Black and White – Rachel Farnham

‘No matter how flat you make a pancake, it’s still got two sides.’

My lawyer, Maurits Rollins, didn’t acknowledge I’d spoken. His face remained expressionless and his fingers busy, rifling through a leather briefcase. I could feel wetness gather on my palms and hairline. I glanced at the chair next to me, bolted to the floor, and wished Jane was sitting on it. I imagined how she’d stroke my hand with her thumb, her brow would furrow at Rollins’ rudeness before swinging her blonde hair to look at me, smiling so I could see the dimples that kissed the sides of her lips which would mouth, it’s going to be all right.

And I’d believe her.

Rollins laid some papers on the metal table that separated us and met my gaze.

‘There are always two sides, Mr Jardine, I would be unemployed if that weren’t the case. The problem is that the justice system cares more about certain sides than others.’

‘Juries aren’t allowed to be biased.’ I felt my heart beating, could hear blood pulsing in my ears. If I didn’t get a fair trial I could spent the rest of my life in this concrete hell where privacy is tying your bed sheet to the metal bars that contain you. Even then, it’s collective inmate knowledge that the sheets come up for two reasons; you’re taking a shit or screwing your cell mate.

‘Certain charges can influence jury opinion before they’ve entered the court.’ Rollins must have seen my panic because he began to speak faster. ‘It’s my job to worry about the jury and convince them of your innocence. I have a great success rate and I assume this is why your wife hired me.’ He adjusted his glasses whose lenses were as shiny as the top of his head before continuing. ‘As it stands you’re being charged with grievous bodily harm against a minor so I need you to provide me with full disclosure. I can’t protect you should you decide to conceal any facts or events in your story.’ Rollins looked at me over the top of his glasses and I felt as though he was surveying me, like a headmaster would a child.

‘It’s not a story; I didn’t mean to hurt Kyra. What I’ve done… I didn’t think it was possible to hate a man like I hate myself.’ I took a breath to control the quiver that was edging into my voice. ‘But it was an accident, I swear.’ Rollins’s eyes searched for a lined pad hidden amongst the papers before him and selected an engraved silver pen. I think Dad was written down its length in elegant script.

‘I believe you,’ he replied. Whether it was my innocence or depth of self-loathing I’d convinced him of I couldn’t be sure. ‘Just let me get my facts straight before we commence. You were denied bail after your arrest and have been held here at Bandyup prison where you will remain until the trial?’ I nodded. ‘You were arrested while visiting the victim at Princess Margaret Children’s Hospital on the fifth of July?’ I nodded again, remembering that day.

I was walking back from the hospital café. I had Jane’s tea in one hand and my coffee in the other. The heat of our drinks through the Styrofoam cups was beginning to burn when I felt a tap on my left shoulder.

‘Mr Jardine?’ The female cop was rotund, her face flushed with the red of rosacea.

‘Can I help you?’ I asked, wondering how this woman knew my name. It wasn’t until the cool metal cuffs bound my wrists together that I had the foresight to call out for Jane. I’d attracted a mild audience by the time she was running down the hall towards me. I wanted to shout at them, wipe the look of curiosity off their dumb faces; I wanted to hide my shame. ‘What are you doing? What the hell are you doing, where are you taking my husband? Patrick, what’s going on?’ I could see wetness on Jane’s cheeks as I was escorted into the elevator, and just before the doors closed I saw the fear written on her face. I could imagine her thoughts at that moment; don’t leave me.

‘Patrick?’ Rollins’s voice brought me back to the present. I stared at the cracks and fissures along the cement floor and faked a cough to dry my face. If Rollins was perplexed he did not give himself away;

‘Your relationship with the victim, Kyra Jardine, is biological daughter?’

‘Kyra’s my daughter, yes.’

‘It was the hospital staff that contacted DoCS concerning how Kyra received her injuries?’

‘Yes, Jane and I had to explain what happened and DoCS said their visit was just a routine inquiry because it concerned an injured minor. We told them what happened and they spoke to the doctor treating Kyra. Four days later I was arrested.’

‘Okay, Patrick we have a month until the trial so start from the beginning and tell me exactly what happened.’

So I told him every god damn detail and an hour later my shame and regret was written in neat dot points on a yellow tinged legal pad. I didn’t tell Rollins that a moment of rage doesn’t reflect the father I was up until that moment. I also didn’t tell him that everyone has a breaking point and maybe if he was in my shoes he would’ve done exactly as I did.

