The Man in the Orange Jumpsuit
“Did you do something bad? My mom said you are a bad man.”
Ellie climbed up higher in the tree, her favorite tree at the park, and looked down at the man in the orange jumpsuit. He was pulling weeds and picking up trash around the playground.
“Yeah, sort of. Not real bad, though.”
“Mom said you were bad. She told me to stay away from all the men in orange jumpsuits. I’m not supposed to even talk to you.”
“Then why are you?”
“Why am I what?”
“Talking to me.”
“I don’t know,” Ellie said, snapping off a leaf and twirling it by the stem between her fingers.
The man turned around to pick up an empty Coke can underneath the tree and Ellie noticed the bold black letters on the back of his jumpsuit.
“Why do you have ADOC on your back? Is that your name?”
Chuckling, ADOC said, “Nope. That stands for Alabama Department of Corrections.”
“Hey! I‘m from Alabama, too. That‘s pretty neat we‘re both from the same place, huh?”
“You know, I don’t think your mama would want you talkin’ to me, and I know she wouldn’t want you knowin’ my name.”
“Well, I think it’s ok. You don’t seem like such a bad man to me.”
Ellie stretched out on a low sprawling branch and looked up at the leaves. She could see the veins on each leaf as the sun filtered its way through the branches.
ADOC glanced up at the girl. She looked just about his Meg’s age. It had been so long ago since her last visit with his ex-wife - what, three years? He swallowed hard and tugged roughly at the weeds. Dang it all! What a fool he’d been to lose so much.
Ellie turned over on the branch and looked at him again.
“Where do you live?” she said
“You don’t live here at the park do you?”
ADOC sighed. “No, no I don’t. I just work here during the day. At night I go back to a very big place with a lot of rooms.”
“Oh,” said Ellie. “That’s nice you have such a big house. We live in a pretty little house, just around the corner. My sister brings me here after school to play until my mom gets off work.”
ADOC looked across the playground and saw a teenage girl sitting on a bench with a young man who looked about the same age. He had his arm draped over her shoulder and they were laughing, oblivious to the world around them.
Another weed. Another piece of trash.
Ellie dropped her leaf and watched it flutter slowly to the ground.
“What did you do that was so bad?”
The man’s shoulders seemed to sag a bit lower as he bent to snap up a small white daisy.
“Here,” he said, reaching up to the girl. “Why don’t you just take this flower and be quiet. You’re about to wear me out with your talkin’.”
Ellie took hold of the daisy and started to pluck the petals. “He loves me, He loves me not … Hey, you know what?”
ADOC rolled his eyes.
“The preacher at church said that God loves us. He said that Jesus died on the cross so He could take away all our sin - you know, all the bad stuff we’ve done.” Pluck, pluck. “He loves me, He loves me not. . . Maybe you could ask Jesus to take away all of your bad stuff, ya’ think?”
He stopped pulling weeds. He stopped picking up trash. And he looked up at her - at those kind hopeful eyes so like his daughter’s.
“He loves me,” Ellie said, plucking off the last petal on the daisy.
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