Story telling from Australia
Jury service has been on my bucket list for a frustratingly long time. Younger friends summoned two or three times have declined, with perfectly legitimate reasons. I would gladly have taken their places.
“You have been randomly selected to attend for jury duty. You are required to attend the Supreme Court on Thursday 13 August.”
You know that tingling feeling you get when a hairdresser massages your scalp? That’s what I felt when I read the summons. Harry Potter couldn’t have been more pleased when his letter from Hogwarts arrived.
My productivity shot up. Garden beds were cleared of fallen leaves, roses pruned, weeds eradicated and wheelbarrows of cow manure, mushroom compost and topsoil were forked into the ground in preparation for a potentially long absence.
I dashed off scene outlines for the adult fiction novel I’m working on and revised several chapters of a children’s book, which may yet find a publisher if it spends long enough out of the bottom drawer for sunlight and a radical re-write to kill the mouldy spots.
The trial was slated to last four weeks, a perfect fit between now and several speaking engagements in September.
I planned what to wear. Nothing too bland that’s for sure; middle-aged women are perceived as deeply conservative and since I’m neither middle aged (I fully intend to live until I’m 120) nor conservative (yes Your Honour that’s me on a protest march) I opted for colour, cursing the fact that I’d thrown away the multi-coloured leather pixie boots I bought at a folk festival (a pretty radical folk festival, let me tell you) and which I subsequently wore in children’s theatre (a kangaroo and a crocodile in the same show, how extreme is that?)
I rued the innumerable slices of buttered toast that precluded a short red dress worn during the run of a Harold Pinter play (give me a minute Your Honour, my mind’s not as sharp as it once was, keep talking and I’ll remember what it was called) and I settled on jeans, boots, several layers of t-shirts and a turquoise cardigan. Unusual.
The appearance of an owl on the phone line outside – a bird I’ve never seen before in Sydney – two days before the trial filled me with gravitas. This was important work, not something to be undertaken lightly. I stood on the balcony in the dark watching that owl and thought maybe I’d drop the turquoise cardigan. The fate of an unknown man or woman would rest partly in my hands. It was heady stuff.
One final hurdle on the morning of the trial would be the selection process, when counsel for either side can dismiss a juror based on looks alone. I would have to resist the temptation to shoot my hand into the air and cry, Pick me! Pick me!
An open, friendly expression would be required, something intelligent and not too judgemental. No more sitting in front of the TV news declaring some hapless accused prisoner “guilty as all get-out”, I was ready and willing to perform my duties assiduously. I would listen carefully to all sides of the argument and not be swayed by appearance or fancy rhetoric.
The following text message arrived, at 3.20pm the day before.
Your jury service has been cancelled. You are no longer required to attend.
What? You said you wanted me! After years of waiting, of quietly nursing that secret hope, of biding my time with patient resignation, finally I got selected and you rejected me before you’d even seen me? I was your best candidate!
Rejection letters from publishers have hurt less.