When the monster finally came through the door, he was wearing a mask.
She stared and stared at him, amazed that no one else could see through the disguise. He was the neighbor next door, watering his forsythia. He was the stranger who smiled across an elevator. He was the kind man who took a toddler’s hand to help him cross the street. Can’t you see? she wanted to scream. Don’t you know?
Beneath her, the chair was unforgiving. Her hands were folded as neatly as a schoolgirl’s, her shoulders were squared; but her heart was all out of rhythm, a jellyfish writhing in her chest. When had breathing become something she had to consciously remember to do?
Bailiffs flanked him, guiding him past the prosecutor’s table, in front of the judge, toward the spot where the defense attorney was sitting. From the corner came the sibilant hum of a TV camera. It was a familiar scene, but she realized she had never seen it from this angle. Change your point of view, and the perspective is completely different.
The truth sat in her lap, heavy as a child. She was going to do this.
That knowledge, which should have stopped her short, instead coursed through her limbs like brandy. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t feel as if she were sleepwalking on the ocean floor, her lungs fiery, holding on to the breath she’d taken before she went under—a breath that would have been bigger, more deliberate, had she known what was coming. In this horrible place, watching this horrible man, she suddenly felt normal again. And with this feeling came the most wonderfully normal thoughts: that she hadn’t wiped down the kitchen table after breakfast; that the library book which had gone missing was behind the dirty clothes hamper; that her car was fifteen hundred miles overdue to have the oil changed. That in the next two seconds, the bailiffs escorting him would step back to give him privacy to speak to his attorney.
In her purse, her fingers slipped over the smooth leather cover of her checkbook, her sunglasses, a lipstick, the furry nut of a Life Saver, lost from its package. She found what she was looking for and grabbed it, surprised to see that it fit with the same familiar comfort as her husband’s hand.
One step, two, three, that was all it took to come close enough to the monster to smell his fear, to see the black edge of his coat against the white collar of his shirt. Black and white, that was what it came down to.
For a second she wondered why no one had stopped her. Why no one had realized that this moment was inevitable; that she was going to come in here and do just this. Even now, the people who knew her the best hadn’t grabbed for her as she rose from her seat.
That was when she realized she was wearing a disguise, just like the monster. It was so clever, so authentic; nobody really knew what she had turned into. But now she could feel it cracking into pieces. Let the whole world see, she thought, as the mask fell away. And she knew as she pressed the gun to the defendant’s head, she knew as she shot him four times in quick succession, that at this moment she would not have recognized herself.
When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again.
—Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
We’re in the woods, just the two of us. I have on my best sneakers, the ones with rainbow laces and the place on the back that Mason chewed through when he was just a puppy. Her steps are bigger than mine, but it’s a game—I try to jump into the hole her shoes leave behind. I’m a frog; I’m a kangaroo; I’m magic.
When I walk, it sounds like cereal getting poured for breakfast.
Crunch. “My legs hurt,” I tell her.
“It’s just a little bit longer.”
“I don’t want to walk,” I say, and I sit right there, because if I don’t move she won’t either.
She leans down and points, but the trees are like the legs of tall people I can’t see around. “Do you see it yet?” she asks me.
I shake my head. Even if I could see it, I would have told her I couldn’t.
She picks me up and puts me on her shoulders. “The pond,” she says. “Can you see the pond?”
From up here, I can. It is a piece of sky, lying on the ground.
When Heaven breaks, who fixes it?
I have always been best at closings.
Without any significant forethought, I can walk into a courtroom, face a jury, and deliver a speech that leaves them burning for justice. Loose ends drive me crazy; I have to tidy things up to the point where I can put them behind me and move on to the next case. My boss tells anyone who’ll listen that he prefers to hire prosecutors who were waiters and waitresses in former lives—that is, used to juggling a load. But I worked in the gift-wrapping department of Filene’s to put myself through law school, and it shows.
This morning, I’ve got a closing on a rape trial and a competency hearing. In the afternoon, I have to meet with a DNA scientist about a bloodstain inside a wrecked car, which revealed brain matter belonging to neither the drunk driver accused of negligent homicide nor the female passenger who was killed. All of this is running through my mind when Caleb sticks his head into the bathroom. The reflection of his face rises like a moon in the mirror. “How’s Nathaniel?”
I turn off the water and wrap a towel around myself. “Sleeping,” I say.
Caleb’s been out in his shed, loading his truck. He does stonework—brick paths, fireplaces, granite steps, stone walls. He smells of winter, a scent that comes to Maine at the same time local apples come to harvest. His flannel shirt is streaked with the dust that coats bags of concrete. “How is his fever?” Caleb asks, washing his hands in the sink.
“He’s fine,” I answer, although I haven’t checked on my son; haven’t even seen him yet this morning.
I am hoping that if I wish hard enough, this will be true. Nathaniel wasn’t really that sick last night, and he wasn’t running a temperature above 99 degrees. He didn’t seem himself, but that alone wouldn’t keep me from sending him to school—especially on a day when I’m due in court. Every working mother has been caught between this Scylla and Charybdis. I can’t give a hundred percent at home because of my work; I can’t give a hundred percent at work because of my home; and I live in fear of the moments, like these, when the two collide.
“I’d stay home, but I can’t miss this meeting. Fred’s got the clients coming to review the plans, and we’re all supposed to put in a good showing.” Caleb looks at his watch and groans. “In fact, I was late ten minutes ago.” His day starts early and ends early, like most subcontractors. It means that I bear the brunt of getting Nathaniel to school, while Caleb is in charge of the pickup. He moves around me, gathering his wallet and his baseball cap. “You won’t send him to school if he’s sick …”