By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 10, 2011

2. Daily, Before Your Eyes, by Margaret-Love Denman, pp. 81-141

Daily, Before Your EyesChapters 4-6
Shaken by her experience at Parchman, Tory wakes in tears and is unable to go back to sleep, so she studies the newspaper clippings in Tracy's file. In one, a deputy attorney general named Lee Stokes calls Tracy "a vicious killer, a menace to society." Another is by a reporter named Melinda Faye Maddox, a profile of Tracy in a series about death-row inmates, with a photograph of Tracy's daughter, Tiffany Jane, at fifteen months, and the information that she "now resides with her great-grandmother in Medford, Massachusetts."

Self-portrait by Walter Anderson
Tory goes into her studio and resumes work on a portrait she is painting of Paul that she plans to give to his mother. She recalls a trip to Biloxi when he was on the board of the Bar Journal. He was annoyed that unlike the other lawyers' wives she didn't socialize. Instead, she went to Ocean Springs to see the works of the artist Walter Anderson that were discovered by his wife "only after his death when she broke the door down. Another wife who found out about her husband's hidden life after he was gone. 

Reflection in a Pool, by Walter Anderson
She is working from a photograph of Paul, and she notices that in it he is wearing his wedding ring. "In reality he often left it at home, in the little silver cuff-link box on his dresser. He said it gave him a rash to wear it in warm weather." But her mind is focused on Tracy and not the painting, and the expression on his face "seems to mock her.... Tory feels shamed by his stare, reminded of all her failures of him, of the times she was less than a wife, less than a helpmeet." So she rubs out the work she has done that night. 

On May 10, Tory calls Jane Fillmore and finds that has just returned from Parchman where she is awaiting the execution of another prisoner. Tory is full of suggestions of ways to try to get a new hearing for Tracy, but Jane has already considered some of them. She points out that they tried to reopen the case because Paul had made some errors in not challenging the prosecution's mistakes during voir dire. Jane sounds willing to forgive him -- "Tory knows that lawyers stick together," because she had once argued with him when he was upset when a fellow lawyer was charged with jury tampering. He finally "all but shouted, 'leave the law practice to me. You just tend to your flowers and your do-gooding!'"

Tory suggests that they could argue that Tracy didn't have a jury of her peers because there was only one woman and no Roman Catholics on the jury. She also wonders if she could talk to the woman juror and see if she had been pressured by the men on the jury to convict. Jane seems to try to sound possible about her suggestions, but she admits that her mind is on the case of the man about to be executed. After she hangs up, Tory makes a list of things to do: see the governor, contact the reporter Melinda Maddox, and find the juror. She copies them all on her calendar, filling up all the weeks until July, and stares at the date of Tracy's execution, July 17. She remembers that Jane has told her that all executions in Mississippi take place at 12:01 a.m. on a Wednesday, so it wouldn't "spoil everybody's weekend." The midnight executions are designed to discourage demonstrators.

She goes to see Mother Gardiner, telling her that she won't finish the portrait of Paul in time for Mother's Day. But when she tells her mother-in-law that she's working on trying to keep Tracy from being executed, Mother Gardiner is outraged:
"Clemency! That's ridiculous. She was found guilty by a jury, Tory. It was a terrible blow to Paul. Why ever in the world would you want to reopen all this? Now? It could harm his memory for some." Mother Gardiner needs no handkerchief; there is no danger of weeping. She is all defense, Tory realizes. Then, a moment later, "You've been to Parchman? Tory! What has come over you? .... Really, you have so much to be thankful for, so many things you could do. Why choose something so, so ... distasteful?"
The blistering assault goes on, with statements that she and Paul had thought Tory was "playing the martyr" over Mary Vic's death, "that you almost enjoyed her illness." Tory goes home and throws out the self-help books that Mother Gardiner had given her and then erases what is left of the portrait. "With each steady stroke, she eradicates Paul."

