about the author

Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.

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What Color the Bruise  

Gay Degani

Anny sees the courtroom in shades of gray. Each jury member is an angry stroke of charcoal—vertical slashes, leaning left, leaning right—like pencils in a cup. The judge is honed in steel, the lawyers, gun metal. Her mother is iron and her brother, Bobby, the accused, is toxic lead, his too-red lips the only blot of color.

She needs this distraction, this blurring of eyes, some filter through which she witnesses a world pressing her to dust. If she were home, she would be in her room with the door closed, sitting in the middle of her bed, head bent over her pad of paper drawing shelter dogs from the Internet with chalk pastels, blue, pink, yellow. Instead, she’s here, a twelve-year-old child, in this courtroom, witness to a crime.

* * *

Trudging down the sidewalk, blinking against a burnt orange sun, Anny ran her fingers along the school’s chain-link fence, her mouth tight with worry. Bobby sometimes refused to come when she was sent to fetch him home, even if she begged, and her mother blamed her, not her brother.

The playground was eerily quiet. At first, she didn’t see him, didn’t see anyone. She crept across the asphalt, looking left and right, until she got to the black gum tree by the restrooms. She’d drawn that tree in Picasso blues and pinks and won a prize at the Spring Art and Science Fair. Anny felt a surge of pleasure until she spotted Bobby, barely visible in the shadow of the brick school building, kicking something on the ground. Someone’s backpack? She edged closer. Was it a person, a kid? A body? Her stomach lurched, and she rubbed her ribs where he’d jabbed her that morning with a fork and an image swirled into her mind of Bobby on top of that kid pounding, pounding, pounding.

Anny backed away before her brother spied her, then turned and ran. Around the corner, she careened into the school janitor. He took her by the shoulders and asked her what was wrong. She told him, and he ordered her to stay by his cart while he had a look.

She shivered and paced, the sky turning black around her, then followed the man to where her brother had been. A flood light snapped on and Anny saw the janitor kneeling on the ground, his ear against the boy’s chest, Bobby nowhere in sight.

* * *

Amid the shuffles and whispers of the crowd, her mother leaves the courtroom. Anny stays seated, staring at her hands, a stain of hot pink pastel under her middle fingernail.

She learned early to watch for the sneer on Bobby’s girlish red lips, to expect the pinch, the punch, the shove, the mock. He’s snapped her crayons, her charcoal pencils, crushed her chalk pastels. Once he broke her thumb. When she told her mother, the answer she got was, “You’ve always been a clumsy girl.”

The bailiff stands next to her, whispers, “Everyone’s gone. I have to lock the doors.” She swipes her eyes and without looking up, scurries into the hallway, brushes along the hard granite wall to the restroom. She ducks into the first stall, sits on the toilet tank, her feet on the front of the seat. She lets the tears flow, buries her face in her jeans.

* * *

Her mother sat at the kitchen table sobbing for days after Bobby was denied bail. The girl hid in her room on the floor behind her bed, drawing abstracts in red and brown and black. This went on for weeks.

Anny began to doubt. She’d been so sure she’d told the truth about what she saw, thought she saw, but when she took the stand, she admitted she’d been wrong, that she knew her brother didn’t do it, couldn’t have done it. She’d seen nothing more than him standing empty-handed over the body of that boy, a stranger to them both.

* * *

As shadows deepen, Anny climbs down from her porcelain seat. Wipes her eyes with toilet paper, blows her nose. There is nothing more she can do. Her fate is in the hands of the jury. Will the jury believe her and set him free? If he gets off, what will Bobby do to her? She can imagine the blows—it will be blows this time—and the bruises: black, blue, purple, yellow. Maybe then, her mother will finally believe her.

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