By Lisa Lutwyche
It’s risky telling this story because I’m a female police officer, but it’s also impossible to deny. Before I hardened my heart to protect myself, before the years of forcing myself to be always impartial, I might have convinced myself I’d imagined it all. But I wasn’t alone, even if they refuse to talk about it. I’ve been silent because of my career, but I can’t do it anymore.
Because when it rains, I remember. Just like him.
That night, twenty years ago, is wet, messy, and bone chilling, despite the fact that it’s spring. I’m drinking coffee with the inevitable results. Returning from my third trip to the bathroom, they’re cocking their eyebrows at me. None of the guys are dashing off as often as I am. I’m the only woman on the shift but they know they can’t comment on it. And I’m a rookie.
A gentleman comes in, looking like my grandmother’s expression about what the proverbial cat dragged in. And he’s mine. I have front desk duty. He’s older, well-dressed, nice Rolex watch, lightweight wool sports coat, but he’s disheveled. Clearly in distress. He’s twisting something in his hands that I don’t recognize right away. I try to catch a look.
When I realize what it is I feel my stomach hit the floor. The coffee rises to the back of my throat. I swallow, hard.
It’s a little girl’s shoe with pink flowers all over it.
“Sir,” I say to him. “Have a seat over here and I’ll get you some coffee.”
I try not to look at that shoe. I see that his hands are shaking. At about the same time I notice mine are, too. I’m glad to step away for the coffee, the smell of which now bothers me.
“Here you go, sir.”
He looks up like he’s going to thank me. He takes the cup in his hand, the one that’s not holding the tiny pink shoe.
But instead of thanking me he says, “Do you think she’ll go away if I tell the story?”
I’m scared to ask. “Who, sir?”
“The little girl’s ghost.”
I sit down in my desk chair so hard there’s an audible thump. A couple of the other cops by the coffee pot look over at me. One of them laughs. I’m the rookie, after all. “Oh yeah,” I think. “They love it when I’ve got one of the crazies to deal with.”
I look away from him and start typing, partly just for something to do. “Okay, sir. Let’s start at the beginning.” I don’t know what kind of report to write here. How to categorize it? Crazy guy. Little girl’s ghost. I can hear the Sergeant now. Part of me wants to chase him away. Scold him for wasting our time. But the little shoe scares me. I can’t just let him go.
“Stevenson,” he says. “Ralph Stevenson.”
He’s gulping coffee that’s so hot it would strip paint, so hot my eyes water watching him. As he crushes the Styrofoam cup in his shoeless hand he catches me gaping.
“Will you make her leave me alone?” His voice is even and calm, but not his eyes. “Every time it rains … she comes in the rain and she stands there, all quiet, staring at me, staring all wet and quiet. Can you make her stay away from me?”
“Sure thing, sir.” I realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. “We’ll make her go away, sir, but first I need to know all about both of you.”
“Both of us? Oh. Well, I don’t know her name.” Stevenson sighs, hangs his head. “I only know I killed her at the intersection of Maple and High last Saturday.”
I gasp aloud. I can’t describe the reaction I had in any other way. My hands freeze over the keyboard. Literally and figuratively. The blood is gone from my fingers.
“Do you hear me? Are you hearing me?”
His voice is hoarse and resounds, cutting off everything else. A hush comes over the precinct, as if his voice has sucked them all inside his world. “I killed her. In the storm, the big thunderstorm … She ran out. So small. So quick. Bang! And then I couldn’t see her anymore. Why was she even there? Alone in the rain like that?”
He quiets, changing his voice to an intimate pitch. As if it’s just for me. He leans in, nearly resting his forehead on my desk, where my hands are still poised in the air, waiting for my command. I am fixed on the little shoe. Hypnotized by the tiny flowers.
“There,” he says, flat again. “I’ve told you. Now. Make her stop.”
I’m a rookie when all this happens. They’re all watching me. I find myself wondering if it’s some sort of initiation.
“Right. Sure thing, Mr. Stevenson.”
I start typing again, as if this is the sort of report I write every day. I want to yell at the other officers. Tell them they’ve had their chuckles, now come help me. I catch the eye of my partner, Joe, who’s a ten-year veteran. He’s not laughing. Joe marches over to Stevenson and me.
“Officer Derry here is going to take you downstairs,” Joe says, cheerfully. “I’m afraid you’ll need to stay with us for a little while.”
Joe grips my shoulder and says, quietly, “Book him for leaving the scene for now. Look under unsolved vehicular manslaughter.” He whispers, “Good work, Derry.”
And he walks off.
