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March 31, 2011 / whirlingneedles

Jury Duty


“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I intend to prove to you that my client is innocent, INNOCENT I TELL YOU, of all these charges.” The slick lawyer in his expensive suit paced back and forth in front of the jury box, waving his arms dramatically to punctuate his points.

Agent K glanced to the jurors to the left and right of her, all of whom were clicking away madly on their knitting needles, except for the ones crocheting. She was doing her civic duty, serving as a juror in Knitting Court. Nearly everyone in the courtroom was working on some sort of fiber project, including the knitting judge, crocheting prosecuting attorney, and the spinning bailiff. Agent K was working on a pair of socks herself. The only people she could see without a project in their hands were the accused and his overpriced lawyer.

“My friends, my client is guilty only of wishing to help his spouse with the housework,” the lawyer said in a faux-reasonable voice. “He is guilty only of being too zealous in his help attempts. The prosecution has no evidence that he shrunk that white cashmere sweater on purpose. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t notice he was putting it in the washing machine with his red baseball jersey and muddy pants. He isn’t to blame if the washing machine temperature was set to hot with extra agitation. How was he to know that there was still gum in his pants pocket? If the sweater came out pink and tiny, how could he be blamed? Examine the evidence, my friends, and you will come to the same conclusion.”

The lawyer smoothed his tie, gave a crocodile-like smile to the jury, and went to sit down beside his client. The prosecutor stood up and approached the jury, her crochet hook dipping in and out of her project. A ball of yarn rested in a pouch at her belt, feeding out the yarn as she needed it. She gave the jury a warm, genuine smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll hear some awful things today in this courtroom. Awful and inhuman things that were done, however accidently, to a beautiful handknit cashmere sweater. Yes, some of you may have difficulty looking at the evidence. We ask that you do your best to approach the case fairly and objectively, no matter how many handknits you have personally had ruined by incompetent but well-meaning family members.

“The defendant has been accused of violating Section 3.14159A of the Crimes against Knitting Act of 1924, subsection 42, in the second degree, accident ruination of a handknitted article or articles. You must weigh the evidence as fairly as you can. My job is to prove to you that the defendant is guilty of this heinous crime. I intend to fulfill my duties to the community and see that this crime does not go unpunished.” The prosecutor gave another smile, then went back to her table.

“The state calls its first witness, Mrs. Agnes Bunderwaller,” the prosecutor said.

A nice-looking lady in a fair isle sweater, corduroy skirt, and knee-high socks approached the witness box. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you wool?” intoned the bailiff, pausing in his spinning.

“I do,” answered Agnes nervously but firmly.

“Tell us, in your own words, please, Mrs. Bunderwaller, what happened the night in question,” said the prosecutor.

“Well, it was a Tuesday, so I went to Knit Night as usual. George had picked up a pizza on his way home from the baseball game, where he plays in a league at work. He was going to feed the kids, walk the dog, and put out the cat. Usually I do all that, but George does it on Tuesdays.”

“Did you expect George to do anything else than what you’ve described?”

“Oh, no, usually he doesn’t do anything else. If I had known what he was planning to do …” Agnes fumbled for a handkerchief.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Bunderwaller, take your time,” the prosecutor said.

“Thank you,” Agnes sniffed. “Well, when I left for Knit Night, George and the kids were settling down to watch a movie, so I didn’t worry at all. But when I got home, I heard … noises.”

“What type of noises?” asked the prosecutor.

“I heard the washing machine,” Agnes said bravely. “I had a horrible feeling, so I went over, lifted the lid, and looked in.”

“And what did you see?” the prosecutor prompted.

“I … I saw … it.”

“It, Mrs. Bunderwaller? Can you please be specific?”

“I saw the remains of my brand new white cashmere sweater. Well, it had been white. It was tiny, and shriveled, and felted, and pink. And covered in gum!”

A gasp of horror and sympathy rippled through the courtroom as the prosecutor held up the poor remains of the sweater. Agent K shuddered and held her socks more tightly, as if she could protect them from such a fate. The juror next to Agent K turned green at the gruesome sight.

“And how did that lovely sweater get into that state? Who did this? Is he in the courtroom now?”

“Yes, he is. It was my own husband. He’s the defendant.” Agnes pointed a shaking finger at George, who seemed to shrink into himself.

“The state rests, your honor,” the prosecutor said. Agnes returned to her seat in the gallery, sniffling into her handkerchief.

“The defense calls Mr. Weiser to the stand.”

Agent K frowned as a young man took the stand. He acted like this whole thing was some sort of joke, nudging the prosecutor as he passed her and winking at a cute girl in the jury box.

“Mr. Weiser, you are here to witness to the defendant’s character,” the smarmy lawyer said. “Can you tell us about the defendant?”

