Let’s start here…
“Do you know why they call this Doe’s
A middle-aged bottle-blonde in need of
a root touch-up held a camera to her eye. Struggling with the weight of a giant
telescoping lens, she clicked away at the deepening colors of the sunset over
the Albemarle Sound and glanced at her male companion between shots.
“It’s a charming tale,” she went on.
Blondie spoke in a thick Northeastern
North Carolina accent—a confluence of Virginia drawl and coastal twang. I noted
the amateur historian layered the southern sugar on a little too thick to be
genuine, while she lilted her way through the tourist trap mythology of the
abandoned ferry dock. Her companion looked bored as hell. I just wanted them to
“It’s said, back in the colonial days,
a doe—as in,” the woman paused to sing, “doe, a deer, a female deer.”
The tall gentleman with her, wearing
skinny jeans and working too hard to be hip, nodded impatiently. “Yeah, yeah. I
got it without the Julie Andrews,” he said.
Maybe that’s what he said. He
pronounced only the essence of his words, abandoning the hard consonants on the
ends and allowing vowels to swim about in his cheeks. I thought he’d be more at
home in a pub somewhere along the Thames. English explorers peered over this
expanse of water for a glimpse of the mainland more than four hundred years
ago. The historic landscape remained virtually unchanged but unimpressive to
this modern day Englishman.
The blonde lowered the fancy digital
camera from her eye. “You’re cheeky, Richard. Do you need a snack?”
The Englishman’s hands popped out of
his pockets and up into the air. He screeched, “What? I understood it was a
feckin’ deer, Helen. I’m not a toddler in need of a nap. Finish the bloody
“Isn’t the sunset beautiful?” The woman
seemed willing to ignore her companion’s worsening attitude.
“Bit like lookin’ over Saint George’s
Channel, innit? Same ol’ sun at evenin’ tide.”
In response, Helen raised the camera
again and took a long burst of pictures. I couldn’t tell if she was letting the
snide remark pass or plotting her date’s demise. I would have gotten up a head
of steam and pushed him off the dock, but that’s just me.
The setting sun painted the prismatic
rippling surface of the water with the full expanse of the color wheel. I’d
come to the water to “do dusk,” as my dad used to call it. He’d roll one up and
burn it down, then head out to the dock to enjoy his buzz in peace. I had a few
cannabis edibles an hour ago when I crossed the county line and had been
basking in the familiarity of this particular falling of the sun. Richard and
Helen were a distraction, but I couldn’t help being amused at the train wreck
it was becoming.
Richard’s skinny jeans must have been
squeezing his tiny brains. He certainly wasn’t using his big one. He kept up
the provocative attitude, apparently looking to end the date abruptly. He
chided the photographer as she continued to snap away.
“The silent treatment is a childish
ploy used by cowards. At least that’s what my ex-wife’s therapist told her to
Richard chuckled a little, in an
attempt to assure his audience that the recollection was meant to be humorous.
Stand-up comedy was not his forte. Helen was not amused.
She lowered the camera and glared at
the man she had liked until about five minutes ago. “Fuck you, Richard.”
“Not likely with that attitude,” he
“I don’t see any need to continue this
charade. You’re not having much fun, are you?”
“Well, now that you mention it, you’ve
had me in a car all day, runnin’ about the countryside peerin’ at,” he made air
quotes around, “antique things.”
Helen looked and sounded genuinely
surprised. “Your profile said you loved relic hunting.”
The date already a disaster, Richard
laughed. “This rubbish is far from old. The foundation of my grandmother’s barn
was growin’ moss when they built that expatriate jail you’re so proud of.”
Richard pointed over his shoulder at
one of the first jails erected in the region during the late 1700s. The
original lost to fire, the jail standing now was built in the early 1800s on
the old foundation with the addition of an adjacent county courthouse. Our
English visitor had spotted the bait and switch in the tourism marketing team’s
wording of “colonial foundation.” But why bother with that factual detail?
The county erected a set of replica
stocks for photo ops on the courthouse lawn and let the colonial legends take
flight. The lore was part of the tourist draw to a county desperate to replace
the waning traditional agricultural and watermen economies. Albemarle County
wasn’t on the main route from the north down to the Outer Banks of North
Carolina, so it had to work to draw visitors off the faster four-lane highways.
Now that the bypass bridges were built and the ferry route closed, the people
of Doe’s Ferry couldn’t be faulted for a white lie or two.
Richard continued, “Show me evidence of
Viking exploration or ancient Native American relics and we’ll talk about old
things. You New World yanks act as if you were the first ones here.”
“I’m not going to take colonization
insults from a British imperialist. I think this date is over,” Helen replied,
with no trace of the sugary veneer left on her drawl. She headed for the
driver’s side door she’d left open in her excitement upon arriving.
“Aren’t you going to throw tea in the
harbor before the revolution?”
I stifled a laugh. Okay, maybe Richard
had a future behind the microphone. Helen, again, was not amused.
“Well,” Richard said, following her,
“now you’re withholding information just to be cunty. How American of you.”
Helen whirled to glare at him and spat
out the romanticized fable of Doe’s Ferry. “During a hurricane, a doe washed up
here with her baby on a small raft of storm debris. It’s probably a lie, just
like your profile suggested you were an English gentleman with a passion for
“I am,” Richard argued. “I’m sure it’s
a lovely story. Although it does lose some of its historical quaintness when
told through gritted teeth.”