* * *

Before I became Jane Jardine, I was Jane Butler, who grew up in suburbia where the only thing whiter than the houses were the people who lived in them. I was a young girl when my father gave me a china doll. She had blonde ringlets and wore an emerald dress for which she was named. Before long her skin was tinged the colour of old book pages, her porcelain face cracked and one glassy blue eye disappeared. A week after Emerald was given to me I was pushing her in a dolls pram to the supermarket, trailing the hem of my mother’s skirt gibbering away about Emerald’s displeasure of mushy peas and bath time. When we came home my father was gone along with his possessions. The only thing he left behind was guesses. Yet I decided I loved Emerald even when I realised she was disguised as a goodbye.

There wasn’t a time when I decided I wanted to be a mother; I was always going to be one. As my coffee ring runs the newspaper ink which condemns my husband as a monster and unfit father I realise that darkness had permeated the kitchen. I must have been sitting at the dining room table for some time but I don’t know when the warmth of the sun left my back or when my coffee became cold.

Our kitchen is a composition of lasagne, pasta dishes and chocolate cake. There are notes accompanying each glad-wrapped good; hand written condolences from neighbours I don’t know by name. I can imagine them sitting on their floral armchairs with matching printed curtains discussing the family on the other side of them. It wouldn’t occur to them that one mistake doesn’t define the beautiful, compassionate acts that preceded it. Patrick is the kindest man I know.

He has ruined our lives.

The breath is knocked from my body and I’m left sitting in my kitchen feeling pain so profound I’m certain it will destroy me.

* * *

I could feel the metal frame of the bed dig in to the small of my back and across my shoulders. The mattress was thin, worn down by the weight of guilty consciences. Jane had visited me seven hours earlier with my ironed suit and the face of a much older woman. We weren’t allowed to touch so she twisted her wedding ring and bit her cracked lower lip instead. I listened while Jane updated me on Kyra’s condition; the swelling on her brain hadn’t alleviated. Jane’s words tumbled over one another as if it would be less painful the faster she spoke.

‘It’s uh, it’s not looking good, Patrick,’ she said, while brushing her hand through the blonde of her fringe to meet my gaze. ‘The doctors are trying everything they can but it’s a brain injury, so…’  Jane’s voice trailed off and we shared the silence. The tip of my tongue held an apology, words wanting to be spoken with paralysed lips. But an apology can’t right my wrongs.

‘This isn’t your fault, Patrick.’ Jane spoke the words so quietly I almost missed them. Her hand searched for mine and grasped it under the table, a quick squeeze and the warmth on my palm left before we were caught.

That night my bed sheet was hung across the metal bars while I wept in private.

* * *

I sat in the witness stand. My suit still smelled like washing powder and vaguely of Jane’s orange blossom hand lotion. I could feel perspiration gather on my top lip and swell in my palms, though the court room was not warm. In total there were twelve members of the jury, some glanced furtively at me, others openly as if to say; hope you enjoy prison, asshole.

This was the second day of my trial. Hours ago I’d sat silently, listening to the testimony of hospital staff and DoCS painting a black and white picture of what the nature of Kyra’s injuries suggested.

Abuse. My nails left half-moon shapes on my palms while I forced myself not to cry out in protest.

Silence hummed in the court room as the prosecution, a waif of a man who paced like an agitated stick insect, rose to begin his half of my cross-examination. A wave of nausea churned my stomach and hot spit flooded my mouth which I swallowed back.

‘Patrick,’ he began, ‘we’ve heard the evidence against you. Several hospital staff claim that Kyra’s injuries are most-likely the result of physical abuse, opposed to the accident you claim it to be.’ I didn’t know how to respond so I remained silent, pressing my lips together. ‘The defence made it clear that you’re a successful landscaper with strong ties to the community, a man of high moral standard.’ I felt dread proliferate from my stomach, this guy was going to undo any good opinion that Rollins managed to create. ‘Yet you have a history of abuse against your daughter, Kyra.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Of course not. I’ve never laid a hand on Kyra.’

‘So on the twenty-third of October last year you weren’t visited by DoCS after Kyra’s teacher reported suspicious bruising along her arms?’

‘That was a misunderstanding. They were from karate classes,’ I spluttered. ‘We hoped they’d alleviate Kyra’s anger issues.’

