Excerpts from Docket 76
The defendant began to rise. To support his weight, he placed his hands on the defense’s table as his stood. As he did so, he turned his head to the right, looking Sandy in the eyes.
Sandy caught her breath. There was something so familiar about this man, and yet she couldn’t quite place him. She knew him instantly—but from where? She looked away from his eyes; her glance fell to his hands. The hands … wait! Yet it couldn’t be! Her chest tightened as she felt the air moving in and out of her lungs. It was heavy; she breathed with great effort. She actually felt her heart slow down as she came face-to-face with a memory so lost to her that she could scarcely believe it now.
She stared at Gurganus, her mouth open and her eyes wide with shock. She was utterly confused. Why is he so familiar? No … he couldn’t be. Her mind flooded with snapshots of her past. She could see his dark hands. Short fingers with black, wiry hairs on the knuckles. His disheveled hair. His voice calling for her. “Want to play a game?” his deep sinister voice had taunted.
She could see her mother’s face, shocked and looking at her in disbelief, and her father with his head in his hands. The sound of his sobs. “But he was a friend,” he repeated over and over, quietly. She could see her third grade classroom—the sympathy on her teacher’s face before she put her arms around her.
She could feel him—grabbing at her and then pulling at her. His hands were relentless. They pushed her down. She could smell the smoke on his clothes and on his breath as he repeated, “Don’t talk. Don’t talk, little one, don’t talk.”
How long had it been? How many years? She couldn’t remember. Wouldn’t remember. She was eight—only eight. In an instant, her past pulled her backward. She could see the microphone she had been asked to speak into. She remembered her mother and grandmother in the audience; they were weeping. Her mind recalled the judge’s face as he read a white paper, and the lady in a suit next to her, feverishly shaking her head in disbelief. She remembered her mother grabbing her hand and pulling her out of the courtroom.
Sandy tore her eyes away from the defendant and looked back at the docket. Staring at his name, the thought occurred to her that she should scream. Should she scream? She looked to the back of the courtroom. The tall, wooden doors stood calling her. Run. Run! She looked back at him. He was staring at her. Her heart leapt to her throat. He was staring back at her. But his expression was blank.
Wait—his expression. It couldn’t be. He doesn’t remember me? her mind begged. She held her breath. He doesn’t remember me, her heart resolved. How many thousands of times had he come to me in a midnight dream—and he doesn’t remember me!? Is this real? How dare he? How dare he!
Her eyes jetted around the room to see if it was obvious to anyone else. Everyone was staring back at her. It’s obvious. They know, she thought. She could feel her pulse panicking in each vein, as if the blood was crashing into her veins’ walls as it darted for a place to hide. “Ms. Morgan!” the judge exclaimed, aggravated. Her eyes, frantic, moved to regard him. “Are you with us?” His tone was one more of anger than of concern, as if the question were a reprimand. “I’m …” she paused. She was confused. She should tell. She couldn’t prosecute this case. The code of ethics demanded that she step down. But this was her chance, right? This was her chance to make him pay. Take the case or withdraw? “I’m fine,” she said so slowly that it appeared she had to search long and hard for each word.
“Very well, what date would you like?” replied the judge, shaking his head. “My apologies to the court,” Sandy said, her voice still small, “but what was the plea?” The judge removed his glasses as if to get a better look at her. He raised his eyebrows in disbelief as he began to speak slowly, as he might speak to a child. “Ms. Morgan, the defendant entered a plea of not guilty. We are in the process of picking a motions and trial date. Would you care to join us?”
“My apologies, Judge, I guess I was a little distracted. It’s just….” Her voice trailed off. Sandy’s eyes went to her calendar. This was her chance to speak up, her chance to be removed from this case, her chance to say out loud the things she hadn’t been spoken of for more than a decade. She could hear herself speaking, her body and voice on autopilot, while her mind was years and miles away. She said, “Today is the thirtieth, so how about June seventh for the motions hearing and August eleventh for the trial?”
“Mr. Samuel?” asked the judge. “Oh yes, fine,” Samuel replied.“Fine,” said the judge, sternly. “I will be leaving to enjoy vacation with my family on August fourteenth, so no delays.” The judge flipped to the next page on the docket before saying authoritatively, “Ms. Morgan, call your next case”—completely unaware that Sandy’s life had forever been changed in these last few moments.