Exposed
 
            Kenneth was surrounded by white walls. He didn’t mind it, but when he thought about these white walls accompanying him in the future, he did freak out a little bit. His bed was sort of comfortable, not like what it used to be, but then again, he didn’t really have much of a say. Kenneth was on his fifth book of the day. Since he was a child he was known to be “boy genius” with his photographic memory, but never really bragged much about it. Knowledge just stuck in his mind like a sponge, absorbing every last bit of that novel or textbook or news article. Outside, a bluebird distracted him from his reading. He looked up from the chair, not far from the window, and glanced out at the beautiful day that he was thankful for and waved to the bluebird. Kenneth was surrounded by white walls, but the white walls were in the building of the town Lakewood, Washington, where it rained almost every day. The sun was hot on Kenneth’s fair skin. His brown hair heated up so he pushed it back and wiped sweat from his forehead. He wondered how much it would be to install air conditioning in his white walled room. Not that he had a say, he just wondered.
             In a week Kenneth will turn thirty. Where did his twenties go? His teenage life? What a blur life had become since his tenth birthday. He looked back down at his book, becoming too involved to care further. Suddenly he heard her voice. She screamed for him. He screamed back and at the same time he dropped his novel to the floor. It made a loud sound, like someone slamming a door in your face. Kenneth screamed louder and louder, so loud that a lady, not the lady screaming for him, but another lady came in and had to calm him down.
Three weeks earlier.
            “You’re going to be late for work, Kenneth,” Carla screamed up the stairs, with Kenneth just barely hearing her voice. He was in the bathroom combing back his long hair. Definitely time for a haircut. He checked his watch, threw on the best tie he had—a purple one to match his white shirt with the purple stripes—and made his way down the stairs, toward the kitchen.
            Kenneth grabbed the toast slathered with oozing grape jelly that Carla made for him, kissed her on the cheek, and walked out the door. “Don’t forget about our dinner plans tonight!” Carla yelled after him. The reminder was a good thing too, because Kenneth did indeed already forget. But he smiled as he made his way to the car thinking of Carla’s velvety smooth voice; did she have any flaws? Even the first time they met, Kenneth was walking out of the ice cream parlor and turned a sharp corner. He was holding his ice cream in one hand and the newspaper in the other when he bumped into a beautiful brunette girl, her blue eyes in shock as Kenneth’s ice cream dripped down Carla’s entire front side. Kenneth was so stunned by how lovely Carla was, even with a look of horror on her face that he couldn’t even apologize; the words escaped him. Kenneth knew he was in love when instead of freaking out, screaming at how cold she was, Carla laughed and grabbed the newspaper out of Marc’s hand and used it to clean herself up. She then introduced himself and they went back into the parlor together to have ice cream: Kenneth’s treat. That was their first date.
            Six months later, a few weeks before Christmas in 1972, Kenneth took Carla to Central Park, where he got down on one knee and proposed to the one girl he ever loved. His brown eyes staring into Carla’s blue ones, he got up as she nodded, barely able to mutter a “yes” just like he couldn’t say “I’m sorry” on that summer day in June. Carla had become Kenneth’s everything. His future was with her and only her.
              Kenneth smiled at his memory. But as he approached his car, his smile faded as his neighbor Lucy, a woman in her mid sixties, gave him a strange look. It was like she knew something about Kenneth, something personal. But Kenneth, being the self absorbed man that he was, never thought twice about it. Yes, it was weird, but not weird enough to start a conversation with the old lady. Kenneth approached his car and got in carefully, trying not to get any toast crumbs in his lap, and placed his brief case in the passenger seat. He checked his glove compartment for his registered gun, as he always does, just to make sure it was not touched or moved. And then it was off to work. Kenneth loved his job; being a public defender was always his dream. Or was it the job that he thought would seal his father’s approval? It was his job to provide legal representation for defendants without counsel, and he was beyond intrigued by all the criminal cases that fell in his lap. Maybe this had something to do with his past? The most recent case Kenneth was dealing with involved a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped and killed by her father. Most people not in this field were disturbed, but Kenneth was interested.
            Kenneth arrived on time (thank you Carla) and briefly reviewed his case. He wasn’t due in court for another few hours and did not feel the need to look over his notes that he had memorized—the brief review was enough—so he decided to walk around.
At such a young age, Kenneth felt beyond lucky to land his job in New York City as a public defender, but constantly felt under pressure to win all of his cases. He was a determined man. Gus, Kenneth’s father, had taught him to be determined. That was before Gus died when Kenneth was ten, but Kenneth remembered every last bit of his advice. Don’t be timid on the lacrosse field, Gus would say, if you are pushed or hit, fight back for Christ’s sakes! Grades were also a big thing for Gus. Kenneth could still hear him. I will accept no Bs in school. If you have time to play lacrosse, you have time to do well in your studies. Kenneth shuddered, realizing how harsh his father was. He was only ten! But Gus died, and Kenneth felt that lacrosse and grades meant nothing if he did not have a father to prove himself to. Determination had only came back to him years later when he learned about criminal law.
