Three Stories

He shoves through the doors at the back of the courtroom. In the hallway, he pulls a cell phone out of his hip pocket and calls his parents—first his mother, then his father— to say that the verdict went against him. (He says, “I love you, stay strong,” at the end of her call, then turns indignant, almost belligerent, when he makes the second.)

His girlfriend has followed him out into the hall. They don’t have to speak; they both know the drill. The calls are quick. When he hangs up, she takes the phone, his blazer, and, as he loosens and slips it over his head, the tie. He unbuttons the dress shirt, pulls it free, and hands that to her, as well, until he is standing in slacks and a plain white cotton undershirt.

Automatically, he turns around and puts his hands behind his back for the guard. The older man keeps his voice low. He says, “It’s okay—I can do that inside.”

His girlfriend follows them back into the courtroom and emerges a few minutes later alone. She is sniffling, trying to hold it in, trying to get into the elevator and out of the building before it happens.

That morning, arriving at her stop, she saw the northbound light rail on the other side of the tracks, unmoving. It was paused with its hazard lights on—a revelation— but the car she had just departed closed its doors again and continued into the distance. They were opposites in every way.

An ambulance arrived. It stopped in the lane next to the light rail, forcing the traffic to flow around it, and two men emerged with a stretcher. A fire truck arrived—lights, siren, a scream in the cold morning air on the way toward the courthouse.

Perhaps, in retrospect, it was an omen. She sits outside the superior court and sobs into a handful of napkins from the man with the sandwich cart at the end of the first-floor hallway. When she’s gotten it out of her system, she throws the wads of saturated paper into the trash. She wants to go to the bathroom to wash her face, but it’s too much trouble to stand in line and go back in past the metal detectors and the guards. Instead, she heads back down the sidewalk toward the light rail.

As she walks, she’s trying not to think about what she’s going to do now. From the county courthouse down the street, three people emerge, all holding hands—on one end a young groom, in the middle a little boy (also in a suit), and then a bride in a simple white dress, with a rhinestone headband holding back her hair, holding a bouquet of calla lilies in her free hand.

A second woman is walking ahead of them, and she stops in the middle of the sidewalk to turn back and photograph them as they walk toward her. The photographer has her back toward our girlfriend, who stops walking to keep from ruining the photo.

The traffic has stopped for a red light up ahead, and a man in a U-Haul truck honks— two short little beeps—and calls out to the couple. The girlfriend is unable to hear his exact words, but the groom looks both embarrassed and happy and says, “Thanks,” and before the traffic starts moving again the bride says thank you to the girlfriend, for waiting for them, for pausing as they take the photograph—and she says, “You’re welcome! Congratulations!”—and for a minute she is part of this happier story and she is happy, too.

Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books. Her fifth chapbook is Orchard City, a collection of short fiction published by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2017. Browning’s fiction and poetry have appeared in journals such as Watershed Review and Coldnoon and anthologies including Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence and, owing to her mild obsession with miniatures, The Doll Collection. She is originally from New Mexico and currently lives in California. www.leahbrowning.com