This Ain’t Belle’s Rose, Adriana Barker
A young man named Rosko Ivanovich stomps his feet on the fifth stair leading up to a condemned Russian Orthodox church in order to increase the blood flow to his numb feet. The church is situated on a street corner in the stale coal town of Irwin, Pennsylvania. A siren wails in the distance. Rosko tugs the glove from his right hand and warms his stiff fingers with his breath before withdrawing a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his coat pocket. He sits on the seventh stair and hunches over the pack as he picks at the corner of the cellophane with his thumbnail. A man wearing a blazer and overcoat walks by Rosko and nods politely. The man’s leather shoes clack loudly on the sidewalk. Rosko nods back, pulls out a cigarette, and lights it.
The man in the blazer and leather shoes is named Warren Davis. Warren Davis is a TV location scout. A cable network recently ordered a pilot for a post-apocalyptic drama in which a mysterious virus wipes out the majority of Earth’s population. The show will take place in a fictional small town called Sanctum where all the residents are immune to the virus for a strange reason, which will be revealed in the season finale.
He is walking toward his car two blocks away to draft his notes. He plans to write, “The economy of Irwin, Pennsylvania is suffering from the decline of coal and the low population does not generate the tax revenue necessary to maintain the town’s infrastructure. The locals dress modestly and plainly. They wear hardened expressions that crack with the occasional guarded smile. When they laugh, their whole bodies quake with an inexplicable, escaping joy. When their bodies come to rest, they look around, confused, as if they have already forgotten what it is that caused such an outburst.” Warren Davis will argue that Irwin could provide an excellent setting for the show’s pilot. The disrepair of the town parallels the destruction of the world outside as it is ravaged by the mysterious virus and the locals will provide extras whose appearance and behavior mirror those of confused survivors. As he turns the corner, Warren Davis smiles contentedly to himself.
Down the street and around the corner from the condemned Russian Orthodox Church is Irwin’s local Fine Wine and Good Spirits. On the sidewalk outside the liquor store, a man lies in a puddle of blood under a sign that reads “Wild Turkey 101 for $20!”. The man’s name is Paul Kerwin. His arm is extended over his head. A single, curled finger points in the direction of Warren Davis on the street corner.
Paul Kerwin has a bullet lodged in his left lung. He tries to draw a pained, wet breath but the lung has just collapsed. Cold air catches in his throat. Paul Kerwin coughs a thick splatter of blood into a split in the white pavement where a few pebbles of rock salt have settled, which . Paul Kerwin scattered them in front of the store earlier this afternoon when he saw that the forecast called for a snowstorm tonight.
A woman named Grace Meyers is kneeling next to Paul Kerwin., Hher hands are positioned against his ribcage above the wound, just as she learned in nursing school. She is saying things like, “It’s going to be okay;” “Don’t move, I need to apply pressure;.” “Oh my God, there’s so much blood;.” “Shh, shh, don’t say anything. Just breathe;.” “It’s going to be okay.” Her phone rests on the ground by her knee. The screen is smudged with blood. Grace Meyers has just called 911.
Grace Meyers was born in Adamsburg, a short drive from Irwin down Lincoln Highway. Grace Meyers takes one hand from Paul Kerwin’s chest for a moment to brush a wisp of hair out of her eye. She thinks about her mother’s small Cape Cod in Adamsburg.
Cape Cod houses are sometimes designed so that the upper level is one large room. When a baby sleeps in that large upper room, it is important to remember to secure the child safety gate at the top of the stairs. When Grace was ten years old, her mother asked Grace to take her baby sister, Mary-Lynn, upstairs for a nap. Grace’s mother didn’t want to miss any of her soap. Young Grace thought the gate was locked snugly in place at notch #6. However, when Mary-Lynn woke half an hour later and toddled to the top of the stairs, she leaned against the gate and it slipped from its position between the two jambs.
Mary-Lynn’s neck was broken by the time her body came to rest on the landing. The paramedics said she didn’t suffer. She would have experienced a moment of confusion as she fell, but before her small brain could have fired off another thought, it was over.
Grace blamed herself, and her mother blamed her as well. Grace’s father blamed his wife for not putting Mary-Lynn to bed herself. The summer after Grace turned eleven, her father was laid off from the Honeywell factory. Grace came downstairs during the day to find her mother lying on the sofa in her pajamas, as always, and her father standing by the television, one hand on his hip, the other pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Veronica,” he said in a voice so low Grace could hardly hear him over the sound of The Young and the Restless. “Why do you have to watch this show?”
