Friday, February 18, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: I Collapse In the Courtroom but Señora Comes with A Miracle!

Old Vallejo Jail
October 29, 1883

Dear Teresa,

Maybe it was the ghastly heat. Or the unrelenting sunlight. The courtroom baked me like an oven.

And surely it didn't help that the judge, a hulking man without the least bit of patience, infuriated me. He refused to consider my argument that I be allowed to represent myself at the trial. He refused to listen to why I wanted to fire that foolish attorney of mine, Deluria.

A few minutes before I collapsed, I was standing before the bench and the judge had just informed me that I would not be permitted to act as my own lawyer.

"No one in your position could possibly handle the task," he declared, wiping his spectacles and looking a little bored.

"But sir, I am certain that I could do a better job as I have an instinct for how to..."

"You have no knowledge of the law except as you have violated it!" He shouted at me.

"I beg to differ sir, I have a good sense of what needs to..." He interrupted.

"We will proceed and you my good woman, need to sit down immediately and stop the foolishness you are displaying here."

"May I just..."

"NO YOU MAY NOT!" He slammed the gavel on the bench and Deluria grabbed my arm.

"You've got to sit down," he whispered. He dragged me back to the table and he and the Sheriff forced me to sit down. I could feel my face grow exceedingly warm and I had a strange pinching sensation in the back of my neck. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

It was at that moment that the judge told me to stand up once again. I inhaled and stood. He proceeded to begin reciting my crime. The next I knew, I was lying face down on the floor, my eyes closed, my mouth open, and I was tasting the filth of dust and dirt on the wood.

I could not move. I felt hands reach underneath my shoulders. I was scooped upright.

I remember being held. I remember wobbling. I remember DeLuria and the judge both swirling before my eyes, in dizzying figure eights. I remember a lurching sensation in my stomach and then everything coming up and out onto the floor. I was heaving up the slop of gruel I had eaten early in the morning in the cell.

And then I hear someone yell, "Catch her," because I was falling again.

And then I am swiftly carried out of the courtroom, and I lay somewhere dark.

They had brought me to the courtroom at 9 a.m. I know this because there was a giant clock on one wall. All I could think was, my life will be decided beneath the thin black hands of this big round clock.

My head was dizzy right from the start. My heart felt like it was pumping twice as fast as it normally does. I had placed my veil and wimple on my head. But the veil was crumpled and crooked, and my face was dirty, and I know -- I could smell myself -- that my habit was a disgrace. I sat beside DeLuria and we didn't speak.

We sat for ten or fifteen minutes before the judge arrived. In a dark robe. A head of white wavy hair. Thick waves. As soon as the judge entered, my dizziness increased. I felt coated in sweat. I stood and could feel myself sway. DeLuria glanced my way. Frowned. I felt the blood drain from my face.

We sat. The two lawyers went to the bench. I set my face into my fingers. I saw you in my mind Teresa. And I saw Señora. I saw her wide brown face.

DeLuria returned to where I was seated and then it was time for me to stand and approach the bench. I looked to DeLuria, waiting for him to take my arm. He didn't. He simply looked at me as if I was a filthy dog. Too dirty to touch. I glared at him and my head grew even more loose.

I stood and with your face and Señora's in my mind, I walked forward.

And stood. And collapsed.

With my falling, the proceedings were halted for the day. I was so weak that there was no way I could walk on my own power back to the jail. They lay me down in a small cramped space, a kind of closet outside the courtroom.

I lay in the dark for who knows how long.

I dreamed. I went back to the stone grotto behind the hacienda. The one Antonie's father built for his mother. The one where my cousin and I used to go so long ago.

The grotto is low. It is tiny. It is surrounded in roses. There is a statue of the Virgin there and I swear I smell the roses.

I kneel before the statue. I look up. The stones are so close I can practically kiss them. I touch the smooth surface of the stone.

I close my eyes and I hear...Señora praying. I hear her saying the Hail Mary in Spanish.

The whispering. The whispering grows louder. You are praying too Teresa. The two of you are kneeling with me in the grotto. We are beginning another Hail Mary.

