by Kayla Jessop
She stole Barney. Before the thievery, the deep purple and bright green dinosaur sat upright, perched against the large, bulky TV stand in our small living room. His once soft fabric was now ruffled and torn, scratchy with the amounts of matted lint trapped in the fur from my sister’s constant, brutal kidnappings. He became the victim the day we no longer cared about his safety or delicate features. Sometimes, I didn’t see her stealing him. I would be standing in the kitchen adjacent to the room. I’d count the number of apples embedded in the wallpaper that surrounded the kitchen. I’d give her time to strike and make her way out of the room. Other times, I stood in the door frame between the two rooms, and I would watch as her small frame stood at the far end of the living room. My eyes burned from squinting. I stared as she moved her dainty little fingers to his neck and snatched him.
I joined my hands together to make a gun formation with my fingers.
“Freeze! This is the police! Drop Barney!” I yelled at her.
She didn’t, though. She never did. We played this game often. A few times a week at least. We learned it from the kids in our neighborhood, often playing with them when we were bored of it being the two of us. We perfected our game—our yelling, our finger guns, the stern look on our faces—by watching the show Cops with our mother. Myself being seven and my sister five, my mother said she didn’t mind as long as we didn’t grow up to do the crimes on the show.
“This is your last warning!” I yelled again. “You’re breaking the law!”
She stared at me, long and hard with her green eyes squinted, as if I were the criminal. She was good at that. Her death glare always made me want to let her get away, to excuse the crime.
Maybe it was Barney’s fault for getting kidnapped. But no, it was her fault. She was the thief.
“You’ll have to catch me,” she said as she tucked Barney under her armpit and got into position to flee. She looked around the room, eyeing the two exits: the entryway to the kitchen that I was blocking, and the backdoor that led to a grass-covered field behind our house, enriched with trees and an overgrown pond, brimming with snakes and ticks. Sometimes, when she played her role too well, she would run towards me, push me onto the nearby couch, and run through the kitchen to the front door. She didn’t this time, though. With one final look at me, she dashed towards the backyard. She climbed on top of the couch next to the door, did a combat roll onto the floor, and jumped up, smooth and quick. Then she opened the door and ran out to the yard.
Driving While Under the Influence—misdemeanor.
Obstruction of Justice—misdemeanor.
Hit and Run Accident—misdemeanor.
No charges were filed. Lucky break.
My sister moved to Miami in the late spring of 2020. She was fleeing the state of Delaware—where she lived for most of her life—escaping from pending charges of drunk driving, wrecking a family member’s car, refusing to give her name to responding officers, fleeing the scene, and running into the woods and out of sight.
I found out the morning after that she and her boyfriend crashed the borrowed car. A family member called to ask if I had heard from her in those last twenty-four hours. I hadn’t. That wasn’t unusual, since we talked infrequently: my sister mostly calling when she needed something and me calling her in between to check in. I was shocked that my sister had committed such a careless crime, but only a little. She had been going through a rough patch since she turned 18 a couple of years before; a college drop-out in her second semester, partying more than she had been working, in and out of relationships with boys who only cared about crimes and smoking pot. She rarely wanted to hear about right and wrong or setting priorities and sticking to them.
It wasn’t always like this. We used to laugh with each other, talking about memories and people we knew. We’d drive in the car when I was visiting from South Carolina or her from Delaware, listening to music as she sang Beyoncé at the top of her lungs. We would cry together over sad moments. We bonded over heartbreaks and growing up.
After running from Delaware, she spent a week traveling to Miami in an old, beat-up Honda with her boyfriend of the last few months and his friend. She called me two days into her journey, two days after the accident.
“What’s up, Sissy?” she said calmly.
“What do you mean, ‘What’s up?’ Where are you?” I yelled into the phone.
I hated that I had become accustomed to yelling at her. My sister had grown accustomed to it too. I hated that even more.
“We’re in Myrtle Beach. Can we stay with you tonight?”
“No, you can’t. I’m home in Maryland, remember? Still dealing with Mom’s funeral stuff?”
