The punishment, for Tamara, was that there was no punishment.
Judge Davis, with his slicked back hair and black flowing robe, waddled back into the courtroom as if he were a penguin on parade. All eyes watched his wobbly march from the door of his chamber over to his bench where he sat among a crowd of families, citizens and journalists greedy for the trial's outcome. The crowd hushed and regained their composure as the courtroom intermission ended.
The foreman, a tightlipped woman with impeccable posture, pecked around the microphone like a woodpecker as she readjusted the microphone. The crowd, impatient with her unhurried attitude, was eventually rewarded as she announced, "We the jury have come to a decision, Your Honor."
Judge Davis simply lifted his right hand in her direction as if to say "well go on then" in the most polite way. The defendant, Tamara Knowles, a high school senior dressed in a borrowed business suit started to pray to a God she had never been introduced to.
"We the jury find the defendant not guilty of DUI manslaughter of Grace Douglas age 6-," The foreman continued on with her statement through eruptions of gasps and murmurs. Family members of the victim burst out in tears. A tall woman with stringy blond hair wearing a floral dress pointed her boney index finger toward Tamara's table and spat phrases at her such as "drunken fool" and "killer of babies" between bouts of hyperventilation. The woman summed up her hostility by letting out a moan that could only be duplicated by a large beastly mammal before she doubled over sobbing into the arms of a loved one. Judge Davis was banging his gavel in futile bursts while the defense lawyer first hugged his partner then offered him a firm handshake.
Tamara took in her victory with the taste of bile surging into her throat. Regret mixed with sorrow as she watched the scene around her in a detached way. The tragedy caused by her actions sat like a stain on the surface her skin. As time went by, it would set and seep down to her core.
Twelve years had passed and Tamara traded the tight knit town she grew up in for the animosity of a city where she could exist invisibly. The ocean of people in Manhattan acted as a camouflage which allowed its inhabitants to wander anonymously among the crowds.
Three unsuccessful attempts had been made to seek forgiveness from the family. Letter after letter came back returned to Tamara's post office box with expletives written in black permanent marker on the back of the unopened envelopes.
Despite her unapproachable nature, she made friends; fell in love. "Marry me you difficult woman," Tamara's boyfriend pleaded as he proposed for the fourth time. He was a poet who fed off of the angst in life and most likely mistook her denials as a romantic game in a city full of dreamers.
"We could have babies," he whispered to her while sitting near a young family in Central Park. She turned to cement in his arms and broke it off for good.
On a crisp Autumn afternoon, Tamara found an unimportant reason to stroll down Madison Avenue. Though she was no believer, she took an automatic detour into St. Patrick's Cathedral. She pushed through the tourists pointing their cameras toward the altar or the organ or themselves and took a seat on a solid wooden pew where she bowed her head in the silence and let the tears drain onto the floor. A pamphlet on the pew offered an explanation of forgiveness. She scanned it, but put back suspiciously.
"The defendant is not guilty," the foreman said so many years ago. "Your sins are forgiven" the pamphlet in front of her stated.
The other churchgoers seemed focused. Their eyes closed while whispering prayers. If only she had the courage to speak to them. She wanted to ask them, "What's the secret? How do I pay for my sins? How do I earn this forgiveness?" Instead, after a generous amount of time to sitting and listening as the tourists shuffled behind her, she headed out of the church to join the sea of people making their way up the busy street. She merged into the wave of people and, for the time being, pushed Grace out of her mind.