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The Porter Family

The thing about the Porter murders, for me, wasn’t so much the brutality as the emotion. Tony Porter drove an ax head six inches into his father’s face from the right side of the bed. He got Mrs. Porter in the back of her head with the blunt side, and that sent her down the stairs. He buried the ax in her back once before going back upstairs for his dad. He took him apart piece by piece.

You understand this kind of thing, sort of, even if you don’t want to. Even if out loud you always say I can’t believe it, or It doesn’t make sense. You wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. But part of that horror, that shock when you first hear – it’s just the opposite of disbelief. That’s your understanding, I think. That’s you getting it.

I mean the concept generally, I don’t mean there was anything about Tony that should’ve clued us in. He was never all that weird growing up. He never tortured squirrels or dogs, at least not that he showed me. If he wanted to impress me he talked about high school, when I was in middle school, or bragged about college, after I got to high school. I didn’t hang out with him much, so I can’t say for sure. All I mean is that he didn’t seem like it.

I do mean more the father when I say you sort of understand. I think that’s fair to say. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but, as I see it, there’s a way you can see that happening, psychologically. The mother I understand less, but then, Tony went after her less. I don’t even know if he meant to kill her. She never died.

When Mrs. Porter woke up in the hospital and the cops told her Tony put an ax in her back and chopped up Mr. Porter, she didn’t believe them. She didn’t believe that it was Tony. That’s the emotion that I was referring to, the fact that this whole crime drama was contained within one family. If you brought into court the murderer, the victim’s body, and the only witness – the only real witness, the only one who saw the actual killing – they’d all be part of the same family. The same nuclear family, even. And for all the peripheral damage, the cousins, grandparents, friends, bridge partners and book club members, at the end of the day it was just one family’s business. At the trial even even the judge will look out of place.

That’s the awful thing about everyone criticizing Mrs. Porter for her denial. Half are these bridge partners I was talking about. They keep saying she might have brain damage from the blunt-side blow to the back of the head. I say it’s her business. If her testimony is that it wasn’t Tony, then maybe it wasn’t. He may have killed her husband, but he is her son. It’s even possible her mind just can’t even handle it. I mean that less in the derogatory way that the book clubbers say it than I mean it in a more sincere way. You can understand that, even more than you can understand Tony. I can understand it.

I can understand it more than this obsession everyone else has. I think it’s the emotion, the drama, like I said. But all that emotion makes me want to leave the Porter family alone. For everyone else on the block it just makes them more involved. For instance, everyone wanted to know exactly what time at night it happened. And I really think they did it to tie it back to their own experience. 2:33 AM? I was asleep only two houses away. Or, I was awake and in the bathroom. At exactly the same time in exactly the same town as that. As Mr. Porter’s face disappearing under the ax and his wife waking up –

They don’t say that, I don’t mean that. I mean that they think it. I don’t understand it at all. Or maybe a little, but not much. It makes me kind of sick, really, physically sick, sometimes, when people get into it. And always with their guard up just a little, with disclaimers, horrified expressions. I can’t believe it, they say, It doesn’t make sense.

The other thing everyone wanted to know was when his truck was parked in front of the house, so they could close their eyes and say Yes, that yes they believed they remembered seeing it or No, visibly a bit disappointed, that they were asleep so they must not have seen it. The truck is famous all over the Capitol region now. An awful lime-green pickup. They found it on the highway shoulder need an Adirondack trailhead, a bit further upstate from here, with the ax in the bed and a bloody mark on the driver’s side from where he leaned against it, that night, panting and crying softly.

They headed up the trail with an army of cops but he was only a hundred yards up the trail, sitting Indian style. The first thing he said was I didn’t do it. Then he said I want my lawyer. When they handcuffed him he said I’m sick.

That’s another reason to give more slack to Mrs. Porter. There’s little or no chance that Tony won’t get convicted. They have him, his truck, the ax. They don’t need witnesses. And eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. I wouldn’t be surprised if one actually could hurt the case.

The whole trial is like the murder. As far as public interest, I mean. I expect the trial to be worse, actually. It’s more socially acceptable to rubberneck the justice system than to ogle crimes. The coverage has already started with the grand jury proceedings. They get footage of Tony walking in and out of courthouses, hiding his face as best he can, trying to bury it in his shoulder or chest with his hands still cuffed behind his back. Trying to hide from everyone who’s putting their nose into this. He’s still limping a little from where he fell on the pavement outside his house.

He twisted his ankle badly when he did that, and got up and leaned against the driver’s side of his lime-green truck. He was panting hard and crying a bit. He was soaked in blood, which must have been propelled out of his father with every blow. He fumbled with the door handle with his left hand, never taking his eyes off me, before he got in and drove away. It seems strange now that I can’t remember if I said anything to him. I hope that I didn’t.


Stephen Mannion lives and writes in Boise, Idaho. He grew up in Upstate New York and graduated from Boston College. His work has appeared in Quintessential ‘Zine, Rabble, and Stylus.


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