            For ten years, Kenneth’s mom kept the cause of Gus’s death a secret from Kenneth. “He had a heart attack,” is what she said, while Kenneth was playing what he now knew as his club lacrosse game. Kenneth’s mom had other secrets too, but he discovered them as he got older. There was that one time when his mother took him to the diner for his tenth birthday. The whole time, she seemed a little off as she continued to check her purse. For what? Kenneth could never figure it out. Until she asked Kenneth to go to the little boys room. He knew that there was a door that led to the outside, to the back entrance, and his mother told him to meet her there. Five minutes later, she came up to Kenneth, looking disheveled and sweaty—from nerves he assumed—and she grabbed his hand and they fast paced to the car. It was Kenneth’s first “dine-and-dash” experience. Against his will.
                On Kenneth’s eighteenth birthday, he walked downstairs to the hallway and stopped in his tracks. He heard the whispers of two women: his mother and an unknown, but shrill, voice. “You have to tell him the truth. It’s time. He’s eighteen and will find out eventually,” the voice said. Kenneth could barely breathe, but managed to inch closer towards the kitchen.
“It’s time he knew the truth,” the voice spoke again and instantly Kenneth knew it was his distant grandmother. He had only met her a few times.
“What good would that do, Mother? He has been fine with the memory of his father dying of a heart attack,” Kenneth knew his mom was crying, but she continued. “I cannot just come out and say he was actually murdered. Kenneth needs to be protected.” His mother masked her voice in a familiar way. It reminded him of when she forgot to pick him up at school in the seventh grade.                Four hours after dismissal, after Kenneth picked the ripped whole in his leg to expose his entire knee, after he had politely declined rides from numerous friends, saying his mother would be here soon, she finally arrived. It was six o’clock when Kenneth opened the car door. Her mother reeked: alcohol and men’s cologne. Her lipstick was smudged and her hot pink nail polish was chipped an almost all nails. Kenneth said not one word.
               On his eighteenth birthday he got a present. Not all presents are good, he learned, because his present that day was the truth. Kenneth was speechless. Happy birthday? He walked into the kitchen, mouth open, hands shaking, and just stared at his mother. That was the last time Kenneth and his mother ever interacted. At eighteen, scrawny Kenneth left his home, and never looked back.
            After leaving his home he didn’t know where to turn, so he headed for the library. He was always fond of that place—the long pillars in the front, the giant glass door that lead to a world of knowledge. He couldn’t stay away. This is where Kenneth began to read about criminal law. Miss Sue, the librarian, became fond of Kenneth. She noticed how Kenneth spent all day in the library, how he seemed to be wearing the same clothes every day he was there.
             A week had passed when Miss Sue finally approached Kenneth and asked about his outfit, making light of it. Kenneth’s concentration from his book broken, he explained his situation. He had been living with a friend, not a good one, who took him in until he could get back on his feet. He spent all summer long at the library because the books kept him safe and the air conditioning felt cool on his sweaty neck. He felt comfortable with Miss Sue and she soon gave him a job, wanting to help him in any way she could. Kenneth, shyly, asked for an advance and was able to find a crummy apartment in the upper east side of Manhattan, two blocks away from the library. Only a year later than he normally would have, Kenneth enrolled in community college, where he studied criminal law. Because of his excellent memory, Kenneth zipped through law school and got his degree faster than any of his other classmates. During school, he continued working full time at the library. A full summer and three years to follow gave him enough money to move into a nicer loft at the age of twenty-three. By this time, Kenneth had read every criminal law book in the library, all the while with Gus’s speeches on determination echoing in the back of Kenneth’s mind. He felt ready to work any case possible, and so he went to law firms in New York to pursue a career. He landed himself a job at a small firm as an intern, and quickly worked his way up to becoming a PD, only twenty-four at the time.
            Kenneth looked at his watch, breaking his own chain of thought, his own pathetic memory: it was 3:52. Court in eight minutes. On to a new distraction that would keep him busy for the next two hours.
            Kenneth’s case ended early at 6:30—he still had an hour to kill until he would go home to his fiancé, his everything. He decided to go downstairs to the room that held the cold cases. There was an elevator, but Kenneth actually liked the fact that the station had a spiral staircase. He loved going downward in that semi circle way, his hand on the rail the whole time as if when he let go he’d lose balance all together and fall. At last, the spiral came to an end, and Kenneth was staring at hundreds of files. How could all of these cases not be solved? It irritated Kenneth to no end, but one public defender could only do so much. He passed through the aisles only to come across the same file he looked at every day. His father’s case: Robert Gus Hinkler.
            Today was different, today Kenneth would figure out why this mystery was never solved. Something over took him as he grabbed the file, hid it is his coat pocket, and held onto the envelope as though his life depended on it. Curiosity had finally got the best of him. With shaking hands, Kenneth snatched the file, stuck it in his brief case and went back up that spiral staircase, this time holding on to the rail for dear life, knowing that if he let go, he would fall.
