May 18, 2016 by downwardlymobilewoman
I was late for Restorative Justice because I was shagging a man called Apollo.
I met him in the Redemption Bar on Ferry Street. He came up and schmoozed me as I sipped my mock-jito. The Redemption is to a proper pub as Quorn is to steak- it’s a ‘dry bar’ serving non-alcoholic cocktails. Funny place for me to be, given that my inner child is a drunken bum. I was trying to channel some purifying wholesomeness in preparation for seeing Barry Schmidt again. In retrospect I chose the wrong venue. The earnest good-girl vibe made me long for absinthe, skunk and unsafe sex.
Luckily Apollo’s inner child wasn’t any more sober than mine.
We went next door to the King’s Head.
I don’t remember getting back to my flat. I’d decided to walk into town for once and left the Harley at home. I woke up in my big brass bed, wearing my green taffeta ball gown. It was ripped open from neckline to hem, transformed from dress to tattered peignoir. The snarling tiger tattoo on my left bicep poked out of its puffed sleeve as if emerging from a raw silk forest.
We’d drunk my entire stash of Belgian cherry beer. The floor was a sea of brown bottles, used condoms, discarded underwear and overflowing ashtrays.
Apollo stirred under my duvet like a satisfied cat.
I find old-fashioned cures best for hangovers. Sex, coffee, bacon sandwiches. There was no coffee, bread or bacon. I threw the remains of my dress on the floor and leapt on top of him.
Five days earlier I’d been in court, certain I was going to jail as punishment for smashing Barry Schmidt’s face to smithereens. It happened on live TV. Millions of people had seen me do it. There was no point in denying the charge.
Schmidt was looking forward to seeing me sent down. He wore a smile of smug anticipation under his wonky nose, which was swathed in a bright white bandage.
But the honourable Judge Grange seemed reluctant to pass sentence.
She stalled. She harried my lacklustre lawyer. A punch in the face is not necessarily grievous just because it happens on TV, she said.
My lawyer said he didn’t watch TV.
Initially I thought he was working on my defence as he fiddled with his phone under the narrow desk. Then I heard him say ‘Yessss! Colour-bomb!’ under his breath and realized he was playing Candy Crush Saga.
‘Ms. Tanner, your lawyer seems preoccupied,’ said Judge Grange. ‘Perhaps you should find someone else to defend you.’
I don’t think judges are allowed to tell you to sack your lawyer in open court. The court clerk, a whippet-slim black man sucking on pungent cough sweets, shot Judge Grange a look similar to the one I give Sapphire when she is skating on very thin ice. Sapphire needs facial expressions to be exaggerated so she understands their meaning. She’s usually amused rather than chastened but at least she knows I’m on to her.
Judge Grange wasn’t chastened either.
‘Would you consider engaging a different lawyer, Ms. Tanner?’ she asked.
I was tempted. My lawyer, still engrossed by his phone, wasn’t even listening to her annihilation of his professional character.
But I shook my head. I couldn’t bring myself to sign up for further delay. I’m not good with feelings of inexorable impending doom. I wanted it over.
The judge muttered something to the court clerk. They both started thumbing through thick legal books, skimming swiftly through some pages, pausing to read others with concentration.
It took forever. I thought the waiting would kill me.
Judge Grange sighed. She pushed her book away. It fell to the floor with a thump.
‘It seems I have no choice but to punish you severely, Ms. Tanner,’ she said.
The court clerk choked on his cough sweet.
She whisked round to look at him.
‘Yes, Mr. Harbourne?’
‘Your Honour, I conjecture it may please you to order this case adjourned whilst having regard to section 1ZA,’ he said.
Judge Grange looked confused.
‘The corpus delicti appear straightforward given the public nature of the malfeasance but factors of mitigation and bona fide remorse are of significant importance in determining a proportionate sentence,’ he said, as if this explained everything.
She seemed none the wiser.
‘Your Honour will recall the recent memo regarding the benefits of Restorative Justice,’ he said.
‘Restorative Justice! Mr. Harbourne, you’re a geni- I mean, it would please me greatly to do as you suggest,’ she said.
