Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No gum chewing in courtroom

I stand in line for the courthouse, dark brown boy in front of me, menacing expression trying to cover up the braces glinting out from between his lips. His puffy coat squeaks as he moves. Behind me stands a woman, 6'8" if she's a foot. Elegant long clothes, turban, shining earrings, blue-black skin. She moves like an underwater creature, slow and graceful, granting every gesture the blessing of ceremony. High sharp cheekbones, almond eyes.

The guard at the metal detector is younger than me, smiling apologetically as he rifles through my purse. I'm reassembling bag and purse when the woman behind me sets off the detector.

"Is it my earrings?" she asks. Her voice is baritone, deeper than the guard's, and for the first time I notice an adam's apple. Suddenly, I love her even more.

I have high hopes for jury duty, filing expectantly into the jury waiting room. I'm happy to wait, and look at my fellow jurors. They try criminal cases in this building. I'm dazzled at the thought of years of material, coiled behind one of the courtroom doors.

There are signs posted on some of those doors. "No iPods." "No reading newspapers." "No gum chewing in courtroom."

Jurors become strangely still, waiting to be called. They are individuals outside, but here they disappear, becoming Citizens.

Finally called into a courtroom, rising as one for the Judge. He promises an exciting case, criminal. "Nobody'll be falling asleep for this one!"

Then we're dismissed to return the next day.

Day two, everybody looks the same. Faces blank, waiting. This Judge posts his rules inside the courtroom.


"No!!!listening to music


"No!!!chewing gum."

We aren't asked to rise when the Judge enters, this time. I wonder if the clerk knows he's back there. But then he starts to speak, his words illustrated by the sign language translator in front. She widens her eyes, her translation a performance, a dance.

"Some machinations have been going on," begins the Judge, "the case won't be going to trial today. So that's it, you're all dismissed."

Is that it? I wonder, people filing out of the courtroom around me, Is that all there is?

Friday, May 19, 2006


Scratch fiction topic courtesy of my boss. No, really.
Fredo slid the fish onto the pan, clash and sizzle, smoke rising to the kitchen ceiling.

"Only way to do catfish, man. Breading's my own recipe."

"Didn't know you cooked," said Barney, popping the top on another beer, slurping the foam that bubbled up from the lip, then sucking the ends of his moustache.

"Catfish ain't 'cooking,' it's just eating what you caught, man." Fredo plopped a plate in front of Barney, steaming fish lying across it like a body in the street.

"How'm I supposed to eat this?"

"With a fork, dumbass." Fredo had a tea towel over one shoulder, moving around the kitchen, slamming drawers and rattling spoons.

Barney'd never seen him like this. Normally Fredo moved slow and quiet, eyes half-lidded, answering questions in his own sweet time. But ever since this afternoon, since they were taking shots at the target out back of the cabin, Barney able to hit the bullseye at 300 yards with his Dad's old shotgun, God only knew where Fredo's shots went, but they sure as hell weren't going into the target.

"You having any?" Barney asked.

Fredo just kept shuffling things around in the kitchen and didn't answer, Jesus, he was as bad as Barney's wife, what bit him in the ass, thought Barney, before tucking in, the fish hot as a furnace, but the breading was heaven, grease running off onto the cracked plate. Barney got going, it was amazing, he'd never had fish like this before, just kept shoving it in and shoving it in until he felt something sharp hit the back of his throat.

Barney couldn't breathe. He looked up at Fredo, but he couldn't even get out enough air to make a sound, he felt heat building up behind his eyes, and finally Fredo looked around from where he was standing at the sink, Fredo saw him, Fredo would give him the heimlich or something, Fredo could fix it.

But Fredo had slowed down again, eyes lidding down, smile creeping up his face.

"Watch out for the bones, Sharpshooter," said Fredo.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

White hands

Scratch fiction topic tag: Frank
He looked an upright man. Frank fastened his collar, trying a smile in the mirror. Not the slow smile he wore at at night, walking softly into the woods, down past the Stankas farm, looking out for the glow of her white skin against the tree trunks. This was the smile of a young Bible scholar, a public smile, wise and open.

Frank looped his tie over, mouthing his speech silently into the mirror. People would stop on the street to listen, he was sure. He levelled his own gaze at his reflection: he had it just right, a perfect note of friendly compulsion.

