Jonathan Apples (continued)

It takes no great imagination to see why Satan chose the serpent as his first weapon against the soul of man. When I resolved to destroy my innocent love for my own gain, it follows that I should have gone in search of a snake. Missouri has little need for creatures of venom. There are sufficient hardships and soul-sickness here to keep the human spirit in check. The exotic poisons that humble mankind in lively tropical climates have no place here, yet a farmer who knows his land can always find some deadly thing seeking shelter from the cold of night. The cottonmouth or moccasin snake, a legendary killer of the Southern riverlands, ranges in small numbers as far as my home county. This I knew, and was able to locate a specimen in a few days of searching.

I had a fair surplus of hay in my loft (would that it could have fed us as well as the horses), and at most times of year one could flush out a few crawling things with careful ministrations of the fork. I waded a short distance in, prodding cautiously before me until I perceived the wriggling of the creature as it fled deeper into the moldy, untended heap. I detected a pungent note of musk in the air, confirming that I had found the correct sort of snake.

Knowing the aggressive temper of my quarry I did not simply reach in to seize it. Sending a dog or even a pig after it would doubtless result in the death of at least one, probably both creatures. My plan was more fanciful, and not a little reckless. I kindled a small fire of green wood and leaves to produce thick smoke. This I suspended in a wire basket high above the dirt floor of the barn, a few feet under the eaves forming the upper loft. I stood close by with buckets of water, making sure that no spark could light the hay or the planks. Losing the barn would have been an unwarrantable expense.

Presently the loft was filled with choking billows. I allowed the fumes to continue for several minutes before lowering and extinguishing my flame. I had deliberately chosen a day that Cecily had gone visiting, lest she spy the smoke and run for help. Climbing into the loft, my face muffled in a wet towel, I prodded with the wooden fork handle until I struck the soft, inert form of the snake. I prayed my sedation technique had succeeded and not simply killed it. Using my shovel and fork to work at a safe distance, I transferred the creature to a sturdy sack of new canvas. Binding the mouth of the sack with twine, I felt the horrid stirring of the thing inside. A more jarring combination of relief and revulsion I hoped never to feel again.

Even with my venomous instrument stored in the woodshed, I might have weakened to my scruples had not a dark star shone my way. My heart was already divided against itself. Despite the ill feeling I had manufactured against my dear one, I could not bring myself to do manful violence against her. Plotting to do away with her by insidious means, I felt every bit the crawling reptile myself. Yet with every changing of the breeze my head screamed in agony, a sensation I associated with her infuriating meekness, not correctly with the appalling injury I had dealt myself by my own wrath.

Cecily fell slightly ill a day or two later. Here was the chance to put my plot into action before reason and better nature could overtake me. She was dizzy and unsettled in the stomach, not feverish but clearly needing rest. I put her gently to bed with all assurances that I would see to the household. When I kissed her – the last time I kissed her – I kept my eyes tight shut, fearing that her loving gaze would break my resolve.

Scarcely had I assured myself by her slow breathing that she slept than I retrieved my hateful parcel from the shed along with my heavy shovel. Creeping back through the house, I leaned the shovel against a wall just inside the room, then quickly shook the burlap out at the foot of the bed. Dazed by confinement, the snake would be enraged once it regained its senses. Any shifting by the sleeper should drive it to attack. I shut the two of them in the room together and attempted to busy myself with some mundane chore of the house. I found myself unequal to any productive work.

It seemed to me that long nights of guilty dread came and passed as I waited, though in truth it was scarcely more than an hour. I heard a low moan, the sound of my confused wife aroused by an unfamiliar sensation. Even in the delirium of execution, it pained me to imagine Cecily waking from the ordinary phantasms of sleep to the true nightmare I had cast upon her. By then it was more the compulsion to see a difficult task finished than any coherent notion of monetary gain that stayed me from venturing to rescue her at the final moment.

Long though I had prepared myself, I could not contain an abhorrent shudder as I heard Cecily’s sighs transform into the warbling screams of a water bird. Seldom had I ever heard her speak in agitation, and when she wept it was always like the softest fall of rain. The terror and pain of her cries were alien sounds in our shared world, and for a moment I thought myself asleep and dreaming, perhaps perishing in the field where my head had struck the fence weeks before. I had always intended to wait while the venom worked on Cecily, the way a hunter must give a wounded animal time to bleed before pursuing it, but my inertia for the first hour was strictly the consequence of blind disgust. Animation crept back into my limbs like the thawing of a hard freeze. It seemed an eon before my hand was again upon the bedroom door, pushing with caution as I peered inside.

