The waiting area is a school of brown and orange paisley gliding in a sea of yellow. I dive in and wait for my name to be called. For a judgment. For a fine, or a walk. For maybe a pardon from these heart-flutters?
Each time the prosecutor looks up from behind a stack of manila folders and calls out a name, my head jerks as if manipulated by a trigger-happy puppeteer though my place is at the end and he’s only reached Calhoun.
Maybe the order got mixed up and mine is on the top.
The Marshall with the gray mustache keeps pacing between the judge and those waiting to be judged. More and more, he resembles a caged animal.
The Marshall with the gray mustache and his partner came for me once. Their solid knock barked authority. Their knock rang across the wood as if it wouldn’t go away. Even if you tried to ignore it. Like it would patiently knock and knock and knock until someone answered or came home.
I answered cheerfully, thinking it was Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to save me from the end of times.
Or a neighbor wanting to borrow some sugar. Do people actually borrow sugar in real life? Or is that just some propaganda left over from an expired time?
Two navy uniforms stood without noise, thinly restraining two pit bullish guards who spoke to a silver voice coming from small speakers pinned to their chests, as if to remind us of a great power. A deity of sorts. They bore brass shields, muscles, guns, clubs nestled uncomfortably by their sides, and a weight perceptible, even in the absence of touch.
They thought they were looking for my husband, -the usual suspect. Black male, thirty, plenty of petty offenses to his credit; speeding, running red lights, public intoxication. Predictably, they searched there first. But his name was not mine. I hoped they’d be confused enough to consider their mission a mistake. A cruel error maybe. But they kept asking questions until they realized that the he they were looking for is a she. And they took me in.
I can’t go to jail. I’m not jail material. I’m too pretty for jail. I shuddered at the thought of a masculine inmate in an orange jumpsuit and a butch cut making me her girlfriend. I wouldn’t even fight it either. I’d just go along hoping she didn’t dispose of me or call her minions to jump me.
I went into shut down mode when they cuffed me. You’d have thought I was going into the slammer for a long bid the way I acted. My mind was a whirl. I feared I might explode if I dared speak. If I dared move. Justice is unkind.
“Edwards?” the judge calls.
My heart leaps again as he makes his way towards S. I have a view of artificial red hair pushed to the side and resting on a collar. A red Yankee blaring on the back of a baseball jacket. Green soles of tennis shoes jaggedly alternating angles.
The Marshall paces in the front with a serious face. Does he ever smile? Do they tell him to look as sterile as a surgical instrument? Even though I haven’t done anything wrong, I feel he’ll find some reason to arrest me. To take away my freedom. I go through a mental rolodex of potential ways I may have inadvertently broke the law. Did I bounce a check and forget to pay? Are there outstanding tickets in my name? Will he mistake me for someone else and make me pay for the crime? There’s something about idea of judgement that scares me to the core. I start scanning back over my life like in a near-death-episode-ish way while wondering how harshly I will be judged when it really matters.
By the time I arrived at the station, I was bawling so hard, you would have thought they’d booked me for murder. I think they took pity on me when I started babbling about groceries and kids and term papers.
When they put me in the cell, I thought there had been another mistake. There, on the top bunk, lay a stocky man with a low cut fade, decked out in basketball shorts and a white wife-beater. The air smelled of unwashed ass and sweaty balls. They closed the door before I could protest.
It wasn’t until he spoke that I heard the feminine lilt in his voice There was no mistake. Another nightmare came true.
She looked at me with sleepy eyes as she spoke. “Sipes. What are you in for?” she asked in a voice surprisingly undemanding.
Memories danced before me the way fireflies do in the wood of a summer’s eve. I landed on a conversation, a butterfly pausing on the petal of a buttercup or a dandelion as if in reflection. A butterfly. A flicker. Too serene for something as ordinary as eating or shitting or laying eggs. My father’s biggest fear for my prison-bound brother was that he would get fucked in the ass. “He’s a lover, not a killer. To survive in prison, you need to be a killer,” he’d advised gravely before concluding that indeed his was a hopeless cause and my brother would be violated before his tenure was up.
Was I a killer or a lover? I considered before answering. I thought about telling her I was in for murder. But then decided that if the time came, I wouldn’t be able to back myself up. I am no killer. but I still wasn’t sure if I was a lover either.
I opted for the truth. “Traffic tickets.” It sounded like mashed potatoes stuck in my mouth. Mashed potatoes without gravy. So mundane. So anticlimactic. Traffic tickets.
I wondered if she would make me her girlfriend, as I had fantasized on the ride over.
We ended up talking most of my three hour lock-up.
She thought it was pretty shitty that I was in there too.
She was sitting out her time for a debt four times the size of mine.
And she’d been in there a week already and hadn’t showered since arrival.
We talked about how fucked up this system is that just punishes you for being broke.
The whole reason I’d gotten a ticket in the first place was for an expired registration. I didn’t have the dough to pay that and continued to drive. I got a ticket and continued to drive. You see, it wasn’t as though I had a choice to drive or not. There simply wasn’t ever enough money to go around. I had to get to and from work somehow. Then when I don’t pay this ticket, they come for me. Like some sharecropper on trial for not making the agreed harvest.
And there I was waiting to be judged.
“Do you have someone who can get you out?” She asked.
“I think so,” I sniffled.
“ You’ll be home by dinner.”
“You think so?”
But I was not assured.
“You’ll make it Sipes, you’ll make it.”
My atrium grows more obstinate. It’s flutters transform to slow, booming, irregular contractions. A lawn mower lets out its steady rumble and an occasional small roar.
Oh shit. He’s out of order. Did I miss my name? Please don’t let my name be missed.
Pit bull Marshall chews gum and paces. He stops and looks intently at Hernandez and the judge. I wonder if Hernandez said something wrong. Pit comes closer and talks to a lady in dreads. Her hair looks like slim caterpillars growing from her head. He’s too close for comfort. Tightness rises to my neck, to my throat and clenches. I’m almost fully submerged. Pit bull finally walks away and resumes his post next to the judge. His arms folded as if to say, “Try me. I wish you would.”
The judge doesn’t smile either, but seems more approachable. He bends down revealing
an impressive bald spot that interrupts the flow of his stylish hair cut.
Yankee baseball jacket is talking now. He’s young and moldable. Fixable. Forgivable. The judge mentions his release from somewhere. Pit bull comes over and helps the negotiation. The judge gives Yankee a hundred dollar credit for his ticket. The judge has mercy.
The courtroom has calming colors. Soft yellow walls with burnt orange accents. The rug has the same colors but combines them into a linear pattern. The effort is entirely lost on me. I am electric with fear.
An older man responds and begins his barter with the law.
I hope he hurries. I’m ready to face my judgment. I think.
My hand shakes. The shiver spreads subtly to whole my body, masked by my movements of gross coordination. I approach and face three flags; country, city and state.
The judge gives me a small smile as I sit.
My shiver becomes visible.
It takes two minutes. He dismisses the ticket and orders me to pay court costs. The judge has mercy.
The shiver settles until it is hidden by the steady rumble of the lawn mower and its occasional roar.
Reverie Powell is a Dallas based author who writes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. She can be found reading poetry with Bonehouse Poets, Mad Swirl, and Poets on X Plus. Her poetry has been featured with Dark Moon Arts Poetry, What Were They Wearing, and Common Company. She currently works as a middle school Writing teacher and teaches Creative Writing at the Writer’s Garret.
Featured Image Credit: By Jim Pickerell, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 4588217) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons