The terrible fall withered away just like the leaves around our tree-house. It was quite naked now, exposed to Maycomb just like Jem’s broken arm and Bob Ewell’s death.
The tree-house was mine! And only mine! Jem with his over-grown body like a chimpanzee could not manage to creep into our hiding spot anymore. But Dill could still come into it, and he’d come and say ‘Rapunzel Rapunzel, let your hair down.’ And I’d let down the knotted rope and he’d hang on it and climb all the way up and reward me with a kiss.
Dill brought with him so much of the sunshine of summer. Summer was Dill. This summer Dill came with so much enthusiasm so as to squeeze the nitty-gritty of the Ewell incident out of us.
Aunt Alexandra had to go back to take care of Uncle Jimmy. He has occupied himself with the merriment of drinking. I knew when she came here that she’d have to go back. Atticus could live without a wife because Atticus is Atticus. Mama being dead could not be helped. Aunt Alexandra left Uncle Jimmy for a hopeless cause. He probably missed all the Alexandrian slandering and decided to drown his sorrows on drink.
‘Did you kill that horrible man Jem?’ were Dill’s words this summer.
‘No! How dare you accuse me of such a crime?’
‘That’s what Miss Stephanie said.’
Cal upon overhearing Dill was furious about the neighbourhood gossip. ‘You truly believe that? You believe that Mister Jem is capable of such crime? Now shoo! Get out of the house and play outside. It’s a lovely summer’s day and I need to clean the house.’
Jem, annoyed with Dill at believing the town gossip abandoned us and sat on a verandah seat with one of his magazines. Without Aunt Alexandra about, it felt more comfortable to be in my overalls. So I put them on and went with Dill to the tree-house.
‘Tell me my Rapunzel, did you miss me? Tell me more about Boo! Did he try to eat you? Did he look as frightening as we thought he’d look? Did Ewell really frighten you? Weren’t you scared that Jem could’ve died?’
Of course I was scared that Jem would die! His string of questions lately has irritated not only Jem but even me. But Dill is genuine unlike Ms. Stephanie who asks Jem how he is doing and then goes back and tells everyone that Jem probably stabbed the devil. I just stopped Dill’s talk by the raise of my hand and returned the poor fellow with some of his own poison.
‘How’s your mum Dill? Is she happy with your new stepdad? I guess she doesn’t have to work too hard to make a living now.’
Dill was silent. His face changed like he’d bitten on some lemon without sugar.
‘I don’t know Scout. It is awful.’
‘Why, what’s wrong?’
‘I wish I had one stepdad, Scout.’ said my poor Dill. ‘It is awful. I go to school, excited to tell everyone about my new stepdad and a few days later he leaves home. And then… later walks in another guy who calls himself my dad, sometimes more handsome and smarter than the previous one, but sometimes the complete opposite. Mum says she wants me to spend as much time as possible with Aunt Rachel during summer so she could earn an extra buck. She says working is easier when I’m not around and so I need to come to Aunt Rachel’s. I don’t understand the connection between my absence and an extra buck. I just want to be with mama!’
‘That’s awful Dill. But don’t you enjoy spending the summer with us?’ I asked; saddened by the thought that he comes to Maycomb because he has no choice and not because he wants to.
‘Of course I do Scout! It’s you guys that I come to Maycomb for. Else I’d never agree to mama’s deal.’
I never quite understood his lamentation. All that hovered around me and all that I perceived from everything he said was that he was FORCED-TO-COME-TO-MAYCOMB.
That evening Atticus came home a little earlier from work and he greeted Dill warmly. So Dill stayed back with us for dinner and indulged on Cal’s corn beef sandwiches like he was one of the Cunninghams. After we bid him goodbye, Jem immediately set to complaining on Miss Stephanie’s gossip.
‘You two should be able to tackle the latest events and gossip given the circumstances of last summer, Jem.’ said Atticus with his saintly patience. Neither Jem nor I could protest. Atticus was right.
‘Dill seems largely affected by many events back home.’ And so I narrated to Atticus and Jem of everything Dill’s told me. In Maycomb it was considered good manners to be concerned of others’ affairs, but not so much as Miss Stephanie’s concern over our affairs. Even though I didn’t consider it important to contribute to this ‘Maycomb-consideration of affairs’, Dill’s I couldn’t resist.
