When I pass through the metal detector, it beeps. I’m sent back through, now without my belt. I hold up my pants while waiting for my belt and the other things to be scanned.
I check in at what looks like a teller window with thick bulletproof plastic. On the other side, the court clerk nods and points toward an empty lobby. She says, “The other party hasn’t arrived yet.”
There are rows of connected plastic seats, like you’d find at a small regional airport. Dim fluorescent lights darken the lobby’s already dark tile floors. The walls are the color of overcooked egg yolks. I point my dad the way. I don’t have a car, and since we used his, I insisted he come with me. How could I drive with my racing thoughts?
“I have to do this now,” says a young woman at the teller window.
“You appear later,” the clerk says. “Come back at one.”
“I can’t come back.” The young woman begins crying.
I look down at the order I was served days ago at my dad’s house, where I’ve been staying. The process server instructed me, “Call and settle this.” I flip the pages and look over “Exhibit A”, the list of documents I’m ordered to produce for this hearing.
“This isn’t fair,” the young woman shouts. We watch her flee, still crying.
“That reminds me of the last time I saw your ex-girlfriend and you together,” my dad says.
“I thought she moved on with her life. I haven’t talked to her in months.”
He pats my leg. “Maybe she’ll leave you alone after this hearing business.”
Now a large man with a briefcase and tight-fitting suit is at the window. Soon he walks over and sits at the other end of the lobby. He shuffles through papers on his lap.
“I wonder if he’s the other party,” I say to my dad.
“Of course, she doesn’t show.”
I open the file folder on my lap and shuffle through the pages I typed on my dad’s computer and copied on his printer. This busy work doesn’t calm me.
A clerk wearing narrow glasses appears and calls my name. The man across the lobby gets up, too. The three of us follow this clerk down a hallway and enter the smallest courtroom I’ve ever seen. Nothing like on TV. No audience seats. Near the back wall are two narrow tables. A miniature judge’s bench faces the tables. We take the table on the right and the man sits at the left one, closest to the door. The clerk asks if I will tell the truth. I say, “I do,” very soberly. No raised hand. No Bible.
“Let me know if you need the judge.” The clerk leaves.
This surprises me: no judge or court reporter to take everything down. Then I notice a camera in a corner.
The man introduces himself, but all I hear is Stacia’s name.
“My client can use the court to gather information, like this hearing,” Stacia’s lawyer says. “Ready to go through the list in ‘Exhibit A’? To start off, can I see all the ultimatums you put forward this previous year?”
I hand him a very short list. “Stacia’s the only one receiving ultimatums from me. I haven’t done this to anyone else; no one else shoves me, like she does… with words.” I remember my brother telling me on the phone last night to answer only yes or no to any questions asked.
“I see.” He makes a note on a legal pad. “How about using the past to blame or assail others? You know, a counter-punch?”
I’ve argued with family and friends over Stacia, using how they’ve hurt me in the past when I felt overwhelmed. There are a few examples of using the past against Stacia, too.
“You’ll notice most of the moments deal with me,” my dad says.
“Just gathering information,” he says. “Let’s see, what’s next? How about ‘your misrepresentations, misspeaking, overtly and/or —’”
“I know, lies,” I say, handing over another page. I can’t help but smile. Numbers 3, 8, and 12 will surprise her.
“These next ones don’t apply,” I say, not able to stop myself.
“These items are the same for all these orders,” Stacia’s lawyer says in a reassuring way. “But I have to ask.”
I have nothing to hand over regarding specific self-destructive behaviors, examples of property damage, and domestic violence occurrences in the previous year. Stacia already knows we were never physical in our anger. All punches thrown were with words, which is just as damaging.
“Last one,” says Stacia’s lawyer, smiling. “Any examples of forgiving others this previous year?”
I hand over a half-page of moments, mostly regarding my dad. And I put in a line about forgiving myself. “You’ll notice your client is not listed,” I say, trying to smile back.
“Maybe someday.” He places the paper on his stack of papers.
“Don’t bet on it,” says my dad.
“I think I know the answer, but my client requested I ask.” He stares intently. “Is there any possibility of settling this matter?”
I’ve imagined settling with Stacia a hundred times in a day. How we might speak to each other. “I hope maybe,” I hear myself saying, “at some point….”
“Tell your client,” my dad says, but I tap his wrist and he stops.
Stacia’s lawyer stands up and offers his hand. “Worth a try.”
“What comes next?” I’m still shaking his hand.
“My client will look these over.” He takes his hand back. “If required, she may use the court again for another hearing down the road.”
Stacia’s lawyer nods and leaves.
I stand up and walk to the door. Then I come back, where my dad gathers up my extra copies. He is shaking his head. He hands the file over and I put it on the table. I hug my dad and won’t let go. The camera in the corner watches.
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, apt, New World Writing, The Airgonaut, Eunoia Review, and North American Review. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship and has taught fiction workshops at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and other colleges. He is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review.
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