Lena,they sent interviewers over there, they sent two counselors over Ed addresses me over the womans head; he sounds flat, gamely trying not to reveal his exasperation.
The elevators door open and it takes a moment for us to move. Im not sure my voice rasps and I have to clear it. Ms. Cogan, Im not really sure what youd like me to do for you.
Ed stands holding the elevator door open with his back and ushers us out. She looks startled, her gaze wobbles from me to Alyce back to me. Youre the evidence specialist? You can find things. Thats what I heard. Youre better than the police.
Alyce rolls her eyes.
No, thats not true, not at all. Im shaking my head as we enter the lobby. There usually isnt evidence per se in this kind of caseI mean, of course, depending on the cause of I trail off anxiously, looking at Alyce. She scratches at the slim bone along her jaw, her expression distant and abstracted. I ask, What did the medical examiner rule as the cause of death?
Sudden infant death, she says bitterly. Which you know is another way of saying they have no idea what happened. She glances over her shoulder at Ed. He just says, Ms. Cogan, the Lab isnt a police station, you shouldnt be in this building at all. Its time to get on home.
Yes, it was time about a half hour ago, Alyce says.
But Erin Cogan stays trained on me. Please. I know you dont believe me. Or you think Im crazy. But even so, please, please listenI know that my baby was murdered. She leans forward. Im just saying, really Im justIm begging you .Please, will you just look at our file?
What evidence do you have that it wasnt SIDS? I ask, hating myself. Ed rubs the nape of his neck.
She lowers her head into a confiding posture and now, her face streaked with white light from the glass entrance and the rims of her eyelids glistening, she does look half-mad and vaguely savage. She says, her voice like a hot steam, There was someone in the house! I was downstairs, watching my show, and I head the footsteps clear as day, right over my head. Someone came into my house and murdered my baby. He was upstairs sleeping, and then suddenly I heard these footstepsI thought I was imagining it. I was tired outits so hard to have a baby, sometimes. Sometimes you just need to rest, you knowI dont have anyone to help meI meanmy husband is away all day at work, and Her voice cuts off. She looks unfocused for a moment, staring at the floor, then she turns to me. Do you have any children?
Alyce exhales in a huff.
No, I dont, I say.
She blinks as if Ive just clapped my hands in her face. Im sorry, she says.
Ed puts a hand on her upper arm. The medical examiners office will investigate this, Miss. They will do everything in their power. I can personally assure you. Eds voice edges between kindness and complete impatience.
She leans closer to me, so close now that her agitation comes to me in a kind of static. I take a step back, my eyes unfocus. Behind her, the snowfall looks like a white screen in the big lobby windows. You know it and I know it, she says, then repeats it, you know it and I know it, sounding in fact quite a bit like a crazy woman. She brushes at her coat sleeve a little compulsively and I notice for the first time that its a nice, expensive garment, probably cashmere, with deep, notched lapels. The county isnt interested, the police arent even interested. Im nothing to them. Im a hysterical motherwhich is actually worse than nothing, isnt it? Isnt it? She looks around at Ed and Alyce, who both stiffen. She wheels back to me, her voice climbing: My husband Clay works as a civil engineerhe knows everyone in the city offices. He knows Rob Cummings they play golf at the Onondaga Country Club. After our after our loss first we waited for the police to do something. When nothing happened, then Clay began asking around. Every night he came home saying Lena Dawson, Lena Dawson. Shes supposed to have this something especially with childrens cases she can see through evidence thats exactly what he heard. She glares at me with that fierce light in her face. The counselor says it just happens sometimes babies just die just like that! But it doesnt always just happen, does it? Matthew was six months oldcompletely healthy and beautiful so beautiful. And now hes gone and the person who killed him is still alive she gestures toward the door. Out walking around, out there somewhere! Can you understand what that feels like? Knowing that? With that, she grabs my hands again. She squeezes, grinding the bones in my fingers together and I nearly yelp. Her face is a white streak, too close.
Reprinted from Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. Copyright (c) 2007 by Diana Abu-Jaber. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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