“For the farmer sows his fields
Of barley, oats or wheat.
While the lawyer reaps fortune
From fields of deceit.”
Brian Pascoe leaned forward in the soft leather chair with one arm on the lawyer’s desk and the other hand on his knee. His brow was knitted and he felt his anger raising as he listened to the lawyers’ dissertation.
“She’s got you on those points, Brian. First, you admit you’ve come home drunk and second you admit to striking the children … ”
“But not both at the same time … bloody hell. Yes, I’ve come home drunk at times … not blind drunk mind … and then only after some event, like winning the district grand final say, or something like that … but I didn’t come home drunk and drag the kids out of bed and thump them if that’s what you mean … oh I’ve given ’em a “clip around the ear’ole” a couple of times for mucking about … ”
Brian listened to his voice as he rambled on and he was amazed that here he was defending his behaviour as a father when he was certain that he hadn’t done anything wrong! The lawyer tossed several pages of statement onto his desk and sighed as if in frustration of ever having these clients understand the finer points of law.
“I know, I know Brian … but still the facts remain. Look, it’s an old trick of evidence, I’ve used it myself at times. You take separate pieces of fact, they may be totally estranged from each other, and you bring them together to make one picture … ” The lawyer spoke with the enthusiasm of someone who obviously enjoyed the game of law … “Like two negatives of photographs … one of a person and one of a background” … he held his arms up in front of them both at eye level with his hands flat and moved them in a scissor motion … “you bring them together and you have the person standing against the background … you see” his eyes were bright. “It’s an illusion of evidence … and you can’t deny either frame … clever eh?”
He sat back and threw his hands up in acknowledgement. Brian Pascoe looked over the desk at the lawyer through narrowing eyes, he was beginning to feel out of his depth in a system that disgusted him and although it was HIS lawyer in front of him he felt a revulsion creep over his feelings.
“You people have got it all sown up, haven’t you?” He said quietly.
“What do you mean?” the lawyer looked surprised.
“Never mind.” Brian waved it aside “What’s the third accusation she’s got on me?”
“You struck her,” the lawyer read from the form.
Brian looked down at his crossed legs with the foot “tapping” at the air.
“I … I gave her a back-hander once.” Brian recalled.
“Rather vicious of you?” the lawyer pried.
Brian recalled the fight in the kitchen when they were arguing, she was only a few inches from his face yelling abuse at him and when he was about to turn away, she swung to hit him on the head and he automatically flung his arm in response and struck her on the face. she gasped and wept then … he felt his stomach knot up … he felt it knot up now … but the pride in him, the male in him did not, could not allow him to take advantage, even in her absence, of the situation …
“Yes,” Brian replied, “it was.”
The lawyer raised his eyebrow.
“Well, you’ve got to realise she has those facts on her side.” He lifted his fingers up to count them off “A … you have come home drunk … B … you have hit the children … and C … you did strike her. Brian was about to interject but the lawyer held up his hand. “Hold on, Brian, hold on … those are the facts that will be presented to the magistrate, you won’t be allowed to interject to explain in a broken-voiced, hesitant way … as a matter of legal point, I’d advise against it if what you just said to me is the best you can do … all excuses will be irrelevant, those are the facts, like the negatives of the photographs I told you about, the final picture is the one the family court will see and if you can excuse me saying; a picture paints a thousand words.”
The lawyer finished breathless, for although he was young, he already had the look of frail professionalism. There was a silence in the room, it was a room of heavy furniture, dark furniture with heavy antiques and red-bound books leaning from the walls. The lawyer was exasperated at the naivety of his client.
Brian placed his hands in his lap. He was an honest man, a hard working farmer whose shoulders had carried the burdens of work till they were broad and strong. His hands were large and hard from the raw materials that were his workload. He could see deeply into the world of his work, but he was too short-sighted for the trickery of a school of thought that would slander a man and manipulate the fact, and present the mixture as truth … and as the lawyer asserted … be blessed for it! Brian looked down at his gnarled hands, there he saw the evidence of his honesty, there was the result of his concern for his children: well-being. Anger rose to his lips.
“No, bugger it, Mr Crompton.” He spat out “I won’t accept that, I’ll fight that if only to clear my name. I’ll not accept those lies, I’ll not have it insinuated that I was a bad father … they’re lies.” He stabbed a finger at the document … his face red “no matter how clever they’re put into words and I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it” … he pounded the desk with his big fist … the lawyer gazed at the clenched fist with the knuckles all white. He sighed.
“Well, Mr Pascoe, I’ll pass that information on to my opposite colleague and we’ll deliberate on the matter … but she’s a hard one I’ll tell you that for free!”
“The first and last thing I’ll get free from you,” Brian thought.
“Right” … he responded. “But you make sure they understand!” Brian waved his index finger in emphasis.
“Well, that’ll do for now” … the lawyer stood … “I’ll get in touch with the results.”
Brian left the office and stepped out into the busy street and the sunshine. “What a world,” he mumbled as he looked back to the name plate on the archway of the “Chambers”. “What a bloody world!”
The farm set in the open countryside seemed an age away from all the intrigue of the law. Brian couldn’t comprehend how it came to all this. What started out as a marriage separation ended up with him having to prove he wasn’t some kind of monster, child abuser, a drunkard, wife basher …
“Bloody hell, what next?!” He banged his flat hands against the steering wheel of the tractor. “What the hell can a man do?” he shouted up to the blue sky. There was of course no answer.
A fortnight passed before the lawyer got in touch with him for an appointment in the office. Brian paced over the carpet as the lawyer explained the terms of agreement coldly to him …
“ … and further to agree to drop all accusations of abuse against you, should you agree to sign over custody … ” the lawyer stopped short as Brian suddenly turned and strode up to his desk.
