Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chapter Three, continued

Just give me one thing
that I can hold onto.
To believe in this livin'
is just a hard way to go.


"Phyllis. How's our Martha this morning?"

"She's fine, Detective. She slept well. I just took her to the bathroom. She's getting dressed now."

"I'm on my way in."


Phyllis returned the receiver to the cradle and registered a look of worried thought on her face. She wondered how Martha really was holding up through all of this trauma and how her son was doing on his end. She wondered if there wasn't something she could do herself, to help Martha's plight. Anything.

Almost as a matter of course, natural violence restrained and retrained as a reflex action, Phyllis suddenly slapped the metal control board in front of her displaying all the switches and dials and intercom buttons that operated the inside of the holding facility. The house lights came on, making it instant daylight in the cells. Moans and groans and hacking coughs could be heard coming from various cells, movement, water running, toilets flushing, and shrieking hoarse morning yells at Phyllis to let them the fuck out now.

The inmates were cranky in the morning. And bored. And restless. And they probably needed a smoke, bad. They had to be escorted to the day room, where, against the rules, smoking was allowed.

It was too cold for half of the year to make the inmates stand outside in the yard to smoke. The other half of the year, it was easier on everybody if the guards turned a blind eye to this minor infraction. The cells were so full, overflowing with more and more drug busts due to the newly instituted Narcotics Force doing their jobs eagerly, in an all-out effort to prove to the city fathers their payroll budget was justified ... by emptying the neighborhoods of petty drug dealers and users, they created and reinforced their own jobs, maxing out the capacities of both the jail and the prison.

Most of the times, there were so many arrests made that prisoners who had already stood before the judge and been handed down their sentences, were shipped off to the overflow prisons in Arizona, much to the consternation of Arizona wardens, already full of their own local infractors.

Having no love for these inmates, Phyllis decided to check on Martha first. She brought in her little compact that held pressed powder, her own comb, and a tube of Blushing Rosebud lipstick. She helped Martha look as best she could, so she would have a better chance in front of the judge. Martha was cool for an old lady.

Martha had seen her sleeping on duty, but Phyllis had a feeling no body would ever hear about it from Martha's lips.

She lightly passed the lipstick over Martha's dry lips. "Smack your lips, honey. That's it. Now," handing her a tissue, she said, "blot off the excess. You just want a little bit of moisture and a hint of color. You don't want to look like no hooker."

Martha burst out in laughter behind her hand, which she had instinctively put up to cover her mouth, as if embarassed.

"Why, Martha! What a beautiful laugh you have! Don't cover up your pretty smile, you're a pretty lady. Now, let's see what we can do with your hair."

As she combed through Martha's greying silver hair, long and thick, except for a raw bald spot in the back, looking fresh, some of the inmates started yelling obscenities at Phyllis for leaving them in their cells so long.

Phyllis screamed, "Shut the hell up and wait till I get to you!" making Martha jump slightly, as she continued twisting Martha's hair and then roping it around in a bun, carefully placing it on the back of her head to cover the bald spot. She fastened it with her own hair clip, which she had taken out of her hair, letting it fall down to her shoulders, under the hat.

"There now. You're as pretty as a picture! Here, look." She handed Martha the compact so she could see herself and Martha looked a little startled when she saw her lips.

"I don't usually wear makeup, dear. Are you sure this is going to look all right? For the judge? I don't want to give him the wrong impression of me."

"Nah! You look beautiful! Not too much, I swear. Just enough to add a little color. Here, let me just rub a little bit on your cheeks. You're so pale, honey." Phyllis took the tube of lipstick and wiped a bit on her ring finger which she then smoothed on over first one of Martha's cheeks, then the other, blending it in till it all but disappeared, leaving a slight blush behind. "You have the softest skin. How do you do that?"

"It's a secret. An old crone's secret that I will take to my grave," said Martha with a twinkle in her eye. Then she laughed. "I use baby oil with lavender in it. It's something I learned from my mother."

"I'll have to try that. Sure seems to be working for you. Listen, can I get you a cup of coffee or tea? You've got a little wait till Detective Bronson gets in, but he called and said he's on his way."

"Thank you, dear. I would like that very much, if it's no trouble." Martha started twisting her ring around and around on her finger. She looked far away, back in time, while Phyllis gathered up her things.

"Am I in big trouble?"

"I don't know, honey. I guess it's going to depend on how your husband is, what charges he wants to press against you and what kind of mood the judge is in this morning." She draped Martha's sweater around her shoulders and put her hand under Martha's chin, lifting up her head so she could look into Martha's blue, blue eyes.

"The most important thing for you to do, for your son to do, is to get you a good attorney, as soon as possible. Do you understand me? You must have an attorney present to stand with you, to stand beside you, when you face the judge. That will make all the difference in the world."