Helen reached the car, tossed the
expensive camera on the passenger seat and climbed in. The door slammed with
force as the engine turned over. Helen wasted no time and left no doubt Richard
would need a ride home. She peeled away,
sending gravel flying in a plume of trailing tire smoke, but didn’t go far. The
courthouse stood less than one hundred yards from the old ferry dock. The North
Carolina highway patrolman waiting to pull out of the parking lot had only to
flip on his blues and slide in behind the angry blonde for the first ticket of
“Fuck it all,” Richard complained. He
pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket and began waving it about above his
head, in search of a signal. It was at this moment that he realized I had
witnessed the entire scene.
I had been sitting on the picnic table
next to the dock’s tiny public restroom doing dusk, floating up and down memory
lane—or the memory docks, as it were. The Brit and Helen were just the latest
to interrupt my reflection on the innocence of childhood and how quickly we
discover we’ve been fed a line of crap since day one. Bad men win because they
do not play by the rules. Rules are for suckers. The myth of triumphant decency
could be found in the last national election and in the number of cable news
satellite trucks hovering about Doe’s Ferry.
Multiple photojournalists shooting
B-roll of the Albemarle Sound had come and gone from the dock during my short
time of observance. Everyone wanted to be first on the scene when the President
cut the shortlist for the next nominee down to one. If one believed the rumors,
my childhood neighbor was next in line.
I felt my old friend nausea returning
and popped another twenty-five milligrams of medicated chocolate into my mouth.
My stomach had been in knots since I arrived. Past mistakes churned against my
stomach lining, eating it away. I knew I’d die of a bleeding ulcer if I
remained in Doe’s Ferry long.
My movement drew Richard’s attention.
“Oh, hello,” Richard said, taking a few
steps in my direction.
If I ever possessed the southern
hospitality gene, I killed it on a peyote quest with some old hippies in the
Black Hills in the late 80s, far from here. It was then that I decided my motto
would be “fuck people.” I’m so glad I thought better of getting that tattooed
on my neck after I came down. Even behind dark sunglasses, my lack of interest
in social engagement must have registered with Richard.
He stopped his approach and asked, “I
don’t suppose they have car service this far from civilization?”
I raised my eyebrows so they could be
seen above the rims of my glasses. Lowering my chin and curling my upper lip
into a sneer, I maintained a “Do Not Enter” perimeter with nothing more than
body language, a skill picked up in prison.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That sounded
worse than I meant it to.”
People get hung up on my stint in
prison. It is hardly the most thrilling or mysterious part of my story. I took
my first breath in a high school locker room not far from the ferry dock.
Fifty-eight years later, I had come full circle—back to the land of my people.
As Richard noted and the desperate
waving of his cell phone at the sky emphasized, we were far from civilization.
Cultural advancement lagged on this stretch of sand and swamp sandwiched
between the mainland and the coastal counties on the Atlantic Ocean. The
po-bocra—longstanding Carolinian slang for white trash—gripped tightly to the
deeply planted roots of white supremacy. The haves told the have-nots that the
have-nothings were stealing everyone blind, while the haves got richer and fed
the fires of social unrest. The mask of civility worn by the God-fearing,
law-abiding, deeply rooted citizens of Albemarle County slipped on and off as
quickly as their drawls and drawers.
“Grandma, last one in is it,” a child’s
voice drifted on the breeze into my thoughts.
On the old dock to my left, two
children ran out in front of a middle-aged woman in a white beach wrap and hot
pink flip-flops. The cut of her blonde hair—an excellent dye job—held captive
by a white visor, the rhythm of her gait, the glimpse of her profile, all hints
of a woman I used to know. She had a phone pressed to her ear, but listened to
She held up one finger, finished her
call, and then challenged, “Marco!” She dropped the phone in her pocket and
removed the wrap to expose her hot pink bathing suit. Grandma was still a
hottie, but she knew it, making her less attractive and leaving my “selfish
bitch” opinion of Cindy Spencer unchanged.
The kids yelled, “Polo,” and jumped
into the water.
Doe’s Ferry faded back to a memory.
Sin is always attractive…
“Jane Doe, you know I can’t kiss a black
boy. It’s in the bible.”
“It’s 1972, Cindy. No one cares about
what it says in that old book about black boys kissing white girls. Don’t y’all
study Civil Rights in sixth grade?”
William Malachi Blount, Jr., the black
boy in question, was my friend and my third-half-cousin. It’s complicated.
Malachi and my dad shared a great-great-grandfather, but not a
great-great-grandmother. Skin colors and races meant a lot more to other folks
than it did to two kids grown from birth together. I was barely a month older
than Mali. We hadn’t known there was a difference between us until we started
school. Now, at age eleven, it had been made clear to us that people didn’t see
the world like Mali and me.
Cindy Spencer was having none of my argument.
“Civil Rights means Mali can ride our bus and go to school with us. The bible
still says we are not to mix the races.”
Malachi spoke up, “Actually, it says—”
“Marco,” Doodie shouted, coming to the
surface about ten feet away, eyes squinted shut.
Hains said to him, “We’re not playing
Doodie opened his eyes and rubbed the
brackish sound water out of them. He tried to focus on the rest of us. “Man, I
was down there a long time, probably ten minutes at least.”
Hains disputed Doodie’s fantastic
claim. “No way, man. One minute tops.”
I continued trying to convince Cindy to
sacrifice her morals for the cause.
“Well, you kissed me, and I’m a girl.
I’m pretty sure that’s in the bible too.” I shoved Malachi toward her. “Go on,
Cindy, kiss him.”
