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.

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