Jane had asked her to call again before she made her second visit to Tracy, but when she does she finds that Jane has left for Parchman where the stay for the man on death row has not been granted. She also learns that Tracy is in the infirmary, which makes it easier for her to visit. Death row patients, she learns, are not usually moved to the infirmary unless there is something seriously wrong with them.

Before she leaves for Parchman, she returns to Paul's law office with a view to persuading his partners to "release some of her trust money to help Tracy, if she should need it." But when she tries to enter Paul's office she is told that a new paralegal has moved in and his things are in storage. She realizes that she is being kept from entering, so she goes in anyway to find Debbi McCaslin sitting behind a desk. The conversation is, of course, icy at least until Tory starts to take her leave:
"I knew all about you and Paul. It was no surprise. Don't feel that you were anything new." Again, her facility for lying surfaces, and Tory is amazed at the ease with which she delivers such a hurtful statement.

Debbi looks stricken, scalded. The flush rises, then fades quickly. "Mrs. Gardiner!"

"Yes -- Mrs. Gardiner, indeed," Tory says, and turns to leave.
It's a moment of slightly stagy melodrama, to be sure, but Denman adds one of her deft touches of atmosphere by having Tory notice the Muzak playing in the office: "Something from Guys and Dolls, she thinks. One that Adelaide sings. About a person could be getting a cold." The incongruous show tune adds an ironic undertone.

Tory listens patiently as Paul's partners explain the arrangement for her buyout, "as though she is a dim-witted child." And then she pulls an impromptu trick: "Just give me the papers. I will let my lawyer check them." She doesn't have a lawyer, and even "wonders where this comment came from." It unnerves Paul's partners, however, and they offer to fax the papers to this imaginary lawyer, trying to play the advantage of collegiality. But Tory insists that "it's no one you know, I'm sure," and twice says, "I found them on my own." She is rattled by the deception but pulls herself together and decides to leave early for Parchman and spend the night in a motel at Drew, the town closest to the prison.

When she registers at the Delta Queen Motel, she discovers that it's almost full of reporters there for the execution. And the next morning when she goes to the coffee shop for breakfast, it is so full that the only place available is at a table occupied by a young black woman who agrees to share it with her. The woman turns out to be Melinda Maddox. She tells Tory about the man to be executed: Tommy Ray Soniat, 32, killed his high school girlfriend and raped, sodomized and strangled a three-year-old girl and left her body in a dumpster. Tory tells Melinda that "If there is a case for capital punishment, I would think this might be it." But Melinda points out that "he's only asking for life without possibility of parole. This guy has never been evaluated by a psychiatrist. Never. The prison in Arizona paroled him without doing any kind of testing. Tommy Ray knows he's sick. Horribly abused as a child, minimal IQ, almost no education -- a real throwaway." Melinda thinks he needs psychological help and that the case for life without parole is strong, but the governor, who "has his eye on Washington, on the Senate," won't even consider it. Tory wonders, "Is there a way to balance those two victims against Tommy Ray's agonized past?"

She asks Melinda about Tracy. The reporter tells her that "the good ole boy network fucked her over but good. Incompetence in the lower court, a DA running on a strong law-and-order platform, her past a little shady, black-white couple. Another political football." When Tory reveals that it had been her husband's case, Melinda asks, "You trying to clear his memory, or reveal him for the son-of-a-bitch that you discovered him to be?" Tory stumbles through her reply, "trying to decide what sort of blame to lay on Paul." She asks for Melinda's help, and she agrees, but adds, "'I'd be doing it for her, not to help you clean up an old mess.' Tory feels stung, chastised, a schoolgirl again." She insists, "I'm not asking anything for me. I'm not the one at stake here." Melinda suggests that they meet again at dinnertime.

At the prison, "The acrid smell of cotton poison from the morning's crop-dusters weighs down the air around her. Her nose burns and her eyes water. That smell is enough to kill somebody." After the usual search, she is admitted to the infirmary and finds Tracy's cubicle with two armed guards outside. Tracy is groggy, but in the conversation she reveals that on the night of the murder she had come home to find her pimp, Dwayne, standing over her daughter, his pants down, with an erection. Tory is astonished, because there had been no mention in any of the "transcripts or notes of suspected child abuse."