The snake lay coiled near the foot of the bed, comforting itself with the last vestige of warmth in the blanketed body of my wife. Cecily lay silent and still, with no power in her to flee or make entreaties to me. I saw the ashen swelling of her right cheek, which although caused by the reptile’s bite, might have looked the same had I struck her poor face with all my might. Even the nature of her wound was a rebuke to me.

To my conspirator I expressed no gratitude, proving a traitor to the last. Grasping the shovel with savage energy, I saw the serpent rear in suspicion. The broad spade of its snout parted to show its sickly white mouth. Darting to match its hostile motion, I jabbed and scooped with the blade to worry its vile musky coils onto the floor. Its dangerous hiss was all the more motivation to strike with every jot of speed and energy I had. Thrusting downward, once then twice, I severed its angry head, the second stroke tearing through the last scrap of sinew. The jaws continued to snap for several seconds after the separation, while the horrid body writhed and convulsed for a shockingly long time. Thus, I thought, I had realized my crime without even so mute a witness as the viper.

No sooner had the snake ceased its motion than I felt a light touch graze the back of my knee. I shivered violently and threw my back against the wall, imagining that the death throes of my agent had summoned more of its kind. What I saw was worse. Cecily, disfigured and feeble from the effects of venom, had not yet given up the ghost. Her groan of pain was but another hiss of reproach, as cold and dire as the sound made by her killer. As she turned her whole face to me, I saw the true devastation of the poison which, though she was beyond hope of recovery, transfigured her with cruel slowness.

The grey cheek was but a peripheral effect of the bite on the opposite side of her face. I should never have recognized her, swollen and dark across half her countenance to a degree worthy of a medical monograph. Only her left eye remained intact, blinking with difficulty through the blood-black crowding of tissue. Having seen me dispatch the serpent, she must have marveled that I did not rush to comfort or help her. I stood in the corner with an apprehensive grip on the shovel, watching her eyes. How craven I must have looked as I calculated my move. From that poor squinting eye came a minute trickle of blood, as much a tear of heartbreak as a symptom of her wound, which issued in like manner from the opposite nostril as I looked on.

In this way I was destined to shoulder the full cruelty of murder, which I had hoped to spare myself. The use of my scaled executioner had only compounded the abominable crime, and I felt dizzy with anguish even as I wrenched the bolster from beneath my wife’s head, leaning my full weight on both elbows as I crushed it over her gasping face. I ground my teeth with exertion, sucking furiously at the taste of bile that welled in my throat. I planted my knee across one flailing arm as she fought to struggle from beneath me. I hummed through my nose, praying without words to any base principality that heard me, to any force save the righteous God of Abraham, for a swift end. Cecily found peace shortly thereafter, but against the cruel muffling of the pillow she pressed out a hoarse cry of despair, another sound unknown to me from our life together. She who had suffered my greed and derangement with compassion, who had forced herself against good sense to believe the best in me, gave one short utterance to the realization of my betrayal. Had I foreseen the failure of my original plan, I should have found a surer and more direct way, only to spare her the pain of admitting my faithlessness to herself.

She batted me weakly with her wrists, unable now even to close a fist in retaliation. The inward bleeding which would have finished her in hours took the last energy she had to resist my smothering bulk. When all motion ceased in her at last, I remained in my sprawl upon her and wept bitterly until long after dark.

Even after such an ordeal, Cecily chiefly bore the telling traces of a snakebite victim. Any incidental bruising of her face and arms went unnoticed by the neighbors and doctor whom I summoned in due course. The verdict of misadventure by animal attack, by man's first and most natural enemy no less, went unchallenged to the county coroner, courtesy of the selfsame post office where I had first beheld my bride. It was almost vexing that not one suspicious party took me for anything but a hard luck widower. Having both corpses as ready evidence worked all too well in my favor. To be suspected as a murderer, however casually, would have given me occasion to defend myself with convincing passion. Instead I was, in the eyes of my neighbors, merely an impotent victim of fate.

I thought myself unsuspected even when my wife's three sisters came for the burial. I had written to them myself, begging that they allow her interment in the orchard I had planted for her. My heart chided me for a hypocrite, yet it was as sincere a gesture of remorse as I could make. They expressed no objection, in return for my consent to a funeral ceremony of their choosing.

