By Jamie Maffeo
I stare into the eyes of the man in the dark photograph. Crumpling the photo slowly a tear runs down my face. I clench the photo in my fist, trying to forget him. Running my hand across the chipped white paint on the metal bars the rust sticks to my skin and I turn around to face the rest of the tiny cell. The small bowl that is a toilet stares at me from across the cell, and next to it is a tiny cracked porcelain sink. They both attach to the lime green, brick walls that cut my arms as
I toss and turn in my bed at night. The entire cell is covered in rust and peeling paint. Looking down at the course cement floor, which is cold and has large stains of rust mixed with dirt on it I sit down on the narrow bed and the itchy blanket stings my arms. Lying down on the bed, it squeaks loudly, cutting the air. I can feel the metal bars pressing against my skull. The faint repetitious sounds of footsteps made by the night guards fill my head like a recurring nightmare. Closing my eyes, still holding the photograph I try to think; think of anything but that horrible night three days ago.
We were the two Thompson brothers who had grown up in Brooklyn. It had always been Bobby and me. I could still remember the first time we snuck into a movie theater. It was winter and as we hid behind the theater huddling together his icy breath tickled my ear. Running to the back door I hesitated but before I could say anything I felt a rough push on my back as we slipped in, unnoticed. More often, when the weather warmed we could always be found on the basketball court off Flatbush Avenue, for it was a short walk from our house. And when we reached the court we would play around with an old Spalding basketball for hours at a time. Taller and heavier then Bobby I dominated the court, dancing circles around him as our laughter erupted through the air.
But, this summer changed everything.
As school let out, a year’s worth of memories lay forgotten underneath the bleachers on the track field and scattered into the earth that the high school’s one thousand students stepped on carelessly as we ran out of the metal gates. It was all over, the pressure, cramming for tests, and mom’s loud voice yelling at us as we crept into the house at three in the morning on school nights. On that last day of school, Bobby and I met outside the drug store that was a little ways down from the school, patting each other on the back, proud of ourselves that we had passed. It didn’t concern us that while we were joyful of our grades, our teachers shook their heads in disapproval that we received all D’s. I was going to be a senior and little Bobby was going to be a junior. Everything finally seemed to be on track again. Mom had almost gotten past dad leaving us three years ago for that young woman one neighborhood over.
But summer moved fast. Before Bobby and I knew it, the late parties, sleeping until noon and not thinking about school was over. Bobby was more upset about the start of school that loomed before us, for each night had been a party for him, while more often then not, I stayed at home, waiting for him to tumble home, drunk. Mom eventually reverted into a worried, over protective parent, constantly demanding that we come home earlier, and focus on getting ready for next year.
That day before school was to begin was a Sunday and those old memories that lay forgotten under the bleachers and scattered into the earth slowly drifted through those gates, chasing us down to remind us of everything we left behind.
I tried to push away the rest of my memories of Bobby and I lifted up my head from the rough pillow. But, he was all I could think about and I squeezed my eyes shut trying to block out the memory of that horrible night. But it tore its way through my eyelids, invading me. The memory was forced open like an old door that had not moved in years, squeaking and struggling but to no avail.
It was 10:00 p.m. when Bobby told me he was going out and that Mom couldn’t tell him what to do.
“Come on Bobby, it’s just one night. Stay home,” I told his angry face but even before I said the words I knew nothing was going to stop him.
“No, I’m going out. And you can either stay home or come with me,” he replied. I sighed and turned away. He padded his way downstairs and out the front door. With a click of the lock he was gone. At midnight I hopped into bed, and closed my limp eyes. But two hours later Bobby’s loud voice woke me up. I knew he was drunk. And soon I heard mom’s voice.
“I can’t believe you would come into this house at two in the morning drunk Robert,” my mom’s weak voice managed to say and I cringed to hear the fear in her voice, and her submissiveness.
