Where the Crawdads Sing (29 page)

BOOK: Where the Crawdads Sing
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54.
Vice Versa

1970

Motioning toward mismatched chairs in a small conference room, Tom offered seats to Tate, Jodie, Scupper, and Robert Foster. They sat around the rectangular table, stained with coffee-mug circles. The walls were two tones of flaking plaster: lime green around the top, dark green around the bottom. An odor of dankness—as much from the walls as from the marsh—permeated.

“You can wait in here,” Tom said, closing the door behind him. “There’s a coffee machine down the hall across from the assessor’s, but it’s not fit for a three-eyed mule. The diner has okay coffee. Let’s see, it’s a little after eleven. We’ll make a plan for lunch later.”

Tate walked to the window, which was crisscrossed with a mesh of white bars, as if other verdict-waiters had tried escape. He asked Tom, “Where’d they take Kya? To her cell? Does she have to wait in there alone?”

“Yes, she’s in her cell. I’m going to see her now.”

“How long do you think the jury will take?” Robert asked.

“It’s impossible to say. When you think it’ll be quick, they take
days, and vice versa. Most of them have probably already decided—and not in Kya’s favor. If a few jurors have doubts and try to convince the others that guilt has not been proven definitively, we have a chance.”

They nodded silently, weighed down by the word
definitively
, as though guilt had been proven, just not absolutely.

“Okay,” Tom continued. “I’m going to see Kya and then get to work. I have to prepare the appeals request and even a motion for a mistrial due to prejudice. Please keep in mind, if she’s convicted, this is not the end of the road. Not by any means. I’ll be in and out, and I’ll certainly let you know if there’s any news.”

“Thanks,” Tate said, then added, “Please tell Kya we’re here, and will sit with her if she wants.” This, though she had refused to see anyone but Tom for the last few days and almost no one for two months.

“Sure. I’ll tell her.” Tom left.

Jumpin’ and Mabel had to wait for the verdict outside among the palmettos and saw grass of the square, along with the few other blacks. Just as they spread colorful quilts on the ground and unpacked biscuits and sausage from paper bags, a rain shower sent them grabbing things and running for cover under the overhang of the Sing Oil. Mr. Lane shouted that they had to wait outside—a fact they’d known for a hundred years—and not to get in the way of any customers. Some whites crowded in the diner or the Dog-Gone for coffee, and others clustered in the street beneath bright umbrellas. Kids splashed in sudden puddles and ate Cracker Jacks, expecting a parade.

•   •   •

T
UTORED BY MILLIONS OF
MINUTES
ALONE
, Kya thought she knew lonely. A life of staring at the old kitchen table, into empty bedrooms, across endless stretches of sea and grass. No one to share the joy of a found feather or a finished watercolor. Reciting poetry to gulls.

But after Jacob closed her cell with the clank of bars, disappeared down the hall, and locked the heavy door with a final thud, a cold silence settled. Waiting for the verdict of her own murder trial brought a loneliness of a different order. The question of whether she lived or died did not surface on her mind, but sank beneath the greater fear of years alone without her marsh. No gulls, no sea in a starless place.

The annoying cellmates down the hall had been released. She almost missed their constant nattering—a human presence no matter how lowly. Now she alone inhabited this long cement tunnel of locks and bars.

She knew the scale of the prejudices against her and that an early verdict would mean there had been little deliberation, which would mean conviction. Lockjaw came to mind—the twisting, tortured life of being doomed.

Kya thought of moving the crate under the window and searching for raptors over the marsh. Instead she just sat there. In the silence.

•   •   •

T
WO HOURS LATER
, at one in the afternoon, Tom opened the door into the room where Tate, Jodie, Scupper, and Robert Foster waited. “Well, there’s some news.”

“What?” Tate jerked his head up. “Not a verdict already?”

“No, no. Not a verdict. But I think it’s good news. The jurors have asked to see the court record of the bus drivers’ testimonies. This means, at least, they’re thinking things through—not simply jumping to a verdict. The bus drivers are key, of course, and both said they were certain Kya was not on their respective buses and weren’t certain about the disguises either. Sometimes seeing testimony in black and white
makes it more definitive to the jurors. We’ll see, but it’s a glimmer of hope.”

“We’ll take a glimmer,” Jodie said.

“Look, it’s past lunchtime. Why don’t y’all go over to the diner? I promise, I’ll get you if anything happens.”

“I don’t think so,” Tate said. “They’ll all be talking about how guilty she is over there.”

