Day of Reckoning by Marie Anderson

Having spent half his life in prison, Dep Stanford's old neighbourhood couldn't be more different; by Marie Anderson.

Three weeks after he got out of prison, Dep Stanford drove up and down the streets of his old neighborhood.

His ma had warned him, but he'd had to see for himself.

It was a sunny afternoon in early June. He drove his ma's Ford Focus. It was the same model car the current Pope used. Or so his ma said.

And just like his ma said, the old neighborhood was different. Where weeds, rusted stuff, and discards once rioted, mown lawns and trimmed shrubs relaxed, tranquil and law-abiding. Instead of paint-starved, crumbling houses and skeletal apartment buildings, he saw only sprawling, robust homes, some with columns like the White House.

Barack Obama still occupied the White House. But Dep wondered whether anyone who looked like the president would be living in this neighborhood now.

No windows were boarded. No metal bars grilled doors. Sidewalks and streets didn't sparkle with broken glass. No packs of wild dogs and wilder boys roamed in alleys.

There were no alleys.

A painfully slim blonde woman jogged toward him in the street. She pushed a huge three-wheeled stroller holding a chubby Chinese-looking baby. A pacifier plugged the baby's mouth. As Dep swerved to give the woman plenty of room, she looked at him and smiled.

He smiled back and drove on, wondering: did she think he was a neighbor?

Dep was only lightly brown due to his Kentucky white mother. So maybe she thought he belonged. He guessed that the only black or brown faces he'd now find in his old neighborhood would belong to those who cleaned the homes, tended the lawns, and nannied the children. Just like his ma said.

Finally, Dep arrived where he'd lived the first 18 years of his life.

His little blue house was gone. Also gone were the two ramshackle green stuccos that had belonged to his next-door-neighbors. In their place stood a white clapboard two-story wrapped by a wide front porch.

If it hadn't been for the church across the street, Dep wasn't sure he would've been able to pinpoint his old home's site. The church was still St. Mary's Catholic Church, All Are Welcome, but its skin was now unblemished white, and its stained-glass eyes were no longer clouded by cataracts of dust and grime.

"Where's my house?" Dep muttered. His ma had warned him. But he'd had to see for himself.



After living the first 18 years of his life in the blue house, Dep had spent the next 17 years in a downstate Illinois prison for holding up a liquor store with a BB gun. The old guy behind the counter had died from a heart attack. The heart attack was blamed on Dep's toy gun frightening the old guy to death.

Dep knew it certainly wasn't his own appearance that had scared the old guy. At age 18, Dep had been slight and harmless looking. He still was. His cheeks dimpled when he smiled. The ladies called him sexy adorable. The men - his fellow inmates - called him pretty. They'd accused him of talking white. (His ma's fault.) It was only because he'd (falsely) claimed he had The Virus that in prison they'd left him alone.

Mostly.



For his second visit to the old neighborhood, Dep picked a warm night in mid-June. He wore a Mickey Mouse baseball cap that covered his rust-colored curly hair, temporary Jesus-on-the-cross tats on his bare arms, and a scruffy week-old beard.

Not that he was looking for trouble. But if trouble found him, wits would see the false details, not the true ones.

He reached his destination. Parked cars lined the street, but he easily parallel parked in the stingy space between a Benz and a Lexus.

Dep slumped behind the steering wheel and watched the house across the street, the greedy white house that had swallowed his blue house and the green stuccos that had been his neighbors'.

His car window was cracked open just enough for him to hear voices and music spilling from the backyard. A banner congratulating Lily Rose for graduating high school (with honors!) hung between two columns on the front porch.

Where, he wondered, were the fireflies?

Warm night like this, when the neighborhood had been his, the dark would be winking with fireflies, and little kids would be jarring them and trying to sell them to the adults. Lightning Lamps, the kids called the jars. Maybe all the stuff the rich folk were using to keep the new neighborhood unmolested by weeds and vermin was keeping the fireflies away.

Dep hadn't known there'd be a party for Lily Rose tonight. He didn't know Lily Rose or her family. He reached under the passenger seat for his gloves and trash bags. The party meant he had to do it now. Tonight.

For his ma.



His ma now lived in a tiny one-bedroom on the third floor of a geezer building nine miles west of Dep's old neighborhood. Diabetes had recently put her in a wheelchair.

What would make her happy, she'd told him, now that her only surviving child was out of prison, was a flat screen and cable package, maybe throw in a Netflix subscription, too, like some of her friends had, though that would mean getting the internet and buying one of those little thingies to stream the internet to her TV.

"I reckon you owe me that much, Dep honey," she'd said.

He reckoned he did.

But it would cost money Dep didn't have. He was living rent-free in his cousin Zion's basement in exchange for cutting Zion's coke with vitamin B and spooning tiny amounts into tiny plastic bags imprinted with scowling pit bulls.