“Who do you think you are?” Bobby’s loud voice challenged back at her. I clenched my teeth and stayed in bed for two more minutes but soon there was a loud crash and I could hear the sound of glass shattering. Bobby’s voice sounded loud, overbearing, and self-righteous. As his voice got louder and louder, I thought of my father. I clenched my teeth in anger as I remembered my father telling my mom she was fat and ugly, and that she wasn’t good for anything. As Bobby spat curse words at her, I jumped out of bed, and ran down the stairs, burning with hate, “Bobby!” I bellowed at him. “Who the hell do you think you are yelling at mom like that?” I screamed as I tackled him to the floor. He hit me back and soon we were both on the carpet, rolling around, punching and kicking each other wherever we could. I could hear mom’s voice yelling at us to stop, knowing that the neighbors could hear us. But I didn’t care; all I could think about was hurting him. Soon I was sitting on top of him with my two legs straddling him and my chest on top of him as I grabbed his two arms and pinned them down. A faint image of my father came into my head as I screamed at him. I lay on top of him for a long while yelling and hissing in his ear but suddenly there was a loud knock on the door.
“Police! OPEN UP!” I turned to the door and looked at my mom and even in the dark I could see that her face was stricken with panic.
“Get off of him!” She hissed at me. I slowly stood up and glared down at him. But when I looked at him I knew something was wrong. His face was pale and he wasn’t moving. My throat seemed to close up,
“Oh no, mom!” I shouted. “Mom, he’s not moving! Mom!” I yelled, I bent down and looked into his face, I turned him over and I knew there was something wrong. But I hit his face anyway again and again,
“Bobby! Get up! Jesus Christ BOBBY!” I yelled at him. Soon the police barged in and I stared at the two cops. “I killed him! Jesus Christ I killed my own brother!” Tears tumbled down my face and I couldn’t think as one of the police officers pulled me up from the floor. He grabbed my arms and put handcuffs on me but I just kept yelling at Bobby to get up. I could just faintly hear a voice telling me:
“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”
“No! Bobby! Bobby! I killed him! I killed him!” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I was thrown into the back of the police car. I could hear the wail of a siren as an ambulance pulled up to our house and we drove away. All I remember during the ride to the police precinct was my head limply bent into my lap as I cursed myself and shouted Bobby’s name.
It took 24 hours before I stood in front of a judge with a court appointed lawyer at my side. The prosecutor forcefully asked the judge to remand me, pending grand jury action: “Your honor, I think you should know the police officers found the defendant on top of the victim screaming I killed him, I killed him. There were bruises on the victim’s face and the medics pronounced the victim dead at the scene. We have a very strong case of murder against this defendant.” My court appointed lawyer told me that the grand jury would make a decision in six days on whether or not I would be indicted for murder. Until then, I would be held in jail at Riker’s Island.
I open my eyes and stare across the cell and I realize my hands are sweaty and I am squeezing tightly to the photograph. Tears are spilling down my face and I stick the small ball of a photograph into my back pocket. The more I replay that night the more certain I became that Bobby’s breathing grew fainter as I continued to lay on him. I remembered how I wanted to hurt Bobby, to kill him.
That night I dreamt that Bobby and I are back on the basketball court. It is nighttime but the moon has an eerie grey mist that lights up the court. I can see his face so clearly. He is dribbling the ball and he shoots with a wide grin. The ball hits the rim of the hoop making a tinny noise but it goes through the net. Suddenly I bump into Bobby and I am on top of him. Bobby is crying and I am yelling in his ear, “I love you Bobby,” over and over again.
The next three days drone on with the memory of the night Bobby died playing over and over again in my head as I wait for the news of what action the grand jury will take. When the day finally arrives to appear in front of the judge, the words of the lawyers and the prosecutors are but a mere hum in the back of my head as I walk into the large ceremonial courtroom.
“Your honor, we have the autopsy report that was presented to the grand jury that reflects that the victim, Robert Thompson died from asphyxiation due to compression of the chest. The grand jury found that there was no intent to kill the victim and they refused to indict the defendant.” As the prosecutor’s words fly out of his mouth the only words I hear are asphyxiation and compression. Tears brim my eyes and I turn to look at my mother, who is sitting on a bench. I see tears streaming down her face, but I know they aren’t for me. My lawyer turns to me and says,
“It was an accident, do you understand? It was an accident.”
The court officers grab my arms lightly and bring me back to the jail cell to retrieve my belongings. When I step into the cell I reach for the photograph in my back pocket. I look once more into my father’s brown eyes and find that familiar hatred I had for him I could swear that I was looking into my brother’s eyes and my own that awful night six days ago as we wrestled on the floor. I throw the picture into the corner of the dirty jail cell and as I walk out I thought I could hear the sound of Bobby’s breath that night growing fainter and fainter.