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Fragments from the Day of the Death of a Lawyer
Paul McLaughlin

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 1

I am like Gulliver in Lilliput. A thousand
gossamer threads stretch tightly
across my chest, my legs, my face,
and a thousand more, hooked painfully
into my skin and knotted into my hair,
pull me in all directions, tie me to the
ground, inhibit all movement,
immobilize me. I cry out in pain.
No one hears. I bleed. No one
cares. There is no escape, no rescue.

Oh, come on!

The Call From Home, Fragment 1

You forgot Brittany's game, didn't you?

Image flash: two packs of six-year-olds
in burgundy T-shirts and yellow shorts
chasing a soccer ball. Not tonight, please!

I guess I did. Can you take her, Lindsay?
I have to prepare for court tomorrow.

Bullshit! You're as ready for court as you'll ever be!

Please don't do this, Jay! Not again!

Can't you just explain to her
that I'm in the middle of a trial?

Jay, I am so... here, you explain it to her.

Hi, Daddy. Are you coming to my game?

God, I hate this! I'm sorry, Sweetie.
My clients need me to work tonight.

More bullshit.

                        That's okay, Daddy. I'll score a
goal for you, okay?

                              That'll be great. I'll be
thinking about you. I need talk to Mommy
again.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 2

She's just like her mother–makes me feel
guilty by being so fucking understanding.

That's impressive, Jason: blaming your
daughter when she lets you off the hook!
Why don't you just admit it–
you don't want to go to her game!

I feel like such a lying shit.

Well, you are a lying shit!

I hate being like this, but what can I do?

Change?

                  I can't.

What He’s Doing to His Mother Fragment 1

It makes you wonder how a man who's
got so much can get so depressed.

A wordless stand-off fills the quiet room.
He rustles the newspaper as he turns
the page. She clinks her coffee cup with
a spoon and sighs. At last, he yields.

All right, you win. I'll put the paper down
and we'll talk.

                        Do you remember Jay
MacNab?

                  Yes. In fact, I saw him at the game
on Sunday.

                  When I was out today,
I saw his mother at the mall and
we stopped for a coffee. She told me
she thinks he's depressed.

He looked okay when I saw him.

I guess it comes and goes. One day
he'll be all right, the next he'll go
through hell.

                        Is he married?

Yes, but Carol–that's his mother–says
they fight, so he retreats into his work.

And his wife, no doubt, gets bitter when
she's left alone too much.

He also has a daughter just turned six.
I can't imagine what he's thinking.

It's always hard to know what's going on
in someone else's mind.

                                    I know, but what
I can't figure out is how he thinks he has the
right to be depressed. He doesn't seem to
even see what it's doing to his mother.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 3

I can't be concerned about the feelings of
others.

            I picture a wall. The Berlin wall.
Or one of the twenty-foot-high walls of cedar
along South-west Marine Drive in Vancouver.
Or the Great Wall of China. These are the
walls I need to keep myself in
                        and others out.

I don't want their worry, care, concern,
consideration, solicitude, attention
                              or anything else.

I just want to be left alone!

And just look how well you're doing,
                                    left alone.

What He’s Doing to His Mother Fragment 2

Here's Tom. Maybe he knows what's
going on in Jay's mind. Tom, we're here,
we need your help. Don't you play racquetball
with Jay MacNab?

                                    Used to.

But you don't any more?

                                          He got dropped
from the league. Too intense. Not fun.

Why do you think he changed?

It's that factory law firm where he works.
No perspective. No balance.

Does he drink?

                        Sure does. Another job hazard.
After what happened to his father, though,
you'd think he'd be more careful.

What about drugs?

                              Who knows, these days.
Why, what's up?

                              I saw his mom today.
She told me he's depressed.

I'm not surprised. I know I would be.

The Call From Home, Fragment 2

She seemed to take that pretty good.

You didn't see her face.

I need a drink.

                      Just one?

                                          Yes, just one!

Jay, are you pouring a drink?

                                                      No.

Yes, you are! Jay, please, don't come home
drunk. I can't stand it when you roll in here...

I'm only having one.

                                  Liar!

I hope you're not drinking that expensive
Scotch  you bought last week. I mean,
Jesus, Jay, $175.00 for a bottle of booze?

I’ll see you later.

                              No, wait,
there's something else we need to talk about.

What?

                  I need money for groceries.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 4

Everyone I know takes a piece of me.
No one worries about my wants and needs.

Which are...

                  Well, I can't just rhyme them off.
I spend all my time worrying about
other people's problems, so when am I
supposed to have time to think about my own?

Lately, you don't think about much of anything else!

That's not so!

                        The fact is, Jay, it doesn't matter
what you want or need, there's so little left of you.

The Veto, Fragment 1

You look troubled tonight, Henry.