That's what Dep did evenings. Days he sat behind a counter at a transition house and buzzed in drug addicts who wanted to stop being addicts. His parole officer had gotten him the day job. It paid enough to put gas inside the Ford Focus and food and beer inside Dep.

Which is why Dep had decided to lighten the load constipating the big white house. He'd turn the haul over to his cousin Zion, who was also a fence. He'd have to share the money Zion got from selling the stuff, but Dep hoped there'd be enough in his portion to buy what his ma wanted.



Dep stared at the white house. His heart pounded. His mouth went dry. He frowned at the party sounds in the yard. His ma's birthday was next week. The best time was right now, not when the occupiers were gone. An unoccupied house would be alarmed and nosy with security cameras. But with a yard packed with buzzed guests, the alarm would be off and the house wouldn't scream when Dep visited. Security cameras weren't a worry. Most rich homes only had outside cameras. Anyway, he had his cap, his tats, his beard. As soon as he got home with the loot, he'd ditch the cap, rub off the tats, and shave away the beard.

He raised his middle finger to the white house. "House," he murmured, "it's your day of reckoning." He put on his gloves, tucked the garbage bags under his shirt, and exited the car.

He tried the front door. Locked. Damn.

He sidled to the rear, staying in the darkness close to the house. In the yard, people sat at round tables under marble-sized yellow lights strung overhead between trees. Young people spasmed to music spun by a dreadlocked white DJ. A bearded white guy sat in a chair sketching a flattering caricature of the young couple seated in front of him. Brown people stood behind long tables and smoking grills and tended the food. Brown people stood behind a bar shaking martinis and pouring beer and wine.

Dep was glad the hired help was mostly brown. If he was found in the house, he'd just say he was one of the hired staff, looking for... well, he'd figure that out on the fly.

Gone were the piles of toilets that had been in the yard when the yard was Dep's. But, in a far corner stood two bright red Drop Zones, porta-potties so the guests could relieve themselves without contaminating the home's bathrooms.

When Dep felt confident no one was paying attention, he darted to the back door, unlocked of course, and slipped inside.

Frigid air raised goose bumps on his arms. He moved quickly through the dimly lit first floor, looking for stairs. He glimpsed paintings on gray walls. The paintings looked someone's vomit or blood spatter. He passed a gleaming white baby grand piano covered with framed photos of brides, grooms, babies, dogs, and horses. White cabinets and stainless-steel appliances like you'd find a morgue's autopsy room lined the walls of a vast kitchen. A granite slab big enough for a body rose from the kitchen's tiled floor. In another room, Dep glimpsed brown leather couches and club chairs. A wall of shelves displayed mostly emptiness punctured with a few vases, lumpy sculptures, and maybe a dozen books.

If he'd had time, if his heart hadn't been pounding and his legs shaking, Dep would have examined the books, on the off chance he might have read some. Reading was the shameful pleasure secret he shared with his ma.

He found the stairs and stepped soundlessly up to the bedrooms. That's where he expected to find the jewelry, money, designer clothes and shoes, furs, leather jackets, and maybe even some sweet meds.

He hadn't expected the guest of honor would be there, too.



He was in a massive bedroom dumping the contents of a jewelry box into his trash bag when she greeted him.

"Hey, there."

He spun around. She stood in the doorway, a red Solo cup in her hand, eyes round and blue, and a nose. A big nose. Jutting like a cliff from an otherwise pretty face. She was stocky, a bit taller than his 5′8″ and wearing a frothy white dress that reminded him of a First Communion dress. A puffy little gold cross dangled from a thin gold chain around her neck. A few bits of confetti clung to her curly black hair.

His body tensed. Run? Push past her? Cover her mouth if she started screaming?

Don't scream, he prayed. "Uh, hello," he managed.

She stepped closer, held out her hand. "I'm Lily Rose."

His racing heart slowed and saliva flooded his mouth. He set down the empty jewelry box and shook her hand.

"Congratulations, graduate," he said. His traitorous voice shook. He glanced past her at the doorway. Run! But he didn't trust his legs. Or the girl's reaction.

"Thank you," she said. She touched the gold cross around her neck. "Shoot me."

"What?"

"Aren't you going to shoot me?"

"No! I got no gun! I'm no killer! You gonna shoot me?"

She sipped from her Solo cup. "I don't have a gun either." She again touched the cross around her neck. "I see that you're a friend of Jesus," she said. "Or at least your arms are."

He nodded. Her eyes were so blue. Lake Michigan blue. "Jesus died for my sins. Least I can do is honor him with tats."

"Or just," she said, "stop sinning."

He frowned.

"But," she continued, "like the new Pope says, who am I to judge?"

"Amen." He smiled, felt his whole body relax. Her blue eyes glimmered.

She rubbed her big nose. "You wanna know what they're giving me for a graduation present? My parents?"

