Now, in the patrol car, in the cage of the backseat that was exactly like the cage they put stray dogs in, she felt the way they wanted you to feel: small, helpless, without hope or recourse. Her heart was hammering. She was on the verge of tears. People were staring at her, slowing their cars to get a good look, and there was nothing she could do but turn away in shame and horror and pray that one of her students didn't happen to be passing by or anybody she knew, her neighbors, the landlord. She slouched down in the seat, dropped her head till her hair shook loose. She'd always wondered why the accused shielded their faces on the courthouse steps, why they tried so hard to hide their identities even when everyone in the world knew who they were, but now she understood, now she felt it for herself.
The color rose to her face she was being arrested, and in public no less and for a moment she was paralyzed. All she could think of was the shame of it, a shame that stung like some physical hurt, like the bite of an insect, a thousand insects seething all over her body she could still feel the hot clamp of his hands on her ankles, her thighs. It was as if he'd burned her, scored her flesh with acid. She studied the back of the seat, the floormat, her right foot tapping and jittering with the uncontainable pulse of her nerves, and then all at once, as if a switch had been thrown in her brain, she felt the anger rising in her. Why should she feel shame? What had she done?
It was the cop. He was the one. He was responsible for all this. She lifted her eyes and there he was, the idiot, the pig, a pair of squared-off shoulders in the tight blue-black uniform, the back of his head as flat and rigid as a paddle strapped to his neck, and he was saying something into his radio, the microphone at his mouth even as the cruiser lurched out into the street and she felt herself flung helplessly forward against the seat restraint. Suddenly she was furious, ready to explode. What was wrong with him? What did he think, she was a drug dealer or something? A thief? A terrorist? She'd run a stop sign, for Christ's sake, that was all a stop sign. Jesus.
Before she knew it, the words were out of her mouth. Are you crazy? she demanded, and she didn't care if her voice was too loud, if it was toneless and ugly and made people wince. She didn't care what she sounded like, not now, not here. I said, are you crazy?
But he wasn't hearing her, he didn't understand. Listen, she said, listen, leaning forward as far as the seat restraint would allow her, struggling to enunciate as carefully as she could, though she was choked and wrought up and the manacles were too tight and her heart was throbbing like a trapped bird trying to beat its way out of the nest, there must be some mistake. Don't you know who I am?
The world chopped by in a harsh savage glide, the car jolting beneath her. She strained to see his face reflected in the rearview mirror, to see if his lips were moving, to get a clue the smallest hint, anything as to what was happening to her. He must have read her her rights as he handcuffed her You have the right to remain silent and all the rest of it, the obligatory phrases she'd seen on the TV screen a hundred times and more. But why ? What had she done? And why did his eyes keep leaping from the road to the mirror and back again as if she couldn't be trusted even in the cage and the cuffs, as if he expected her to change shape, vomit bile, ooze and leak and smell? Why the hate? The bitterness? The intransigence?
It took her a moment, the blood burning in her veins, her face flushed with shame and anger and frustration, until she understood: it was a case of mistaken identity. Of course it was. Obviously. What else could it be? Someone who looked like her some other slim graceful dark-eyed deaf woman of thirty-three who wasn't on her way to the dentist with a sheaf of papers she had to finish grading by the time her class met had robbed a bank at gunpoint, shot up the neighborhood, hit a child and run. It was the only explanation, because she'd never violated the law in her life except in the most ordinary and innocuous ways, speeding on the freeway alongside a hundred other speeders, smoking the occasional joint when she was a teenager (she and Carrie Cheung and later Richie Cohen, cruising the neighborhood, high as well, kites but no one ever knew or cared, least of all the police), collecting the odd parking ticket or moving violation all of which had been duly registered, paid for and expunged from her record. At least she thought they'd been. That parking ticket in Venice, sixty bucks and she was maybe two minutes late, the meter maid already writing out the summons even as she stood there pleading with her but she'd taken care of that, hadn't she?
Excerpted from Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle, Copyright (c) 2006. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Penguin Group.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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