by Harrison Pyros
Feral Woman. That’s what they’re calling her in the newspaper—unashamedly, unabashedly—“total headline material,” our editor says with too much excitement. At our editor’s instructions, commanding the room like a drill sergeant, I watch my coworkers comb the court records website and hound their sources at the police station, searching every nook and cranny for her mugshot. It takes 30 minutes to get and is immediately plastered at the top of our website; the paper is set to run tomorrow with her face planted on the front page. “Feral Woman Arrested on Suspicion of Arson” reads the headline, big and bold beneath her smirking face, her cheeks plump and dainty, her eyes twinkling into the camera as if saying, So what? They deserved it.
A police officer was the first to call her feral, but my editor seemed to latch onto it. “It gets eyeballs,” he shrugged when all the women in the office frowned. During a sudden protest at the police station a week ago, the woman had spit in the cop’s face after he grabbed her and tried to take her megaphone. Someone’s digital camera had captured the cop’s face of surprise, how he had slapped a hand to his cheek and tumbled backwards like a cartoon character. It was a miracle she wasn’t arrested right there—some said it’s because she’s white, others said it’s because there was a lawyer present who threatened the cop with assault charges for grabbing the woman since it’s all on video. So then the cop walked 10 feet to the left and got interviewed by the local station where he called the woman’s anger feral, and here we are.
My girlfriend was at the protest, so I heard about it even before my editor. Now, I’m being kept in the loop by my office and girlfriend since I cover politics for the paper, so all this has been off my beat. I’m sure some councilperson will be wanting to make a comment soon, but they’ve all been pretty quiet these past few weeks throughout the assault scandal, protest, and fire. But then again, they’re antsy because it’s election season and there’s a fairly new senator—Obama, from Illinois I think—in the Democratic primary who’s stirring up our purple district.
My girlfriend knows the woman: Feral Woman as my editor calls her—Cassandra as my girlfriend corrects me. The night after the arrest, the mugshot getting plenty of “eyeballs,” I ask my girlfriend if she thinks the woman did it. Is she guilty? Is she as feral as they say?
My girlfriend bites into watermelon slices, and I watch the juices run rivulets down the sides of her mouth. “Who cares if she did?” I hear her say. “That boy and that family can’t just get away with what they did.”
I hear the subtle crunch of the fruit between her teeth when I ask if she thinks the boy did what everyone is saying he did.
“Of course,” she says without blinking. “Without a doubt.”
I have already read the article about the arson, and so has my girlfriend, but it’s still open on her laptop. The building—burnt to the ground, nothing salvageable—was a branch of a small insurance company the family owned. Someone—allegedly Feral Woman—threw a Molotov cocktail through the frosted-pane window and let all the files and computers go up in flames. The family is devastated—from three offices to two. Insurance will help, but they’ll bleed cash in the hours and days of work lost. When my girlfriend read that detail, she laughed.
The next morning, my coworker approaches me with shark-like journalistic glee, holding photos still hot from the Xerox. “It’s the son’s car,” he says, showing me a picture of a tan four-seater with the word “RAPIST” keyed across the side in jagged letters. “The girl he assaulted has an alibi,” he says, because no one likes to use the r-word. “So does Feral Woman.”
The boy tries to stay hidden, but social media is quick to sink its hooks into him. He deactivates his accounts after the death threats get worse. The girl that originally accused him is making statements but not about his car: “The police ‘mess up’ with my evidence, making it inadmissible but can arrest this woman on a grudge? I think we know what’s going on here,” reads her Twitter. The family is now down one branch and one car and seen entering their lawyer’s office for the second time this month.
“They’re running out of money to have leverage,” my girlfriend muses. “Hit them in the wallet where it hurts.”
Feral Woman is released that night, represented by the same lawyer at the protest. The lawyer threatens a lawsuit for unlawful arrest, but it sounds more like a publicity thing. Obama wins the Iowa caucus. I call the district attorney and ask if the month’s events will trigger an internal investigation and get a wishy-washy response.
“You know I did the right thing, right?” my girlfriend tells me, but I have no idea what she’s talking about. The family begins to refuse to make comments; the parents meet with my editor and ask for the articles to be taken down. We hear his laughter all the way from the break room.
It’s election season. The sheriff is up for reelection. The only statement I get from a councilperson is, “It’s going to be ugly.”