David’s expression is one of sadistic glee as he hands me my little piece of mail. It’s a summons to jury duty, a notice most people dread.
“Oh goodie!” I say. “I love jury duty.”
“Right.” Sardonic, disbelieving.
“Really,” I insist, because it’s true. “Strangers with weird ideas and bizarre traits.” Mumblers, scratchers, hair-chewers. A writer’s dream.
The information card specifically says, “Appropriate clothing required.” I wonder what that means in this part of the country. Lately I’ve been noticing women scuffing around out in public in house shoes. Will they show up for jury duty wearing shoes that look like pillows?
Traffic is light and I arrive early. I show my ID and the clerk sends me to a waiting area where about twenty people mill. We’re asked to fill out a form that indicates whether we want to claim the ten-dollar stipend or donate it to charity. We’re given a list of a dozen local organizations from which to choose. I request that mine be given to the Family Crisis Center. The man next to me puts a check in front of every charity. I imagine an accountant hunched over a counter, dividing ten dollars twelve ways, allocating eighty-four cents to each.
Within minutes the number of jurors has swollen. We’re overflowing into the outer corridor.
“There’s going to be three hundred of us,” my charitable neighbor says, “which means something big’s going on. Burnet’s the crack capital of the world.”
Really? I had no idea. Burnet, by the way is pronounced, “Burn it!”
I study my fellow jurors’ sartorial choices. Men—jeans and plaid shirts, boots and big belt buckles. Women, either dowdy or slutty, depending on what their bathroom scale advises; though some ignore what they know. I’m surprised by the variety of ages; every stage of adulthood is represented, not just the retirees who dominate the hill country. And not a brown face among us.
“Two trials today,” the woman behind me chimes in. “Theft and spousal abuse.”
Oh boy; nasty and shocking, a side of life I only see on screens. Witnesses will cry. Defendants will stare out of hostile eyes. The drama will be exceptional. The contrasts, stunning.
“How do you know this?” I ask.
“The docket’s online,” she tells me. And now I’ve learned another new thing.
We sign in at a table and are shown into a large comfortable courtroom. I scan from wall to wall. Wanting the best view of every detail, I aim toward a center seat. The woman behind follows along and takes the seat next to me, which is too bad because she’s large and spills over, leaving me only a portion of my space.
“Have you been called for jury duty before?” I ask.
“I get called pretty often, but am always dismissed right off.”
“Because I work at Walmart.”
This makes no sense to me. Deciding she must be crazy, I let the conversation die and turn to the novel I’m reading, A Man Called Ove, a depressing selection which Amazon, based on the last several books I’ve bought, assumed I’d enjoy. It’s about a suicidal widower, a rigid curmudgeon, who misses his wife. While the story deserves to be told, there are simply too many wasted and meaningless words. Every other sentence has “ . . . Ove is the sort of man who does . . .” or “ . . . Ove is not the sort of person who likes. . .” Why not just say, “Ove does,” or “Ove doesn’t like?” I realize that this brief phrase, “the sort of,” is in support of a style, but once or twice was enough to relate the gist. To do it every time the protagonist thinks or acts is grating. I want to go through the thing with my finger on the delete key
The bailiff announces the arrival of the judge; and we all rise as The Man enters through a door behind the podium.
I try to present a solemn demeanor—straight back, gaze attentive—and I paste a stern expression on my face. In order to get chosen as a juror, I must stand out as someone who likes to judge other people.
“Please be seated,” the judge says, sinking regally into his throne. We sit. “Thank you all for coming today, but one of the cases has pled out and the other defendant, who was out on bond, has skipped. And believe me, when we recapture him, he’ll wish he hadn't done that.”
Sounds like Burnet County needs Stephanie Plum!
“And so I’m sorry for the waste of your time, and once again, we appreciate your service. You’re dismissed.” He rises, turns, and disappears through his special door.
I should have given my positioning in the room more thought. The man in the seat closest to the exit had the right idea. I turn and watch as he zips through the door. Mountains of flesh have me blocked on all sides. We stand and move like packed hogs, pressing into the aisles, through the doorway, the hallway, the foyer; and we burst out into the scorching sunshine where a hundred and fifty cars and trucks are backed up all the way to the rear of the building.
The morning had so much potential, and then nothing happened.