"Okay okay, everyone quiet down."
The many voices arguing back and forth diminished.
"Now then," said Judge Albright. "Call your first witness."
The prosecutor stood and clasped hands in front. He paused for effect, letting the silence linger. "I call Rosalie Gonzales, your honor".
The doors opened wide, and a discheveled young woman shuffled up the aisle. Her hazel eyes darted from side to side, expecting danger from any quarter. Her face was dirty, her lips chapped. A fading bruise lay across her right cheek, partially obscured by the dingy locks spilling over her shoulders. Rosalie had two bedraggled children in tow; the boy was perhaps nine and the girl a couple years younger. As Rosalie moved through the half-height gate, the Judge stopped her with a wave.
"Ma'am, have your children take a seat." Seeing her hesitant glance, he continued, "Don't worry. They'll suffer no harm in my courtroom. I promise."
Rosalie nodded after a moment and murmured to the boy, who led his sister over to an empty spot. The little girl had to sit on his lap, but she didn't seem to mind. Then Rosalie slid past the prosecutor, recoiling from his offered hand. She made her way to the witness stand without another word, her eyes darting towards the defendant for just a moment.
After a quick swearing in - she questioned whether it mattered since she didn't believe in God - the prosecutor began his questions.
"Tell us your name, age, and occupation for record, Miss Gonzales."
Rosalie's temper flared. "You know damn well who I am and what I'm doing. You called me here, didn'ja?"
"Miss Gonzales," Judge Albright said, "Please answer the questions. This is all a part of the process ma'am. We must be thorough and precise."
She nodded, glaring at the prosecutor once more. "Name's Rosalie Gonzales. I'm twenty four. I ain't got no job."
"You're homeless too. Isn't that correct?" The warmth of his voice couldn't hide the icy bite hidden beneath.
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" Rosalie was standing now, her hands on hips.
"Sit down, Miss Gonzales." Judge Albright's command boomed. "Please refrain from any profanities while you're at it. And answer the question."
She sat down hard, crossing her arms with head bowed. "Yes" came the mumbled reply.
"What was that? I didn't quite -"
"I said yes, you slimy devil!"
"Miss Gonzales, if you please!" Rosalie shrank back as Judge Albright loomed over her.
Nodding at the Judge's wave, the prosecutor continued. "Please tell the court in your own words what happened."
Rosalie eyes were on fire. "Well, he started telling my tale over a year ago and -"
"By he, you mean the defendant?"
"Yes. Now if you'll stop interruptin' me, it'd go a bit faster." She eyeballed the prosecutor before starting once more. "He started telling my tale well over a year ago. I was almost safe, almost able to breathe again...and he..."
The prosecutor stepped towards Rosalie, his words sliding down a forked tongue. "And he what, Miss Gonzales?"
A tear formed and slid down her bruised cheek. "He abandoned me. He tossed me aside for someone new. He claimed he couldn't tell my story right, but I knew better. He just didn't care anymore."