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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Trial of Callista Blake By Edgar Pangborn Characters: 20587

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The wolves sat on their haunches, or stood, or crouched belly to earth with snouts on forepaws, while others maneuvered in the shadow beyond the tree-border of the clearing. On the other side of that border spread such a blackness as the mind imagines for the sea a mile down, yet here and there it was relieved by the gray of stone; everywhere, also, a coldness. Grayness in the clearing too; no flowers, nothing of the sun, but phallic-bodied toadstools and a ground-vine twisting a serpentine life among scattered rocks. Callista remembered being told that someone had died in there, in the blackness where no one could see it happen. The wolves would have eaten the body.

The wolves were old, possibly several thousand years old. "A geeolawgical malformation," said the child in her lap, speaking with precocious insight.

Callista moved her hand with its dangling bracelet over the fine black hair, tiny ear, bony shoulder, indistinct body. Her intention was a caress; likely the child knew it. She grew interested, not urgently, in learning the child's sex. What was the difficulty?-not a diaper. Apparently the little thing possessed only a negative pink blank between skinny thighs, like the crotch of a plastic doll. "The Merican Ideal," said the brat, rolling china-white eyes. "See?"

"Well, shut up, darlin'," Callista said. The wolves had crept closer during her preoccupation. Such was their habit (she had been told) if you neglected to look them straight in the eye. She watched them in contemplative pain resembling fear, and they continued moving, slowly, a stirring and gliding that seemed aimless until Callista understood one of them was being pursued, a thin bitch wolf, scar-faced, nearly black, with a crooked leg, devil-eyed but in her demoniac way pathetic. Callista was moved to remark: "Hasn't a chance."

And yet, poor beast, her own wickedness was plain. You could see the drip of poisonous saliva from her mouth, and the fetuslike thing impaled on a lower tooth-it couldn't be her own, so she must have stolen it somewhere. No wonder they were after her. Serve her right! (Or if the fetus was her own she ought to have taken better care of it)-therefore one could understand the primitive justice of it as the gray jaw of a pursuer hooked over her narrow rump. His hind legs massively firmed themselves. Callista could observe the sudden scarlet erection, sense the weight of the one lifted gray indifferent paw; but he did not swing about to rear up and clamp her loins, he merely held her in the angle of his jawbone and under that paw while others closed in to slit her throat-she womanly now lying on her back as a clean white fang thrust out of a surgical mask to run deftly down from the throat along the mid-line of the body, opening up the internal apparatus not for eating but for a better clinical view.

"Like a theater Oh-doctor," said the child's intelligent profile in Callista's arms. Someone said: "Gentlemen, this is the pancreas-a remarkably pancreative bitch to be sure, aware of nature and consequences. Notice the inadequate uterus, a primipara yes yes, but evidence of miscarriage early in term-and by the way, Potter's Field is bungfull of that type."

"I resent that," Callista said. Able now to pick up the child and walk away with her through the woods where all light was granite-gray, she did so, seeking her father to show him a long overdue report card on progress in pancreation. The little girl-naturally, a little girl, with that lyre waist and tumbling hair and dainty genital groove-said to her: "I am so sorry, Callista Johnson Blake, I have to stop here and paint a picture. Can I look at that thing?"

"I got my paw stuck in it."

"Irrelevant," said the little girl. "Incompetent Callista."

"All right," Callista said, and walked away from her through the grayness, uncertain whether she could find her father. He sat (she thought) behind a gray screen, by a lighted window. "Daddy, please!-"

Now the bracelet on her wrist had caught, snarled itself in a tangle of black vines, and Callista called: "Daddy, I can't seem to fix it. Can I go now?"

She could not go, because in front of her beyond the vines were the two doors, so very nearly alike, and someone-NOT Daddy, because Daddy NEVER said anything so unkind-someone said: "It's one or the other."

Callista tried then to scream with all her power: "Daddy! My back hurts-" nothing in her throat but a mumble, hardly even that, a scream in silence without breath: "Daddy! Please come-my back hurts-"

Callista sat up drenched in sweat that soaked her pajamas, and shivering. No relief at first, rather a frustrated anger, since in another moment her father might have been able to hear and answer. Comprehension then; reorientation; qualified relief-Is waking any better?

It was, of course. Steadier, anyway. The familiar exchange of selves: What I was in the dream, I am not; what I am, I was and was not in the dream.