The day they arrived at my door, I composed my sleepless countenance into a warm, welcoming attitude. No sooner had Hecuba taken my hand than she collapsed wailing into the arms of her ever-attendant sisters. It touched my heart, though had I thought her stricken by anything besides grief, I might have caught the knowing looks exchanged by Eurydice and Dorcas.

While they took comfort in the modest spirits I could offer, I placed their luggage in a spare room I had made up for them. I planned to sleep in the parlor until such time as my wife had been removed from our bed. By chance, I stumbled and a small valise pitched forward to the floor, yawning open like the jaws of a trap. Out there fell a smaller leather case, something between a doctor's bag and an elegant sewing kit. Small pins or instruments rattled inside, but my curiosity about it fell away when I observed what had fallen out alongside it. A small linen sack, done up with coarse black string, lay on its side. I noted the harsh clink it had made upon landing, and through a burst seam I perceived the unmistakable glint of gold. It shames me to think what a shiver of glee ran through me. This was no traveler's purse. It must surely be, I told myself, a portion of the legacy I had so profaned my household to gain. I could not do otherwise than possess myself in patience until they should hand it over. I knew that I would have to wait until after the burial at least, yet once I had gathered the luggage together and set it right, I was hard put to contain the excitement in my steps. Besides the assurance that my monstrous work had not been wholly in vain, I felt that any gift assured me of my exoneration in their eyes. They had strange ways and I had worried about some dark intuition of theirs giving me away.

Quiet returned to the house as my sisters in law took up the mysterious funeral offices they had come to perform. I was politely asked to remove myself while they ministered to Cecily's remains. Once or twice I placed an ear to the door, detecting a continuous exchange of low whispers. I could not tell whether it was some incantation or spell, or the whispering of a conspiracy. My fear at being found out, and of having action brought against me, stirred anew. More disturbing was that each time I bent to listen, their whispering seemed to cease, and each time I withdrew I heard the indistinct conversation resume.

After two or three hours, the sisters emerged and permitted me to see Cecily's body, if I so wished. Against the reproaches of my conscience I went in to her, and was shocked by the transformation. The women's ministrations had not been so much embalming as beautifying. The renewal was marvelous. My wife's skin, slackened in death, they had anointed so as to recall the glow of life. Her hair, cropped to half length for consecration to the family skein, had the bright pale sheen of butter, and had been brushed into perfect silken arrangement. Her arms crossed her bosom in a pose of ease and contentment. Most remarkable was the restoration of her cheek, so lately clotted with blood and venom, into a dimpling barely noticeable even at so close a distance. It took me a full minute's adoring, regretful gaze before I noticed the horrid black scarring over her pallid mouth.

Bending close, I found that Cecily's lips were stitched together with a familiar coarse thread of black. The work was fine, but the effect quite ghastly. It marred her final beauty, despite the wondrous efforts made. Wishing to calm the leaping of my heart, I cradled her sweet head from behind in my quivering palm. I noticed then that her face, hair and skull had taken on alarming weight. I withdrew my hand rapidly, causing her head to rock back against the bolster. There came a dull jingling sound, also familiar and seeming to proceed from inside her. Out from beneath her soft neck slipped a folded parcel of linen. This third element, which I recognized as readily as the others, proved the dashing of my latest hope.

In some pagan passage ritual, which I had been reckless in allowing to take me unawares, my wife's three sisters had deposited the gift of gold I thought promised to me in the mouth and gullet of my late beloved. Whether some heresy from the Law of the Pharaoh, a Mithraic obscenity lost to time, or the perverse invention of my guests, it seemed a barbarous and profligate way to honor the dead. It was natural that I should emerge from the room shaken at the final sight of my wife, but I said nothing to express distaste or contradict their work. I feared that my jealous anger over losing the money might glow through in the heat of my objection.

The following forenoon we made our way to the orchard to bury Cecily. The cart which had borne us to her family home now drew a rough litter, fashioned with joists I had pulled from my loft. These I had joined and planed and polished to rude but respectable elegance. Her body was swathed in clean linen, covering all but her shut eyes and the cascade of hair spread in an immaculate halo by Eurydice's nimble fingers.

