Alyce keeps wandering in and out of the office, shooting me the evil eye.
She bunches up her face. You know what. I cant believe you.
What? I feel touchy and helpless. I flash again on the wild, imprisoned look on Erin Cogans face.
That womanyou just had to talk to her.
What would you have had me do, Alyce?
She clicks her tongue and walks out. Sylvie, another colleague, looks up at me sympathetically from her desk near the door, her streaky blonde hair falling in her face. Margo sighs, leans back in her chair and centers a damp washcloth on her forehead. What was that, she says. What just happened. We loiter around the office until someone gets the idea for an early lunch.
The four of us congregate at a table in the tank. Thats what we call our break area because of the white tile walls, the windows covered with a fine wire mesh, and the fluorescent lights. Margo turns her chair at an angle to mine: I can feel her watch me as I browse through a file, a half-sandwich resting on the inside of the folder. Margo, who came to Criminalistics five years ago, is 29, the youngest, but shes the only mother among the four of us. She started in arson and fire debris examination, but shes training in DNA typingwhich is where all the excitement is, she saysand soon shell be moving to a newer office downstairs.
So thats the Cogan file, isnt it, she says.
I show her the folder name.
What do you think? she asks.
I run my fingertip over the examiners report. Mothers a smoker the baby slept on his stomach the paramedics found him on his stomach. I shake my head, rest my chin on my hand and mutter into my palm, I dont know, kind of like SIDS.
Alyces face is hard. She shouldve been over at the police if she wanted help - what was she doing up in the Lab in the first place?
What she was doing was her baby just died, Margo says. Any mother would do what she did. You try and hurt my babies, you just see what happens.
Did you know shes from a big family, Sylvie says. I mean big, like, rich. I looked at her hospital chart? Her fathers Peter Billingsyou know, like the Billings School at SU?
Well, we cant have people just coming up here like that, Alyce says. She crosses her arms on the table and leans forward on to her elbows. I dont care who they are. And I dont care whose mother they are. We are professionals here. Lena is a professional. She has to be allowed to do her work.
The other two women look at me silently; Margo lowers her eyes. Alyce taps the lunch table and asks, How many SIDS cases came through here lately?
I dont quite look up at her; I turn my tuna fish sandwich to different angles.
Im not sure what the total SIDS cases were usually its only once every few months. But I do know that in the past two months theyve brought in two cribs, Margo says. Not counting that womans baby the Cogan baby. I dont think they ever brought in that crib.
Whats going on with those cribs? Sylvie says.
Thats all I know, Margo says. Just that there were two cribs, she adds quietly.
You know, I also noticed that the Cogans live in Lucius. Sylvie holds her cup of tea in both hands. Didnt they have problems with tainted well water?
Bunch of hippie college kids started that rumour, Alyce says.
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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