The Weight of Things Removed | Novel | Milo
Chapter 2 (Part 1)
“What’s wrong?” Leonard heard Marianna say, and her voice was coarse and suffocated by the pillows she spoke into. He rolled around and looked at his half-sleeping wife fondly, watching anxiously because he wanted to talk but he didn’t want to actively wake her up. Perhaps she sensed his nervous energy, because she shortly raised her head from the pillow and winced at him with heavy lidded eyes.
“We can talk about it in the morning,”
“Really? After all of your fidgeting, twisting and turning you want to talk about it tomorrow?” She asked, clearly unimpressed with his attempt at being considerate.
“You know me, when I’ve left something unfinished I can’t stop obsessing over it until I’ve sorted it out.”
“But I though today was quite productive?” She yawned as she raised herself onto her elbows, and turned on the lamp with a lazy outward swing of her left arm. They both winced at the sudden brightness.
“We need to buy more lightbulbs, using lamps is stupid and lazy,” she commented amidst another yawn, and Leonard found himself yawning as well.
“Today was productive but I never got around to replying to Alby’s request, I ignored it and I never ignore commissions…”
“Well that’s easy to fix; hop on the laptop, send him an email and then we can get back to bed. Sorted!”
“Alright let me grab the laptop, actually can you pass it to me? It’s on the table,” he queried as he pointed it out to her and she handed it over to him. He popped it open, typed in the password and opened up his email account in their chosen browser. He dimmed the screen slightly as it was garishly bright, due to the tepid lighting of their bedside lamp. Marianna watched him expectantly, and he could feel her glare switch from casual interest to mild annoyance as he dallied with the email. He typed sentence after sentence before pressing the backspace, and then typing another one before selecting all of the text and deleting it in one censorious swoop.
“I was going to tell him that I can’t do it, but he’s been good to me and I don’t really have a good reason to turn him down. Plus, we’ve been working on this textbook together for some time, so I wouldn’t want to leave this project unfinished.”
“Ok…so you’re going to accept it?”
“I think so, give me a second to type this up. Do you mind checking it over before I send it?” He asked as he typed away and she shrugged nonchalantly in reply. Once he was finished, he cleared his throat and read aloud:
“Dear Alby. I can take on this assignment straight away, and I shouldn’t need any longer than usual to complete it. However I did know some of the people involved in this case, so please let me know if that’s a problem. Thanks. Leonard.”
“Perfect! Now can we get back to bed?”
“Definitely, thanks a lot,” he replied, feeling infinitely more relaxed than when his head had first touched the cool, blue pillow. He started to find his groove within the mattress again, and allowed his eyes to steady and close of their own accord. He heard the click of the lamp as he filtered his thoughts, leaving only ridiculous and pleasant things such as his eventual lottery win. However just as his eyes had settled behind his eyelids, and that gooey stillness had restrained his limbs, Marianna suddenly turned on the lamp.
“Why did this stress you out so much?” She asked with an almost angry expression on her face, or else one might have assumed she was angry had they not realised it was tiredness which hardened her eyes, and wrinkled the arch of her nose.
“I’m not really sure, I just felt like it was weird writing about people I used to know. Normally I just read up on the case, put it down on paper and then that was that-”
“But you don’t think you’ll be able to move on from this one do you? Then why on earth are you doing it?”
“Because it’s already become something that I can’t ignore.” He replied as he rolled onto his back in order to look up at the white ceiling, and it suddenly occurred to him that he’d never seen a ceiling painted any other colour.
“I guess I can understand your hesitation now, you’re afraid of things becoming personal. Then again this might all be for nothing because if Alby has a problem with you knowing these people, he’ll have to offer the assignment to someone else,”
“We’ll find out in the morning if he does.”
“Sure,” she uttered drearily before turning off the lamp again, however they continued aimlessly chatting to each other as neither was quite sleepy enough to fall asleep. Eventually their chatter flowed back to the most pressing matter at hand, Alby’s commission.
“What happened in the case, you said it was manslaughter right?”
“All I can remember is that a friend of mine’s son died of an asthma attack. A boy I used to go to school with was arrested for it, because it was somehow his fault. I can’t really remember all of the details to be honest, because by that point we swam in different circles, so I wasn’t really close enough to her to ask her for a break down. I’ll just have to do my research to figure out what specifically happened.”
“So one person you used to know effectively killed somebody else you used to know? Ugh gives me Goosebumps, there’s something extremely unsettling about murder.”
“I know right! Hence my discomfort,”
“Well at least it’s not a bad case…”
“A child died Marianna!”
“Oh don’t get all high and mighty, you know what I meant by that. All crimes are horrible, and all deaths are tragic. I’m just saying that at least it wasn’t an especially gruesome murder or sexually motivated or whatever you know?”
“Right,” Leonard acquiesced as the two finally, and quite rapidly, fell asleep. They were folded together at the legs and split from their waists upwards, much like a distended tuning fork. Leonard’s arm hung off of the bed as both of Marianna’s cradled and propped up her own cheeks.
Once the morning had arrived Leonard found himself alone in bed as was usual, he was a notoriously heavy sleeper and so Mariana’s early mornings rarely stirred him. Leonard stretched and yawned as he stumbled towards his computer, before suddenly coming to full wakefulness with the conspicuous ‘1’ that blinked atop his inbox. Alby had replied. Leonard eagerly clicked on the email, however what greeted him was an anti-climactically short and pithy response.
Don’t worry about that it’s not a problem at all. Also we’re waiting on a few other essays to be formatted and edited, so you actually have a few more days than you normally would!
