Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Thief in a Brown Suit

Sandra Heck


“Momma, please don’t make me get out here.”

Everything in my fifteen-year-old soul was crying out, “No! Not here.”

Momma narrowed her eyes with contempt. She had three fidgety kids in the yellow Ford station wagon. To her, it was economical to stop on Main Street across from U-Save. I could run in, get the shampoo, and meet her in the Whiteway parking lot. We would be home in ten minutes. It didn’t make sense that I seemed glued to the seat, unable or unwilling to move.

“Open that door and get out! There’s cars behind me.”

“But, Momma. Just let me off at the red light, please.” I didn’t know why, but I sensed something awful was about to happen.

“Get out of this damn car right now!”

Reluctantly, I pulled the handle and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Within seconds, it happened. The thing my soul tried to save me from.

A short man in a wrinkled, dirty brown suit staggered up to me. Reeking of alcohol, he slurred, “I’ve got a check for $28.00. How about it?”

I froze.

All I could see was his greasy brown hair, muddy brown eyes, and filthy fingernails.
How about it?” Oh, Lord! I had just stopped playing with Barbies. Dirty brown suits and sex did not exist in my Disney-McDonald’s-and-Jesus world.

Shocked and humiliated, I stepped away and somehow made it across traffic to U-Save. In a daze, I stood before the hair care aisle. I couldn’t see, couldn’t move. Everything looked blurry.

The clerk gently came up and asked, “Did that guy say something to you?”

I just nodded and burst out in tears. I felt sick.

Then the phone rang. Mr. Nelson, who ran the Corner News across the street, had seen everything and called to see if I was OK.

I was afraid to leave the store, but the clerk told me she would watch the man, so I could go to the car. I raced the short distance to the parking lot and jumped in the front seat.

Mom was already in reverse when she finally stopped and looked at my red eyes and nose. After I quickly blurted out the fragments through my sobs, she backed out of the lot faster than I have ever seen her and pulled onto Main Street.

As we stopped at the central intersection in front of the courthouse, we could see him standing and joking with all the other losers who watched life pass by.

“Is that him?” she asked.

I couldn’t speak, but managed to move my head up and down.

We raced to the sheriff’s department and talked to Sheriff Bill Nelms who happened to be a family friend. My little sister had played with his daughter Amy many times both at our home and his. He told us to stay there, and he would go and pick up this man himself.

A short time later, I had to enter a room and identify him out of a quickly formed lineup. Of course, it was easy to spot him in that dingy brown suit beside the hastily gathered officers. The hard part was being three feet away and having to point at his grimy face.

The next day, Mom took me to Larry Boyd, one of the best lawyers in town, who explained the court process and my having to testify. Alone in my room that night, I wrote down those horrible words on a daily calendar, so I wouldn’t forget (as if I could).

We didn’t speak of it at home, which added to my shame. At times, I felt like I had done something wrong. My younger siblings became very quiet when I walked by and looked at me funny.

When my friends at school asked why I was leaving early, I told them I had to go to the doctor. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t tell them I would be testifying against the man who propositioned me on Main Street.

It was very scary to be in a huge oak paneled courtroom with him there. The judge glowered down at me from his lofty height and formal robes. Mr. Boyd seemed cold and distant, much different than he had been in his office. Everyone’s eyes were on me; I was extremely nervous and intimidated.

Placing my shaking hand on the Bible, I swore to tell the truth. It would be much easier to tell the truth to these strangers instead of my friends.

The man was found guilty of public intoxication and attempting to solicit a minor. He was given some jail time; however, the sheriff delivered a verbal lashing that showed his protectiveness as a father and the anger of a law man. He forbade him to ever step foot in our town again. When I left that day, I finally felt safe.

We never discussed the incident at home. I never told my friends. And I never bought anything brown.

About six years later, I drove through town, and there he was, brown suit and all on the corner with the Losers Club. Unfortunately, Sheriff Nelms had passed away from a heart attack, so there would be no line up, jail time, or verbal lashing this time.

I can’t remember the man’s face, yet I can never forget how those nine words changed my life forever.

They robbed me of precious days in a world without predators. They made me feel guilty when I had done nothing wrong. They made me feel shame when I was the victim.

But most of all, the man in the brown suit stole my innocence.

And Momma was his accomplice.

***

Sandra Heck is active in the Appalachian Writers Association conferences, has attended a Tennessee Mountain Writer's workshop with Bill Brown, and belongs to the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She published 3 articles in the recently released Encyclopedia of Appalachia and has published a poem and an article in ACLA-Lines: Journal of the Assembly for the Literature and Culture of Appalachia. She also won second place in fiction in the Gatlinburg Library Writing Contest and has contributed an article to the local newspaper, Mountain Press.

© Sandra Heck

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012