"Probably not what I got," he said.

"What'd you get?"

"Nothing."

"Well, I'd take that over what they're giving me." She sipped from her cup. Her eyes closed. He wanted them to open.

"Tell me," he said. "What are they giving you?"

She opened her eyes. "First tell me. Why'd you pick my house to rob?"

"I'm not robbing your house. You can only rob people. I'm burglarizing your house. I picked it because I used to live here."

She pursed her lips, studied him. "I had a nanny when I was little. She and her kid, Jamal, lived with us. But she was like, from Haiti, and well, no offense, but Jamal would be about 22 now, and well, you look a lot older than that. Whiter too."

"When I lived here, the house was blue. And a lot smaller."

"Seriously? You lived here when this neighborhood was the 'hood?"

He smiled. "Like you know what 'hood is."

"Hey, I researched my neighborhood's history for social studies. I got an A on the paper I wrote: City Condemns, Developers Civilize."

"Good for you, graduate."

"Hey! I'm not bragging. I'm just explaining. You survived the 'hood! Lucky you!"

He nodded. "That's me. Lucky."

"Well, Lucky, my parents were early investors. Urban pioneers. It's a great location. So close to the lake and downtown.

He nodded. "Too good to waste on the downtrodden, I guess."

She sighed, sipped from her cup, rubbed her nose. "Well, Lucky, why are you stealing my parents' stuff? And I don't want to hear any sob story about a sick kid needing an operation."

"Okay. Got no sob story. But I got a ma, and I owe her for the shit I put her though when I was young and dumb. Diabetes took her feet and she's stuck in a wheelchair. She wants a flat screen, cable package, and the internet so she can stream Netflix. Your house took my house. Now I'll take a few things so's I can buy what my ma wants." He felt his face heat up. Why was he telling her all this? Why wasn't he running? Maybe it was those eyes of hers. Round and blue. Like his ma's, he suddenly realized.

She nodded. "I get that. Lot of awesome shows on cable and Netflix. They let you escape your trials and tribulations by enjoying the trials and tribulations of others. I plan to spend my own summer binge watching while I recover from my operation."

"You sick?"

"No."

From downstairs came a shrill voice. "Lily Rose? Honey? Your stomach better?" Then came the prock-prock sound of heels climbing stairs.

"Go in the closet," Lily Rose whispered. She handed him her Solo cup. He rushed into the closet. Heard heels enter the bedroom. His throat tightened. He took a sip from the cup and almost gagged on straight vodka.

"I feel a little better, Mommy," Lily Rose was saying. "I dropped a rank load a little while ago, but I can tell I'm not done yet."

"Honey! That is TMI!"

Dep rolled his eyes.

"Oh," her mother was saying. "The Glimcos just showed. They're crowing that Madison just got off the wait list. I'm sure her dad's big donation to the college had nothing to do with that. Anyway, she'll be going to Stanford with you!"

"Lucky me," Lily Rose said.

In the closet, Dep smiled.

"Uh-oh," Lily Rose said. "I need the toilet again. Stat."

"Oh, sweetheart. TMI, TMI. Well, rejoin the party as soon as you can. It's your party, after all."

"Lucky me," Lily Rose said as her mother prock-procked back down the stairs.

Lily Rose opened the closet door. "Come on," she said. "I'll help you."

Five minutes later, both of Dep's trash bags were full. She'd even given him some of her Adderall and a bottle labeled Osteo Bi-Flex Joint Health Tablets. "This," she'd said, "is where my dad hides his Percocet."

"Sweet," Dep said. "Lucky me."

"Lucky you," she agreed. "Hey. I'll stand guard by the back door. You go out the front."

"You still gotta tell me one thing," he said. "What're your parents giving you for graduation?"

"That's the one thing you want to know? Don't you want to know why I've helped you?"

"Can't you tell me both?"

"We have seven flat screens in this house. And only three people live here. Two, once I leave for Stanford."

He shrugged. He was actually feeling kindly toward her parents, now that he had two heavy bags of their premium stuff. "Well, young lady," he lectured. "Your folks have probably worked hard to afford all this luxury."

She just looked at him. He didn't like what he saw in her eyes. Was it disappointment? He felt his face get warm.

"Hey." She touched his arm. "Didn't your parents work hard? Don't you?"

He flashed on the piles of toilets his dad had accumulated, planning to turn them into planters for his ma to sell. But before that happened, his dad died in a drive by, and his ma spent the next ten years bussing herself an hour each way to a Walmart job.

Dep shrugged. "Not all hard work is created equal, I guess."

She touched her nose. "Not all people are either." She lifted her dress.

Dep, startled, took a step back. "Not here for that!" But then he saw the red lines. "Shit, girl. You cut?"

