy. But then wasn’t Jimmy Hawkins also an innocent victim? How many times did he cry out for help to the deaf ears of society, to a father who answered with the back of his hand or his belt or even a good thick oak stick that he kept for just that purpose? How many times have we, yes we, turned our backs on Jimmy Hawkins? We see him but don’t see him every day on the hard, unforgiving streets of this city…”
While ever deeper inside this compelling reverie Ellen’s fingers worked on their own volition, mechanically turning the pages of the Saturday paper. By now she had lost track of the numbers as each page moved past her eyes with hardly a conscious notice, until this.
“JIMMY HAWKINS MURDERED.”
All at once the dark angel eyes of Jimmy Hawkins peered out at her from the top of page 10. Underneath the headline was that same often used familiar sad-faced picture of a big eyed boy in an orange jumpsuit. Every time there was something new to say about him the media trotted out the same old picture.
Ellen put down her cup and picked up the paper with both hands. Her hands trembled so much as she read the article that she had difficulty keeping her eyes focused on the words.
“Jimmy Hawkins, known as “the Baby Killer” because of his slight build and unusually young appearance, was found dead in the exercise yard of Massawauken State Prison this afternoon….”
Blunt force trauma was the cause of his death. Jimmy Hawkins who had not been well liked by other inmates, had been murdered by a person, or persons unknown.
“Good.” Ellen said bitterly through hard lips and gritted teeth. Although her heart suddenly raced with savage pleasure at the news of his death, something was missing from the article. And that missing thing left her feeling vaguely unsatisfied. At that particular moment, what she wanted most of all was to see a picture of Jimmy Hawkins’ dead face with his “innocent” baby eyes closed and sealed up tight forevermore.
After Ellen finished reading the article, she read it again and then again. Finally, she closed the newspaper and laid it on the star filled Formica tabletop. So, what did this mean and how would that affect her? She didn’t know. But she did yearn to see the picture of his dead face and wanted that to be her everlasting memory of him..
She wondered if he had been beaten and tortured before he was killed. She hoped so. She tried to imagine that the persons who killed him had been thinking of Marcie.
Ellen thought, “Marcie is in Heaven but you will burn in Hell”
For so many years, perhaps all of her life, Ellen had simply pursed her lips and relentlessly endured in the face of every personal tragedy. That was how she had been raised and her mother would have been proud because Ellen didn’t even cry even at her own funeral. But all those unexpressed emotions were still there inside of her, carefully controlled and held at bay.
Ellen softly patted the closed newspaper, and then raised her eyes to stare at a particular empty space beside the pantry cabinet. There once was a picture hanging over that space, a colorful crayon drawing of a butterfly that Marcie had made in the fourth grade. She could no longer bear to look at it, so she took it down. But it didn’t help because every time she looked at that empty space she still saw picture of Marcie’s butterfly.
As she gazed upon it now, she could feel a simmering cauldron of emotions slowly beginning to boil up inside of her. Now, after years of suppression, for reasons that she could not begin explain or even understand, they chose this particular moment to be released. As they started to surge up inside of her, she tried to blink them away. Then as the feelings became more insistent she took deep breaths made her hands into fists. She closed her eyes tightly and did everything she could think of to keep them in check. But she couldn’t. And those deep buried things slowly began to rise up to the surface. Now, years and years later, she was all of a sudden beset by intense feelings guilt and sorrow and loss and emptiness. She regretted that she had not been a better mother, a better daughter or a better wife.
Forgive me! She thought, suddenly gripped by the feeling that her entire life had been a failure. She thought of her long departed mother, whom she loved dearly and missed. She remembered her father, a hard working soft tempered man who had died so long ago that she had only the barest recollection of his face. Ellen lingered on these ancient memories too long, until her mind was entirely swept with rising tide of loneliness and deep feelings of despair.
“How could he have been so cruel?” Ellen asked the pantry cabinet next to the butterfly space.
And she began to cry.
Heavy tears flowed freely down her cheeks. No matter how Ellen tried to stop them they would not stop. And soon she was overcome with such relentless sorrow that mournful wailing sounds (beyond her control) came softly out of her and her body was wracked with shivers and quakes.
Ellen cried continuously all through the day and into the evening. She cried for the loss everyone she had ever loved and begged for forgiveness for all of her sins. She cried for her young innocent, wonderfully talented, beautiful daughter, taken too soon; and for the agonizing absence of Marcie forever more from her life. Ellen cried for Marcie’s unbearable suffering at the hands of a cruel sadistic monster. And to be sure, Jimmy Hawkins was truly a monster. But most certainly (and this nagging thought increasingly plagued her mind) he was also the sad, tragic victim of an unkind world. Of course this by no means excused or even mitigated his conduct in the slightest. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, she could not blot out the image of a small, boy-faced man in court swallowed up in a blue suit.
The long day finally passed and evening shadows filled up the corners of her kitchen.
Ellen sat at the table staring down at the Formica table top. Her swollen red eyes wandered aimlessly through its green sky and its sparkly universe of stars. For now at least her tears had slowed, reduced to gentle sobs. Her heart still raced as she sat hugging herself and rocking back and forth in her chair.
There was no picture of Jimmy Hawkins’ dead face for her to recall when she thought of him. Ellen did not want to think of him in a jumpsuit. She did not want to remember the boy-faced man in the courtroom. She wanted to see his dead face. That is how she wanted to remember him.
Since she had no such picture, Ellen created one with her mind. It was a vivid image of a sick and sallow-faced Jimmy Hawkins, his big innocent eyes forever sealed in death. It was the face of a hopelessly damaged boy and a vanquished monster who would never, ever hurt anyone again.
At 7:15 pm Ellen sat with her elbows on the dinette table. Her head rested heavily between her hands. She remembered Marcie sitting across from her at this very table, crayons spread out before her as she worked earnestly on a colorful picture of a butterfly. Ellen could see her clearly in her mind, almost as though she was actually there. And the animal shadow of Jimmy Hawkins was entirely gone from the memory of her. Marcie was beautiful and full of promise.
Ellen’s throat was dry and cracked. Her slow heaving chest ached from sobbing and she was hungry. By now, her body was squeezed almost dry of tears. But still she had a scant few left.
She shed those few tears for Jimmy Hawkins and whispered a prayer for his soul.
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