By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3. Daily, Before Your Eyes, by Margaret-Love Denman, pp. 142-214

Daily, Before Your EyesChapters 7-12
Tory's picture has made the front page of three newspapers. When she returns home, she goes to see Mother Gardiner in the nursing home, which has called her several times while she was away. Her mother-in-law has not been doing well: "In infants, we'd call it 'failure to thrive,'" the nursing-home owner tells Tory, and tries to console her with "you've been like a daughter to her." Tory is having none of this: "I was simply married to her son, Tory thinks; whether that made me co-conspirator, rival, or high-priced prostitute, I have never known."

The afternoon nurse is less consoling than the nursing-home owner. She tells Tory that her mother-in-law saw her on TV: "Kept saying over and over, 'I can't believe that's the Tory I knew.' Said it over and over." The visit does not go well, especially after Tory tells Mother Gardiner that she is going to be spending the next three weeks in Jackson and Parchman.
"Tory, you always were a silly fool. Giddy and emotional. I warned Paul when he told me he was going to marry you."

Tory feels the force of Mother Gardiner's words slapping her cheeks. "I'm sure you did. I only wish he had heeded your advice."
She calls Jane Fillmore and asks if her statement to the press that she thought the governor was leaning toward clemency had ruined Tracy's chances. Jane's hesitation in answering devastates Tory, but Jane assures her that "We've raised awareness, gotten her case publicized, and we stand a chance at a clemency hearing, if not a new trial." She encourages Tory to keep trying to find Raheem and the woman juror that Tory thought might have been coerced into voting against Tracy.

She tracks down the juror, Jeanette Calvert, but finds that she's an evangelical Christian who thinks Tracy  is a "whore" in need of salvation: "Seems to me it was the wages of sin, sooner for him [the murdered pimp] and later for her." But when she finds Raheem DeJanes, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, she gets a more sympathetic hearing. Raheem is unaware of what has happened to Tracy, and even that he fathered a child with her. His fury is directed at Tracy's grandmother: "She made Theresa's life hell. Theresa's mom was a slut, so she decided Theresa was too. Told her so every fucking chance she got." Tory tries to persuade Raheem to come to the clemency hearing, if they succeed in getting one, but he had enough of Mississippi when he was stationed there in the navy. Still, he takes Tory's phone number and says he'll call her if he decides to come.

In her studio, Tory works on a charcoal sketch of Tracy that she takes on her next visit to Parchman. But when she gets there she discovers that she has used up her allotted visits for June with her visits to Tracy in the infirmary. She can't even deliver the portrait to Tracy; it will have to be mailed to her. She calls Jane from the motel in Drew and learns some good news: a clemency hearing has been set for Thursday, July 12 -- five days before the execution date.

Tory spends the intervening time working in her garden, but one day she is overcome by the contrast between her life and Tracy's:  "Suddenly, the overwhelming grace that able to plan for the future consumes her. The possibility of another Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Lent, Easter, another season. Unexpected tears against the sunburn on her cheeks."

Jane has arranged for her to go back on the visitation list in July, and she can have up to six visits in the two-and-a-half weeks before the execution. This time, she is taken to Maximum Security, where she sees a heavily shackles Tracy through a Plexiglas window with holes drilled into it so they can speak. Tracy has received the portrait and thanks her for it. But her hostility breaks through again when Tory offers to do a favor for her:
"You think you got all the right answers. Breeze in and out of here when it suits you. When you need to get a little feel-good motherly buzz. Then you'll just drive on down and see ole Tracy. Is that it?"

"Of course not, Tracy. That's not it at all."

"Well, let me tell you, if you're waiting for me to be grateful, you got a long wait coming." Tracy's voice is flat, unemotional.

She's thought this all through, practiced it, Tory realizes. 
The conversation proceeds awkwardly until Tracy's practiced coldness finally dissipates and she admits that she's scared and doesn't want to die. The conflict between bravado and misery, between hope and despair in Tracy's character is well-handled, as are the persistent allusions to the room's ambiance, including the guard's body odor.