I confess to a final wrongdoing in my grim pageant as usher out-of-life. Once her sisters had arranged Cecily on the litter, they retired to finish their toilettes while I fastened thin straps of hide about the limbs and breast of my darling one. As I smoothed her swaddling one last time, the fabric slipped to reveal the sutures of permanent silence upon her lips. A rabid desire seized my hand with the force of a dog's bite. With quick action, it was yet possible that I could rescue a fistful of gold from the ungrudging mouth of my bride. As always I had my sharpened field knife in my pocket, and moving with as much furtive quiet as I could I passed the blade under the snug stitching, the slender iron perfectly dividing her lips. I drew it carefully upward, but found surprising resistance in the black thread. Feeling a chill of sweat over my brow, I pulled more sharply, doing my utmost not to disturb the repose of her head a second time. Only one stitch broke, with a bowstring pop that seemed to resound in the crisp air.

I weighed the expediency of drawing the thread out by degrees to part her jaw, but a crucial stab of conscience stayed me once I had burst the second stitch. I gave up the theft as futile, nothing more than a desperate flare of the devilish temperament not yet subdued by my shame and grief. After all, the very worst part of me offered the assurance that I could exhume Cecily and get at the gold unobserved, once her sisters had departed and left me all to myself again. I sent a searching glance over my shoulder toward the house. I feared that in taking so much time over Cecily I might have been observed. For an instant my eye seemed to catch a flicker of dark motion in the window, but at such a distance it was more likely a trick of cloud over sun reflected in the glass. The next instant, as I hastily covered her face, the three sisters came outside, which made the presence of one of them at a far window all but impossible.

The burial rite was subdued and fairly ordinary. Besides a few obscure murmurs and invocations, nothing strange or off-putting caught my ear. There was no renewal of the anticipated singing. They wept modestly between times, but carried out a brief and rather charming order of farewell.

As I set to the business of shoveling, they retired to prepare a final supper, as they were bound to leave the next morning. I uttered more than one prayer, giving each with feeling despite their hollow ringing against my heart. I prayed not to a Creator, nor to a Redeemer, but directly to the prone form of the injured angel disappearing beneath me, swallowed by the soil I had once given her out of love.

I came home to find a stew of surpassing richness prepared for me. I could hardly carry myself through the motions of washing with its bewitching smell in my nose. Sharing a meal with the women who tied me to my crime, despite our lack of warm feeling, eased me such that I failed to perceive the intoxicating effect of the food until well past the point of helping myself. As their faces swam hither and fro in my blackening vision, I opened my mouth to speak but found my tongue furry and slurred. Their mocking words of reply reached me as though spoken underwater. Rising at last to take stock of my poisoned condition, I lost balance and drifted to the earth with a soft shock.

In the black waters of a dream I seemed to drift for some time. No light found my eyes, but even muffled by the drug which had dosed me, the shrill strains I had missed in the burial ceremony came whirling in on me.

My love is gone a wand'ring, oh/

Yet in my heart he lingers, oh/

No cold I'll fear from rain or snow/

If true my lover be

Scarcely had the chorus faded when pain beckoned me up from the depths. A seam of fire crossed my belly, encircling a dull swollen sensation lodged in the very core of me. I thought at first I  was in the final throes of the poisoning I now knew my sisters-in-law had given me. Instead of trembling back down into permanent oblivion, I rose again.

Light reached my eyes in specks and spreading pools, until the hearth-lit interior of my home came clear. The firelight was colder than usual, almost purple in contrast to a normal healthy red, but the corners and shadows of my family dwelling were clear to me. Familiar yet forgotten spices filled the air. My wife's three sisters drifted in and out of view. From where I lay in the center of the floor, the room seemed more vast than I knew it to be. There was an ancient weirdness to the scene, a ritual pomp that recalled my brief stay as their guest many months before.

I attempted to speak, but instantly contorted as the pain in my guts flared outward through my limbs.

"He lives," I heard Eurydice say. She was grave, and seemed to have ceased her habitual humming.

"He lives and would speak," intoned Dorcas.

Hecuba loomed over me. "He may speak, if it does not pain him too much."

It did pain me, but I mastered it after two or three attempts. "Wh... what day is this? What time?"

The laughter of the sisters was like the curious fire they had built in my hearth, bright and crisp yet lacking warmth.

"He asks what time?" Hecuba scoffed. "Can the hour count one solitary bit? Know only that it is a crucial hour, the most important of your life."

I heard the faint rattle of a timbrel. Eurydice had picked up her instrument and shook it absently in her restless hand.

