Involuntary Staring Contest

by Bailey Powell Aldrich

I squeaked into the courtroom in my rainboots and found my way to an arbitrary seat in the jury box as instructed. After settling my bags around my feet I looked up at the fluorescently lit, well-worn shoebox of a room, everything the unsightly color of dehydrated urine save for a patch of dark wood paneling inscribed with “In God We Trust” that was flanked by two sad looking flags. My eyes scanned over the buggy-eyed cop who’d escorted us into the courtroom. He’d seated himself next to the bailiff, who blinked for so long that each time I thought surely he’d fallen asleep. Watching his eyes open and close was like staring at the “don’t walk” hand flashing on busy street corners, the kind that give you the particular anxiety that each flash you see is going to stick and signify your lost chance to cross.

The rest of my panoramic visual digestion included 1) a Pacific Islander looking woman with chin length hair who’s only job seemed to be to call out juror’s names unclearly, 2) a dark, balding man who looked like an extra from House of Cards and sat on a platform six inches lower than the judge, essentially his back up dancer, and 3) His Honor himself, an older man who managed to be equally approachable and intimidating, chatty without being verbose, and comfortable while maintaining respect. The defendant was black, the lawyer was Hispanic, and the DA was Jewish. America.

The last pre-existing court occupant I laid eyes on was, by far, the most interesting. The recording secretary’s fingers flitted silently above what appeared to be a toddler’s toy, a rubberized typewriter with few keys. Her straw colored hair was styled with bangs that I imagine she had not changed since 1990, a style she must have decided worked for her in early adulthood and never cared to venture from since. Her wardrobe was put together yet seasonally inappropriate, like her hair a reflection of her value on good enough utility versus on-trend aesthetic.

As soon as the judge began to speak her fingers flew, but instead of focusing on the orator or her device she slowly turned her head while her fingers moved, giving dead eyed stares of uncomfortable lengths to unsuspecting recipients. Her hands seemed to be the sole body part at work while her head revolved like an owl’s and her creepy, beady eyed gaze seemed to trap various sets of eyes around the courtroom. After watching her for several minutes I decided the pace that her fingers were moving did not match the speaker’s gait and concluded she was blind and collecting some sort of notes via Braille keyboard. I shamelessly continued to stare.

The next day when we re-entered the courtroom I took a new seat ensuring I had a view of the R.S. I was so fascinated with. Her eyes darted up to the left and down to the right how a curious dog might follow an insect. I watched her mindfully as the judge began to speak the instructions we were to follow.

“Can you slow down?” The R.S. interrupted.

Shocked to hear her speak, my head snapped up from studying my lap to witness the exchange.

“What?” Asked the judge, cut off.

“Can you. Slow. DOWN?” The R.S. demanded, swiveling her head around on its owl neck axel to face the judge.

“Sure,” he said, before he continued on at the same rate of speaking.

Her eyebrows were furrowed and her frustration was clear as the R.S. turned back around to face her body to the toy keyboard, but it all seemed to melt away as her fingers began poking at the soundless keys again. It was the first time anyone had heard her speak, as if she’d been holding that card close to the chest waiting for the perfect time to play it. Her eyes began to scan the room again, locking innocent jurors into involuntary staring contests and relishing their surprise with a self-satisfied smile playing at her lips.