She turned back to me.
‘Ms. Tanner, listen carefully. I have decided to explore whether reparations can be made to the injured party to avoid a custodial sentence. I order that you and Mr. Schmidt attend mediation. I shall supervise personally.’
The photo on the front of the papers the next morning was the first flattering one I’d seen during the five weeks since Sapphire’s incendiary performance on Pop Legend had catapulted us to fame.
Sapphire is my little sister. She’s a delusional daydreamer with learning disabilities and a lust for life. She’s been obsessed with Pop Legend since it started. She thinks Fenella Fine, one of the judges, is the perfect human being.
I was worried when I heard that try-outs for series three were being held locally. I told my mother not to let Sapphire audition under any circumstances.
She gave me a wan smile.
‘Don’t worry so much, Emerald. Millions of people try out. Saffy won’t even get to the front of the queue. And if she did what harm could it do?’
‘Are you joking? Sapphire doesn’t know she can’t sing! She thinks she’s a rock goddess.’
‘You’re so negative sometimes. It could be brilliant. Imagine Saffy meeting Fenella Fine! It would make her day.’
‘Come on, Mum! Get real. People who can’t sing and look a bit unusual are publicly crucified to entertain the audience. You know that. Imagine Saffy being cut to shreds for all the world to see.’
‘You’re over-protective, Emerald,’ she said.
‘I have to be if you won’t protect her,’ I said.
She wasn’t having that. She went to bed with a double-dose of Valium.
The next I heard of it was when she rang me from the Hilton Hotel to say Sapphire had been picked out to audition.
I told my boss it was an emergency and jumped on the Harley.
I pushed through the crowd. My mother was in a prime spot next to the mahogany double-doors of the audition room. I glanced at the big screen set up nearby.
My mouth went dry.
‘Mum! How could you let her go in there looking like that?’
Sapphire was wobbling on needle-thin white stilettos that emphasized the mottled pink-grey of her legs. She was covered in sparkling paste baubles. Three tiaras were fitted round her pineapple ponytail. Her turquoise crop top was too tight. Rolls of bare stomach hung over a tiny gold-sequined skirt.
The outfit was a homage to Fenella Fine. A magnificent effort. But Sapphire’s personality is irrepressible even in the throes of hero-worship. I’d never seen Fenella wearing three tiaras at once. And Fenella is petite, toned and slim. Sapphire is not. It was as if the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters had dressed up as Madonna.
The famous judges eyed her with the relish of a hungry pack of hyenas.
Apart from one.
‘Thank you for coming, Sapphire,’ said Fenella Fine. ‘What are you going to sing?’
‘I’m Feelin’ Good,’ said Sapphire, beaming.
‘Great song!’ said Fenella, smiling back.
‘Thank you, Fenella! I love you! You’re the best ever! This is the happiest day of my life!’
‘Thanks, Sapphire. That means a lot to me,’ said Fenella.
I loved her and thought she was the best ever too when she said that. My mother was right. Meeting Fenella had made Sapphire’s day.
Then Sapphire started singing.
No one who’s seen that audition- and it’s been viewed over six million times on You Tube- can accuse my sister of half measures, of losing her nerve when given the chance to shine. All the passion needed in that emotional song was present.
Michael Buble eat your heart out. Even Nina Simone has never performed it with such feeling.
There were only two terrible, insurmountable problems.
Sapphire’s singing is excruciating.
And she is the clumsiest person in the universe.
‘BIRDS FLYING HIGH! YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL!’
It was an appalling tuneless bellow.
‘SUN IN THE SKY! YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL!’
Fenella’s perfect eyebrows disappeared beneath her fringe. David Lox and Miles Baker started giggling.
‘IT’S A NEW DAY IT’S A NEW DAWN IT’S A NEW LIFE FOR-OR-OR-OR ME AND I’M FE-EE-EEE-LING GOOD!’
Sapphire attempted a pirouette, ending with both arms thrown in the air and a full leg kick. Her stiletto sailed off her foot and flew towards the judges, missing Barry Schmidt’s ear by millimetres. Unable to balance on the remaining tiny heel, she fell to the floor, from where she looked up hopefully into Fenella’s stunned face.
