The following excerpt is from the novel Inside V by Paula Priamos, printed with permission from Rare Bird Lit:
Chapter One: Color Scheme
Such a tranquil shade is risky. To some on the jury, any range of blue might appear too cool, too emotionally removed. A tie, a simple strip of fabric, should never carry so much weight. As a former public defender, I know this and maybe a part of me wants jurors to know this, too. The rest of what my husband will be wearing today—a white button down shirt and a charcoal gray suit—lie out on our bed like missing parts of a man I used to know.
Beside the blue tie there is the brick red one to consider. Red is a red flag no matter which hue—he is too Republican, too much of the stereotype of a white rich guy. As an investment banker it would mean two strikes against him even though it’s his clients’ money he invests, hardly ever his own. And Grant and I are both registered Independents.
Or more obviously, red reminds people of lust which is the last feeling my husband, given his circumstances, should be reminding anyone of.
I hear him in the shower washing off, washing her off, a seventeen-year-old Latina girl he is accused of sexually assaulting. There is no getting rid of her, not with soap or a sandblaster. My husband is on trial in a Los Angeles courtroom for statutory rape. The trial has been fast tracked in less than seven months because Grant is anxious to clear his name. He wants us to reclaim the marriage we once had before I got the call the night of his arrest.
The time had been 8:13 p.m.
On the hardwood floor in the family room, I paced heavily and loudly in sky-high wedges as if I’d just been weighted down by bricks. I asked the stranger on the other end of the line, a female staff member of my husband’s newly hired legal team, to repeat the charges. Every time she tried to get out the words, I kept interrupting, because although I’d asked I really couldn’t bear to hear them again, the unspeakable sex charges, all felonies. “You’re sure this isn’t some kind of mistake? I mean he…he wouldn’t do this.” Irrationally I wished I was right, that she’d called the wrong house and my husband would walk through the front door, a little East Coast rushed like the native he is, his suit barely wrinkled and his tie torn loose around his neck, half assembled, the way he moves around all morning before he leaves for work. He’d give me a slow kiss before jokingly informing me he had the car still running as if I was the one who’d made us late for our Friday night dinner reservation. We’d laugh about the call on the ride to the restaurant how one unlucky son of a bitch had a lot of explaining to do with his wife.
The irony was not lost on me. I was wearing skinny jeans, a sweater, and the wedges. While Grant was allegedly forcing the clothes off a seventeen-year-old girl, I was here at home dressing up for him, putting on his favorite outfit. Our usual Friday date night had turned into a nightmare I have yet to wake up from. Someone had decided that the news of Grant’s arrest would be easier coming from another woman instead of my own husband. Only a coward would deny his wife the right to hang up on him.
Grant and I had had dinner reservations for eight thirty at Westley’s, a pricey new steakhouse located down the street atop the second story of a strip mall. The place touted sawdust on the floors, mason jars for glasses, and imitation log walls.
“Seriously?” I’d said when my husband had suggested we eat there. “Westley’s?”
“Yeah,” Grant laughed in that hearty, chest-deep way that sounded fake, only it wasn’t. “What’s the matter with Westley’s?”
“The name makes me think of some pale-faced pervert coming out of a sex shop with his pants down.” My own punch line is no longer so funny now that my husband is accused of something far worse than indecent exposure. I wonder if Grant stands under that beating hard water and regrets letting the girl take a seat across from him in the booth at Monty’s Restaurant and Bar on Wilshire Boulevard that late afternoon. Over and over again, he’s told me that nothing more than a drink passed between them, and I want to believe him. Sometimes I even convince myself that I do.
“I love you, V,” he says. V is the nickname he’s come up with for me instead of calling me by my first name, Ava. He touches my face gently, though his jaw is clenched, upset that his words aren’t getting through to me. “I would never cheat on you. It’s you I see when I close my eyes when we’re fucking. You are my fantasy.”
Before the trial, before all those months leading up to it, before the phone call that informed me of the charges, Grant and I were all over each other inside this house. We weren’t that married couple who made love only on weekends on the matrimonial bed. We were a married couple who loved each other but also still fucked each other at random hours of the day. Grant might catch me off guard in the kitchen waiting for coffee to brew or playfully feel up my tank while I was trying to scramble eggs.
Sometimes we wound up both calling in late for work in order to properly finish what he’d started. Neither one of us ever left the bed without the other climaxing. We never parted between our cars warming in the driveway without kissing, without saying we loved one another.
Now our physical contact is reduced to public handholding that starts from the outside of the car in the parking structure of the courthouse through the ride up the elevator to the third floor, in case a juror happens to spot us. Grant doesn’t push for more. He understands he’s asked too much of me already. And now I’ve been asked by his lawyer, Reynolds Wilson, an overpaid shyster with two last names, to select Grant’s outfit today of all days when the Latina Girl is the next witness to testify for the prosecution. My husband’s victim if you are to believe the charges. If he’s found guilty he could serve a year in prison and be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
The betrayal feels nothing short of a dizzying blow to the back of the head because I never saw it coming. Everyone assumes I am the injured, devastated wife. But it is only the role I’m playing for the jury. Some might say, like mother like daughter,that I am only waiting for the right time to violently get even with my husband. They would be wrong, of course. I’m nothing like the hot-blooded, homicidal Greek woman who knew no other means but a bullet in his back to stop my father from walking out on her. I was twelve when I watched it happen. She used his own gun. My father was a cop, but now he’s in a wheelchair.
I hear the shower water turn off as I head back to my husband’s dresser drawer where the rest of his ties are laid out in neat rows like a table display you’d find in a department store. Grant is a man of meticulous order, which is why this mess of things he’s made with the Latina Girl is unlike him. It isn’t him, not even with the prosecutor continuously throwing hard liquor in the mix.
In exchange for the blue and red ties I select a paisley one Grant never wears, a gift from my father or his. Such a hideous pattern might distract the jurors from the ugly truth that a man as handsome as my husband is accustomed to getting away with anything.
Paula Priamos was born and raised in Southern California by her late larger-than-life Greek defense attorney father with whom she decided to stay with after her parents divorced and her mother and siblings moved to the South. She is married and lives in the San Bernardino Mountains with her husband. She is the author of The Shyster’s Daughter: a Memoir and the novel Inside V.
Image: Flickr / Nate