I am the invisible trial participant.
Sit in the corner, mouth shut and ears open. That’s my job.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
I raise my head and hold my breath—along with everyone else in the courtroom.
“How do you find the defendant?”
The verdict. Will my crime be punishable?
I didn’t want to work on this trial. But when my name—Ms. Meredith Monterd—was called, what could I say to get out of it? “Select someone else; I have a conflict because I committed the crime”? Far safer not to admit I knew the parties involved. So I kept my mouth shut and persevered.
But I knew what had really happened. It started almost twenty years ago, when I was a young red-headed widow with a small child and the determination to make do. Found myself a semi-decent job and thought I was on my way. All I lacked was a man. So I went to church and prayed for one.
In church that day was the most gorgeous, charming man imaginable. Woody Scotlock was 6’3, trim but muscular, with movie-star looks and the gait of a stud. It was exciting just to watch him walk. He was one of the most successful businessmen in our small town. He owned two laundromats, plus an old-age home. Educated, too. Still in his thirties and determined one day to run for mayor of Lanobby.
We began to spend time together while working on the church-bell repair committee. How glorious were those meetings, stealing looks at each other as we considered all the bids and regulations while munching on danish and coffee, often late into the evening. I didn’t have to hurry home, because my precious daughter, Grace, then a mere toddler, was in Elroy’s safe hands.
Elroy was a long-time platonic friend who would help me whenever I asked. He first came to my aid when he hired me to work behind the counter of his shoe-repair shop. Elroy’s Cobblery was a small place, and he lived in the tiny room above. Elroy also helped by minding Grace. Could always count on Elroy. He would read to Grace for hours on end. When he saw how much Grace loved books, he built her a child-size bookcase and carved her name into it.
As for Woody, he never had to worry about who was watching his three kids. That’s what his wife was for.
Yes, his wife. Helga the Horrible.
He had explained it to me. If he filed for divorce, she’d get custody of the kids and half of everything. So he was moving assets into his own name first, before he started the divorce proceedings. Then, of course, we would be together forever. I told him I would care for his children as if they were my own, and how honored I would be to give birth to his next child.
It was hard to meet up with Woody without letting his wife or kids or any acquaintances see us. Small town, you know. So I would take my laundry to one of Woody’s laundromats, and time my visits to coincide with his emptying the money from the machines. Most days, though, he was at the rest home, where all his visitors would be noticed. Sometimes we would bump into each other “by accident” at the supermarket. But the safest place to meet was my own apartment. Woody was careful not to be seen by my neighbors. Grace was too young to understand the clandestine nature of his visits; she didn’t know who this strange guy was, so she just called him “Guy.” The name stuck, among ourselves. He even signed an 8-by-10 photo of himself, “To Meredith, with Love, from Guy.” I framed it and kept it on my bedside table.
Ah, private heaven when Woody/Guy and I got together. Yet how miserable the rest of the time, always waiting for Woody’s next visit. But he kept assuring me, if I would just wait, he would soon be free.
A year later when Woody’s wife got pregnant with his fourth child, I started to wonder if he really disliked her as much as he protested. When little Mason was born, Woody explained that the lad’s existence would require him to stay with his wife a little bit longer. In the meantime, though, Woody was glad to keep visiting us and thrilling me with his love.
Stodgy Elroy confronted me soon after. Said he knew all about Woody and me, that my life was my own and it was up to me to choose how to live it, but I should know that Woody was pretty quick to spend time with other women too. I denied everything, said Woody was just a friend, just like Elroy was.
Elroy the Somber almost laughed. “Just like I am?” he asked.
“Yes,” I insisted, an edge in my voice.