by Lydia D Crouch
Amelie stood in the spacious courtroom. The flags, the guards, the very railings that separated those on trial from the judge spoke of countless lives who had stood exactly where she stood, legs trembling, awaiting the judge’s ruling, the definition of the rest of their lives hanging in the balance. She wore her best wool suit. It was Irish wool with brown leather buttons. She secretly wondered if she would be able to keep it if she were to be sentenced for some crime she didn’t know she had even committed. The tapered waistline and double breasted seams that modestly hugged her form could not seem to contain the anxiousness she felt as she faced the angry lawyer. She was slightly above medium height for a young woman in the 1930’s. Across the aisle was a lawyer. She immediately knew she never wanted to be in a room alone with him.
And suddenly, the judges words were spoken. It was all so surreal, Amelie could not even process what had just happened to her.
Dazed, she looked at the lawyer. She tried to put it into a thought. What was it she felt. He was now yelling, and it was frightening, but as she looked, really looked at him, well n was just small and sleezy.
She looked around the courtroom trying to focus on the dark, thick finish of the ornate woodwork. And even though the case was concluded, the judge remained on his dais. He took his glasses off and observed the scenario she became the unwilling focus of. She looked at the judge’s robe, the way he held his glasses half folded in one hand. She saw the wrinkles on his face that gave him an air of wisdom and sharp wit.
She looked at how the light streamed through the two story windows that ran down both sides of the courtroom.
She looked at anything to avoid looking down on the angry lawyer’s greasy black hair, shiny green suit and horribly matched tie that was tied in a too-thick knot at his throat. The tie seemed to accentuate the bulging blood vessels as he yelled louder and louder getting so close, he was practically under her nose.
“THIS ISN’T OVER! You did nothing to earn the Dodson inheritance. You didn’t serve Mrs. Dodson’s causes. You have not made a name for yourself in this community. You were never even in her employ!”
On and on he railed and she knew that every accusation she railed was true.
She had never know Mrs. Dodson and was possibly in greater shock than anyone in the community. Why the whole estate of the most prominent citizen should be left to her as an inheritance was something she could make no sense of. She knew of no family relations, no connections. She could not even figure out how Mrs. Dodson even knew who she was. To her knowledge, they had never has a personal conversation.
Of course, Madeline knew who Mrs. Dodson was. Everyone in town knew who she was. So many things in the community were direct gifts of her generosity. The thankful community had named parks, trails, the community center, streets and even benches after her.
The judge had assured her there would be letters in the house explaining some of it to her, but that she would come to understand more by and by as she had complete access and encouragement to research family albums, letters, anything she chose to be curious about.
The judge had assured Madeline that the will was incontestable. He had also firmly reminded “The weasel” - as she now considered the opposing lawyer - that she was not under trial. Neither her character nor her actions had any bearing on her inheritance. The judge had simply read the will stating that the entire estate was hers; the grounds, the home, it’s contents, the vehicles, the staff. Madeline was by no means wealthy and wanted to refuse the offer out of sheer fear that a) she thought there must be some mistake b) she had done nothing to deserve it c) she had no bloodlines that she knew of that would connect her to the inheritance and d) on her modest salary at the community center she could hardly meet her modest rent, much less pay a staff or fund all the expenses needed to run an estate. The judge had assured her that there would be unlimited funds to draw from and that this would be the least of her concerns. Was he amused when he had said that last part? His face was stoic, but his eyes seemed to smile while the rest of his face remained neutral.
The weasel almost blew a gasket at that point and railed his objections. The judge merely looked down over his glasses and reminded him that Madeline was not on trial and, as The Weasel had read for himself, the will was incontestable.
All this replayed in Madeline’s mind as she stood there behind the wooden rail, suddenly wealthier than anyone she had ever known or even read about. The judge called her up to the bench and handed her the papers, and the most beautiful set of keys she had ever seen. He told her a limousine was waiting for her at the front entrance and that an escort was waiting for her just outside the courtroom. She was free to go into her new destiny.
As she walked outside, she was surrounded by cameras flashing and press members shouting questions. She looked at the hazy blue sky, the cottony clouds, the park with its massive oak trees. They seemed to be the only things that hadn’t changed since she had walked into the courtroom, trembling and wondering what she had done wrong only to find herself blessed beyond her wildest dreams.
And above all the noise, The Weasel kept screaming and stirring up doubt as to her identity and her rights to the estate.
Madeline felt confused. She’d rather not even get into the sleek long vehicle if it was all a mistake.
She looked down at her chocolate brown, polished pumps and turned on her heels and strode purposefully back into the courtroom. Later, she would wonder why the judge had remained there as if waiting for her. She held the keys up to the judge and said, “Sir, I though you said these were mine.”
“Yes. I did.”
“I thought you said that this was not contestable and that I’m not on trial?”
He waited in affirmation.
“Then why is that lawyer still accusing me?”
A beam of light shone in through the windows and highlighted his golden white hair, his broad shoulders, the gold rims of his glasses as he waited for her to calm her nerve enough to really digest what he was about to say. She took a deep breath and exhaled in resolve to be completely settled in whatever he would say.
Satisfied with what he saw, the judge responded with calm authority, but also kindness. “He’s very smart, that one. He knows that he has no power to change the ruling. But he also knows that if he can make you believe it’s not yours and keep you from living in your inheritance to the full, never using those keys in your hand to unlock it all… well, then.. he wins.”
She understood. They made eye contact and what she saw in his eyes gave her permission, and courage, and even determination. She smiled then stood taller. Was he proud of her? Somehow she knew he was.
Madeline walked with humble yet confident strides through the courtroom doors. The Weasel tried to impede her progress with his accusations. She didn’t even glance his direction, but when her back was to him as she passed him and reached the limousine, simply held up the keys over her shoulder and then accepted her destiny by getting into the vehicle that would transport her to her totally new life. It was done.
©2021 Lydia D Crouch