Excerpt of Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen
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The first time my husband hit me I was nineteen years old.
One sentence and I'm lost. One sentence and I can hear his voice in my head, that
butterscotch-syrup voice that made goose bumps rise on my arms when I was young, that
turned all of my skin warm and alive with a sibilant S, the drawling vowels, its shocking
fricatives. It always sounded like a whisper, the way he talked, the intimacy of it, the
way the words seemed to go into your guts, your head, your heart. "Geez, Bob,"
one of the guys would say, "you should have been a radio announcer. You should have
done those voice-over things for commercials." It was like a genie, wafting purple
and smoky from the lamp, Bobby's voice, or perfume when you took the glass stopper out of
I remember going to court once when Bobby was a witness in a case. It was eleven, maybe
twelve years ago, before Robert was born, before my collarbone was broken, and my nose,
which hasn't healed quite right because I set it myself, looking in the bathroom mirror in
the middle of the night, petals of adhesive tape fringing the frame. Bobby wanted me to
come to court when he was testifying because it was a famous case at the time, although
one famous case succeeds another in New York City the way one pinky-gold sunset over the
sludge of the Hudson River fades and blooms, brand-new each night. A fifteen-year-old boy
from Brooklyn was accused of raping a Dominican nun at knifepoint and then asking her to
pray for him. His attorney said it was a lie, that the kid had had no idea that the woman
in the aqua double-knit pants and the striped blouse was a nun, that the sex was
consensual, though the nun was sixty-two and paste-waxing a floor in a shelter at the
time. They took paste wax from the knees of the kid's pants, brought in the paste-wax
manufacturer to do a chemical comparison.
The lawyer was an old guy with a storefront in a bad neighborhood, I remember, and the
kid's mother had scraped together the money to hire him because Legal Aid had sent a black
court-appointed and she was convinced that her son needed a white lawyer to win his case.
Half-blind, hungover, dandruff on the shoulders of his gray suit like a dusting of snow,
the kid's attorney was stupid enough to call the kid as a witness and to ask why he had
confessed to a crime he hadn't committed.
"There was this cop in the room," the boy said, real low, his broad forehead
tipped toward the microphone, his fingers playing idly with his bottom lip, so that his
words were a little muffled. "He don't ask none of the questions. He just kept
hassling me, man. Like he just keeps saying, "Tell us what you did, Tyrone. Tell us
what you did." It was like he hypnotized me, man. He just kept saying it over and
over. I couldn't get away from him."
The jury believed that Tyrone Biggs had done the rape, and so did everybody else in New
York who read the tabloids, watched the news. So did the judge, who gave him the maximum,
eight to fifteen years, and called him "a boil on the body of humanity." But I
knew that while Tyrone was lying about the rape he was telling the truth about that police
officer, because I lived with that voice every day, had been hypnotized by it myself. I
knew what it could do, how it could sound. It went down into your soul, like a confessor,
like a seducer, saying, "Tell me. Tell me." Frannie, Frannie, Fran, he'd croon,
Sometimes Bobby even made me believe that I was guilty of something, that I was sleeping
with every doctor at the hospital, that I made him slip and bang his bad knee. That I made
him beat me up, that it was me who made the fist, angled the foot, brought down a hand
hard. Hard. The first time he hit me I was nineteen. I can hear his voice now, so
persuasive, so low and yet somehow so strong, making me understand once again that I'm all
wrong. Frannie, Frannie, Fran, he says. That's how he begins. Frannie,
Use of this excerpt from Black and Blue by Anna
Quindlen may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or
additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice:
Copyright© 1998 by Anna Quindlen. All rights reserved.