Grace’s mother’s expression changed suddenly. She shouted, “If you’re thinking something, just say it!”
“I think you do nothing anymore but lie around, watching this fucking show,” Grace’s father replied, still as a stone, and speaking in the same level-toned voice.
“Speak up,” Grace’s mother said through clenched teeth. “I can’t hear you. I can never fucking hear you.”
Grace’s father finally raised his voice, “Because you won’t turn down the television!”
Grace’s mother threw the television remote at her father’s head, hitting his upper lip and drawing blood. He left that night and didn’t return for three days. He left for good a year later. Once he found a new apartment and a new job in Pittsburgh, Grace went to live with him. She never heard from her mother until years later when Grace was in nursing school. Grace’s mother called to tell Grace she was on a new medication and that she’d like to get lunch. Grace agreed and made the drive down to Adamsburg to meet her at a local diner.
Her mother asked about school, about the city, about her father. Grace asked about Adamsburg, about the Cape Cod house, about her aunt and grandparents. Her mother paid for lunch and they hugged before parting ways. Her mother said, “I love you, sweetie.” Grace said, “Bye, Veronica.” It was another two years before Grace saw her mother again. She received a call from a man named Bryan who called himself Veronica’s boyfriend. Veronica’s boyfriendBryan told Grace that her mother had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and that the doctors weren’t giving her much time.
Grace drove to the hospital and found her mother in bed with an oxygen tube under her nose and a morphine drip in her arm. A man who Grace judged must have been in his sixties was sitting by the window, chin in hand. They were both watching Dallas. When the man saw Grace, he stood and held out a hand.
“Hi, I’m Veronica’s boyfriend. We talked over the phone.” Grace thought he looked old and very sad. But his eyes and his smile were kind.
Grace shook his hand. “Thank you for taking care of my mother.”
Grace pulled a chair up to her mother’s bedside.
Her mother said, “Thank you for coming.”
Grace replied, “Of course.”
They talked for half an hour about the city, about Adamsburg, about the Cape Cod, about happy memories of trips to the park and the stormy nights Grace would spend in her parents’ bed and the family vacation to Cape May. The morphine began to weigh heavily on Grace’s mother’s eyelids.
“I think we’d better let her sleep,” Veronica’s boyfriend said gently.
“Wait, Mom,” said Grace, taking her mother’s thin hand. “I need to know if you forgive me.”
Grace’s mother looked away. “For what, sweetie?”
“For Mary-Lynn, Mom.”
Grace watched her mother’s face crumple like paper.
“Oh sweetie,” her voice was far away. “That was so long ago.”
“Mom, I need you to tell me you forgive me. I need you to say it.”
Veronica’s boyfriend placed a hand on Grace’s arm. “She’s asleep. We should let her rest. You can come back tomorrow.”
When Grace returned the next afternoon, she found her mother had fallen into a coma. Within three days her mother was dead. Grace returned to Adamsburg to sell the Cape Cod. She lived in it while she packed her mother’s things and moved them into storage. She found a job at Irwin’s small UPMC branch. She had planned to move back to the city when she sold the house, but Grace found herself signing the lease for an apartment across the street from the Fine Wine and Good Spirits in Irwin.
Her father drove down to help her move in. He asked her, “Why would you want to come back to this dump?” He had hated living in Adamsburg. He only stayed because Grace’s mother refused to leave.
Grace told him, “Help me with the couch.”
Now, kneeling beside Paul Kerwin, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his chest, Grace thinks of the man who bought her mother’s house. She never met him, but Grace wonders if he has a family, if they’re happy. She sees them walk up and down the stairs, hears the floorboards of the landing creak. Grace thinks to herself, I never should have sold the house.
Paul Kerwin’s lips quiver and his throat gurgles. Grace says, “Shh, shh.” Before finding him on the sidewalk moments ago, Grace had never so much as spoken to Paul Kerwin. She knows him only as the liquor store clerk who works the afternoon shift and as a neighbor on the floor above her. He is middle-aged and keeps to himself. While bleeding air from Grace’s bedroom radiator, Grace’s landlord once complained to her that Paul Kerwin had spilled a bottle of rye whiskey all over the carpet and now the whole unit smelled and the stain wouldn’t come out.
