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Sybil White Brown returns from Boston to the small West Coast city where she once lived, hoping to heal after a terrible loss. Summoned to jury duty, she is dismayed to be assigned to the jury of a murder trial alongside her ex-husband with whom she had a rancorous divorce. As the trial progresses, she and her ex tiptoe around each other but eventually become disastrously entangled. Meanwhile, Sybil obsesses about the female defendant, whom she believes is innocent. The situation explodes during jury deliberations when Sybil comes face-to-face with her own unexpressed rage.
HerausgeberRed Hen Press
Erscheinungsdatum27. Sept. 2022
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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons's debut novel, His Mother's Son, won the Ken Kesey Award for the Novel in 2003. She is also a playwright, editor, director, and screenwriter, with many credits and awards to her name. Her plays have been produced at the American Place Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, and Theatre Genesis. She has taught at USC and UCLA, and now teaches at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

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    Livid - Cai Emmons



    It wasn’t my proudest moment, but not one cell in my body regrets it.


    The summons to jury duty came as a surprise because I’d only been back in this small Northwestern town for a few months. I thought I’d slipped in unobtrusively, pulling a geographical as some therapists like to call it, a false belief that a change of location will change one’s state of mind. I knew better, but one always hopes. Initially I was annoyed by the nasty legal tone of the summons, and I cast about for a legitimate reason to be excused, but there was none—or none that would stand up in the eyes of the law. No dependents. No financial hardship. As a self-employed accountant my work is flexible. So, I resigned myself—the odds were I wouldn’t be chosen anyway.

    The appointed day, just shy of the summer solstice, was absurdly sunny and likely to be hot, hardly the kind of day one wants to be stuck in a courtroom. I made my way through the labyrinthian courthouse to a large windowless anteroom where I sat with a slew of other potential jurors—well over a hundred of us—escaping into one of my Thinkathons in which I meander around the serpentine pathways of my brain. My father kept coming to mind, though I wished he wouldn’t. He had been on all sides of the law—and would have plenty of opinions about me serving on a jury. Not that I would listen.

    We filled out questionnaires with personal and demographic information—age, marital status, educational status, length of time at our current residence—and they divided us into groups of thirty to forty. Each group was assigned a bird name: the Larks, the Owls, the Tanagers, the Sparrows, the Robins. I was an Owl. Eventually the Owls, Robins, and Tanagers were called and ushered, in strict single file, like sheep in a dour conga dance, down a maze of corridors and through security and up a staircase until we arrived at the courtroom for voir dire.

    It took me a moment, as we settled into the spectator benches, to register the defendant, who sat alone at a table in the front of the courtroom. A woman! No one had mentioned we were here to decide the fate of a woman. I expected, were I to be chosen, to weigh in on the fate of a man, some person raised in a broken family of limited means, someone who’d had an inadequate education and no parental encouragement, a person with little impulse control and maybe a drug problem and certainly a short fuse. In all honesty, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to who the defendant would be, but it was disappointing to realize I’d fallen prey to the usual stereotypes.

    The woman was attractive in a rough way, with profuse blondebrown hair gathered into a bun that lay in a tumor-like lump at the back of her neck. Her eyes, a feral blue, gazed ahead at some distant point, as if she had recently returned from a solo trip at sea and hadn’t yet realized there was no longer a need to scan the horizon. Her bare forearms rested on the table, bony-sharp as tools; even the sinewy apparatus of her shoulders and neck appeared taut and useful. She wasn’t old, indeterminate thirties—everyone seems younger than I am these days—but her skin had been worked over, thickened and textured as if it was used to sealing things out, a skill I recognize. I imagined her having sprung from a rural frontier—Montana or Maine or maybe Alaska—somewhere north with callous winters, ornery plumbing, intermittent electricity, heating via an insatiable wood stove, a place where life’s central mission was survival.

    What riveted me most was her regal comportment. Her spine was unusually straight, and she was unflinching, despite the number of evaluating eyes on her. I had to admire her refusal to cower in the face of humiliation. Occasionally a tremor disturbed her face so the muscles jigged like iron filings under a magnet. Her power was undeniable. Her charisma. I have to know you, I thought. I already do. An armed and burly sheriff’s deputy was stationed just behind her, somewhat laughable as she appeared neither dangerous, nor ready to flee.

    I glanced around at the people near me to see how they were reacting. They were all expressionless, apparently bored. On my left was a young person of indeterminate gender, tattoos the length of their arms and creeping up the front of their neck like an invasive species. On my right was a heavy guy with rippling gut and infringing buttocks who I imagined was a trucker. There were several demurely dressed women who might have been teachers or office administrators, a couple of smug people I was sure were professors, a snaggle-toothed man in jeans who was the only one smiling, some young men in shorts and baseball caps I guessed were students, their female counterparts in yoga pants. No African Americans—not in this oh-so-white town—a handful of Latinxs and Asians Americans, but most of the assembled company were Caucasian.

    I had chosen this town because I’d lived here before, and it was easier to return than to go someplace new. There was the possible problem of running into Drew, my ex-husband, but the difficult things that had transpired between us were ancient history, overshadowed by what had happened more recently and far more grievously back East. Shawna things—we don’t need to get into that. Since my arrival here in mid-March I’d taken on a few late-filing tax clients; I’d been trying to make my shabby bungalow more habitable; and I’d reconnected with a couple of old friends, mainly Val, my lesbian teacher friend. But the overarching project of powering through grief and finding something that could be called meaning—that eluded me. I’d always known it wouldn’t be instantaneous.

    I was surprised I’d forgotten that this town was overrun with young white males from the university. Insouciant and entitled, these youth ran stop signs and darted out of side streets, music blaring from their car windows; they paraded obliviously down the sidewalks immersed in their phones, apparently thinking they were immune to misfortune. Their numbers seemed to have multiplied in my seven-almost-eight-year absence, and my intolerance of them had risen exponentially. I had to constantly remind myself it was inadvisable to lash out.

    The courtroom we’d settled in was aggressively drab, everything a different shade of brown—the judge’s raised oak bench, the darker wood of the