Cindy ignored Malachi, stepping around
him to preach at me instead, “It just says boys can’t lie with boys. Besides,
girls can practice kissing on each other. My brother said so.”
Hains nodded, agreeing with Cindy’s
older brother’s pronouncement because J.P. Spencer was already in college and
Hains thought that made JP the expert on everything.
“It’s okay because girls can’t get each
other pregnant,” he said with mock authority. “It’s safe for them to kiss and
“I don’t think kissing is how you get a
baby, Hains,” Doodie said, pointing down below the surface of the water to his
crotch. “It happens down there,” he mouthed. His cheeks flushing red, Doodie
was overcome with giggles.
“Shut up, Doodie,” Hains, ever the
alpha male, barked at his toady. He slapped the surface, sending an arch of
water into Doodie’s face.
Malachi looked kind of scared. He had
never kissed a girl—let alone a white one. He wasn’t as enthused as we were
about the prospects and agreed with Cindy that this was a bad idea. His daddy
was all the time hollerin’ after us, “That white girl is going to get you in
I focused on Cindy, arguing, “If girls
kissin’ was okay, you wouldn’t tell me we had to keep it a secret. We can keep
you kissin’ Malachi a secret too.”
Cindy rolled her eyes and whined,
“Well, it’s not a secret now.”
Doodie covered his mouth to stifle
another giggle, but Hains still said, “Shut up, Doodie,” and splashed him until
he dove under to escape the onslaught.
The five of us waded in chest-deep
water just off the deep channel used by the mainland ferry. Sometimes we slid
dangerously close to the sandy edge of the frequently dredged chasm. Even good
swimmers were wary. In the cold black water under the ferry dock lived a
creature that dragged kids beneath the surface to their deaths.
We knew of one high school kid who dove
in and wasn’t found until his bloated body floated up a week later. We all saw
him, bobbing there on the surface, while the Sheriff’s men tried to grab onto
him with a gaff hook. They said he got caught up in some tree branches sunk
down in the channel. But we could clearly see claw marks on his back when they
pulled him out, making the ferry dock creature more plausible in our minds.
Doodie resurfaced close enough to the
abyss to require a frantic backstroke away from the reach of the ferry dock
monster, which we’d all decided looked a lot like the creature from the Black
Lagoon. Only Malachi had insisted on long octopus-like tentacles for fingers
because we had all felt the icy grip around an ankle, just the tip of something
slipping by, and seen a shadow in the darkness recoiling away. Of course, it
could have been a fish or an eel, but the mere possibility it could be a
monster negated dismissing anything unknown as benign.
Cindy sought another way out. “Why does
it have to be him? Why can’t it be Hains?”
“I told you. The clue says only a male
Doe kissed by a virgin is protected from the curse.”
Popping up from the water between Cindy
and Malachi to demonstrate how little he knew about genetics, Doodie said,
“What about me? My mom is your momma’s sister, Jane. Doesn’t that make me part
Doodie’s real name was Brian Duty. His
last name, as pronounced by his peers, unfortunately, rhymed with a euphemism
for shit. Our socially awkward pal was unaware of boundaries and slow to catch
on to this fact. He was almost as tall as Hains and thickly muscled, also a bit
uncoordinated and clumsy. He barely made the cut to be in our grade, which made
him almost a year younger than the rest of us. An only child, spoiled and
overprotected, he matured a little slower. These facts made him the lowest
ranking in our group dynamic.
Though goofy and awkward, Doodie
actually read a lot and made good grades. He was a nerd-filled with random
facts and our loveable teddy bear. Being Doodie’s friend was like handling a
hot biscuit as it dripped butter down the back of your hand. The mess was worth
it; even if it required a thorough clean up afterward. We loved him and helped
him try to fit in, though our methods were sometimes harsh. We were children,
modeling behavior demonstrated for us by adults in our lives. The most famous
character on TV was a crude, ignorant bigot. People thought it wasn’t reality,
but they didn’t live in Doe’s Ferry.
“Shut up, Doodie,” the four of us said
The “courthouse kids” ruled Doe’s
Ferry. We were given the label, not for our delinquency, but because we all
lived within shouting distance of the county seat. Malachi lived next door to
me, and our houses backed up to the Albemarle Sound on the north side of the
mainland ferry dock. Hains lived by the courthouse on the southern side of the
dock. His lawn sloped down to a short sandy beach with a long wharf paralleling
the ferry channel. Doodie lived across the canal from Malachi’s house on the
Cindy’s house was the biggest and
newest. It sat across from the ferry dock next to the longstanding Swann place.
The petite pretty girl foil to my solid-bodied tomboy athleticism, Cindy,
already twelve, had completed the sixth grade where the rest of our cadre
headed in the fall. She also had boobs, which made me, the only other local
girl for miles around, invisible.
The road we lived on followed an old
wagon path to the courthouse, where we all had ties. Cindy’s father was the
district judge; Hains’s father, the Sheriff; Malachi’s mother, the custodian;
Doodie’s mother cooked for the jail, and his dad was a jailer. My father, whose
ancestor lent his name to the original colonial trading post now known as Doe’s
Ferry, was a frequent guest of the county’s drunk tank. According to my
grandmother, I would be too if I didn’t change my ways. I was eleven, hardly a
hardened criminal or a drunk, but there was time.
