matter what else anyone knows about Jolene Fields -- her red hair that spirals
from a heart-shaped head, her lust for eating chocolate and pizza, her lesbianism
-- once someone learns about her brother, everything else is eclipsed. Her brother
has the power to define her, just as it was when they were younger, living in
the Okeechobee scrub, their mother working in a resort for retirees and their
father long gone. Even now that Jolene is also long gone, gone north like the
rumors of her father. Long gone to college and then going on for another degree;
long gone until she found herself standing in the hallway of an apartment house
holding a letter saying that she had passed the bar and a few days later standing
in that same hallway holding a telephone receiver listening to a job offer. Long
gone into a life as the Director of the Criminal Defense Resource Center, her
voice calming criminal defense attorneys all over the Empire State from her little
office in Albany for more than ten years. |
The job is perfect for Jolene. Her favorite part of law school was the research; her least favorite part was the mock trial during which her pantyhose clung to her thighs and she stuttered in front of the retired judge. She loved Criminal Procedure and Evidence; she hated Wills, Trusts, and Commercial Paper. She often feels amazed at the privilege of being able to "do" criminal defense work and never walk into a courtroom.
"Jo," some criminal defense attorney in Buffalo or Brooklyn, in Rochester or Syracuse, in Columbia county or Manhattan, will sigh when he or she hears Jolene's voice on the other end of the line. "I'm in trial," the attorney will explain. "I need it quick," the attorney will whine. If Jolene doesn't already know the answer to the question, she can get it before the ten minute recess is over. Jolene, with her memory for case names and citations and modifications on appeal, with her ability to translate a hunch into a query to be fed to a hungry legal database, with her no bullshit answers, is well regarded. She's a "state treasure," a "lawyer's lawyer," or that's what the presenter of her award at the Criminal Defenders' Association annual meeting had said, the year before last.
And everyone clapped. Her colleagues, who she suspected actually thought less of her because she did not fight in those trenches known as courtrooms, all applauded. Over the years, she had saved each of them from the wrath of some former-prosecutor now-judge at least once. Not only that, she wrote many of their appellate briefs, especially the winning ones.
Sure, a few of the applauding attorneys, all of them men, had been a bit disappointed when they actually saw Jolene walk up to the stage to retrieve her award and smile at the organization president. Yes, a few of the men had imagined that she would be silky somehow, or at least wearing a silky dress in mauve or burgundy, something that matched their vision of her voice. They never pictured her with her feral red hair, or dressed in a pair of black jeans and a black turtleneck and a blazer. Though a few of the women, quite a few of them, found Jo's voice even more comforting and commanding after they saw her. And as unprofessional as it was, a few of them managed to telephone her when they happened to be in Albany, just for a cup of coffee or dinner, and if something else developed, well, that would be fine too.
It was more often than not that something else developed. The women who had seen her receive the Criminal Defenders' Association award and taking a chance had called her, gradually gained membership in a very unofficial organization which might have been called the Jolene occasional appreciation club. For almost as many years as Jolene had been at her job, Jolene had been joining visiting women attorneys in their rooms at the Omni Hotel of Albany, where she ordered chocolates and pizza from room service and let women loose their fingers in her hair. She was generally judged a considerate lover, if a bit over-athletic for a few of the downstate attorneys. She possessed a wide range of attractions, liking all sorts of women. She had no preferences for certain color eyes or hair, for a particular shape of breast or hip, for a race or nationality. She did not even prefer attorneys, although she liked to joke she met most women "at the bar," which included the queer bar as well as the profession. But mostly Jolene stayed clear of the queer bar. Not because it was rowdy or because she was getting to be a good deal older than most of the other patrons, although both of these things were true. But because the women who patronized the local bar tended to be, well, local. Women who had no reason to stay at the Omni Hotel; women who might invite her to dinner at their apartments; women who she could see leaning out their car windows, waving a greeting, while Jolene was walking into her office building, or a grocery store, or even the Omni.
Another of Jolene's jokes, recounted to women who often failed to appreciate the humor, was that what was wrong with women was that they didn't appreciate the limits of intimacy. Laughing and futilely smoothing a ringlet of her almost-maroon hair, Jolene resorted to such quips at her first sniff that words like "love," "relationship," or "commitment" threatened to perfume the air. Jolene did not enjoy being crude (although she reassured herself that she was being subtle), but what she had always hated about women, and hated still, was the way in which they equated intimacy with details, almost as if women believed that knowing the brand of peanut butter she used, or the color of her socks, or the date of her birth, or the name of her first lover and how they met, could be accreted into a foothold into her soul. And when she was stingy with details, answering even direct questions with a shrug or a joking retort, some women persisted, accusing her of being withdrawn or uncaring or the most accursed of curses -- of being just like a man.
