(TW: implied sexual violence)
The gavel bangs twice and the finality of it echoes across the courtroom. Everyone present—lawyers, jury, observers, even the stenographer—sits silent, stunned into a kind of paralysis. Then the courtroom erupts into noise.
The defendant whoops and leans across the railing to high-five the line of frat bros pumping their arms and slapping each other on the back. He grins and gives the flashing cameras a confident thumbs up. His parents wait near the side exit, faces carefully blank. They will sleep well tonight.
His lawyers shake hands and stack papers into briefcases while making plans for celebratory drinks at their usual watering hole. Loud music and expensive scotch go a long way toward erasing a vague feeling that they are part of a failing system. They will sleep well tonight.
The reporters and students filling the benches of the gallery rise en masse, tangling themselves together in their efforts to exit the room. They stream out through the hallway and spill onto the long concrete steps of the building where they analyze and rehash the verdict like wild dogs chewing the bones of an unfortunate deer. They will sleep well tonight.
The jury, subdued after days of conflict, shuffles out of the jury box and back to the deliberation room to retrieve purses and backpacks. They don’t make eye contact with one another. They pick up the threads of their normal lives, scattering to their various tasks: gathering children from school, grocery shopping, heading to the gym. They will sleep well tonight.
At the prosecutor’s table, a young woman remains seated, hands folded neatly in her lap. Her lawyer leans toward her, speaking soft and slow about civil suits and the unpredictable nature of juries. She blinks and gives a tiny nod, but otherwise she is motionless in the chair where she sat day after day, listening to evidence of her loose morals and poor decision making skills, presented to her classmates and loved ones dispassionately.
She can still hear the voices of the defense lawyers painting her as a slut … a tease … a liar. She can still feel the eyes of her attacker on her like his hands on her body—unwelcome and unstoppable. She sits and she waits, wondering if she will ever sleep again.
*8/3/17 prompt: weakness, red tape, justice