There was silence.
Then Sapphire stood up and asked Fenella if she could sing another song.
‘No, Sapphire, honey, I think one was enough. I’m sorry,’ said Fenella.
Lox and Baker were laughing too hard to speak. The camera panned over them, settling on Schmidt.
His lip curled.
‘What an extraordinary performance,’ he said.
Sapphire misunderstood. She often does.
‘Thanks, Barry! Can I sing another song?’
‘Have you taken your medication today?’ he said.
‘Yes! Mum gives it to me every day,’ said Sapphire.
Lox stopped laughing. Fenella looked at Schmidt as if calling a hunting hound to heel.
Schmidt ignored them.
‘Did she help you choose your astonishing outfit too?’ he said.
‘Yes! I’m so glad you like it, Barry! Mum said you were nice.’
‘Did she? Is she on medication too?’
Fenella looked furious. Lox beckoned to someone out of sight of the camera.
‘Yes!’ said Sapphire. ‘Otherwise she gets sad or starts believing she’s Jesus. Only Emerald doesn’t have medication.’
‘And who is Emerald?’
‘My sister. She didn’t want me to audition but Mum said yes.’
‘Does Emerald look like you, Sapphire? Like a female sumo wrestler?’
‘You’re bang out of order, Schmidt,’ said Fenella.
‘Oh please, Fenella, what do you expect? This is a talent contest, not a special-needs day out.’
‘You’re so funny, Barry!’ said Sapphire. ‘Stop teasing me! Can I sing again?’
‘Do you know what, Sapphire? Yes you can,’ said Schmidt.
I pushed past the security guards and burst through the doors.
‘Emerald!’ Sapphire was delighted.
‘I was great! Barry says I’m astonishing. He wants me to sing again.’
‘You were amazing, babe. But it’s time to go now.’
Schmidt walked over to me. He got right up in my grill, leering.
‘You have a great look, Emerald. Can you sing?’
I glared at him and took a step back.
‘Are you really her sister? You can’t be. You’re gorgeous.’
Sapphire’s eyes widened.
‘What does he mean, Emerald?’ she said. ‘You’re not gorgeous. You can’t sing. I’m the gorgeous one! I’m the singer!’
‘Ignore him, Saff. Let’s go home,’ I said.
It was too late. Sapphire’s jaw jutted. Her arms stiffened. Her fists clenched.
‘But I want to sing! I want to dance! I’m not going home! No! No! No! I hate you. I’m not going. No!’
She flung herself downwards, punching and kicking the floor, emitting the high-decibel piercing wail I know so well.
It’s an unbearable noise. Nearly as bad as her singing.
I waited it out. When the screaming gave way to sobs I sat down on the floor beside her and stroked her hair.
‘Let’s go now, Saff,’ I said. ‘We can sing when we get home. Mum will like that too.’
‘Yes, singing in the asylum is so good for morale,’ said Schmidt.
That’s when I jumped up and punched him in the face.
After we’d finished curing my hangover, Apollo borrowed Sapphire’s bright blue helmet. We cruised into town on the Harley. It was a cold bright day. I enjoyed feeling his warmth through my motor cycle leathers.
Judge Grange was waiting for me outside the Community Centre where the Restorative Justice session was to be held. A bunch of paparazzi were corralled behind a cordon close by. Frenzied snapping of pictures started as I parked the bike.
‘You’re late, Ms. Tanner,’ said the judge. ‘And I don’t recall saying you could bring a friend.’
‘Sorry, Judge,’ I said. ‘Apollo needed a lift. Is Barry Schmidt inside already?’
‘Mr. Schmidt will be inside soon enough. He has sent word that he will not be attending today. I therefore find him in contempt.’
‘Yes. Contempt of court is a serious offence. I have no choice but to punish him severely. I order that he is imprisoned for one month.’
The paparazzi started cheering.
We were round the corner from Ferry Street so Apollo and I adjourned to the Redemption for a celebration Virgin Mary and some quinoa breakfast bites.
We stayed there until the King’s Head opened.