Frank stood on the street corner, elevated on an apple crate, Bible in one hand. The workday ending, buildings vomiting out their collection of lost and broken humans. Frank raised the hand holding the Good Book, and opened his mouth to speak.

Years later, people would remember that day. A secretary told her daughter how his hair shone in the dying sunlight, how his face seemed lit from inside. She was late getting home, but she had to stop, as though she had lost the reins of her own body, slowly her head turned to listen. A banker gave up his job that day and became a minister, for the rest of his life telling his flock about the man holding the Bible above his head, how his words burned to the center of the banker's soul, reducing his former life to ashes in an instant. The janitor on his way to clean the school felt the young man's voice pull away all of his artifice; he stood naked at the feet of the man on the apple crate, his sins exposed. Naked, the janitor moved closer to the the man, warming himself in the flame of righteousness.

It was dark when Frank got home, apple crate in one hand, Bible in the other. He felt light and empty as a toy balloon. He would tell her everything, how hundreds of faces turned up to drink him in, how a streetful of strangers worshipped at his feet.

Frank slipped past the tree with the rope swing, the corn house, the barn, trailing his hand across the rough stones of the wall bordering the Stankas farm. The blueberries were ripe, hanging heavy over the wall; Frank took a handful to offer her.

He saw her through the trees, white hands moving in the dark, white neck bent, she danced to music he couldn't hear, dark hair falling across her face. She stopped at the sound of his step, shoe scraping over stone. Her black eyes pinned him where he stood.

Frank opened his mouth to tell of his triumph, to tell the beginning of great things, all of it was there, waiting, behind his breath, but though his news built and pushed, out of his open mouth came nothing.

She smiled at him, the only smile she had.

She reached out her hand and opened his, the blueberries staining his palm. With one more look up at Frank, eyes shining like black stars, she leaned over his hand, taking the blueberries into her mouth, her lips soft against his palm, breath hot, her tongue traveling his lifeline.

Frank shuddered, his mouth opening, he looked up at the trees stretching above him, moving against black sky.

The blueberries gone, all traces lapped up, still she didn't stop, she opened her mouth wider than the world, and bit.

She straightened up at last, white hands pushing back her hair, licking her lips.

The next evening, a thousand people pushed against each other on the street corner where Frank had preached the day before, all of them speaking of the man on the apple crate, Bible in hand. An hour passed, two; dinners burned and wives looked anxiously through curtains for husbands who were never so late. As the earth slowly turned its face toward night, the crowd dispersed, whispering sadly to each other as though they were leaving a funeral.

The last of the hopeful finally bending their steps toward home, a young boy caught something out of the corner of his eye. He reached for his father's sleeve, to tell him the man had shown at last, but it was only a woman, white hands brushing dark hair from her face.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The girls next door

I saw her writhing out of the BMW, a to-go box held like a tray of wine glasses in one hand. Shiny dark hair switching over her shoulders. She wore sweats that were only a thin gesture toward exercise wear; soft material draped over her curves, tiny top showing bellybutton, and, as she turned toward her front door, the word "juicy" arcing over her peachy ass.

They all drive BMWs, all prefer to park cockeyed in the driveway, all looking like dolls with interchangable heads: blond, brunette, auburn. It's impossible to tell how many of them share the basement apartment. It could be one, it could be fifteen, all crowded in together, fifteen pairs of mascaraed eyes blinking slowly open, closed.

There are boyfriends, too. I don't see seduction or handholding, but last month voices scratched up and down the street, hers accusing, his defending. I couldn't help peeking out my window, screened by the curtain, in time to see him stomping away from her door, and - as if with sudden inspiration - heaving her garbage can across the path, blocking her way.

Another night I was dragged from sleep by fighting. It might have been the same two; one or the other - or both - may have been different. The boyfriends as identical as the girls, vicious white boys in short hair and polo shirts. This time her voice whined between sobs, piping high above the empty road. His answer citing the eight hours of hard work he does every day, he doesn't need to come home to this.

Like the mute button was pushed, her sobbing stopped, cut off. I peeked through the blinds to see her white brow slowly grow furrows in the streetlight.

"But, what am I supposed to do?" she said at last, in a clear, matter-of-fact voice.

With that question, my dear, neither he, nor I - your eavesdropping neighbor - can help.