“Look,” I said, trying a different
approach with our stubborn virgin. During Cindy’s bible study, she had missed
several of the seven deadly sins. I appealed to her vanity and greed. “If this
clue leads us to Bonnet’s treasure, you can move to New York and be an actress.
Like you said you would if you had the money.”
“I’m not sinning for financial gain.
You cannot serve both God and money,” Cindy complained loudly, with full
Southern Baptist preacher inflection.
This was the same girl that would share
a stolen cigarette with all of us and had been known to sip a beer, at least
that one time when I took one from my dad’s cooler. We chased it with orange
soda. Damn the temporary reformation qualities of vacation bible school.
“You know, you get like this every
summer when you come back from staying at your grandma’s. That church camp
makes you mean.”
“It isn’t mean to follow the Lord.”
I pointed at Malachi’s deeply tanned
bare chest and said, “But Mali isn’t any blacker than I am. He’s brown.
Besides, we’re cousins. So, what does that make me?”
Cindy refused to listen. “Bertie’s
daddy was a bastard son of James Doe. That doesn’t make you cousins. It makes
him an abomination according to the word.”
“Goddammit, Cindy. Just stop quoting
the bible and kiss him so we can get on with it.”
Cindy turned and walked away, calling
over her shoulder, “I won’t be your friend Jane Doe if you’re going to take the
Lord’s name in vain.”
“Fine. We’ll find a virgin somewhere
She wheeled around, red-faced. “I don’t
believe that stupid pirate’s map is real anyway.”
“When we’re rich, we’ll send you a
postcard from Hawaii,” I said, pretending not to care if she stayed.
Cindy glared at me and then went for
the kill. “Aren’t you a virgin? Why don’t you kiss him?”
Cindy knew why. She was just being
hateful now. I wasn’t about to lose my chance at finding the “Gentleman Pirate”
Stede Bonnet’s treasure over a technicality. We found the map and accompanying
directions to the cache in an iron-strapped wooden box. It was buried in the
woods behind the salvage yard attached to my family’s service station up on the
new road. The new road had been there since the early 1800s, but as long as
there was an old road, it would always be the “new” one. The fenced lot filled
with rusting wrecks towed in off the county byways was part of our playground.
The courthouse kids roamed freely in the twenty acres between the sound shore
and the busy highway.
I hollered after Cindy, “I’d rather go
to hell than kiss you again, anyway,” and then kissed Mali on the cheek.
We all stared at the sky when it
rumbled a warning of the coming summer squall.
“God is going to get you for that, Jane
Doe,” Cindy yelled at me.
Already out of the water, she ran
toward her house. The rest of us scampered for the shore when lightning
streaked across the sky.
Mali shouted over the sound of our legs
churning against the shallow water, “Jesus, Jane. You’ve cursed us all.”
“Do you think God is about to strike us
down?” I said, laughing at the thought.
I wasn’t the typical god-fearin’
churchgoer that my peers were. My grandmother’s response to my irreverence was
to say she thought I read too many of my father’s books while he was overseas.
She complained that the preacher didn’t come by as much after I started
Mali, who had heard my take on the
“good book,” said, “No, not that bible stuff—the pirate curse. You ain’t
exactly pure. Maybe you just put a hex on us.”
Having been raised by two devout
Methodists and one avid atheist’s book collection, I got a kick out of what
people thought unseen forces could do to you, but I believed with all my heart
in pirates and pirate treasure. We could see the evidence of their existence
all around us. Pirates built wharves for unloading spoils in what was now my
backyard. The ancient pilings were still there. We dug up artifacts all the
time. My grandpa had a flintlock pistol he found when he was cleaning out the
ditch that drained the low spot across the road.
Malachi believed in pirates and pirate
curses. He picked up his pace.
Hains added his take on the matter. “I
guess we should have found a real virgin.”
Doodie tripped and fell face first
while trying to say something, “Lightning travels on the surfa—” Splash.
Splash. “Dang, did you see me step in that hole?”
The air filled with the smell of rain.
Another flash and thunder pounded against my chest. We pushed through the
shallow water, arms pumping at twice the speed of our knees. Our legs fought
against the dense milfoil, an invasive aquatic grass that grew near the
Mali looked over at me with his dark
chocolate eyes and smiled. “It’s just God making sure you don’t get any ideas
about kissing a black boy again.”
“Yeah, that’s probably it,” I said,
laughing as the sky opened up.
We could no longer hear each other over
the roar of the rain pounding the surface of the Albemarle Sound behind us.
Lightning cracked across the sky. Danger loomed. In our youthful innocence,
fear only made us laugh louder and run faster. The storm would pass, and we
still needed to find a virgin. Our original plan kept the treasure and map
within our trusted gang of five. Cindy’s reaction would force us to seek help
I couldn’t figure why Cindy was so hung
up on kissing Malachi. He had near as much white blood as I had. Mali and me,
we were both naturally tanned; like coffee with cream, only I got an extra
splash of half and half. Cindy and Hains were blonde and blue.
One time when my dad was home on leave,
he called them the “evidence of European expansionism.” I laughed, even though
I’m not really sure what he meant.
Mali and I were on the other end of the
color scale, with our dark black hair and deep brown eyes ringed in amber. But
in the summer, when we wore little clothes and browned every exposed inch of
our bodies, Malachi turned a deeper bronze that amplified his father’s ethnic
roots. His head was full of shiny black curls while mine lay flat. He was the
prettiest person, boy or girl, I’d ever seen. I wasn’t alone in my thinking.