Of course she wouldn’t remember that. She hadn’t helped with the funeral at all in the month since our mom passed. She was too busy with her boyfriend to hang out with me each time I asked if she could meet for lunch or even a quick parking lot hug. I had driven home to South Carolina and back to Maryland twice in the span of the month, only seeing her the day after Mom’s death.
I didn’t like her boyfriend. Our whole family didn’t. Maybe it wasn’t fair because I hadn’t met him, but his character seemed unsavory. In and out of jail. Assault on ex-girlfriends. The habit of taking to Facebook to air out any dirty laundry my sister had when they fought. He even sent me messages during a fight they had once, calling her bad names and subsequently calling me them as well when I didn’t engage in the conversation.
I asked her what her plan was. She had none. I asked her if she had money. She didn’t. I asked her if she was sorry for what she did. She wasn’t.
“It’s a misunderstanding. That’s all,” she said.
She never took responsibility for her actions. She never had to because everyone found excuses for her behavior, causing her to do the same. They took turns blaming it on “daddy issues” from our absent father and “mommy issues” from our half-there mother. They used the “smart girl turned bad from boys” trope too. Anything to make sense of why she does what she does.
We ended the phone conversation sometime between me yelling at her about needing to come back to Delaware to fix things and her yelling that I didn’t know everything. I didn’t hear from her for weeks. I only saw her Facebook Live videos and knew where she was from those. Each video grew more intense and worrisome: her words were slurred and her eyes were heavy. She walked around barefoot in Miami, wearing only a sports bra and underwear, talking in slang and cuss words about feeling free.
The charges never came because the family didn’t want to press them.
I ran after her as quick as I could, moving my arms to give myself more momentum, catching the door just before she tried to shut it behind her to delay the chase. She was steps ahead of me, running in a zig-zag formation, yelling about getting away. She usually did get away too. I rarely won. If I did win, it was a pity-win on her part. She had the energy and drive to run for what felt like hours. She never cared about scraped knees from tripping over or the sheen of sweat that would soak her bangs, matting them to her forehead. When I couldn’t catch her, when my lungs burned from the ongoing chase, I gave up and retreated back into the house. I never liked to be on the run like she did.
Barney bounced in her grasp as she jumped over sticks and fallen branches from trees in our backyard. His head bobbed more and more, threads coming loose with each bounce. I was close behind her, hot on her tail. I could almost grab the strands of her long, brown hair.
“If you turn yourself in, you’ll make it easier!” I said. I reached for her, but she jumped in the air, avoiding my grasp.
“Never,” she said, as she looked back at me.
I chased her still, looking at the ground to ensure I didn’t fall. We were going too fast for me to keep up with her by the trees—a stump I once fell over took me out of the game for a week. My sister followed the same route each time we went through the backyard: out the door, around the trees, near the pond to stand opposite me, and up and around a small hill on the side of the house, journeying into the house via the front door.
Providing False Identification to a Police Officer—misdemeanor.
Obstruction of Justice—misdemeanor.
Driving Without License—misdemeanor.
Sixteen days in county jail. Undisclosed (unpaid) fine.
The first time my sister got arrested, I didn’t find out until she was halfway through her incarceration. A family friend sent me her mugshot and asked if I knew. I hadn’t, but I also hadn’t talked to her in the few weeks since she had moved to Miami. We weren’t actively fighting, but each message we sent to each other was laced with disappointment and frustration. I thought it was suspicious she didn’t post on Facebook for a few days, but I was also aware that her phone had been cut off. She couldn’t afford the payments after she blew the only money she had in her bank account from her last job on hotel rooms. When she ran out of money, she slept in the car. I begged her to let me fly her home. She told me that she wouldn’t go without him, and I wouldn’t do that for him. Not for a man who supported her living like she was. Not for a man who emotionally abused and sabotaged her, even if she wouldn’t admit it.
She called me the day she was out. She was sitting on the corner of the street, waiting for her boyfriend. I was at work, building my syllabus for the fall courses I would teach.
