Crowe Street is quiet at night. Murphy likes it this way, though most nights he has trouble sleeping. For weeks he hasn’t gotten a good night’s rest, averaging four or five hours each night, sometimes less. He attributes his restlessness to his worries about his job at Granaby Youth Corrections. At thirty-six, he’s the youngest administrator since the facility was built in the early nineties, but in truth he hates it. He wants to believe in the kindness of strangers, the fierce possibilities of hope, the beauty of color. Some nights after work he sits on the back porch and watches fireflies and moths while his son Stephen plays with their dog, Rufus. Lately he has to supervise Stephen outside. Stephen is six, and for several weeks he’s been trying to hurt the dog—poking him with a stick, pulling his tail, throwing rocks at him. Last month Murphy talked to his wife Kate about counseling, but neither of them got around to calling anyone. Murphy’s so beaten down by work lately he can’t concentrate on anything. Much of what he describes about his work to Kate is corroborated by the younger guys from his neighborhood who’ve been through the system and talk openly about being locked up when they were minors. Outside the Portuguese market down the street, Murphy listens to their stories and pretends to be interested. In the apartment building next door, one of the upstairs tenants, Jack, has Monday Night Football parties that Murphy’s never been invited to. Jack, who’s slightly dyspneic and overweight, talks about his life as a delinquent, all the times he smoked hydroponic pot with his friends in a dim basement while listening to Jane’s Addiction and eating Nutter Butters. When Jack was seventeen he got drunk and stole a car from the neighborhood, put it through the window of a Repo Records, and then got out and asked if they had anything by the Del Fuegos. “But that’s all history,” he tells Murphy. Another tenant, a thirtyfour-year-old construction worker named Lyle, says he was caught trying to steal a rosewood-handled boot knife from an estate sale. Ever since, his father refers to him as slightly worse than useless. About once a week Kate sends Murphy to the Portuguese market even though she knows Murphy can’t stand the food. Codfish, pickled onions, red peppers, chourico, pork pudding, cacoula, and so on. Murphy can’t stand any of it. On nights she cooks that stuff he purposefully works late, then stops by Anchor Tom’s on his way home for a slice of pizza or a bowl of chowder to go. But the truth is that Murphy never minds going to the market because he has a small crush on the woman who works there. Her name is Mina; she’s divorced and dark and in her thirties. Murphy can tell she has a good bullshit antenna, so he hasn’t even attempted to flirt with her. She shrugs off the guys who try, or else tells them straight, “Sorry, not interested.” Murphy has never once seen her smile. The way her mouth droops on one side is basically the way she looks all the time, but somehow he finds this sexy. He imagines sleeping with her and searching her face. Her expression, her mouth, the whole time looking like she’s just been handed a used sock. Tonight, yet again, he is thinking about her as he lies in bed next to Kate. “Do we need anything from the market?” he asks quietly in the dark. “I was just thinking.” “What? It’s midnight.” “I meant for tomorrow. I could dash over there real quick.” “Stop talking.” “Just trying to help out.” “No.” He loves Kate absurdly. He loves that she’s neurotic, afraid of spiders and planes, worried about catching colds or a sore throat. Before 40_Stories_Final.indd 189 6/18/12 5:38 PM 190 Brandon Hobson they married, he sometimes playfully gave her Indian rub-burns on her arms while they watched Letterman at her apartment in West Haven. She grew up with three older brothers, so she didn’t mind playing rough. In the beginning they were spontaneous; he often took her against the wall in a sort of arabesque position, but that was several years ago. They married just out of college. He was working as a program coordinator in a small juvenile detention center. Now all he thinks about is quitting his job or fucking some stranger, like Mina from the market. Although, more and more frequently, he is aware of how incredibly lucky he is. He reminds himself of this. Stephen is a joy regardless of his recent behavior with