He was dumbstruck after reading it, and felt somewhat silly as though he had over exaggerated the entire situation. Maybe he had? After all people died all the time even if some of those people happened to be children, and some of those deaths happened to be murders; it happened all the time. However, this trail of thought only served to further dismay Leonard as he felt quite uneased by his attempt at normalising the case of R Vs Ayodele. It seemed bizarre and unhealthy that he would try to treat such a thing as normal or commonplace, regardless of whether it was. Leonard wondered if it was normal. He wondered deeply and as he cleaned up their bed and slumped in the shower, the same ponderous expression marked his face as suds skimmed his eyes and the toothpaste spumed his lips. A sudden curiosity and eagerness possessed him and, as he ate his breakfast in front of his laptop, he ran a quick Google search on the number of childhood deaths over the last year. He scanned the numbers before deciding that skimming around the issue wasn’t going to eliminate his sudden discomfort, and so he rationalised his task to himself as follows:
People die. Some of those people happen to be children. Human history tells us some of those people have to be children. Lawyers help to ensure that such deaths are not mysterious, and that where human interaction has ended a life, proper steps can be taken to prevent similar deaths occurring in the future. Writing a paper on the death of a child is not exploitative, it is helping to prevent further, and similar, circumstances by preparing future lawyers.
He wasn’t entirely convinced by his arguments but felt pacified and had lost the immediacy of his discomfort; it was still there but it was now boring and stale. Unless he willed it, he wouldn’t feel it. Satisfied he set to researching the case of R Vs Ayodele so that he might use it as a case study for his manslaughter assignment. Manslaughter. So it might have actually been an accident after all, a gross, complicated accident but an accident all the same. This realisation helped to further still the swirling sickness he had felt since receiving the commission, and he set to researching it with his acquired sense of professional disinterest.
Leonard had a very specific method when carrying out his research, and it was a method he had developed during university when he had used to write “bespoke” essays for other students. It had been a mildly immoral form of self-employment, that had paid better than minimum wage at the time. Nevertheless, what he found as a young plagiariser was that ideas tended to bleed together, or rather, that essay writing was a balancing act. The researcher has to utilise the ideas of others without also stealing their thrust and energy, whilst simultaneously using them honestly without warping them to suit their own interests. This task was further complicated by the fact that he had often found himself writing multiple essays, in multiple disciplines, at the same time. Two concurrent ‘commissions’ particularly put this balancing act to the test, and over the course of a weekend he had to write an essay on Skinner’s theory of behaviourism for both a philosophy and a psychology undergraduate. The method he used to write these essays was perfected on that balmy October night, as he was warmed by hot coffee and tomato soup and his nose hung heavy with the cold. The first step was to look at a relevant essay on the subject, whilst avoiding the source material if possible. He managed to find an essay in an anthology that lent itself to both student’s questions, and printed two copies. He highlighted all the relevant areas in green for the philosopher, and in yellow for the psychologist. Following this he then turned each highlighted section into a single sentence which answered each question, before expanding each of these sentences into a paragraph. The final step was to thread these disparate paragraphs into a single essay, and by this point he had a number stock phrases which made the soldering even quicker. All in all, this method of essay writing usually guaranteed a 2:2, and allowed him to write three to five essays in the time it would take most students to finish one. If there was a drawback to the method, it was that he rarely remembered any of the curious facts he had picked up throughout the course of writing the essay, nevertheless it had served him well. It was in this way that Leonard spent the next hour as he broke apart legal documents and local newspaper reports on the matter, before reconstructing them as a unique and original essay on manslaughter. He began by isolating a number of key sentences which he could then turn into paragraphs, and these key sentences were as follows:
- Paul "Paulie" Ayodele kidnapped Karim Goss with the understanding that he could use the act to force a confession from Marta Goss, regarding her knowledge of his abuse at the hands of his father.
- Karim Goss died of an asthma attack whilst being held against his will in Paulie Ayodele’s cellar.
- The case was ruled as an act of involuntary manslaughter due to P. Ayodele’s lack of knowledge about K. Goss’ medical condition.
- The defence tried to argue that K. Goss would not have been at risk had his asthma been properly managed by M. Goss.
- P. Ayodele was twenty years old at the time of the offense and so was granted custody for life, with a minimum term of fourteen years.
Sentence number five caused Leonard to stop and think about the consequences of a fourteen-year stint in jail, especially at the age of twenty. This of course meant that Paulie would be thirty-four years old, at the youngest, whenever he was deemed fit and healthy to return to mainstream society. Indeed, he would still be in prison now, doing whatever it is that prisoners happen to do to while away the time. He cupped his hands over his face as he billowed his cheeks with the shock of the thought, after all as a young father he couldn’t imagine missing the next fourteen years of Marley’s life. He thought about the young man he had been at twenty, and that person had been an indecisive, embryo of a man. There had been days when he had a bloated confidence and knowledge well beyond his years, and others when the thought of getting on a train by himself brought him to tears. Days when he had felt strong and independent, and others when sitting in a café alone was the most embarrassing thing he could do. Had he done anything back then to warrant an arrest? At the least his career as a second class plagiariser certainly warranted expulsion from his university, and he suddenly grasped the enormity of being caught in the act. Leonard swivelled in his seat in a bid to settle his Tetris-like thoughts, and to ensure that the right shapes fell into the right holes.
The death of a child is a serious offense even if it is an accident, even if it happens every day, even if it was a young, young man who caused it; it is a serious offense all the same. It is not comparable to assisting a few lazy undergrads with their cheating ways. Imagine if Marley had been Karim? What is fourteen years in prison compared to death before one’s fourteenth birthday?