Ralph Stevenson raises his head. His eyes are full of tears. “I know I shouldn’t have left her there. I didn’t know what to do. We were alone. It was raining so hard. I was afraid to touch her. I knew I should pick her up, call an ambulance. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I picked up her shoe. I got back in my car. That’s why she follows me.”
Stevenson is all hunched over now. I ask him to take off his hat. He does. We take off his watch, his ring, which sticks. He complies without looking at me, except for a glimmer when I ask him for his belt. He unthreads it slowly after rising to his feet.
I notice the precinct is totally silent. Even the inevitable, loudmouthed hooker, who’d been swearing in the corner like a movie cliché, is mute. I realize they’ve all heard it. I look at Stevenson with his hat off, bald, vulnerable head bowed. I try to take the little shoe from him but he won’t let go.
“It’s evidence,” I plead. In the end I don’t have the heart to take it. Joe takes it, gently, when we get him to his holding cell. We give him his own cell because word has already spread that we have a child killer. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t apply downstairs.
In his cell he sits on the narrow bench, head in hands.
“Are you all right, Mr. Stevenson?”
It’s funny. I mean he killed a little girl and left her in the rain. That makes him lower than the lowest sort of monster. But he’s so pathetic. I start to walk away because he hasn’t answered.
I stop and turn.
“Whenever it rains she comes to me. She leaves little wet footprints all over.”
“Uh, yes sir, Mr. Stevenson.” The hair is prickling up my arm. I don’t want to hear the rest of it. I cut him off. “Look, sir, I have to take care of this report now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Quiet little thing,” Stevenson keeps on talking. “Officer, she just stands there all wet with one shoe, crying with no sounds, no words. Big eyes, wet hair. Just stands there after she leaves all these lopsided footprints.”
“Gotta go, Mr. Stevenson. You try to rest for a bit, okay?”
I run up the stairs, two at a time, to the lady in records. “Minor female, Saturday afternoon, Maple and High. Hit and run. Coroner dispatches?” She’s slow to start, stares over her glasses at me. Unaccustomed to getting orders from another woman, I’m thinking. Minutes go by and she finds nothing. I’m starting to get nervous, then annoyed. Elaborate rookie prank? On my way back to my own desk I peer at faces. No smirks.
I’m finding out about him on my computer. Banker. Divorced. Childless. But there’s nothing to indicate a reason to flee the scene the way he did. Shock, I guess. Guilt.
My phone buzzes. “It’s Nina from records.”
I try to control my breath. My breathlessness. “Yeah?”
“Well, it’s not manslaughter. It’s an injury. Maple and High, Saturday afternoon, hit and run. I’ve got a comatose child, name of Kelly Massery, at County General Hospital.”
“Oh my God,” I burst. I nearly drop the phone. I need to tell Stevenson right away. I run to the stairs. They’re all backed up with cops. Joe comes out of the crowd to me.
“Sorry, kid, we’ve lost him.”
“Lost? What do you mean? Escaped?”
“Heart attack or something.”
We walk over to the cell. Stevenson’s on the floor. He’s holding the shoe. “Hey,” I say to Joe. “I thought you took that shoe to Evidence.”
Joe looks at me strangely. “I did take it. I thought you gave it back to him.” Joe pales. We look at each other. “I’ll go to Evidence and check,” he says.
I go back to my desk. I pace up and down in front of it for a moment. Then I get a burning urge to call County General Hospital. I have the head nurse of pediatrics on hold when Joe shows up at my desk. A pink floral shoe in each gloved hand, and an expression of utter bafflement on his face.
My mouth hangs open. I’m staring at Joe when the nurse gets on the line. “Who did you say, Officer Derry?”
“Kelly Massery,” I whisper.
“Well, what a coincidence, Officer. She’s just created quite a stir. She opened up her eyes fifteen minutes ago, sat up, and asked for a soda. We really didn’t think she was going to come out of it. But, well listen, Officer.”
I hear a little girl’s laughter in the background. I hear a little girl’s voice saying, “Look, Mommy. Look at all that rain out there.”
Lisa Lutwyche received her MFA from Goddard College in 2013. Poet, playwright, novelist, and memoirist, she has been published in the US and in the UK, publications including Mad Poets Review, Image and Word, Poppy Fields, Piano Press, Pitkin Review, Falklands War Poetry, Minerva Rising, and the Cancer Poetry Project, Volume 2. She was nominated for a Pushcart in 2000. She is the recipient of the 2013 AROHO “Shakespeare’s Sister” Fellowship for playwriting. Lisa has taught creative writing (and art) at community arts centers for over twenty years. She is also an instructor in the Fine and Performing Arts department at Cecil College.