The grayness before her eyes yielded the image of a cross, and a second horizontal bar grew visible-there all the time. A window, the same one through which yesterday, by straining on tiptoe to the limit of pain, she had succeeded in watching the wheeling of doves. The same effort now would give her the field of winter sky before dawn. If the rain had stopped, a few stars incorruptible, indifferent.

She did not rise, but pulled her feet under her for warmth and drew closer the scratchy antiseptic-smelling blanket. At this hour the cells were quiet. Another prisoner snored, probably the old woman who had been brought in drunk last night, her high defiant monotone of obscenities temporarily hushed.

A few months ago Callista would have reached for the notebook by her bed to write down what she could recapture of the dream. Edith had wondered if all that intensive reading in psychology wasn't too one-sided, introspective-making. "Maybe, Cal, you ought to be meeting people more and thinking less about their insides." But to meet one person is to meet a thousand selves; and it seemed to Callista that she had remained critical, as Edith probably feared she wouldn't. "Cal, I wish you had more counterbalance, too, for those psychologists in print. I've read them. They don't look out of the windows enough. Why not contrast them with the exact scientists?-who often have the same fault but in a different style?" Something in that.... "There isn't one of those boys, going back to Papa Freud himself, who wouldn't be improved by a refresher course in first-year biology."

And Edith had gone on to urge her, once more, to go to college next year-Callista, inwardly, very nearly ready to agree. She recalled the crystal April afternoon, and Edith standing, her back turned, looking out the studio's north window, the light a clear perfection on her red hair-why must Edith imagine herself homely? "Here-may I say it?-you're not quite far enough away from your Mom."

"A million light years."

"Of course, darling, but not in the flesh. And I keep thinking that right now maybe you ought to be farther from me." Edith shrugged and sighed. "For your sake, that is, certainly not for mine. Right now I could be a little too rich for your blood."

"No. If not for your sake, then not for mine."

Edith had come back to her then, standing with the great cool light at her back, looking down in one of her sudden moods of softness and gravity. "All right, Cal. But think about college for next fall?"

In agreement more than half sincere, Callista said: "I will-I'll think about it. You ought to marry, Edith."

"Narrow pelvis, distaste for an overpopulated world. I don't think it's my dish. I like men. The few that I've thought I'd like for keeps turned out to be guys who didn't want me, or at least not that way...."

But as for the reading in psychology, Edith's opinion remembered was still not quite acceptable. Freud and his successors still seemed to Callista like the best available guides into the nearest and most tormenting section of the jungle. One could rule out those who had fallen into worship of the sofa-pillow god Adjustment, and in doing so lost sight of the individual self or never noticed it. One could also remain critical of any guide, since the self must learn the sound of its own voice and discover its own country.

Yes-but all that was before Ann Doherty drank poison.

Once more laboriously, appearing to herself rather like a high school child hungry for a good mark, Callista attempted to review her knowledge of that night last August. Not only as it would be presented when she took the stand (as she must do whether Cecil thought best or not) but as it would be declared to the court of her own intelligence before that court could grant any acquittal. The face of Judge Mann intruded, however, again and once again, when her toiling revery reached the Blank, the lost moment, the miserable blur of amnesia where the crucial thing, the one answer Callista must have, was surely lying hidden. A quiet face, probably wise and certainly not vain, with the small chronic frown, the sense of cleanness and good health, the gentleness that Callista believed no face could wear if it were functioning as a mask-very well then: admit the face of Judge Terence Mann to this lonely privacy and make use of it.

Let the empty wall beside the barred door dissolve a little. Blur the flat plaster, doubtless reinforced within; it looks like stone and by daylight shows a few sad scribblings of the last tenant, not quite scrubbed away: Why can't they let me read what the wench wrote and criticize her bit of a drawing that might now be either a baby or a phallus?-blur that, and let the high walnut bench stand there. Give him the gown-black, please!-and the pencil, and the look, startled but not unkind, that he wore when the spiteful child said: "Which is the Clerk?" He would be less ghostly if now and then, there in the foggy opening of the wall, he could move his thin hand in the writing-could it possibly be drawing?-up there in the dignified isolation where even Mr. Delehanty, the Clerk-which-is-the-Clerk, couldn't watch it. All right now? Go ahead!

Begin with the talk, the flustered moment when Ann came into the apartment a little fogged

up with wondering what it was all about. If she was wondering-hard to be sure, since dewy-eyed confusion was one of Ann's best faces: look-how-cute-I-am-when-I'm-thinking-about-something. Not that a talk with Nancy could ever decide anything except that she would continue certain of her own placid rightness. Your Honor, it had a bearing on my state of mind-and by the way, my cantankerous cattiness and unfairness are duly noted and admitted. I couldn't stand her. I never could stand her, even before-before Jim. I can't stand people who cuddle continually inside one ready-made idea like babies growing old in the crib. Yes-granted-they can't help it.

