What Hiram hoped was going to be a joyous reunion was instead, a tragic discovery. He had forgotten about the well deep in the back yard, covered with rotten boards. That’s where they found Jenny.
He watched as they pulled her little body out of the rancid water, covered in leaves and dirt. Her pink ribbon fell out of her hair as they carried her away. He finally admitted to the sheriff that he had sent Jenny outside to play. Even though her death was ruled an unfortunate accident, he would never get over the guilt nor would anybody let him.
He recounted the aftermath to Jones. “People in town stopped speaking to me. Some of them called me a killer. Thessie divorced me. My business was ruined. I became a recluse. I still went to church for a while but everybody pretended that they didn’t see me. After a few weeks, Deuce got nervous and asked me not to come anymore. He said that my presence was ‘too disruptive’.”
Hiram managed a sarcastic little laugh when he said “and they’re supposed to be God people. Isn’t He supposed to be forgiving? Aren’t they?” He took another swig of whiskey and said “I guess some sins are just unforgivable.”
Even though Hiram was a self-proclaimed coward, Jones felt sympathy for him. He and Thessie didn’t have any children and they weren’t attuned to the fact that children are curious by nature and must be watched like hawks.
Hiram told Jones that he stayed in the house for a few years but it became unbearable. “All of those memories,” he said. He told him that he had seen the light in the middle window and believed that it was Jenny’s spirit.
“And the trees,” he said. “The trees began weeping the day they found her and they never stopped.”
He asked Jones if he would like to have the little pink ribbon. Jones was surprised but said “yes, if you’d like for me to have it.” Hiram said “you can put it with the rest of your treasures.”
Jones was startled. Had he told Hiram about his treasures? If he had, he didn’t remember. Had Hiram sneaked up to the house, peeped through the window and seen them on the two-tier table? Or had Hiram been the one who left them behind for him to find? Obviously the doctor hadn’t found them or if he had, he wasn’t interested.
His thoughts were interrupted when Hiram began to speak again. He said “you know, I think we’re put here for a reason but I don’t know why I was put here. When I was young, I did everything right. I was a good son, a good friend and a good husband. But I was selfish and that selfishness caused the death of a little girl. Was that why I was put here?
He looked at his now empty glass and said in an almost sneer as if reprimanding himself. “I didn’t want to be bothered. I didn’t want to be bothered, so I sent her outside to die.”
Jones tried to placate him by saying “you made a mistake. We all make mistakes.” Hiram looked him in the eye and said “how many little girls have you sent to their death?” Jones didn’t answer and Hiram said “exactly.”
He didn’t look at Jones when he said “I have to pay penance and my penance is length of years. I have swallowed a bottle of pills every night since Jenny was found, hoping that it will cause the big sleep. But every morning, I wake up to my world of exile. Sometimes, I wonder if my debt will ever be paid.”
He handed Jones the ribbon and opened the door. Jones thanked him for the ribbon and the information and headed back to the grand lady. When he got there, he wrote down Hiram’s story and sealed it in an envelope. “This will stay with the house,” he said to himself.
Jones put the little pink ribbon between the armless green soldier and a pair of milk glass doorknobs. It was in start contrast to the other hard, rusted, time-worn pieces of metal.
Jones never went back to see Hiram. He had gotten the story and he knew that Hiram wasn’t looking for a friend. He just wanted to be left alone.
Eleven months later, Jones got word that Hiram had died. There was no fanfare, no funeral, no wake, no service, no place to leave flowers and no one to cry for him. He had left a will, stating that he was to be cremated and his ashes were to be “scattered to the wind.”
Jones mourned for him. He was a man who by all rights, had everything going for him and then one day, cruel fate stepped in. After Jones heard the news about Hiram, he noticed that he never again saw the light in the middle window and the trees stopped weeping.
A week later, Jones bought a bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey in honor of Hiram Meaders. That night, he took a chair out and sat under one of the trees that no longer wept. He poured a glass and raised it as he looked toward the star-filled sky. “To you, Hiram. Paid in full.”
C’estla fin de l’histoire.