By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
For the first few minutes she wasn’t aware of the time passing. All she could think was what this was going to cost her, points on her license, the insurance — was it last year or the year before that she’d got her speeding ticket? — and that now she was definitely going to be late. For the dentist. All this for the dentist. And if she was late for the dentist and the procedure that was to take two hours minimum, as she’d been advised in writing to assure that there would be no misunderstanding, then she would be late for her class too and no one to cover for her. She thought of the problem of the telephone — she supposed she could use the dentist’s receptionist as an intermediary, but what a hassle. Hassle. And what was the derivation of that? she wondered. She made a note to herself to look it up in her Dictionary of American Slang when she got home. But what was taking him so long? She had an urge to look over her shoulder, fix the glowing sun-blistered windshield with a withering stare, but she resisted the impulse and lowered her left shoulder to peer instead through the side mirror.
Nothing. There was a form there, the patrolman’s form, a bulked-up shadow, head bent. She glanced at the clock on the dash. Ten minutes had passed since he’d left her. She wondered if he was a slow learner, dyslexic, the sort of person who would have trouble recollecting the particular statute of the motor vehicle code she stood in violation of, who would fumble with the nub of his pencil, pressing extra hard for the duplicate. A dope, a dummy, a half-wit. A Neanderthal. She tried out the word on her tongue, beating out the syllables — Ne-an-der-thal — and watched in the mirror as her lips pursed and drew back and pursed again.
She was thinking of her dentist, an inveterate talker, with eyebrows that seemed to crawl across his inverted face as he hung over her, oblivious to the fact that she couldn’t respond except with grunts and deep-throated cries as the cotton wads throttled her tongue and the vacuum tube tugged at her lip, when the door of the police car caught the light as it swung open again and the patrolman emerged. Right away she could see that something was wrong. His body language was different, radically different, the stiffness gone out of his legs, his shoulders hunched forward and his feet stalking the gravel with exaggerated care. She watched till his face loomed up in the mirror — his mouth drawn tight, his eyes narrowed and deflated — and then turned to face him.
That was when she had her first shock.
He was standing three paces back from the driver’s door and he had his weapon drawn and pointed at her and he was saying something about her hands — barking, his face discomposed, furious — and he had to repeat himself, more furious each time, until she understood: Put your hands where I can see them.
At first, she’d been too scared to speak, numbly complying, stung by the elemental violence of the moment. He’d jerked her out of the car, the gun still on her, shoved her face into the hot metal and glass of her own vehicle and twisted her arms round behind her to clamp the cuffs over her wrists, the weight of him pressing into her until she felt him forcing her legs apart with the anvil of his knee. His hands were on her then, gripping her ankles first, sliding up her legs to her hips, her abdomen, her armpits, patting, probing. There was the sharp hormonal smell of him, of his contempt and outrage, his hot breath exploding in her ear with the fricatives and plosives of speech. He was brisk, brutal, sparing nothing. There might have been questions, orders, a meliorating softness in his tone, but she couldn’t hear and she couldn’t see his face — and her hands, her hands were caught like fish on a stringer.
Now, in the patrol car, in the cage of the backseat that was exactly like the cage they put stray dogs in, she felt the way they wanted you to feel: small, helpless, without hope or recourse. Her heart was hammering. She was on the verge of tears. People were staring at her, slowing their cars to get a good look, and there was nothing she could do but turn away in shame and horror and pray that one of her students didn’t happen to be passing by — or anybody she knew, her neighbors, the landlord. She slouched down in the seat, dropped her head till her hair shook loose. She’d always wondered why the accused shielded their faces on the courthouse steps, why they tried so hard to hide their identities even when everyone in the world knew who they were, but now she understood, now she felt it for herself.
The color rose to her face — she was being arrested, and in public no less — and for a moment she was paralyzed. All she could think of was the shame of it, a shame that stung like some physical hurt, like the bite of an insect, a thousand insects seething all over her body — she could still feel the hot clamp of his hands on her ankles, her thighs. It was as if he’d burned her, scored her flesh with acid. She studied the back of the seat, the floormat, her right foot tapping and jittering with the uncontainable pulse of her nerves, and then all at once, as if a switch had been thrown in her brain, she felt the anger rising in her. Why should she feel shame? What had she done?