The Tenth Judgment [collection excerpt]
The waiting room was white. There were twelve chairs. They were white plastic, all one piece bent like C’s, and lined up in four rows, but only one person ever sat in that room at a time. There were small square tables of similar design next to the gaps in between each row. You might have expected to find some magazines or at least pamphlets on them, but they were just as bare as the walls. One corner of the room was cut diagonally. In the middle of that wall was a big plastic window, behind which was an office just as blank white as its exterior. The window had a grey plastic speaker at its center with a wire running down and out of sight.
Outside that office, where the diagonal met the wall, there was a bright orange door with a panic push bar. There was a metallic plate that sat just about where a chicken wire glass window ought to have been. The plate was engraved with a phrase, “There is no appraisal greater than one’s own, in themselves for themselves, but for their father’s own. Est’d 89.”
In the blank office sat a woman. She, like the bright orange door, contrasted herself from the environment. The bright pink of her blouse diffused itself onto the chair she sat in, and the desk she leaned on. She wore a name plate that read, “Rosewater”. She was smiling at a child across the room, whom sat as far away from her as possible. Amidst her smile, Rosewater wondered if it was an intended offence or just nerves.
The boy wore a soft powder blue button up. It spread its color to his chair just as Rosewater’s blouse had. The boy was anxious. He swung his feet back and forth. He couldn’t keep his fingers still. Rosewater continued to stare. Her smile grew as she convinced herself the boy meant no offence.
The boy looked up for a moment. His eyes met Rosewater’s. He looked away immediately. As he looked at his white laced sneakers, a crackling static echoed across the room followed by Rosewater’s awkward voice.
The static got louder and the voice cut out as sharp feedback loop formed, then with a bang, her voice continued, “sweetie?”. The boy could only nod his head.
The sunlight through the window woke the young boy before his alarm could have. He sat up and walked to his closet. Only two hangers hung from the beam inside of the white double doors. One hanger wore a powder blue button up and the other dangled a pair of white khakis. He gently took both. As he removed each, the hangers were conveyed into a hole in the wall of the closet, after which, the white double doors closed slowly. He held both articles in his arms and his alarm went off. He struggled over to stop it, dropping his pants.
One kind and muffled voice echoed up the stairs, “Derren–breakfast.”
Derren said nothing, got dressed, and headed down stairs. He sat at a bright beige dining table. In front of him was a white plate with two roast florets of broccoli, a delicate pile of scrambled eggs topped with diced tomato, and one pale sausage. His mother stood over the sink, washing a bowl. Still turned away she spoke.
“How are you feeling today?”
Derren split his sausage in half with a fork.
His mother turned around, still holding the bowl, drying it with a cloth. She walked closer.
“You know honey, there’s really nothing to be worried about.”
Derren looked up from the singed floret that his fork had skewered.
“I already have one I like good. I’m not worried. I’m just really going to really miss you.”
His mother set the bowl down on the far end of the table as she walked over to Derren. She held his head tight to her stomach.
“I’m really going to really miss you too.”
“Derren, not now!”, said a long man in a red robe sat in a longer chair, pulling a book away from his face. His glasses slid down his nose as he glared.
“But, aren’t we supposed to be like hanging out? There’s only like two days left and we haven’t done anything.”
“Derren, go away to your play area now. I won’t tell you again.”
Derren continued, “I’m so bored of that thing. I want to be around you. I like books too!”
The long man threateningly leaned forward and glared once more. That silenced Derren completely. The long man hid his face in his book. Derren kept staring. After a moment or so the long man looked to Derren again, sighed, and stood up, gently putting his book down. Derren was giddy with excitement. He was going to finally get to have some fun. That whole week had been a bore for him so far. Derren was ready to ask a question once the long man got close enough. He’d been running it over in his mind, each step the man took. “What are we going to do?”, he thought–and again–It repeated. The long man was close enough. As Derren opened his mouth, all that came out was a loud tubular echo. Then his face began to sting horrifically on one side. Tears came from his eyes from the sting alone. Derren didn’t know what had happened. He saw the long man’s hand lowering. Derren’s questions turned to answers.
“He just hit me”, he thought–and again–It repeated.