Grace looks up at the liquor store. Through the glass doors, she can see broken bottles strewn across the floor. A scene briefly flashes through her mind of a gunman in a ski mask marching up to the cash counter and drawing a gun from his jacket. Paul throws up his hands, backs into the shelf of samplers, knocks them to the ground. The gunman shouts, “Open the fucking drawer!” Paul does as he is told, but something startles the gunman—a sound like a phone ringing, or nervous, sudden movement made by Paul. The gun goes off. Paul falls to the linoleum floor among the sampler bottles while the gunman stuffs his pockets with the contents of the open cash drawer. The gunman leaves. Paul manages to stand. He stumbles outside, knocking over more liquor bottles as he does, before collapsing on the pavement where Grace finds him when she pulls up to the curb in front of her apartment building and across the street from the Fine Wine and Good Spirits.
Grace looks away from the store and suddenly notices Warren Davis at the end of the street. She notices his shoes and blazer, his smile, the glaze over his eyes. Warren Davis does not yet see Grace Meyers. He is still mentally drafting his notes. Warren hears a siren in the distance. The wind blows, catching Rosko Ivanovich’s cigarette smoke and carrying it downwind toward Warren. Rosko’s cigarette burns quickly and unevenly. Warren covers his nose with a gloved hand and a chill seeps through his overcoat.
Warren misses California. He moved to Los Angeles after college twenty years ago in hopes of becoming a screenwriter. He worked on various movie sets as a grip for a few years. He was also the script manager of two independent films and several episodes of a television series. At the same time, he wrote his screenplays and pitched them to movie studios all over town. When it became apparent to Warren, after many rejections, that a studio would likely never be interested in one of his screenplays, he settled into a career of location scouting and has since enjoyed much success. It pleases him to see his locations transform into the settings of a film—Toronto transformed into New York City, Death Valley into the surface of Mars, Malibu into a tropical island.
Warren pulls his overcoat tighter around his waist. He called his wife this morning and she told him the weather forecast calls for a high of eighty-three over the weekend, which is hot even for Southern California this time of year. She is going to vacuum the bottom of their pool so they can swim when he gets back tomorrow afternoon.
A woman screams at the other end of the street, shaking Warren from his thoughts. He suddenly notices Paul Kerwin on the pavement a short distance away with his arm stretched over his head, curled finger pointing at him. He sees Grace Meyers bent over Paul with her hands pressed into his side and the woman who screamed standing frozen at the end of an alley across the street. The woman who screamed is named Cynthia Reeves. She is the wife of a stiff Baptist man named Samuel. She was born in South Carolina to a family living in a large plantation house situated in an area around Myrtle Beach that hadn’t yet been swallowed by the suburbs. Her father was a proud man. He was a real estate agent and the deacon of their church. He had a clear vision of the way the world ought to be and took every measure to shape the world such that it would fit that vision.
Cynthia’s mother was a quiet woman. When she thinks of her mother, Cynthia sees her sitting at the dinner table to her father’s right, looking intently at her food, glancing up briefly whenever her husband spokespeaks.
When Cynthia thinks of her childhood, she thinks of playing house with her older brother, Eli, in the old slave quarters which her family used for storage. She thinks of chasing him through the gardens and under the large gnarled oaks from which hung long dangles of Spanish moss. She thought the moss divided the light in beautiful ways when the sun set on clear evenings.
When Cynthia was thirteen, she walked in on her brother having sex with Stacy Cunningham from school. That night she touched herself for the first time. A week later, her father found Eli with Stacy. Cynthia woke to the sound of her quiet mother screaming and her father quoting The Book of Revelation in a strong voice: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.” Cynthia stood in the doorway of her bedroom as her father left Eli’s room, eyes fixed on something just above her head and very far away. Cynthia’s mother trailed closely behind him, her eyes fixed on nothing at all. Cynthia found Eli on the floor, his eye swollen shut, lip split and bleeding. Stacy Cunningham was wrapped in sheets, frozen and pale pressed into the bed’s headboard.
The day Eli graduated from high school, he and a friend moved to Atlanta and got jobs in construction building highway bridges and it was years before Cynthia saw him again. She was fifteen when he left. She began going to bonfire parties on the beach, staying out late with boys, showing up to church hungover or still drunk. One night, Cynthia stumbled through the front door, eyelids heavy, beer on her breath. Her father had heard her come in. He stood in the hallway, arms crossed. She closed the door and slumped against the wall.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
“Out,” she said, tilting her head back as if it were too heavy for her neck to support.
“You’ve been drinking,” her father said in a low voice.
Cynthia heaved toward the stairs, laughing in a tired, drunk way. Cynthia’s father grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “I am your father. You will respect me.”
