June 1, 1904
The Law Offices of Wilson & Wilson
I sit at an empty desk in a back room at Ceph’s law office, going through case files and organizing boxes of old case documents which the law clerk brought down from Ceph’s dusty attic. The window is open, but it overlooks a back alley. There’s a breeze but it is as hot as hell in here.
I take off my suit jacket, loosen my tie, unbutton the top button of my collar, roll up my shirt sleeves. Already my crisp new white shirt is covered gray with dust down the front. I brush at some of the dust, making long gray streaks down the front.
I hear heavy footsteps; someone is coming down the hall from Ceph’s office. My office door creaks loudly as it swings open. It is the clerk who works for my brother, G.B. Long. He sticks his head around the door.
“I have to run some files over to Ceph at the Courthouse. Then, I’m going to get my lunch,” he says, with a surly tone. “The stenographer’s gone for the day; there’s no one else in the office, so you’re on your own for a little while.”
“All right,” I say, not looking at him, careful not to respond in kind, but keeping my focus on the papers in front of me. Once the door slams shut, I looked up, and exhale. Son of a bitch, I mutter to myself.
I know Long doesn’t like having me in the office. He’s clerked two years for my brother and had an eye on becoming a partner with him one day. I think he had his eye on this room — my office — becoming his. My being here probably changed his plans.
Cephas made me a junior partner upon graduation from Stetson. I realize I’m lucky; few of my classmates landed with good positions right away. Still, I feel as if the hold I have right now on my own life is tenuous. It’s because I have nothing and am totally dependent on Cephas right now.
I hear Long’s stomping steps down the corridor, the front door of the office open then slam shut — I let out a long breath. When Ceph’s in the office, Long doesn’t act like an ass. I don’t like conflict; it makes me uncomfortable. I shift some of the papers on my desk around as I hold that thought, and yet, here I am, in a profession where conflict is inevitable.
I am no threat to this clerk. But Long resents me; now and then I can hear him saying things under his breath, about how the entitled college boy was given a job by his brother because he can’t get one on his own. He smirked at me yesterday when I came out of my office at the end of the workday; my clothes covered in dust and grime, and smudges on my face.
I rub my eyes — dust on my fingertips. Damn it. I take out my handkerchief and wipe my face clean.
I stand up, stretch, and walk down the hall into Ceph’s office. There are a few certificates hanging on the walls, acknowledging his various achievements: Cephas is a prominent shareholder in the local bank and the railroad; he served as mayor of Marianna for a few terms. He’s proud of the fact that he was admitted to the Bar though he never attended college.
He has an impressive oak desk with a leather swivel chair behind it. Tall, floor-to-ceiling dark oak book shelves are filled with heavy legal tomes lining the white walls. There is a fine brass desk lamp, a brass spittoon next to Ceph’s chair, and another stationed in front of Ceph’s desk should his clients desire to use it. Ceph’s office gives you the impression of competence, of success. One feels safe in here, protected.
I look at one of the framed photos on the wall, a montage of the 1899 Florida State Senate. Cephas’ photo is in the lower right-hand corner.
What’s unusual about the photo is that Ceph is the only one photographed in a tuxedo. He’s the best looking, best dressed of all of the men in the collection. He did that on purpose: Image, status, presentation is all part of the package, all about how one convinces others to choose you to lead them. It is all about giving the best possible impression at all times with Cephas; it has worked well for him.
I know this, because Ceph had nothing when he came home with Mother and Father from British Honduras back in 1885 — he was 17, uneducated, rough from having lived in the wilderness for 10 years, and had to start his education over, later than most. My brother built his career one step at a time, leaving nothing to chance, taking advantage of every opportunity presented to him.
Ceph has always been proud of what he had achieved with only his intelligence and dedication to hard work. I don’t blame him. “Nothing was ever handed to me,” Ceph says often to me and sometimes with disdain. I never respond nor acknowledge his inflection, but Cephas knows I understand what he’s getting at. He expects really big things out me, because I have had advantages he has not. Just the expectations people have of me frighten me to death. I look over at a small table against the wall — Ceph keeps spirits here for his clients — he wouldn’t miss it if I took a small drink, but I think better of it. The minute I take that drink, someone will walk in….
Instead, I sit in his dark brown leather desk chair. I swivel around, and look out the window, onto the grounds of the Jackson County Courthouse. I like the feel of Cephas’ chair. For a moment, I close my eyes and imagine that this is my chair, my office, my practice.
Ceph’s office is about four blocks away from his house, in a building that faces the side of Courthouse. You can look out the window and see who is coming and going in the town square. The office also faces a block of shops behind the Courthouse — general merchandise stores, a restaurant or two, a barbershop. People are out and about, women shopping; a few men standing together on the sidewalk, talking. A man is sitting on the bench outside of a dry goods store smoking. A wagon driven by a teenager passes along the street below, the brisk clip-clop of the hooves on the dirt street muffled, small clouds of dirt kick up as he passes by.
As I watch the passersby, I think about where I was only a few weeks ago — My brother absolutely knows what he wants in his life, and he goes after it, no holds barred. He has always been that way. He says that’s what it takes to be a success in life, and for all practical purposes, he is successful. People who have worked with Cephas, who have faced him in a courtroom, admire him. Respect him.
And here I am, expected to follow in his footsteps.
I look out the window — only a few people walking along the sidewalks. No Cephas. No stenographer, No Long. No clients on the calendar for at least another hour. I stand up ready to head back to my office, to continue the slog through the paperwork…
…I look again over at the spirits bottle on the table. On my way out, I stop.
No one will know.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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