Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Loss for Words Pt. 11

(CONTINUED) I was on the 38 bus heading back toward Ruben’s when my phone rang. The name was Julie McGregor. The number had a Santa Fe prefix. I didn’t answer. Over the last hour Anne and I had finally managed to find some middle ground. I told her I wanted to be involved in the raising of our child. She seemed wary, but genuinely pleased. For her part, she said she would tell Steve about the baby and about me. For now, that was all she would do. It was all she could do. I thought she seemed a little nervous when we discussed Steve, but I let it go. I was nervous about all this, too.

I went back to Ruben’s and took a nap on the couch. When I woke up the sun was going down and the blinds cast long shadows across the carpet. For a moment I thought I’d slept through the night. I sat up on the couch and felt different. It had been a long time since I’d felt clean--really clean--but now it was as if while I’d slept a fire had burnt off all the wreckage that had been weighing me down. My thoughts were sharp and it seemed as if, at last, I saw a path before me. I felt good.

I grabbed a notebook out of my bag and a pen. A story had come to me, out of the air, and I had to put it down as fast as I could. In the story a man was put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He’d been engaged to be married soon and now it would be years before his release. At first he was despondent, inconsolable. But in a short time another man was put in the cell with him. This man has been badly wounded and apparently left to die. The innocent man tends to him as best he can, feeding him cold porridge from a bowl the guards bring each morning. He dresses the man’s injuries with strips of his own shirt, using the water that is brought to them for drinking to clean the wounds. Days pass and it seems sometimes that the man will die, sometimes that he will live. Finally, after a week, the wounded man says his first word, “please,” and motions toward a battered tin cup. The innocent man gives him some water and the wounded man sleeps. Eventually, the wounded man can converse. He will not speak of his crime or incarceration, only of his childhood, his mother, father, and brother, and how he loved them.

After some time the wounded man has begun to heal and the innocent man, freed from his ministrations, again sinks into despondency. He has told the wounded man of his ordeal, but the man only nodded and said that life could indeed be most unfortunate. One day two guards come down with another man who appears to be of great rank. In fact, he is the commander of the armed forces. The door to the cell is opened and the commander steps inside. He does not look at the man who has been wounded, but addresses the innocent man only. After a series of questions regarding name and age and birthplace the man is asked if he has helped the other man with his wounds. The innocent man replies that he has provided such assistance as he was able and the commander nods then turns and begins to pace across the cell. He tells the man that he has no doubt saved the life of the other man and that this must surely be a great thing in the eyes of God as mercy and forgiveness are often ascribed to that deity. He paces some more and then says that in the eyes of men, however, his assistance may not be taken as such a good thing. Then he asks the innocent man if he would like to know the crimes which the other man has committed. The man says that he would not, that if it is ultimately for God to forgive then it serves no purpose for him to know what the other man has done. The commander stops pacing and puts a finger to his mouth. Finally, he tells the man that his answer was wise and because of what he has done for this other man he will be released immediately.

The man is taken from the cell and led up a flight of steps to a room where he is given a set of clothes and a small amount of money. Another guard comes to show the man out of the prison but the commander enters the room. The commander says that the wounded man was his brother and that, therefore, his injuries had been inflicted by his own flesh. The commander holds out his hands and turns them over for the man to inspect. The innocent man says nothing. The commander then reaches into his shirt pocket and removes a bloodstained ring, which he gives to the man. The commander says that it was his wife’s ring and he wishes the man to have it as a remembrance. The innocent man is confused but expresses his gratitude. The commander goes on to tell him that he must always remember that his life was ransomed with that of another much better than he, that lives in his family were tragically lost and saved, and that, as lives stained by blood are forever intertwined, the innocent man has become part of his family. He kisses the man on the cheek and opens the door for him. As the man exits the commander tells him not to despair, that the price for freedom has always been blood, and whether it has been shed or saved is simply a matter of circumstance. The men part and the innocent man begins the long walk to his home and his betrothed.

I wrote eighteen pages in one sitting, from start to finish. The story flowed right out of me. It had been a long time since that had happened. I didn’t realize how much time had passed until Ruben came home as I was doing a few final rewrites. I had forgotten to eat dinner—I hadn’t even realized I was hungry—so we went out to an all-night dinner and got some burgers. I even picked up the tab. (CONTINUED)

All photos of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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