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D’Ora wakes up smooth.
Enjoy these few seconds, girl.
Three … two … one … bam!
She gets out of bed and whispers good mornings to Marta’s dog. The dog is preparing to die on a pile of old towels in the corner. D’Ora doesn’t want to disturb her. The dog’s breathing is shallow.
Don’t hurt, little girl. Either die or get better. If I had some oxy I’d cut it up and give it to you.
Probably not a good idea right now since she has court today. She carries this dull thud with her into the kitchen where Marta is watching the news. From the looks of things on CNN, no one else is doing too well either.
D’Ora needs a minute to orient herself as she goes to the always-full coffee pot. She had forgotten about the election. Didn’t vote. Isn’t sure if she’s registered. “My vote doesn’t matter,” she had told Marta.
“Every vote matters. You’re a fool if you believe otherwise.”
How can a person as smart as Marta believe that?
Marta is talking to the television. D’Ora doesn’t say anything anymore, but it’s beyond her why Marta bothers using up all that energy to get mad at something that doesn’t have anything to do with her.
“All those people sobbing like this is their first disappointment. White people. Privileged people. Plenty of brown people sobbing too. Their pain makes sense though. They thought they had something. They – we – have a lot more to lose.”
A young man is being interviewed. D’Ora imagines her son might look like that one day. He is smiling sad and looking away from the camera like he is following a memory. “Seeing the election results feels like watching the girl you love walking off with Charles Manson.”
Marta nods and smiles. “He gets it.”
D’Ora has no idea who Charles Manson is.
Two old white ladies are standing arm in arm. One wears a smooth white jacket and matching ugly pants that again remind D’Ora of her appointment in court. The other lady has a t-shirt that says Nasty Woman. They must be in their seventies and look the kind of healthy and cared for that having money and husbands can give you. “We have been waiting for this day,” matching lady says. “This was supposed to be our day.” Her voice cracks. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
“Believe it,” Marta says.
D’Ora wants to say that the t-shirt seems strange for a woman that age.
Marta looks exhausted. “I’ve been up all night. This is unbelievable. I’d bet money lots of those protesters didn’t even vote.” She turns back to the television and yells, “This is yours. You asked for this moment. And now you’ve got it on a gold-plated platter.”
“It’s going to get ugly,” D’Ora says using words she heard someone say a couple of days ago. None of it seems to have anything to do with her.
“It already is ugly.”
D’Ora doesn’t like to watch the news but she doesn’t want Marta to think that she is stupid. She sits down at the table and drinks her coffee swirled up with CNN and Marta’s talking back and pretends she’s interested, tries to keep up.
“Following the election results there is outrage everywhere. There have even been reports of rioting in Portland.”
“Rioting in Portland sounds like the name of a band,” Marta says and nudges D’Ora with her elbow.
D’Ora with her coffee tries to focus and listen and care, but in a quick minute her mind goes to Phil. It’s been doing that a lot lately. Maybe because of court. Not Phil with a bullet in his face, but Phil who found her on a mall bench all those years ago and poured sweetness onto her. Phil who said that looking at her was like looking at strawberries that had been picked too early: they were still beautiful and plump, but they were bitter for not being allowed to ripen. He had just enough sugar to sprinkle on them to make them come into their own natural sweetness. That was Phil. He talked to her with charm like she mattered. Brought out her true self. She trusted him. Trusted him with everything.
He didn’t ruin her – which is what Marta had said – because her cousin had already done that. Marta doesn’t know about her cousin. They don’t talk about the long-ago things like family. Phil had made it go on a lot longer – had pimped her out for years – but had also loved her, unlike her cousin and his friends. Phil had acted tough but was soft inside. She saw through him, saw his shaky moments when he’d walk around the apartment touching things – furniture, clothing, himself – as though he were reassuring himself that he existed. Made her want to protect him. Turned out he was full-on crazy. Brain-tumor crazy. They didn’t find that out until after the bullet.
Just after Phil had died and she was trying to get off the streets, she had been talking to the mandated psychologist about that first day in the mall and the strawberries. She knew she was supposed to say horrible things about Phil, but he was dead and everyone knew the bad, so she talked about the other things.
The psychologist had interrupted her. Phil Martin? We are talking about Phil Martin?