We are saying the rosary together, the three of us.

Señora speaks. I know Teresa I know this isn't possible. I know. But I heard her so clearly, lying there in the dark.

"Mi'ja, mi'ja," she whispered. She stroked my brow.

This isn’t possible, I know.

The stones are smooth in the grotto. In places the stones are coated in dark scum and patches of bright green slime. Sometimes there is water dripping from the center stone. It passes right behind the Virgin’s head. It falls into the dirt and forms a muddy spot on the ground.

I am seeing my cousin now. There he is. Antonie is a boy. And me, I have just arrived in California. We play in the grotto. We make up this old story about the water dripping from the center stone. We used to say that in the very old days the water used to fall into a little pool where babies were baptized. Sick people and crippled kids would come to the pool. They would take silver cups and fill them with the holy water. They would drink the water and be healed. They would kneel in the pools and walk again.

I am talking out loud in the dark. And then the door opens. I raise my head expecting DeLuria. Or the jailer.

I blink. Because it is Señora. I swear she was there. The old woman

wore the blue shawl all covered in red roses. She walked toward me and reached for my hand and placed something there. Something with beads.

And much later, when they finally moved me back to the cell, when I was well enough to walk very very slowly back to the jail, I knew I had not dreamed this.

Because you see, here, the rainbow rosary. Señora's own personal rosary beads were in my hand.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Old Vallejo Jail
October 20, 1883

Will you be surprised Teresa when I tell you that I am now my own lawyer? How you laugh, I can see so clearly that jolly face of yours so pink and flushed! Your head tips back, your eyes begin watering the way they do when you cannot hold yourself in.

But it's true Teresa,

I am a lawyer, Teresa, in all but name.

The lawyer DeLuria came two days ago, in his crisp starched shirt. Ah the ruffles, these were tipped in black satin thread. He dresses impeccably.

He thinks not at all. We sat in the cell here, and he began to tell me once again that when he examines the evidence against me -- the stacks of white pages with all the "sordid" stories, the "careful" details of the murder -- the evidence against me, he says, "stares him down."

I blinked. I laughed out loud and slapped one hand on my knee and when I looked up I saw him looking at me as though I might be crazy.

I suppose I was being a bit rude, so I covered my mouth (but oh I've become someone altogether quite new here in this cell, Teresa, a woman with no restraints I tell no restraints whatsoever!)

I cleared my throat and sat up straight and said, "My dear sir, have you with you perhaps in that fine leather satchel you are carrying, a report from the scene of the crime? There must be an official report of the crime, yes?"

He lifted his gaze, a bit disdainfully curious I suppose that I was asking HIM a question. "Well, naturally I do. Somewhere here, there is a report by the Sheriff. Naturally I have reviewed all the necessary documents."

I left him to sift through the many papers he carries in his handsome leather briefcase (same color as this my chiseled diary Teresa!) I found myself humming something while he searched, and, quite unexpectedly, the next thing I knew I was WHISTLING! This is not the Renata who left the convent a few months ago now Teresa, this is Renata ANEW!

I looked up and found him glaring at me. "Must you whistle?" he said in a very steady voice.

"Oh, quite wrong of me, so sorry," I said. He resumed his search and I resumed my humming, something that Señora and I have played and sung together.

He found what he was looking for. A single page with half a paragraph of the slanted handwriting of the Sheriff, describing the way they -- the authorities -- found Antonie on the day he died. DeLuria was about to start reading when I held a hand, actually, I laid just two of my fingertips on his coat jacket, and granted they are filthy -- his would be too if he was forced into this hellish cell!

Well, so he instinctively pulled his arm away, out of my grasp, as if I might give him some disease!

"There is no need to read it to me," I said. "I know exactly how my cousin died."

"Well so what is the point here?" he demanded.

"The point here Mr. DeLuria is this: my cousin died a bloody bloody death. But the only question to ask is how did he die? By whose hand? And I know full well it was not MY hand that took his life away."

"Ah but the authorities have the story that describes his murder and the story is clear it is a damnable piece of ev...."

