March 6, 2007
In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.
Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-offs. It's the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It's the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire.
In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem.
In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.
In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.
As usual, Alex Cormier was running late. It took thirty-two minutes to drive from her house in Sterling to the superior court in Grafton County, New Hampshire, and that was only if she speeded through Orford. She hurried downstairs in her stockings, carrying her heels and the files she'd brought home with her over the weekend. She twisted her thick copper hair into a knot and anchored it at the base of her neck with bobby pins, transforming herself into the person she needed to be before she left her house.
Alex had been a superior court judge now for thirty-four days. She'd believed that, having proved her mettle as a district court judge for the past five years, this time around the appointment might be easier. But at forty, she was still the youngest judge in the state. She still had to fight to establish herself as a fair justice -- her history as a public defender preceded her into her courtroom, and prosecutors assumed she'd side with the defense. When Alex had submitted her name years ago for the bench, it had been with the sincere desire to make sure people in this legal system were innocent until proven guilty. She just never anticipated that, as a judge, she might not be given the same benefit of the doubt.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee drew Alex into the kitchen. Her daughter was hunched over a steaming mug at the kitchen table, poring over a textbook. Josie looked exhausted -- her blue eyes were bloodshot; her chestnut hair was a knotty ponytail. "Tell me you haven't been up all night," Alex said.
Josie didn't even glance up. "I haven't been up all night," she parroted.
Alex poured herself a cup of coffee and slid into the chair across from her. "Honestly?"
"You asked me to tell you something," Josie said. "You didn't ask for the truth."
Alex frowned. "You shouldn't be drinking coffee."
"And you shouldn't be smoking cigarettes."
Alex felt her face heat up. "I don't -- "
"Mom," Josie sighed, "even when you open up the bathroom windows, I can still smell it on the towels." She glanced up, daring Alex to challenge her other vices.
Alex herself didn't have any other vices. She didn't have time for any vices. She would have liked to say that she knew with authority that Josie didn't have any vices, either, but she would only be making the same inference the rest of the world did when they met Josie: a pretty, popular, straight-A student who knew better than most the consequences of falling off the straight-and-narrow. A girl who was destined for great things. A young woman who was exactly what Alex had hoped her daughter would grow to become.
Josie had once been so proud to have a mother as a judge. Alex could remember Josie broadcasting her career to the tellers at the bank, the baggers in the grocery store, the flight attendants on planes. She'd ask Alex about her cases and her decisions. That had all changed three years ago, when Josie entered high school, and the tunnel of communication between them slowly bricked shut. Alex didn't necessarily think that Josie was hiding anything more than any other teenager, but it was different: a normal parent might metaphorically judge her child's friends, whereas Alex could do it legally.
Copyright © Jodi Picoult, 2007. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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