by Cassady Edwards
Lewis could feel the handcuffs leaving purple marks in his wrists. He was acutely aware of them, like a big zit on picture day or a stain on a dress shirt. He looked at the floor and locked his eyes on the red carpet beneath him: where it met the light wood floors, the pores of the wood, the fibers of the carpet. The light was fluorescent and sickly, stopping time itself in the windowless room. Nothing seemed real cast in greenish gray.
“He’d never hurt nothing or no one in his whole life.” A voice whipped him back into the courtroom. The windowless walls now just as blatant as the cold metal under his sleeves. He tried to focus back on the single hair of carpet he had been so fixated on, but it was lost and all he could focus on now were the tears brimming behind the woman’s voice. He could feel the entire jury waiting for him to look up at her, at them. Moments ago he could not pry his eyes from the floor but it now felt forced and uncomfortable. He looked up. He was taken aback by how many grim faces stared back at him. He had forgotten he wasn’t alone. He had nearly forgotten the handcuffs.
The woman’s voice came back into focus, she had been talking the whole time. The tears from her voice had bubbled up behind her brown eyes and they now glistened like quivering drops of dew clinging to a spiderweb. It was remarkable the web hadn’t broken. Listening to her, a flicker of guilt licked the pit of Lewis’s throat. ‘Well when you put it like that...’.
It was unfair. He couldn’t articulate his thoughts, he was stressed, he hadn’t had breakfast, he was being painted as a brute and a killer. He hadn’t even been at the scene-- well, he was but as if he were riding passenger seat in his own body. The thoughts that had passed through his head as it met the concrete were not his. He was a sane man. It was unfair, he thought, that you couldn’t plead momentary insanity. That wasn’t even an excuse, or a plea for sympathy from the jury. He had honestly been out of his mind, he didn't even know what happened until they told him in the hospital. How could they not understand that?
“All he wanted was to make his city better, a better place for his sons to grow up in, a better place for them to raise families,” she said. The room shifted. Eyes like darts now aimed at Lewis, the wife’s teary testimony, now, no longer as captivating as the monster in the room. He hadn’t known the guy had kids. That didn’t even really matter, he hadn’t planned on hurting anyone. The room went quiet again. In a movie this would be where there was post explosion ringing, but it was just silent.
Lewis looked around; he was blinded with white heat. A burning in his eyes that he could almost hear like a lapping flame or water of the brim of boiling, humming to him. He tried to establish his surroundings. One at a time. A sound, a scent, a feeling; a tactic he’d learned in elementary school. His knees met hot cement. Grit dug into the skin and stayed there, scraping his knees and palms raw. He couldn’t see it, but he knew it was the sunbleached shoulder of a state route, probably 27. His hands met the smooth white line separating the right lane from this hell. He let out a sharp cry as his hands flew to his eyes. His scraped palms singing too as soon as they met his face. His body craned forward, out of control, electric pain sending shock waves through every muscle in his body, which was now writhing out of his control. His whole body contracted and he was thrown onto the road, crumpled into a seizing crumpled ball by an invisible force. His ears rang, the pulsing of the ringing was infuriatingly off-beat with the pulsing in his blistering face. It was as if he had been burned in a house fire until the skin was cracked and reptilian and then stretched until it split. The pepper spray burned his lips. It spread like crackling wildfire down his throat as it swelled and screamed and tried to purge itself from his body in a frantic attempt to extinguish the pain. He heaved, nothing came up. The world was spinning even though he couldn’t see it, he could feel his body seizing and his intestines snaking up his throat. His left eye felt as if it were bubbling and spitting like hot oil, melting down his face. The world was spinning, his eyes felt like they were stuck to a frozen pole and still somehow boiling. He prayed for death in this moment, hell was worth it if it meant he got even a single painless moment of limbo. With his pain came rage. He was no longer himself, on some level maybe he was in that limbo he wanted with all of his being. Lewis watched himself from above as his shaking hand shot out from his face and splayed like a claw on the road, it searched desperately for anything to cling on to, he did not want to die.
When you can't see and you feel like you're on fire you'll kill for something earthly to cling on to. His hand landed on a rock just off the edge of the road in the dry grass. Lewis gathered his strength. Just for a moment, not long enough to make it back into his mind, just long enough to watch the rock as it swung like a wrecking ball towards the officers temple, It was snagged however, just before impact, by the bite of the handcuffs digging into his chafed wrists. The sound of the courtroom faded back into frame.
The testimonies and rebuttals that put the rest of his life on the line were terribly hard for Lewis to focus on. The hairs of the carpet below his brown leather shoes (new as of that week) were just so much more interesting. The trial felt like it was going on for hours, like a courtroom drama but without a climax. Lewis felt like he was watching it on TV, he wanted pizza. He felt horrible for even allowing that thought to cross his mind; it just didn’t feel real. Sometimes he’d look up from the floor and examine the faces. The jury, the judge, his public defender, tear stained Mrs. Byrd (or was it Ms. now?). He stared at them, feeling the muscles in his cheeks tighten microscopically as he squinted. He tried so hard to snap back into the room. What was wrong with him? This woman lost the love of her life to a bloody heap on the road, these children wouldn’t hug their dad on their graduation day. All he could focus on were the handcuffs. He wondered if it were more of a bruise or a rash forming under his sleeves. How long would he have before they started to bleed? He was also now fascinated by how the courtroom blurred when he closed his right eye, like the blue shade of snow on a car windshield, like wax paper over a window. It still burned. He was hesitant to reach for the supplied tissues on the stand in front of him because he didn't want to look pitiful, to use tears as an innocence card. He didn’t want to bring attention to what the officer did to him but he couldn't help the steady stream of burning tears that had been leaking from his drooping eye for days now. He let them fall.
The clack of cherry wood on marble block punched him right in the face. ‘Fitting’, he thought. He looked up at the judge, her eyes were stormy and shallow. There was no sympathy in them, which was off-putting to Lewis. He was not a malicious man, he had never intentionally caused harm or irreversible damage, anything requiring repentance. He could not process what was happening. He was a good man who got into a bad situation, easy to sympathize with; the underdog. The world had always helped him. He looked up into his own reflection in the cold eyes, a pitiful man, bound in chains and stared down on. On paper, a murderer. In life, now nothing more.
“Twenty years” Lewis heard as if from the very air of the room, and somehow it still sounded far away. It didn't hit him. God he just wanted to be present, involved, engaged. All the things teachers had left on his report cards in high school, he couldn’t bring himself to comprehend that that high school kid was about to go to prison for the rest of his life. He wondered what happened to the passion and focus he had had for The Great Gatsby or Lord of The Flies. Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to care because that life was already lost. Lewis wasn’t going to prison, he had been locked up a long time ago. His eyes had been that of a prisoner for the better part of his life, the salt and pepper dusting the very edges of his dark hair showed just how long it had been since he had been truly present. He had always lived in the future, the present was always just a haze. He lived for the day the veil would be drawn from his eyes when he met his future wife or first held his children. All that was gone now. It all felt like a dream. He couldn’t bring himself to care, to even realize what was happening. He had been absent for his entire life, never being truly aware of reality; always stuck in a fantasy of the reality he had never considered would never come. What had he has for breakfast last week? What was his favorite book in middle school? What was the last thing he had said to his mother? He craved every moment. The future had been taken from him in one swinging moment, and the past had been taken from him in a 30 year fog. Even in this moment, as the world came crushing down onto him, the jury’s faces seemed painted. True to his ways till the last removed moment.
All that was real was the cold metal of the handcuffs, now the rashes burning with comfortable permanence.