I spot her as soon as I get off the elevator on the fourth floor. Shes waiting
on one of the metal folding chairs in the corridor just outside the office. Her
bright russet hair sliding out of a barrette, her skin mottled, her face
I stop short. Listen to the elevator doors slide shut behind me.
Victims exist in another dimension, as far as Im concernedtheyre theoretical. The police meet the victims; we work in an office. I wouldnt have become a print examiner if I wanted to meet victims.
I sidle past her, trying not to make eye contact, as I enter the office. Alyce, the division leader, is trying to signal me with her eyes. HeyLena
But the womans fast; she walks right into the office, between the cubicles, tall and pale and intimidating with this kind of intensity that I realize must be grief. A scary kind of grief. I dont even make it to my desk, shes saying, Youre Lena? Are you Lena Dawson? I flinch.
Alyce is on her feet now as well; shes maybe two-thirds this womans size, but concentrated, wiry with combative energy. Miss, please. Now. I dont know how you got up hereour office is totally closed to the public. I already tried to tell you once
The woman is way too close to meher white face and flashing voiceso at first I barely take in what shes saying. I retreat behind my desk. But the woman actually follows me around my desk. My name is Erin Cogan, my baby ishe died five weeks ago. The police havent done a single thing about it. Nothing. Shes talking fastready to be ushered out; she seizes my hand, her voice throbbing in my head like an electrical echo. Please LenaMs. DawsonIve heard that you canthat you
My bossy colleague, Margo, bustles into the office with Ed Welmore, who was probably just about to go home after the night shift. The top button on his PD uniform is undone and there are dark crescents under each arm. All right over there, he says as he enters the room. Time to go home, Mrs. Cogan.
Erin Cogan releases my hand but continues to stare at me. Please, please, Ms. Dawson, please
Ed stops right behind her. Hes not much taller than I am, but hes solid. He puts his hands on his hips and glances at me over the womans head, then says, Youre going to have to come on out now.
She swivels her head at Ed then back at me with an expression of such anguished panic that I cant help myself. I dont know her, but I do know that feeling. A scraped down devastation that frightens me almost as much as it makes me feel for her. Her hands curled up tight and sharp and white. Okay, okay, okay. I touch the clean top of my desk with the flat of my hand, trying to catch my breath. MissMs. Cogan? Come on. Yeah, let me just walk you outside here.
In the elevator, Ed looks off toward the corner Im sure he wouldve been much happier if I hadnt come out with them. Alyce comes along too, arms crossed and locked on her bowed-in chest; glasses propped on her head, she glares at the woman. Ill get an earful later, I know, on how shed prefer if Id try not to encourage lunatics; I have to work harder not to be a sap; and so forth and so on.
Erin Cogan twists her hands together, a dry wringing, she looks only at me. Ive been waiting outside that office since six a.m. The janitor let me inIm sorry. I dont know what to do anymore. Please, please, no one will talk to me about Matthews case. I think I might be going out of my mind. My babymy Matthewhe died and no one will talk to me
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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