Derren’s tears then came all at once. These were tears of anger, confusion, and sorrow. He ran from the room and headed down a long hall to a much smaller room–the play area. It was all bare, but for a small white rectangular prism at its center with a tiny olive tinted screen. He walked over and sat down in front of it. The screen lighted up and numbers and letters spooled in rows downwards until all that was left was a blinking cursor in the upper left corner. It stayed for a moment then vanished as two equidistant dots dissolved up from the emptiness. In unison they moved right, then left, and then back center, as if they were looking at Derren.
The machine began to hum like a refrigerator as a friendly voice trickled from tiny holes on top of it. “I can see that you are in tears DERREN. Why are you in tears?”
Derren said nothing, he simply leaned forward and hugged the machine.
It spoke once more. “There, there. It is all going to be okay.”
Green grass bent under a stocky bearded man’s toes along a wooded dirt path. Derren followed him. Derren couldn’t remember the last time he had been outside and barefoot at the same time. It felt good in the summertime. He really had missed it. They stopped at a small opening in the trees that lead to a small landing on a pond. The man held one fishing pole, gripping it and its line, tugging a barb that desperately grasped the hook holder.
The stocky man spoke as he squatted to Derren’s eye level.
“I’ve got a job for you.”
Derren nodded with attention.
“Go back a little bit up the trail, but before the bend, so I can still see you. Along the path I want you to find sturdy stick. One that’s shaped like the letter Y. Can you do that for us?”
Derren nodded once more and was off. The man opened up of the boxes he had swung around his shoulder. He heard some snapping of twigs and looked over to see Derren crouching and hopping along as he scanned the path. The man smiled. He took out a red and white bobber and latched it to his line. He then took out a little duck faced split shot and closed its beak a bit, slid it just blow the bobber, and opened its beak back up wide to secure it. He strung a few bright orange balls of bait on his hook and proceeded to make a perfect cast.
He held the rod as Derren got back with a few options for him. The man chose an off kilter beach tree branch in favor of the various thoughtful, but flimsy pine twigs.
“Great work, buddy. Take it and stick it in the sand just over there, right by the water.”
The man walked over and sat the pole down.
“Now we wait and relax.”
Derren asked, “How do we got it?”
The man put a hand on Derren’s shoulder and pointed to the water. “Look out there, you see that floating red ball? The hook is dangling below that. Once that bobber goes down a little, and that line there is getting tugged, I’ll start reeling, and once I’ve got that fish half way home, I’ll hand it over to you, and you’ll start reeling, and you’ll land it.”
“And then what?”, Derren asked.
“We’ll throw it back and do it all again.” He continued, “hey, buddy, are you hungry? I brought peanut butter & honey sandwiches, and some cheese crackers.”
Derren laid back onto where the grass met the sand. He took a deep clean breath in and looked at the great big clouds in the sky. He thought one looked a little like a cow.
“Moo!”, Derren said. “I’ll take some cheese crackers! The sky demands it!”
The man couldn’t have stopped himself from laughing and smiling.
“Well, here you go then, little buddy.”
In a blank room stood a man in a white jacket. He was bald with a scrunched face. He paced along the front of a few chairs.
“You have come to a point now–ten years, infact, from when you first started your journey of service for this great country, raising our future men, and now it’s their time to move on. Ten weeks away from you, the first time in ten years, after which you will be relieved of your duties.”
Derren sat uncomfortably next to his mother as the scrunch-faced man continued.
“Right now you are being passed your council room numbers. After we end here, you will head down the hall where you came from and find your respective rooms. You will leave your boy to meet each candidates. Do not speak them–or your boy, just leave. You’ll be contacted in ten weeks time to pick him back up. Remember, head right to your council now. That is all.”
Derren’s mother grabbed him by the hand. Derren saw other boys being grabbed by the wrist. He looked up to his mother with a question.
“Mom, why don’t you grab my wrist?”
“Because the last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”
Derren looked down at the ground as they walked in silence. Others gave her looks. They headed out down the hall. They got to a door and Derren’s mother held up her slip and matched the numbers. She pushed it open.
