Cathy Eats Her Words

November 13, 2007

Day Eight

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 6:18 pm

Cathy’s patient waiting by the phone was rewarded at ten the next evening, when it rang with a collect call from the county jail. Star’s recorded voice said, “Mama,” and Cathy anxiously pushed a button to accept the call. But she pushed the wrong button, and the call cut off. She called the jail back to explain her error and beg them to put her thru to her daughter, but when she pushed 0 to speak to the operator, a recording came on to say that she’d reached an invalid extension, and hung up on her. She was panicky. How was she going to get thru to Star? She’d sounded miserable. She would assume her mom was mad at her and didn’t want to speak to her, when she’d been frantic to talk to her for days. Cathy spent the rest of the day feeling like the worst mother in the world.

The most difficult thing about being a mom is when you have to sit by helplessly and wonder what’s going on. No information, nothing you can do to help. Anything you actually do may be entirely the wrong thing, and you don’t know for sure about that, either. So paralysis sets in. And depression. You’re angry, but there’s no outlet, and anyway anger doesn’t feel appropriate, so you suppress that and become even more depressed. And you can’t think about anything else, so you’re useless for the things that would normally occupy you. Your work suffers, your sleep suffers, your health suffers. You age ten years in a week. And your kid, the center of all your concern and worry and suffering, doesn’t want to know, won’t thank you, and will only accuse you of interfering and being a drama queen. Only your husband and best friend will ever know how you suffer.

Poor Gray. Poor Miranda. They had to hold Cathy’s hand for days. The only things she could talk about was what was happening to Star, and what was going to happen to Star, and what might could happen to Star. Every time she thought of something else, she would get on the phone to Miranda, or if she wasn’t available, she’d troop down to the basement to tell it to Gray. And as people who love you will do, they listened patiently, offered suggestions, and tried to lighten her mood. But they might as well have offered to slit her wrists for her, because nothing short of death was likely to make her feel any better.

The only person she didn’t tell was Mom, who called in the middle of Cathy’s not knowing. It drove her mad to have to spend time on the phone when it might ring at any moment with another collect call from the jail.

“Hi, Mom, I’m real busy right now.”

“You sound awful. What’s wrong?”

Cathy almost screamed. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just…” she paused, unable to think of anything she could tell her. “Busy.”

“Oh. Well, I won’t stay on long. I was just watching the 700 Club and they were doing a special about the dangers of monosodium glutamate.”

“I know. It’s actually one of the larger pieces of work out there, never mind what I think of them in general.”

Mom ignored the implied criticism. “I think you need to get a copy of this. I know you’re almost as sensitive as I am.” Mom was notoriously sensitive to MSG. She collapsed in a near-faint and remained comatose for hours every time she ate a piece of contaminated food. Her joints swelled, her face got puffy, she got migraines and her thinking got fuzzy. She was a textbook case. But she never learned to avoid the stuff. While Cathy went to great pains to make all her own food, Mom thought nothing of stopping for a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, claiming that the original style didn’t have any MSG in it, and then coming down with the full range of symptoms within twenty minutes.

“Mom, it’s available online. I talk about it in my blog.” She was frantic to get off the phone. “I hate to be rude, but I really am busy. Was there anything else you called about?”

“Oh, just that it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I was thinking about driving down there and staying for a few days. We could cook up a batch of my famous meat loaf and try to recreate your dad’s barbeque sauce.”

But then she would find out all about Star’s troubles. And with no preparation, it would be devastating. If not to Mom, then to Cathy, when Mom exploded with righteous indignation that someone of her line would be so stupid as to get thrown in jail. “Um, that sounds good,” she said, knowing that Mom almost never followed thru on her threats to come visit. “Let me know when you finalize your plans.” There, she thought. Approving of something Mom wanted to do was a sure discouragement to its ever happening.

Then it came. “How’s Star?”

Shit, Cathy thought. What can I tell her? Her voice shook. “Oh, I guess she’s fine. I don’t see much of her these days.”

“Is she in any trouble?”

