Jenny Smith took one last look in the mirror before going out the door into the fresh spring air. There was nothing she could find out of place in her reflection, so she left the house and walked to the car.
She hated these yearly reviews at the family court house. The building was meant to look cheery with the flowers and bright colored banners out in front, but she never saw it as cheery in all the years she had been coming there. This was where all her sins were laid bare year after year. Would she never out live that day so long ago?
Her therapist met her on the stairs and walked in with her. This was an informal hearing or more of a review, but it was still going to make decisions for her life none the less. She sat by her lawyer and waited for the judge to come into the room and take his seat at the head of the large conference table. Her husband Jeff was sitting across from her on the other side.
The judge came in and the proceedings began. One side spoke and then the other. Her therapist gave her a glowing recommendation. This wasn’t a custody hearing as they lived together with the children fairly happily through the rest of the year. This had to do with the past. A past from before they were married. From before she was old enough to read or go to school. But it would not go away. The court system wouldn’t let it. So they were back again this year also. Each year it was discussed and gone over until someone always said that it shouldn’t have come this far in the first place, but that never changed a thing.
Jeff knew the whole story before they were married. They both thought that the reviews would stop when she turned twenty one. But they only got more complicated once she became a full fledged adult and worse still after she had the children. What a way to have an anniversary. She wanted to go to the cemetery with flowers for the families graves on this twenty-fifth year since their deaths. There was no one else to remember who they were. Only Jenny was left.
As the hearing slowly moved on, they were up to the part where they were listing her school grades and accomplishments along with her mistakes as she grew up, she let her mind wander. She let her thoughts go back to her childhood when she was just four years old.
The family had been sick with very bad spring colds and I was the first to get well enough to get out of bed. My little baby brother had kept my parents up all night with his coughing and Mommy and Daddy just wanted to sleep the day away. I got up and dressed myself as best as I could. Shorts with pink flowers in the print, orange sweater, snow boots with no socks.
I was hungry and was only allowed to make cereal. When mommy asked me what I was doing from the bedroom I answered, “Getting breakfast.”
“Will you bring some in for us too Janie Sweetheart?” Mommy asked.
“Oakie dokie.” I answered feeling all grown up because mommy needed my help. I wanted to make the breakfast good. Just like mommy did. There was no fruit like on the picture on the box in the refrigerator, so I ran out to the backyard and picked the berries growing on the fence. I washed them in the sink from the chair I had pushed over so I could reach. I used the bubbly stuff from under the sink. Then I put them in the bowls. I poured in the cereal and milk over that and I brought it bowl by bowl to my mom and dad.
Mommy and Daddy told me how I was their special Good Girl. They had eaten theirs down by the time I had made some for the baby, but I did good and smushed his with the back of the spoon like mommy did and I fed him his breakfast so mommy could go back to sleep. By the time I was ready to eat my own I was tired again and I spilled my bowl on the floor trying to bring it into the living room so I could watch TV.
There were no berries left or milk either, all the bowls were used, so I ate my cereal dry from the box on the couch in front of the TV. Then I fell asleep.
When I woke up I was cold, so I went to get into bed with my folks. But when I got to their door I knew something was wrong there was bloody throw up on the floor. My baby brother’s room looked the same. So I called ‘nine, one, one’ just like Mommy taught me and the policeman came to the door.
That was the last day Jenny had a family for a long time. She didn’t go to the funeral because she was in the hospital having tests, and the people taking care of her thought a four year old was too young to go to such an event.
From that day on, everyone that knew what she had done had watched to see if she would try to poison someone else again. Janie told them she was just trying to be a good girl, but it didn’t do any good. She was not allowed to play with the other kids, or touch anyone’s food again for a long time. She was never fostered out, but kept in the home and never given a job in the kitchen. She couldn’t get a job when she turned eighteen and was out on the streets when Jeff took her in and they took care of each other.
He taught Janie to cook and how to do a whole lot of other things. She was even able to get her much needed high school equivalency diploma and then went on to the community collage.
When they got married Janie changed her first name too. She is Jenny Smith now, no longer Janie Hunter. She colors her hair and takes care of her children like any other mother in the PTA. But some people at this table, from the prosecutors office, who couldn’t believe that what had happened so long ago hadn’t twisted Jenny through to the heart and soul. They always threw in the possibility that they thought she had done it on purpose. So, here they where back again this year.
With her oldest child approaching the age Janie was when it happened, coupled with the fact that it was twenty-five years, made a few of them nervous. She could see it in their eyes just before they looked away.
Didn’t they believe in all that counseling they made Janie endure for all those years. Janie always had to come back next week, and the week after that, because she hadn’t forgotten what had happened yet. But, how was she suppose to forget when ‘that’ was the reason she was there each week.
The inspections of Jenny’s children were being discussed now. Colds to diaper rash, growth charts and development were reviewed. Had she damaged them in any way as of yet?
Not in any way that could be measured by their tests and suppositions.
Jenny was free to return to her home and children, but never to forget what she did while trying to be a good girl when she was only four.
On the way home Jenny asked Jeff if they could go by the cemetery to have a small visit even though she didn’t have any flower for them. He obliged her even though he wanted to get back home. The reviews got longer each year and the sitter would be getting tired by now.
They stopped for a few minutes and she went to the grave sides of her family. Jenny placed a kiss on the top of each cold gray grave stone and pulled a few blades of grass that had grown too long, from in front of their names and the one stone meant for herself someday. The one on the empty grave that said “The Good Girl” across the front of it.
On her tenth birthday long ago. That day was the first time she was brought to see the graves. The words weren’t there when the case worker and Janie arrived. Mrs. Johnson read out the inscriptions on each one to her and pointed out that the last blank one would be hers some day.
Janie laid the flower carefully on her families headstones. And those words had appeared like magic, carved into that stone, they were there when she was done.
Jenny smiled again today when she read those words set in the stone. Somebody, somewhere knew that she had meant no harm and was only trying to be a good girl like her mommy and daddy wanted.
Seeing those words each year, carved into that stone was enough to get her through the next year until the reviews came again. She smiled and said, “Good-bye until next year. Your ‘Good Girl’ still loves you.”