D’Ora had nodded.
The same Phil Martin who beat a thirteen-old girl to death because she had skimmed money after he pimped her out? The same Phil Martin who sold you repeatedly to other men when you were a teenager, who kept you like that for years, and who injected you with drugs when you were pregnant because he knew that way the baby would be removed from your custody and he could still profit from you? That Phil Martin?
Meth. He injected me with meth. Yes, he wanted all my attention. He was a child himself. People show different sides of themselves to different people. He started out different with me. You can say it was part of his plan, but he really loved me.
She’d been thinking this a lot lately. That she had been loved. And it was love that had destroyed her.
No, you are not destroyed. You are at the front door of a new day.
Feeling love had opened the cap on the destruction that lived within her.
The psychologist had opened her eyes larger. Was that surprise? The psychologist relaxed her face again and watched her, waiting. She was trying to hold onto her emotions, struggling against laughter or screaming or some other loud and inappropriate response.
This is why D’Ora hated the psychologists and social workers and case managers she was forever having to interact with: their job is to help and guide, but they cannot handle the truth and details of real life. Of her real life. And their own shit always shows through.
Still, she accepted whatever kindness they could offer.
This psychologist was easy to talk to, didn’t seem to judge too much.
D’Ora had said that in their session. The psychologist asked her if she often felt like she was being judged.
“A lot, yeah,” D’Ora had said. “Always.”
“How do you judge yourself?”
She answered before she could think. “I am shit. But I am also beautiful.”
The psychologist had smiled at her. “If we’ve been judged too much we tend to take on those judgments as fact. Internalize those words we’ve heard over and over. Very important to be able to trust the words in our heads. If we’ve been given too many lies or ugly ones all we trust is that we are those things, the stuff that says we are bad or ugly or stupid or whatever it is. Those stories often dictate how we react and we tend to make poor choices. When we respect and love ourselves, the outcome is better. When we can tell ourselves we are good or strong or kind, we learn to believe it.”
At the time D’Ora had nodded, but hadn’t been able to take it all in.
“You have suffered because of your past and everything now comes through that filter. And you deal with us and we want to help, but we also know all of your everything details so sometimes we remind you of that more than is necessary. You need people who aren’t just looking at your surface and aren’t just looking at your past, people who know you, D’Ora the person. That is when you will find someone you can trust.”
That conversation was years ago but D’Ora remembers it often. Makes more sense of it with distance.
Marta is that kind of person. She doesn’t judge. Doesn’t look at her past and only see that. Doesn’t look at her today and only see that. Marta is good people.
You spend so much time trying to find yourself that you hold on for dear life so no one waltzes in and takes you away, hides you under his cloak.
After coffee and more than enough news D’Ora goes back to her room and talks aloud to the walls, to the windows, to the dying dog in the corner.
Wow, you’ve gotten a lot worse, girl. Your bones stick out so much. You’re barely breathing.
No good court shoes. No good court anything. That black dress. Too short. If I put a jacket over it, it will look professional. I will look like I can handle this situation. Clothes everywhere. I was organized once, used to be able to find anything clean and pressed. Those days are gone for now. People want to hate on a person for not keeping her house neat, well that’s on them. I know I can, because I could; I just can’t right now.
“What are you doing?” Marta asks from the doorway. D’Ora likes to pretend they’re related, especially when Marta comes with her to court. Marta would make a good mom. Courts don’t know that and took her two kids away years ago. That was when she was using and selling and living with a biker gang. No place for kids in that story. Then she found God. Now she works two jobs and opens her tiny apartment to people in need. For right now it is just her and D’Ora.
“How do you not put your clothes away? You are like a teenage boy.”
“I put them away, but then I go to find things in a hurry and chaos happens.”
They both giggle.
Chaos happens is something they say sometimes. Neither can remember who started saying it first.
Marta offered to loan her clothes, but everything she has is big and nothing will fit.
“I’m going to wear this to court.” D’Ora holds up the black dress.
“Girl, you must be crazy. You are going to court, not hooking.”
“I’ll put a jacket over it.”
“Let’s see the jacket.”
D’Ora picks through piles of clothes. I need to do laundry. She holds up a red silky jacket.
Marta makes a face.