Rufus. Sometimes at night they gather in the living room and play board games or draw pictures. On Sundays, Murphy helps Kate with yard work. When the weather is nice they take walks through the neighborhood, Stephen riding his bike in front of them. “We’re blessed,” Kate said one Christmas Eve when Stephen was a baby. “We have to remember how blessed we are.” Murphy sits up in bed and turns on the TV, mutes the sound, finds a nature program on cable. A magnified butterfly sits on a leaf. The butterfly materializes, pulsing, then flutters away. Murphy’s boss, Hank Drucker, says the city doesn’t like runaways or delinquents. Hank, who’s been a detention director for twentyfive years, is overweight and asthmatic and drinks heavily. He spends most of the day in his office, sucking on his inhaler and leaving Murphy to supervise the staff and handle the residents. For as long as Murphy’s known him, Hank’s been a man who speaks his mind. “I need someone to put out fires,” he told Murphy when he hired him several years ago. He pumped his inhaler in his mouth and sat back in his swivel chair. “The juveniles at Granaby are runaways and criminals. Some get kicked out of youth shelters for getting high or stealing from staff. Others get picked up by the police and brought in. I’ll worry about the court documents and paperwork. I need you out there on the floor, putting out fires.” For the past fifteen years, Murphy has seen these kids come in and out of juvenile detention. Sometimes the court places them in the cus- tody of social services and they sit in detention and wait to be placed in group homes. Then they run away from the group homes and return to the streets, and the whole cycle starts over again. Murphy is the assistant director and serves as a sort of in-house counselor. The juveniles he talks to during intakes, after they’ve changed out of their street clothes and showered and put all their money and jewelry in baggies, after they’ve carried their bed sheets and pillows down the hall past the medical supply room to their rooms, they tell him what happens when they return to the streets.
They always want to talk their first night. Especially the newcomers. Part of Murphy’s job is just listening to them. He thinks they see enough in six months to provide a lifetime of nightmares. Some of the Hispanics tell him they stand in the alley behind MG’s Liquor on Albany Street and see skinheads in leather jackets and camouflage pants walk by and stare at them. The skinheads smoke cigarettes and throw bottles. The skinheads lean against the fence and piss in the street and yell at them. “We’re not scared of them,” Paolo says. “I’ve seen these guys and they don’t do anything.” Paolo is sixteen and from the north side of Hartford. He’s lived in six different foster homes since he was twelve. His father is part of a large Latin gang and is doing time for possession of firearms and drug trafficking after what the FBI called one of the largest raids since the prohibition era. Paolo tells Murphy about pickpocketing tourists in Boston on the subway T train from Government Center to Harvard Square. For two months he stole toilet paper every day from Captain Jack’s Fish House’s bathroom until the place closed down due to failing health inspections. For a while, before he was picked up and sent to the shelter, he slept wherever he could—in the homes of strange men, under a pavilion in a park on Albany, on the wood floors of abandoned houses. As he talks to Murphy, he looks at the dried blood in his fingernails from scratching the scabs on his scalp. He has lice. Impetigo of the scalp. Tonight the staff will treat his hair with olive oil and a lice comb. They’ve been through this before. Later in the night, Paolo is upset. His hand is bleeding from punching the concrete wall, and he’s threatening to kill himself. He’s made threats like this in the past. After he calms down, two staff members 40_Stories_Final.indd 191 6/18/12 5:38 PM 192 Brandon Hobson help him into the medical room and wrap his hand. His fingers are swollen and bloody. Murphy thinks Paolo’s fingers might be broken, so he and Paolo’s probation officer, Rob, have to transport him to the hospital. Rob cuffs Paolo’s hands in front rather than behind his back since his hand is injured, then puts on the ankle restraints. “Always a flight risk,” Rob says. Paolo sits in the backseat with his head down.