“Agree!” he shouted “They agree! … my oath they agree!” he nodded his head in satire and anger “My bloody oath they agree … as long as I sign away my children … sure they agree! … that’s blackmail!!” he rapped his fingertips on the desk top.
“Well,” the lawyer sighed “that’s how it stands at this moment … ” he shrugged.
Brian stood straight, his lips pressed tight together, he took a deep breath to steady himself, an age of oppression arose before his eyes.
“No it bloody well isn’t.” He spoke with controlled anger. He was trembling with temper. “Not in a pink fit it isn’t!”
“But I’ll tell you how it is me ol’china, an’ I’ll tell YOU for free … It’s doin’ the “Bobby Limb” every morning till it gets to be a habit and you forget what tired is, it’s when there’s too much work and not enough time and no-one to help and they keep piling on more till you’re bent double with responsibilities and prodded on to up-hold the lot. It’s when the crops failed or the sheep come down with some pox or other and it’s any excuse to die and the fridge can’t stay empty and kids need new shoes. It’s when the machinery needs to be overhauled and the wool cheques not in yet and the fence needs mendin’ because some bloody hoon’s crashed his car through it and pissed off an’ left you with another job to do. It’s when your hand’s gashed on the reaper’s teeth so it needs a dozen stitches and you have to work the bloody thing that same after-noon so the doctor gives you some painkillers and tells you to buy a ticket in “tatts”. It’s when you’re carrying some sort of physical injury big or small every fuckin’ day for years till you’re like some sort of sick animal. It’s the workin’ in the forty plus degree heat so you’re that beat when you get home but still get called “lazy” for not doing “your share” of the housework.
It’s when you’re old and your hands are like claws for the arthritis in them and the only thing you can carry is a bloody stick. It’s being accused of trying to keep them in their place so you throw your hand down on the table in exasperation of it all, your palm up so they can see the in-grained dirt and cuts and callouses and you say to “put your hand next to mine and tell me who knows their place!”. It’s society pointing the finger when the family goes bust and asks “what’s HE doing, why isn’t HE supporting his family?” It’s the presumption that he’s some commodity that’s there for the privilege of people to work till he drops and screw what ever’s left from the corpse … Well, the presumptions wrong. I’m no boozer, I’m no child abuser, I’m no wife beater and I’m not a bastard, Mr Crompton. I’m a working man, an honest man … ” he stood solidly before the desk, anger reflected in his stance.
The lawyer’s secretary gingerly opened the door of the office and poked her head in.
“Is everything alright, Mr Crompton?” she asked.
The lawyer ssh! sshed! her out with a grimace and a wave of his hand. He gazed hatefully over his rich desk at the farmer.
“Very heroic, Brian” … he paused for effect, then pushed the paper document toward him.
“Still … that’s their proposition, and I think you know the score,” he looked slyly out of his eyes, he wanted this resolved as quick and as cleanly as possible … these “hard-working” types set his teeth on edge … they were too rough and crude-thinking for his class.
“You do realise of course, if she presses these accusations, they could well be taken out of the civil court and into the criminal court,” he added drily.
A lonely pang of hopelessness swept away Brian’s pride, he looked into the hard, cold face of his lawyer. A realisation came over him: This was no field of labour that he was in, this wasn’t a situation he could physically work his way through, this was a field of deceit and his armour of honesty and simplicity was no match for the law’s duplicity. His defence was silently swept away like a child’s castle on the evening tide. He sat wearily down in the plump cushioned chair, a fatalistic sigh escaped his lips …
“What do you advise, Mr Crompton?”
Brian sat before the form that would give his wife custody of their children. On his right sat his wife’s lawyer, then his wife. Beside them and a little back sat his wife’s father and mother, “good people the parents”, he thought, he always got on well with the old couple. On his left sat his lawyer and before him sat the court official. Brian stared down at the document in resentful awe. The official pointed with his finger to a dotted line.
“Just sign there, Mr Pascoe,” he said softly.
Brian hesitated. Both his lawyer and the wife’s lawyer placed their fingers simultaneously on the space to sign. Brian held the pen over the space, there was silence in the room as if in anticipation of some great event. Anger welled up in Brian’s heart. “Bastards! Bastards!” he was thinking as he lowered the pen. He didn’t want to sign, it was all wrong; “a document to control lives, it shouldn’t be so. A piece of paper over flesh and blood, no! it wasn’t right.” He started to write his name with his hand but his heart kept screaming: “No! No!” as the pen moved over the paper. Once before he signed a similar document in marriage, with similar people around him and now it had come to this. He fought to hold back tears of bitterness and sadness in his eyes as he finished the flourish of his family name. He dropped the pen and fell back into his chair.
“Yippee! Yippee!” his ex-wife jumped up in elation, like a child. “I’ve won!, I’ve won!” she cried and clapped her hands together in glee.
The lawyers looked at each other and rolled their eyes and her father winced. He leant over and touched his daughter on the arm as if to quieten her.
“Jilly,” he said softly, “Jilly, I don’t think”, he glanced at the ashen faced Brian sitting there … “I don’t think you realize what Brian has signed away.”
He spoke as if to quieten the woman’s ecstatic outburst, but she just shot him a glance as if to kill and he shrunk back red faced and then, hesitatingly turned his face away. Brian sat there for a moment longer while the official straightened the papers and was about to dismiss them all. Brian suddenly pushed himself back and stood up, the chair fell backwards onto the floor, he ignored it and strode impatiently to the door. He could feel the tears sting his lids even as he passed out of the room and let the big panelled doors swing to and all down the cold empty corridor he could hear Jilly’s voice crying shrilly: “I’ve won, I’ve won, I’ve won.”
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