Martha hung her head. Her shoulders drooped. She twisted her ring around and around, deeply, hurtfully, almost wearing a raw spot under the metal. She worried and wondered where her son was, how he did, if he had any money.

She worried if he was too little to remember when she showed him the coffee tin. She wondered if he remembered where she buried it on the side of the hill above their camp, right beneath the lookout pine that stretched up to heaven, that stood guardian over them all.

The one Abe would never climb because he said that would have been disrespectful.

The one they used to call The Sentry.

Detective Bronson pulled into his spot, got out, plugged in his car to the heater and pulled on his coat. He crunched through the several inches of snow that had fallen the night before and into the courthouse. He pulled his coat back off, waved at the guard, stepped around the x-ray machine and headed for a side office, down the hallway around the elevators in the lobby. He got to a door that said: "PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE," and stood there for a moment, regarding the lettering on the door.

He reached out, grabbed the knob, and slowly opened the door, creeping inside silently on his big feet.

"ALL RISE! The State of Alaska, Third District Court, with the Honorable Judge Reinhardt presiding, is now in session."

The courtroom had no sooner gotten to their feet, when the judge whisked in through a back door, slammed down in his chair, the bailiff said "Please be seated," and the judge slammed his gavel down with a sharp lightning-like crack on the wooden platform and said, "What's new pussycat?" to the clerk.

The clerk handed over a sheaf of papers, saying, "Up first, your Honor, is Martha Bernard, an interesting A.M. case."

"Really? I love those! What a great way to start the day! And where is Ms. Barnard?"

"Uh, that's BERnard, your Honor."

"Huh? Oh. Right. Which one of these lovely folks is Ms. BERnard? Anyone? First one up gets a prize ..."

"Holding is bringing her up, your Honor, it will just be a moment. I just called down there. They're on their way."

The door off to the side of the jury box opened and Phyllis personally led Martha in with a protective arm around her shoulder. Detective Bronson followed and took a seat at the prosecution's table. The doors to the court suddenly swung open and in rushed a little man in an overcoat with a briefcase, and fogged glasses.

"Sorry, your Honor. Mr. Sheldon from the Public Defender's Office. I just got word about this case on my cell phone as I was driving in. Can you give me a moment to collect myself?"

"By all means, Frank. Collect yourself. We wouldn't want you in pieces scattered all over my courtroom."

Some titters and chuckles rose up from the small crowd of people gathered in the court room, some defendents, some lawyers, some wives and husbands, other friends and relatives. The lights flickered. Somebody coughed. The judge hummed a little tune, tapping out the beat with the eraser tip of his number two Ticonderoga pencil.

Martha regarded the man beside her, dropping papers all over the floor as soon as he opened his briefcase, snow melting in puddles around his shoes.

She cast a frantic look over her shoulder in the courtroom for her son.

But, Abe wasn't there. He hadn't returned yet from his drive on slippery snow, over a mountain pass, his little pickup truck still wearing its summer sandals.

Although he might have thought of his favorite guardian too late to be any help at all, he still had to give it his best shot. Swinging by his house first to pick up his heavy coat, hat, gloves, boots and a shovel ...

Abe had gone to visit The Sentry.

Martha pulled the bear roast out of the oven and scooped its juices, the drippings, from the bottom of the pan in a big spoon and ladeled it over the top. She hummed a little tune she had learned when she was a little girl, one her mother used to sing to her.

George came slamming in suddenly through the front door, stomping his muddy feet all over the throw rug Martha had learned, through experience, to put there in hopes of holding most of the mud in one place.

"Are you going to help today at all? Or are you just going to hole up in this house?"

Martha put the roast back in the oven and stood up, regarding her second husband carefully. She had learned through the past five years how to take a measure of his vocal inflections, taking his temperature, as he could run hot and cold simultaneously with little or no warning.

She rubbed her wrist with the red mark on it, still holding the big spoon in a vice grip.

"Well, do you want me to feed the help their dinner today? Or do you want me to help you out in the field?"

Martha had learned how to give this man options, so he could sort out his feelings better, before reacting to her words issued as statements that could be misinterpreted.

"Well, shit fire, woman! You've got the roast in the oven already, what more do you have to do it? Do you have to sit here on your lazy ass and babysit the goddamned thing all day long?"

"Remember, I also have an appointment in town this afternoon with the tax man. Your quarterlies are coming up due."

George coughed up a wad of spittle and angrily spat it out on the carpet. He looked at her with hard eyes, a look between smoldering anger and loathing. He was perplexed, realizing she couldn't be at two places at the same time and feed the help, too.

"Well, shit. Did you have to make the appointment for today? You knew I was planning on clearing that back lot. That we were burning today. For Christ's sake. You know we need all the hands we can get to watch that fire. We got to get it done today because tomorrow there's supposed to be wind."

"This was the first time I could get in to see him, George. And it's pushing it as it is. Your quarterlies have to be filed by next week, at the latest, to avoid a penalty."