They drive toward downtown to St. Francis. Been here before, Murphy has, but not for a long while. They pass liquor stores, beauty parlors, sheet metal wholesalers, old warehouses and apartment buildings. Downtown, Seymour Street’s darkness is broken at intervals with the yellow light of apartment windows, the open doors of restaurants and bars. The scent of decay emanates from the parking lot as they help Paolo from the car and walk him into the emergency room. Low priority emergency, so they will have to sit and wait as usual. Nobody’s really attempted suicide at Granaby, but Murphy tells the staff they have to take threats seriously, especially when a kid like Paolo is punching a wall until his hand bleeds. “You need to sit up,” Rob says in the waiting room. But Paolo is exhausted, sitting slumped with his head resting against the wall. He can’t keep his eyes open. When the nurse takes them to a room, Rob uncuffs him so she can check his pulse and take his blood pressure. She takes his hand and studies it. “Can you move your fingers?” Paolo moves his fingers but winces. “They’re pretty swollen,” Murphy says. Paolo sits on the exam table, staring at Rob’s military-style crew cut. The nurse writes something down on a clipboard, tells them the doctor will be in soon and leaves the room. Murphy knew they would be there at least a couple of hours, so he brought along the Courant. He unfolds it and starts on the New York Times crossword but struggles to keep his eyes open. “I could fall asleep right here,” he says. Rob sits next to him and chews on a toothpick. By the time they return to Granaby it’s late, after eleven. The graveyard crew is there, starting laundry. All residents are in bed. Murphy takes Paolo to his room in wing A and logs the prescribed antibiotic in the medical room. Nothing broken, thankfully. He tells Cliff, the eleven-to-seven supervisor, to have someone from the morning shift go to the pharmacy and fill the antibiotic. “We’ve got other problems,” Cliff says. “Thomas in Wing C.” Murphy can already guess. Thomas, a fourteen-year-old, seriously unstable kid from Allston who’s in for rape by instrumentation on his five-year-old stepsister. Thomas will possibly be charged as an adult and remain locked up until he’s twenty-one unless the longterm treatment is successful and the justice system considers him rehabilitated. These kids, they’re called youthful offenders, which is a polite term for sex offenders. They’re unlike the others in detention in that most of them are socially inept, immature, obsessive about little things like hiding extra toilet paper in their pillow cases and masturbating two or three times a day in the main bathroom with the door open. Thomas always wants attention. His father is one of those low-grade knuckleheads who wears flannel shirts and drives a 1993 firebird and chews Red Man. During weekend visitation, he once told Murphy he drinks Stolichnaya vodka only. Thomas has an unfortunate facial tic that Murphy thinks he exaggerates for attention at certain times throughout the day, like during meals when no talking is the rule. He’s been in detention for more than ninety days while he’s waiting to be placed in residential treatment. This week he’s in room confinement for making inappropriate remarks about sharpening a broomstick and using it as a weapon on detention officers. “I can already guess,” Murphy says.
Sure enough. In Wing C, Murphy opens Thomas’s door and sees
him sitting cross-legged on the floor with his shirt off. His shirt is
crumpled on his bed, and feces are smeared on the wall and all over
the floor. Feces, everywhere. Murphy radios a staff member to Wing
C and Thomas looks up.
“What’s wrong with you?” Murphy says. “Again?”
Thomas doesn’t say anything. But there is shame, if not embarrassment,
and Murphy has to remind himself that most of the state custody
abused kids like Thomas developed a habit of smearing feces in
bed or shitting in their underwear to ward off their predators. These are the times that test Murphy’s patience, and residents like Thomas
are good at grating on his nerves. Before he started working with delinquents,
Murphy taught ninth-grade civics at a public high school
in East Hartford but got fired for cursing at the students. Murphy,
at twenty-four, young and just out of college, still single and staying
out late at night, then hungover the next day and trying to deal with
hyperactive adolescents with mood swings and hormones. The day
he got fired he lost his temper. His students were talking and laughing
and being generally disruptive as he stood at the blackboard,
and after several attempts to quiet them, he threw his head back and
screamed, “Can’t you people ever shut the fuck up and listen to me
for one goddamn second?” He has to remind himself of those days
when his job gets stressful, as it does trying to deal with Thomas.
“You know the drill,” Murphy says.
Thomas gets up and follows Murphy to the closet, where they fill
a mop bucket and get a spray bottle full of cleaner and paper towels.
Thomas spends the next thirty minutes cleaning his room and then
takes a shower while everyone else in Wing C is trying to sleep. A
staff member relieves Murphy so he can go home after such a long
day. A twelve-hour day, in fact, and he doesn’t get paid overtime. The
extra hours accrue as comp time, which means he can at least take off
“Try not to call me at home tonight if there’s a problem,” Murphy
“Don’t call you?”
“Let’s hope for a smooth night. I need sleep.”
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