​VOIR DIRE

Remember I was real hungry and I shot him five times because he was holdin’ and I didn’t have the money and at first it was face to face then I pulled my momma’s gun got it from that Payless shoebox she keeps on the top shelf of her bedroom closet next to the scrubs don’t fit no more but if she got to work another twenty at the hospital sits right across from this courthouse (she probably working there now used to be called St. Mary’s ‘til it secularized to Kenneth Hall she always say a church is like a hospital so she just goin to church sometimes she drinks vodka and says it different says: I would tell you to go to hell but I work there and I don’t want to see you everday… funny ain’t it how the courthouse and the hospital have to use the same parking lot) anyway them patterned scrubs they might fit again someday the gun was inside some old snow boots a snubbed .38 she got her a permit for it after she divorced my daddy back when I was about nine and when I pulled it from the back of my pants on the stairs in front of Roger it wasn’t no face to face no more he was a couple of steps above me and he didn’t give it up he didn’t hand me the rock he turned to run and that’s when I shot him.  I guess since I had to shoot up he made it to the door.  To the exit on the fourth floor (we was at his baby mama’s tenement on Bond and that was her floor she was at the end of the hall by the broken elevator and if he had died if he hadn’t of made it there this would be a different kind of trial) and shit I didn’t make it down to the service exit before the po po had me on the ground by the dumpsters and mailboxes little black girls in the back apartment playground didn’t even stop swinging and the boys in the sandbox didn’t even notice.

Wish he’d just fucking say that… thinks Gary Kelevra.  He was in that parking lot sitting in his black Pontiac Sunfire.  Staring at the yellow engine light which had just come on.  Fucking jury duty.  At least he didn’t have to work and he worked at a hospital too—Touchette just down Bond Avenue a bit past the graffiti on the pawn shops and barred up convenient stores.  East St. Louis is just that.  It’s just the other side of the river, and the Mississippi wouldn’t call it a direction.

He had turned twenty-five last month.  The furor of Y2K had worn off and he must have answered the questions right the lawyer’s questions the judge’s questions.  Gary had told the judge he was a writer.  The judge in his black robe had turned his head to the left to look down on him in the jury box and he smiled when he said he liked Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.  Gary wanted to wish a train could be heard going by after all the tracks weren’t far from the courthouse and the hospital either, but he didn’t and of course he didn’t hear anything.

The defendant’s name was Clarence.  Today was day three.  The defense would probably rest today.  Gary heard the buzz first then saw the fly land on the inside of his passenger window.  Must of left some food in here, he thinks, insects an annoying and incessant reminder of things we like to forget about thus inspiring our resentment.  They weren’t much around in winter but then it was cold.  He pulls out his flip-top cell phone it was her idea they tried Sprint first but where she lived they needed Verizon he hadn’t yet got rid of his landline.  He calls the dealership in Belleville and asks for the service department they’re busy so he leaves a message.  The fly is moving again.  He`s able to follow it with his eyes for a moment, but he doesn’t feel like turning his head.  Just don’t think… she said, Live lightly and you’re not as oblivious to your surroundings.  Well that should make me happy the twin tracks to why I exist (the fly lands on his window he puts his thumb on it)—experience and reflection.

Yes she worked there: Julia.  Not when it was St. Mary’s but now that it was Kenneth Hall.  Gary can look through his rearview mirror from the parking lot and see the sign above the ER entrance.  He remembered when she interviewed.  They took the Metro while her husband was at his job when she had to do all the pre-employment paperwork and she hid her daughter’s pee in her bra.  She wasn’t at work now, but she’d be working tonight.  Smoke breaks with the black nurses outside the door in view of Club Escapades in between traumas.  She’d been caught smoking weed in her Jeep in this same parking lot by the beefy bald security guard she was reading the newspaper and simply denied the smell he was divorced his name was Larry after that he came to the lab to check up on her often he liked how she made her ramen noodles in the coffee pot from the break room.