D’Ora drops it back on the floor. “I know I have something professional in here.”
“Why don’t you fold the things you aren’t wearing? Or hang them up? Why do you just make the chaos grow?”
“I don’t have time for that. I have to get ready for court.”
“Court’s not until after one.”
“I need to get ready.”
“Blue. Blue would be good. I’ll be back.” Marta walks away. She does this when she gets frustrated. She thinks she’s subtle and no one notices, but D’Ora’s got her figured out. Walking away with whatever thoughts or memories she made come up by keeping her room messy. She should clean it. After court she will clean her room.
D’Ora stands up and looks around. It’s not like there’s so much stuff either but all what she has is a pile of mess. She spots blue and smiles out loud, drops out of her sweat pants and tank top and puts on the black dress. Without a jacket it is a bit much. The jacket though. It’s blue. Got some bling. Some shine. It’s a patriotic blue and the judge will like that. The best part is she has shoes to match. Doesn’t take much digging to find them. Hasn’t worn them in a while, but as she wriggles her feet in they feel good. I look good. Confident. Professional.
She walks out into the other room. Marta is cleaning the kitchen sink. Cleaning is something else she does when she is frustrated.
Marta turns around. Because of the shoes they are almost eye-to-eye. Marta looks her up and down. She is thinking something, but her words don’t quite make it out.
D’Ora takes the shoes off and kneels in front of the dog. Smells are coming out of her everywhere. There’s sick in there, but there’s also something different. Medicine maybe. Her head is lifted and her breath is fast and strained.
D’Ora rocks gently back and forth, sucking on her finger and humming to the dog.
When she was on the streets after Phil kicked her out the first time she met a man who sucked on his finger too. She didn’t see it right away, but when he got to know her better he was himself. He was some kind of social worker, though when she first saw him she had thought he was a john with his pasty skin and look of wanting dripping off his face. This guy he was nice to her, helped her get in programs and tried to get her off the street.
That was his surface man. Underneath he was bad news, a hippopotamus sitting there in plain sight looking all still and innocent until it decides it’s hungry and then it’s all over in a blink.
One time she was in his office and strung out so she couldn’t sit still and she was wandering around and looking at his pictures and the flyers he had on the wall and she glanced at him from across the room and there he was with his fat pasty finger in his mouth, sucking on it like it was a tiny dick. She had laughed out loud because of the unexpectedness of it. He smiled that big friendly hippopotamus smile at her and asked her what she was laughing at. “You have issues. Mouth issues. You suck on your finger. You do it when you are scared? Worried?” Without missing a beat he told her he did it when he was turned on but couldn’t do anything about it. He smiled at her in an awful way that said he had power over her.
Twice he tried to fuck her. He didn’t expect her to come at him with a knife when he tried the first time, which turned him on as much as it scared him, gave him one more story to tell.
The second time he had tried to get her into his minivan, but she had been high and when she realized what he was about a quiet fury overtook her and it took three men to pull her off of him. She would have gouged out his eyeballs if she could have. After that he stopped paying any attention to her.
Rocking in front of Marta’s dying dog she wonders why all of this comes back to her now that her life is trying to be so different.
The dog’s ribs stick out with every breath and her hips poke upwards. The dog hasn’t been able to stand on its back legs for a few days. Marta and D’Ora take turns carrying it places. Inside. Outside. To get water. To eat. To pee. Sometimes they forget. Sometimes the dog wakes up soaked in pee because she can’t lift herself.
“If I ever get to that point please put a bullet in my head,” Marta says the same thing everyday. She doesn’t want the dog to suffer.
The heave rises up without announcing itself, starts just below her ribcage and moves like a giant stone beneath her heart. D’Ora forces herself to breathe, lies down on the floor next to the tiny dog with her face right close even though the smells coming out of the dog are terrible. Death smells.
D’Ora closes her eyes.
They taught her in one of her classes how to shut everything out. Focus on the breath. It was bullshit. But it also wasn’t. She forces the nasty smells coming off of the dog into her own lungs, jams all that burn into every cell of her body.
This is what I deserve.
I deserve shit.
I am shit.
