More and more since Greg left, Jana had hidden in her apartment. If she had been prettier, smarter, smiled more, been more attentive, been…the list rolled through her being like an endless conveyer belt. It was important, she thought with a flash of her old humor, that depression and self-loathing at least be efficient.
But she was so angry, so humiliated that she hadn’t seen it coming. Hadn’t realized that after nine years of marriage, he no longer found her worthy of his love.
Jana recognized that it was neither normal nor healthy to be afraid of going to the grocery store or a movie. But the dread gnawed her like a living thing that someone, anyone, everyone would look at her and judge. She hated her house like a jail cell, but she was afraid to leave it. Her mind made plans and her emotions set off bombs of despair and fear.
The jury summons was unequivocal. The misery and panic ricocheted around as per usual, but the law was terrifyingly clear that, “I don’t want to because my husband walked out on me four months ago,” wasn’t a reason to be excused.
Thus, chewing gum so she wouldn’t vomit, Jana showed up, got her parking pass stamped and was escorted into a courtroom with thirty others. It was small, stifling and wood-paneled with benches like pews. A judge watched over while the lawyers asked them questions that seemed to have some kind of trick embedded in the words. Terrified, Jana kept her eyes fixed on the young man in the defendant’s chair. He shifted, stared at each juror, and shrugged repeatedly. His face seemed curiously blank to her, even though flickers of emotion apparently seethed beneath the surface.
And then Jana was selected for the trial. The minutiae stunned her. The lawyers showed photo after photo that appeared to mean nothing, but were intended to add up to a realization of some kind. Witnesses talked around and around and around. To Jana it was like her own accusing voices, circling the raw fact of a crime, a victim, and a person who caused it all.
The defendant said nothing, and only shifted a little in his chair. Like Greg who gave no explanations, who turned himself into a stranger. The facts of their marriage, of their years together were like this testimony. Proving nothing. Proving everything.
When the twelve were finally released to deliberate and come to a verdict, Jana discovered in bits and pieces that two other women and one of the men had had divorces. Their raw hurt echoed her own.
The discussions about the defendant held passion and logic. And all the while, the defendant, who somehow merged with her memory of Greg, sat silently dominating her mind. Staring. Without emotion.
“He says he’s innocent,” Tina observed.
Bryan picked up the photos and splayed them across the table. “Yeah, but there’s a lot of evidence here.”
“It doesn’t matter what he says.” Jana was surprised to hear her own voice. “It matters what common sense tells us, based on the evidence.”
The others nodded. Jana sat back, suddenly feeling as if she alone faced the defendant who had become Greg. The man who had broken into a home. Had stolen and then said he didn’t.
The jurors talked and discussed and looked at the evidence for two more hours.
One by one they agreed that even though he said he was innocent, the evidence said he was guilty.
When they delivered their verdict, Jana watched with heart-torn sadness as the young man was put in handcuffs. He looked at the jurors only once, eyes wide in surprise and accusation that they did not give him the verdict of innocence that he wanted.
And then it was done.
Jana hunched her coat around her against the rain. The air was cold and fresh after the closed atmosphere of the court. Then with a shrug, she veered away from the parking lot. There was a coffee shop not far away, and she thought it would be pleasant to sit quietly with a hot drink and enjoy the comings and goings of the people around her.