—Lina, your dad is dead.
Lina is wearing a light blue jumpsuit, the wrinkles of which she smoothens over her right leg then over her left leg in two easy flat-palm motions, smooth and then smooth, as she awaits her imminent fate or whatever. It’s light light blue. The jumpsuit. A cotton candy blue that transforms our protagonist on trial Lina Kuler into a sugar-spun fluff structured so precariously as to dissolve into an even film spanning the surface of your salivating tongue.
PLEASE TAKE THE STAND, says someone. But Lina would rather not. She seems (or perhaps is) sedated, eyes glazed, bags hanging onto the bags beneath her eyes and the stand is just far enough away that it would take some effort to reach, and some, being more than none, is far too much to ask of her at this particular moment.
Set the scene: Lina and her blue jumpsuit are folded into a thick-legged chair set in front of a thick-legged table in a United States Court of Law. Most people with which she’s acquainted— besides her “best friend,” ex-friend, complete jackass nonentity Ana Lovell— are there to support and/or chastise and/or stare disapprovingly and silently at her (Mom.)
The limbs and torso and crotch of Lina’s jumpsuit fit awkwardly largely, yet whatever fabric the thing is cut from is extremely stiff, making Lina’s rolled up sleeves crinkle like a paper grocery bag at the elbows and bulge outward at the top near her collarbone like the shoulder puffs of a princess dress.
Blue, at least, is more becoming to her complexion than orange, which is infinitely better still than horizontal stripes.
PLEASE TAKE THE STAND, repeats the same voice.
Lina redirects her gaze upward from her cuticles, flaking and bloodied by her long-nailed anxious pickings, and says, as if she didn't already know, “Me?” to which the entire courtroom collectively rolls their eyes, every eyeball tracing the same invisible circle at the same invisible moment, because come on, are you serious? Get up there. Let’s get this show on the road.
The feet of Lina’s chair squeak against the hardwood floor as she pushes herself backward away from the table. The surrounding silence is impressive.
Everybody in the spectating crowd sits identically: hands-in-lap, upright. Their sudden good behavior is a total one-eighty shift compared to how the evening—or maybe afternoon, or maybe morning, as it’s impossible to tell what time it is in this windowless, clockless place—has gone prior to Lina’s requested presence stand-ward. I.e. the varied assortment of Lina’s colleagues and friends currently sitting idle in the courtroom benches were all behaving literally insanely prior to the exact moment at which Lina was told to PLEASE TAKE THE STAND. Like, just about three minutes ago an actual coconut cream pie was thrown across the room, its fluffy guts now a creamy Pollock splattered across a wooden face of the jury box.
If only Lina’d prepared a list of responses to a list of plausible to-be-asked questions. You know, to keep her words straight. You know, to keep her out of prison. You must understand, this is all a terrible, terrible misunderstanding.
Look. She was arrested for having shoplifted a candy bar (a fucking candy bar) from a 7-Eleven (a Seven. Eleven.) and that hardly justifies holding such a grandiose, überpublic trial in her dishonor.
Well, okay, the other thing she’s being accused of perhaps provides more reason for said trial, but it’s ridiculous. The accusation. It’s audacious. Offensive, even. She is offended that anyone could actually believe that she, recent college graduate/young-woman-with-small- wrists Lina Kuler could even be capable of such a thing.
Lina is not a murderer.
And so our hero journies toward the front of the courtroom in a reluctant semi-stride as dazed as her expression, her mouth a soft flat line, her eyes sunken still, her brain a balled-up gym towel, soaking wet and heavy. Over the silence is an imagined buzz spread evenly like butter on toast, smooth like the congeal over the circular surface of old milk, the kind of constant zzzz...z that ears pretend to hear when cupped-over by that hollow, vacant sound of absolutely nothing. Expectation hangs midair. Anxiety curdles in her lower abdomen. An intestinal pinch. Like the tract is partially shut.
As soon as Lina’s seated on the chair in the stand—a misnomer, surely—the crowd re-erupts in a jumble of words and gesticulations, save one gray-dyed-blonde-haired woman who has sat stern and still throughout the entirety of this uncalled-for event, perhaps because she, from her toes to her evenly-cut superserious bob, is made entirely from poured and cured SLA plastic (Mom).
Somebody yells ORDER! ORDER! and Lina stares down at her hands, picking picking at her nails. Her lawyer—who insists she call him Attorney General, just for today, even though sure, it doesn’t really make sense—pushes his squeaking chair back and approaches the stand. His very brown almost black hair is gel-parted neatly for the first time maybe ever and he’s wearing a purple velour suit that becomes his thin frame and dark blonde skin. On the bridge of his nose: a pair of orange rectangular-framed glasses of minor prescription that he wears only during times of emotional distress so that he may feel just an extra degree separated from the world around him so as to make anything and/or everything less overwhelming. At least, so he’s explained to his blue-suited client.
In his hands: a shaking piece of 8.5 x 11 inch paper with some thoughts scribbled onto it.
And Lina, well. She’s picked her thumb raw again. She tore the corner skin right by the half-moon clean off.
Attorney General clears his throat loudly and asks Lina, “So, what brings you here today?”—a question better suited for a psychiatrist’s couch than a U.S. Court of Law, but hey, at least A. General has volunteered to be her lawyer as a sort of friendly favor, so she can’t really fault him for anything. 100% off is the best possible percent discount.
Lina could/should/would respond “Because I stole a candy bar,” (a fucking candy bar), but that doesn’t feel like the true-est thing she could say, and she’s literally under oath and also under a lot of pressure and so she considers:
Why am I here? Really? What is this all about?
What is the truth and nothing but the truth so help her, God?
Her thoughts her memories are slow. Fingers, pulling them upward through honey, revealing them sticky.
Lina opens her mouth to speak before she has anything to say. The entire the spectating crowd leans forward identically: face-first, at a head-to-waist incline of forty-five degrees. A collective breath inhaled, anticipating.