“Are you okay?”
“Jail was awful. The food sucks,” she said.
She almost laughed, but I could hear the pain in her voice. I knew jail did suck for her. It must have been lonely and scary for her that first time. I felt bad for her. Guilty that it had come to this. I felt as though I could have done more for her situation. I wanted to press her for more information about jail, but I knew from the tone of her voice that I wouldn’t get more out of her.
“We were driving and got pulled over. They arrested us for no reason.”
“They don’t arrest for no reason. I saw your charges on the jail site.”
“Okay, fine. I lost my license, and we got pulled over. I told them my name was ‘Kelly Hemsworth,’ and they arrested me,” she said.
The fake name was close enough to her real name, though “Hemsworth” is an homage to her longtime celebrity crush, Liam. I knew from a Google search that the charge of obstruction was tied to the fake identity.
“I heard your boyfriend was arrested too.”
“Yeah, that was fucking bullshit. They got him on possession. He barely had anything on him.”
I rolled my eyes, but I didn’t respond. I knew it wouldn’t matter if I gave her advice. She didn’t want to hear it. The last time I did that, she didn’t talk to me for days. It wasn’t worth the stress and anxiety on my behalf. I asked her what her plan was. She didn’t have one. She still had no money for a place to live and certainly couldn’t pay the fine attached to her release. No place to go. I asked if she was sorry.
“I have nothing to be sorry for,” she said.
I knew, from experience, that my best chance of catching her and retrieving Barney was in the overgrown, knee-high grass by the swamp-like pond. The overgrown weeds and snakes that were not yet seen by us but always threatened by our mother. My sister hesitated, slowing her pace to look for creatures. I, too afraid of what could bite a chunk out of my leg, rarely went near the pond. So while she took small, cautious steps over branches and mud, I ran to the opposite side at the bottom of the hill. I could catch her there. I had done it once before. I stood there, hands on knees, chest heaving from too full lungs and tried to catch my breath as I watched her track through the pond.
The Maryland summer sun beat down on my fair skin. I knew I would give up soon, tired of chasing after a criminal who wouldn’t change her ways. My sister liked the chase. She liked to break the rules. That’s why she was always the robber and I, the cop. While I was calm, more well-mannered, and mild-tempered, she was rambunctious. She liked to make a mess and leave it, though I stayed after and cleaned up her messes. She gave our mother an attitude about anything not worth her time. Even at our young age, my mother would say she knew my sister would give her gray hair early. In the months after we learned how to play cops and robbers, I was only the robber once. I gave up after a moment’s chase, apologizing for my mistakes. I didn’t want to be taken to a fake jail, which was just our couch, because the thought of the crime ate me alive immediately. I kissed Barney’s head that day, apologizing for disrupting his peace. My sister laughed at me and told all the neighborhood kids, who also took turns laughing.
Trespass in Structure or Conveyance (Second Warning)—misdemeanor.
One night in county jail. Undisclosed (unpaid) fine.
Her second arrest came after months of living on the streets of Miami. Her friend and his car went back to safety in Delaware. My sister liked Miami. She liked the freedom she had. She didn’t like living on the streets, but she liked that she and her boyfriend could travel. They did as they pleased. Neither of them had jobs, and although my sister would occasionally try to get one, it never worked out. Instead, she got most of her money from asking our family for CashApps and PayPal requests. When that didn’t work, she had her boyfriend’s drug sales to rely on. I didn’t know that’s what they did until on a Facebook Live, when he spent moments going through a bookbag he carried, pulling out grams and ounces of weed. My sister spoke in the background about making money and said, “Come find us for a deal.”
This time, she called me from jail, hours after she was booked. I was in between teaching classes, walking across campus to the next one.
“An inmate at Miami-Dade County Jail is trying to reach you. Please press ‘one’ to accept charges,” the operator said.
I reluctantly hit the button. I sighed into the universe, partly because I knew she was safe, though in lock-up, and partly because I had to deal with more of her nonsense. I felt guilty about the feeling. I knew I would cry back in my office after class, once I was away from students and fellow faculty.
