A. H. Kim, author of A Good Family, published in July 2020 by Graydon House. (Credit: John Wooley)
Welcome to Alderson, West Virginia, reads the sign at the town’s border, Voted Best Fourth of July Celebration. Sam drives the car along the riverbank and across a stone bridge, past a patchy green field with a lonely brown mare and along a gently curving driveway marked by a government-issued sign that announces you’re entering a federal prison camp.
It’s almost 5:00 p.m., and the Alderson Prison parking lot is empty. We shouldn’t have stopped for lunch on the road. The letter from the Bureau of Prisons made it clear Beth had to self-surrender during business hours today or risk additional punishment. There’s a black cast-iron call box next to the single-arm gate, and Sam lifts the receiver.
“Do you remember the code to dial?” Sam asks. Beth gives a mild shrug. I reach into my purse—a well-worn leather satchel found among my mom’s things after she died—and begin to sort through a thick sheaf of papers when a white sedan approaches from the opposite direction, exiting the prison through another single-arm gate.
“Is she self-surrendering?” a Tipper Gore look-alike asks. She points to me sitting in the back seat. Sam and Beth don’t say anything.
“No, I’m not the one. She is.” I gesture toward Beth, feeling like a narc.
“Okay,” Tipper replies, “dial 313 and tell them the name of the inmate. Then pull over into the parking lot, and they’ll be out to get you.” With that, she drives away.
Sam does as he’s told. We wait in the parking lot for what feels like a lifetime before a white van drives up. The three of us get out of the car.
“You the one self-surrendering?” the guard asks, looking at me.
“No,” I say quickly. My voice is louder this time.
“I’m the one,” Beth says. “I’m the one self-surrendering.” The guard ogles Beth up and down.
“You’ll have to leave that behind,” the guard says. She points to Beth’s right hand. Beth is still wearing the ring Sam got her for their fifth anniversary—everyone in the family calls it her Bling Ring—comprised of five rows of pavé diamonds in a platinum setting. Beth never wears a ring on her left hand. “I like to keep people guessing,” she always says.
“My lawyer said I could wear my wedding band,” Beth protests.
I stifle a groan. If you had read the Alderson inmate orientation handbook that I emailed you, you would know about the Bureau of Prisons’s jewelry policy—“Inmates may have a plain wedding band and an appropriate religious medallion and chain without stones.”
The Bling Ring is anything but plain.
“Here, take this,” I say. I unclasp the thin chain around my neck, pull the simple gold ring off and hand it to Beth.
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” Beth says. “That belonged to your mother.”
“It’s okay, she’d have wanted you to have it,” I say. I’m lying. My mother died years before Sam met Beth, but she wouldn’t have liked her. Beth is too American, too materialistic and too domineering for my traditional Korean mother—not to mention too felonious.
“It doesn’t fit,” Beth says. She passes the simple band back to me. “Anyway, I’m afraid I might lose it.” I return the ring to the gold chain, and Beth passes me her Bling Ring, which I slip onto my finger. The weight of the diamonds feels surprisingly nice.
“Okay, that’s enough. You’re already late. Time to say good-bye,” the guard barks. We stand there awkwardly, not sure what to do next.
“I don’t know what to say, Hannah,” Beth murmurs. She takes a step forward and hugs me hard. I can feel Beth’s heart beating against my chest. “Thank you for coming all this way. I’m glad Sam won’t have to drive all the way home by himself. Be sure to take good care of the girls.”
Beth releases me and turns to Sam. She holds his hands and leans her head into his broad shoulder. Sam buries his face in her thick hair.
“I’m so sorry, Beth,” he whispers.
“Stop it,” Beth says.
“It should be me.”
“What’s done is done.”
Sam lifts his head, and Beth kisses him lightly on the lips.
“Just don’t screw up again,” Beth says. Then she pushes him away.
An excerpt from A Good Family © 2020 by A. H. Kim. Appears with permission of Graydon House. All rights reserved.