Though even the most confrontational and complaining women, once they learned about Jolene's brother, softened. For these women then thought they knew why Jolene had been guarded with them. It wasn't privacy or boredom or perversity. It wasn't insulting. It was that Jo had something worth hiding.
And not just her brother, her twin brother.
Her twin brother is Jefferson Fields.
Jefferson and Jolene. Jolene and Jefferson. She was called Joey and he was called Sonny. They toddled together and giggled together and played strange games while their mother waited for their father to come home. Or at least they must have. Jolene swears she doesn't remember a minute of it. Doesn't recall their older sister Pamela being killed by a drunk driver or their younger sister Annette being born. Doesn't remember the hot flat days or the nights close with palmetto bug wings. Doesn't know whether Sonny was the kind of kid who tore the legs from lizards like some people would later testify or whether he was an asset to the track team as the coach would say under oath.
Jolene has been assisting on a case lately about a man convicted in Schenectady for child molestation. She is writing the memorandum of law supporting the defense attorney's motion for new trial based on the admission of the man's confession, detailing certain acts with his nine year old daughter. The man has also "confessed" to murdering his therapist, a psychologist who remains very much alive and continuing her lucrative practice in Schenectady. But after an especially intense session in which the therapist said something like "It would be understandable if you wanted me dead," the man insisted that he had pummeled his therapist with a claw hammer.
Jolene has been researching what is called memory enhancement. The psychological experiments in which the subject (Jo loves it when the person is referred to as a subject) is coached to imagine something and then later remembers the imagining as a memory. As the defense theory goes, the man in Schenectady was seeing a therapist about his guilt feelings for not protecting his daughter and somehow he got twisted into his confession about the child molestation; the same way the man got twisted into his confession about the "murder" of the therapist. The judge, a former prosecutor, is predictably quite skeptical.
Though Jo is not. It makes perfect sense to her. That memory is invented, induced, enhanced, whatever one wants to call it. Which is why she doesn't trust the only three things she remembers about Sonny.
First, there is the time she and Sonny were swimming and they saw what was an alligator --- or a log, who could tell? --- and Sonny screamed and she put her arm around his neck and "lifesaved" him to the sandy shore of the swimming hole. Her long red hair splayed itself around her neck like an electrician's assortment of copper wires, drying there, while Sonny's head rested against her throat until he finally stopped whimpering.
Her second memory is more about their mother than Sonny, but Sonny's quick breath was slapping her hair as they both listened to Mrs. Van Doren telling Ma that the reason that Joey could run faster and climb higher than Sonny was probably because Joey was supposed to be a boy. But, according to Mrs. Van Doren, while the twins were "floating around in the womb," Sonny had broken off a piece of Joey's "not even born yet chromosome" ("them things are pretty frail, then," Mrs. Van Doren spoke knowingly) and so Joey had become a girl by accident. And Joey was just about to laugh when she heard her mother say, "I guess you're right, Madge," to Mrs. Van Doren and Joey didn't want to laugh anymore, but wanted to go slap Mrs. Van Doren right across the face.
In Jolene's third memory of Sonny, they are no longer children. It is the most recent and the most dubious. Though it is true that Sonny came to visit her when she was in college. It was winter, she knows that, though whether Sonny really bought a leather coat at a second hand shop is harder to determine. Just as she can't figure out whether he really crawled in bed beside her and put that heavy calfskin coat over them both and his fingers in her hair and breathed on her neck for the long long hours until dawn. Whether he said the things she thinks he said, things about the swimming hole and the alligator and her being his lost twin and how sorry he is that he broke her chromosome because all he ever wanted was a brother and what he got was a house full of silly sisters and how their fucking father left them when the moon was full and the bank account empty and how he can recall every single terrible moment of the ugliness of their childhood and how can she just go on as if none of it ever happened when it did, it all did. And Jolene thinks that Sonny was sobbing then, as if he possessed the most horrible hurt in the universe, as if he had irrevocably lost the struggle for happiness. She kept her bones as rigid as she could because they were her fortress, protecting her heart deep in the tower of her body and keeping him far outside the moat of her skin. That's how she remembers thinking of it. Or thinks she remembers.