Hard day, my dear. We had a partnership
admission committee meeting. I had to cast
the deciding vote against a senior associate up
for the second time.

                              I didn't know
you were still involved in those decisions.

I guess they needed some gray hair
on the committee–or maybe they're just
trying to keep me busy. Anyway, Bill
Thompson in litigation is pushing hard
for his star associate, Jason MacNab.
I must admit, he looks good on paper–
handles lots of files, works lots of hours,
heavy-duty biller. I don't know him very
well–the firm is getting so damned big–
so I went and watched him in court yesterday.

And?

            Technically, he was very good.
Well-prepared. Focused. A textbook
cross-exam.

                  Sounds like he's what
you want.  What's the problem?

Yeah, what's the problem? I can do the
work, so why don't you make me a partner?

There's something about him I don't like.
I can't put my finger on it. I just don't
trust the fellow. He's shallow somehow.
Mechanical. Like an actor who knows his
lines, but doesn't put his heart into the script.

What do they want from me?

There's something missing–I don't know,
heart, balls, guts, depth–something like that.
A great technician, but I don't think he's
partnership material.

                                    Well, couldn't you
make him a partner on a trial basis?

It doesn't work like that. You don't let
someone into the partnership because you feel
sorry for him. You either trust him
                                    or you don't.

Why don't they tell me what they want!

Here's a scary thought–they don't know
what they want, they just know they
                             don't want you!

The Call from Home, Fragment 3

What do you mean, you need money?
What happened to all the money I gave you
last week?

                  Gone. I had to make a Master Card
payment and a phone payment and
the bank took the rest for the line of credit,
which was overdrawn. I can show you
where it all went.

Faceless bankers crank on winches attached
to the threads across my chest, ignoring my
pain. I struggle, but I can't break free.

Can't you transfer some money from the VISA?

It's maxed out. Everything is maxed out.
The cards, the lines of credit, the overdraft–
listen very carefully, Jason–everything is
maxed out.

The threads tighten. It gets harder to
breathe. My heart pounds in my ears.

What's wrong with you, Lindsay?
No matter how much I make,
it's never enough, is it?

Don't you blame this on me, Jason MacNab.
It was that trip to California that killed us,
and you wanted it as much as I did!

I deserved that holiday.

                                          Yes you did,
and so did I. But it cost us a lot of money
we don't have.

                        The ratchets on the winches
strain and hold. I try to draw in a full
breath; the threads cut into my flesh.

Well, we'll just have to cut back.

Maybe I could pack you a lunch.

Lawyers don't carry bag lunches!

It was a joke, Jay. Actually, I think
we're a lot more careful with out money
than a lot of your friends.

                                          Like who?

Well, like Bill Thompson, for one.

Bill's a partner, for Christ's sake.
Besides, he's drowning in debt too.
Told me last week he's thinking about
bankruptcy. Maybe that's what we should do.

We'd be fine if you could make partner.

A sudden jerk! My ribs are collapsing!
My heart is being crushed! I can't breathe!

I'm doing everything I can.

When will they make the decision?

They're meeting this week, I think.

Is this what a heart attack feels like?

You'll make it this time for sure, won't you?
Because ...

            My heart! I have to stop this call!

I can't do this now.

Slam the telephone down. Take a big,
two-handed swallow  of Scotch. And another.
Close my eyes. Lean back. The pressure eases.
Another swallow.

                                    Start to float.

With all the insurance I carry,
I'm worth more dead
                  than alive.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 5

If I was alcoholic, single malt would be my
poison.

                If?

                        Yes, if! I can take it or leave it,
you know.

                Lately, all you've done is take it.

Liar. Last week, I only got drunk twice.

Five times.

                  No.

                           Yes.

                                          Well,
now is not the time to try to quit.
I'm under so much pressure...

Maybe some of the pressure ...

Shut up!

               Whatever you say, man.
But the bottle's already half empty!

Just shut the fuck up! It's my life.

And it'll be your death.

The Call to the Client, Fragment 1

Okay, Jason, take a breath and do this.

Bissell.

            Jason MacNab, Mr. Bissell. I hope
it's not too late to call.

                              It's 10:30 MacNab.
Sometimes my mommy lets me stay up
past midnight. Say, d'you hear the one about
the lawyer and the shark...

                                       Bastard!
I've heard them all, Bissell. I've heard
every fucking lawyer joke that ever was!

I'm in a bit of a rush here, Mr. Bissell.
I just wanted to let you know that I think
you'll be on the stand by tomorrow afternoon.
Do you have any last-minute questions?

You said I wouldn't be on the stand
until the day after tomorrow.

I can't help it. The evidence is going in
faster than I anticipated.

                                    Well, I have an
important sales meeting at three tomorrow.