YOU ARE ADMITTING YOU HATED YOUR LOVER'S WIFE?

No, I'm not. I said I couldn't stand her. It's not the same thing. Wasn't that correct? A difficult point, but not too difficult for Judge Mann-he with his calm face, his busy pencil: without the black robe, in ordinary clothes, what would you take him for? Doctor? Scientist? Teacher? Besides, your Honor, on that night he was no longer my lover. That was the night of the 16th of August, with a hazy moon. He had been my lover from the first of May to the sixth day of July.

DO YOU WISH TO TESTIFY ABOUT THAT?

I think I should like to have the hazy moon admitted in evidence.

CALLISTA, WILL YOU NEVER UNDERSTAND THAT MOST HUMAN CREATURES ARE AFRAID OF LAUGHTER? GET TO THE POINT.

All right.

She could skim over the first half-hour of that talk. It had been mere sparring, Ann vaguely friendly on the surface, chattery, perhaps sensing just enough of trouble to want to hold it away. Then Callista had made a stumbling approach of blurted hints, Ann gradually comprehending because she had to, gradually perching nearer the edge of her chair, hands not in their usual flutter but folded and tightening in her lap, her lovely face abnormally attentive; listening-she had to, that once!-watchful and still. Not openly resentful or hating, never entirely distorted out of beauty. Incredible, but it must be that Ann had never guessed, and Jim had been a better actor than Callista dreamed. Ann had not even been hurt, really; not inside. Too secure. And then-"Poor Callie!"

Your Honor, I then said: "Oh, for Christ's sake!" and was sick to my stomach.

She lived again (nearly forgetting the ghostly, not unkindly seated figure in the blurred wall) her blundering rush for the bathroom with a handkerchief at her mouth. Ann had followed, of course. Callista had not quite slammed the door. Ann was out there, bleating, and then inside. "Callie, you mustn't feel so bad! Don't you see? God will forgive you. If you'll only take the right attitude!"

Yes, your Honor, I retract the word "bleating." "Her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman"-Lear, Act Five, last scene, I forget the number of the scene, do you mind? She also put her arm around me while I was heaving, and-

"Let me alone!"

"Poor Callie! It's all right. Let me get you something."

"God damn it, Ann, go away!"

Ann had not gone away, not then. Callista remembered running from her again, into the bedroom, slamming that door and locking it, dropping on the bed unable for a while to move or cry out. The beginning of the blank, probably. A mental door slammed, but surely not locked. But mind is continuing action: it doesn't have doors, levels, thresholds. I know, your Honor, I know; I'm tired out, therefore thinking in stupid terms, because I wish I could go back to sleep. The blanket stinks, but I do wish-

WHY DID YOU ASK HER TO COME AT ALL, MISS BLAKE?

I believe I thought we might be able to talk of it like adults, but I never even got as far as telling her I was pregnant. When half the truth was out I saw it was no good. I'd forgotten her God had a blueprint for all these little difficulties. I goofed.... This business about doors: admittedly Freudian slanguage is treacherously pictorial, deceptively so, as Edith pointed out once, only, damn it, it FEELS like a slammed door. Not quite locked. Now may I-please-

Once upon a time there was an orange-gold-brindle kitten named Bonnie who lived (happily ever afterward) at Aunt Cora Winwood's flat in Greenwich Village, and she was sentimentally tame, small enough to curl up in two human palms. Which Aunt Cora liked to demonstrate, transferring the sleepy morsel to Callista's hands. They had called it "pouring the kitten." After Papa died, reason after reason why she mustn't go visit the Winwoods. Only three subway stops away, and Papa's own sister. "Tom Winwood drinks, dear, and is not reliable. I do not intend to have My Little Girl exposed to Anything Like That. Nor do I wish to be reminded, Callista, that your father approved of your going there. His judgment was not always-entirely-sound. Mr. Winwood was in fact largely responsible for certain aspects of your father's Condition. Now I think I need say no more." Yes, Mother, and No, Mother. Yes, Mother, now and forever you need say no more.

Eyes closed, cheek wincing at the blanket-but twitching over to the left side would be no better-Callista resolved not to remember nor count the days since she had last drawn down her lover's face to her, seen gaunt cheekbones grown large beyond vision above her, accepted the pressure of his desire and her own. And therefore, inevitably, remembered and counted the days. Sometimes his hands sweated and were cold.