D’Ora falls asleep for a bit. The stink is deep up inside her.Yes, this is who I am and exactly what I deserve. She dreams of being on a boat with a gutted whale. She pulls at the blubber and surrounds herself in it like a dress. It is both disgusting and comforting.
I am the queen of gross.
Girl, you beautiful.
Girl, you ratchet.
There is no end to the voices, but the blubber helps her to hide. Under the blubber she is safe.
When she wakes up, the little dog has gotten worse. She isn’t dead yet, but she isn’t breathing right and she is hurting.
D’Ora touches the dog’s head with her fingertips. There is a concave spot just below the dog’s ear, big enough to accommodate a large man’s thumb.
After Phil was dead and when she still had her second daughter and was still using, she had a boyfriend. They had found a tiny Chihuahua the day they met. She kept it and cared for it. Late one night the boyfriend accidentally stepped on it. Her baby was asleep and the dog was screeching like it was a broken person, its whole body facing in wrong and impossible directions. The boyfriend was tired and didn’t want to deal with the dog so D’Ora scooped its yelping self into a blanket so she wouldn’t have to look at the impossible angles and ran to the 24-hour vet two blocks away. She wanted them to put it to sleep because she knew there was no fix for that much crooked. The vet people had come to her and removed her squealing pile of dog from her hands and taken her to the back. D’Ora sat down in a chair, pleased with herself for doing the right thing, the normal thing, until the woman came back and told her they had the dog under oxygen and were trying to assess whether they could save her.
No, she is too broken. You can’t save a dog that broken.
Our vet is doing an exam right now.
$479 later the dog was dead and D’Ora was in shock. Here she thought she’d done the right thing by the dog that they had found, that had never been to a vet, that ate whatever scraps were available, and she had to pay $479 to have it die in sheets. It was an insurmountable bill to be handed on top of death and D’Ora bartered a quarter gram and used as soon as she left. She went home to find her boyfriend gone and her daughter alone in her crib shrieking. Police pulled up just as she ran in because her daughter had been crying a while, perhaps the whole time D’Ora had been at the vet. Police questioned her and she told them about the dog dying and taking it to the vet and they could go and talk to the vet if they didn’t believe her.
“Why didn’t you take your daughter?”
“Because my boyfriend was here. I was going to an animal hospital and that’s no place for a baby.”
“Makes sense,” the officer said. “Did you know that he was going to leave?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course I didn’t know. I told him I was taking the dog and to stay with the baby and he said he was tired which was why he didn’t take the dog.”
“Do you know where he is now?”
“No idea. Maybe in hell.”
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
“I am fine. I just took a dying dog to the vet and they charged me $479 and it died. I just wanted them to put it to sleep and they charged me $479. Where is a person supposed to get that kind of money? I just wanted it not to hurt.” She couldn’t stop talking.
The officer was sweet. Young and innocent looking. “Right?” he had said. “They charge a lot and they know you aren’t going to argue because you are there with your dying animal, but for right now let’s focus on your daughter.”
“Exactly,” she had said, relieved that everything was going to be all right.
But it wasn’t and it never would be. Child Protective Services had been called and they felt the need to drug test her daughter and she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.
“I don’t use either of those substances,” she had said.
“But you are her mother and you are in a house where those substances are being used.”
Looking back she has almost no memory of what happened afterwards. It involved a lot of yelling and throwing things and cursing at the nice young police officer who was not so innocent after all and had suspected that she was high and was trying to draw the conversation out in an effort to clarify.
Clarification occurred. She was arrested. She lost her daughter. One year and two days later her rights to a child were severed for a second time because she couldn’t get clean and if she was honest with herself she still wasn’t ready to be a mother.
And now here she is. Another dying dog and another child in DCS custody because of her drug use. This time, though, things are different. For the last 18 months she had supervised visitation with the baby, classes, and appointments. Mostly she has been doing good. A few bumps, which was why it is 18 months and not less.
Things are different now.
Phil had ruined everything, but Phil is dead now.
This time she is not stupid enough to take the dog to the vet. This time she will make the dog as comfortable as she can and when it is finally dead she will wrap it in towels and then a trash bag, maybe two, and she will throw it in a dumpster in the next alley. That is one way she can help Marta out, thank her for all she’s done.