“Sissy, I only have a minute,” she said.
“What happened this time?” I asked.
“I was just sitting outside on the curb. The police arrested me,” she said.
“The same curb they asked you to move from last week?”
“Yes, but the police just lock anyone up for no reason. It’s fucking stupid.”
“Is it possible this wasn’t for no reason?” I asked.
“Can you bail me out? Please? It sucks in here,” she asked. She sounded desperate. I knew she was sad and upset with her position.
“No, but when you get out, I can book you a flight back home.”
She hung up on me without another word. She was upset, but not so upset that she would let me bring her home to safety. To a roof over her head. To a job. To more than one outfit to wear. To an opportunity to get away from this mess she created. I offered frequently, each time getting less of a welcoming response. Sometimes she would ponder the idea, but not for long and not without her boyfriend.
She’d call again when she got out, asking for money for food, clothes, and a hotel room for the night. I almost always gave it to her. I felt too bad—too responsible for her as her older sister—not to send the money. It always came with a lecture on my part. It was a waste of breath. She didn’t care about the lecture. It went through one ear and out the other. She only cared about the resources I sent. I knew she appreciated it, always following up with, Thank you, Sissy. I love you, so I let my bitterness seep into my bones rather than my throat.
She went on Facebook Live the next day, smoking a cigarette, back on the streets, her boyfriend talking in the background about money and success. She sent me a text from a borrowed phone to say they let her out. I sarcastically asked if she thought this was what success looks like. I didn’t get a response.
“I got you now!” I yelled at her as she came around the pond.
She knew I was there and glanced up at me between stepping over mud piles, but because of where the bottom of the hill sat, she had no choice but to keep walking towards me. While finishing the pond walk was her only option, she could still run away fast.
“You haven’t caught me yet,” she said. She looked around at her surroundings, deciding how quickly she could get around me.
“If you give me Barney, you’ll go to jail for less time,” I offered. “We can make it easy!”
She eyed me then. Squinted her green eyes. I gave her this option before, but she didn’t take it because she didn’t trust me because I’m a “cop.” She continued to run instead.
“No!” she yelled at me. She was standing so close that she spit on my face as her lips puckered with the “o.”
She dug her hands into my shoulders and shoved me down into the grass, threw Barney at me, and ran up the hill. She rarely played fair in this game.
Grand Theft Auto in the First Degree—felony.
Strong Arming in the First Degree—felony.
In the Spring of 2022, my sister traveled back to Delaware with her boyfriend. She called me halfway through her trip. I asked her where she got the car from. She said a friend from Miami let her borrow it. I knew it was suspicious, but each time I asked her why someone would let her borrow their car to travel across states, she stuck to her story. I thought about what I would do if the car was stolen—maybe call the police on her, report her crime. I quickly threw the thought out of my head, feeling guilty immediately. She asked me for money for gas. I said no. She asked me to give her money for food on their way. I said no.
Back in Delaware, her boyfriend got arrested for skipping out on his bail from 2020. She got a job in an effort to save money to bail him out. She got a new-to-her car—a gift from her boyfriend’s mother—since the borrowed car stopped working, according to her. While in jail, serving his two-month sentence, he got charged with an outstanding warrant for grand theft auto and strong-arming in the first degree.
My sister didn’t bother to call me. Part of me thought it was because she knew she would have to tell me the truth about the car. The other part of me knew that she didn’t understand the severity of what lay ahead if she got charged too. Instead, my aunt heard about it from a family friend and called me to relay the information.
I called my sister immediately, wanting to know what happened, needing to know if she was going to be arrested.
“So, did you steal the car?” I asked.
“I didn’t steal it. The person did let me borrow it.” Her tone was slick with resentment for my question.
“You do realize you can’t keep lying, right?”
“I fucking borrowed it. He said I could take it to the store,” she said.
“What store? Walmart six states away?”
“So what? He said I could.”
She was irritated that I questioned her. Perhaps, she was even more irritated that I found out about it.
