By E. R. Braithwaite
They filled the tiny sitting room of her modest apartment with the oppressive
weight of their well-groomed presence and she listened with quiet intensity as
the lean, pink faced, gray haired one carefully reviewed the already familiar
details, his manicured fingers steepled on the briefcase in his lap, the deep
baritone voice raising small echoes from the papered walls. His companion,
wordless since the brief introduction, merely listened, avoiding eye contact
with her, causing her to wonder why he was there; perhaps they imagined that a
black face would provide the appropriate sympathetic touch for the occasion.
“My client would have liked to be here personally, Mrs. Randle, to tell you
how truly sorry he is about all that has happened. Believe me, I’ve had the
most difficult time persuading him that sick as he is with a cold, his presence
here would be both unnecessary and unwise.”
He fidgeted with the locks of his briefcase from which he extracted a small
sheaf of papers and she watched him, remembering how this same elegant, coldly
impressive man had, day after day, tried to twist every word she uttered in
court in an attempt to seek some advantage for his client. She remembered how
she had felt under his relentless examination, as she lay helplessly propped up
in the uncomfortable wheelchair, exposed to the curious and pitying stares of
all those nameless spectators; this same man whose only concern was that his
wealthy client would escape the disgrace of being penalized for drunken driving.
Now, here he was, still pompously confident.
“When I telephoned you last Friday, Mrs. Randle, I told you that my client
wished to bring this matter to an end and is prepared to make you a very
generous offer.” He arranged the papers into a neat pile and placed it gently
on top of his briefcase.
"She looked at him unblinkingly, her clear hazel eyes betraying nothing of the
brooding anger inside her. Her left arm, down to the long, thin tapered fingers,
lay inert on the brightly colored blanket tucked closely around her at the waist
and hanging down to obscure the wheelchair which they knew would determine her
world for the rest of her life. Her right arm hung limply, the fingers
occasionally twitching spastically against the frayed cuff of her dressing gown.
“Is that all your client has to say to me?” she asked, her voice soft but
“You’ll find that everything has been covered, Mrs. Randle, everything,”
his manner distantly patient. “My client is prepared to reimburse you for all
expenditures incurred, everything. Additionally, recognizing the grave and
irreversible nature of your injuries, he has instructed us to offer you a sum
which should provide for whatever care and sustenance you might hitherto
“Is he also willing to admit that he was drunk?” Each word was carefully and
slowly enunciated as if it had been long rehearsed in her mind.
“My client was not drunk, Mrs. Randle, and there is no shred of evidence to
prove otherwise. He had admitted to having two drinks at a Christmas party that
evening. Two drinks, Mrs. Randle, that’s all. Please be reasonable. A rainy
night, slippery conditions! Come now, Mrs. Randle, we’ve been through all this
a thousand times over the last two years and now my client would like to reach
some satisfactory accommodation with you.”
“My son is dead” she said, her voice hardly above a whisper. Your drunken
client robbed me of my son, my only child, and my life. Look at me, at what’s
left of me. On that night two years ago I, too, was planning to celebrate. I’d
just completed my medical internship at Howard University Hospital and was
taking my son to meet my husband for dinner. Now all that’s left is what you
see here.” Her voice was low, barely audible, the muscles of her lips
twitching as if she could barely contain the rage which possessed her. “Your
client robbed me of my son. My husband couldn’t deal with the daily grind of
taking care of this half-dead body, so he’s left me, and you calmly sit there
and tell me that your client has a cold?”
“Mrs. Randle, please, my client, all of us deeply regret your terrible
loss.” His voice now assumed a sonorous tone and he raised his right hand as
if wanting to reach across and touch her, but something in her glance stopped
him. He looked across at his associate, but he seemed occupied with some framed
degrees and commendations which adorned a nearby wall.
He placed the papers on her blanketed knees, closed his briefcase and stood, as
did his associate.
“I’ll be waiting to hear from you or your lawyer, Mrs. Randle. Please call
me at any time if you have any questions. Goodbye.”
After they’d left she remained quite still until she heard the clear click of
the front door lock then, throwing off the blanket, she walked to a window and
drew the shade aside just enough that she could see them enter the shiny
limousine, so blatantly conspicuous in the shabby neighborhood that three little
girls interrupted their curbside rope skipping to follow its sleek progress out
of sight. She closed the shade, folded the blanket on the seat of the
wheelchair, rolled it into a cupboard, then spread the neatly typed sheets on a
table and sat down to study them.
© 2001 E. R. Braithwaite