Jack bent the window blinds and peered outside. A tall woman in a business suit stood outside the front door of the house. She carried a large envelope. It was late afternoon. The sun hung behind her and cast her silhouette against the window. The suburban street was quite. The houses all in a row were still and dark – the owners not yet home from rush hour. The door bell rang again.

“Who it is?” Jack yelled through the closed window.

“I am attorney Marsters. I'm here to discuss your delinquent child support.”

Jack let go of the blinds. They snapped back with a dull thunk. He limped over to the door of his apartment, unlocked it and stepped into the dimly lit hallway. He shut the door behind him so his cat, Mr. Wilder Beast, didn't get out. He limped over to the front door and peered through the glass. Ms. Marsters wore a light gray suit that contrasted her tanned skin and long, dark hair.

“Mr. Basker, I will have your license suspended if you don't open this door.”

Jack opened the door slowly and peeked around the edge of the door. Ms. Marsters pushed past the door like she owned the place.

“First thing we need to do is settle your arrears and interest.” She said.

Jack stammered as he spoke. “Yes I know. I lost my job and --”

“Why don't you wait until we go inside.” Ms. Marsters opened the door to Jack's apartment and stepped in. Jack bent down to catch Mr. B. W. Pain crawled up his spine. He limped into the apartment and shut the door behind him.

He had an old fashioned tube TV against the left wall on a metal TV cart. A video tape collection stacked neatly in a row under the TV. He had an old Pentium PC on a small wooden computer table in the corner to the right of the TV. Four arm-less gray chairs sat in the corner facing the TV. They formed an 'L' shape, two on each side. Four people could comfortably watch TV and still be able to talk to one another. The chairs were plain but practical and good for his back. The room was softly lit. Bright, white walls accented with sheer red curtains and cheep aluminum blinds. Ms. Marsters looked around in disgust. She sat down as if she were sitting on a mold infested rock.

“You have $4000 in arrears,” She said.

“Yes, I know but--” He lowered himself gently onto an adjacent chair. “I was fired because of my health and --”

“There are no excuses.”

“Your office told me to file a modification with the courts. The courts sent back my paperwork. I called CSE but they refused to help me.”

“I have your financial statement right here. It says you have $0 income. Why is there $300 in your checking account?”

“I need that money to pay for medications. I'll die without my medications. I look for work everyday but the employers here in Boston discriminate against--”

“Here is what I will do,” Ms. Marsters said, “I will schedule a hearing and send you notice to appear in court. We can probably get your child support reduced to $25 a week. I promise no action will be taken until after your hearing.”

“Thank you.” Jack's voice was unsteady with joy. He thanked Ms. Marsters over and over again. At the front door, he thanked her again before closing the door.

Three weeks later he received two letters from CSE. One letter said his drivers license was suspended and that his bank accounts were levied. All his medication money was gone. The other letter was his court appointment. He was due in court, 60 miles away, the very next day. The letter was dated two weeks earlier, but was postmarked yesterday. Jack felt a crushing pain in his chest.

***


The hospital room felt colder than it should. The sickly yellow walls reflected the harsh fluorescent track lighting. There were three hospital beds in the room, each separated by a gross green curtain. The sounds of the heart monitors all beeped out of sync like some bizarre electronic bird festival. Voices outside the room were chaotic and incomprehensible. About every two minutes a telephone rang or an alarm buzzed. The smell of bleach overpowered the smell of vomit and plastic bed sheets. This room had only one purpose - to keep people alive.

Jack Basker drifted in and out of sleep. He heard footsteps enter the room and approach the curtain to his bed. Department of Revenue attorney Ms. Marsters and two police officers stepped into view.

“Mr. Basker, you missed your court appointment. You need to come with us.”

Jack looked up from sleepy eyes. He looked around the room. Each police officer had a hand on their weapon. Ms. Marsters held out a warrant. “You failed to pay your child support and you didn't show up for court today. That was a bad decision.”

“M... my heart...--” Jack's voice was dry and he strained to say the words. “I've been out of work for a year. You promised me no action would be taken --” The heart monitor began beeping faster.

“There are no excuses, Mr. Basker. You dead beat dads are all alike.”

“I am n... not a dead beat dad.” Jack felt stabbing pain in his chest as he lifted his head to speak. “I want to support my daughter. I want to work. I a... asked you for help but you took m... my license and m... my savings. I couldn't pay for my m... medication.”

“Tell it to the judge.” She motioned to the police. They moved in, ready to use their weapons. One of them grabbed Jack's left arm and twisted as he pulled him off the bed. The other pushed down on Jack's right shoulder to subdue him. Jack's brittle bones crackled and he yelled from the pain. They got him onto his knees and cuffed his hands behind his back. One officer pulled Jack to his feet while the other shackled his feet. Jack was dragged out of his hospital room.

“I d... didn't do anything wrong.”

A crowd of doctors and nurses formed in the hallway. Their disgusted looks made Jack want to hide his face. He thought about his poor cat, Mr. B. W. home alone.

“We don't need low-lifes like you in here,” A doctor said, “we have real sick people to take care of.”

Jack stared at the floor and squinted. The pain from the light hurt his head. “Please, I need my medication.”

“Just keep moving.” one of the officers said.

“You must think we're here to take care of you,” Ms. Marsters said. “You broke the law. You're a criminal. ”

“I'll die without my m... meds.”

“Well, you should have thought of that before you skipped out on your child support.”

“I d... didn't skip out!” Jack struggled to breath. “I b... begged you for help. I'm not a criminal!” Jack stumbled and hit his head on the floor.

“Get up, Mr. Basker, you're embarrassing yourself.” Ms. Marsters said.

The officers pulled Jack up and put him in a wheelchair. They pushed him down the hall to the hospital waiting room. The walls were painted in the same sickly yellow color as the hospital room. Two rows of brown, flower-upholstered chairs lined up in front of him like rows of dead bushes. He looked at the other patients waiting for medical care. One patient threw cheese doodles at him, another threw coffee on him. The police wheeled him past the waiting patients and out the front door of the hospital. A police paddy wagon waited for him. The officers hoisted him off the chair and into the wagon. They threw him down hard on the metal bench and chained him to the wall. Inside was dank and dark and cold. Jack began to think about all the things he could have done differently. Maybe he should have sold his old tube TV. Maybe someone would have bought his old video tapes. He wondered if he should have sold his cat. He felt despair at the last thought and wished for death. The door of the paddy wagon slammed shut and Jack was alone in complete darkness.


Copyright © 2016 James Barrett. All rights reserved.


Comment on this article

(* is required)
Your name:*
Your email:*
Your web site: (optional)
Enter your comments*

We need to be sure you are not a robot (no offense to robots)
*