One of my babies is involved? Margo draws herself up. I wouldnt care! Mortgage the house, go rob a bank. Who cares? Id want to know that Id done everything in my earthly powers.
I think thats why she came looking for Lena, Alyce says evenly.
Maybe Id hire a hit man, Margo says. But then she sighs and glances at me.
I look down. I dont want to eat this tuna, even though I just made it myself this morning; I put it back on the wax paper wrapping and fold it up. I can feel Margo looking at me, her irises so dark they blend into her pupils. Lena? I slide the sandwich back in the paper bag. Lena? Her voice is tenuous. Do you, you know, sense anything on this one?
I shake my head. I can see the mother in her face. I see her waiting in there like an animal in a cave. I look down and say, No, nothing in particular. Sometimes the crime circumstances and motives come to me so clearly that Ill feel shaken for days afterwards. Ill see the crust of blood on an embroidered handkerchief and the motives come to me out of nowhere: she wanted to kill her husband for a long, long time. Or: he was always afraid of the other children at school. Or: she couldnt take the noise in that house one second more.
Once, I collected a wilted page of notebook paper from a crime scene, that turned out to have been dampened with tears, and I saw it: the man writing that page knew that his killer was coming.
But I smile at Margo and say, Just doesnt seem that unusual.
No, I didnt think so, she says.
Forensics takes a straightforward approach: it leans scientific principles up against the pursuit of the law. One set of rules crosshatches the other. You gaze at the hair and skin fibers scraped from under a victims nails: first under a hand lens, then the microscope, waiting for the legal-scientific thing called evidence to appear. The hope is, of course, that the harder and closer and longer you look, the more you see. But sometimes the thing you must do is lean back, relax, close your eyes. You cant rush.
I watch Margo settle into the chair. Her unconscious hand taps the purse where she keeps her childrens photographs. Sometimes in the Lab, well say things just to soothe each other. Margo has decided, for now, to believe me. She knows full well about the way evidence can look when you stand in one light, then change utterly when you stand in another. She nods again and squeezes my hand. Im paranoid, she says weakly.
What do you expect? Alyce brandishes one hand as if we were at the gates of hell. Working here?
The worst humanity has to offer, on a daily basis, Sylvie says. Its like when medical students start to think theyre getting all the diseases theyre studying.
Alyce says, We think were gonna get all the crimes.
Margo is smiling but she doesnt stop gazing at me, either. My eyes feel hot, x-rayed.
The women look at each other, then laugh as if startled, the sound rippling around me, silvery little waves at the base of a rock, swirling with anxiety.
The detectives think the Lab techs are a little creepywith our jokes and our attitude. But the street police, the infantry, knowyouve got to hang on to a sliver of humor. Were piece-workers, trained on our segment of the mystery. Which is just how I like itworking in a mute space all my own.
Margo says, very casually, Its a good thing you dont have any of your own, Lena. Really girl, you are so so lucky.
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."
- PW Starred Review
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