The Authors Collection: Why Roses Wilt, a short story

Family Court

Why Roses Wilt

By Stephen Woodfin

It was just another day for Samuel Williams, a family court judge in a small jurisdiction in East Texas.

Or so he thought.

He never looked at his docket ahead of time. He had seen it all before, divorces where love had turned sour, child custody hearings where parents placed their own happiness above that of the children they brought into the world, child support enforcement actions against deadbeat dads who spent their paychecks on booze and cigarettes, or maybe a whore or two.

He was sick of it, sick from the soles of his feet to his bald head.

He holed up in his chambers awaiting the witching hour on Thursdays, the time when he would mete out justice in thimble fulls to people who would disregard his warnings, go about their lives unimpeded by the dictates of the law.

“They’re ready,” his court administrator said when she stuck her head in the door and interrupted his reveries.

“What do we have today, June?” he asked his court coordinator. ”The same old shit?”

“You might want to look at this file before you take the bench, Sam. It’s a little different,” she said. She walked to his desk and laid a thick folder on it before she retreated.

In a few minutes, Judge Williams buzzed June on the intercom.

“Are these people crazy?” he asked her.

“They don’t appear to be, sir,” she said.

“Who’s representing them?”

“Marshall Feldon.”

family law

“He ought to know better. Tell him to get his ass in here.”

“Yes, sir,” June said as she hung up the phone.

Feldon entered Williams’ chambers.

“Sit your ass down, Feldon,” the judge said. “What’s up with this Smithwicke case?”

“It should all be in the file, Your Honor.”

“I know what’s in the file. I am trying to understand the why of it?”

“It’s an adoption.”

“I know that, you dumbass. But why would any couple decide to adopt four kids? According to the record, they already have three of their own. And two of these kids are special needs. Most people have their hands full caring for just one child like that.”

“Their children are grown. They’re empty-nesters,” Feldon said.

Williams looked at the papers. “I know that, too. The social study says the husband is fifty five, and the wife is fifty-three.”

“They have good jobs and plenty of resources, Your Honor. They have already spent ten grand remodeling their home.”

“Remodeling it for what? To make a room where they can lock these kids up with video games for the next ten years?”

“It’s not like that, Your Honor.”

“What’s it like then?”

“Maybe I should bring the Smithwickes in here and let you talk to them.”

“If they don’t have some answers, I’ll never approve this adoption.”

“They are waiting in the foyer.”

Judge Williams nodded, and Feldon excused himself.

In a minute, Feldon escorted Mr. and Mrs. Smithwicke into Judge Williams’ chambers.

Williams wasted no time getting to the point.

“I’m sure your attorney has shared my concerns with you,” he said.

“He has, Your Honor,” Mr. Smithwicke said. “My wife and I understand how you could feel the way you do. But we’ve spent a lot of time preparing for our new life with these kids. They are not a burden to us. We love them.”

“I don’t want to rain on your parade, Mr. Smithwicke, but I’ve seen a lot of people who think adoption is one thing, and soon learn they have bitten off more than they can chew.”

Mrs. Smithwicke addressed the judge.

“Your Honor, can I give you some background that may not be in the file?”

“Of course, Mrs. Smithwicke.”

“Two years ago we saw the story on the news.”

“What story?”

“The account of the house fire that killed the kids’ parents.”

Judge Williams listened.

“The TV reported that the children had no where to go. We talked to our pastor and urged him to open the church up as a surrogate family for them.”

“And what happened?” Judge Williams asked.

“He had the same concerns you have. He said there were state agencies that could see the children were taken care of. He thought it was too big a project for the church.”

“There are such agencies, Mrs. Smithwicke,” the judge said.

“Those agencies wanted to split them up, place one child here, another there.”

Mr. Smithwicke added, “We visited the kids and saw how they loved each other, depended on each other, clung to each other. So my wife and I made a vow.”

“What did you vow, Mr. Smithwicke.”

“We vowed to put our money where our mouth was. Child protective services placed them with us, and we became their new parents. Nothing you do can change that. This is a matter between the kids, us and God. We are simply asking for your blessing to make our relationship with them official. It is already established in our hearts.”

“You’ve had these kids in your home for two years?”

Mr. and Mrs. Smithwicke nodded.

“Did the church realize the error of its ways and decide to help you?”

“We don’t belong to that church anymore,” Mrs. Smithwicke said. “We worship at home with our children.”

Judge Williams looked at Feldon. “Thanks for giving me some time with the Smithwickes, Mr. Feldon. I’ll see you in the courtroom in a few minutes.”

After the attorney and his clients left Judge Williams’ office, June entered his chambers and shut the door.

“There are still some people in this world who are the real deal, Sam.”

“I’d almost forgotten that,” Judge Williams said.

June opened the door to leave his office. Judge Williams stopped her.

“There’s one thing you can do for me,” he said.

“What’s that, Your Honor?”

“Can you find out what size clothes the Smithwicke kids wear?”

“There’s hope for you yet, Judge Scrooge,” June said as she smiled and left him in the privacy of his chambers.


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