You'll have to cancel. Your direct evidence
will take at least a couple of hours,
and I don't know how long the cross
will last. That's up to opposing counsel.

God damn it, MacNab, this meeting is
important.

                  I told you to keep the
whole week open.

                              How the hell
am I supposed to do that! I have a
business  to run!

                              I can't control how
long it takes.

                        Goddam lawyers. Okay,
I'll be there. Goodbye.

                                    Wait a minute,
there's something else we need to discuss.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 6

Scotch, quick!

                    No!

                                    Can't you see
how hard this is? I need a drink!

So you admit you need it?

                                    No, I can take it
or leave it. But right now, I need it.

The Call to the Client, Fragment 2

                                    I just got an
accounts receivable report. You haven't paid
your last two bills.

                                    I know. I had a cheque
in my briefcase today. Did I forget to
give it to you?

                        The lying son of a bitch.

Your bookkeeper said the cheque
hasn't been cut yet. Is there a problem?

Of course there's a problem. The bills are
too fucking high! I'm bleeding to death!

We talked about this already. You knew
it was going to be expensive. And I know
your net worth. This is petty cash for you!

You said $35,000.

                              I said $35,000
if we settled after discoveries.
We didn't, so now we go to trial, and
trials cost money. You know that.

Yeah, but $12,000 in one month?

All the time is detailed in the bills. Most
of it was for the settlement discussions.

Yeah, but you didn't settle, did you?
I pay for results, not wheel-spinning.

Sometimes that happens. You knew the deal--
hourly billing. Anyway, I think we softened
them up.

                  Bullshit. We just made ourselves
look soft. This case is bleeding me fucking
white.

I can still hear the indignation in his
voice–I've been wronged, Jason! It's
unjust, Jason! Help me, Jason! Then the
bastard tries to screw me when it's
time to pay! Does he really think his case is
so important I'd work for nothing?

I don't know what else to say. The work
has been done. The bills have to be paid.

I've had enough of this fucking nonsense!
I'm going to talk to Bill Thompson. I wanted
him on this case, not some fucking flunky.

Well, you do what you think you have to.

You fucking lawyers are all the same.
I hate the whole bunch of you.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 7

I was in third year when it was decided
that I would become a lawyer.

It was decided?

What can you do with a Poli Sci degree? You
go into law. Besides, Lindsay wanted to be a
lawyer's wife and Mom wanted to be a lawyer's
mother and I made a promise to Dad when he
was dying. I had no choice!

So you never really lived your own life–
never climbed a mountain in Nepal, or
ski-bummed for a year, or started a business,
or wrote a book. Instead, you went into law.

What a fool I was! I thought I'd be
in court every day fighting for justice. I'd be
respected. I'd have prestige. And I
wouldn't have to worry about money.
Instead, it's all billable hours and
docketing time and billing and collecting
and climbing the partnership ladder.

Bissell is right, you know. Twelve grand
for what I did last month is an outrage.
But I had to bill it.

                             Had to?

If I want to make partner, I had to.

So quit!

            You don't just quit.

                                         Why not?
Slavery's illegal. The firm doesn't get to
hunt you down and shoot you!

The problem is all the other people
who have so much invested in my being
a lawyer.

                 Like?

                          Lindsay, for one.
All those years waiting tables! And
my parents. Even Mr. Byers, my English
teacher. How could I let them all down?

So it'd be like, "See that guy over there?
His name's Jason MacNab. I taught him
English. I even encouraged him to
go to law school. Got to be a big-time
lawyer, but then he just quit. Now
all he does is sit on that bench
feeding the pigeons. A total failure,
a zero, a nobody, a nothing! I'm so
disappointed!"

                  That's how I'd feel.

That's so fucking maudlin, I think I want to
puke! You don't really believe that crap,
do you?

            Go to hell!

The Veto, Fragment 2

Jay, you still here?

                                   Hypocritical SOB.
He knows I'd better still be here if I
want to make partner.

                                          Oh, hi, Bill.

Hey, pour me one of those, would you?
Man, you've got good taste in Scotch!
I love this stuff, but I sure as hell can't
afford to buy it! I was looking for you
earlier, but I had to go to the hockey game.
We have to talk.

Oh, shit, here it comes.

                                       What's up?

Bad news. They turned you down again.

Numbness.

                        I'm sorry.

                                          Numbness.

You'll have a real good shot at it
next year if you keep your billables up.

But I already bill more than some of
the partners!

                        You were really close.

I give it all I can, but it's never enough.

For Chrissake, Jay, say something.

Yeah, Jay, say something! Don't just
stand there like a deer in the headlights!