She squinted at him and blinked hard. His bifocals made his eyes look bug-like. She laughed again. He reared back and slapped her. The force sent her to the floor, but she’d drunk so much she hardly felt it. She looked up at him. She thought of her brother. Daughters don’t fear their fathers the way sons are bred to.
“You look old,” Cynthia said.
Cynthia met Samuel at one of the bonfire parties. He was from Georgetown, visiting Myrtle Beach with his family. Cynthia and Samuel made out in the sand away from everyone else at the party. It wasn’t long before Samuel was driving up from Georgetown every weekend to see her. When Cynthia was seventeen, she and Samuel decided to get married so she dropped out of school and they moved as far away as they could. They lived in various cities and towns across Virginia and Maryland before eventually settling in Irwin where Samuel found steady work in the mine. The mine hardened him. He became a proud man. He bought Cynthia a nice house on Oak Street. He took Cynthia to the First Baptist Church on Sundays.
Cynthia often retraces her steps as if she lost something. She doesn’t know how anyone comes to live in a place like Irwin. She misses the South, the Spanish moss, the old plantation house, her brother. Sometimes she even misses her father, though she doesn’t know why. The first time Cynthia slept with another man, it was a few months after her first son was born. The man was a young gas station clerk. Cynthia had noticed him looking at her in a way that Samuel never did anymore. The gas station clerk came to Cynthia’s house while when Samuel was at work and while her son was napping in the nursery. As Cynthia undressed, she could hear her father’s strong voice in her head: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars…”
Samuel didn’t find out. Proud men protect themselves from certain truths. Cynthia continued to see the gas station clerk. As time went on, she saw other men as well. She felt guilty for what she was doing to Samuel. She convinced herself that this must mean she still loves him.
Today she is walking home from the house of one of her lovers whose name is Vern Pearce. Samuel is at work, her two boys are at school. Vern is an older, twice-divorced gentleman. He smells of vanilla cigars and Cynthia likes his record collection from which he will take a different album to play each time they make love. Today he put on Led Zeppelin II. She has her hands tucked into the pockets of her coat and the lyric, “Oh the wind won’t blow and we really shouldn’t go,” from “What Is and What Should Never Be” is running through her head when she emerges from the alley behind Vern Pearce’s house and sees Paul Kerwin and Grace Meyers a block away, blood pooling beneath them both and , soaking Grace Meyers’s knees. Cynthia screams.
Grace Meyers turns away from Warren Davis and calls to her, “Ma’am, can you help me?”
Cynthia shakes her head and begins to back away.
Grace says, “Wait!”
Cynthia is ashamed of herself for screaming. She turns and hurries away in the opposite direction. She will take the long way home. Her husband will be back from the mine soon.
On the other end of the street, the content smile on Warren Davis’s face has melted and hardened. He runs to Paul Kerwin’s side.
“Can you help me apply pressure?” Grace asks as Warren kneels beside her. Warren takes off his gloves and places his hands above hers. Sharp granules of ice melt and salt digs into Warren Davis’s slacks.
“What happened?” Warren asks.
Grace replies, “I heard a gunshot and I found him here when I got home from work.” Warren had heard the gunshot as well. He thought it was a hunter in the nearby game lands. Grace eyes his hands, “Are you pressing?”
Warren says, “Yes.”
“Okay, I’m going to take my hands away and examine the wound.”
Warren nods. Grace removes her hands and lifts Paul’s uniform shirt. She looks at his chest for a moment. She pulls his shirt back down and sits back on her heels. She presses the back of her wrist to her brow.
“Is it bad?”
“He has a tension pneumothorax,” Grace tells him.
“He doesn’t have long.”
“The ambulance is almost here,” Warren says.
Grace shakes her head. “It’ll be too late.”
Warren leans down and says to Paul, “Who did this?”
Paul coughs another splatter of blood onto the sidewalk. His eyes are looking at something very far away. Warren gets closer to him, places a hand on his cheek.
“Tell me, who shot you?”
Paul’s eyes focus on Warren for a moment. He struggles. Warren puts his ear to Paul’s mouth.
Paul manages one rattling syllable: “Young.”