Because didn't Kate tell her about this? Not only about that cold night at college with the calfskin coat, but also the broken chromosome and her saving Sonny from the alligator. Yes, wasn't it Kate?
Kate, a criminal defense attorney.
But not one of Jolene's attorneys.
One of Sonny's attorneys.
The one who is going around the country, appearing on television and everything, talking about Sonny.
The one who keeps flying up from Florida to Albany to see Jolene, though Jolene always tells her that she's busy. Kate always stays at the Omni and Jolene never visits her there. Though Kate manages to find Jolene. Once even in the Omni lobby with Belinda from Rochester, as Jolene and Belinda were going to Belinda's room and planning to order a pizza from room service. More often at Jolene's office, where Kate talks to everyone she manages to introduce herself to, which is everyone she sees.
Which is how most people know what they think they know about Jolene. The way they describe her in a whisper to each other and the way they each think of her. Jolene Fields: Director of the Criminal Defense Resource Center whose twin brother is a convicted sexual serial murderer on death row.
Jolene's red hair, her excellent memory, her passion for chocolate, her lesbianism, all become negligible. Irrelevant. Forgettable and forgotten.
The details might be resurrected as intriguing -- titillating, really -- if one ever heard from Kate the details of Jo's brother's crimes. His alleged victims were all redheads. Found strangled, their naked bodies smeared with cheap chocolates in the apartments they shared with their female roommates. Not one of the victims was an attorney, although one was a law student.
But most people do not learn these details. Kate does not divulge them, not from any deference toward Jolene, but simply because these are not the details that Kate marshals in her defense of Sonny. The world erupts with infinite details, each sparking for its moment of attention. And the fact that Jolene Fields, Director of the New York Criminal Defense Resource Center, has a brother on death row, seems detail enough. Why dig any further into the rubble?
And for those who do want more particulars, what they seem to want to know is which came first. Just as people would ask her mother which twin was born first, the girl or the boy. Now they want to know whether the brother got convicted and then his sister went to law school, or vice-versa. People generally prefer the first explanation, it seems tidier. Just as people assumed that the boy baby was the first out of their mother's womb.
People like order, mistaking sequence for causation. That's what Jolene thinks about it. That's what she's always thought about it, at least as far back as she can recall. And she's been thinking about it more than she has for a long time, probably since the last time she decided it was time to become long gone. Though this time, it's a little more involved. She has a career to quit.
Her resignation requires an explanation. Belinda from Rochester and the other women are asking for one. They are asking her why she is leaving her job as Director of the Criminal Defense Resource Center; why she won't be available at the other end of the telephone line for recess questions; why she won't be writing next year's winning appellate briefs. They are also asking, implicitly but equally urgently, why she won't be available for those occasional and passionate nights at the Omni Hotel.
It is not as if Belinda and the other women had not each themselves thought -- had not dreamed, planned, and talked -- about doing the same thing Jolene says she is doing. About giving up a job they had once wanted and which has become their only chance at celebrity. About moving somewhere made important by virtue of being "away." To say goodbye to Jolene, instead of vice-versa.
And it is not as if Belinda and the other women think Jolene's decision is irrational. The job is stressful. The winters are harsh. She has no real relationship. But these things are not different from what they have ever been. These things have been true for as long as they have known Jolene. The only thing that is different is that Jolene says she is leaving.
But the fact that each of them had considered leaving, or that leaving seemed a rational choice, does not blunt the demand of Belinda and the other women for some sort of explanation from Jolene. It may even operate to the contrary. Perhaps the fact that Belinda had herself often thought of leaving her criminal defense practice in Rochester (maybe for Majorca, she had mused) made Belinda even more desperate for Jolene's explanation. Perhaps the judgment that Jolene is simply being sensible made the other women even more anxious, because that might mean that Jolene hadn't been sensible before, or that they were not being sensible now.
Jolene, hearing the craving that was not adequately masked by Belinda's polite inquiries, listening to the need in the voices of the other women, struggled to provide a suitable story. Jolene is not a cruel woman. And now that she thinks she is leaving Belinda and the other women, believes she will never spread her hair against their thighs framed by the bright white sheets of the Omni Hotel in Albany, Jolene wants to please them, one last time.
Jolene's efforts produce three possible reasons, which she outlines for herself as if she is constructing the arguments on appeal.
