Monument Garden

by Austin I Pullé

1,420 words

Evan Meredith brushed off the snowflakes off his black hoodie. His mother, Anabel, wore a pair of Guess jeans and a fur coat. She looked like the heiress-model that his father married twenty-five years ago. He noticed the lone cardinal perched on the “Private Property – No Trespassing” sign. The bright red colour of the bird matched the colour of his cap. Trim and athletic, Evan was, at six feet, a few inches taller than his mother and a few inches shorter than Beau, his father, the senior partner of the downtown law firm of Meredith & Abbot.

Evan knew the ins and outs of the Last Stand Confederate Park in the outskirts of Fayetteville.  His parents first brought him there when he was only five. He still remembered the times his mother reverently placed a wreath at the foot of the Robert E Lee statue to celebrate Lee’s  birthday on January 19.

Now, Evan, attending UVA, marched with the BLM crowd and pro-Palestinian students calling the president “Genocide Joe”. UVA police twice arrested him for disorderly conduct during such demonstrations but they released him with a warning after he asked them to read the First Amendment. He squirmed when he saw his mother plant a small Confederate flag with such reverence at the base of the Lee statue.

“He was a traitor who fought for the right to own humans as property,” he told his mother, shaking his head in disgust. His mother held his freckled hand.

 “Don’t forget Lee was the one standing between Sherman and your ancestors,” she said.  He knew that one of his mother’s ancestors was a confederate general who was killed in battle. His portrait dominated their living room. 

Anabelle’s eyes were tearing. Evan hugged her, “Mom, I’m sorry.” She hugged him tight. “I understand. It’s not your fault. Those woke professors!”

Evan looked around fearing that Undine, the light skinned daughter of Janelle, a leading light of the BLM chapter, might be around. She often drove past the park on her way to work. Janelle, who once worked as a paralegal for Beau, did not want the word “Meredith” spoken in her household and would find ways to snub Evan.

“Evan’s cut out from the same Confederate cloth of his parents,” Janelle once told Undine. “If you are to be a part of us, you must break up with him.”

“I can never do that; I’ll never ever do that. Evan and I are one,” Undine said, her face scrunched with pain and wiping her eyes brimming with tears with the sleeve of her lavender coloured dress.

 “After your father hit me and stormed out the house when I brought you back as a baby from the hospital, we now only have each other. I can’t lose you to them my baby,” Janelle said holding Undine’s face to hers.

“Evan’s my soulmate,” Undine said.

“Don’t buy that New Age rubbish. Like all white guys, he sees you as good for one thing only. He will dump you after that.”

“Don’t be a racist. Evan loves me, he even loves you despite  your insults. He’s a gentle caring soul.”

“Really? Then ask him to walk the talk.”

“Walk the talk? He will walk on burning coals for me! He’ll rush into a burning house to rescue me!”

“Let’s not talk fires,” she told her daughter, “Just ask him to prove that he really loves you.”

“What? How?”

She told Undine.

A few days later, Judge Mendez, an alumnus of the Meredith law firm, called the court to order. Because Mendez could not meet his quota of billable hours, Beau had met the governor, a fellow member of the Federalist Society, and got Mendez appointed to the bench despite the Arkansas Bar Association giving him an “unqualified” rating.

Undine and Evan sat at the defendant’s table. The public gallery was full. On either side of the oak bench of the judge were flagpoles with the Stars and Stripes and the Arkansas flag with its four stars in the red background. The judge scratched his nut brown acne scarred cheek and put on his tortoiseshell reading glasses. The chandelier in the middle of the court made the judge’s bald head shine.

The court clerk, a mousy man in a plaid jacket and shiny navy polyester slacks, read the charges of trespass and attempted vandalism. The state was charging Evan and Undine with attempting to vandalize the Robert E Lee statue by spray painting graffiti on its base. For most Arkansans, this was a hanging offence.

“How do you plead?” the court clerk asked the pair.

Evan, wearing an UVA sweatshirt and khaki pants, stood up. Undine looked like a model in her navy jeans and white blouse, turned looked at  Janelle, and stood.

Undine said, “Not guilty.”  The public defender whispered to her as she sat down.

Evan said, “Guilty, Undine’s innocent. She was trying to stop me.”

“Because you’re a juvenile, I’ll put that plea on hold,” the judge announced.

District Attorney Bettina Crow laid out the case. Someone with a burner phone called and warned Anabelle that a vandal would spray paint the Robert E, Lee statue.  Anabelle immediately called the FPD and asked them to stake out the park. At 9:00 PM, Evan and Undine entered the park after closing hours. As they approached the statue, police swooped down on them. Undine threw down a can of spray paint. Evan told the cops that the can of paint was his and that Undine joined him at the last minute.  

The deputy loaded them into the cruiser and took them to the precinct, finger printed them, and took swabs from their mouths for DNA samples as required by law.

Morgan Huckabee III, a silver haired litigator from the Meredith firm, stood up and in booming voice said, “Your Honor, I move to dismiss!”

Beau, seated in the public gallery in his pin-striped navy Brooks Brothers suit, twirled his red necktie on his white shirt, and nodded in approval. Anabelle adjusted her mink stole on a Christian Dior blouse, and squeezed his hand. She looked at Janelle, seated on the same row, who wore a faux leopard skin jacket and curled her lips in scorn. Janelle glared at Anabelle who fingered her diamond necklace and smirked.

“Dismiss? On what grounds?” the judge asked

“The state, Your Honor,” Huckabee said, “is bound by law to provide all the evidence supporting the charges, including evidence that might exonerate my client. This the state hasn’t done.”

“Nonsense your honour,” Bettina Crow, the prosecutor, snapped. “We have given the defence everything we have.”  At little over five feet, she exuded a “take no prisoners” approach.

“Rubbish,” Huckabee roared. “Our experts examined the reports. How come the DNA report shows that the two people involved are half-brother and sister? This is horse manure!” he continued and threw a file of papers onto the floor. “The chain of custody, the evidence has been corrupted. This case must be dismissed.”

Judge Mendez furtively exchanged a look with Beau. They both smiled although no one noticed.

“Give me that DNA report,” Mendez snapped at the clerk who handed him some papers. He went through the file shaking his head as he read the papers. The reporters in the court frantically made notes on their tablets. A cough broke the silence. Undine, her eyebrows raised, glanced at Evan not bothering to hide her shock. She then removed from her finger the ring that Evan gave her and laid it on the table in front of her. The light from the chandelier made her skin on her hand look like the colour of Manuka honey.

Finally, Judge Mendez finished reading the report and shook his head in pretended disbelief. He sighed and looked up. “Case dismissed,” he announced.

“Objection Your Honor, this is ridiculous!” Bettina, her face flushed red with anger, shouted.

“Sit down counsel before you commit contempt. Now!” barked Menendez.

The prosecutor scowled at Huckabee who slyly gave her the finger.

Undine now knew why her mother bought a burner phone from Amazon. Anabelle looked at Beau, her blue eyes like sparkling diamonds but glittering with fury. Beau looked away as blood rushed to his face. Morgan Huckabee looked first at Beau and then at Janelle, then glanced, with a seemingly casual glance at Evan and Undine.

         As Mendez concluded the hearing and left the court, everyone stood. Evan and Undine tentatively hugged each other. But for the first time not as lovers.