“Sure,” Bud said. “Call me Bud! I have been a drinking buddy of George’s since our frat days in college. He wouldn’t do nothing like what you’re all saying. He’s a good guy! Besides, it was an accident.”

“An accident? Did he say so?”

“Well, sure,” Bud replied. “We went out drinking on Wednesday, the night after it happened, and he told me all about it. How his wife went nuts over some dumb sweater that he tried to wash for her.”

The smarmy lawyer looked nervously around the courtroom, as angry murmurs buzzed in the air.

“So, what you’re saying is that it was an accident, right?” The lawyer tried to steer Bud back onto the track.

“Oh, yeah, it was an accident. No doubt. He told me how she was crying and shaking, all over some sweater. It was weird. Who cries over a dumb sweater, anyhow?” Bud winked at the cute juror again, who was frankly glaring at him. “She hadn’t even worn it or anything, so it wasn’t like it was her favorite. George and me, we had a beer and he says, ‘Aw, what’s she going to do about it, anyway? Have me arrested?’ We had a good laugh about that!”

The smarmy lawyer was frankly sweating by this point, glancing around the courtroom, trying to assess the damage. Bud smiled complacently, completely unaware of the tense and angry mood in the room.

“Oh, ah, well, no further questions,” the lawyer gulped. Bud got down off the stand, and returned to the gallery, slapping George on the back as he went.

“Um, the defense calls Mr. George Bunderwaller to the stand,” the lawyer said nervously.

George stood up and walked slowly to the stand. His head was down, and he didn’t meet the eyes of any of the jury. He looked like a dog about to get yelled at for the mess in the living room. Agent K reckoned that was a pretty good description, given the mood in the room.

“Mr. Bunderwaller, can you tell the court what happened that night?”

“Yes, I got home from the baseball game just before Agnes left for Knit Night,” whispered George.

“Can you speak up, please, Mr. Bunderwaller,” the judge said. “It’s hard to hear you over all the knitting needle clicking.”

“Yes, you honor,” replied George in a marginally louder voice. “Anyway, Agnes was running a bit late, so I got the kids settled for dinner, and went to change out of my baseball uniform. And, um, I guess I forgot about the gum in my pocket. But anyway, I went in to the laundry room, put my uniform in the washer on hot water, saw Agnes’s sweater there, and thought she’d be happy if I washed it for her.”

“What a nice thing you did for Agnes!” praised the lawyer, looking meaningfully at the jury. Agent K could almost hear the eyeballs rolling in the jury box. “No further questions.”

The prosecutor stood up and walked slowly toward the witness box, with the air of one holding her temper on a short leash.

“Mr. Bunderwaller,” she began grimly. “Have you ever done laundry before?”

“Um, yes,” he replied, a little uncertainly.

“Have you ever washed anything red with anything white before?”

“Uh, a couple of times.”

“Have you ever ruined any of your wife’s knitting before.”

“Er, yes a few times.”

“Has she banned your from using the washing machine?”

“Well, yeah, I guess …”

“Then why, in the name of all that’s holy, did you wash the sweater with the red uniform on hot water when there was gum in the pocket?!?!?”

“Uh, well, um, er, uh,…”

“Speak up, Mr. Bunderwaller, so the court can hear you.”

“Um, uh, well, you see, uh…”

“No further questions, your honor.” The prosecutor swept back to her table and sat down triumphantly.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you may now retire to consider your verdict,” the judge instructed.

“Your honor,” said Agent K, rising from her seat. “I don’t think we need to deliberate on this one.” The rest of the jury nodded. “I think I can speak for the rest of the jury here, and say that Mr. Bunderwaller is GUILTY AS SIN. His crime was compounded by his lack of sympathy (as evidenced by Bud’s testimony). We would like to encourage you to apply the most stringent punishment allowable by law.”

“Do the rest of the jurors feel that way as well?” the judge asked. One by one, the jurors confirmed their agreement with Agent K. “Very well. Mr. Bunderwaller, please rise.”

George rose trembling to his feet, his lawyer supporting him with a hand under his elbow.

“Mr. Bunderwaller, you have been found guilty of violating Section 3.14159A of the Crimes against Knitting Act of 1924, subsection 42, in the second degree, accident ruination of a handknitted article or articles. You are hereby ordered to relinquish any and all handknit items into your wife’s custody. You may not touch, handle, wash, or wear any article of handknitting for a period of ten years, and you are ordered to take a remedial course in leaving your wife’s handknits alone. All laundry activities you undertake must be supervised by a court-appointed observer.”

The judge paused for a moment to gather the eyes of everyone in the courtroom. “I hope that any children in the audience today will take note of the outcome of this case and learn from it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the potholes of not paying attention to what one is doing will surely cause you to drop stitches.”

He turned back to the guilty party. “May God have mercy on your soul! Court adjourned.”

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