How does she do it? Cathy wondered. “No, she’s living with her dad again.”

“Oh.” Mom’s voice was flat. “I’d much rather she was living with you.”

“Well, personally, I find it much more restful when she’s down with him. She kind of wears me out, being a rebellious teenager and all.”

“Now you know how I felt, all those years ago.”

“Have I told you lately how sorry I am to have caused you and Dad all that trouble?”

“Too bad you can’t tell your father.”

He’d died before Cathy ever had Star, or met Richard. He would have liked Richard, she thought. “Yeah. I miss him. I dream about him sometimes.”

“Nobody misses him like I do. I dream of him every night, and think about him every day.” She sounded sad, also a bit dramatic.

“Well, I love you. But I’ve got to go now, really.”

“Well, okay then. I’ll talk to you soon. Love you.”

Finally tired of waiting for Star to call, Cathy got on the phone to the sheriff’s department to find out what she had been charged with and when her arraignment would be. What she learned made her wish she hadn’t eaten anything recently. Star was being charged with possession of under an ounce of marijuana, which was a misdemeanor. But she was also being charged with violation of the state’s controlled substance act, and with being in possession of a weapon in commission of a crime. She didn’t understand either the meaning or the severity of the last two charges. Being caught with pot was a fine. But what were controlled substances, and which one was she caught with, and where did weapons enter into it? The only thing she understood well was that her arraignment was going to be at 1:30 that afternoon, which gave her just over an hour to get down to county court.

She broke several laws getting there on time, including speeding, lane change violations, and being on a cellphone while driving. She called Star’s dad, who was still waking up from a late night and chemical sedation. He was coherent only by the slimmest of definitions. But she found out that Star had spoken to him several times from jail, and he’d called her DUI lawyer, who would be there at the hearing, so when she got into court, Cathy looked for the little woman who’d gotten her off her DUI drugs charge. Maybe she could work more miracles for her baby.

However, she never got to talk to the lawyer, or to her daughter. She was the first spectator in the courtroom, and the bailiffs were control freaks, so they made her sit in the back, and piled people beside her as they showed up in the courtroom. Cathy found herself squeezed between the edge of the bench and a 300 pound guy with body odor and some kind of respiratory problem. She could hardly hear for his wheezing and coughing. Maybe he’s got tuberculosis, she thought fretfully.

There were four cops in the courtroom, watching suspiciously to see that spectators didn’t become violent, and while they would turn baleful eyes on the people waiting to see what was going to happen to their loved ones, they also took time to laugh and joke among themselves. It was quite the little clique, Cathy thought. The guy next to her became wiggly, and then farted. Cathy leaned over the arm rail of the bench and turned her head, gasping.

Then the prisoners filed in. There were an awful lot of them. The women came first, and there was her baby, in a kelly green prison jumpsuit, chains on her feet. Cathy started crying. Star ignored her completely, as if she hadn’t seen her when she raked her eyes around the courtroom. She had an I’m-above-it-all look on her face. Almost defiant. Star waved anyway, hoping to convince her that she hadn’t hung up on her the other day.

Then men came in next, in orange. Among them was Spike. He was the tallest by far, and his crewcut and sticky-out ears made him look like a little kid. Or a young wild-west outlaw. Star stared at him and mouthed something, and he nodded and mouthed something back. And then the judge entered and all eyes turned to the front.

The judge spoke quickly, with a dry tone, as if he’d recited what he was about to say for twenty years. About a pad of paper on the podium so the accused could write things down, about reading them their charges, and about setting bail. He explained that there were three ways to make bail – either cash, which they’d get back after trial, or a bail bondsman, who would take fifteen percent that they would not get back, or post a property bond to twice the value of the bail. He said it so fast that Cathy could tell half the prisoners didn’t understand him.

The first guy up was a big man, in shackles and handcuffs. He had a lawyer. He was a fugitive, and they caught him in New York, and he was here to be charged with having dangerous drugs. What those drugs were the judge didn’t say. No bail. He tried to sit back down on the benches when the judge was finished, and the cops descended on him to make him go back behind the bar and out into whatever holding pen he was going to be brought to next.