"What poison have you given me?" I demanded.

"What poison?" Hecuba shot back. "A venomous creature like you accuses us of poisoning? True, we concocted a draught to put you out of senses, but any other pain you feel was wrought by your own hand."

"Lying witch," I stammered as a wave of agony washed me. Hecuba's indignation vanished in a stony grin of amusement.

"Oh," she sighed, "perhaps I speak too poetically. I confess our hands have been busy this night, yet if you have some thought of blaming us for your present misery, you are mistaken. We are but the agents of justice."

"Be reasonable," I gasped, "and tell me what suspicions you have against me."

The fire roared as Dorcas stoked it into new fury. The glow illuminated Hecuba's pale eyes, giving her face a demonic aspect. "It was never a question of suspicion," said she. "When you took my hand in greeting three days ago, I knew the guilt of your heart as surely as if you had written your confession in blood."

"Foolishness," I spat. "Your parlor magic is no foundation to accuse me of some crime."

Her shadow grew immense, cast against the wall by wrathful flames.

"When we first met, the touch of your hand spoke only of fear and ambition. We were troubled on Cecily's behalf, that she should marry such a weak soul, but out of sisterly indulgence we gave no objection. We prayed to all we hold dear that our journey would find you prostrated with grief for the precious thing you have lost."

"I do grieve," said I. "I am crippled without her."

"I cannot doubt it," said Hecuba in a slightly softened tone. "If only you had known what you would lose when you first conspired to get at her money."

The muscles of my chest and stomach pulled at the burning seams that held them. My inward parts were ready to leap forth and spatter the ground like the bowels of Judas. Hecuba hissed with new hostility before I could voice a denial.

"Would it not have been easier to flatter us, to court our good graces, to invite us just once to your table no matter how false your motives? What sickness must have gripped your mind to turn your hand against our Cecily, the sweetest and silliest flower our family has sprouted for generations."

"I have been sick," I said. "I broke my head."

"We know," Dorcas boomed from the corner where she stood, an eerie sentinel. "We have the full measure of you."

"All is revealed, all is known" Eurydice half-sang, and thumped her timbrel.

"We are all of us crones and cripples," Dorcas continued, possibly quoting some strange passage of the occult, "and yet the mass of us abide, in wisdom and folly, from strength to strength."

"I took no gold," I gasped, desperate half-confession bleeding from me, "even when you left me alone with her. Three times I could have stolen it. I tried but I could not see it through. Have mercy and end my pain, I beg you."

"End your pain?" Hecuba scoffed. "End your lies, you scavenger! You predator! To steal your wife's tokens of legacy for the Life After would have been shameful, yet it would be petty and commonplace in the shadow of murder."

"I did not," I parried without strength. "I could not."

"You must have believed so, at first. Why else would you send a crawling nasty in your place, to bite and kill and mar her beauty? But you've forgotten that in your sheer murderer's gall, you laid her out on the very pillow used to finish her. There were fragments torn loose by her teeth, flecks drawn into her gullet by her dying breath."

"Faithless one," Eurydice said in a dire scriptural cadence, "against us and against the innocent spark of life you have sinned. Do you think it was only our sister you killed with your scheming?"

Though stunned by the proof of one crime, I would not stand accused of another. "Who else do you imagine I have killed?"

Hecuba pounced. "Can you not imagine it yourself? In our preparation of Cecily's body we could not miss her condition."

"She was ill. Slightly ill. But what is that?"

"Ill? Fool, oh fool! How dare you think her ill when she was divinely touched? Blessed to carry the life for which she prayed, cursed to bear it in your name."

I could not resist the truth I heard in her voice. Unknowing, caught in the wicked frenzy of my heart, I had murdered not only my dear wife but also the child for whom she would have made any sacrifice.

I wailed, wishing I could perish from the roiling agony in my belly, and for a moment I thought some god or devil had shown me mercy. Yet it was not the physical subsidence of a broken soul or a mortally wounded body that I felt. It was the force of some living thing imprisoned in me. I had heard people speak of dread uncoiling within them, but the sensation was too keen in me for a mere literary expression. My sisters-in-law had conjured the ghost of my firstborn, a vengeful revenant to tear me from within.

Hecuba smiled, her solemnity collapsing in wicked glee. She must have read the very thought on my twisted countenance. "We practice lost arts, farmer" said she, "but we are not necromancers. Otherwise would we be so grieved by the death of our darling one?"

