Saturday, April 16, 2011

CHAPTER 43: See Me, Now, Convicted of Murder

How quiet the jail tonight.

How bright the moon is outside the window. A perfect white button glowing in the dark cloak that is the sky.

Will she come back again?

Will she bring the other?

I stare between the bars into the courtyard and close my eyes and I realize that I must have been dreaming.

Of course I was dreaming.

Or was I? THAT WAS SEÑORA! She was here. She was here in her flowered shawl. I see her wide face the color of coffee with milk. I see her...and all the bright flowers on the satin shawl.

And I see the other too! She brought the Mother. She brought Her to me.

Or did she? Do I see what I think I see? Am I thinking clearly? I have eaten nothing. I have slept fitfully. I blink and my eyes play endless tricks on me.

What takes the place of Señora's face is horrifying:

The rope. Those five wooden steps.

And if it weren't for her coming, appearing here in the cell. If it weren't for that, for the Mother Herself saying, "Bless you my child, keep steady, have faith!"

If it weren't for that, for the explosion of light that surrounded me, that flooded me, I would say there is no hope.

With my eyes open, with my pen writing words precise and clear here in black ink on this white paper, there is only this to say:

Yesterday, November 22, is the day that the trial finally ended. Yesterday is the day that the last days of my life were numbered. All that remains for me is the five steps up to the gallows.

No matter that Teresa brought a dozen of the nuns from the convent to testify on my behalf at the trial. No matter that they sat behind me, a phalanx of faith and devotion. No matter that DeLuria (prodded by Teresa) brought each nun in turn to the witness stand to testify on behalf of my "outstanding moral character."

No matter that it took most of the afternoon in that stifling courtroom to hear from each of the 13 nuns (Teresa included.)

No matter that one after the other they sat for the ordeal, listening to the insults of the prosecutor.

To all of you who came on my behalf -- to Sister Baptiste, Sister Philomena, Sister Hermione, Sister Marietta, Sister Felicity, Sister Annabelle, Sister Celina, Sister Genevieve, Sister Pauline, Sister Rafaela, Sister Margot and Sister Lucia -- I am forever indebted to you. I am forever grateful. I salute your courage, and your endurance. Traveling by carriage all those 87 miles from the convent on those red dusty roads surely exhausted you. And then sitting on backless benches in that stifling courtroom all those many long hours. Enduring all the questions, the snide remarks, the stern looks from the jurors, all of it.

No matter. At the end of the day, the jury took exactly one hour and 34 minutes to return to the courtroom. I was in the cell only a few minutes when the jailer returned to "fetch me" for the verdict.

I sat at the defense table, hands folded, holding the well-worn family Bible that Teresa had brought me. I watched the 12 men shuffle back into the room, carefully avoiding my eyes.

The judge spoke. "Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"

The foreman, a portly man with a bright red nose and wearing a leather vest stood. "Yes, your honor, we have."

The judge nodded. Turned to glare at me. "Please stand and face the jury."

I stood, and DeLuria stood beside me. And behind me, I heard all of the nuns who had come to support my case. I felt them all rise with me!

Suddenly there wasn't nearly enough air in the courtroom to breathe. So I held my breath. My hands trembled so I held them to my chest as if in prayer.

"How do you find the defendant?" I heard the judge's question, but it sounded so far away to me, as if I had been wholly delivered up to another world.

"We find the defendant guilty, your honor."

Without knowing why, I smiled. I will never understand that beatific smile. Perhaps it was a release. Finally, I was hearing the words that I had dreaded to hear for so many many weeks.

A tender hush rose up behind me. I felt a hand at my back, one on my elbow, I know not whether it was DeLuria or Teresa or one of the many other nuns. My legs turned so soft that I felt they would no longer support me.

I collapsed into the chair. There were words being said, I suppose the judge was pronouncing the date that I would be sentenced, but now I felt again that I was not present in the room. Or I was immersed deep under water. Or he was speaking Russian or French. DeLuria tried to pull me by the arm, hoping I would stand again, but it was too late. I had turned into dead weight.