Raheem has written that he won't be coming to the clemency hearing, but he has sent a letter to be read. The case will be presented by Jane, with testimony by Henry Lee Addams and Tory. The governor doesn't show up, however. He is represented by Richard Allman, the aide. Harvey Ginn, the district attorney for the county where the murder took place is there, along with a woman who is the chair of the corrections board. Ginn opens with an account of the murder and the case for proceeding with the execution. Jane talks about the "shoddy defense in the first trial" and argues that Tracy "was not, and is not, a hardened criminal; she was a poor young woman, caught in the maze of a no-opportunity life." Henry Lee argues, "Commuting her sentence to life, even life without parole, will allow her the chance to atone in some way for her act."

Tory begins by asserting that the illness and death of Mary Vic caused Paul to be distracted from the case. "As a result, I think that inadequate counsel is something that must be considered in this case," an assertion that seems to shock Harvey Ginn, though the others remain unmoved. She brings up Tracy's assertion that she killed her pimp because she thought he was molesting her daughter, and that the child was never examined for evidence of the abuse.

Outside, she pulls back and lets Jane and Henry Lee handle the reporters, but Melinda seeks her out. "That bastard, Steadman, didn't show up," Tory tells Melinda, who asks if Tory will give her a statement about the hearing she can use. "I'll hold it until we hear the board's decision, but if it goes against her, I plan to blast Steadman to hell and back.... Keep that son-of-a-bitch from getting to the Senate." But Tory's thoughts are elsewhere: "How can that help Tracy? She'll be ... gone by then." Tory starts to cry, and Melinda pulls her into a hug that is caught by a photographer. "We may make the front page tomorrow, Tory," Melinda says.

Tory goes to Parchman to tell Tracy about the hearing, then returns to the motel where she gets a call from Jane telling her that clemency has been denied. The next morning, she hurries to the prison to give Tracy the news so she doesn't hear it on TV first. But the prison refuses to admit her so early and by the time she sees Tracy she has already heard. Jane is there to tell Tracy that the state Supreme Court will consider the appeal today, and then the appeal will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jane advises Tory to go home and rest before the ordeal on Monday and Tuesday, when she will need to be at Parchman full-time. Back home, she looks through the paintings she has done for the fall art show, including a landscape that she had planned as a Christmas gift for her mother-in-law.
Now, she sees it for the sentimental, tawdry thing that it is. One by one, she puts her work on the stand; one by one, they hold out some idealized view that promises and promises, then disappoints and fails her.

In the garden shed, Tory saws each painting in half with her pruning saw, breaks the stretchers into kindling, slits the canvas, and stuffs the remnants into the garbage can reserved for grass clippings.... Dragging the can to the curbside, she retrieves the day's mail, tosses it on the kitchen table, and puts the kettle on to boil, feeling finished somehow, finished with this house, this hobby of art.
In the mail, there is a letter from Jeanette Calvert attacking her for "trying to save that murdering whore from the electric chair" and urging her to "get her right with God. You better do the same thing for yourself." She reads it three times, and by the third reading she is laughing. "'Oh, if you only knew, Miss Calvert. I'm capable of all that she has done and more, I assure you. I just lacked her courage.' With her confession, Tory's laughter ceases, and she faces the clear, blazing light of truth."

The phone rings. It is the nursing home telling her that Mother Gardiner wants to see her this afternoon. Tory dresses and puts on her makeup carefully, "Dressing for the part she expected me to play: sweet little wife who overlooks all her son's indiscretions, Paul's little cheerleader." At the meeting, her mother-in-law charges her with being "disloyal to Paul." And she is particularly incensed by the photograph on the front page of the Jackson Daily News: "Your picture hugging a colored girl on the front of the Jackson paper!" Tory says, "That 'colored girl' is a fine journalist, Mother Gardiner," eliciting the reply, "Well, I'm always pleased when they make something of themselves."

Then Tory delivers her bombshell: "I plan to arrange Tracy's funeral, bury her next to Mary Vic, if none of her family comes to claim the body, and then go to Boston to find her little girl.... As I recall, one of the plots is designated for me. The one next to Mary Vic. You can have the one next to Paul. Tracy can have mine." Mother Gardiner rings for the nurse, and Tory leaves.

The final three chapters of the novel are superbly done, without sentimentality, and with the precise, evocative details that Denman has marshaled through the whole story. Their impact is lingering, and the case against capital punishment is delivered without being didactic or polemic. They don't need to be summarized or commented on here. Just read them.

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