What is there to say, Bill? I'm a
7th-year associate. Next year, I'll be an
8th-year associate. Some associates
make partner after six years.
Everyone else gets in after seven.
No one gets in after eight years, Bill.
So what the fuck do you want me to say?
Thanks for 8 wonderful years, folks?
Now let's all go into the Men's room and
flush my career down the toilet?

I hate it when my voice cracks like that!
It makes me sound so weak.

You are weak!

                        Hey, take it easy. I tried my best.
Look, it's not a good time now. You're maybe
just a little hammered. Tomorrow, we'll have
lunch at the club, on me, and talk it over,
okay?

            I'm in court tomorrow.

Well, when you get some free time,
we'll get together and talk, okay?

                                    Yeah, whatever.

And take a cab home. You're way too
pissed to drive.

                        Thanks a lot, asshole.

Conversations with a Still, Small Voice, Fragment 8

It's after two.

My 47th consecutive game of computer
solitaire.

                Can't work. Too much to do,
can't figure out where to start.

Can't sleep. Too many thoughts
spinning around in my head.

What's the worse fate, to wake up hung over,
or to wake up depressed? Either way
you don't want to get out of bed.

Or you could wake up dead.

The fucking bottle's empty.
My dad could down three bottles
and you wouldn't even know he was drinking.
God, I miss him. He'd tell me what to do.

Then he'd smack you up the side of the head
for being such a suck!

                              God, he was tough.
I'm one tough hombre, that's what he'd say.
Course, that was him, not me. I'm not
tough. I'm not even a hombre. Just a suck.

Why'd he have to drink himself to death?
It's not fair!

                  Red ten on black jack.
Up comes ... red seven! That's what I need!

I love the way the cards cascade and bounce
when you win. I wonder how they do that?

Deal again? Don't mind if you do.
Never quit after you lose a game.
Always play again after you win.
Goes on forever.

The Prayer

Maybe if I pray. Haven't been to church in
so long...

                  Dear God.

                                    Maybe if I kneel–
Oops!

                 You're so pissed
you can hardly get down on your knees!

Dear God.... Umm.

                             Okay, what's next?

I'm having a little trouble concentrating!

You're drunk!

                        Here goes.

Dear God, please help me. I have
worked so hard to be a good husband and
father and lawyer. I know I'm a sinner.
I'm weak and I work too hard and I drink too
much and I'm not good to Lindsay and Brittany
but I want to change and I would change
if I just knew that things would get
better if I did. I really would.
Please send a sign that shows you have
heard my prayer. Amen.

Well, that has to be the most narcissistic, whiny
prayer I've ever heard.

                                 It was the best
I could do! I don't have much practice at this.

Well, if I was God, I would ignore you.

What should I do?

                             Damned if I know!

Help me! I can't do anything, decide
anything, start anything, finish anything!
                  I'm sinking!

                                   Who cares?

Need Scotch. There's another bottle in
Bill's office. These halls are awful empty
when there's
                        no one
                                    here.

Sinking

I lie helplessly on my side on a steep
grassy bank above a pool of silky black
congealed ink, my arms bound to my chest
like a mummy, my legs bound together
with many layers of gossamer thread.

I feel the pressure of many tiny hands
on my back, pushing me toward the pool;
I resist, try to roll back against them,
but they are too many, their pressure is
too strong, they are too resolute.

I fall forward, roll twice and topple,
face down, into the pool.  For a moment,
the gelatinous surface supports me,
then slowly, gently, it flows over me.

I roll over and gaze upward; the light
fades as I sink deeper into the gloom.

It used to take all my energy to keep
going. Now even that's too much.

I can't do it any more.

                                    I'm so alone.

I don't care.

                        And now it's over.
I am
                  released.

The Discovery

Did you stay here all night, Mr. MacNab?

He's sound asleep--probably drunk. I better
get him up before Mr. Thompson sees him.

C'mon, Jason, wake up! It's time to go to court.

Oh my God, he's shot himself!

Help! Someone help me! Please wake up!
Mr. Thompson, come quick! Mr. MacNab
shot himself!

The Aftermath

Hi, it's Bill! We can't have lunch today,
I have to go to court.

                                    Don't blame me, it's
MacNab's fault. Did you hear?

                                                  Yeah,
he blew his brains out in his office. Used
that gun I had in my desk. I forgot it was
even there.

                  No, he was dead when they found
him. I guess I was the last one to see him alive.

He looked okay to me. He'd been drinking,
of course, but who'd've guessed he'd do that
over a little thing like a partnership?

Yeah, the Bissell trial.

                                    I have to. No one
else will work for him. MacNab was the only
one I could dump him on.

Anyway, let me tell you worst of it.
He bled all over the file.

                                          Everything–
exhibits, notes, the trial book–it's all saturated
with blood.

                  No, I don't find blood
on a lawyer's file the least bit ironic.
 
 

January, 2000

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