1:20 is a strange time for a court appointment. It’s always been on the hour or half hour before. She double-checks the paper. 1:20. She checks the paperwork by the door again though she has done this already half a dozen times. Sign-in sheet from the anger management classes and substance abuse classes. Signature card from counseling. Hours logged from the job-training program. Enrollment certificate in GED study program.
She has done everything they’ve asked of her. A short ripple of pride washes through her.
The television is still on because the television is always on. One of Marta’s friends spliced into a neighbor’s cable so they are binge-watching while they can. The volume is low and there is a beautiful breakfast in an impossibly clean white and wood kitchen. There is a family sitting at a round table and they are all eating pancakes and smiling.
Who are these people?
I want to give this to my son.
Even as the thought wanders through, she knows that a pretty life of blueberry pancakes and breakfast in a big airy kitchen is never going to be for her. Not ever. Something inside is rigged wrong.
Not a fucking chance.
Hard when you are out of the motherhood loop to just step back in. Hard to give all of yourself over if you got used to soothing your own pains.
Marta walks in the front door. They are only smoking outside now in anticipation of her son’s return.
“I can’t go with you to court today; I just got called in to work. They threatened to fire me if I don’t go and I can’t afford that right now, even if they are wrong for calling me in on my day off. You going to be okay?”
D’Ora’s stomach heaves. “I’ll be fine.”
They both know this is a lie.
“I called your lawyer and she is going to meet you there. I called your case manager and she can’t be there. They tried to find someone else, but I guess things are really short-staffed.”
“Marta, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” She puts her hands on her belly to push the ache deep inside. “I’m an adult and I can make it to court. Didn’t you see? I have all my papers by the door. I have all my court clothes ready. I am on this.”
She knows Marta doesn’t believe her. She doesn’t believe her.
“You’ve got this. This is for your son. You’ve done everything they’ve asked you to do, jumped through every damn hoop, so you go into court proud and own that.”
“What about the dog?”
“What about her?”
“Want me to take her to the vet?”
“If we were smart we would have taken her to one of those all night clinics, rung the doorbell, and then ran. They would have given her an injection and we wouldn’t have to pay the $60. As things stand we’re going to have to let her go. I’m too much of a wimp to bash her head in, but that would be the kind thing to do.”
Twenty minutes and two big hugs later Marta leaves and D’Ora is alone with the almost dead dog. D’Ora sits with her for a minute but can’t bear to see her pain. She goes into Marta’s stash and lights up the half blunt that is in the box.
They won’t drop me today, she tells herself.
She sits on the floor in front of dog and lights up.
Still more than three hours until she has to leave for court. All she has to do is take a shower and get dressed. This pot is legal because Marta has a medical card.
D’Ora holds the smoke in her lungs as long as she can, then leans her face into the dog and exhales slowly. The dog is already struggling with her breath and D’Ora worries she’s going to get a coughing fit. At first the dog looks like she’s going to throw up and D’Ora pulls back. The little dog’s head bobs gently as though she’s following some imperceptible song somewhere but then her body seems to relax. D’Ora takes another hit, holds it, and again gently exhales in the dog’s face. This time the dog doesn’t struggle or try to turn away just looks her in the eye and nods.
D’Ora grabs one of the canvas bags that Marta’s hoarded from all the social service fairs she goes to and shoves in her paperwork and spiky blue shoes. She’s going to have to run for the bus and so she wears her little black sneakers that she got from a rich white lady’s yard sale for $2. They are black suede and sleek and beautiful and a size too big but it doesn’t matter. The laces are long and even though she’s in a hurry she takes her time to tie them up proper. She learned the hard way.
Wallet. Keys. Phone. Needs – shoes, jacket, papers. Boobs.
One of her case managers a couple of years ago taught her techniques for remembering what she needed. When you stand in front of a door about to leave, she had said, go through your list: wallet keys phone needs boobs. Boobs was a reminder to adjust her boobs and feel good about herself before she walked into the world. Needs was the catch-all for anything different. D’Ora is amazed at the number of times going through this list has saved her from trouble. Like now. No phone. She runs back into her room for the phone.
The dog has moved off the pile of towels and is stretched out. They look at each other.
D’Ora wants to lie down on the floor with the dog. Instead she whispers a prayer and grabs her phone.
Out the door.