Earlier that morning, we had passed
some women I knew from Grandma’s bridge game afternoons. With teased hair and
bows carefully centered behind identically trimmed short bangs, the evidence
they had the same hair stylist was overwhelming.
Hains stopped, as the rest of us ran
past. Ever the gentlemen or politician—both in his nature and genetics—he said,
“Good morning, Mrs. Sprague. Good morning, Mrs. Dowdy.”
“Thank you, Hains. What a polite young
man,” Mrs. Sprague said.
We plopped onto the creaky porch steps
of Swann’s store with our grape sodas and cheese nabs.
The women stopped on the porch above
us, not knowing we could hear them or just not caring if we did.
Mrs. Sprague said, “That mulatto boy is
Mrs. Dowdy answered, “Sin is always
I glanced at Mali. He just shrugged and
turned up the soda for a long swig. After several cooling gulps, he pulled the
bottle from his lips and let out a loud, “Ahhhhh,” so the women would notice.
He smiled up at them, dimples in full charming rascal position, and boldly
Grown women blushed and covered their
mouths because an eleven-year-old black boy winked at them. Mali was just
learning the power he wielded with his looks. I laughed when he turned that
magical smile on me, as the women scurried away.
Malachi never cared what people said about him. He probably should have.
Malachi’s smile faded from my memory,
his image replaced by the Englisher’s silhouette. Richard blocked the last rays
of sunset and my chance to appreciate them. He attempted to communicate through
sign language, managing to convey only gibberish with his hands. He also spoke
his words deliberately and loudly, which I’ve never understood. Why yell at a
person who can’t hear you?
“Can you hear me? I require
“Might I be able to help you, sir?”
To my rear, a friendly male voice
offered a way out of having to deal with Richard. Skinny jeans man looked over
my shoulder and sighed with relief. He stepped around the picnic table to greet
the new member of our ferry dock party.
“Hello, officer. Chuffed to see you.”
“I hope that’s a good thing,” the
Richard laughed. “Yes, an excellent
thing. I seem to have been left without transportation. I can’t locate a cell
signal and need assistance.”
I had a good idea to whom the
approaching voice belonged without looking. I could also imagine Richard
indicating me with a tip of his head or glance of the eye, he may have even
pointed at my back.
He lowered his voice and informed the
new arrival, “I think she’s deaf and dumb.”
My former playmate said, “Who, Jane
Doe? I’ve never known her to be shy.”
Richard responded like the rest of the
world. “Her name is Jane Doe? Really? You aren’t joking?”
“Yes. Her father’s name was John Doe.
Her mother’s last name was Smith. Jane Smith Doe, that’s her. Her dad said he
guaranteed her anonymity for life. Thought it was funny.”
“Probably hard to get a bank card,”
Richard said, “or use one. Merchants must suppose them some sort of sample sent
through the mail.”
“TSA is a real bitch, I imagine,” my
friend added, chuckling audibly.
My head bobbed slightly, as I
involuntarily agreed with both men.
Richard should have stopped there, but
he didn’t. He mistook the locals’ amusement as a sign to continue.
“I imagine sticking your child with
that name would serve as a family jest among the ancestral progeny of the
lawless colonial coast. Wasn’t this place run amok with pirates and people who
wished not to be found?”
“Yes, sir. We are part of the pirate
Richard should have stopped, but he
continued, “The chances are one’s DNA might lead to a life requiring anonymity.
Still doesn’t explain why she won’t acknowledge a person in need.”
Intending to be entertaining, Richard’s
comments showed the familiar disregard held among people living north of the
Virginia/North Carolina border for those living south of it. William Byrd
surveyed the line in 1728 and wrote of the fitness of the land and its people
only for the husbandry of pigs, pinning forever the label of simpletons struck
by laziness to those living in the Carolina colony. After his disparaging
remarks, Byrd bought a broad swath of the land straddling the border and
founded a family that would make its way to the highest offices in the nation.
The chip on our collective Carolinian shoulders had grown with the weariness of
our hick reputations. I could hear the resentment in the Sheriff’s response.
“It’s Sheriff, not officer. I work for
the county. We don’t have any city police officers around here.”
I was thinking we didn’t have a city or
a town. The best we could muster was a blinking caution light at the only major
crossroad and a bunch of colloquial village names where old families happened
to settle together. If there were enough people, the government had made
whatever name the villagers settled on official and gave them a post office. It
still didn’t mean we were ignorant swamp dwellers, at least not all of us.
I’m pretty sure Richard heard the
change in the Sheriff’s tone, too. He took a few steps back. Able to see his
lower legs in my peripheral vision, I watched as he shifted his weight
nervously from foot to foot while the Sheriff spoke.
“It’s probably a turn of your luck that
ol’ Jane there decided to give you a pass. Your date is waiting for you with
the patrolman.” There was a pause and a chuckle before he sent Richard on his
way. “Be nice. At least until you get back to Virginia.”
“Thank you, Sheriff.”
In the practiced style of one whose
department budget depended on tax dollars generated by tourism, the Sheriff
regained control of his emotions, and let his schmoozer pitch follow Richard
down the sandy path by the road until he was beyond earshot.
“My pleasure. Y’all come back when you
can stay longer. Stop and get some of Miss Edna’s pie on the way back. Her
place is just about a mile north on your right. It’ll put the sweet back in
your sweetheart. You’ll come back for more, guaranteed.”
Then my blood brother, sealed in a
ceremony inside a candlelit boathouse fifty years ago, turned his attention to
me. My shoulders were probably still visibly moving, as I tried to subdue the
laughter at his hokey delivery of Edna’s sales pitch.
