" My Day of Peace "
Life was hell, but I deserved it.
The morning starts as always. The nurses come in to check on us all. I could see their pure white uniforms, which was practically all I could see during one of my damn fevers. I don't know if it was mandatory but it seemed all the nurses that came to look upon me or the other patients, never moved any closer then from the bottom of the bed. With my blurred vision, I could believe the nurses were angels, and I so wished for them to come closer, to give me a little warmth. But they never did.
"What's your name, honey?" the blurred nurse asks.
"Mayella Ewell," I manage with usual difficulty.
"Ah, Ms. Ewell," she speaks, "you have a visitor."
I ask whom, though I have an idea.
"Father Gregory," she replies, "for your last rites."
It wasn't long after that, through the horrid choir of long and raspy coughs heard around the room, my name was spoken.
"How are you feeling, Ms. Ewell?" the voice asks.
I try to make him out. I could see combed blond hair and quite a young face.
"My days are numbered. I can feel it."
"Is that why you asked for me to come?" Father Gregory sits a few objects down on a table next to my bed.
"Look around you, Father," I move my hands around, "The damn Consumption claimed us. We're the incurables."
"I've seen what Tuberculosis can do. But you're holding up well."
I scoff, than I start to cough. I can taste the blood in my mouth. Thankfully, I'm able to control it and soon it fades away.
"There was another reason I called you."
Father Gregory looks at me, and I can tell he's a bit confused.
"I have a confession and it's long overdue."
Sweat slowly drips down my forehead, even though the ward is as cool as it always is, and I dab it with the back of my hand.
Father Gregory settles himself.
Getting a chair, he sits next to the bed and gives me his attention.
"Have you ever heard of Maycomb County?"
Father Gregory shakes his head, "Sorry, no."
"It's south of here, in Alabama, and it's where I grew up. It was hell on earth for me."
Father Gregory nods his head in understanding.
"I was the oldest of my seven siblings and my father was a cruel, disgusting man."
I can see by Father Gregory's reaction, that my sudden coldness in my words has surprised him.
"Drunk or not, he abused me and more," I mutter in utter contempt, "I was not allowed outside the property without his permission and I had no friends. I was his, and his alone."
I can feel my eyes get watery.
"I wanted to be with someone else, someone other than my siblings and father. And there was a person I always saw, and I knew it was him I wanted to be with."
Father Gregory nods, his silence enough for me to know he has an idea where my story was going.
"His name was Tom, he was black," I say, "I made sure one time that I was able to be alone with him."
I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes, my already cloudy vision getting worse.
"Without thinking, I threw myself at him," I croak, "My father, drunk like usual, saw this and scared Tom away. Then he attacked me, like I was nothing. Like I was trash!"
There's no use in stopping my tears this time, so I let them fall.
"I don't know why, but he had control over me, he could manipulate me in ways. He made me believe he was so much better than he was. I guess I was very naïve and stupid. I became the person I now resent."
"We framed Tom for attacking and raping me. He was innocent but he was a negro," I try to slow my breathing, "so the jury found him guilty."
There's a long pause as I try to collect myself.
"What happened to him?" Father Gregory asks.
My shame, anger, and sadness hit me at that moment. Through gasps of air as I sob, I'm able to finish my story for the Father, " Tom tried to escape and was shot to death by the prison guards. I killed an innocent man!"
"Sometime after, my drunken fool of a father fell on his own knife. Most of Maycomb knew Tom was innocent and believed Tom's ghost finished him off. It was hard for us, but I raised my siblings and tried to undo the damage done by our father."
I can't talk anymore and cry to myself. The memories I brought back are too painful. It's than that Father Gregory surprises me by taking my hand in his.
"Why?" I mumble.
"Why are you being so nice to me? After what I told you?"
"You lived a tough life, Ms. Ewell," he says, "But time has changed you. You are not an evil person."
I scoff, "Justice came in the form of the knife that killed my father. That knife is to my father as Tuberculosis is to me."
I then look straight into Father Gregory's eyes.
"Look at me," I move my weak hands up and down my body, "this is my punishment. Though I've dreamed and prayed so long for forgiveness, I now see it simply as a white tulip."
"A white tulip?"
"Whenever I was allowed to go off my property for errands or whatever, I made sure I made it worth it. I'd explore every chance I got. Sometimes I would go to the negroes' place in town. One time, I saw Tom and a woman. I found out later, she was his wife, but what I remember so clearly is the surprise and smile Tom gave to her when he handed her a white tulip. It was something so small, yet so beautiful. Every now and then I'd see Tom pass my house, sometimes with a white tulip, and I would hope he would come straight to me with it. But he never did. The day I see the beautiful flower again will be my day of peace."
There was a long pause, I finally broke the silence and told Father Gregory I was ready for my last rites. Wiping my tears from my face, one more fell, then no more. My eyes were then reduced to being puffy.
Finishing up, Father Gregory pulls my blankets up to me chest.
"Father, could you do something for me?"
"What is it Mayella?"
I hold out a piece of folded paper I had been holding the entire time I was with him, "This is the address for Tom's wife. Could you go by and tell her I'm sorry."
Father Gregory hesitates for a small second, then takes the paper, "I will do my best."
Taking a small towel, he dabs at the sweat forming on my forehead. I can feel a fever coming. I know that's not good.
"Now rest, my daughter."
"I'm old enough to be your grandmother," I say.
He smiles, gives me the sign of the cross, then departs.
That night, nightmares of Tom and his wife throwing me into an abyss, wakes me up. The fever is back and I begin to cough violently again. Eventually my eyes close.
Time seems to not matter, as I can't remember if I had seen Father Gregory the day before or the day before that.
The fever stays though. Every time I open my eyes, they burn and I begin to shiver.
I believe every time my eyelids close, it's the last time. But I always open them. Each time, my vision getting more cloudy.
Finally, either a long time or short time later, I hear a familiar voice call my name.
I try to open my eyes but its too much strength that I don't have. I'm able to finally lift them up halfway and see a blurry Father Gregory. I smile.
"I went to Maycomb and I found Tom's wife."
My eyes are too heavy but I can't close them, perhaps for the last time, before I hear what Father Gregory has to say.
"I told her, Mayella, and she forgives you."
"Really?" my voice is weak but I manage.
A single tear falls down my face as Father Gregory surprises me by wrapping my fingers around something.
"This is from her," he tells me.
I look down to where me hands are. My eyes are growing more and more tired but I fight. I need to see what I'm holding. Then I do.
"Thank you," my mouth makes a weak smile and that's the last of my strength. Whether for the last time or not, I let my eyelids close as Father Gregory takes my free hand in his.
I feel different. Happy. Free.
The darkness disappears and I feel warm. In my mind, I create the image of my hand and that beautiful thing my fingers were wrapped around.
A white tulip.