Next up was a grizzled old guy in handcuffs. He wrote everything the judge said down on the pad, very slowly, his elbows at a funny angle because of the cuffs. He asked the judge to repeat the charge. Forgery, multiple counts. His bail was set at a thousand dollars.

Then the judge called Star. She flipped her hair back from her face with a motion of her head, stood up, and sauntered to the podium next to her lawyer, where she took up the pencil and posed dramatically while the judge read her charges, set her bail, and gave her the next court date.

Bail was ten thousand for whatever controlled substance it was, another ten thousand for the weapons, and a mere fifteen hundred for the pot. Where was Star’s dad going to come up with that? If it were up to Cathy, Star would have to stay in jail, because she and Gray didn’t even have fifteen percent of that to give to a bondsman. She felt stunned. Star acted like she didn’t care, but the numbers must have shocked her, too.

Next they called Spike, whose name turned out to be Curtis Andrew Jackson. He got up and swaggered to the podium. What is it with these kids, Cathy wondered. Don’t they know that a judge likes to see contrition, whether you’re guilty or not? He listened, and didn’t write down, when the judge said the exact same things to him as he’d said to Star. Cathy wanted to object that any weapons couldn’t possibly have been Star’s no matter what else was found. But she bit her tongue, something she was doing so much these days she was getting scar tissue.

Cathy had no interest in the rest of the criminals in jumpsuits, so she left the court and went to call Richard, who was just out of the shower. “Working at home, I see,” she greeted him. He grunted in reply, having, she supposed, not had his wake-up pill down long enough for it to have made any difference.

She told him what the bail was. “I don’t suppose,” he said, “that you’ve considered that we might be pouring money down the drain, getting her out of jail.”

“Well, we can’t just leave her in there until her trial. Her next hearing is over a month away.”

“I can too leave her in jail.” Cathy started to object, but he continued. “Just think about it. She can’t go around doing drugs and violating her probation if she’s in jail. And you’ve seen how ungrateful she is whenever we do something for her. I don’t think she’ll realize how serious her position is unless she spends some time in jail.”

“But it’s so cold. And dangerous. And she’ll think we don’t love her. Besides, we’re still responsible for her. We can’t just let her languish in jail.”

“I’m saying we can, and I’m the one with the money to get her out.”

Cathy argued with him about this for awhile, but in the end the only promise she could get out of him was that he wouldn’t let it go on for more than a few days. “This will be the last time I do anything for her.”

“You said that last time.”

“I told her this was coming. Her lifestyle promised this would happen. She should have seen it coming. Now she’ll learn. The hard way.”

She went home and buried her head on Gray’s chest, and cried herself to sleep right there on the front porch glider.

When she got up, she decided she needed to go down to the scene of the crime and see if there was anything she could do. She didn’t really know why she was going, because the place was locked and empty, but she needed to see for herself something of the situation. She hated the sight of the pretentious rooflines and stodgy landscaping of the neighborhood, and it almost gave her a sense of satisfaction to think that the snobby middle-class neighborhood was harboring a drug den.

In the driveway she found a bottle of Star’s hand lotion, and a rumpled picture of Spike smoking a blunt, and picked them up to give to Star whenever she was able to see her again. After leaving a note with her phone number scribbled on it, in case anyone came to the house who could tell her what happened, she pulled out her cellphone to call Gray and get the number of the sheriff’s department. She wanted to get a copy of the police report.

The sheriff told her to call the narcotics division. The narcotics division told her to call the district attorney. The district attorney told her that they wouldn’t have anything on her until after the preliminary hearing, and that she wouldn’t be able to get a copy of it without filing discovery on it, and advised her to get the lawyer to do it.

A call to the jail told her that she couldn’t see her baby until the next day, after orientation. As if she was in college, thought Cathy bitterly. County School For the Criminal Arts.

