“Johnny, you don’t have to do that no more,” Officer Joseph told his son as he hurried him down the stairs and out of the precinct. “It was a cruel thing for the chief to do. If I had known…”
“Dad, it’s all right,” Johnny said, pulling his jacket free of his dad’s grip. “I want to do it.”
Officer Joseph froze at Johnny’s words and his son’s feet that had stopped moving. “You want to do it? You … want … to do it? … Why?”
“I thought it was for morale,” Johnny said, “and I think it still is … but it’s more.”
“More what?” his dad asked. “What are you talking about?” He reached for Johnny’s arm to pull him towards the car, but Johnny shook him off, which only flustered his already brewing anger the chief had thrust upon him. “Wh-what is it, Johnny?!” he snapped. Johnny stepped back. “No … no, I’m … I’m sorry, Johnny.” He’d softened his voice … “What is it?” and patted his son on the shoulder, but made no attempt to lead him any further from where he was.
Johnny seemed to sense this … and allowed his father’s hand there, without pulling away. “It’s Johann.”
“… Johann? Jo-Johann who?”
“The woman who died,” Johnny answered.
Officer Joseph’s back straightened up like a flagstaff. “Oh … oh, I see. Yes it’s all very sad,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing, Johnny, what one human being does to another.”
Johnny examined his father’s eyes. “Yes it is, but nobody noticed her at first,” he said.
“Ah.” His father shook his head knowingly. “Yes, I know,” his father replied. “It must seem that way. It’s a tough job, Johnny. Sometimes that separation is all that can keep them on the job. It’s not that they don’t care.”
“No,” Johnny said. “They don’t. They don’t care. She’s a dropped pocketbook, a blood-stained jacket, a puzzle to be solved. That’s it … but she…”
“… was someone?” his father said and was startled by … how … Johnny was suddenly talking. “Is that what you were going to say?” he asked. As quickly as the accident had taken years of knowledge away from Johnny, it appeared as if before Officer Joseph’s eyes his son was regaining it all back. Where had this abstract thinking been born out of if not the Johnny he had lost? “Yes … she … yes she was someone,” Officer Joseph said, but was thinking rather of who Johnny had been and not the woman … and whether he was back.
“Is, Dad,” Johnny said. “Is.”
“… Is?” Officer Joseph’s eyelids lifted his head as he ogled Johnny. Had God spoken to him through his son at that moment? He’d asked the question in his head and it seemed to be answered … but … but he had to think for a moment. He shouldn’t get his hopes up that high. “Is?” He pondered the word and the surrounding context … and then … as reality slowly crept in and dawned on him like a searing migraine, he saw it as only a coincidence, a terrible, heartless coincidence that had happened, because he’d read it differently, because he wanted it to be different. Officer Joseph wanted to believe his son back … but that wasn’t it at all. It was only Johnny talking about the dead woman … only her … not a stupid hidden message he wanted to believe. His heart ached at the thought he’d almost fooled himself into having.
Officer Joseph pulled himself free from his labored shackles and replied, “O-okay … is. I’m, I’m sure she lives in her family’s hearts.”
“No!” Johnny shouted and Officer Joseph jumped and found himself forced into revisiting that foolhardy notion again. “She is,” Johnny said, “and doesn’t need their hearts.”
“J-J-Johnny, what a peculiar thing to say.” Officer Joseph was deluged in a swamp and trapped in a maze of disturbing and elated emotions and ideas, trying to hold the conversation with whichever Johnny was there, but which one he hadn’t yet figured out. “I … I don’t think I follow you.”
“Come to the station,” Johnny said.
“Where Johann is,” Johnny answered.
“Johann!?! No, I’m sure the body is in the morgue,” Officer Joseph quickly replied, “and I don’t want you seeing it anyway.”
“No …” Johnny shook his head with an adult’s understanding. “No, Dad … so let’s go to the station … okay?” Johnny said. “Not the morgue, I … I want you to see my work.”
Officer Joseph’s posture was crumbling, his uniform’s top button had popped, and his left eye wanted to change sockets with his right. “J-Johnny.” His head rattled despairingly side to side though his heart wanted to believe. “Johnny…”
“… P-please, Daddy,” Johnny said … and it was all too clear with those words. Johnny sounded unmistakably like the child, who Officer Joseph had learned to accept as a replacement for the older version of his son he’d lost in the accident … but yet, as the officer’s body melted almost to tears, he would not nor could not lose his hope again, his son. There was a ghost in his brain. For when Johnny had finished school and had asked him if he could go to the academy … he’d hauntingly sounded … just the same.
(To Be Continued)