4

Where a Frenchman visits the author
and recommends a lawyer; where the author retains the lawyer.

I'm put in a room with another woman. A nurse asks me if I want to notify somebody. I say that all my family is in France and I don't want to call them. I think of how my sisters acted when they visited me, Sophie in 86, Elisabeth in 88 and Agns in 89, and how they all seemed to have gotten worse since childhood. Their hostility toward me had not diminished with age and maturi- ty, it had increased! So they were the last persons I wanted by my side during these times of trial. But I call a Frenchman with whom I had dinner the week before.

He comes to see me one hour later. First I tell him what happened and I tell him that I am certain that the bus driver had tried to run me over. He doesn't ask questions. He does all the talking, drowning me in chitchat as if what I had just said wasn't anything worth talking about and when he's at the door to leave at the end of the afternoon, as if thinking suddenly about something, he tells me that I'm going to need a lawyer. I call him back and ask him if he can recommend anybody. He says that the only lawyer he knows is a business lawyer but he'll ask him for a referral.

The next day, on May 24th, he calls me to give me a name and telephone number. He says that it's a personal injury lawyer of the firm Levine & Slavit. I call the lawyer who says that he'll come to see me the next day at 1PM. In the afternoon a messenger from the first agency visits me. I tell him what happened and from my description he says that the bus "sideswiped" me. Now I know the word.

On the 25th Ed an his brother pay me a surprise visit at 8AM. I tell them what happened, that the bus sideswiped me, I tell them that I was positive that the bus driver had tried to kill me. Ed giggles and mocks me. He says that bus drivers do this to bike messengers sometimes, in a tone that implies that everybody knows this, but it's in good fun, they don't mean any harm by it. I'm indignant for a half second: they don't mean any harm! I almost died! Then I'm so embarrassed to look paranoid that I want to disappear under the covers.

Ira Slavit, the lawyer arrives at 1PM. He's about 5'10, slim, with greying curly hair. I tell him that the bus cut in front of me and that I threw my shoulder against the side of the bus to avoid falling, that the bus kept going and that my shoulder slid against the whole length of the bus, after which I fell on my left knee. He stares at me. Because of what Ed told me earlier I don't dare to tell him that I thought that the bus driver was trying to run me over. I'm too afraid that he'll make fun of me also, or take me for a mental case.

He doesn't ask any questions except my name and address. He just hands me a retainer where he filled in the blanks. The retainer reads in part:

"The Undersigned hereby retains you to prosecute or adjust a claim for damages arising from personal injuries sustained by (handrwritten:) 'Brigitte Picart' on the (handrwritten:) '23rd of May 1990' through the negligence of (handwritten:) 'motor vehicle accident' or other persons, (emphasis added) and the undersigned hereby gives you the exclusive right to take all legal steps to enforce the said claim..."

The text then describes the mode of payment of the attorney's fee, based on a sliding scale, payable from the amount recovered from the claim. I understand that it's a contingency fee, that I don't have to pay any attorney's fee out of pocket. In fact it's the only thing I understand. The sentence where he filled in the blank doesn't make sense.

I ask him how long I have to file the claim. He says three months. I'm about to ask him another question but he's staring at me with his green eyes half-closed. I feel intimidated and don't ask the question. Besides my knee is throbbing and I want him to leave so I can ask for pain killers. So I sign the retainer to get rid of him.

As soon as he's left I have the sinking feeling that I've made a big mistake. I press the button at my bedside and ask a nurse for pain-killers. Nobody asked me if I was in pain in the two days I've been here, nobody offered me pain killers, although it's obvious that with this kind of injury I suffer a great deal. Now I want all the pain killers I can get, not only for the pain in my knee but also for the mental pain. I want to be drugged out of my mind.


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