Twelve Days

Twelve Days

A Story by Maeve Andrea
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On the first day of Christmas a black public defense attorney in a lonely city meets the first person in so long who matters

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You’d never admit it to anyone but you spent the first day on the park bench in your own world. It’s not like how you try to be, or at least appear- sure, appearances can be deceiving, but if you’re a scared kid who’s looking at way too long for some graffiti on a supermarket, appearances are all that matter. It’s only when you’re alone- or when you think you are- that you let go. Not quite enough to be selfish, but enough to be with yourself for once. That day, your wandering mind is probably too busy trying and failing to compare yourself to Phoenix Wright (you’re both defense attorneys… end list) to notice her, but when you leave for the bus, you wonder what she was doing.

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There’s snow on the same bench that you wipe off on the second day. You’re stewing at the sentencing and are thinking of all the rapists that have gotten less time than your client got for shoplifting. You remember at the time you were apologetic and respectful, but in your own mind away from the situation, your bombast is back and you want to explain with all the condescension the judge clearly needs that your client only performed ten minutes of action. These are words that would certainly get you disbarred, so you’ve learned to behave. On your own, though, you’re so angry you forget her again, but you always knew she was there.

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You try and keep your mind clear but you can only think of how much you’re freezing your a*s off by day three, and you almost knock the accumulated snow into her. She’s moving ever so slightly, you notice that, but you feel it more than you see it, like she’s shifting her weight. You grow to appreciate this presence a little bit, feeling less alone, though the empty call log on your eight-year-old Nokia would say differently. You move a little closer, and she stops moving. You don’t like the idea of interrupting her, so you apologize. She doesn’t resume by the time you leave.

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On the fourth day you’re of sound mind enough to steal a glance at her, but subtly so she’s not swayed from her task at hand. She’s wearing a netted shawl that you assume is to protect her from the snow, and you can’t quite make her hair out from it, but it casts a shadow on the shawl. It also covers her face and blurs the color of her skin. It’s weird to notice, you guess, but it's part of life, noticing the uncomfortable- especially the facts of life in Baltimore that have never, ever been comfortable, especially in law.

You started with a new client, and ache a little bit after you think of how false his lack of caring is, a defense mechanism that may as well be looking into a mirror fifteen years ago. To stop that, you stop just short of drifting into her lane and turn away before she sees you. You play distracted by your phone like you don’t know it only has Snake and a calculator on it, and look to see what she’s doing, but she doesn’t anymore. You want to say something, anything, but even when you catch the bus you still can’t figure it out.

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She’s still not doing it on the fifth day and you wish you were invisible so she’d try it again, she wouldn’t believe that a six foot four black man with long dreads and broad shoulders would be watching her with utmost intent. Maybe she’d still hear your steps on the gravel pathway, feel you staring at her, and somehow she’d know it’s your eyes, your feet. Part of you hates the fact that you can’t undo what you already did. Part of you hates the fact that she’s so easily scared off by you. Part of you feels like an a*s for being so consistently drawn to her that she can’t function right at the sight of you, but part of you is just glad that it’s your eyes, your feet, your body, that can only be yours, good or bad. Whether or not it’s stopping her or not, something about you is still drawing her here. You had a really s****y case with a s**t payout from the s**t law clerk, so you let the one nice thought ride as you leave far too early, while it’s only barely getting dark outside.

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You don’t sit next to her on the sixth day, but every now and again your thoughts go to her, because after a long day of work you're drawn to the positive thoughts, whether you want to admit it or not. You try and keep your thoughts on the client, who won’t plead guilty to an assault you can tell he’s lying about, and you can’t figure out how to defend him because your thoughts keep going to her. You think you’re losing your touch, but shake off the thought.

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You reckon you should avoid her on the seventh day but you’re dead curious to see if she’s still on the bench, to the point where it’s absolutely night before you can’t help yourself anymore. It gets darker earlier every night and whatever light there is comes from buildings, streetlights, and whatever other artificial things come and go, or in many instances stay. It’s not snowing but it’s as cold as you can expect a Northeastern winter night to be. You hope you having trouble seeing her means she doesn’t know you’re here, but hell, you’ve probably made your presence known, since even tiptoeing you sound like a herd of elephants.

Indeed, shortly after you arrives she’s motionless again, sitting against the bench and looking straight ahead. As if by instinct, you tell her “you don’t have to stop” before your internal censors can shut you the hell up. She laughs- the first sound she makes, low and breathy- and hands you an empty bread bag, her hand on yours for just a moment. You’re still confused as to what it means when she leaves, but maybe you weren’t thinking clearly. Maybe.

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On the eighth day, you don’t have any work that day. Sometimes the job is intensive and seven-days-a-week and you crash at six in the evening before dinner, sometimes you have a few days off and you don’t have a damn clue of what to do with them. You try and stay home in your one bedroom apartment and look up music on YouTube with your work laptop, but it’s more unfulfilling than usual. It’s not until you make a sandwich that you remember the bread lady. You don’t want to seem like you’re creeping on her but the small connection you have is the only thing going on in your life.

You hold out until two, and when you get to the park all you’re greeted with is snow. You have it in your mind that you should leave but for some reason you decide to sit, and when you wake up from your nap you understand why. It’s dusk, which means it’s 4:30, because it’s the Winter Solstice, and you can only barely see her. Now you see through movement lines that she’s throwing bread towards any birds that pass by and eat it, throwing too swiftly and ferociously in a way that’s unintentional, like she’s learning to be soft when you could really use that kind of fire back in your life. The birds fly away and she stops, but you fall asleep again and don’t remember anything after that. You wake up with her netted shawl wrapped around you and smirk, but maybe it’s a smile- it feels weird on you.