Not the first time, that May-Day afternoon in the woods-why, then (at first) Jim had been almost pagan, natural, free, coming on her suddenly in the damp green hollow where spring growth was riotous. Startled and-yes, temporarily set free. He must have been, or he could not have acted with such quick certainty, tenderness and aggression blended for once in a most invincible rightness. In the very first moment, when he pushed aside the hemlock branch and saw her, his face had been comically legible as his mind abruptly discovered a woman in place of Homely-Blake-Girl-Who-Used-to-Live-Next-Door. To the best of her memory, Callista had not smiled; only sat waiting where spring sunlight lay scattered, random gold; waiting and looking up, needing words no more than a grown-up Bonnie would have needed them at the first cruel-kind approach of a yellow-eyed lover across a back fence. Still she had used words, a few, standing up, leaning back against the rough gray body of an oak, something foolish: "Oh-I'm afraid you've started up a dryad." He might not even have heard that, his hands pressing the tree on either side of her face, his growing need as obvious as the sunlight. I think he never so desired Ann. Such hungers (I know he thought this) are not for good women.

His first kiss had fallen in the thin hollow of her shoulder. He had carried her to a softness of hemlock needles. I think I helped him a little with my shorts. Pain of course, the wrench of the torn hymen a required crash of dissonance in the symphonic flow. I suppose I screamed-had my teeth in his shoulder for a minute-he understood that. Drowsy exhaustion afterward deeper than his-

Soles occidere et redire possunt:

Nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,

Nox est perpetua una dormienda....

"What, Cal? What did you say? Was that Italian?"

"Latin. Thing-happened to remember."

"Oh."

She had come wide awake then: no Kotex of course, tiresome clinical necessity of a handkerchief for the unimportant bleeding-and had presently given him some sort of English translation that stumbled along on two left feet: "Suns may set and rise, but when our brief light is gone, the night is an eternal sleep." Jim hadn't liked any of that, much. The Latin, or the bleeding. That must have been the first time that the worry-wart crinkle appeared between his thick black eyebrows, the first time the poor guy had said: "Cal, darling, what the devil are we going to do?" I think I laughed at him, a bit. Not inside me of course.

SHOULDN'T WE (MY DEAR) GET BACK TO THE PEOPLE VS. BLAKE?

Very well, Your Honor, but I don't admit that the episode of adultery (terminology by T. J. Hunter) is irrelevant.

NOT IRRELEVANT (MY DEAR)-BUT WEREN'T WE DISCUSSING THE DEATH BY VIOLENCE OF ANN PIERCE DOHERTY?

All right. I lay frozen in my bedroom wishing the good little bitch would go away, and I DO NOT KNOW whether or not I heard what she was up to in the kitchenette. You're not helping, Judge. You're not helping me remember.

Eyes wide, she saw the dull wall had grown a little brighter with dawn, and wished that the man on the bench might appear as a genuine visual hallucination: it would be interesting. But he lived in the brain only; her outer eyes would not create him. I did hear her knock on my bedroom door, call my name, say something else stupid, go away with a tap of little high heels. Get it, Judge? This is the Blank, this is the thing you're not helping me remember:

If I did hear her take that brandy bottle out, if I wasn't too hysterical to remember what was in it and why, then-

(Spot of soup on Cecil's coat sleeve. Old, half-sick, drinking too much, his wife dead long ago and nobody to look after him-when he's dead who'll even remember what he was, the courage and the kindness? Cesspool known as the world-people are already forgetting Darrow, aren't they? and every other who's tried to clean it out, dig channels to drain away the filth of human stupidity?)

If I heard her and remembered what was in the bottle, then I murdered her. If I didn't, then as a potential but incompetent suicide I was merely maintaining a public nuisance. As a good man well known to you would say, it's that simple. But that is the Blank, Judge, and you're not helping me.

I therefore address my closing remarks to other gentlemen of Winchester County, specifically District Attorney Lamson and his subordinate Talbot Jesus-wept Hunter. I wish to apologize to them for laughing, being convinced that the noise just heard in my apartment was laughter and not rats. I have no wish to laugh and hurt your feelings, but it IS funny. Honest, isn't it funny how the judge and jury inside me (with some inconsequential imaginary help from that rather nice joe Judge Mann) can make me squirm and whimper like a gut-shot rabbit, while YOU CAN'T?

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