by Tony Domaille
Even though she is behind a screen, she feels he can see her. And she knows the jurors are watching her closely, because they shift and fidget in their seats. Some cannot hold their gaze on her, looking away in discomfort. But others keep their eyes on her, and she doesn’t know if they believe.
‘How old are you now, Miss Thompson?’ The barrister has his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets and a thin smile on his face. It’s the smile she has learned he wears when his questions are designed to hurt.
‘Twenty-two,’ she says.
His smile broadens. ‘And you say all this happened with your uncle, ten years ago?’
She nods and the judge reminds her she must speak her answers.
The barrister turns to the jury. He is a showman. He’s not asking questions now; he’s making statements designed to bore into the jury’s consciousness and he’ll do so until the judge stops him.
‘So, you expect this jury to believe two remarkable things, Miss Thompson. That you remember details so well, more than a decade later, and that you really couldn’t tell anyone at the time. Your mother. A teacher. Anyone.’
The judge admonishes the barrister for grandstanding, but she knows it’s too late. His words have been heard. They are designed to undermine her. Make the jury think she is a fraud and paint her uncle in the dock as a maligned, innocent.
‘If you have a question, Mr Lockyer, ask it,’ says the judge.
‘Of course, Your Honour.’ That smile again. ‘Miss Thompson, isn’t it the case that the terrible allegations you have made against the defendant are a concoction of lies? Your story is a total fabrication, isn’t it?
‘No,’ she says, tears burning.
‘No further questions,’ he says, and sits.
The days of the trial go slowly. She sits, watches, and listens as the witnesses come and go. Those for the prosecution look at her with sorrowful eyes as the defence barrister tears at their evidence. And then the defence witnesses line up to tell the court what a fine, upstanding, character her uncle is. Others tell of her teenage years, the drinking, the drugs, the petty crime and violence. They paint a picture of a bad girl. Bad girls lie, don’t they?
And there is one central theme to the defence attacks. No one would keep a secret about being a victim of such horrible crimes. No one would stay silent for so many years. You would tell someone, wouldn’t you?
She watches as the jury is worn down. The looks of sympathy or care some had on the first day of the trial are gone now. She can see they have decided, and when the judge sums up the evidence, and tells them to take as much time as they need in reaching a verdict, she knows they won’t take long.
‘Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?’
The foreman cannot look at her. ‘Not guilty,’ he says, and her uncle’s supporters cheer from the public gallery.
‘You are free to go,’ the judge tells her abuser, and the trial is over. People are milling around and talking, but she doesn’t hear what they say. All she can think of is that they didn’t believe her. All that he did, the silence he forced upon her, the shame and the guilt and the pain she has carried for all these years, and he has walked free.
She has known for days what she must do. She has paid the price for carrying the secret so long. But while it’s done her immeasurable harm, she knows the secret is a joy to him. He took pleasure in what he did to her and now she won’t allow him to revisit that pleasure any more in his mind.
She has planned well. The bottle of wine on his doorstep bears a card that says, Congratulations on your acquittal, from a well-wisher. It is laced with poison, though not a trace of that will ever be found in her possession. The bottle has been wiped clean of her fingerprints. The card will not have any trace of her on it either.
She carried one secret for too long, but that just means she knows she can keep another. Of course, they will come for her. She’ll be the prime suspect, but she’ll never tell them it was her. They’ll never be able to prove it was her. He will die, justice will be done, and the secret of what he did to her will go with him.
About the author
Tony has written a number of award-winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world. He has also had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here -https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/