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It’s another day off on day nine, and another night that approaches at 4:30, albeit a few moments later. Shortly after you arrive, she’s there, and as she walks by you take her in. Fully clothed in a dress to her ankles, covered up except her hands and her face that you can barely make out, but stop short to hand her the shawl. She laughs again, and she tells you in an accent she fails to hide- somewhat European, largely African- “I knew you’d be here”. You smile and watch her toss bread to the birds nearby. She’s a little bit softer with the throw, but some birds still leap and fly away when she does, like she’s just been found out.

She hands you a slice of bread and it takes you a few seconds to figure out what to do with it. She laughs at your abrupt “Ohhh!” and again when you throw the whole slice. It doesn’t go very far- barely on the pathway- but a few birds pick at it so you figure you just got the right outcome with the wrong move. You can feel her smile, just like you could feel her presence with your eyes closed, and laugh at yourself, big, crackling and very clear. You don’t recall when the night ends, but you go to bed happy.

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The tenth day is a work day, and you’re just happy to have something to do, but as you’re suiting up, your eight year old Nokia buzzes with a phone call. You smile until you’re told not to come in that day, and barely maintain professionalism as you’re told why. You finish the phone call standing still with your phone slowly falling from your ear and to your side in a clenched fist. A rush of anger overtakes you and you throw your phone against the wall. The battery pops, but it’s a Nokia, it’ll survive, at least. You try not to think of it, but you have nothing going on with the day off, so of course you do.

You leave home just past one in the afternoon and get to the park bench alone. Sure, it’d be nice to see her there, and it’d be the closest thing to a distraction you have, but sometimes you just need to be alone. Sure, people pass you up and walk by you, but they treat you like you don’t exist and you’re happy to return the favor. Sure, your life is so boring that you treat this like a highlight of your day, but at least you have one.

You’re so wrapped up that in your anger that this just keeps happening and no one seems to care (and other buzzing thoughts), that you don’t notice her sit next to you, but you feel her presence. You sit up and try and present some niceties, but it feels robotic when you nod and occasionally look at her to show you know you aren’t alone. It’s hard to look at other people when fifteen year ago you is no longer in the mirror. It’s not him you feel so upset about, it’s what he and his death represents, because this is not the first time that this has happened and it’s not the last time it will, and perhaps that’s the worst part of all.

You can feel the tears hitting your face already as you say you have to go. She looks downcast about it, and this is the first time you see her face in the faded December light- shoulder length uncharacteristically blonde hair, maple bark skin, beset with several scars towards the eye that look years old and yet- perhaps never- to heal, and brown eyes that look into your soul, passionately angry and reluctantly sad with all the bad that’s ever happened. Of course, this means it’s the first time she’s seen yours, and when she does, the sadness in her eyes takes over any anger you could find.

She reaches to grasp your hand again for a moment. The dawning nighttime starts to cover her up. It looks good on her.

You try and smile as you leave, and don’t cry until you get home.

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Eleventh is Christmas Eve, and it should be an additional day off, but instead at home you log into your work laptop and sort through everything. Any cases you have to work on, appeals and trials- there aren’t any but you want to be prepared, and you want to know, perhaps more out of anger than anything. Baltimore’s a city that will probably soon have a few more kids who can’t afford the highest law offices, so as a public offender you’re all they have, and you want to be as good as the highest class lawyer. You’re not there as you finish, but you feel better, less at fault for your client's death.

You manage to get there at a reasonable time to see her. She’s low on bread, and is slow to throw it. If you had that slice, you’d probably have thrown it a long time ago and just walked off, so you reckon this isn’t just about feeding the birds. You can’t imagine all of them on her arms like Snow White, but the more you steal glances at her in the small remaining hours of daylight, the more you decide that she doesn’t need them to be regal.

She steals glances at you- you can feel it, so you decide that maybe she can too. You’re so used to looking bombastic, like performance art from the most dramatic actor, that it’s been awhile since you’ve felt authentic. Before it’s fully dark you accidentally meet her gaze. You challenge yourself to hold it, even though that’d be weird, but you’re hoping that will make a connection. It’s weird to do, but at least you can both be weird together. Because it doesn't matter right now. Maybe it will later, but right now it doesn't matter why you were crying, how she got her scars, why the two of you were on the park bench just looking for a reason. It just matters that you're here now.

It’s cold as hell and you really should go, and she only has one slice of bread on her, but you wake up on her shoulder and your phone says it’s 9:30. You reckon you both stay until midnight, the twelfth day.

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Later that day, in the morning so not too long after you got home, you two see each other again. It’s Christmas Day and the fact that she showed up at all tells you a lot about her, but you did too so it’s hard to be judgmental. Besides, you’re just glad to have her back.

You give her a new bag of bread- wheat from the corner store with your limited public attorney money, but you doubt the birds will notice. She smiles toothily as she takes it, and it turns into a gentle smirk when she hands you a scarf. You don’t question a thing, immediately wrapping it around your neck and over your mouth. She pulls it down just below your mouth, and you grin knowingly.

“Anisha,” she says.

It takes you a few seconds to figure out she’s introducing herself, because apparently on your days off you’ve put away that lawyer knowledge. Two steps back, but at least one forward. “J.D.,” you reply too slowly. “Stands for Joaquin Dormer.”

“Ah,” she says, before she turns back towards the walkway.

You still are smiling as she throws the bread, slower than ever, but you don’t mind, because this is the most you’ve felt at home for awhile. It's the most you've felt real.

© 2018 Maeve Andrea


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Added on December 5, 2018
Last Updated on December 5, 2018
Tags: Christmas, holiday, lawyer, birds, Baltimore, black, African-American, winter, shawl, public attorney, race, bench, loneliness

Author

Maeve Andrea
Maeve Andrea

Delhi, Delhi, India



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