That took place on Monday of this week. I began my sentence yesterday afternoon right after school, on Friday. It’s now Saturday afternoon. I don’t even know the time right now, and I don’t care. I have roughed out this story on coffee-stained pads and even on the cardboard backings so that I can polish it on Grampa’s blue face when I get home.
My retraction and apology was approved by Judge Michot two days after the hearing and is being distributed today while I sit here. In it, I praised the Reuhausens for being exceedingly kind and understanding. I explained that Mister Reuhausen had a business relationship with my late grandfather, of which I was ignorant. I confessed my mistakes in following up on the lead and in publishing before I had all the facts, but I didn’t use the word “serious” to describe my actions. After all, they were honest mistakes, and I don’t want Mister Reuhausen to think he came out on the short end of the deal. What’s more, I plan to make a sincere effort to get acquainted with Missus Reuhausen. (With her first, then him.) I pledged, in my retraction, that The Clover Street News would never again contain a single word that was unverified or untrue, and that, if ever its reporters had a suspicion of something, we would go to the source or to the authorities to make sure before reporting on it.
I look upon my stay here as a sentence, not a visit. It’s kind of like the way some people consider being cooped up with relatives as a sentence, not a visit. Or being trapped in a meeting after school. Or being forced to look after a younger brother when there are better things to do. I will never forget a detail of this experience, but I don’t want to do it again, ever!
Yes, I’ll learn from printing a retraction. But, without having spent the time alone in this cell, I probably never would have attempted to write about the whole complicated affair so that I could share it with others. That’s the value I, and I hope you, have received for my being here.
Tomorrow I shall hold my head high as I walk into the Lakeside Free Community Church. Won’t Pastor Vanbeck be surprised! But didn’t my dad allow a couple of months ago that we might go there? And isn’t something of that sort part of my self-imposed sentence? I plan to go and ask God to make me better, and see what happens from there.
Solitary confinement hasn’t been all that solitary, by the way. There is a female deputy who hardly let me out of her sight until I went to sleep, although she must have gone off shift at midnight. And, yes, this is the real thing, the real county jail. I can sometimes hear clanging and voices or just footsteps some distance down the hallway. And since daybreak there is a gentle man who much resembles Grampa who has been my assigned deputy. He checks me often but doesn’t chat much.
My mom and dad came with me yesterday when I turned myself in, and Mom stayed for hours while the three of us — the female deputy too — talked and talked. This morning, after a delicious breakfast, I might mention, my “Grampa” deputy brought me a small stack of envelopes. There was a funny card from Heidi Glueck, another one from April Hemple saying how badly she felt for me and how she understood now why we wouldn’t let her help the night everything went bad. There was an envelope with my name written in my mother’s hand but otherwise anonymous, which contained only an indistinct photo of the Sleuth Brothers in their rat costumes — (why does Harvey’s family even own those costumes?) — the photo evidently taken by someone’s surveillance camera while they were “infesticating” where they didn’t belong. It cracks me up.
And there were four more cards from other neighbors, including an antique-looking one from Missus Burke, which included a handwritten letter. In her elegant script it says:
Please visit me as soon as you can. I have followed your case. You can’t imagine how your plight has enlivened my days. You have courage, and I have cheered for you as others do for a soccer team. I have thoroughly enjoyed the image of Reuhausen, innocent or not, squirming at the blistering you gave him. Maybe he’s not a thief, but I have known him for years, and next to him vinegar smells sweet. Trust me on that. I still think you should apologize to him publicly, of course, in the pages of your newspaper.
I mention this next idea meekly, which is uncharacteristic for me, but you have the power to thrill or to crush me. And yet, I won’t rest until I know your decision. I have money. I would like to buy one of those computers that you are so familiar with.
Well, Young Lady, I have time on my hands. And even at my age (94!) I can aspire to begin something new. And why should I like you to teach me to use a computer? I thought perhaps you would accept some help with The Clover Street News. Perhaps I can contribute some things no one else could, such as historical reflections on this little neighborhood. Help such as mine might make it easier to get the paper out regularly and on time, a problem I know you’ve struggled with valiantly.
Think about it, won’t you? Please don’t fear to refuse me, for any reason, if that is your decision. I will still cherish our budding friendship.
Affectionately, Ella Burke
I have just enough time, before Dad comes to pick me up, to draft her an enthusiastic invitation to become a junior member of the staff.
The Clover Street News – Chapter 1 – Chapter 2 – Chapter 3 – Chapter 4 – Chapter 5 – Chapter 6 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8 – Chapter 9 – Chapter 10 – Chapter 11 – Chapter 12 – Chapter 13 – Chapter 14 – Chapter 15 – Chapter 16 – Chapter 17