I heard him take a step closer, before
he said, “What’s the word of the day?”
“I’ll have to dig my old Latin
“It’s a returning, a turning back.”
“How’d you know it was me, Hains?”
“You’ve been sittin’ here for two
hours, according to my deputy. By the way, he’s on to you. He’s certain you’re
a risk and should be reported to the feds.”
“I’m the last person you anticipated
finding in Doe’s Ferry, I expect.”
“I don’t know. With all that’s going
on, it isn’t all that surprising to find you here. I know it’s the last place
you could be anonymous, name or not. So, you aren’t hiding from anyone.”
“I forgot how quickly strangers who
linger are singled out here.”
“You’re not a stranger, Jane.”
“Oh, I’ve been that from the day I was
born, but tell me this, what prompted the Sheriff to personally check out the
Hains moved around to stand just in my
peripheral vision, an old cop trick to make a suspect turn or remain
uncomfortable. “My deputy’s description of the stranger down at the ferry dock:
female, forty to fifty.” He paused to say, “You should thank him for that.” And
then continued the description from memory, “Short, five-three or four, salt
and pepper gray hair, tattoos on inside wrists that read ‘No Justice’ on one,
and ‘No Peace’ on the other, muscular build, probably works out. Awfully
accurate I’d say.”
“Put that clerk at Swann’s on the
payroll. She’s the source of the detail, not your boy.”
“Oh, so you met my confidential
informant.” Hains laughed. “She’s as nosy as they come. Her radar pinged because
you gave that guy directions to the marina. That’s a local kind of thing to
“Are you sure it wasn’t because she saw
the name when I opened my wallet to get out some cash?”
Hains chuckled. “You’re too smart to
have let that happen unplanned. I figured you wanted to see who would come
“Now, why would I do that?” I smiled to
myself, knowing he was absolutely right. “Is everyone’s hypervigilance because
of Judge Spencer’s pending nomination to the Supreme Court? Were you waiting
for me, Hains? Are you here to have me state my business?”
Hains chuckled. “Your business is no
concern of mine until you break the law. Promise you’ll be a good girl?”
“Commitment and I have an on again off
again relationship, so I’m going to keep my options open. Besides, I have
‘Rebel Without Cause’ tattooed on my ass. Omitting the ‘a’ was purposeful.”
“Wow, it’s like a time warp. Jane Doe,
sarcastic to the point of arrogance, living on the edge of the blade, tilting
at windmills, you haven’t changed.” He paused to consider his tactics and
settled on a different approach. “I was right there with you most of the time,
so I can’t say much. I know we survived more often than we had a right to.”
“Some of us didn’t.”
My flatly delivered cynicism directed
at his attempt at levity resulted in what felt like backing up to our
respective corners. Hains needed to reassess his opponent. The pause gave me a
chance to slow my heart rate and swallow the adrenaline. Don’t show your hand.
The leather of his utility belt creaked
when he sat beside me on the picnic table. Clouds floated by on the surface of
his polished black boots. Ironed to a razor’s edge crispness, the crease of his
pants stood perfectly straight up to his bent knee. He used to smell like his
father’s Old Spice. Today, he’d chosen for his scent—a hint of birch,
pineapple, and musk—a signature blend of an expensive men’s cologne. It went
well with his underlying bouquet of tea tree soap, leather, and gun oil.
I made my living reading people.
Hygiene could tell you a lot about a person. Expensive products hinted at
disposable cash. Knowing real money from the cheap knock-off was essential to
my success as a…well, they don’t really have a name for what I am. We’ll get to
the details in a bit. My nose was telling me the Sheriff was either making some
cash on the side, or he was still the same guy women were willing to spoil for
his attention. Growing up, it was like watching the virgins bring offerings to
Next to the words “ladies’ man” in the
dictionary should be a picture of Hains Lawton Forster, III, with emphasis on
the plural nature of ladies. The secret of his conquests lay not in his natural
charmer status, but in the size of his penis, or so I’ve been told. According
to Malachi, Hains’s dick acquired legendary locker room status at age twelve,
when the county boys began playing sports in middle school and had to start
taking showers together. Mali swore the rumored measurements were not
exaggerations. I’d never cared to find out. Cindy, however, declared Hains’s
penis her property in high school. I was already gone when they married and
really didn’t give a damn what happened to either of them by then.
Hains eventually let out a disarming
chuckle, a tactic he had used to defuse confrontation since we were in diapers
together. It seemed almost reflexive this time, meant to cover emotions brought
on by my presence and the memories I awoke within him.
In his warm baritone, he said softly,
“No, some of us didn’t make it, that is true. I don’t know if it’s because I’m
closing in on sixty or a longing for simpler times, but I think of our little
gang often. You were all part of the happiest days of my life. I miss us,
together, taking on the world. I’ve missed you, Jane.”
“That’s surprising. The last thing I remember
you saying to me before today was ‘Fuck you, Jane Doe,’ when I called you a
coward. Have your feelings on the issue changed?”
“We were kids stuck in a mess created
by adults. Our parents made decisions for us. I’m sure we all said things we
wish we hadn’t. My therapist says you have to let go of the past and live in
I turned to see that time had been very
kind to Hains Forster. He had grown sexier with age, more distinguished, with a
little gray in his closely cropped beard and a bit of salt and pepper at the
edges of his hatband. He made eye contact with me and grinned. His blue eyes
still sparkled with mischief, just as they had when we were too young to know
all the shitty stuff life would dump on us.