“I understand. I’ll send my clerk for some burgers. How’s that?”

“Fine, thanks,” Scupper said, and pulled some dollars from his wallet.

•   •   •

A
T
2:15, Tom returned to tell them the jurors had asked to see the coroner’s testimony. “I’m not sure if this is favorable or not.”

“Shit!” Tate swore. “How does anybody live through this?”

“Try to relax; this may take days. I’ll keep you posted.”

Unsmiling and drawn, Tom opened the door again at four o’clock. “Well, gentlemen, the jurors have a verdict. The judge has ordered everyone back to the courtroom.”

Tate stood. “What does it mean? Happening so fast like this.”

“Come on, Tate.” Jodie touched his arm. “Let’s go.”

In the hallway, they joined the stream of townspeople jostling shoulder to shoulder from outside. Dank air, smelling of cigarette smoke, rain-wet hair, and damp clothes, flowed with them.

The courtroom filled in less than ten minutes. Many couldn’t get a seat and bunched in the hall or on the front steps. At 4:30 the bailiff led Kya toward her seat. For the first time, he supported her by her elbow, and indeed, it appeared she might drop if he did not. Her eyes never moved from the floor. Tate watched every twitch in her face. His breath labored against nausea.

Miss Jones, the recorder, entered and took her seat. Then, like a funeral choir, solemn and cheerless, the jurors filed into their box. Mrs. Culpepper glanced at Kya. The others kept their eyes ahead. Tom tried to read their faces. There was not one cough or shuffle from the gallery.

“All rise.”

Judge Sims’s door opened, and he sat at his bench. “Please be seated. Mr. Foreman, is it correct that the jury has reached a verdict?”

Mr. Tomlinson, a quiet man who owned the Buster Brown Shoe Shop, stood in the first row. “We have, Your Honor.”

Judge Sims looked at Kya. “Would the defendant please rise for the reading of the verdict.” Tom touched Kya’s arm, then guided her up. Tate placed his hand on the railing as close to Kya as he could get. Jumpin’ lifted Mabel’s hand and held it.

No one in the room had ever experienced this collective heart pounding, this shared lack of breath. Eyes shifted, hands sweated. The shrimper crew, Hal Miller, knotted his mind, fighting to confirm that it truly was Miss Clark’s boat he had seen that night. Suppose he’d been wrong. Most stared, not at the back of Kya’s head, but at the floor, the walls. It seemed that the village—not Kya—awaited judgment, and few felt the salacious joy they had expected at this juncture.

The foreman, Mr. Tomlinson, handed a small piece of paper to the bailiff, who passed it to the judge. He unfolded it and read it with a vacant face. The bailiff then took it from Judge Sims and handed it to Miss Jones, the recorder.

“Would somebody read it to us,” Tate spat.

Miss Jones stood and faced Kya, unfolded the paper, and read: “We the jury find Miss Catherine Danielle Clark not guilty as charged in the first-degree murder of Mr. Chase Andrews.” Kya buckled and sat. Tom followed.

Tate blinked. Jodie sucked in air. Mabel sobbed. The gallery sat motionless. Surely they had misunderstood. “Did she say not guilty?” A stream of whispers quickly rose in pitch and volume to angry questions. Mr. Lane called out, “This ain’t right.”

The judge hammered his gavel. “Silence! Miss Clark, the jury has found you not guilty as charged. You are free to go, and I apologize on behalf of this State that you served two months in jail. Jury, we thank you for your time and for serving this community. Court dismissed.”

A small covey gathered around Chase’s parents. Patti Love wept. Sarah Singletary scowled like everybody else but discovered that she was greatly relieved. Miss Pansy hoped no one saw her jaw relax. A lone tear trailed down Mrs. Culpepper’s cheek, and then a shadow smile for the little swamp truant escaping again.

A group of men in overalls stood near the back. “Them jurors have some explainin’ to do.”

“Cain’t Eric declare a mistrial? Do the whole thing over?”

“No. Remember? Cain’t be tried for murder twice. She’s free. Got away with the whole thing.”

“It’s the sheriff who messed it up for Eric. Couldn’t keep his story straight, kep’ makin’ it up as he went. Theory this, theory that.”

“Been struttin’ ’round like he’s on
Gunsmoke
.”

But this small band of disgruntlement fell apart quickly, some wandering out the door, talking about work to catch up on; how the rain had cooled things down.

Jodie and Tate had rushed through the wooden gate to the defense table. Scupper, Jumpin’, Mabel, and Robert followed and encircled Kya. They did not touch her, but stood close as she sat there unmoving.