Tracy dozes off again and when she awakes she asks if they will go ahead with the execution of Tommy Ray tonight. Tory says she shouldn't think about such things, but Tracy retorts, "What do you suggest I think about?" Tory accepts the rebuke and assures Tracy, "'I am committed to doing everything I can to keep you from being ...' 'Murdered by the state.' Tracy finishes the sentence for Tory."

The nurse comes in to give Tracy a bath, and Tracy angrily refuses: "You fucking almost killed me when you changed the bed this morning. Jerking around on me like I wasn't even human." When the nurse leaves, Tory offers to bath Tracy, and Tracy accepts.

At dinner, she finds Melinda sitting with a man in a priest's collar whom Melinda introduces as Henry Lee Addams, rector of the Church of Our Savior in Meadville -- a tiny hamlet in southern Mississippi. He has spent the day with Tommy Ray. He has been trying to appeal to the governor with no success. When he leaves, Tory tells Melinda about Tracy's suspicion that Dwayne had been molesting her daughter. "She had evidence, had seen things that made her believe that. But it was never introduced into the trial. I couldn't believe that." Melinda says Tracy told her the same thing, but "in order for that to have been introduced into evidence, she would have had to take the stand, and her defense didn't want to put her on." Nor was the child ever examined for signs of sexual abuse. "Getting an examination would have meant flying the grandmother and the baby down here, finding a doctor to do the examination. That adds up to too fucking much money."

Then Tory is recognized by Glenn Perry, the district attorney from Clayton City, who expresses his condolences on Paul's death and explains that he's there because the execution needs three DA's present. When he calls Tommy Ray "really an animal," Tory asks, "but are we really in the eye-for-an-eye stage, Glenn?" and refers to capital punishment as "barbarism." This causes him to fix "his politician's smile in place" and take his leave. Melinda say she tried to interview him but he "Wouldn't give me the time of day. Fucking bastard." Tory agrees. They arrange to meet again at breakfast.

Tory watches the coverage of the execution on the 10 o'clock news. "At midnight, Tory is certain that the lights dim." But in fact, there has been a reprieve at 11:51. The Supreme Court has ruled a stay because of a reversible error found in an earlier decision. Reading the newspaper, "Tory sighs, wonders if this could possibly be a trend. Maybe the court is trying to stem the tide of executions in the 'death belt.'" She decides to go to Jackson and see the governor. Melinda gives her her phone number, as well as the numbers for Henry Lee Addams.

Tory goes to see Tracy again, but finds her doubtful that the stay of execution in Tommy Ray's case will make any difference in her own. Tory tells her, "I am not about to give up without the damnedest fight you've ever seen," but Tracy only replies, "when push comes to shove, all you do-gooders fade away." Tory tells her that she's going to see the governor, and that she wants to get in touch with her family in case there's a clemency hearing where their presence might help. But Tracy is adamant about Tory not contacting her grandmother:
"No fucking way.... She threw me out of the house, disowned me -- said fornication was a venial sin, but with a nigger it was an abomination. She tried to have me excommunicated, for God's sake!"

"I'm not sure that excommunication is ever for God's sake," Tory says. "I'm no theologian, but I can't believe that he'd be in favor of that."

"Probably not," Tracy answers, smiles.

The two sit in the fading afternoon light; Tory reaches for Tracy's hand again, holds it as the day gives way to darkness.
Tory checks into a motel on the interstate in Jackson, then goes to see Jane Fillmore. Tommy Ray's case, she says, has kept her from doing any more work on Tracy's. Tory asks if she knows what illness put Tracy in the infirmary. "Jane shakes her head. 'Probably something left over from her days on the street, something she caught from a john. Maybe even AIDS. I don't know." She had tried to get a physician in to see her, but the first appointment available was August 6, nearly three weeks after the date of the execution. This irony "releases a strangled cry in Tory, something primitive, garbled," which causes the secretary outside to come in to see if everything is all right.