She let her dress fall back over her legs. "My parents think a nose job will end my cutting. My imaginary depression. And motivate me to lose weight. It's all in my head, they say. They're right, you know. It's all in my head. Like a brain tumor."

"Shit, girl." That's all Dep could think to say. But apparently it was the right thing to say.

She smiled at him. "Exactly."

"So," he said. "A nose job? That's your graduation present?"

She kept smiling. "Exactly."

He shook his head, then removed the glove from his right hand and stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans. Slowly, he brought his forefinger close to her face. Her lips quivered. Her eyes brimmed. He touched the tip of her nose.

"It is big," he said. "But it's strong. Straight. It suits you."

She blinked. Shuddered. "You're just saying that because I helped you."

"I figure you wouldna helped me if you didn't have that nose. Or those scars. You'd be out there with pretty Madison and all the other scarless, small-nosed party people."

"Well," she said. "You might be right."

"So maybe you oughta keep it. Your nose."

"Maybe I should. Lucky."

He held out his hand. "I'm Dep. Dep Stanford. Like that college you're going to. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Lily Rose."

She clasped his hand. "Likewise, Dep Stanford. And I must say, your name being Stanford is what I'd call a thundering coincidence. Or a lie."

He held onto her hand. "No lie. I don't lie to people I esteem."

Her eyes glistened. One diamond tear escaped. "Thank you, Dep Stanford."

"So." He released her hand. "You know my name. When your parents find stuff missing, will you rat me out?"

"My parents'll just suspect someone from the party. Maybe a Glimco! And I won't rat anyone out. Least not while I have this nose. Except maybe a Glimco."

"Glimcos probably eat rats," he said. He stepped closer, removed a piece of confetti from her hair, slipped it in his pocket.

A blush bloomed in her cheeks.

He grabbed the bags, hesitated. "Hey, you stay alive, okay, Lily Rose? World needs folks like you. Don't rush out before your time."

Her face paled.

"One more thing," he said. His heart was pounding. "Next burglar, you run and you scream and you call the po-lice. Suicide by burglar is just as dead as suicide by cop."

Her lips parted, but all he heard escape from her throat was a small cry, like a kitten's mewl.

"Okay?" he asked.

"Go," she whispered.

He shook his head. "Not 'til you promise."

She touched the cross around her neck. "Maybe we'll meet again?"

He nodded. That, he thought, was as good a promise as he was going to get. "I'd like that, Lily Rose. But you got some growing and living to do first."

"Yeah? Well, you too, Dep Stanford."

He smiled. "Me too."

"Hey," she said. "I'm glad you didn't have a gun."

"Me too," he said.



She left first to guard the back door. He hurried outside through the front door, walked briskly to the Ford Focus, and threw the bags into the trunk. He got behind the wheel. He squeezed his eyes shut, slapped at the tears foolish enough to escape down his cheeks. He started the car, and only then let himself look at the house of Lily Rose, wanting to see her standing on the grass in her white dress waving and smiling.

She wasn't there, but the fireflies were. The dark was alive with them.

21 comments:

  1. Well done character portrayals of Dep and Lily. As different as their backgrounds were their interactions felt quite real. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you for reading my story, Edward, and for your good comments. :)marie

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  2. thanks for the story from my original home town chicago

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    1. Thanks for reading my story, Matt, and for posting your comment. Go Cubs! And White Sox, too!

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  3. Excellent story with great characters! Well done!

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    1. Thank you, Kevin! I appreciate your good comments!

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  4. I got pulled into the story so quickly, fascinated by both Lily and Dep. Well done, Marie!

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    1. Thank you, Marge! I appreciate that you read the story, and I especially appreciate your good comments.

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  5. I can only echo the comments of others: Excellent story and believable characters.

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  6. Thank you, David! Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and I especially thank you for posting your good comment.

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  7. I thought the dialogue was very real and created the characters. Nice story arc. Great story.

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  8. Thank you for reading my story, Ken! I love your comment about the dialogue and story arc!

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  9. I really enjoyed the story, Marie! Both characters surprised me in good ways.

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    1. Thank you, Maggie, for reading my story and for your good specfic comment about the characters.

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  10. Impressive description of characters (rust-colored hair) and setting (paint-starved houses) mixed with emotional impact. Really enjoyed reading this story!

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    1. Thank you, Margo, for reading my story and posting your comments, and I love that you mentioned those two descriptive details.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. I love the dialog. I thought the description, the backstory and the atmosphere provided a terrific set up. As implausible as this was as it evolved - it all made sense by virtue of the dialog.

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    1. Thank you, David, for reading my story and posting your good comments! I'm glad you thought the backstory worked. Backstory has always been tricky for me.

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  13. Great story! Loved how you humanized both Dep & Lily Rose. They're so different yet were able to connect and empathize with each other because of their respective struggles

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    1. Thank you, mander, for reading and liking my story. I love your comments about Dep and Lily Rose.

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