Then she called a bonding company, to find out if maybe she could get Star out of jail herself. She was describing the circumstances to the woman who answered, and had a strange feeling that it wasn’t news to her. So she asked, “Are you familiar with the case, or is it something that happens all the time?” and to her surprise, the woman said she was Spike’s grandmother, and had noticed Cathy sitting in the courtroom when they were arraigned.

This was a stroke of luck. Cathy finally was in contact with someone who knew a lot more than she did. She wished she’d looked around at the spectators more carefully, because she would have loved to know who she was talking to, but she got a sense of her on the phone. The grandmother was a no-nonsense woman who’d seen it all. After all, she worked as a bail bondsman and dealt with all sorts of people, from desperate criminals to innocents caught up in the system. She sounded as if nothing surprised her.

But she didn’t sound as if she was past anger. “I’m not throwing Spike’s bail,” she said flatly when Cathy asked about getting Star out. “And I’d recommend you just let her sit there, too.” Cathy didn’t get a chance to tell her that Richard was bent on it. “I told that boy a thousand times that this was how he was going to end up. That he had a real future being a bondsman and bounty hunter with me, and he was riding the fence with those drugs. But he wouldn’t listen to me, and now the choice has been made for him. I told him he would come to a bad end.”

Cathy listened to her with growing fear. “Yep, I used to go to that house and chase off the bad guys, whenever I’d find them there. ‘You can’t come round to this house,’ I’d tell them, and ‘don’t come back here if you want to stay out of jail.’ They were afraid of me.”

“Do you know what happened?”

“Yeah, I know.” She sounded bitter. “Four or five of Spike’s customers burst in on them while they were sitting there watching the Nascar race, and tied up everyone with duct tape, and hit Spike with a gun and threatened to kill him. Then they took all his money and his guns and his phones, and left. I got there right after that, and called the police. Spike had a concussion and couldn’t walk. They had a good look around and found all sorts of things they shouldn’t have. And then they wrapped up his head and took him in to the hospital for stitches, and then carted them both off to the county jail.”

Cathy gulped. “Do you think the cops had it in for him because he’s a bounty hunter? He told me once that they didn’t like him because he got scumbags out of jail.”

She laughed dismissively. “Nah, the cops respect us. They know me very well, and they know my grandson, and they like him. Hell, they didn’t charge him with at least three other violations that they could have, one being the pit bull he keeps in the house.”

“Oh.” Cathy was overwhelmed with all the things she hadn’t known, and was almost afraid to ask about any more.

“My boy’s never been in trouble with the law. He just has a few tickets for not wearing his seat belt and speeding, but nothing serious. They’ve got no reason to treat him worse than he deserves. And I’ve been telling him it was going to come to this. I say he deserves it, just for lying to me. He’s been swearing he wasn’t doing no drugs, and lying to me about having his drug friends around there, and I can’t stand a liar.”

Cathy made a note not to tell any fibs to grandma.

“I would do anything for that boy, but he’s been taking advantage of me. I got him a good lawyer, but I’m going to let him rot in jail until his trial, even tho his mama is screaming for me to get him out of there right now. It’ll do him good to leave him in there.”

“Maybe so,” Cathy mused. “Star’s dad and I have decided to do the same thing.”

“I’m just glad he’s not in for homicide,” she continued, and Cathy blanched. “He’s had trouble with this low-life friend before, a year ago or so, when he tried to steal his four-wheeler. And if the cops hadn’t shown up and stopped him, he would have gone after them and shot them all when his head healed up, and I’d be getting him a lawyer on multiple charges of first degree murder.”

Cathy agreed it would have been much worse, but it didn’t really feel like it to her. It didn’t feel like it could get any worse. “What are they looking at as it is?”

“Thirty-six years, if they get the maximum. A year for the marijuana, five years for the cocaine, and five years for each of the guns that they found.”

“Cocaine?” Oh, that controlled substance. “Six guns?”

“That’s not including the ones the robbers took off him,” Grandma said, sounding happy about it.

Cathy pictured an arsenal. “But they won’t get all that when they go to court?”