First, there is Kate.
As Kate is telling everybody, Kate is a woman in love.
It happens more often than Jolene would have thought, though everyone who has been in the business for more than a year or two has seen it. It seems to happen most often with female attorneys. An argument for not having women attorneys, Jolene knows. Once she would have had her counter-argument, pointing out the assumption of heterosexuality, but then she'd heard about that dyke attorney in Ohio who had fallen for one of her clients. And fallen hard. Gave up her lover and her career to devote all her energies to getting this triple-murderer a new trial or clemency or something.
And it had happened to Kate.
Kate is in love with Sonny, who she usually calls Jefferson or even Mr. Fields, and is, of course, absolutely convinced of his innocence. Kate will appear on any television, radio, or on-line program that will have her, declaring her love and Sonny's virtue in the same breath, as if they were two sides of the most obvious equation. Kate says she is going to marry Sonny. There is a delay in getting the Department of Corrections permission, but the real delay seems to be Kate's negotiations with a television "newsmagazine" that might be willing to broadcast a live segment of the ceremony.
The second reason is New York.
After more years than anyone can recall, the New York Legislature passed a capital punishment statute and district attorneys are beginning to seek the death penalty for defendants. Soon --- Jolene can smell it the way she could always smell a hurricane coming across Lake Okeechobee -- attorneys will be telephoning her with questions about challenges to prospective jurors who have expressed some hesitancy about capital punishment, questions about aggravating and mitigating circumstances, questions about the standards on a petition for a stay of execution. Jolene doesn't know that law, doesn't know those cases.
And doesn't want to know them.
Third and last is Sonny. Though first and second is also Sonny, Jolene would admit. But third and last is really Sonny. Jefferson Fields, inmate on Florida's death row, is running out of appeals. The Governor keeps signing death warrants with Sonny's name. And just about everybody who has been on death row longer than Sonny has been executed. Most of the people who think about these things think that Sonny is next.
Sonny is also thinking he is next. Or if not next, soon. And he's been making plans. Plans that include who he would like to witness the execution on his behalf. Witnesses who sit behind a glass partition, looking at the inmate being strapped into Florida's electric chair, known as Old Sparky, and watching the hood being placed over the inmate's head and seeing the switch being pulled. If everything goes well, the inmate stiffens, then slumps, dead. When things don't go so well, the electric current needs to be sent a few times, the body being jerked around for several minutes until death arrives. Or there is some sort of shortage and the inmate's mask catches on fire. The witnesses can't prevent any of this; they can only witness it. Witness it when it is happening and then later to reporters and then every night for the rest of their lives.
Kate, as Sonny's attorney and perhaps his wife by then, will be there. And he has asked his sister, Jolene. She is, after all, a rather obvious choice, the inmate's twin sister, a criminal defense lawyer in New York. Though in his letter asking her to be a witness, Sonny doesn't mention her professional status. He writes about how she saved his life from the alligator, how he's sorry he broke her chromosome, and how he never ever wanted to hurt her, not even during that night, in bed together with a leather coat he got her, in her apartment when she was in college and her skin smelled like chocolate.
Jolene rips up the letter.
Jolene never shares this third reason with Belinda or the other women. And she never mentions her first reason, Kate, although Belinda does remember Kate from the Omni lobby. No, armed with her three possibilities, Jolene always chooses the second. The state of the law in New York. She lets her proffered rationale hang in the air. Let the listeners make the connection to Sonny, as they eventually will do.
Jolene is using her brother and she knows it.
Because Jolene also knows that none of her three reasons is true. Each of her three reasons is simply an argument. And she can refute each of them. Kate is a nuisance but harmless, without a real effect on Jolene.
New York's implementation of capital punishment will be an intellectually challenging area of the law if she chooses to learn it, but as the Director of the Resource Center, she can easily avoid it by assigning it to someone else in the office.
Sonny can be refused; not even replied to. What is he going to do, turn up at her door this winter, wearing a leather jacket?
It could be that simple.
But Jolene wants it even simpler.
As simple as forgetting she was ever his sister.
Jolene wants to walk into a bar --- one that sells liquor --- and be identified as the woman with the wild red helixes of hair twisting from her heart shaped face. To become known, gradually and delicately, for a certain style of athletic passion and an endearing emotional reticence. Until her reputation spreads into tales of chocolate and pizza --- and not a breath farther.
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