I’ve been writing about my trials and tribulations with Julius for over a year and I’ve tweaked, revised, cut, added, and scrapped a lot of it. The only section that seems to have stayed the same is the prologue. So I thought I would offer a sneak peak. Some of my online writing critters have seen it. I have made some minor changes, but this section sets up the entire story.
So here it is. If you leave a comment, please be constructive and kind. I already do a good job of beating myself up.
Westchester County, 1978
I first saw Sing-Sing on a cold, gray-white February Sunday. I was only ten years-old.
My father and I were heading back home to Chappaqua when we drove through the Hudson River town of Ossining. From the passenger side of the car, I admired the old and spooky stone buildings.
“It’s pretty here,” I said.
“If you like prison towns,” he said and pulled at his graying beard.
We continued on and passed the train station. My father pointed to a concrete wall with rolled barbed wire on top and to a pair of tall watchtowers that loomed on the other side. “Remember the film we saw the other night, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing with Spencer Tracy? This is it.”
I unbuckled my seat belt and twisted turned around for a better view. A moment later he added, “Miserable town, and its electric chair.”
My head snapped around and I gaped at him. Electric chair? A few weeks earlier in our study at home, I had discovered Dear Dead Days, a macabre picture book by Charles Addams that held my attention for hours. Among the odd collection of photographs and drawings, one stood out. It was an illustration of a man in dark prison garb with a black hood over his head; he was strapped in an early model of the electric chair; his legs rested on a high, narrow ottoman; his ankles were clamped down. From the tip of the black hood an attached wire snaked its way to a box with a gauge that was mounted on the wall and meandered along to large hand switch. The executioner sported a bushy mustache and wore an old-fashioned, black boxy suit. His hand grasped the over-sized handle and his face registered no emotion. Beneath the image it said: “Execution by Electricity—the Chair and Apparatus Used in Producing Death. 1889.”
I had memorized the image and I could see all the details from the insipid expression on the executioner’s face to the prisoner’s heavy-heeled boots, his turned out ankles and his knotted and fisted hand resting on his belly. The image clouded over and faded to black when my father tugged at my down jacket’s sleeve and said, “Corinne, honey, turn around and put on your seatbelt.”
I obeyed him and pulled at the belt. “Do they still use it?”
My father shook his head.“Not anymore. And what seemed like an afterthought he added, “I came here to protest—a month later I left for Paris.”
The car seemed to have gotten colder; I leaned closer to the vents and rubbed my mittened hands together to generate more heat. “Protest what?”
“An execution,” he said.
“Who got executed?”
He looked at me from the corner of his eye and said, “It was actually two people—a man and his wife.”
“What did they do?”
“The government said they gave secrets about the atom bomb to the Russians. The wife’s brother betrayed her.”
I mulled over this information, and stared at the red, yellow, and purple stripes of my mittens Secrets were supposed to be kept in a vault. It was bad to give up a secret, but tattling was worse–at least that’s what my mother said. She always told me, “Never, ever, point your finger at someone and name them.”
We were driving up our street when I looked out the windshield. I saw our mailbox, the only one in the neighborhood painted with the stark, red star, daring to be different from all the conservative and ordinary tin gray mailboxes
“Why did the lady’s brother snitch on her?”
He stared straight ahead, twisting a section of his bristled beard. “It’s complicated. They were scapegoats . . . like so many others,” he sighed, and flicked on the turn signal.
“Did you know them?”
“No, but they were like your mother and me.”
We turned left and drove into the driveway; the sound of gravel crackled and popped beneath the tires. My father switched off the headlights and ignition. He stepped out of the car, and stared up at the sky. The gray-white afternoon was now a deep purple, velvet night.
I climbed out of our old, blue Peugeot and slammed the door. “What were their names?”
My father’s shoulders slumped. He didn’t say anything.
“I want to look them up in the encyclopedia. I won’t bug you about them any more. Cross my heart.” I motioned with my hand to make the sign.
“Rosenberg,” he said.
“And their first names?”
“Ethel was the wife.” He looked up at the sky again. “Hey, you might get lucky. Looks like snow.”
The color shifted from deep purple to a lighter violet cast. My attention shifted away from the Rosenbergs. I clasped my mittened hands, pressing them hard against my chest, and crashed down to my knees. My eyes were squeezed shut. I prayed for no school, and chanted under my breath the “Snow, no school” mantra three times.
After a deep breath of cold air that caused a coughing fit, I dropped my hands to my sides. I opened my right eye first, then my left eye and saw plump snowflakes floating down from the heavens. It was as if God had gotten into a pillow fight with his angels. I pumped my small fist in the air and cheered “Yes!” I continued to celebrate with a clumsy pirouette and stumbled over the gravel while trying to catch the frozen fluff with my tongue.
My father climbed up the stairs to the front porch and shouted, “Come inside before your mother starts moaning about pneumonia.”
“Hey! You didn’t tell me the man’s name,” I yelled back.
He stood on the top step and leaned against the white wooden railing; his hands shoved deep inside his coat’s pockets. My father turned his face up to the violet, snow-filled sky and said, “His name was Julius.”