George wiped his shoes on the carpet and put his hands on his hips.

"Well, all right then. Just drop off the paperwork and get back here. You don't have to have tea with the man. But first, serve up that roast so I don't have to hear no belly achin' from that damned crew. If they don't eat, I don't get no work out of them. And get your ass back here as soon as you can. We'll start without you, but you get your ass back here."

"Okay George. I'll carve up the roast and put it on bread so they can eat it faster and I won't have to haul any dishes back and forth. I'm sorry I forgot about the burning. I'm really sorry to mess up your plans."

George turned to leave, mumbling about not giving a shit whether they had it on bread or on a birch leaf and he hoped they choked on it and she was the worst, laziest, dumbest-ass woman he'd ever met and she could hear him all the way down the driveway.

She looked at her wrist where he had twisted her arm the night before, when dinner had been late because she'd been out in the field, working then too.

She wondered how Mary had handled his temper and if she really was a Perfect Wife after all.

Mary looked at Martha from the mantlepiece with sadness in her eyes. Martha looked back and noticed for the first time, how utterly devoid of life Mary's eyes seemed, wondering why she had never noticed it before. She looked suddenly looked like a cardboard cut-out, lifeless, and wearing a sad mask.

"Mrs. Bernard, let me do the talking, okay? I have had a conversation with Detective Bronson and..."

Martha smiled at the mention of her Gentle Man's name and she looked over at the other table, not knowing it was the Enemy, never having been in a courtroom before, that it was the prosecutor, who would be trying to put her behind bars. She caught Detective Bronson's eye and smiled at him a lovely smile and he nodded respectfully, returning her smile with a little wink. Then he leaned over and began to whisper in the prosecutor's ear.

The prosecutor's face looked suddenly very grave and he was nodding his head first up and down and then from side to side.

Detective Bronson put his big hand around the prosecutor's arm and squeezed, ever so slightly, leaning in closer, closer to the ear of the man whose arm had helped him skin moose hide from hunts they had gone on together every year since 1985.

"Helloooooo.... Doesn't anybody want to talk to me? And here I thought I was the guest of honor! Mr. District Attorney, will you be joining in eventually in this conversation, or should we sent out for lattes and bear claws?"

Abe skidded to a stop at the end of a dirt road covered in snow, tracks leading back from where he came off the highway up above. Wondering if he would be able to get his truck back up out of here and onto the road again, he realized he could worry about that later.

Right now he had some digging to do. He crawled up the hillside in back of their cabin, Home, the Homestead, the only place he'd ever known growing up, nostalgia seeping in deep, as he slid, crawled, slid, and started using his hands and the shovel to give him traction.

Breaking out in a sweat and out of breath, he stopped to take off his heavy coat, wrapped the arms around his waist, tied it in a loose knot and continued on up till he reached the bottom of his favorite tree in the whole world.

"Hello, Old Friend. I sure did miss you. Let's see what surprise you have for me today."

Martha remembered a kinder, gentler man. A tall, strong, serious man who knew how to work hard, who made a good living, who loved his first wife with a passion and promised to love her the same. He promised to take care of her. He wooed her, courting her the old fashioned way, with Sunday afternoon visits and rides, flowers at the door, nothing inappropriate, not language, not insinuations, no hands grabbing, no gawking at other women when they were out in public, he always opened the door for her, carried her packages, held the car door open for her, making sure she got her skirts in before shutting it on them.

If he thought she might be chilly, he would produce a lovely, hand-made blanket to place on her lap or over her shoulders, which he said his bride made for him.

Martha thought he was the most loving man she had ever met. It didn't take long for her to begin looking at George with eyes towards spending the rest of her life with him. She knew he would always take care of her, would always love and appreciate her, and stand by her. She knew instinctively that this man would always be a hard worker and make a good living, even though he didn't really need to work anymore, he couldn't help it, work was in his blood. He could no more sit around doing crossword puzzles or socializing than a man in the moon.

And Martha knew ... these qualities that George displayed over the few months after he had discovered her in the grocery store, were the most important things in a marriage.

"The first thing I would insist on," George announced one afternoon, "is that you quit your job. No lady like you should ever have to work. I know that's old-fashioned, whatcha call -- chauvinist -- but that's the way I am. If it was good enough for my mother and father, and it seemed to work pretty good for them, then it should be good enough for my woman too."

Martha had worked hard all her life. She had never had a dull moment. She didn't even know how a lady of leisure was supposed to conduct herself. She'd never known a rich married lady before. What did they do, to fill up their days?

Even though she wasn't sure if she was cut out to be a Lady of the House, she was pretty sure, in time, she could figure it out.

Martha was smitten.

Three and a half months after George first saw pretty, strong, Martha, wearing no makeup and bagging his groceries with the strength of one of his hired hands, they were married.