Jasper Jones has a terrible reputation in Corrigan. He’s a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant. He’s lazy and unreliable. He’s feral and an orphan, or as good as. His mother is dead and his father is no good. He’s the rotten model that parents hold aloft as a warning: This is how you’ll end up if you’re disobedient. Jasper Jones is the example of where poor aptitude and attitude will lead.
“Bloody hell. Listen, Charlie, we can’t tell anyone. No way. Specially the police. Because they are gonna say it was me. Straight up. Understand?”
I am dizzy and sick. And it’s as though touching her has sealed my fate. I am in this story. She can’t be ignored. She’s real. I’ve touched her now. I’ve been privy to her last moments of heat, her last wisps of smoke.
I wish I could tell Jeffrey everything. I really do. I wonder what it is about holding in a secret that hurts so much. I mean, telling Jeffrey doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t take anything back. It’s just information. It doesn’t dredge that poor girl from the depths of the dam, doesn’t breathe her back to life. So why do I feel like I need to blurt it all out?
He doesn’t need superpowers. That’s my point. You’re an idiot. He can hold his own. He has an alter ego. He has a costume. He fights for Truth and Justice. He has arch enemies. And he does all this without any weird mutations. He’s just really determined. That’s what makes him interesting. The fact that with enough dedication and desire, we could all be Batman. Batmen. Batpeople. And that’s what makes him the best.
How was it that Gertrude Baniszewski could seduce so many children into committing these acts? How could they turn up, day after day, to do the unspeakable? And how could they return home of an evening, no words of shame or remorse tumbling out of their mouths? What did Sylvia Likens do to deserve this? Or was it just shit luck and chance?
I think about Eliza’s manner. So dry and centered. So matter-of-fact amid the panic. I watch her climbing the garden steps to their front door, holding her weeping mother. Someone is there to meet them with an outstretched hand and a look of concern. I shrink behind the branches. And then, swift as a knife, it occurs to me. A rash of sparks coats my skin. My heart almost leaps from my chest, and my brick slides.
Eliza Wishart knows something.
It’s occurred to me that one day she might not come back at all. She might simply refuse. I know her family pressure her. I know they coddle her with self-serving concern, that they constantly remind her of the things she’s missing, the things they feel she deserves. And I don’t really blame her for being seduced by it. It’s what she grew up with, I guess.
Strangely, of all the horrible things I’ve encountered and considered recently, dropping a bomb seems to be the least violent among them, even though it’s clearly the worst. But there’s no evil mug shot, no bloody globe. It’s hard to figure out who to blame. There’s something clean about all that distance. Maybe the further away you are, the less you have to care, the less you’re responsible. But that seems wrong to me. It should be in the news. It’s wrong that they died. But if they weren’t Jeffrey’s family, would I care so much? That’s hard. Probably not, I guess. I mean, if you took every bad event in the world to heart, you’d be a horrible mess.
Jasper Jones has lost his girl, maybe his best friend, too. His only friend. It seems so infinitely sad to me, I can’t even imagine. To lose someone so close, someone he had his hopes pinned on. Someone he was going to escape with, start anew. And to see her, right there, as she was. Right where I’m sitting. What a horrible series of events this has been. But Jasper Jones has to keep that poker face. He has to throw that cloak over his heart. I wonder how much of Jasper’s life is spent pretending his doesn’t give a shit.
I had to make things work when I could. Soon as you can walk and talk, you start makin your own luck. And I don’t need some spirit in the sky to help me do that. I can do it on my own. But, see, that’s what I reckon, Charlie. It’s that part inside me that’s stronger and harder than anything else. And I reckon prayer is just trustin in it, havin faith in it, just askin meself to be tough. And that’s all you can do.
I look over at An Lu, who is returning to his home, his hands behind his back, his chin on his chest. I wonder what he’s thinking. There’s something about his posture that convinces me he’s judging me poorly. I feel so ashamed, I feel like everyone in this town is disappointed in me. And that’s when I resolve it, with my father’s hand on my back. When Jasper Jones goes, when he leaves town after this mess is over, I’ll be going with him. I’ll be leaving too. Leaving Corrigan behind. For good.
I was terrified, but something kicked in me. I discovered a gift for lies. I looked straight at them and offered up the best story I could muster. It was like I’d clicked opened my suitcase and started spinning a thread at my desk. Weaving between the factual and the fictional. It was factitious. And Jeffrey was right, it was all in the delivery. I had them. I’d reeled them in. They all nodded like it was the truth, writing it down on a yellow pad.
Mostly, I spent the time writing. Almost obsessively. Every day and every night. It’s the thing that gave me company. Along with reading, it’s what got me out of the house without them being able to stop me at the door.
The next ball Jeffrey punches through cover, zipping through for two runs. And it’s with complete disbelief that I hear real encouragement from the sideline. His teammates. In unison those belligerent bastards, yelling, “Shot, Cong!” across the field, at once turning an insult into a nickname.
“Go home!” my father explodes. He stands up, tall and intimidating. He glares with real anger. And I can’t help but feel a blush of pride, seeing it. I’ve been wrong about him.
We’ll be like Kerouac and Cassady. We could steal away in boxcars, ride all the way across the country. Melbourne, Sydney. Every town in between. I could document our adventures. Maybe one day I could get our story published under a nom de plume. I’d have to move to New York City. The famous writer who fled from his hometown and shunned the limelight.
I don’t know who this man is, but he didn’t kill anybody. I’ve done everything wrong. Mad Jack Lionel isn’t a criminal. He’s probably not even mad. He’s just old and sad and poor and lonely.
We’d gone to confront Mad Jack Lionel about murdering Laura Wishart only to find that he was driving the car that killed Jasper’s mother. The world isn’t right. It’s small and it’s nasty and it’s lousy with sadness. Under every rock, hidden in every closet, shaken from every tree, it seems there’s something horrible I don’t want to see. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why this town is so content to face in on itself, to keep everything so settled and smooth and serene. And at the moment, I can’t say as I blame them.
This is what happened. And I’ve got to get it out quick, I’ve got to loosen the valve on it and let it go, fizzing and spraying, because it’s too hard, it’s too heavy, it’s too much. I can’t hold on to it for too long because it’ll burn. Do you understand? It’s the knowing. It’s always the knowing that’s the worst. I wish I didn’t have to. I want the stillness back. But I can’t. I can’t ever get it back. So. Thisiswhathappened.
I also have a suspicion that Eliza might be less concerned with what’s right, less concerned about uncovering the truth, than she is about ensuring that she and Jasper Jones, and maybe her father, too, are meted out the penance that she feels they each deserve. I think she wants to do something with all this blame and hurt. I think she just wants to tie rocks to all their feet.
It’s so smart and sad and beautiful that I’m not even jealous. And I have a warm feeling in my belly that says someone important is going to believe in it. That one day I’ll see my father’s name on a straight spine on a bookstore shelf, standing proud and strong and bright.
But what no spectator that day will ever know or anyone who will later lend their ear to an account, is that it requires more courage for me to tentatively bend and snatch up that rotten fruit from amid that sea of bees. My hands tremble. I can barely work my fingers. But I get them.
And for some reason I’m reminded of Eric Cooke, haggard and angry, at the moment they finally asked him the question. I just wanted to hurt somebody, he replied. But that was never the whole story, was it? Only he could have known that, and he held his secrets tight in his fist, in his chest. And there’s always more to know. Always. The mystery just gets covered in history. Or is it the other way around. It gets wrested and wrapped in some other riddle. And I think of Jenny Likens, who also watched her sister die, who said nothing until the end, who got brave too late.