Paul Kerwin’s tongue continues to move behind his lips, forming the word “young” over and over again. Though he only succeeds in producing a gagging sound. The world begins to shrink around him and suddenly he is seven years old on the playground seesaw. It’s first-grade recess at Irwin Elementary. He and the little boy on the other end of the seesaw play with gravity like a toy, pushing off the ground and returning. Now he is nine years old looking through his father’s telescope in the backyard at the rings of Saturn. “Do you see them?” his father asks, stooped beside Paul with his hands on his knees. Paul does his best to nod while keeping his eye glued to the telescope’s eyepiece. “Astronomers think the rings were once a moon that got too close.” Now he is ten, at Macy’s with his parents, picking out shoes for his grandmother’s funeral. He pulls on a pair and ties the laces. His mother says, “Let me see you walk in them.” Now he is thirteen, working up the courage to kiss Sarah Klinger for the first time. They are sitting on the roof outside Sarah’s bedroom, watching the sunset. She nudges him with her shoulder. He looks at her and she smiles at him in a way that fills Paul with courage. Now he’s fifteen, chasing two Oxys with a beer at Charlie Fetterman’s house. Now he’s sixteen, shouting at his father, “I cannot wait to leave this fucking town!” Now he’s seventeen and he crashes his mother’s Chevy, breaking his arm in three places and his hip in two. Now he’s eighteen and his parents kick him out of the house, so he finds a small basement apartment on Second Street. Now he’s twenty-one and Evey Chase is pregnant. She tells him it’s his so earns his GED and takes up two jobs to pay child support. Now he’s thirty, and his knees ache from constantly bending down to stock shelves during his long shifts at the liquor store. He tells his coworkers he wishes he were young again. Now he’s thirty-three, bleeding out on the sidewalk, struggling to draw breath. He wishes he weren’t still so young.
Warren says to Paul, “The person who shot you is young?”
Paul’s eyes roll back into his head.
An ambulance and two police cruisers appear at the end of the street. “Thank God,” Grace says. When they pull up to the liquor store, the EMTs begin examining Paul Kerwin as Grace explains to them the nature of the wound. They ask her to please back away. The police officers question Grace and Warren. Warren explains that when he asked Paul who shot him, Paul said, “Young,” The officers nod and take notes. They radio for backup. Warren also tells the officers that Paul’s arm had been extended, as if pointing toward the street corner. Warren remembers the young man sitting on the stairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. He gives the officers a description of the young man. The officers recover the weapon inside the liquor store—a handgun with a scratched-off serial number.
As dispatch begins to search the area, two officers, Ramsay and Peterson, quickly find Rosko Ivanovich sitting on the seventh step of the church. With hands on their guns, they get out of their cruiser.
Officer Peterson says, “‘Afternoon, son.” Rosko nods politely and takes a drag from his cigarette. Officer Peterson continues, “Would you mind coming down to the station with us to answer a few questions?”
Rosko doesn’t move. He takes another drag from his cigarette and ashes it with a flick of his thumb.
Three blocks east from the condemned church lives an octogenarian named Bertram Thomas. He is sitting in a large reclining chair by his living room window. A few moments from now Bertram Thomas will finish a novel he plucked from between a silver candelabra and a dusty chipped tea set arranged on a card table at a neighbor’s yard sale in October. He will arrive at the final line of the final page of the novel, exhale a deep sigh, and think to himself that the book is perhaps the finest book he’s ever read. He will consider all the books he has read in his many years of life and conclude with a firm and visible nod of his head that indeed, yes, this book is the finest book he has ever read. So beautiful in its conception and execution, he will find himself nearly moved to tears.
Bertram will think of himself as a boy, running after his father in the north hayfield of the family farm. His father grew up in the Ggreat Ddepression and served in the Second World War as a naval officer. He was stationed on a battleship that sustained heavy damage at the hands of Kamikaze fighters off the coast of Okinawa. Bertram’s father was drafted before Bertram was old enough to remember him. So, his mother raised him on stories about his father’s heroics in the war. But when his father returned and young Bertram met him for what felt like the first time, he didn’t recognize the man standing before him with hardened eyes and a face creased and crumpled, like balled-up paper. His lips had thinned, and Bertram came to fear when they curled in cruel ways.
Bertram will close his book and set it on the table beside his cup of cold coffee. He will lean back in his chair and think of himself as a boy trying to reconcile the hero from his mother’s stories and the flesh-and-blood man who returned from the war. He will think of his mother’s faraway voice telling him how his father had carried his fellow soldier to a lifeboat after a Kamikaze plane crashed into the hull of his ship. He will think of the man who returned from war walking into the hayfields when the hay was nearly ready to harvest, a faraway look in his eyes, a heaviness in his step while young Bertram chased him. He will think of selling his father’s farm after he died of a stroke while sipping a whiskey on his sofa in front of the television. Bertram will interlock his fingers and rest his hands on his belly and recite the last line of the book he will have just finished over and over in his mind—“I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later…”—before thinking to himself, I am unhappy with my life, and falling into a peaceful, open-mouthed, afternoon nap.
