The Marble Stairs
It was the cleanest building Steven had ever seen.
When his mother held his hand he could feel the sticky sweat clinging in between her fingers and on her palm; even his Grandmother seemed downcast, and she was always the positive person in the family. But it wasn't them that Steven paid the most attention to. The courthouse was decorated with giant pillars at its front, and bestrode 2 white marble staircases that curved sleekly toward the parking lot. Where the dark and dirty asphalt ended, law began.
For six months his family had anxiously waited for the day when Steven would be taken before a judge and questioned on where he wanted, or rather who he wanted, to live with. And while he had had no real opinion, something in his mother's eyes had told him that although she loved him dearly, she could not take care of him. For what it was worth Steven understood why, he knew that the small trailer amongst over mobile homes was sodden and decrepit; he knew that the kids he played with weren't nice kids; and he knew what money was, and that they had little of it.
So, six months later, Steven was holding his mother's hand gingerly, listening to their footfalls as they crossed the threshold onto the marble stairs, and up into the vast, clean building. Marble gave way to granite and brick decor, columns to offices. The lady at the front desk seemed to know exactly who they were and why they were there, and glanced down at Steven pityingly. The sheen in her eyes scared him.
It was the sheen of sadness his mother shared when they ate well, having Stouffer's lasagna instead of ramen for once, the knowledge of the next poor meal at the forefront of her worries. A sheen shared by the swinging metal door on their trailer, and the knife in the neighbor boy's hand as he chased him home.
She told them quietly, almost inaudibly where to sit and allowed Steven's mother to stay to finish some last minute paperwork. There was a long wait, and after a group of people walked out sobbing, they were told to come inside. Steven felt his mother's hand on his back as they funneled into the room, this time made of oak and carpet. It was air conditioned, unlike the room outside, and Steven felt a chill that gave him goosebumps.
This wasn't the first time Steven had been in a courtroom; his mother had taken custody years earlier, when he was just a babe, from his father. The man had not even shown up, instead deciding the battle was already lost when she took him across country to live with her near the family. So he had stayed. His mother showed more courage now, perhaps because this wasn't a fight, but a change of hands. A sort of giving up of her son.
So Steven, knowing what it meant, sat there and listened to these big people talk. He listened for his name and nodded when he ought to, and looked down when he felt the need to.
And when the judge, sitting high up on his seat with a big hammer at his side, looked down at him and asked "Would you like to live with your Grandmother, Steven?" he said what was expected in that long moment when everyone held their breath.
He held his mother's hand all the way to the edge of the lobby before he let go and walked down the white marble stairs alone.