Jodie said, “Kya, you can go home. Do you want me to drive you?”

“Yes, please.”

Kya stood and thanked Robert for coming all the way from Boston. He smiled. “You just forget about this nonsense and continue your amazing work.” She touched Jumpin’s hand, and Mabel hugged her into her cushy bosom. Then Kya turned to Tate. “Thank you for the things you brought me.” She turned to Tom and lost words. He simply enfolded her in his arms. Then she looked at Scupper. She’d never been introduced to him, but knew from his eyes who he was. She nodded a soft thank-you, and to her surprise, he put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.

Then, following the bailiff, she walked with Jodie toward the back door of the courtroom and, as she passed the windowsill, reached out and touched Sunday Justice’s tail. He ignored her, and she admired his perfected pretense of not needing good-bye.

When the door opened she felt the breath of the sea on her face.

55.
Grass Flowers

1970

As Jodie’s truck bumped off the pavement onto the sandy marsh road, he talked gently to Kya, saying she’d be fine; it would just take some time. She scanned cattails and egrets, pines and ponds flashing past. Craned her neck to watch two beavers paddling. Like a migrating tern who has flown ten thousand miles to her natal shore, her mind pounded with the longing and expectation of home; she barely heard Jodie’s prattle. Wished he would be quiet and listen to the wilderness within him. Then he might see.

Her breath caught as Jodie turned the last bend of the winding lane, and the old shack came into view, waiting there beneath the oaks. The Spanish moss tossed gently in the breeze above the rusted roof, and the heron balanced on one leg in the shadows of the lagoon. As soon as Jodie stopped the truck, Kya jumped out and ran into the shack, touching the bed, the table, the stove. Knowing what she would want, he’d left a bag of crumbs on the counter, and, finding new energy, she ran to the beach with it, tears streaming her cheeks as the gulls flew toward
her from up and down the shore. Big Red landed and tramped around her, his head bobbing.

Kneeling on the beach, surrounded by a bird frenzy, she trembled. “I never asked people for anything. Maybe now they’ll leave me alone.”

Jodie took her few belongings into the house and made tea in the old pot. He sat at the table and waited. Finally, he heard the porch door open, and as she stepped into the kitchen, she said, “Oh, you’re still here.” Of course, he was still there—his truck was in plain view outside.

“Please sit down a minute, would you?” he said. “I’d like to talk.”

She didn’t sit. “I’m fine, Jodie. Really.”

“So, does that mean you want me to go? Kya, you’ve been alone in that cell for two months, thinking a whole town was against you. You’ve hardly let anyone visit you. I understand all that, I do, but I don’t think I should drive away and leave you alone. I want to stay with you a few days. Would that be okay?”

“I’ve lived alone almost all my life, not two months! And I didn’t
think
, I
knew
a whole town was against me.”

“Kya, don’t let this horrible thing drive you further from people. It’s been a soul-crushing ordeal, but this seems to be a chance to start over. The verdict is maybe their way of saying they will accept you.”

“Most people don’t have to be acquitted of murder to be accepted.”

“I know, and you have every reason in the world to hate people. I don’t blame you, but . . .”

“That’s what nobody understands about me.” She raised her voice, “I never hated people.
They
hated
me
.
They
laughed at
me
.
They
left
me
.
They
harassed
me
.
They
attacked
me
. Well, it’s true; I learned to live without them. Without you. Without Ma! Or anybody!”

He tried to hold her, but she jerked away.

“Jodie, maybe I’m just tired right now. In fact, I’m exhausted.
Please, I need to get over all this—the trial, jail,
the thought of being executed
—by myself, because
by myself
is all I’ve ever known. I don’t know how to be consoled. I’m too tired to even have this conversation. I . . .” Her voice trailed off.

She didn’t wait for an answer but walked from the shack and into the oak forest. Knowing it was futile, he didn’t go after her. He would wait. The day before, he’d supplied the shack with groceries—just in case of acquittal—and now set about chopping vegetables for her favorite: homemade chicken pie. But as the sun set he couldn’t stand keeping her from her shack another minute, so he left the hot, bubbling pie on the stovetop and walked out the door. She had circled to the beach, and when she heard his truck driving slowly down the lane, she ran home.

Whiffs of golden pastry filled the shack to the ceiling, but Kya still wasn’t hungry. In the kitchen she took out her paints and planned her next book on marsh grasses. People rarely noticed grasses except to mow, trample, or poison them. She swept her brush madly across the canvas in a color more black than green. Dark images emerged, maybe dying meadows under storm cells. It was hard to tell.