Atticus didn’t seem so astonished though. He simply told me that times are hard and people had to find money by any means, and for women like Dill’s mum this affected much more than it did to Atticus the lawyer.
But Atticus was finding it difficult too. Since the Tom Robinson incident, Atticus’ cases have dropped considerably regardless of him being among the top of Maycomb’s attorneys. Cal who usually receives a generous bonus for Christmas, bore with Atticus last December, and she simply said ‘Do not worry Mister Finch. You have more to worry about in this household than I have at mine.’
As I perceived, Aunt Alexandra was being more cunning than being kind to Atticus. She came all the way to Maycomb not because she simply loved us and cared for us, but because Uncle Jimmy probably didn’t bring home enough bucks. She ceased the opportunity to live a more comfortable life. Rather, a more dependant life.
Since the death of Bob Ewell, the weight of raising the litter of Ewells fell upon poor Mayella. She was barely twenty and was unemployed. She’d begun to seek the help of the county. ‘Papa brought ‘ome nothing and it’s getting worse for us…’ was said to be her plea.
‘Miss Caroline was perhaps barely twenty one when she was my teacher. She had a proper income.’ was my argument on the Mayella incident.
‘Scout, I presume you’ve already learnt by former incidents. Climb into her skin and see for yourself.’
I explained to Atticus that I had no intention of climbing into an Ewell.
Jem who butted in said, ‘Miss Mayella is no more than an Ewell, Scout. She has not attended school like Miss Caroline, to be employed.’
I always presumed that I too could skip school but still be intelligent enough to earn my living. This was all too complicated. However, the situation of Mayella in my view was a just punishment for an unjust woman!
Days passed by and Atticus decided to pay a visit to Aunt Alexandra in the Finch’s Landing. News is that Uncle Jimmy’s situation is only worsening. So Atticus left us to the care of Cal and left the county for the weekend. This meant that we’ll be going to Cal’s Church once more!
‘Please Cal, can we take Dill with us too?’
‘Mister Finch has permitted me to take you and Mister Jem along, Miss Jean Louis. Poor Dill ain’t my responsibility. In fact, Miss Rachel wouldn’t approve of it.’
‘Let me do the talking.’ With that, I set to Miss Rachel’s house that evening and quite easily was able to get her approval. Dill was to join us on Sunday. Miss Rachel probably preferred to take a break too.
Cal forced on me a pink dress with a navy blue satin sash and white frills about the neckline and the bottom hem.
‘You awfully look like an Easter bunny from last spring.’
‘Oh shut up you cry baby! You wouldn’t be coming with us if not for me!’ was my immediate response (partially due to the anger of having to dress up to segregate myself more from the boys), and Dill spoke no more.
Reverend Sykes was standing at the door of the paint-peeled frame building when we arrived. ‘Good morning Miss Jean Loius, Mister Jem and-’
‘Oh yes, Mister Dill, welcome’
Returning his warm welcome with a big smile, I then turned to another white figure about us and was astounded.
‘It has been one year since our lad Tom Robinson was shot Miss Jean Louis.’ said the Reverend. ‘That’s why Mister Deas has also come here today. I wish Mister Finch could also have come.’
Having shaken hands with the Reverend and Mister Deas, Cal exclaimed with joy at the sight of Helen and her children climbing up the hill to the church. Everyone remarked how well she looked and how grown the children were. ‘Mister Deas, you should be a saint for supporting her!’
Dill was with open eyes the whole duration of the Negro-Mass.
‘Dear brothers and sisters in Christ-’ began Reverend Sykes. ‘Today as we celebrate the life and death of Tom Robinson, our brother, friend, the loving and much missed husband and dad, I want you all to also pay close attention to the Biblical event we celebrate. The Transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour, as you can see from this drawing of little Billy – ’
‘They preach quite differently to how they do back in Merridian.’ interrupted Dill.
‘It’s different to how they do it in our parish too Dill. Now be quiet and listen!’ said Jem.
‘- you may realise that he has done a marvelous interpretation. Who can see it well and explain it to the rest of us?’
There were whispers in the pews which increased enough for the Reverend to hush them up.