The room was just as blank as the other and the hall. In the distance towered ten white wooden podiums, at each sat a different older man. Derren looked along them in a row. The first seemed stocky and balding, but he smiled. The second was very long and had glasses, he had a serious look about him. The third was quite young looking with a crew cut. The fourth had on a hat and a silly jacket. The fifth, sixth, and seventh looked almost identical: short well combed brown hair and high cheekbones. The eighth looked much like the second, but his glasses were thicker and he was smiling. The ninth was very short and had a bright purple tie on. The tenth had the longest nose Derren had ever seen. Derren’s mother let go of his hand and left.
“Aren’t you excited, Becky? This opportunity is once in a lifetime.”
Rebecca replied, “First of all this isn’t an opportunity, we have to do it or we go to jail. Second of all, you can literally do it as many times as you want until you die.”
“You’re so pessimistic. They talk about girls like you in the videos in class. Haven’t you seen them?”
Rebecca replied, “I’ve seen them. They are disgusting.”
“NEXT”, called out a voice from up the line. Everyone shifted one step forward.
“Becky, don’t you want to have a little boy to dress and take care of. How is that like not a dream of yours?”
“Laura, I do–I really do, but not–” she lowered her voice, “not for only ten years. If I have a son, I want him to be my son. You know that we used to raise them with fath–”
Laura stopped her, “La la la–I’m not listening, that shit is straight up propaganda–quite down or we are both gonna’ get thrown the hell out of here.”
Rebecca sighed heavily.
“NEXT”, called out a voice again from up the line. Everyone shifted one more step.
“Look, Becky, if you really want to raise your child for longer than ten years, you can do that after this first one, just with a girl next time. Maybe if you went to class more you’d know that you get them for sixteen years each.”
“NEXT”, a voice called once more.
The orange door with the panic push bar squeaked open. In it stood a short bald man with a scrunched up face. Derren thought he’d seen him somewhere before. The man motioned him over with very little patience. Crackling static echoed through the air. “Good luck!”.
Derren looked over to the woman through the window giving him a big thumbs up and a smile. He saw that her name tag that said “Rosewater”.
“Thank you, Misses Rosewater.”
“She taught you so well, didn’t she now.”
The scrunch-faced man rolled his eyes and grabbed the boys wrist and pulled him through the door.
In a blank room sat ten men all staring at Derren. The scrunch-faced man left, closing the door behind him. Derren looked through the men and found the stocky man who he really adored. His eyes unfortunately met those of the long man too. The long man sat at the center of all the men.
He spoke. “Alright, don’t be shy, come closer, we all know you. Sit down, right there.” He pointed to a chair in the center of the room.
The long man continued. “So, you and mister DeMayo seem to have taken a liking to each other? Is that correct?”
The stocky man waved to Derren and smiled. Derren nodded his head.
“Please answer the question, Derren.”, the long man demanded.
Derren cleared his throat nervously and spoke.
“Alright then, shall we proceed?”
No one spoke. Mister DeMayo left his chair and walked next to where Derren sat. He put his hand on his shoulder.
The long man spoke, “Okay, let’s take the vote. A show of hand for those who believe DeMayo will be the best father for Derren”
The three identical men raised their hands, glaring at the long man. No others did. Mister DeMayo looked devastated. Tears came from his eyes as he shook his head. Derren had no clue what was happening.
He looked up to DeMayo, “What’s going on? Why are you crying?”
“No talking while we are in session!”, yelled the long man.
DeMayo whispered, “I’m sorry, kid.” He walked back to his seat.
“So, now, who’s the second up for vote? Oh yes, me.”
The long man got up from his seat. It screeched against the floor. Derren looked furious.
“What?”, he shouted.
The long man put his finger to his lips to quiet Derren as he walked over to him. Derren shook and tears fell. He felt like hitting his own head over and over. He was so frustrated.
The long man spoke, “The vote–show of hand for those who believe I will be the best father for Derren.”
DeMayo and the three identical men were the only ones who did not raise their hands in favor of the long man.
“Well, that settles it.”
Derren leaned back in his chair and looked up to the ceiling. It was blank.
“Come on my son, let’s go–right now. I won’t ask you again.”