SO I'LL TELL YOU. I'll tell you because confession is supposed to be good
for the soul, and when choosing between the tonics available--from religion to
Tony Robbins to the friendly late-night chemist--this unburdening seems to
present the least risk. When it comes to my soul, I have adopted a doctor's
attitude: First, do no harm.
The complete overthrow of my principles. That was what I had done. A moment in time, and my life--previously not lived to the highest standards, but plenty respectable--blew up. The distance between integrity and the loss of innocence proved to be razor-thin, a handful of decisions, frictionless, greased with desire. I thought I was choosing a woman. I thought--and I have to swallow this back, but it's the truth, and this is the unburdening, after all--I had earned her. And now she is my ghost, come to judge me.
This is the beginning of moral collapse: to be held captive by a woman's eyes. Looking into hers, my mind went blank. All I knew was that she was in my office, and she was crying, and at some point I asked her to sit down. Her name was Violeta Ramirez, and I ignored her faux leather pocketbook, her Wal-mart dress, the run in her stocking. These were signals that she was in the wrong office, of course, in the same way that a Timex is the wrong watch in a store that sells yachts. But I was looking at her flawless, caramel skin, the deep, black hair pulled back, the fathomless, brown eyes. The familiar script in my body began to play, this hormone washing over these cells, neurons lighting up, a million years of evolution lining up my thoughts like little soldiers.
The clients of Carthy, Williams and Douglas did not generally cry in my office. They were far more likely to rant, curse, or even, when I was lucky, to intently listen. But having paid four hundred dollars an hour for the privilege of occupying the chair opposite me, complaints about their manners were not welcome. A crying woman was something else, however, and I found myself leaping up, asking her if I could get her anything. She was exquisitely beautiful, she was crying, and she could not be ignored.
Caliz was the father of her child, she said. There had been a mistake; he had aggravated the police; they had planted las drogas on him. He was good, if only people understood him. He had a smart mouth, and the police had made him pay. He was no choirboy, she knew that--was that a bruise hiding underneath her dark makeup?--but of this, he was innocent.
I don't know if she was aware of the effect she was having on me. I watched, mesmerized, as each tear slipped down her cheek. She crossed her legs, and I caught my breath. It's not that I didn't appreciate most women. I have appreciated them from my earliest memories, from the bosomy warmth of my mother to the incisive intelligence of the female associates at the firm. It's just that feminism doesn't mean anything to the human body, and there was something so uncomplicated and vulnerable in her that I couldn't stop my entire soul from wanting her.
There were obligations, which I met: I explained the firm didn't do drug cases, or for that matter, criminal law of any kind. The crying had gotten worse then, and in the end I couldn't even bring up the obvious impossibility of her paying my fee. But it wouldn't have mattered, because Carthy, Williams and Douglas would sooner invite the archangel of death into their offices than defend a drug dealer. So I simply said that my hands were tied, which was true. I did not have the power to change the rules of the firm. She rose, shook my hand, and crept from my office in tears and humiliation. Hours after she left, the image of her lingered. I stared at the chair where she had been, willing her back. For two days, I couldn't do a thing at the office. At last I called her, telling her I would see what I could do. The truth is, I would have moved heaven and earth to see her again.
From The Last Goodbye. Copyright © 2004 by Reed Arvin. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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