“Not likely. I’m hoping they throw out the other charges and just give him the misdemeanor marijuana, because I still wanting him helping me with the bounty hunting. He’s real good at that.”

“Yeah. I saw him dressed up once. Very intimidating.”

“He’s taller than most of the criminals we’re trying to apprehend, and that helps a lot.”

“I’ll bet. I hope they tell Star she’s got to go to rehab as part of her sentence.”

“I noticed that she seemed very fond of the cocaine.” Cathy wondered how she could tell, and exactly how familiar she was with her grandson’s drug use.

“It’s your house, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Yes. I’ve given the boy everything, and see how he repays me. He swears on a stack of Bibles that there are no drugs, that he’s leading an upright life, and then he goes and does exactly what he feels like. Drugs, high living, thinking he’s smarter than everyone else.”

“But won’t they confiscate it because they found drugs there?” She was a little fuzzy on the legalities.

“No. I’ve already had a word with the police. I wasn’t on the premises, and won’t be held responsible for what he was doing by himself. I’ve got important contacts in the police department. That won’t be a problem.”

Cathy felt dispirited. She got off the phone and drove slowly home, her head filled with thoughts of just how long thirty-six years was, just how long five years behind bars would be. She thought of that Michelle Pfeiffer movie where she was convicted of murder and spent all of her daughter’s youth behind bars, getting a visit every now and then, growing old in jail.

When she got home, the phone rang. It was Star, calling from jail. She was angry. “Why am I still in here?” she demanded.

Cathy ignored the question. “I’m so glad you called me. I hung up on you by mistake the other day, and I was so afraid you wouldn’t understand and would never want to talk to me again.”

“I talk to Dad every day,” she spat. “Why am I still in jail? Why hasn’t he paid my bail?”

“We don’t have enough money together to get you out right now,” she lied. “We’re working on it, but Dad’s got to cash some investments in.” She figured Star wouldn’t know anything about his finances, but that didn’t prevent her from arguing that they surely could get enough money together to get her out of that place.

“What’s it like there? Are they treating you well?”

“I need you to call Josh, and Stephanie.”

“Honey, I don’t have any of your friends’ numbers. You go to great lengths to see that I don’t.”

Star ignored the criticism. “Write down this number. I think it’s Stephanie’s. I can’t think too clearly in here. The whole block’s been in lockdown because we were talking when we weren’t supposed to, but I just got out by pretending to be one of the other girls. I’m stealing her phone call right now.”

“Are the other girls causing you trouble? Are they beating up on you?” Star made a little whimpering sound and Cathy interpreted it as a yes. They’re fighting with my baby. Cathy had visions of bitch fights in jail, with Star the loser. Of course, as well as she knew Star these days, she could already be queen of the prisoners. “Are you making friends?”

Star gave a baby-like “No.” Cathy was encouraged to try other questions. “Are there any girls from high school in there with you?” Star laughed. It was an ugly laugh. “Are you going to be alright?”

She complained again and again about how horrible it was that she had to be in jail, how she got nothing to eat, and could get no sleep, and how cold she was. She kept wanting to know why she was in there, and Cathy bit her tongue once again to avoid saying it was because she was a cokehead.

Star came up with several more names of people she wanted Cathy to contact, but could remember none of the phone numbers, so Cathy was left at the end of the phone call having a reasonable hope that Star would call her back soon. She hung up, relatively content.

And then she called Richard. “I spoke with Spike’s grandma,” she said. “She says the controlled substance charge is for cocaine.”

“Well, that explains why she has gotten so skinny lately.”

“It does?” Cathy knew nothing about drugs. Coke makes you skinny?

“If it’s coke, then she’s definitely a flight risk.” What would Cathy know about that? “So she’s staying right where she is until the trial.”

Cathy felt worn down, and didn’t argue with him. After a few days of being furious, he might grow tender hearted again. It was his pattern. Cathy had learned to live with it, but it made every night Star spent in jail a sleepless night for her mom.

go to tomorrow’s writing


1 Comment »

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    Pingback by Day Seven « Cathy Eats Her Words — October 12, 2009 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

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