Two minutes from now, Paul Kerwin will be pronounced dead in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Five minutes from now, Cynthia Reeves will walk through her front door to find her husband sitting at the kitchen table. Without looking at his wife, Samuel will say, “Where have you been?”
Cynthia will say, “Why aren’t you at work?”
An hour from now, Rosko Ivanovich will be arrested for the murder of Paul Kerwin after refusing to answer any of the officers’ questions, his bail set at a hundred thousand dollars. Unable to post bail, he will sit in prison for seven months until his court date arrives. The prosecution will have the difficult task of convincing a jury that a young man with no criminal record and no apparent motive murdered a liquor store clerk whom, as far as anyone knew, Rosko had never met. Rosko’s public defender will note that the cash register was untouched and all that was found on Rosko’s person was a wallet with his ID, a cell phone that unlocked with his fingerprint, and a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Forensics will be unable to pull any prints from the gun.
In order to tie Rosko to the crime, the prosecution will dig deeply into Rosko’s life. They will find that his parents immigrated to the States three years before Rosko was born and they lived in Irwin for about twelve years. Rosko’s parents abandoned him at the age of nine not long after the Russian Orthodox Church closed its doors. Child Protective Services never located them, it was assumed they moved back to Russia. Rosko was in and out of various foster homes in the Pittsburgh area. When he turned eighteen, he moved back to Irwin where he worked in the mine until being let go a month before Paul Kerwin’s murder for reckless endangerment while operating the coal shearer. He hadn’t paid his rent in two months and his landlord was threatening to evict him.
The prosecution will argue that it was a botched robbery. He hadn’t intended to shoot Paul Kerwin, he only wanted the money in the cash register. But somehow the gun went off, he panicked, and fled the scene without even touching the register. There were no prints on the gun because he had been wearing gloves. He hadn’t targeted Paul Kerwin, Paul Kerwin was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The defense will argue that it was Rosko who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The evidence presented is only circumstantial. Rosko’s public defender will ask the jury, “If Rosko had just committed a murder and was fleeing the scene, why did he stop running only a block away from the liquor store?” The public defender will pause to examine the blank expressions of the jury and then add for emphasis, “No guilty criminal would do that.”
But the motive combined with the circumstantial evidence of Warren Davis’s testimony will be enough to convince the jury that Rosko is guilty of second-degree murder. Rosko Ivanovich will be sentenced to a minimum of fifteen years in prison and a maximum of fifty.
Fifteen years and seven months from now, Rosko Ivanovich will be released on parole for good behavior.
But at this moment, Bertram Thomas is reading the second-to-last sentence of the finest book he has ever read. He glances up and notices a middle-aged man in a sweatshirt walking quickly past his house, in the direction opposite the Fine Wine and Good Spirits where an EMT is slicing a hole between two of Paul Kerwin’s ribs and inserting a wide catheter.
Paul Kerwin’s blood has dried on Warren Davis’s skin and begun to flake. Warren tries to mentally revise his notes as he and Grace Meyers are driven to the police station to give their statements. On the way, they pass the condemned Russian Orthodox Church around the corner. Warren watches as Officers Ramsay and Peterson draw their guns. Officer Anderson says to Rosko, “Listen son, we’re not fucking around. Put your hands behind your head and get on the ground.”
Rosko lifts his cigarette to his mouth and pulls until the filter sizzles and he tastes a sharpness in the back of his throat. Something cold touches his cheek. He looks up. It has begun to snow. He exhales a long breath of smoke and flicks his used cigarette butt away.
About the Author
Jacob Dimpsey · Susquehanna University
Jacob Dimpsey is a recent graduate of Susquehanna University where he earned his BA in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in Flock Literary Journal and this poem was previously published in Susquehanna University’s undergraduate literary journal, Rivercraft.
About the Artist
Adriana Barker · Hope College
Adriana Barker is a creative writing and communication double major and a proud member of the Hope College class of 2023. She is currently the Opus Literary Magazine Poetry Editor and an intern with the Visiting Writers Series (VWS) at Hope College. See more of her photography work on her Instagram @adrianabarkerphotography, and more of her written work on her website https://adrianarosebarker.wixsite.com/myportfolio. “This Ain’t Belle’s Rose” first appeared in Opus Literary Magazine.