“Are you fucking your therapist?”
“She’s not my type. I think she plays
on your team.”
“My team? Are you assuming I’m a
lesbian because I was never all over your legendary dick.”
Hains shook his head, chuckling again.
“No, not because of your lack of interest in me sexually. I saw you and that
girl from the campground. Her name was Mary, I think.”
“Yeah, Maria. That’s her. I saw you two
in the boathouse one night, the summer before our senior year.”
What he might have seen flashed through
my mind. It was my turn to chuckle. “Oh, that summer.”
“Yeah, you were ‘unavailable,’” Hains
made air quotes, “for most of July. Then she left, and you were miserable.”
I studied his expression, remembering
that I had loved him before I hated him. We had all loved each other. We were
more than childhood friends. Malachi, Hains, Cindy, and me, we formed some kind
of love quadrangle. Doodie seemed to love the idea of us as a whole. The five
of us swore loyalty to the end. The end came sooner than we expected.
I smiled involuntarily. I couldn’t help
it. Hains hid a gentle strength behind a swaggering grin. My weakness would
always be for the wholesome athletic type, the boy or girl next door. I studied
myself as much as I studied others. In Hains, I recognized the source of my
lifelong infatuation with lean athletic muscle and clean-cut handsomeness.
I acknowledged his good deed all those
years ago. “You never said anything. You could have tormented me with that
Hains turned to look out over the
water. “You were hurting enough.”
We sat quietly for another moment. I’m
sure his thoughts raced, as did mine, through our childhood bonds.
Finally, I said, “Well, I’ve given up
women at least five times since that summer, so your assumption is informed,
but incorrect. I’m not a lesbian or any other pigeonholed label. I’m not a
single dot on the sexuality spectrum. For the most part, at this stage of the
game, I lean toward stable humans with jobs. Body parts are less important than
a lack of drama and a paycheck.”
He nodded, “What’s that they say?
‘There are no wrong holes if you love someone.’ That’s what my
fourteen-year-old grandson says anyway.”
“Wow, a teenaged grandson. You’re old,
“You forget I started on my eighteenth
birthday. Our first was conceived the day I became old enough to be held
legally responsible for her.”
“How convenient for Cindy.”
“Hey,” he warned me with a frown.
“I see Cindy is still off-limits for
Hains stiffened. “Cindy is my wife.”
This response came so quickly, I knew
it was reflexive and one he’d repeated to the point of muscle memory. He forgot
I knew this rehearsed tone. We sat together for twelve grades. I knew him
better than he knew himself. I had known he’d marry Cindy if she got pregnant.
She did too. That’s what pissed me off.
He continued defending his wife. “It
took both of us to make that baby. Our daughter wasn’t planned, but I’ve never
regretted having her in my life.”
“Shit happens. Just because it worked out,
doesn’t make it less shitty.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that. Her name is
Emily, by the way. She is a nurse, like Cindy, with kids of her own. We have a
son too. He’s nineteen, a bit of a wild child and tempered like his mother.”
“I read about him in the paper last
year. How in the hell did y’all get those charges dropped? I love how sexual
assault is just boys being boys. ‘Athletic hazing’ I think they called it. I
hope the younger boy is okay.”
“You of all people should know how
things can be blown out of proportion.”
“I didn’t fuck a kid in the ass with a
“Let’s just drop it, okay?”
I couldn’t without saying, “From what I
saw, he’s JP with your build. Basically my worst nightmare. And you can stop
blaming yourself. You had a fifty-fifty chance of hatching a bad seed.”
Hains decided to ignore my digs,
another of his social tactics. He said, “I love my kids and grandkids, Jane. It
wasn’t a bad life.”
“That sounded final. I think we have a
bit to go, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I was just saying…anyway, I love
my children, even when they aren’t likable.”
I noted he didn’t say he loved Cindy,
but I let it go. We sat in silence for a second or two.
Hains seemed to let the ‘what ifs’
settle down in his brain, before asking, “So, you haven’t set foot in Doe’s
Ferry since 1979, what finally brought you back?”
“Do I have to answer that question?”
“You didn’t come home when your father
died in 2000. With your history, you can see why this sudden appearance would
“My history? Which part? The part where
we were cradle to grave friends, all of us, or the part where one of us died,
three of us lied, and one of us went to prison.”
“I’m assuming that means this isn’t a
nostalgic trip home.”
“No point in pretending I’ve made peace
with the total fucking-over I received in that courthouse at the hands of men
covering their own asses.”
Hains turned to look at me, really look
at me. I stared ahead at nothing, as I learned to do when a corrections officer
had me against a wall.
“I went to see you. The prison
officials wouldn’t let me in. My name wasn’t on your list.”
“There were no names on my list.”
Hains chuckled. I wondered if he knew
this mechanism had gone from charmingly disarming to an anxiety tell. Maybe it
always had been. He tried his concerned tone next, another interview technique.
I had trusted Hains with my life at one time. Now, even if I wanted to, I
couldn’t. My game plan involved trusting no one.
“How much time did you do?”
“I did the whole five. Got out in ’84.”
“Five years is a long time to go
without seeing anyone who cared about you. Why the whole five? No time off for
I turned to look him in the eye, before
I said, “To get time off for good behavior, I would have had to be good. Also,
they required that I show remorse for a crime I did not commit.”
“Come on, Jane. You were guilty.”
