by David Cain
The incident had been one of our local legends. Forty years ago, Joseph Trent, a quiet serious fellow by all accounts, walked down Twenty Fourth Avenue, the town’s main business strip in those days, and stopped a fellow named Randolph Courlain. According to witnesses, Trent looked Courlain in the eye, pulled out an old revolver and shot Courlain through the heart. The bullet went clean through the body and shattered the window of Migro’s Furniture Store.
People screamed and ran into the busy street, stopping traffic. Trent laid the gun down next to the dead man and pulled out his wallet. When the fellow who owned the store with the broken window came running out to see what had happened. Trent said calmly, “I owe you for the window. Tell me how much.” The owner gave a figure and Trent wrote him a check. The police waited for him to sign the note before they put cuffs on him and took him away.
I went to the library and read through the string of articles in The Herald which chronicled the event. Trent refused to say anything about the murder, except to enter a guilty plea. He wouldn’t speak to his lawyer, his minister or his family. Trent just waited for judgment, stoic and calm. No relationship could be established between Trent and Courlain. No one had ever seen them together. It seemed to me that the investigation had been rather cursory, I guess because there was nothing to prove. They had a murder, a murderer and a hundred eye witnesses. Trent was duly executed, hung by the neck until dead. Some writers speculated about mob connections and political corruption. Nobody knew.
Maybe forty years ago people knew something about Trent’s motive that no one wrote in the newspaper. I don’t know.
I’m an avid reader. I long ago exhausted the resources of our small public library, and I have neither the resources nor the opportunity to get into the city often enough to supply myself with the written fodder my habit requires. A few years back, I found another source of books and I started my career as a literary vulture. I go to estate sales and buy boxes of books for three dollars, six dollars, even ten dollars if it’s a big box. I drag my carload of boxes home and sift through the treasures, splitting them into three piles. One is for me, the books I’m going to read. There are probably three books, on the average, in every box deemed interesting enough to feed my appetite, a bargain at the price. I sort out the serious books, texts, learned treatises, stuff like that and donate them to the library. The rest I give to Elizabeth’s sister who runs an antique junk shop off the highway. People who stop by Sally’s will buy almost anything and she needs every penny.
Two weeks ago, I pulled open a big box which I had wrangled for four fifty and retrieved an old family bible, bound in thin black leather with faded gold letters embossed on the front. I’d been talking, a few days before, with Emma at the library about local family histories and she told me these old bibles were one of the best sources for that information. This scripture had been presented to Irene Walker in eighteen twenty two. That didn’t mean anything to me, except that maybe Jess Walker over at the water company might want to take a look at it. Later, I realized that Irene Walker was Kathleen Withers’ great-great-grandmother. Kathleen Withers became Katy Trent, wife of Joseph Trent.
Before I placed the bible in a fourth pile, the show to Jess over at Mills Station pile, I flipped the pages. People sometimes keep things in books and I am a curious soul. A black dry rose discolored several pages in Kings. A lock of yellow hair tied in a tiny pink ribbon was settled in the midst of Isaiah. A grey dance card from the Governor’s Ball, filled in with scrawls of a dozen different names had been stored in the prophecies of Haggai. Six letters marked a place in John. The first five were folded together, one atop the other.
I dreamed of you last night, pink blossoms in a bower, shards of silver moonlight reflecting off the pond. The vision of your lovely smile sparkles in my thoughts. Everything about today seems grand and fascinating, all because of you.
I have thought seriously about the things you said yesterday. I will do nothing to lose you and anything to keep you, but I don’t think there is any reason why we must sacrifice the precious minutes we steal away. Surely we can dare to capture a few moments of happiness without risking the honors and duties of respectable living.
Life has treated you hard. Your husband, kind and respectable though he may be, doesn’t give you the love you deserve, the passion and attention any woman deserves. I can’t believe anyone would deny you the right to be loved. I don’t know. But I love you. I can’t give you up.
You have my promise: We shall exercise the greatest caution. We will take no risks. We will maintain every appearance of respectability, watching every turn, every hint, every clue. We will show no notice when we pass on the street. We will give no one any cause to suspect the love we share.
I would rather sing this ecstasy you have given me from every mountain top. But I will lock the joy inside my heart, if that is the only way I can have you.
P.S. Burn my letters, as I have burned yours. It is the only way.
I tremble in anticipation, imagining the joy tomorrow might bring. Even as I write these words, I shudder in the fear that this vision of paradise, this shimmer of hope, is nothing more than a mirage which will vanish as I reach my hands out to touch your soft cheek.
In the three weeks I have known you, since we met in the park, I have thought of nothing else. Your beauty electrifies me. Your voice excites me. Sweet memories of the your gentle breath as you lent me a kiss still perfume my dreams. Katy, my love, I have never been so taken by a woman in all my life.
We shall be cautious. No one will ever know. I wish, with every fiber of my being, we could dispense with our secrecy and be in love. I wish you had never met the tired fellow with his accounts and his stamp books. I wish . . . tomorrow were here.
The ecstasy of your body runs rampant through my soul. Your beauty, your flesh, your beauty, your breasts and your hips and your kiss and your love. If only time had stopped and left me there, deeply planted in your pink furrow, teasing the gleam in your eye and your moans. I can smell your damp cunt, the rich scent of you, lavished so lovingly over my prick and my lips and I wish I could linger forever in the sound of your delights.
Every image of your body, so naked, so perfect has burned into my mind and I tease myself in remembering, lift my dick hard in the thoughts, pure simple memories of your thick reddish nipples on the swells of your tits, the round hills of your bottom, the curl of your golden fine hairs. I hunger, madly, my Katy, my love.
I cannot bear the disappointment, Katy, love. I have never known anything so painful in my life, coming so close to you, ready to devour you with one more step and a pounce and then suddenly finding the door bolted and shut by pure chance. Aargh. The mad rage echoes in my cry through the entire valley of this tiny town. Part of me wanted to insist the boy was nothing, he was too young, to stupid to notice our coming and going, but I knew at the same time that you spoke best. I would know no caution for myself. For you, I will even sacrifice your embrace.
I know I am just cursing the wind when I wish things were different. I love you so badly, Katy. My soul tears with each heartbeat. I cannot bear to go on without you, even while I know that I will never have you.
I would sacrifice everything, for just one kiss.
Your plan is so bold. Can you really be serious?
I know I should not ask such things. I should take whatever you offer me. But I don’t want you to think you must start taking risks to placate my impatience, when we gain far more in biding our time.
I trust your judgment. If you don’t tell me otherwise, I will be at your house at one. Back door. No one will see me.
The last letter was in a sealed envelope. The name, “Joseph,” was inscribed on the front. I felt a little guilty as I tore open the paper.
I am sorry you opened the door. I would have done anything to stop you from seeing me that way. Anything, I guess, except what I should have done. It was all wrong.
I should have learned from your example. You are so strong in everything. I failed you. I am sorry.
If you’ll have me back, if you’ll forget what you’ve seen, if you’ll let me go back to being your wife, I will obey you in all things. No one will ever know the shame I have brought upon you. I will never fail you again.
On the page where the letters were found, the following passage was underlined. The stain of tears smeared the ink in places.
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”