X is for Xanthocarpous
The tree outside the hospital window was xanthocarpous. It wept the color of cowardice through the long hazy afternoon. It sent its flowers subtly down like a veil at a wedding in the far off Orient until the ground outside my window was a bright carpet.
It was a strange and insubstantial afternoon. I held Geraldine’s hand and it seemed flimsy and bird-like to the touch. I feared it would break away. My story had seemed fragile too. I saw the officer look at me as if I was a madman. Surely Monty’s tale that I was drunk and he had escaped as I headed toward the precipice had more substance.
It was his word against mine. But Geraldine seemed determined that I would prevail. She had hired one of the best attorneys in this part of Umbria. He told me he had already dug up some dirt on Monty who it seemed had assaulted a friend in a drunken brawl last year. The charges had been dropped after the friend was paid a tidy sum of money to change his story but the lawyer Mr. Vinchenzo suggested his reputation was already tarnished. And then there was the media. The lawyer had contacted the British press before Monty’s people could get to them with the tale of how my cousin, jealous at my success as an artist, had tried to kill me.
I was discharged from the hospital after two days. I had torn ligaments but there were no breaks in my leg. Once I was back at the villa I felt a curious emptiness that took its cue from the hills around. There were angst ridden calls from my parents about how the family was being destroyed by the press. The presence of Monty at the villa had been obtrusive but I started to miss the idea of family. I started to miss the person I imagined Monty could be if things had been different. I took my paints and headed high into the hills. It was cold up on the bare spine of the hills now but I wanted to feel chilled to the bone. It drove me to pain a bleak series of landscapes that ripped the hills to their skeletons and exposed what lay beneath. I contemplated centuries of murder and death. Even the pleasant hill village seemed like a veneer that hid Medieval barbarity away from the manicured piazzas.
It took almost a year for the attempted murder case to come to trial. By all accounts Monty had complained about conditions in an Italian jail where he was forced to rub shoulders with ruffians and sex starved characters who saw his fine flanks as fresh meat.
Mr. Vinchenzo, a picture of pocked sized efficiency in his dark suit and prinz net, built up a picture of Monty as a wealthy and spoiled thug who had as little respect for his artistic cousin as he had for the Italian authorities who he obviously took for fools who would fall for his ruse. His case went over well with an Umbrian jury that was sick of wealthy Brits coming over and buying up their properties. Mr. Vinchenzo seldom mentioned the fine villa I found in my ownership.
The members of the press from Britain were more divided. There were the arts correspondents who had championed me a few years earlier who were apt to pain Monty as a Luddite but others appeared to easily swallow his story that I had blamed Monty for my own drunken actions because I had held a longstanding grudge against him. One publication even dug up my history of drug abuse and described how Monty had staged a compassionate intervention by taking me to rehab in France. The editorial writers of the conservative rag painted me as a feckless artist who had exploited liberal causes to make my fortune off the back of misery. A classic left – right split was opening up with the more liberal and arts-minded media tending to me on my side and the conservative papers championing a man who had made his fortune from hard graft rather than paintings of homeless people.
Monty himself was articulate and convincing but only I could discern some retreat from the great orator of previous years. I speculated that the time incarcerated had affected his poise.
After a week of evidence and cross examination, I walked into the town square to see the yellow blossoms on the air again, like a pretty veil of spring drawn across the dryness of the court house. I breathed the scented air and returned in time to see the jury lined up. The foreman a squat olive farmer and an emotional man could not bear to look at me. Monty was rocking back and forth grinning. I prepared myself for further torture.
“Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asked the foreman, although it was clear he had. He muttered his assent. “And?”
“We find the defendant Monty DeVere guilty of attempted murder.”
The tension receded but I could feel little joy in the situation. Monty stood there impassive like a big, dumb white rock. I walked over, gave his wide arm a quick squeeze and walked out into the pale spring sunlight. As I watched the late afternoon rays play on the leaden windows of a church I was hit by the strange light feeling that was coursing through me. It had started so many years ago on a pale spring day and it was ending now as nature was waking up around me.