I stood up and stamped my foot and yelled. "It is a damnable batch of lies!" My eyes flamed and he shrank back against that moldy cell wall. All I could think was, his perfect wool waistcoat will be moldy green when he leaves here!

"I have seen that story, Mr. DeLuria, and I know what it says. And I know that as absurd as it sounds, my cousin Antonie wrote it! I know very well that it suggests that I killed him, that I cored the Adam's apple right out from my cousin's throat! But for God's sake, DeLuria, use your head! Make the comparison between that bizarre story and the Sheriff's report! Does the good Sheriff say that my cousin's Adam's apple was cored? Does it Mr. DeLuria?"

He turned his head as if it was a swivel at the top of a barber pole. He examined the Sheriff's slanted handwriting. A whole minute went by before he spoke.

And then of all things, he lit up one of his slim cigars. It occurred to me to say to him, that there was insufficient air for him, me and a cigar as it is still quite beastly in the cell. I thought better of telling him this; instead I began a coughing fit as he inhaled and then blew out rings of blue smoke. I coughed and coughed until he put the blasted cigar out beneath his boot.

"Thank you, very kind of you," I croaked. He picked up the tin cup of water to his right and holding it as if it were a dead crow, he handed the water over to me. I smiled and took a sip.

"So I suppose that there is some discrepancy between the story in question and the Sheriff's report," he said at last.

I smiled and nodded. "Yes, I would think so." I waited a respectable moment. "And thus, it would seem to me a reasonable defense, yes? To lay before the judge and jury the fact that the crime scene and the supposed description of the crime I'm accused of, do not match. They do not match at all!"

I let that sink in, dying to know what he was thinking but reluctant to ask. He twisted his neck this way and that and sat up straighter.

"I cannot promise that this approach will impress the judge adequately," he said finally, in what I can only call a "small" voice. "I must report to you, unhappily, that there is a good deal of bad sentiment against you. The momentum of this sentiment is decidedly strong and it is moving against you."

Folding my lips in on themselves, I quietly laid my hands one on top of the other in my lap. I said nothing. And then I spoke.

"Mother of God, are you indeed the best lawyer available to me?"

"I beg your pardon, that is... insulting."

"Yes, well, my dear DeLuria, you are incompetent." I stood up once more and would have paced the jail cell had there been room. "I keep waiting for you to say something that convinces me that you have my best interests at heart. Or even my interests at all. But I am starting to think I might be better off on my own in the courtroom." I stood with my hands behind my back, imagining myself pacing the courtroom representing myself.

"The prosecution assumes that those foolish pages, those stories, tell some kind of truth. Their case against me rests entirely on stories composed by my cousin and that..."

He interrupted. "No one has established that those pages are indeed the work of your cousin. This needs to be established in court. For all we know they may be anyone's writing. They may even be your own writing." He gave me a leering gaze which only served to make my mouth drop open.

I laughed. "I hope you are joking," I said.

I bent closer to DeLuria and I whispered. "Is this possible that you are as foolish and stupid a man as I think you are? Did you in fact just say what I think you said, that I may be the author of those pages? My dear dear DeLuria what would possess me to write a set of stories that incriminate me? Stories that portray me as a murderer?" I laughed louder, and sat back.

He ignored me, and began filling the satchel with all of his papers. I took a step closer, bent even closer to him.

"Have you thought that there cannot possibly be anyone else who wrote those stories but my cousin? Have you thought it through DeLuria?"

My voice was hoarse, my face flushed, and I'm sure, my breath was a foul cloud.

He pulled away and finally squirmed out of range.

"Good day Sister," he said, and then he called to the jailer. "I am through here!"

The jailer appeared and opened the cell and DeLuria disappeared.

So you see here, now, Teresa, how I've come to be my own counsel. Once DeLuria left, I sank onto the bench here, and the full impact of what I face in the courtroom next week hit me.

It is all but certain that I will be convicted. There is a pile of evidence that should by rights be dismissed without consideration. And yet this idea did not occur even to my lawyer.

Pray for me Teresa. Pray!