Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: A Flurry of Letters But Will They Help?


Kitty is busy writing letters and what's more, she is getting friends and neighbors, and fellow nuns back at the convent to write letters too. What began as Kitty's pet project -- convincing Governor Stoneman to spare my life -- has now taken on a life of its own.

I cannot say that I understand how this has happened. Why exactly she is so determined to save my life, I'm not sure, but Teresa insists that Kitty's motives are pure and simple.

"We have had a number of long talks about Antonie, and his illness and his bizarre storytelling, and how those stories compromised you, and she was enraged. She wants to rectify the tragedy of what he did to you." Teresa explained this to me a few days ago while standing at Kitty's sink, rinsing the evening dishes. Kitty was downstairs in the cafe, serving dinner with SeƱora. "I tell you, Renata, that woman is an inspiration to me. Kitty has a great heart, and a magical spirit that carries her. She is full of life."

But when I pressed Teresa to explain what precisely motivates Kitty to be such a tireless advocate for me, Teresa clammed up. "I am not really at liberty to say," she mumbled.

"Oh Teresa, come now. If you know something, for heaven's sake, you ought to tell me."

Teresa looked up toward the ceiling and said nothing at first. Then she turned to me. "Kitty has had a very hard and challenging life, but she has transformed her challenges into opportunities."

"Yes, well, you've said that. But I wondered about the basics. Like, was she ever married? Was she a mother? Is that portrait in the bedroom her child?"

Teresa wiped the last cup and set it on the shelf. She shook her head briskly. "No reason to get into all of that," she said. "After all, what difference does it make to your situation? If you feel it is necessary and you want to ask Kitty, well then go ahead and ask her yourself." She shrugged and untied her apron and at that moment I thought to myself, Teresa has been putting on weight. She looks wider than I remember her at the convent.

"Now I have to run downstairs to the cafe to help out."

I believe that Kitty's a good soul, I don't doubt that. But this intensely-focused letter-writing campaign of hers must stem from something. As I've said before, I suspect that Kitty lost a child -- all I know is that she touches that portrait of the girl with the strawberry curls, the one hanging in her bedroom, at least two or three times a day. Only some deep emotional pain -- a deep, deep well of it -- could fuel her efforts and keep her so focused, working so fervently on my behalf.

I suppose it doesn't matter a bit. And I should be grateful. All I know is that she has a sign up in the cafe offering a free meal to anyone who will write a letter! And the newspaper is set to run a story on the letter campaign.

As soon as I heard the word "newspaper" I cringed, thinking back to that first horrifying story after I was arrested -- I felt crucified in words. And all subsequent reports about my trial were in the same vein. But Kitty assures me that this is going to be a different story, one that explains why an ordinary citizen has come forward to advocate for a woman in need.

Apparently, there are others she has convinced. All I know is that I woke from a nap four afternoons ago, lying there in the parlor on her sofa, with sunlight bathing the quilt that covered me. As soon as I woke up, I realized that Kitty had visitors.

I had been dreaming that I was, of all things, a centaur, half horse, half woman, and that I was galluping off to war! I woke up with tears in my eyes, because I realized that I was almost certainly going to be killed in battle!

That thought had me sniffling and teary when I came to, but there across the parlor, sitting at Kitty's oak table, were three strangers, two rather portly ladies, and one very tall thin woman. All of them are neighbors of Kitty's. Two were sipping lemonade Teresa had fixed, and the third had a glass of port. A plate of cookies sat on the table, and from what I was able to see, the two heavyset ladies were doing justice to the sweets.

It occurred to me that perhaps Kitty was soliciting letter writers by promising the writers free food and drink.

In any case, I lay there, wrapped in the quilt, remaining quiet, just observing, listening to Kitty explain her mission. "Sister Renata is no more guilty of a crime than you or me!" Kitty began. "I can tell you that she has a journal and I've read parts of it, and the way she cared for her cousin, Antonie, she is worthy of a medal. And this is the same man she is accused of killing."

The ladies remained quiet. The two cookie eaters continued to nibble.

"Her cousin, I'm afraid, was very ill, and..." Kitty paused. "Lord help me, but he wasn't right in the head. He wrote some bizarre tales about her. Plain and simply, he lied, but because of his position around here, everyone believe him, and Renata paid the price." Kitty sat forward. "And so I see it as our moral duty to help set her free!"

She brought her fist down hard on the oak table, hard enough so that the plate with the cookies rattled. The three neighbors shifted in their seats. The two heavy women stopped eating.

"Sister Renata's lawyer believes that there is a good chance that the Governor would spare the nun's life if a significant portion of the community is sympathetic to her situation," Kitty continued, now folding her hands and looking from one woman to the next. "And so I'm asking you, can you write a little letter asking Governor Stoneman for mercy?"

This particular meeting with the neighbors was just one of many that Kitty has held, either here in the parlor, or downstairs in the cafe. She has called a public meeting for next week to lay out her case. She asked Deluria if I would be permitted to attend but as I am technically in jail, and this is not a courtroom proceeding, he said I would not be allowed to go.

Just as well, as I know it would be painful to confront a crowd.

After Kitty delivered her pitch the other afternoon, the tall woman asked a question. "I guess I am wondering this, Miss Kitty. Why didn't you try to keep her from gettin' convicted in the first place?"

"Well that would have been ideal, I agree, Alice. But you know the court works the way the court works. And her lawyer, the truth be told, was barely able to hold his own." Kitty took a sip of lemonade herself. "What else you should know is that it took me some time to grow firm in my conviction that Renata is innocent. I went to every day of the trial, and as you know, I've had her in my house here." She gestured in my direction and the next thing I knew I had all four of them staring at me, still snuggled quietly under the quilt on the sofa.

"Oh, Renata, you are awake, I would make you a cup of tea and I will as soon as I am finished here."

"Thank you Kitty, I think you're doing plenty as it is. Not to worry about my tea!"

The three neighbors gazed at me as though I was a panther or a mountain lion in captivity. I suspect that never had any of them seen a convicted murderer up close, I pulled the quilt up over my chin.

And in a matter of minutes, the three of them were on their way, with the tall woman saying she would "give some thought" to a letter. The other two cookie-eaters refused to commit to doing anything on my behalf.

After they had left, Kitty reassured me that she had met with several other neighbors in the cafe earlier in the day and "had at least seven promised letters." Of course promises are cheap, I keep reminding myself of that fact.

But now, today, Kitty has shown me a small stack of actual letters -- eight to be exact. Some are just a few paragraphs long, scrawled in the sloppiest penmanship I've ever seen. But there is one letter that I must admit, I've already read it a dozen times, it too is short, but it presents my case in such a highly favorable light. And what's more, the handwriting is some of the prettiest I've ever seen!

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