By the time they reach closing statements, the courtroom is broiling. The A/C has been out since April. It’s June now in Atlanta. Specter, representing the defendant, is supposed to speak first, but he asks the judge if they can open a few windows. He’s trying to win points with the jury. The prosecutor shakes her head. She has the cruel hair of a minor art critic. The judge nods; a bailiff wrenches open two windows.
Specter glances down at his client. Is the boy even shaving yet? He closes his eyes and a sudden breeze, carried up from the street, brings the scent of frying fat. Specter thinks of himself at that age.
He is in the courtyard of a building on the island of Rhodes, spying on a girl he saw earlier and followed home. The famous light is rinsed in blue. His button-down shirt embarrasses him. Somewhere the turtledoves coo in soft desperation. Specter is beneath her balcony. She is plucking blouses from the laundry line, folding them into neat squares. He can see her feet in loose sandals, her glowing calves. He spoke to her on the plaza. She breathed her breath of figs. Her tongue appeared for a moment and sent him stumbling.
Now he stands in the long angled shadows and stares. The breeze smells of fat roasted over fire. There is a monster inside of him, a shackled brute. In a minute she will slip inside. On the pebbles, in the rinsed blue light. She said her name. Can he live this way? She said her name. She lies on the warm stone of a nearby ruin. She lifts her leg. The fabric falls away; there is no fabric. His impulses mortify him. Her body in the fatted air, her mouth beneath a red scarf. Does everyone stare like this, wretched beneath unmet needs? Soon she will disappear. Her bare feet will disappear.
His central failure is not one of hope but obedience. When he takes a chance, it is the wrong chance. He will (for instance) depart by ship the next day, sneaking aboard without a ticket and awaken, stunned, to the shrieks of Dutch gulls. He will spend the next night alone, in an abandoned bar on the beach. Though he has the money to return, to eat, he will go hungry.
Back in the courtroom, the judge waits for Specter to speak. The figure to his right, his client, is in manacles. He can move, but only a little. Specter doesn’t understand why everyone is so quiet. The room smells of furniture polish now. He sees her skirt floating up lazily with the breeze. He has never felt this way before. He is a grown man with plaques, a solid history. A wife, two plump sons. Nobody would dare call his life a sentence. He looks up to find the judge. The balcony stands empty. The tops of the trees fall silent. He knows what he should not. The turtledoves are dying. The turtledoves are dead.
Steve Almond is the author, among other works, of This Won't Take But a Minute, Honey.