            Kenneth sped home. He had rushed passed every employee at his office, ignoring an “are you okay?” from his boss, and whispers from other PDs. He refused to open the file until he was in his study, to the left of his bedroom. Carla was getting ready for dinner, so he had around forty-five minutes to read through the case. As Kenneth read page after page absorbing all the facts, he slowly played with his knuckles, his nervousness forcing him to fidget. Why was he so stressed? Could he really find something the cops missed years ago? It had been so many years and Kenneth had survived just fine not knowing who killed his father. Why did it matter now? It took days, it took weeks, it took months, but Kenneth finally noticed something on that specific page.
            It stood out way too well: crumpled around the bottom corners, coffee stained the middle left side, and dog-eared. Something on this page irked every person who came in contact with the file. Kenneth needed to find out what it was. He read the page. Then he read it again. Robert Gus Hinker was killed on a cold winter night in Manhattan on December 20th, 1952. Right before Christmas. The police reports said that the murderer ran after the shooting, and threw the gun in a river, which was later recovered. No prints were found on it. There was a witness, but she did not cooperate with the cops and then fled the day after she was interviewed. She was in her forties at the time.
             Kenneth, an innocent ten year old when this traumatic event occurred, had thought that the stress of the holidays had given Gus the heart attack. Little did he know that when he attended the funeral two days before Christmas Eve, Kenneth had watched Gus lowered into the rectangular dirt bordered ground with three bullet holes straight through his chest.
Coming back to himself, Kenneth noticed he had stopped breathing. He inhaled sharply and glanced at his watch. He still had a half hour until he and Carla were leaving for their dinner. He wasn’t sure if he should even look down again at this worn in page, knowing he’d get too absorbed all over again. But this was his father he was reading about, the man who taught him all about determination. Kenneth looked out the door of the study through his bedroom, saw Carla putting on his favorite black dress of hers, and then continued reading the file. He still had time. What is so fascinating about this single page? Page four of the case, where is that one fact?             And then…
             No way, it could not be possible. He looked closer. The picture of the gun had something on it. But it wasn’t the picture that was odd, it was the gun. It had a small dash of hot pink nail polish, right above the trigger. Most people label their items with a simple initial, like how Kenneth labels his shirts KH: Kenneth Hinker. Not her. She labels all of her valuables with a small dash of hot pink nail polish. All the hairs on Kenneth’s back and arms stood up immediately, sweat trekked down his forehead, just missing his brow. He got up so fast, his chair knocked out from under him, the cold case spread out all over the ground, like a fresh white sheet of snow.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Concern was painted all over Carla’s face, but Kenneth could not explain his new revelation without getting hysterical. He passed Carla fervently, and was downstairs and in his car before he knew it.
             If he drove eighty, Kenneth could make it there in twenty minutes, subconsciously thinking about his anniversary dinner reservations. He arrived, as expected, twenty minutes after driving like a maniac. Without thinking, Kenneth opened the glove compartment and grabbed the gun he had a license for, originally obtained for protection. The door was always unlocked, he knew, so he stormed in straight for the study where she would be, just like where he spent most of his time.
              Before he knew it, Kenneth was staring right into her eyes, his gun pointing at her with shaky hands. “It was you. The pink nail polish, the lies when I was ten, the lie ten years later. How. Could. You?” Kenneth was gritting his teeth, not even realizing it.
Kenneth’s mother was shaking. Once she realized the events that had just taken place in the past ten seconds, she opened her mouth to explain. But then she closed it again with tears uncontrollably running down her face. “He found out about my affair, he was going to take everything away from me! He was going to take you away!” She was screaming at Kenneth, her hands flailing every which way, trying hard to defend herself.
             Kenneth’s ears were on fire. That was her reason? He suddenly wished he left his home way before he was eighteen. His mother was insane. He still held the gun at her. He did not know what he was doing. His mother opened her mouth again to speak, but Kenneth felt deaf—he had too many thoughts, most enraged with fury.
“I’m sor—.” The next thing Kenneth remembered was the color red. Red always looks good on Carla’s lips, she loved roses too. He knew that from when he proposed with white roses and Carla made a joke. He loved her for that. Red is such a pretty color, but it is also associated with Hell.
            There was so much blood. Everything was a blur: the cops showing up at the scene, the cold body and cold eyes staring back at Kenneth.
 
*          *          *
 
          The white walls did not bother Kenneth much anymore. It was better than red walls. He hated the color red now. Carla will never visit him, but then again why would she? He was sent to the state of Washington. It’s already been three weeks and he has not heard one peep from her. Old Lady Lucy, also known as Kenneth and Carla’s neighbor, was the witness that had fled so many years ago. Tomorrow, Kenneth is due in court, but not in the way he used to be due in court. Now a murderer, Kenneth needs his own public defender, a public defender that will want him to plead legal insanity because he acted on impulse. Kenneth killed his own mother, that must be psychotic behavior right? Maybe life in prison wouldn’t be that bad. He loves to read anyway. Maybe he will start writing. Yes, he will write books on criminal law.

Jamie Rothberg | Writer | Chicago

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