I raised my hand. ‘Yes Miss Jean-Louis, would you mind explaining to us what you see in this painting?’
‘I see a look of sadness in Elijah’s face, and a sense of pride in Moses’.’
Jesus’ hands seemed to be at quite a unique posture. ‘The top of Jesus’ hand on Moses’ side is turned to us, while the palm of Jesus’ right hand is visible. Isn’t it awkward Reverend?’
‘Is that symbolic of something Reverend?’ Interrupted Dill whom Jem hushed with embracement.
‘Of course son!’ remarked Reverend Sykes. ‘Look at it clearly. The gestures of Christ to Moses and Elijah are symbolic of what we ought to do. When Christ puts his hand before Moses, the law giver, He is blocking the rigidness of the law, and with an open arm on the other side, He is encouraging Elijah who was involved in a pastoral ministry, to move forward.’
That was all I needed for the day. I went home and had an afternoon nap recalling, ‘We need to promote love and understanding. Not everything can be solved with the law. Like it was done a year ago.’
That evening when Atticus arrived, he was eager to know of what we’d been doing. I explained to him everything I learnt at Cal’s Church and he was very pleased with what he heard.
‘I came home to take you and Jem tomorrow to see Uncle Jimmy, Scout.’
‘But Atticus, I agreed to play in the tree-house tomorrow, with Dill.’
‘Look Scout, you can play with Dill the whole of summer, but Uncle Jimmy might not last that long, and we need to show our gratitude especially to Aunt Alexandra for being here with you last summer when times were crucial for me.’
I explained to him that she did nothing really, but was forced to obey. So the next morning we left to the Finch’s Landing.
Uncle Jimmy was in bed. I was not worried by his condition or that of Aunt Alexandra, but by Francis. I recalled how he tormented me two Christmas’ ago and how the incident had an ill effect on me.
‘Dill has no father! Little Dilly has no father!’ chanted Francis again.
I could feel the rage rousing inside of me like I could just jump on Francis and devour on his head. When I was about to chase him to the kitchen so he would lock himself inside once more, a hand fell on my shoulders and tightened me. It was Jem. His grown hands, which were still as soft as a child’s, were a reminder to me that Atticus was right. We should be able to tackle petty incidents like this now.
The following morning Uncle Jimmy was gone. Gone for good. Aunt Alexandra sobbed like a baby. I asked Jem, ‘Why is she crying so much? If she loved him so much she wouldn’t have left him for us last summer, would she?’ But Jem gave no answer.
So, after the funeral and all the mourning was done, we returned to Maycomb without the dictator. She had to stay behind as horrible Francis and his parents were moving into the Finch’s Landing.
When we arrived at the county, news was that Mayella could not afford to look after her litter and her ol’ house was about to collapse, and was forced to handover the child’n to the authorities. It was heartbreaking. Regardless of her accomplice with her Papa, and the fate of Tom thanks to them, I felt an enormous amount of sympathy. I should thank Reverend Sykes for having instilled in me the ‘love before the law’ concept. Mayella was no bluejay, given the circumstances, she was a mockingbird.
A week passed by with Mayella being given a fortnight more to sort herself out or to obey the law.
The morning of the following Monday I woke up to what I assumed to be the sound of war. I immediately got out of bed and went to the verandah. Mr. Nathan Radley was also surprised at the noise and was looking at the cause of such a disturbance. It was like a group of soldiers marching, mostly Negro.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Atticus.
‘It’s Reverend Sykes and his congregation, demonstrating the ‘love before the law’ concept. Can I go too?’
‘Me too.’ said Jem.
‘Count me in too’ were Dill’s words as he climbed the verandah steps.
‘Well I guess it is exactly what you children should be doing. Just be careful.’ said Atticus with a broad smile.
Cal came with us too. And when we went there, Reverend Sykes was more than happy to see us all. ‘Helen refused to accept last Sunday’s money, Calpurnia.’ said the Reverend. ‘Instead she wanted to support the Ewells with it.’
I climbed the ladder and went up to the roof. I saw Dill near the Oak tree carrying planks to help mend the steps at the entrance: totally unaware that his helper was his ghost and my companion.
(Written by Oshanthaka Cabraal for a course on Narrative Fiction at the University of Kelaniya)