A.D.: Not Tonight

Joanna

I can't stop thinking about her. Her dead eyes fill my mind, her head tilted to the side, the touch of her skin, still warm before death closes in on it fully, her spirit gone. I remember the look on Cornelius' face, the guilt… the first time I have seen it in him, the first time he has come so near to breaking down. My words have had no effect on him, my constant reprimands against his passivity in the face of my husband's brutality. How can you do this, Cornelius? Have you no mercy? No heart? No soul?

I know now that Pilate has none. I thought he might, that I could somehow reach him, but no.

I lived in hope that he was not a monster. I tried to reconcile it, justify it, reason it away, blame Jerusalem for his change of heart… but now I find myself wondering if I ever knew him before, if I knew him at all, or if this is the man he has always been … just hidden from me, under my own unwillingness to see it.

You are a monster.

He did not even flinch when I said it. He just gazed at me, with his steady gaze of ice.

How could he? How could he send that woman to her death, for no crime other than speaking of faith in the Nazarene? What crime is in that action? None, except that she has spoken of him in our household.

No, in his household.

I know that now.

This house, and everything in it, everyone, including me, is his property. We will all live under his rules. Pilate will have what he decrees, regardless of my feelings about it. He will kill whom he pleases in it, despite my protests. I have tried many times to bring peace, to cease his brutality, to save him from Tiberius and Caligula … and now, for the first time in my life, after covering up his sins many times, I wish I hadn't. I intervened when he needed me, saved him from his fate… and now others suffer because of it.

Was I mad? Frightened? What drove me to such lengths? Delusions, perhaps, that he is redeemable, but no, there is no hope of that. I turned my back on her death; he stood and watched. I felt great anguish hearing the tightening of the strap; he looked on without mercy. Whatever I once felt for him, whatever hopes once dwelled in my breast that it would all be all right in the end, is dead.

As I look about the bedchamber, as night creeps in across the city, I realize with sinking despair that I am in prison too. It is a beautiful prison, but a prison nevertheless. I can go nowhere without being watched. I can do nothing without his knowledge. He will continue to "instruct" me until I am gone, until a faint whisper lingers where I once stood, until I do nothing without his consent. Just as he broke Joanna in the end, as he broke Cornelius into his service, he will continue to break me until I submit fully. I will no longer be Claudia, but his creature.

I could leave him, but he would only pursue me, relentlessly … for my absence would shame him. There are no laws to protect me, and he would kill anyone who tried to help me. I am trapped, imprisoned, though my shackles are not visible to human eyes.

My tears are long since gone, but not the ache where my heart used to be.

I hear his footsteps in the corridor. Fear, dread, anger, a tide of unrecognizable emotion grips me, threatening to drown me as I stiffen. Darkness closes in around me.

Not tonight, I beg him silently, my fingers tightening on the chair. Please… not tonight.