“Your father caused it by turning a
blind eye.” I paused the appropriate amount of time for effect, before adding,
“And you had done exactly what I did on multiple occasions. So, don’t play
innocent with me.”
“You got caught by the feds. You can’t
blame my dad for that.”
“Who planted that pot on me? And who
sent them to a little bar in the middle of nowhere looking for drug
“I don’t know, and my dad is dead. So
we can’t ask him.”
“I was set up and the people that
should have helped me lied or looked the other way. Nobody wanted to know the
Hains tried more therapy crap. “Maybe
we all told the truth as we saw it.”
“Bull shit! Every one of you told the
story that had the least negative consequences coming home to roost.”
“Are we talking about you or Malachi,
“It’s the same thing, Hains. That’s
been my contention all along. I went to prison because I wouldn’t accept all
the lies. I couldn’t turn my back on a friend and so my friends turned their
backs on me.”
Hains turned to look past me toward the
courthouse. He seemed to desire my ire return to smoldering ash from raging red
coal. I followed his gaze, watching as the parking lot lights blinked on.
Streetlights lining the old road filled the late dusk gloom with an amber
halogen glow, as the mist rolled ashore.
The light fixtures outside the ferry
dock restrooms buzzed to life. The one by the women’s entrance began to strobe
slightly. The fluttering light reflected in the gold badge on Hains’s hat. My
head started to hurt. I closed my eyes and rubbed my left temple. When I opened
them again, I realized too late that Hains was looking at me.
He decided to steer the topic away from
my incarceration. I couldn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to me about
fucking me over either.
“So, where’ve you been since you got
“Anywhere but here. I see the apple
didn’t fall too far from the badge. From the next Roger Staubach to Andy
Griffith. How does that happen?”
“My freshman year at State I took a hit
during a mop-up preseason appearance, broke a vertebra and pretty much ended my
hopes of an NFL career, or college for that matter. Another hit like that and I
wouldn’t be walking they said. I had it fused, and that was that. I had a wife
and child to support. I couldn’t join the military with pins in my back. I got
an associate degree in criminal justice and took a job in the department. I ran
for Sheriff after my dad died. Been in office for twenty years now.”
“Bet that screwed Cindy’s plans of
leaving here and never looking back.”
He glanced over at the home where, as
it turns out, he had spent his entire life. The lights were on in almost every
room. Silhouettes of people moved behind the closed blinds.
“We even live in the old house. This
was the last place she thought we’d be, across the street from her parents,
back in Doe’s Ferry for a life sentence.”
“Whoa, that’s a bit poetic. Try not
comparing your comfortable, if not ideal, life to one in a penitentiary. I
assure you your burdens were easier to bear.”
“Everybody’s got their own version of
“Damn. When did you become so deep? Are
you sure you aren’t fucking that therapist?”
“I’m positive. Blame it on podcasts and
long drives up and down these country roads. I’ve evolved. Besides, I told you
I’m not her type. I should introduce you two. How long you going to be here?”
He waited for an answer.
“Nice try and no thanks.”
He grinned. “Are you going to tell me
why you’re here, or are you going to make me figure it out on my own?”
I had a decision to make. Up until I was
eighteen, Hains would have been the first person I reached out to in a
situation like this. He was our white hat hero, the guy we counted on to lead
us out of danger. I wondered who Hains had become. Was he anymore estranged
from the man he thought he would be than I was from the dreams of my childhood?
Was he contemplating the same thing about me? I decided to dodge his question
with one of my own.
you remember when we went looking for a virgin?”
“Her name is Jane Doe? Really? You aren’t joking?”
“Yes. Her father’s name was John Doe. Her mother’s last name was Smith. Jane Smith Doe, that’s her. Her dad said he guaranteed her anonymity for life. Thought it was funny.”
Forty years away from Doe’s Ferry, it didn’t take long for word to get around that Jane Doe had come home. Most people remained unconcerned with her arrival—memories of young Jane having been long forgotten or never known. But like any tiny place with tiny minds, the whispers at her sudden reappearance revived old rumors and fanned long cold embers into a blaze.
“So, you haven’t set foot in Doe’s Ferry since 1979, what finally brought you back?”
“Do I have to answer that question?”
“You didn’t come home when your father died in 2000. With your history, you can see why this sudden appearance would concern me.”
“My history? Which part? The part where we were cradle to grave friends, all of us, or the part where one of us died, three of us lied, and one of us went to prison.”
“I’m assuming that means this isn’t a nostalgic trip home.”
“No point in pretending…”
There were those who wished Jane had stayed gone. Most folks were willing to let the past die with the ones that lived it—but not Jane, and not the person who sent the package that summoned her home. Wrongs needed righting. The time had come for the truth of what happened at Doe’s Ferry to come to light. Jane Doe has come home to amend the record, to make it right: Emendare.
About the Author
Four-time Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Mystery–Rainey Nights (2012), Molly: House on Fire (2013), The Rainey Season (2014), and Relatively Rainey (2016)–and 2013 Rainbow Awards First Runner-up for Best Lesbian Novel, Out on the Panhandle, author R. E. Bradshaw began publishing in August of 2010. Before beginning a full-time writing career, she worked in professional theatre and also taught at both university and high school levels. A native of North Carolina, the setting for the majority of her novels, Bradshaw now makes her home in Oklahoma. Writing in many genres, from the fun southern romantic romps of the Adventures of Decky and Charlie series to the intensely bone-chilling Rainey Bell Thrillers, R. E. Bradshaw’s books offer something for everyone.