‘Oh, to help manage her ‘episodes’ as you call them?’ I cleared my throat. I knew I had to tread carefully. One wrong sentence and the little trust that remained amongst the jury would disappear like a breeze in a hurricane. The jury’s eyes were hot on my face so I focused on Jane’s. I knew it was her by the pink, woollen jumper that hugged her body. Kyra and I had bought it for her only a few months earlier on mother’s day.

‘Since early childhood Kyra has experienced what Jane and I call episodes where she loses the ability to rationalise or calm herself down. She’ll throw things, scream, yell, harm herself or lash out until what set her off has been rectified. Uh, for example it can be as simple as a disruption in routine; one time we were out of porridge, which is what Kyra eats in the mornings, and it triggered a rage.’ Rollins gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head.

‘You said these episodes can be intermittent or as regular as several times per week?’

‘That’s right.’

‘Sounds exhausting,’  I wanted to tell him that he had no fucking clue what it’s like being in a constant state of anxiety. Wondering if you’ll get to work on time or suffer verbal abuse at the hands of the person you’d sacrifice the world for because you used the last of the hot water. I said nothing though, sensing that I’d fuel his next trap. ‘On the night of the first of July you said, and I quote; “It was dinner time, around seven pm. I remember because I smelled lasagne when I stepped out of the shower. I was getting dressed when I heard Kyra’s voice. It wasn’t a yell, but it was raised so I hurried to the kitchen to help Jane. I entered the doorway and saw Kyra spit on Jane’s face. I didn’t think, I just grabbed Kyra’s upper arm and pulled her towards me to separate her from Jane. When I let go Kyra stumbled backwards and didn’t regain her footing. She fell headfirst on the corner of the dining room table.”’  I tried not to think of the blood that stained Kyra’s hair or her limp body that rested in my lap. It was these images that kept me awake at night, they were all I saw when I closed my eyes.

‘That’s what happened,’ I replied. Wondering why I was being made to re-live that night again.

‘You consider these events an accident?’

‘Yes.’ I took a sip of water which stood to my right. It left a ring on the oak surface and did nothing to calm my nerves.

‘Are you aware of the Glasgow Coma Scale?’

‘I am,’ I replied.

‘Then you know that it’s based between the numbers three and fifteen, anything less than an eight is considered to be a severe brain injury.’

I nodded.

‘Kyra placed a seven.’

‘I know.’ I god damn know. I bit my lip until the taste of rust and salt flooded my mouth.

‘Yet the doctors won’t know the extent of Kyra’s injuries until, and if, she wakes from her coma.’ The prick wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. My eyes searched for Jane again and for the first time I wished she hadn’t come. Seeing her daughter covered in tubes and bandages was enough, she didn’t need to hear Kyra’s injuries spoken about like facts from the ABS as well. I could see her arms wrapped around her stomach as though she was literally holding herself together and I loathed myself completely in that moment for hurting her.

‘Yes.’

‘Caused by your excessive use of strength against a sixteen year old girl?’

‘I didn’t mean to hurt her.’

‘But you did. When your daughter is learning to talk again, is that what you’ll tell her, that you didn’t mean to hurt her? When your wife has to take her thirty year old daughter to the bathroom will that be a consolation? Intent or not, Mr Jardine you should be held accountable for your actions.’ He gave me a look that said, ‘tell me I’m wrong.’

I couldn’t.

* * *

I took Kyra’s hand and placed it in my own so I could paint her nails the colour of blood. For a moment the smell of nail polish replaced the scent of sterility and I could almost pretend that we weren’t in the children’s hospital. The bedside table is littered with yellowing, dog eared books, stained by hot chocolate drips with damaged spines. We’re halfway through Pride and Prejudice, I read to Kyra for half an hour each night before the nurses part the privacy curtains and delicately tell me visiting hours are over. I arrive at seven am every following day with a charged music player so Kyra can listen to Billy Joel and Pink Floyd, like she would if that night had never happened. Some people say comatose patients can hear when you talk to them. The expression of pity worn by the nurses tells me their opinion, but I hold strong that they’re wrong. When Kyra wakes, whatever state she’s in, she’ll recognise my voice and know that everything will be okay.

I’m applying the second coat of polish when my phone rings. It’s Rollins.

‘The juries back,’ he says.

Rachel Farnham

Rachel Farnham's ambition is to see her dog-eared books on people's shelves, well-loved and well-stained by hot chocolate drips. Previously Rachel has been a contributing writer for Australian Men’s Living Magazine and NeatEats, providing her two cents on dating and colourful kitchen appliances. Rachel writes realistic fiction and is currently working on her first novel.

Leave a Reply