1:02 and she is two bus rides and thirty-five minutes away from the courthouse if she’s lucky and doesn’t miss the first bus.
Court is always late.
So are the buses.
As soon as she closes the door behind her she sprints. Her bag tucked under her arm still going through her checklist wallet keys phone needs boobs. Papers. She has her shoes and she has her papers. She runs. Down two blocks and looks down the street to see if she sees the bus in either direction. Clear. Two people waiting at the bus stop. Good sign.
D’Ora won’t let herself think about where this day could take her. She’s all about the now. Right here. This moment.
In one of her mandated counseling sessions she had a class on how to deal with stress. The teacher had asked them what they thought would help.
“Get rid of the courts,” someone had said.
The teacher had been a big lady with a soft voice. She sat there in front of all these paroled women and talked about not stressing about everything, not thinking about every single problem and just to focus on the Now.
There had been an ornery woman in the class and she had laughed huge. “Lady, what do you think got us here in the first place? Right now I need a fix. Right now I want to slice my man up because he done me wrong. The Now is not the problem – most of us got that. It’s the planning that sinks us.”
D’Ora saw the teacher’s lip quiver and felt bad for her.
“Really?” the social work lady had said. “That’s great if you’ve got the Now, but I am going to challenge you anyway because I don’t think you’ve got it as much as you think you do.”
The other lady had leaned back in her chair. “Bring it on.”
The social work lady had started off by asking them all to breathe. Breathe into your bellies. Watch the breath. Be with the breath.
There were snorts and giggles, but most everyone tried.
The rest of class had been filled with breathing and closing eyes and imagining things.
At the end of the hour the lady had asked them how they felt. D’Ora felt like she wanted to take a nap, but she didn’t talk in situations like this so she kept that to herself. The teacher was looking at the ornery lady.
“I’m not going to lie; I do feel good. A little bit calmer. So maybe what you are talking about is being in the Now with your own damn self instead of losing that to someone else?”
The social worker lady’s face glowed.
“Exactly. You’ve got this.”
By the time D’Ora has run the three blocks from the bus stop to the courthouse she is sweaty and breathing hard. She’s carrying her blue jacket and is down to her tiny party dress and yard sale sneakers. Everything else is in the canvas bag that she has checked and rechecked countless times since she left the house.
There are four security guards just inside the door. Thankfully there is only one man in front of her as she puts her bag down to go through the x-ray machine.
“Please remove your phone.”
She sticks her hand in the bag and gropes around until her fingers find it. She hands it to the guard and walks through the metal detector.
“Don’t forget your items, Ma’am.” It takes her a minute to realize that he is talking to her. She grabs the phone from his hand and her bag from the belt. The nervousness is pounding inside her and her mind clouds over.
She stands in front of the marquis looking for her name or her son’s name but she doesn’t see anything and feels the panic fuel waves of nausea inside of her. She sticks her finger in her mouth forcing herself to calm.
Judges’ names and times are listed on a whiteboard in front of the marquis.
What was the judge’s name? Something to do with eyes.
The whiteboard could be written in math. Nothing makes sense. Her mind tries to hook on the numbers and letters and what they mean.
“Can I help you?” asks the security guard who told her to get her stuff.
D’Ora’s finger works its way out of her mouth.
“My son’s case. I can’t find it.” Panic rises up wide in her voice.
“Do you know the judge’s name?”
“I can’t remember. Something to do with eyes.”
The man smiles. “Fishburn.”
“Yes! Why did I think eyes?”
“Fisheye. You’re not the first person to make that connection. Judge Fishburn is out today so you’ve got Judge Matthews who is doubling up.” He points the whiteboard where it says Matthews (sitting in for Fishburn).
“I’m late. My dog died. I was late for the bus.” She looks up at the clock on the wall. 2:05.
“What time is your hearing?”
“You may be lucky – probably are since they’re doubled up — they may be running late. 4D. Elevators are right there.”
She knows the elevators well.
Her thank you is on the move to the stairs. She squeezes the canvas bag tight under her arm and sprints up.
3:49. A fix right now would fix it all. Someone in jail had said that and while corny, it is a line that comes to her at the worst times.
Click click click of shoes on tile reminds her of her court shoes. Sit down and pull out hope in spiky blue shoes; she’s already wearing hope in an American blue jacket.
