Rising to the Surface

“And after Miss Asher resisted arrest, is it true that she proceeded to kick from the back of the squad car until the heel of her shoe wedged into the right wheel floorboard?”

At this point I begin to tune out the ticker-tape of the prosecutor and police sergeant whose photographic memory rivals the accuracy of the world time clock. Adjacent to the witness stand hangs an American flag and on the other side of the judge is the State of California flag. The peculiar state bear always looks to me like he is walking off the edge of the fabric. I can relate. I want to walk out too. The alternating floor tiles of white and brown feel like a childhood game of hopscotch calling my name.

Under the defendants desk I begin to fidget my foot between the tiles. Up two tiles and then over to each side. I do this repeatedly until my mother’s strident voice creeps into my head: “Sit up. Sit still. There is a time to speak and a time to listen. The time to speak comes far less then the latter.” Even before the judge calls my name, I’m keenly aware that my time has come. Between the blah blah civic duty, blah blah reprimand on impulse control, I feel like I’m holding my breath under water. One, two, three, four, five. By twelve, my selective hearing is shattered and I shoot up for air. Like a foreign language translator, my Monday morning defender decodes the verdict.

“Within 100 days you need to have paid for and successfully completed an approved anger management course. You’ve also been given 80 hours of community service. To be frank, you’re really fortunate. I hope you see that. August? August!”

I drop beneath the surface of my make believe pool once more. The constant repeating of my name sounds like the first days of school where teachers, armed with roll books, said my name like it was an accident. Hesitancy paired with a dash of irritation is the recipe for a name that always appears like a typographical error. I’d hear “August?” a good three times before I ever had the courage to answer.

“August!”

Three’s a charm.

“You have to complete all the hours. Okay?”

The emphasis on all and the exhaustion in his third articulation of August make me take notice of my attorney’s parallel predicament. He too is at an impasse. I doubt he entered law school with aspirations of being responsible for the defence of those unable to afford legal assistance and unwilling to break from an imaginary game of hopscotch or Marco Polo to be sentenced for simple assault and resisting arrest. Like his very own straight jacket, his black suit is ill fitting for his football turned to fat frame and his tie appears to be strangling him. The vein in his neck pulses and when he speaks he periodically squints his eyes while scratching his eyebrow with the un-manicured nail of his index finger. At one time he scratched so vigorously my own eyebrow began to itch, but when done with his scratching he opened his lids to reveal penny coloured eyes that gleamed like an overflowing wishing well. It’s as if his soul is filled with discarded lucky pennies and the frustrated, brow scratching, squinting routine hides his wishing well secrets.

A college roommate of mine once summed up a date in one fatal comment: “Talking to him was like talking to zero. I kept forgetting he existed.” At the time her comment seemed harsh, condescending, cruel even. But now I wonder if a person can indeed be as important and as simultaneously insignificant as the elusive zero. On one hand our number system relies on the zero as an indicator of an empty place and on the other hand zero is far from empty. It’s a number, the first number; it counts. Without it there’s no modern mathematics, no algebra, no science. I hate math and I only loosely tolerate the soundness of science, but this tightly wound, work wearied, probably once the head of his law school class, is the very penny-eyed zero I clearly needed. Barely emphatic enough for me to recognise when my name escapes his mouth, but the economy of his words denote deliberate decisiveness. No time to waste. There are other dissenters of the public good to defend. “To be frank, you’re fortunate,” he says with zero inflection in his voice. I like him for this. I appreciate his bluntness. I sink once more into his wishing well eyes and then I rise, removing the pretence so I can start again.