She dropped her head and sobbed. “Why am I angry now? Why now? Why was I so mean to Jodie?” Limp, she slid to the floor like a rag doll. Curling into a ball, still crying, she wished she could snuggle with the only one who’d ever accepted her as she was. But the cat was back at the jail.

Just before dark, Kya walked back to the beach where the gulls were preening and settling in for the night. As she waded into the surf, shards of shells and chips of crabs brushed her toes as they tumbled back to the sea. She reached down and picked up two pelican feathers just like the one Tate had put in the
P
section of the dictionary he had given her for Christmas years ago.

She whispered a verse by Amanda Hamilton:

“You came again,

Blinding my eyes

Like the shimmer of sun upon the sea.

Just as I feel free

The moon casts your face upon the sill.

Each time I forget you

Your eyes haunt my heart and it falls still.

And so farewell

Until the next time you come,

Until at last I do not see you.”

The next morning before dawn, Kya sat up in her porch bed and breathed the rich scents of the marsh into her heart. As faint light filtered into the kitchen, she cooked herself some grits, scrambled eggs, and biscuits, as light and fluffy as Ma’s. She ate every bite. Then, as the sun rose, she rushed to her boat and chugged across the lagoon, dipping her fingers into the clear, deep water.

Churning through the channel, she spoke to the turtles and egrets and lifted her arms high above her head. Home. “I’ll collect all day, anything I want,” she said. Deeper in her mind was the thought that she might see Tate. Maybe he’d be working nearby and she’d come across him. She could invite him back to the shack to share the chicken pie Jodie had baked.

•   •   •

L
ESS THAN A MILE
AW
AY
, Tate waded through shallow water, dipping samples in tiny vials. A wake of gentle ripples fanned out from each step, from each dip. He planned to stay near Kya’s place. Maybe
she’d boat out into the marsh, and they’d meet. If not, he’d go to her shack that evening. He hadn’t decided exactly what he’d say to her, but kissing some sense into her came to mind.

In the distance an angry engine roared, higher-pitched and much louder than a motorboat—defeating the soft sounds of the marsh. He tracked the noise as it moved in his direction, and suddenly one of those new airboats, which he hadn’t seen, raced into view. It glided and gloated above the water, above even the grasses, sending behind a fantail of spray. Emitting the noise of ten sirens.

Crushing shrubs and grasses, the boat broke its own trail across the marsh and then sped across the estuary. Herons and egrets squawking. Three men stood at its helm, and seeing Tate, they turned in his direction. As they neared, he recognized Sheriff Jackson, his deputy, and another man.

The flashy boat sat back on its haunches as it slowed and eased near. The sheriff shouted something to Tate, but even cupping his ears with his hands and leaning toward them, he couldn’t hear above the din. They maneuvered even closer until the boat wallowed next to Tate, sloshing water up his thighs. The sheriff leaned down, hollering.

Nearby, Kya had also heard the strange boat and, as she boated toward it, she saw it approaching Tate. She backed into a thicket and watched him take in the sheriff’s words, then stand very still, head lowered, shoulders sagging in surrender. Even from this distance she read despair in his posture. The sheriff shouted again, and Tate finally reached up and let the deputy pull him into the boat. The other man hopped into the water and climbed into Tate’s cruiser. Chin lowered, eyes downcast, Tate stood between the two uniformed men as they turned around and sped back through the marsh toward Barkley Cove, followed by the other man driving Tate’s boat.

Kya stared until both boats disappeared behind a point of eelgrass.
Why had they apprehended Tate? Was it something to do with Chase’s death? Had they arrested him?

Agony ripped her. Finally, after a lifetime, she admitted it was the chance of seeing Tate, the hope of rounding a creek bend and watching him through reeds, that had pulled her into the marsh every day of her life since she was seven. She knew his favorite lagoons and paths through difficult quagmires; always following him at a safe distance. Sneaking about, stealing love. Never sharing it. You can’t get hurt when you love someone from the other side of an estuary. All the years she rejected him, she survived because he was somewhere in the marsh, waiting. But now perhaps he would no longer be there.

She stared at the fading noise of the strange boat. Jumpin’ knew everything—he’d know why the sheriff had taken Tate in and what she could do about it.

She pull-cranked her engine and sped through the marsh.

BOOK: Where the Crawdads Sing
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