Tory pulls every string she can think of to get in to see the governor, and finally reaches the governor's aide and tells him, "my late husband, a class mate of Governor Steadman's in law school, was the public defender in the original trial of Tracy Magnarelli, a woman on death row." He finally agrees to a fifteen-minute meeting before the governor meets with a Japanese trade delegation. Tory studies an article on "power-dressing" in Glamour and shops for the necessary clothes and practices the "body language" lessons in the article. She has dinner with Melinda who gives her some advice, including playing on the governor's need to get the women's vote. Tory remembers voting for Hubert Humphrey even though Paul had been the state Republican chairman for Richard Nixon. (Denman keeps gradually widening the gulf between Tory and Paul.) And Melinda also reveals that she's going to leak word of Tory's appointment with the governor to her media friends. When Tory is surprised at this, Melinda says, "Well, you said you wanted me to get involved, put on a campaign for Tracy. This is how it begins. Besides, you are much more interesting than the Japanese delegation."

Gov. Lacy Steadman, "a tall, silver-haired man in his late fifties," keeps Tory waiting for five minutes into her allotted fifteen, but she carefully lays out her case, at the end of which he says,
"Have you thought about what your involvement here does to Paul's memory?" The governor's voice is quiet, not accusing.

"Well, I think I have. I think I've thought it all through. But this I do know. Paul is dead; his life is over. Tracy Magnarelli's is not. She did a terrible thing, but killing her is not the answer."
The governor's aide interrupts to tell him that it's time for the meeting with the Japanese delegation, but he puts him off. Then he tells her to have the CDRC send him the files. "I can't promise anything. But I will look into it. For Paul's sake, if nothing else."

Outside, Tory is barraged with questions from the press. She handles them carefully, but when she says of the governor, "I think he's definitely leaning toward clemency," she sees a frown cross Melinda's face. "Tory feels herself stumble now, wondering if she has ventured into treacherous waters."

She returns to Parchman, where Tracy has been fighting with the nurse, and tells her that since her fever's almost gone she will be returned to death row. When Tory advises her to cooperate with the nurse more, Tracy retorts: "I bet you always cooperated, didn't you, Tory? Never gave anybody any trouble.... What did cooperation ever get you, Tory? I bet the system screwed you just like it did me." Tory recognizes the truth in what Tracy has said: "She feels the cost of it seep into her bones: the compromises, the dwindling." She remembers a watercolor class that she gave up because Paul wanted her to socialize at a bar association meeting.

And then Tracy asks her, "Tory, do you miss sex?" Tory is embarrassed and evasive, but Tracy remembers what lovemaking was like with her boyfriend, Raheem, the father of her child. Tory only admits that sex "'Wasn't ever much a part of my marriage.' Tory feels apologetic, somehow, as if she has just discovered a character flaw." But the visit ends with them laughing so loud that the guards tell them, "Hey, keep it down in there."

The next morning, Tory's picture is on the front page of the Clarion-Ledger. She hurries to the infirmary to see Tracy again before she is moved back to death row. Tracy tells her, "They are fucking mad as hell about the article in the paper. I could hear them ranting and raving this morning. Called you a nosy, prying cunt." Then Tracy says, "Well, here is what I think of them," and raises her middle finger. "'I couldn't agree with you more,' Tory says, and lifting her own hand, imitates Tracy's gesture, feeling both self-conscious and daring at the same time."

Finally, as time runs out, Tory suggests that she try to find Raheem to be present if there's a clemency hearing.
"We need somebody there besides me and Jane Fillmore. Somebody who will make the board see you as a person, not a ..."

"Monster? Hooker? Nigger-lover?" Tracy finishes the line for Tory, using the words of the prosecution. Tory wills herself to look at Tracy, refuses to flinch in the face of such a harsh assessment.

"Yes," is Tory's only response. 

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