She places her hand on her father’s arm, feeling the cool starchiness of his
dress whites as he stands ramrod straight, his seventy-five years not yet
bowing his body.
“Are you sure you want me in uniform?” he’d asked her the week before. “It’ll make everyone remember —”
“You can say his name, Daddy,” Jeannie responded. “It’ll make everyone remember Tim. I want them to remember him,” she said.
Even her white silk tailored suit could have passed for standard issue, but at forty and the second time around, she couldn’t fathom
a bridal gown.
She’d met Tim when they were both fresh out of college, and soon after he enlisted. She’d fallen hard. Oedipal or not, the attraction to a military man had been lost on no one. Her father had been circumspect.
“Are you sure you want that kind of life for your own children someday?” he had asked, not long after she’d started going with Tim. She knew her father meant the relocations — they had moved every couple of years from one base to another, changing schools each time. Did she want her children to be military brats as well?
But the truth was it’d been a wonderful childhood. Her mother had been the rock of the family, helping the kids to adapt to each new situation and creating a core of resilience in Jeannie and her siblings. And the postings themselves had been exciting — Virginia and California, and the Philippines and Germany as well. Jeannie had grown up with a profound sense of the world as an open place of adventure, filled with people to meet and cultures to discover.
The low tones of the organ that had been the background to the gathering of the guests now gives way to a spiraling crescendo, and Jeannie takes a few tentative steps down the aisle with her father as the guests rise to their feet. Out of vanity, she has ditched her glasses, and from this distance the man waiting for her at the end of the flower-strewn runner could be Tim or Mike, or anyone else. She glances at the pews on the bride’s side and sees almost the exact assemblage that had attended her wedding to Tim fifteen years before — old Aunt Bernie has died and been replaced by little Frankie Junior. There are a few other substitutions — one famous falling-out she had with a close friend still rattles her. She doesn’t look to the groom’s side of the room, where Mike’s family sits in lieu of Tim’s, maintaining the illusion for a few more minutes that she is still a young woman of twenty-five who has not yet known grief.
After the training accident, people asked Jeannie if she had been afraid when Tim was deployed to Iraq. She had answered honestly, “No.” Should she have been? She had no time to be afraid. She was a mother with two small children on an army base. It was a community that she understood, and she felt supported, almost protected, by the other women and the structure of the lifestyle. And Jeannie’s father had always come home.
Hannah was relieved when she saw that all the chairs in the waiting room were empty. There were Monday mornings when there were three or four women waiting to file for restraining orders after a violent weekend at home. For the next hour, she lay low. When she got up to use the restroom located down the long hallway, she passed through the waiting room, expecting it to be empty as before.
The woman was sitting in the corner, so still, that Hannah almost didn’t see her. Her head was resting against the wall, her bronze curls stark against the white paint, her skin so pale that she almost blended in. Her eyes closed, she might have been meditating. Hannah’s initial reaction was to retreat into her office and let the young woman rest. Perhaps she was an apparition, and would not be there when Hannah next checked. But they were often pressed for time; if Hannah needed to file a petition with the court on behalf of this woman, she should get started with the interview. She cleared her throat.
The woman opened her eyes slowly, an effort, revealing a translucent blue rimmed in red. After she registered Hannah, she immediately lowered her eyes to the floor. She looked fragile, and Hannah wondered why she was there without a friend or relative for support.
“Can I help you, Miss?” Hannah ventured, taking a very small step toward her. She felt the same sensation she had when she saw a deer near the pond in the early morning; if she approached slowly, she might get a closer look – too abrupt a movement, and the deer disappeared into the fog. The woman was dressed neatly in jeans, a sweater, and boots – appropriate for the weather, but something was off. The clothes looked slept in, or slightly unclean. When she didn’t answer, Hannah continued, “I’m Hannah Robbins. I’m one of the attorneys here. Would you like to come in and speak with me for a few minutes?” The woman followed her out of the waiting room and into her office.
“What brings you here today?” Hannah asked when the woman was seated. The woman exuded a melancholy that was palpable. Many of the women who came to the clinic were tense, anxious, angry. Certainly there were some who were also very sad – upset that their relationships had hit rock bottom. But this was different.
“Why don’t we start with the intake form. What’s your name?” She held her breath, wondering whether the woman would answer or not. When she spoke, it was almost inaudible.
“Katheryn. Most everyone calls me Kat.”
“Kat, what’s your last name?” She looked up, as though she hadn’t contemplated that anyone would need to know her identity.
“Fortunato,” she said. Lucky, Hannah thought. I hope so.
“And what’s your address, Kat?”
“32 Brook Street, in Country Gables,” she said. Hannah forced her face into a mask so as not to betray that this sad young woman lived just around the corner from her. In the three years she had worked in the clinic, Hannah had never had such a close encounter. “Okay,” Hannah said. “And what is the name of the abuser?”
Kat flinched, the word a verbal slap in the face.
TO READ THE FULL STORY, CLICK HERE
Excerpt from “A Reckoning”
published in The Westchester Review, Volume 9, June 30, 2017
“Why would you want to live someplace where the climate is the same the whole year round? God changes the seasons to show us the passage of time, so that we understand that things don’t last forever, and we act accordingly.” Yes, that was actually how she spoke. Reuben knew that his mother’s logic was faulty; certainly God also wanted the good people of California to live meaningful lives, even if the weather was so beautiful they could hit the beach everyday. But he had listened to her and headed off to Boston, where he froze his ass off for four years, silently cursing God’s seasons.
Reuben’s mother saw God’s handiwork in everything. Not in some nutty zealous way that he easily could dismiss either. Rather, she was the most intuitively religious person he knew. The world made sense to her, and when it didn’t, her own incomprehension made sense to her too. Reuben envied her.
To read the rest of the story, please click here to purchase The Westchester Review, Volume 9, June 30, 2017.
Coming in the fall of 2018 from She Writes Press:
Public Defender Liana Cohen would give anything to have one client, just one, whom she can believe in. Dozens of hardened criminals and repeat offenders have chipped away at her faith in herself and the system. She needs someone to reignite her passion and salvage her career.
Enter imprisoned felon Danny Shea, whose unforgivable crime would raise a moral conflict in an attorney at the height of her idealism – and that hasn’t been Liana in quite a while. His conviction on appeal, Liana is assigned to his case. Danny’s astonishing blend of confidence and vulnerability intrigues Liana, who finds him intelligent and magnetic. And she believes he’s innocent.
When Liana wins Danny’s release from prison, she finds herself confronted by a man who is single-minded in his determination to be with her. As their attorney-client relationship transforms into something less than arms-length, Liana’s whole world is turned upside down. She risks losing everything when Danny’s attentions intensify just as her boyfriend, Jakob Weiss, proposes marriage. Liana must decide who she is.
UNREASONABLE DOUBTS was inspired by my work as an appellate attorney. I hold a J.D. from Yale Law School. I’ve studied fiction at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and I’m active in the writing community as a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. My personal essays have been featured in the on-line journals Kveller, Parent.co, Mamalode, and others. My short story, “A Reckoning,” appears in the July, 2017 issue of The Westchester Review.
Pre Order Your Copy of
“Unreasonable Doubts” Today!