GORDON knew that his wife disliked him. She might have respected him in a former time when wives were submissive, but for now she disliked him and resented his superiority - or so he thought.
Gordon disliked himself. Every detail he had pictured to become his life's plan had gone astray. It did appear that it had all been one single anticlimax, amounting to that pale, worn image that peered back at him in the morning mirror, whilst combing what hair he had left, or nightly when cleaning what teeth he had left.
He had told himself time and time again, that he was to be sensible. Too many people simply have 'lost their grip'. He was battle-weary, for one is usually battle-weary when one continually loses the battles.
He had grudgingly answered the call-up for jury duty. Slight curiosity was intermingled with responsive complaint. For, for the first time in years, he might actually get to stay out all night without being accounted for, in the company of strangers. At the very least, his routine - for what it was worth - was given slight reprieve.
He had laughingly hoped for some gruesome, lengthy, murder trial. Something that would hold his interest, maybe spin a few stories about in the years to come. On the morning it all began, he was casually excited, although careful not to let it show.
Once in the waiting bay, he had opportunity to view the other eleven, so chosen. Representatives of humanity, he thought. Such a selection of mediocrity! Most of them were occupied shuffling through papers, magazines and the like. One woman was knitting, with precision that was confounding. A few twitched idly. They were careful not to let each other catch each other's snatching glance. There was one who did sit alone at the end, who actually looked somber and thoughtful, and actually met his gaze unflinchingly.
As they were called into the chambers and shuffled in file, Gordon recalled that his chewing-gum had been left behind in the pocket of his sports jacket. A few cough lozenges were all he had to sustain him through the morning. He was apprehensive, he was tired; he should have gone to bed much earlier the night before.
"All rise" was the call, when a most peculiar thing did happen. As Gordon had moved up from his seat, complaining to himself - as he had just settled himself - a sensation swept through him as though he was lifting out from himself. Like a foot sliding from a sock, he felt pulled upwards from himself, as an invisible spirit-like form slid and glided up towards the high ceiling of that room. Now this was not just a small imagining, for in this experience he actually saw the participants of the trial from the position which viewed the top of their heads. As if from a great height he peered down; as with a gas-filled balloon, unrestrained, he bobbed to and fro, caught by the ceiling. Just then, his life flashed before his eyes, and in an instant it was over.
Back in his seat, in his place with the eleven others, he feverishly checked himself and the others who sat as before, with no apparent interest. He felt his pocket for a sweet and a handkerchief, and wondered if he had just suffered a heart attack, or perhaps a massive delusion. The voices garbled on around him, he found it difficult to summon any attention to the proceedings at all. There was something about a theft accused, and something about the suspect's unruly behavior. Concentrate. He could not concentrate. He wondered if he might sell the story of his experience to some tabloid. No! They wouldn't believe it.
The wretch for whom the whole party was gathered, sat with back to the jury, curved over, almost weighed down. As lawyers took turns and accusers made statements proclaiming undeniable facts, Gordon resumed his composure, and began to put the morning's experience into perspective of fanciful imagining. For we all have a compartment in which we manage to hide those experiences which are unexplained.
The morning was full of deliberate gestures and articulations. The crowd was stiff, and the air was stifling. There was not the fun that he had anticipated. The accused man shrank back into the compensation offered back by his representation.
Lunch could have been better. The canteen labored with a variety of tasteless presentations. Gordon had decided on an uncomplicated salad, and sat alone with reluctant salivation.
Just then, one of his fellow jurors brought a tray across and greeted him cordially. This was the fellow who had stared back at him so. Quite dignified, and yet unpretentious, somewhere in middle age; he had the grace of either a well-educated man or perhaps a noble upbringing.
"I couldn't help noticing you today", the gentleman said as he seated himself at the table. Gordon wondered if he would ask his permission before setting down the crockery and cutlery. But he did not.
"My name is Lawrence, I believe you are Gordon?"
"Informal" thought Gordon, "for a man who appears so very conventional". He gestured confirmation.
"There is something you should know" the dignified Lawrence pronounced slowly with meaning. One couldn't help but listen to this voice; it had qualities of tone that were enthralling, quite encaptivating. He continued, "Every case that is tried in this court has proven a verdict of guilty.”
Gordon thought this statement a little bizarre and inquired, "How do you know?"
Gordon eyed the small tie tack, an intricate pearl and diamond pin, and judged this Lawrence to be of very good taste. He considered the statement and then asked if he thought that this one would follow suit.
"Might be time for a change, don't you agree?" he replied.
They munched heartily together, downed several cups of instant coffee in between outbursts of affable conversation. Gordon was pleased with his new acquaintance.
Just as they were leaving to return to their respective places, Lawrence passed comment, "I admired the way you rose to the occasion, this morning!" And so saying left Gordon aghast, pondering the strange remark- with a little beetroot stain on his chin.
Back in their respective places, the voice boomed out again "All rise!" This time Gordon clung nervously to the back of his seat, in some vain effort to restrain himself. Lawrence smiled at him. Nothing out of the ordinary took place, much to the relief of Gordon.