Too bad she didn’t have a matching white suit like the lady on TV this morning.
“We’re not allowed choice,” Phil had told her right around the time she started to realize things were not right with him.
“Everything is choice,” she had said.
“Nothing is choice. We are doomed and destined to succeed or fail. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The twist in her gut comes back and she gets up to go to the bathroom. It takes several steps to reacquaint herself with her shoes. Halfway down the hall she remembers the canvas bag and goes back for it in small click click steps.
In the bathroom she sits down on the toilet and collapses the full weight of her tiny self, feeling more alone than she can bear. The thought of the dying dog comes to mind and a sob escapes her. Not the beginning of crying, more the release of pain.
The doors on the toilet stalls are shiny, black, and heavy. They are the doors of a classier place and she wonders why they’ve bothered to put money into courthouse bathrooms.
For the lawyers, Marta would say.
She wishes Marta were here. The last time Marta came with her and asked more questions than D’Ora could keep track of. Your attorney is working for you and you need to make sure you are asking all the right questions. D’Ora went along but she had no idea what to ask or what to do. The worst part about coming to court was that she felt stupid and defenseless, like a little child.
She puts her hand up against the smooth black door, lets its cool and strong soak into her.
Marta had asked the lawyer how long the charge for random drug tests would be in place. She had asked what visitation would be like between then and now – supervised or not. Question after question. Each time D’Ora had thought, oh yeah, I would like to know that, but it never would have occurred to her to ask in the first place.
D’Ora steps out of the stall and looks at her tall self in the mirror. The jacket matches the shoes perfectly. You look professional. She tucks the canvas bag under her arm and heads out of the bathroom.
People fill the halls in seated clumps. She feels their eyes on her.
They are wondering whose lawyer I am. I even have the bag for it.
“Daddy why is she wearing those shoes?”
“Ssssh. There is no room for judgment in the Lord’s eyes.”
D’Ora looks down as she walks toward an empty bench.
You are shit. You cannot keep a child safe. You cannot even keep a dog alive.
Words swirl around her like a noose, pull tighter and tighter.
You have no business here.
D’Ora looks around her. Almost everyone is there with someone. Most of the benches are filled. People stand together and talk. She is an island. Her lawyer had come out just after she had arrived and checked in with the bailiff. She said the judge had already called her, but because of so many people, he would see her at the end. It would be a wait, but she was good. The lawyer had tried to be nice, but she heard the judgment. She knew she didn’t believe her about the dog dying.
D’Ora is done waiting. She doesn’t care that she is sitting in front of a courtroom. She opens her canvas bag and pulls out her tiny black sneakers. Takes off her beautiful blue shoes and places them inside the bag alongside her folders and phone and wallet. She slips her feet inside the sneakers, even though it means pulling up her leg and resting her foot on the bench in a short dress. She doesn’t care.
She takes off her jacket and shoves it in the bag so that it is fat and uncomfortable to carry. She puts it down on the bench next to her.
The young boy who noticed her shoes sits across the hall from her staring and she resists the urge to flash him. She smiles instead. He looks away.
You are just a ho.
You have nothing to offer.
Walk away, baby. Walk away. With your silly bag and your click click heels. Walk away. Worthless mama. Worthless ho. Walk away.
Two well-dressed young men walk by. The one with the tight-fitting pants makes a gesture with his arms. “A lot of justice happening in here today,” he says.
D’Ora gets up. She needs to get away from the voices before she starts yelling at them. Why do they want her to suffer? She starts walking, feeling the eyes on her. Just past the bathroom and she remembers the bag. Shit. She turns around and feels the stares. Puts her finger in her mouth. Gets back to the canvas bag, untouched in those few seconds. She peers in to makes sure everything is still there. Jacket shoes paper boobs wallet phone go. She gets up a second time and turns to leave.
Her name is in a woman’s mouth.
“D’Ora, It’s time. The judge will see you now.”
Laila Halaby is the author of two novels, Once in a Promised Land and West of the Jordan, as well as a collection of poetry my name on his tongue. “Court” is the first story in her (under review) collection Watching the Girl You Love Walk Away with Charlie Manson; a year of grief in twelve stories.