POLICY AND PROCEDURE

This story was told by a fire. A husband and wife live in their home, childless, for forty-three years. One day a man appears in their attic, curled up and asleep in the corner. For days the man lies there with his face against the floor, but at once the couple recognizes him as their son. Indifferent and docile, or in shock, or perhaps something else entirely, the man opens his eyes and is fed and washed like a boy. Each night after, the husband and wife read a book aloud and pray beside his bed, which they arranged in the attic. Never saying anything, he simply listens. But then his parents place a book on his lap and ask him to read aloud. The man sits up and looks at the book as if he does not know what it is for. (Or perhaps he knew exactly what it was for, but I will not insinuate what my storyteller did not.) Suddenly, he lowers his head, lets out a cry—a choking cry—and falls back lifelessly onto his pillow. The father calls an ambulance while the mother, weeping beside the bed, says that she has lost her son again.

But what do the police do when they arrive and find the dead man in the attic? (“My God!” the first policeman mutters to his partner in response to the scene.) They arrest the old couple. They arrest the old couple and delicately escort them down two flights of stairs and into a patrol car. The wife, whose head falls on her husband’s shoulder, says, “They killed my son! Those good for nothing. I’ll show them.”

“Who killed your son, ma'am, are you saying that man was your son?”

“What a disgrace for God, just as he had risen!” The husband says, nodding.

“What is this? What’s he nodding about?” The first policeman continues to drive, but looks with accusing eyes at the wife, and then at the husband, through the rearview mirror... Then something else occurs at this time, something entirely more mysterious that distracts the first policeman. He notices his partner writing in a notebook, the reason unclear. He scratches his pen quickly and wildly against the page, crossing t’s and dotting i’s—possibly underlining and circling—before tearing the page out and folding it into his breast pocket: a powerful gesture that quickly ends the matter. In a performance review three months later, a superior officer marks this as an example in which the officers’ professional communication skills “came unglued.”