In Contempt

Veronica mixes ingredients in a bowl on the kitchen counter, the final preparations for supper. She touches her belly, conscious of the realisation of the long hoped-for creation of the life growing within her she will reveal to her husband at supper tonight.

Allen sits, disconsolate, hands on knees, overwhelmed with the constant, daily burden of concealing his mental pain, unable to see the end in sight. Desperation, deep sadness, insidious and inexplicable depression overpower him with the darkest of thoughts. Stepping on the stool, he feels the coarseness of the noose on his neck he fashioned from the coil of rope, its end tied to the beam in the basement.

He can hear his wife upstairs in the kitchen preparing supper, their last conversation a short while before spent talking about pleasantries and the weather. "He said nothing unusual...there was no reason," he imagines she will tell the police when they come responding to her frantic call when she finds him.

He hears rustling in the corner. A mouse appears, whiskers twitching, exploring. This creature, loathed, despised, braving extermination moves across the floor towards him.

He removes the noose from around his neck and reaches down and cups the tiny creature in his hands. Its beating chest beneath its soft, warm fur belies its species reputation of being vile and repugnant.

The sight of this delicate creature in his hands evokes soul-warming emotions of empathy, compassion and love in his heart. As their eyes meet a magical, mystical moment of mutual understanding passes between them. He feels a need to protect it, save it from harm. He knows in his soul the fateful presence of this fragile, courageous creature, gave him the strength and fortitude, despite his fears, to fight through his depression, and saved his life.

He ascends the basement steps, in love with life, with the sense of purpose to seek professional help and support. He excitedly wonders what his wife has prepared for their supper tonight and the wonderful surprises life has still to bring.

* * *

Over a century earlier, Gabrielle, convicted as an accomplice in the murder of her husband and claiming “I am as innocent of any participation in the crime of murder as an unborn child”, sits on the stool in her cell, missing the feel of her baby's feet that had been kicking the day before in her pregnant belly.

Sentenced to hang once her and her late husband’s baby was born, each day that passed over those months of waiting brought her baby closer to life on an umbilical cord and Gabrielle closer to death on a hangman’s rope.

The baby’s cries and fleeting glimpse of her baby’s sweet face were stolen away from her as they removed the baby from the cell, away from her outstretched arms despite her pleas as she lay distraught, hopeless in the straw bed on the rancid floor.

Gabrielle sits, disconsolate, hands on knees, feeling desolation and despair from the loss of her baby. She hears rustling in the corner. A mouse appears, whiskers twitching, exploring. This creature, loathed, despised, braving extermination moves across the rancid floor towards her.

She reaches down and cups the tiny creature in her hands. Its beating chest beneath its soft, warm fur belies its species reputation of being vile and repugnant.

The sight of this delicate creature in her hands evokes soul-warming emotions of empathy, compassion and love in her heart. As their eyes meet a magical, mystical moment of mutual understanding passes between them. She feels a need to protect it, save it from harm. She knows in her soul the fateful presence of this fragile, courageous creature has given her the fortitude and, despite her fear, the strength to face the horror the next day will bring.

The summer sun shimmers in the morning sky. Gabrielle, in love with life and 'in contempt' of those who in the name of justice subject her and her baby, who will grow up motherless, to such heartless cruelty, bravely ascends the scaffold steps. She feels the coarseness of the noose on her neck fashioned from the coil of rope, its end tied to the wooden beam high above her head.

Spectators have gathered by the scaffold to view the spectacle. A hush of anticipation goes through the crowd. The hangman pulls the wooden lever, springing the trap door. She falls through into the open space below the platform, her feet kicking in mid-air, toes reaching for solid support. Above the sound of the snap of her neck in her ears, the last sound she hears emitting from the cell is the snap of the trap they set to eradicate all the despised, like herself, breaking the neck of her compassionate friend the mouse, another innocent creature.

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Author's note: Catherine Mandeville Snow (c. 1793 - July 21, 1834) was the last woman hanged in Newfoundland, Canada. During the trial it was discovered Snow was pregnant. Convicted, her hanging was delayed until the baby was born.
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In Contempt

author
Lawrence E. Collins travels, hikes, fishes and writes from his hometown, St. John’s, NL. His stories have been published in magazines, including Canadian Stories Magazine, ‘The Dress’, Vol 17 No. 96, April/May, 2014, ‘Ebenezer's Party’, feature story, Vol 17 No. 99, Oct/Nov, 2014, at www.canadianstories.net [Archives 2014], and ‘Sidney’, Vol 18 No. 102, April/May, 2015.
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