Court of Appeals
by Ravi Mangla
Since her acquittal, Agnes couldn’t land even the lowliest of jobs. They either recognized her face from the evening news or the morning papers. That she was found innocent was of as little consequence as her professional references. Nobody wanted to hire a suspected axe murderer. Her family, eager to cheer her up, ascribed the reluctance to a weak job market.
A temp agency dispatched her to a telecommunications firm. While she entered data into her temporary computer, a man with a Garfield mug and untucked shirt leaned over her temporary desk.
Where do I know you from? he asked, perfuming her personal space with stale coffee.
Probably from the court hearings. Or maybe the memes, she said.
He snapped his fingers.
We go to the same acupuncturist, don’t we?
On the bus, a woman in pure mink rested her head on Agnes’s shoulder and drifted off to sleep. Without waking her, Agnes tried to return the woman to her own seat. But her head, like iron filings to a magnet, found its way back to her shoulder.
If there was one advantage of being accused of a gruesome act of violence, it had to be the extra samples at the supermarket. No one dared to tell her you’ve had enough.
Agnes’s mother set her up with a man who repaired vacuums. (“He doesn’t own a television,” she told her daughter with undue optimism.) The vacuum man took her to a chain restaurant known for their effusive portions and hoarder-inspired décor.
I used to have a rabbit named Agnes, he said.
What happened to it? she asked.
It chewed through the drywall and died.
Just then the waitress arrived with their food. Before the plate touched the table, the man had his napkin tucked into his collar.
During her first week in jail, an older guard slipped her small comforts: a can of Diet Pepsi, crinkled magazines, sticks of gum. After sharing with her part of his Milky Way bar, he said, I keep doing all these nice things for you. Maybe it’s time you do something nice for me. When she failed to respond, he laughed in clipped bursts and continued on his rounds. Kindness, she realized, could be the cruelest of cons.
The manager at the telecom company called Agnes into her office.
We won’t be requiring your services any longer, the manager said.
I thought the position was for three weeks.
Your last check will come in the mail.
Did I do something wrong?
The manager paused, brought her hands together.
God sees all, she said, lowering her voice to a reproachful whisper.
Agnes gathered her scant belongings in an oversized box and left the office. The manager’s car was parked out front (the keys on her desk gave away the make). She reached into her purse and took out a tube of lipstick. God is a cocksucker, she wrote on the windshield in bright red letters, before adjusting the side mirror and scoring two bold lines under her eyes.
Most of my stories spring from a single sentence, some shred of language, but this one was a product of curiosity and a question, really. How do the accused in heavily publicized criminal trials reacclimatize to everyday life? It can’t be easy to move through the world encumbered with such an unflattering history. What is it like for Amanda Knox or Casey Anthony to walk through a grocery store or apply for a job? I wanted to see if I could humanize that character from the tabloids, present their story from a different angle.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His writing has appeared in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, American Short Fiction, The Paris Review Daily, and Wigleaf. He lives in Rochester, NY.