In June, the STL Scribblers held a Transformation Microprose Contest, challenging writers to produce a 800-word piece on the theme. J.D. Campbell’s “Looking Through Glass,” a powerful piece on justice and empathy, is the second of three winners, selected by democratic vote. It is published here for the first time.
Looking Through Glass
Joyce Canter watched Jamal through the one-way glass as the boy sat shackled to the interrogation room table. Tears burned his eyes. The law mandated a minor’s parent to be present during questioning, but that would prove difficult since Jamal’s parents lay dead in their living room.
“Book him,” Joyce said.
Lieutenant Daniel Haden cocked his head. “Ms. Canter, the evidence isn’t that clear.”
Annoyed, she turned and faced the Lieutenant. “Two dead parents aren’t clear enough for you?”
The Lieutenant frowned. This wasn’t the first time he and the district attorney had butted heads. “Both Jamal’s and his father’s prints were found on the gun. Self-defense is plausible.”
“So is murder.”
The Lieutenant took a deep breath and said, “Three domestic disturbance calls in the past six months, all from Jamal.”
Joyce quit listening to the Lieutenant. There was no need. She knew Jamal’s guilt the moment she looked through the glass. The eyes of cold blooded killers spoke to Joyce Canter like hymns to angels. They may well up with tears and plead their innocence, or even dilate remorse, but the eyes never lied to her.
She had first become aware of “the gift” while clerking for Judge Thayler as a law student. One glimpse into the eyes of a courtroom criminal was like truth serum, a confession of sorts, which shot an electrical sensation throughout Joyce’s body. The gift was never wrong and Joyce always sided with it over any counterintuitive evidence.
Joyce looked at Jamal again through the glass. “He’s a killer, Lieutenant. A fifteen year old stone cold killer.”
“I would never question your–”
“Then don’t!” Joyce interrupted.
Joyce did not understand the Lieutenant’s empathy. Even when her husband was murdered four years ago, the Lieutenant had handed out compassion cupcakes to every suspect he interrogated. Pointless Joyce thought.
“At least hear his side of the story,” the Lieutenant pleaded now.
“No. I’m late to pick up my son.” Joyce walked to the door but before leaving she added, “The truth will prevail Lieutenant; it always does.”
Moments later, she arrived at Ethan’s school. The Wonder World Preschool decor provoked a degree of imagination long forgotten by Joyce. Cartoon animals covered the walls. Sea lions swam in blue oceans which transformed into green fields peppered with black cows.
Entering the school, Joyce was met by its director, Susan Landers, and escorted into an observation room. In stark contrast to the hallway, this room was cold, colorless, and void of personality. A one-way glass window peeked into an adjacent room where Ethan sat alone drawing at a table.
Confused, Joyce asked, “What’s happening? Why is Ethan by himself?”
“Ms. Canter,” Susan chose her words carefully, “Have you noticed a difference in Ethan’s behavior? Anything out of the ordinary, or say abnormal?”
The word was still registering for Joyce when Susan produced crayon drawings from a folder and handed them to her. One picture showed a stick person holding a knife dripping with red blood. The victim, labelled Victoria, lay covered in a pool of red. Etched below the knifeman was the name Ethan.
The next drawing showed a boy having his hands sawed off by Ethan. Another painted a gruesome mass killing of his classmates. The last showed a closeup of the knife plunged into his teacher’s eye.
In every drawing, Ethan’s stick figure wore a satisfied smile.
Joyce could barely speak. “I don’t understand.”
Susan Landers took a deep breath. “The children were asked to draw a picture of something they knew how to do, like pickup their room or brush their teeth. Ethan told his teacher this is how you kill someone.”
The drawings slipped through Joyce’s fingers and floated to the floor like falling autumn leaves. She peered through the glass and connected with her son’s eyes. The moment was brief, but the sensation freight-trained her, nearly knocking her over.
“I need to see my son now!” Joyce said, pushing past Susan and entering the classroom.
“MOMMY,” Ethan yelled and ran into his mother’s outstretched arms. His little beating breaths resonated as she held him close, consumed by his pure unadulterated love. “I missed you Mommy,” Ethan said, kissing her cheek.
Joyce sobbed uncontrollably as she carried Ethan to his carseat.
Driving home, she looked at Ethan in the rearview mirror, coming to grips with her son’s true identity, feeling her gift was now an affliction and not a blessed power. For the first time she realized there was a human being, a loving soul, connected to the image she viewed through the glass. Wiping away the tears, she dialed the Lieutenant, hoping there was still time to hear Jamal’s side of the story.
After graduating from the University of Iowa, J.D. began a career in advertising by writing, producing, and selling radio commercials. He currently owns Campbell Creative Media, a creative, marketing, and consultation agency.
In his free time, J.D. dabbles in the dark waters of fiction, recently winning 1st place in the 2015 St. Louis Writer’s Guild annual short story contest.
J.D. resides in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife, three daughters, and a finicky Australian Shepherd named Mazie.