by Daniel Voll
IN THE HOLDING PEN at the Milwaukee County Jail, Patty and Allen Muth are waiting for the deputy sheriff to turn his back. They are both handcuffed and wearing prison-issue jumpsuits with white socks and flip-flops. She has hazel eyes and dark-blond hair and weighs ninety-five pounds. He is taller by a foot, a lanky redhead. The deputy is distracted by another inmate. Patty and Allen finally do what they’ve been plotting for months. It is the moment they have been living for, and it is over in one second. They kiss.
Ten minutes later, they are escorted into a hearing to get the results of a court-ordered test to determine the paternity of their fourth child. As Allen is taken by the sheriff’s deputy to the other side of the room, Patty’s gaze never leaves him. She’s worried that he’s losing weight. All she ever sees is his quiet tenderness, his kindness. How he would say he was going out for cigarettes and return with a bouquet of her favorite flowers. He’s the only man she’s ever loved, and she whispered that in his ear before they entered the courtroom; she wanted to make sure he knew. Allen rakes his fingers through his red muttonchops and buries his face in his hands. He can’t even look at her, his despair is so great. If he is the father, the state will take away their child forever.