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It's the last afternoon of Mardi Gras, and I sit here, very still, on the steps outside St. Louis Cathedral, looking out over Jackson Square, and wait. I look in the eyes of drag queens and beer vendors and jokers with knives in their heads, study the faces of tarot card readers and topless tourists and housewives in masks made of feathers.
Somebody's trying to kill me. Or at least lock me up.
It's also possible I'm being paranoid. I still don't completely trust myself-I haven't been threatened, I have no hard evidence-but I trust my father even less.
This much I do know: My father, the Governor of Louisiana, killed my mother. He had at least two people's help, not counting mine, both of whom are dead. I didn't know I was involved. I destroyed the evidence, which, at the time and for what it's worth, I thought was proof she'd killed herself. But now I know what happened-or not everything, but enough, more than I wish I knew-and I'm the only person left, besides my father, who does. So who's to say he won't kill me?
He couldn't do it himself. I still believe that. But I no longer feel certain he wouldn't hire someone.
Take care of Grayson, he would say. Take care.
Though I can't imagine who he'd say it to. The circle around my father is smaller than ever, tightening, like a noose, and I won't know the man-it will be a man-but I won't know who until he pulls a gun or a knife or offers me a drink that turns out to be poison.
So I'm trying to come up with a defense.
There's a cop nearby, a cop on a horse, and I'm afraid of horses, but I could get over that if I thought he'd save my life. I'm not going to trust the police, though. I can't trust anybody.
My mother's pistol sits in my purse, tight as the knot in my stomach, but I'm not going to pull it out here, in the crowd.
All I've got, then, is I'm safest where I am, in the open, surrounded by strangers.
Everything's happening very slowly, in vivid detail, as if I've already been shot through the heart and my brain is trying to stretch out my last moments in this life. A Dixieland jazz band and a guitar-strumming gospel singer and a ragged group of senior citizens with saws and spoons and a washboard for instruments are all making music at once, but I hear each note separately, one after the other, the way seconds move through time, and I feel a clock running down in my chest, gravity pulling at my throat.
An angry young woman with a crown of thorns tattooed on her forehead yells into a bullhorn, describing a lake of fire as if she's drunk from it, swum through it, bathed in it. A man in a turban draws a kerosene circle around himself and lights it with a match. He picks up a handful of flames and puts it in his mouth, rolls it on his tongue as if it's a delicacy in his home country.
I can almost taste it with him. I feel the heat in my mouth and taste something bitter, like ashes.
As the circle burns itself out, I'm smelling warm beer and sunburned skin and something sweet and earthy and full of yearning, like pipe smoke from a distance, or pot. Mostly, though, I watch the flow of people, hoping somehow I'll know the man I'm waiting for when he comes.
A monk in a purple robe carrying a dead frog on a cross moves toward me, and I stand up, ready for anything, but he doesn't have a gun. He has a leather whip for a belt, though. If he wants me to come with him, I'll start screaming-I won't go-and I take a big breath so I'll be able to yell, but he hands me an orange card that says, "Get Out of Purgatory Free."
"Trust in frogs," he says to me, and then, louder, to the preacher, "Praise frogs."
He moves away, and I turn the card over, but the other side is blank.
The tattooed preacher ignores him.
I turn around, my back exposed to the crowd, to go into the Cathedral. I'm not Catholic-I'm not even particularly religious-but I feel like praying, and I can't do it out here. I want a man who believes what he's saying to tell me, "This is what's true." I want him to lay his hands on me, healing. I want to be promised life and told to go in peace.
The church is locked, though, and empty. It's Shrove Tuesday, which the faithful supposedly spend in penance, preparing for Ash Wednesday, and a sign on the door says next confession is in an hour. It's open all day tomorrow, which does me no good today.
I sit back down on the stairs and look at the monk's card, sweat-stained now, in my hand.
It's hot, and I'm thirsty.
I don't believe in purgatory, but if I'm wrong and it's real, my mother's been there for the past year. My husband, Carter, and my mother's former lover, Dr. Fontenot, have been there less than a week, assuming they didn't go straight to hell.
I get my lighter out of my pocket-I've started smoking again-and set the card on fire and light a cigarette off the flame and let the card drop onto a stone stair. Then I watch the words on the paper crumble into ashes, and I crush out the embers with my foot.
I pull smoke from the cigarette deep into my lungs, fill myself with it.
I'm half-expecting my father to show up, just appear out of the crowd and walk over to me and sit down. I left a message on his private machine saying I'd be here, asked him to meet me, though who knows if he'll come. Crowds like this are always a security risk, which won't stop him unless he wants it to.
I've decided to tell him everything. I have nothing to lose now.
I know what you did, I will say to him. I know that you killed her.
Then I'll see what he does.
--From Sacrament of Lies by Elizabeth Dewberry, Copyright (c) February 2002, Putnam Pub Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Posted June 10, 2012
This book is the literary equivalent of the opening of Al Capone's vault. We all remember that notorious TV special where Geraldo
Rivera spent 2 solid hours whipping up viewer's suspense and excitement, only to open the vault and find.....nothing. This book is
exactly like that show: she takes an intriguing premise, guides the reader through the plot twists and turns, only to let said reader
down at the final chapter by a hasty and unsatisfying plot resolution ( possibly because she couldn't come up with a snappy ending.)