I sat there hands folded staring into the oak table. I studied the grain of the wood, and I felt that I could continue sitting there staring at that beautiful grain -- the whorls so intricate -- for as long as they would permit me.

But it wasn't to be permitted. It wasn't long before I was lifted at both elbows and my wrists were shackled again. DeLuria was telling me he would file an appeal and I was about to say,

"Mr. DeLuria I feel that is a mistake, and not necessary, you see you have done enough already."

But my lips were forming words I couldn't say. I was already being shepherded out of the room. And as I headed out, I glanced once at the bank of eyes and tears and black veils. Sister Pauline was making the sign of the cross and Teresa was holding Señora in her arms and rocking her.

I was all too soon back here, locked in, where I sat in silence until Teresa and Señora came and the three of us held hands through the bars and cried together and said nothing.

What could we possibly say when all is lost?

Finally, the jailer came and told them visiting hours were over. Teresa protested, but I begged her to go. And so they did, but not before Señora left a basket covered in a gingham cloth -- jars of canned vegetables and one of apricots. Ah, but nothing appealed to me, not even the cup of chamomile tea that Kitty later brought me (I took it, however, because as long as I was sipping the tea, Mr. Bean allowed her to sit with me.)

The sun dropped behind the courtyard and that moon I am still staring at rose in the clear dark sky. I must have fallen asleep. When I awoke, I saw that Mr. Bean had left me a bowl of soup which had grown cold, and a crust of bread. I dumped both into the foul pail.

I have a stone dead feeling in my stomach, as if someone had come in and stolen the core of me away and left a gaping cold trench. An open grave.

I have no idea when it happened.

When she came.

I know only that at some point she came.

Or did she?

During the night, when the moon was close to the roof of Kitty's cafe, I stood looking out the barred window. I stared into the courtyard where the gallows will stand and I finally said it out loud:

I am convicted of premeditated murder. I have been found guilty of killing my cousin Antonie in cold blood.

And I would have written that there is no more to say.

That all is lost. That there is no more hope for me. That nothing more remains but the sentence and the sentence we know already is me hanging by a rope.

But then she came. She has come before to me, Señora. She came clear as a ringing bell, she came shortly after I was arrested, she arrived here in this very cell, singing in the key of eternity. She came another time, after I collapsed in the courtroom, and then she brought me the rainbow rosary.

And perhaps because I was saying that very rosary tonight, praying with all my might for a miracle again, she came again, Señora, she came just as the moon settled like a bright bubble on the horizon, just before the bubble burst, and flooded the sky with white light,

She sat here with me, my dear old Señora, playing her guitar, and singing her lovely carcelero.

I am quite convinced of it now but how to explain this PRESENCE?

And how to explain the other, the glimpse I had of the Mother?

She is real. She too was here tonight, as clear as I see these bars she stood above me, as bright as the moon glowed, she showed herself to me in a fabulous light.

She the Mother filled me with love, I glowed too I glowed too. And I am afraid to write it down here, perhaps I fear that the miracle will disappear.

And I've grown nervous that the jailer when I sleep takes the journal, for what purpose I am not sure, he doesn't read a word. But just in case, I will slip the journal inside the powder blue shirtwaist dress.

And I sit here, and with me is the guitar that Señora played and now I sing and play and I sing and I pray.

And she is back, and

Now she sees my tears and changes gear. Now she is singing a gay and witty sort of palo which has a never ending number of poetic verses.

She sings:

Just imagine. What I. Did. Just imagine. Where I fled to.

Only the stars can tell you. Only the sky can guess.

So now sit down and I will try to tell you.

You will see it all come clear.

When the water goes still as a mirror,

And we peer inside.

Do you see now, why I appeared here?

Do you see now, why you must

Tell the world my story? Yes, tell the world

Just sing it, shout it out,

how we turned the past.


We will move her story, Renata's

and Antonie's,

and his false history,

and hers,


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