The service department wasn’t going to call back about his engine light before court began.  He would have to wait until lunch.  The morning would be for the defense to close its arguments.  It was sort of an open and shut dry case.  A crack deal gone wrong.  Clarence shot Roger but Roger lived even with five bullets in his back.  There were witnesses.  There was evidence.  The state had to prove he was guilty.  The defense merely had to shed doubts on this to make you think of his innocence.  But Clarence had a public defender, and he wasn’t doing a very good job.  Sure don’t think.  Maybe it isn’t even pride which makes you for when you’re fully in love with yourself you can’t deny you’re happy it’s when you see you may not be as innocent as you think that you begin to resent this sort of self-confidence and then you begin to maybe wonder who’s life is on hold who’s really on trial Clarence is in a prison cell right now I’m out here in this parking lot looking at a yellow engine light will I exist for Clarence sitting in that jury box waiting to judge him or does he exist for me so I have something to do today who lives for who and is this really the measure of our happiness?   Killing flies so that the statues of ourselves stand bare of all our fine speeches?  The public defender, Bob, needed to practice his rhetoric.  No fine talk can really get rid of a smell.

Of course Febreze can do it or a least you say it does and maybe it really does so it’s tolerated so you buy it kind of like an Old Spice commercial look at him look at me the double of our smile in the mirror.  Gary didn’t have a lot of respect for Bob.  He didn’t shave probably hadn’t bathed since last Sunday a suit worn out of the Salvation Army shop and a clip-on tie hip from the emporium of his college days before the world nibbled him to what he was the dandruff and the grease of the parted line of his graying (not just for men) hair making the mouthing of his Listerine words worse.  But let’s not judge.

Gary was hungry which meant he wasn’t sleepy.  Maybe the fucking lunch break would cure him of that.  Getting into the courthouse is easy if you read the rules.  You’re just as evil as I am she said that in the storeroom of the Kenneth Hall lab it was after midnight but she lit her watch anyway to see and after he was done she said she wished his load weren’t swimmers but then what else could be his confession and they were in the dark next to shelves of reagents she went to the bathroom to see the light other than on her watch and it was her shift not his so after she got on her knees he got on his to elucidate John Lennon’s words love is on your knees and as he looked up at her as he reached out to her as he as always reached out to her she could say as she can only say in the dark no one else watching: Don’t leave me.  You’re my only friend.

Shit they butted heads. And no one is ever really watching.  Clarence learned that from Roger. It was a matter of esteem on those stairs.  The baby mama held the money.  But by day three Clarence could tell Bob was just waiting on the weekend.  That`s when the funny thing happened but it really wasn’t funny there was no stir as Gary could tell in the jury box when Clarence absolved Bob of his duty and decided to defend himself the rest was like circus animal on tranquilizers.

He questioned his mother.  Clarence did.  She was the last witness.  Gary would have cried but that would have been subjunctive and embarrassing and the jury really didn’t really want that fear.  It was a nigger interviewing his illiterate mother god-fearing speaking words in a box to the punctuation of all racial religious and right things you should do you’ve heard and always will hear.  It made Gary sad, especially as he worried about his engine light, but it was a relief to see the beast was dead.  And it was lunchtime. Anyone who wanted to watch had been in the courtroom and now it was time to judge but as Gary thought of Julia across the street working that night as he thought of himself the exclusion was not are some guilty or not guilty it was more absurd and it was also just and it was there for all of us waiting as we go home to read the news other than this.

He texted her the verdict.  He was sitting in his car looking at his engine light again.  The service department called and said it was a light that just came on after 90,000 miles.  There was a thing you did with the parking brake and the clutch.  She offered to make him a sandwitch.  It was winter and it wasn’t the season of campfires and roasting hotdogs.  They didn’t deliberate long around the wooden table outside the courtroom.  The judge came within the hour in his black robes.  He looked out the window at the parking lot.  “I guess I don’t have to order you any food,” he said.

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