“Where is the car now?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I switched the tags and sold it,” she said. I could hear her rolling her eyes in her voice. She had a way of letting her facial expressions slip through her tone.
I knew then that my sister was guilty. She admitted it without realizing. When I asked her to elaborate, she told me how she and the boyfriend were drinking with the victim of the theft the night they started driving back to Delaware. Her boyfriend beat him up and my sister got into the car and started driving. It was true that he said she could borrow the car, but he had said that earlier in the evening and only meant for her to go to the convenience store up the road. When she got back to Delaware, afraid of driving the ‘borrowed’ car, she switched the tags from a random car in a parking lot and sold it to someone they knew. That person got pulled over and told the police my sister and her boyfriend’s name. Since he was already in jail, he was easier to find. However, with my sister being out in the world, she only had a warrant out for her arrest.
“You need to turn yourself in,” I told her.
“They won’t find me,” she persisted.
We went back and forth for days, weeks. I considered turning her in on my own. A phone call would be easy. I could be anonymous, but the guilt would be harder to get rid of.
She got arrested during a traffic stop. She called me from the correctional center to say that she had been charged too. I knew that already from her lack of response in the recent week.
“The police said each charge faces 40 years,” she said.
I knew that. I had already contacted a lawyer in Miami for her since she would be extradited there from Delaware. It was a Miami warrant, so it would be a Miami judicial issue. The lawyer was optimistic about getting her to plead out for five years served. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than going to court and taking the chance with a jury. She could plead guilty. Turn on her boyfriend. After all, he had more experience with the law than she did. It would work in her favor.
“You need to hire that lawyer,” I told her as many times as I had before. She had money in her account to cover the retainer fee from when she was working weeks before.
“No. I’m bailing myself out once I get to Miami,” she said. She didn’t have money for both the lawyer and bail.
“And then what? You have no money. You’ll be back on the streets,” I said.
“Being on the streets is better than jail.”
“A public defender won’t get you a deal like this. You’ll go to prison for longer.”
She wouldn’t hear it. When she got extradited, she spent two more nights in a Miami jail.
She went back to living on the streets, asking for money frequently. She can’t get a job because her background check comes back dirty each time. She and her boyfriend are back on their park bench, waiting for their next court date—the first day of trial with a jury—in late June. A public defender, who barely knows her name or personality, will defend her actions. My sister won’t say sorry. She will say the car was borrowed, that it was a misunderstanding. She wasn’t the thief. She helped the victim.
By the time I got up, shook the grass from my legs, and hugged Barney as an apology for her behavior, she was already at the top of the hill, just on the verge of running down and making her way to the front of her house. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to catch her. I was the worst cop, though I did rescue Barney, which must count for something.
I held Barney close to my chest with one arm and ran after her. I climbed up the hill on all fours, my free arm and hand clawing into the grass, out of breath and out of steam. When I made it up the hill, my sister was already down it, halfway to the sidewalk on the side of our house. I watched as her hair trailed behind her, her winning streak following her, too.
“I give up! You win!” I yelled at her.
“I’ll let you catch up if you want,” she said.
“There’s no point! You’ll just run away again.”
She shrugged her shoulders as if to say I was right, though she didn’t need to say it out loud for us to know it was true.
She had the courtesy of waiting for me at the beginning of the sidewalk. When I caught up to her, she joked that she was the best robber there was. We walked in the front door and my sister told our mom she beat me again. I placed Barney back on the table in the living room to let him sit in safety until he would be stolen again.
The Eye of God 2
by Ronald Walker
Kayla Jessop is an MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. She does her best writing while sitting in coffee shops and daydreaming about possibilities. In her free time, when she’s not teaching, she enjoys cross-stitching and watching New Girl.
Mr. Walker works in a painting style he terms “Suburban Primitive”. This style combines his interest in the origins and functions of art along with life in the suburbs, which he views in both a physical and psychological manner. His work has been shown in 45 solo exhibits and numerous group shows over the years. He holds both a MFA and a MA degree in painting and drawing.