He was fidgety now, and rued ever coming. In his heart of hearts he had thought it better to answer the court-duty and make an appearance. Yet he was not so sure. Perhaps he should have found some excuse, for this day had not gone well. There was a constriction in his throat and his mind wandered from his will - not once did it occur to him to think of the poor soul who was at trial.
Unbeknown to Gordon, the accused was in fact a man to which he was well acquainted. This only became apparent at the end of the short trial, when the time came for the great decision making, when the face of the man who bore the pressure of the court was illumined - it was as though a light shone directly overhead - in every detail; every detail, especially the beet-red mark that sat like a wound, upon his chin!
"Good God! That prisoner of these proceedings looks like me!" Gordon's face flushed, as he viewed the accused turning crimson, in recognition. He strained to watch as he was escorted from the courtroom; whilst he was moved forth to proceed to that room where all jurors must go to deliberate.
There was a shift to the informal as the twelve relaxed somewhat; almost a jovial camaraderie, as the masks lifted one by one- too much tension of trial, now too much compensatory mirth. He counted again - there were thirteen, not twelve, in the room.
The worst part of it all was, that he had not been attentive during the trial; and for that matter, he was not convinced that his fellow jurors had a grasp on the case at hand either. Not one notion sprung to mind, save that the man accused bore his face. Even then he suspected not the truth of the situation.
There was a sign upon the wall which read:
THE JURY MAY NOT DISASSEMBLE, NOR MOVE FROM THIS ROOM, UNTIL SUCH A TIME THAT A VERDICT OF GUILTY BE AGREED UPON.
"How can this be so?" thought the confused and bewildered Gordon. "Perhaps it was a public servant's idea of a joke", he reassured himself. The tea-trolley was wheeled in.
Several hours had past, when Gordon began to tire of the discussion; the jurors had spoken much of themselves with not one mention of the subject of the man or the trial at hand.
“Excuse me" Gordon coughed, "we might address the verdict perhaps?"
And the woman who sat with her knitting yarn in lap, twiddling it around her needles, click, clack, clack, click ... looked up and said dryly "Oh, but we've already decided that: guilty of course! Haven't you read that sign?"
The belief was that it was better to send another into the confines of a jail, than to confine themselves to a decision which interred them all indefinitely.
"But that is nonsense!" exclaimed Gordon, as the party became once again immersed in conversation which was not to the point at all.
"I said, that sign is nonsense!" he exclaimed a little louder this time, trying best to make affirmation with unwavering voice. He looked to Lawrence, who was looking hard at him.
"Well said, good chap, well said indeed."
"Well if you ask me he's guilty!" ventured one.
"Probably guilty, most likely!" said another.
"Extremely guilty looking!" said a small framed woman, with a particularly nasty expression.
"Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!" came the crescendo of harmonious agreement.
“And so say all of us!" Gordon found himself to say, having come to the mood of the occasion.
"If you will pardon me asking," came Lawrence's calm and dulcet voice "but could someone explain to me, what exactly this chap is guilty of?"
"Why, guilty of being here!" one of the larger jurors retorted.
"We presume that he's innocently guilty, or guilty of being innocent. Whichever way you have it, he's obviously guilty."
"Show of hands please everybody - dinner is awaiting at home!"
Now one, now two, now three, now four; until to be precise, there were twenty-two hands in the air.
"More than enough!" bustled the knitting woman. She had counted in an orderly way and was well satisfied with the result.
Gordon, all the while, had kept his eyes on Lawrence, who from the corner had not motioned his consent. No hands there. He neither had moved for the verdict.
"It is really not exact for you to put two hands up, and be counted as two" said Lawrence, who seemed unsurprised at their behavior.
"Exact or not, it works anyhow," protested the foreman, who was recording with signature, on the form so provided.
"And what of the punishment? What will become of the man who is judged by these righteous citizens of the court?" asked Gordon dismayed, as he recalled seeing only the face which was his own.
"The punishment will fit the crime- be sure that justice does always prevail", said the woman who held up her knitwear for all to see the pattern and design.
"Accursed you be, if a’cursing you are. If you must look to signs, look for the right ones, and look again at the rest!" said Lawrence, who knew from past experience of the dangers of hastened judgment, which was incorrect.
They looked back to the sign:
THE JURY MAY NOT DISASSEMBLE, NOR MOVE FROM THIS ROOM, UNTIL SUCH A TIME, THAT A VERDICT OF GUILTY BE AGREED UPON.
"You see, gentlemen and ladies of the jury, if I am prohibited to leave this room on these terms, I herewith resign from my obligation of juror, and walk away as a man, with both my freedom and my conscience! Good day!" And so saying, Lawrence withdrew from the room.
Gordon was awash with a certain gratitude. He had felt close to this stranger, Lawrence, close enough to take something from Lawrence that he saw immediately on the man and liked, wanting the same.
The jury disbanded (technically hung), assumed the position of men, each going home with their particular foibles especial to each individual......whilst Gordon left the courthouse well pleased, with his hand in pocket tightly clamped on that lovely little memento he received: a tiny little golden tiepin - an extraordinary example of impeccable good taste!