Eurydice came forward, and Dorcas after her. They gathered in a triad above me, peering with scornful delight at my dismay.

"You agreed to let us bury Cecily in our family's customary way," explained Hecuba, "and the rite of expiation is a fundamental part of laying the wronged to rest. We could not bury you alongside her, as you will no doubt ask us to, without expurgation."

"What the devil do you mean?"

"Clever ways, clever ways," hummed Eurydice.

"We can but use what nature gives," thrummed the stony Dorcas.

"As he snuffs the spark of life in his beloved," whispered Eurydice, "so we quicken the spark of destruction in him."

Her pronouncement fell exactly in time with a forceful thrust of the presence inside me. It shoved my flesh rudely outward, sliding among my natural guts in a familiar motion that reached backward to a dread as primal as the loss of Eden.

The nature of the judgment and sentence upon me was clear in an instant. It was my vile accomplice, a snake of the very kind I had used against my wife, which they had caught and sewn up inside me. The effect of my shifting, or the dissipation of some drug they had given it, now roused it among my entrails. I cannot express the measure of my revulsion at that moment. To feel the writhing of a live thing, to say nothing of that particular beast with its eerie sleekness, was a rare distillation of original horror. I could feel the pointed viper’s head probing for escape, burrowing with frustration amid the tissues of my abdomen. I looked down at myself only once but could not bear the distortion of my flesh, coarsely joined with stitches and showing the serpent’s movement like a hideous quilt thrown over it. I retched and gasped, but whether I feared its lodging in my gullet to choke us both, or whether I entertained some hope of its dying quietly before it did me further harm, I could not bring myself to scream.

Only after the snake had comprehended its plight, dealing two or three fiery bites to the inside of my stomach, did I gain courage to cry out again. My face was soon bloodless and covered in sweat. I quivered as with unendurable cold, yet I gave voice to a litany of curses, first on myself and then on my three sisters-in-law. In answer, they joined hands and sang a dozen of their nameless airs, all in the same chilling harmony to which they had accustomed me. They demonstrated a new talent, modulating the key of each verse to correspond with the timbre of my screams. It might indeed have been called a beautiful quartet.

In their hideous rite of vengeance, they have shown themselves as devious and pitiless as any fit consort of the evil one, yet they need no devil's blessing to practice black and terrible arts. Those who are not witches may still keep terrible ways. There was never much love between us, but having visited such extremes of wickedness on one another, I dare to hope that we may find reconciliation should we meet again in some distant hell.

I have tried with many desolate pleas to move their hearts. I have begged them to slash my throat if they will not free the venomous thing inside me. I have asked them to tread upon us both. I have asked them to roll me into the fire. Finally, in fulfillment of Hecuba's scornful prediction, I ask that having exacted their vengeance on me, they will at least have the mercy to bury me near the grave of my wife, if not beside her than at least not too great a distance away. Should they decide in a final fit of bitterness to plant me head-down, bootless, naked or cut in pieces, my desecrated bones will at least lie more peacefully for that.

How long I have lain here half-sensible, counting the spasms in my belly, I cannot guess. But who you are, come to sit and hear my confession, is the final mystery. The face and the attitude of the listener seems to change with the hour. At times I have thought I saw the sharp satisfied mouth of Hecuba, at others the witless visage of Dorcas. Once I fancied that soft rhythmic humming betrayed the presence of strange Eurydice. Yet this latest aspect, you to whom I give my penitent account, fearing my final chance has truly come, I know you not at all and yet may dread you the most. Whether you have come for good or ill, I do not like the smell of you. Fool that I am, I thought that telling my sins might help drain this evil agony from me. Now I see the vanity of that hope, and do you smile to know it?

I would not claim to have loved or to have been much loved by any God of my fathers, but let all nature call me false if I do not now believe on His judgment and fear it. Against all I have deserved, I pray that it will be Cecily who sits with me at the end, and who will lead me whither it is fit for me to go. Several times this night a dream has taunted me, a feverish yearning to sit by her in a small Eden filled with sweet Jonathan apples. From her favorite tree, the smallest and most delicate of the four, she plucks a fruit of perfect shape and color. She offers it in forgiveness. To drive away this present pain I would fill myself to sickness, eating greedily of her pardon all the days of eternity.

For Bill Bleich

A teacher, a mentor, and a friend