By RJ Astruc
“Pedophile,” says the woman in the red hat.
She points at the space above Gavin’s head with a long, bony finger and curls her lip like a wolf scenting weakness. Off-balanced by the groceries in his arms, Gavin takes a step back, shrinking against the supermarket’s wall.
The woman seems amused by his fear. She’s a tiny thing, skinny and hunched, but her hatred makes her appear larger. She says the word again, louder, a rising hysteria in her voice: “Pedophile.”
Let he who hath no sins, Gavin thinks wishfully, pushing past her and on up the road. The woman is clearly no saint herself. A cluster of petty crimes buzz about her hat like tiny fireflies—a couple of shoplifting convictions, a few loitering charges, and a single break-and-entry that glows a malignant purple. Of course, in her mind these criminal infringements must all pale in comparison to his. Gavin remembers hearing that back when there were still jails, it was the pedophiles who were most likely to be killed or beaten by their fellow inmates. And most likely to find justice—or judgement—in their cells, hanging from a bed-sheet noose.
No matter what they say about the new law, not much has changed, he thinks, looking over his shoulder. The woman is still following him, still pointing, still shrieking. My own fault, Gavin chastises himself, walking faster. Should have waited a few hours until nightfall, when the rest of my kind—the eternally guilty—crawl out of the shadows to shop and feed.
“Leave me alone,” he shouts over his shoulder. “I didn’t do anything. It was years ago, Christ.”
But it’s too late. There’s other people coming, now. Unfriendly faces appear in doorways, in shop fronts, their eyes fixed on the criminal abomination that hovers above his head. They’re joining in the—the hunt, Gavin realizes, with growing horror. There’s almost twenty of them trailing him by the time he turns the corner. The charges recorded above their heads warn him that some have prior lynching convictions, have been involved in vigilante behavior, have murdered…
He starts to jog. He loses a can from his grocery bag but doesn’t stop to pick it up. Not a pedophile, he wants to say. Statutory rape. But how to explain that to the masses? Gavin searches for the right words, the case he’d put before the jury of his peers.
An adolescent mistake, your Honors. I was nineteen, she was seventeen; her parents were out; we sat on the couch; we kissed; we fumbled; it was a cold night and we were thankful for the warmth. After the court case—I pled guilty, guilty, guilty—we got back together and year later she had a child, mine; he died from leukemia at four. Klara lives in New York now, married to a painter; we trade cards and memories every Christmas...
Except the words don’t come when he opens his mouth, to shout his almost-innocence to the crowd that chases him. Because that’s the way of the new law, this new transparent justice, where the people—the masses, the mobs—take the roles of judge, jury and, when they can, executioner.
Gavin drops his bags and runs. He’s had a lot of practice.