Once, I was on trial for aiding and abetting fugitives, a charge which I incurred when I took it upon myself to protect two fugitives who were chained together and on the run in the 1930s by hiding them in a haystack behind my barn on my dustbowl farm like in that Coen Brothers movie that made bluegrass mountain music famous. I lied with a poker face to the angry constables who caught me red-handed as I was giving the escapees food and ammunition that I had anything to do with the fugitives known to be in the area … and while I had been about to send them on their way, instead, now, I was cuffed and beaten and dragged to the precinct and fingerprinted and jailed and arraigned and incarcerated for my pretrial period, unable to muster enough bail due to my failed crops, and I found myself rotting in prison for a measly seventy years, the record of my case being lost due to an idiotic clerical error and then found later, much, much later—
Once, I was on trial for aiding and abetting fugitives, both of whose names and faces now elude me after these long decades of scratching years into the concrete walls of my cell like footprints across the sands of time; scratch scratch went the sharpening edges of my shank into the concrete; and now, no matter how hard I try not to do so, whenever I try to remember the incident that got me into such trouble I picture the two fugitives like cartoon characters of the period, specifically Donald Duck and Porky Pig, and they in scratchy black and white while the rest of the memory framing them is in Technicolour, the arresting police officers taking on the forms and mannerisms of the monkey minions from The Wizard of Oz, and heralded by their ominous marching music from the movie’s score, Ho-Hee-Hoeing their way into my barn, and answering to a Wicked Witch of the West for a chief—
Once I was on trial for this crime and I found myself cross examined. The Crown Attorney, X_________, was, it was well-known, a secret imbiber of printers’ ink, and the founder of Printers’ Ink Inc., a front for his addiction wherein he printed pamphlets advocating fruitarian dieting and New Age religious books with copious quantities of the dark-stained urine consequent of his habit, who would often speak with his lips stretched over his teeth like a parody of a toothless old man in an effort to hide his blackly stained teeth from public view, and whose ink-soaked brain led him to fits of madness in court such as breaking into frenetic impersonations of barnyard and forest animals in the midst of cross-examinations, which happened right there in the courtroom as he circled the box in which I sat in full view of all assembled, and he suddenly made rabbit ears above his head with his fingers and made comical buck teeth by way of an exaggerated overbite, and he squatted down and began hopping, and, after a moment of bafflement and consternation by the assembly, he broke into a bloodcurdling, piercing scream, a mortal rabbit’s scream, a noise such as a rabbit would make as it were pounced on by a hungry fox. His scream was interrupted by the judge, who shouted angrily, “Order in the court! Order in the Court!” and who punctuated his stentorian bellow with the crack of his gavel from way up high on his desk that loomed above all who were gathered. Being, in fact, a munchkin (at least as I remember him), the judge loomed behind his desk from atop a stack of legal books and photo albums filled with erotic turn of the century French postcards and boxes full of money and heirlooms and jewellery taken as bribes from would-be imprisoned and condemned folks who had such means at their disposal, all of this piled on his stool to increase his diminutive height—
“Order in the Court!” His shouts were met with silence, and the Crown Attorney regained his composure.
“I am sorry, your Honour,” said the Crown Attorney, and he looked up at the judge, whose livid face was softening back to a porcine pink as he calmed down after his angry yelling, and who was now readjusting his wig as though it were a curtain blown by the wind.
“One more outburst like that and I will have you charged with contempt of court,” the judge asserted. The Crown Attorney resumed his cross-examination: “What motivated you to harbour the two criminals Porky Pig and Donald Duck, who had escaped from Alcatraz*, and who had caused such mayhem on their furlough as to more than equal the deeds that sent them to prison in the first place?”
I had no answer. From the left, across the court room, I heard a sneeze. I looked in the this direction, the direction of the jury, the source of the sneeze that punctuated the silence of my non-answer.
Let it be known: I feared the jury. I forget their faces now, and though I’ve tried, I can picture only the Seven Dwarfs from Disney’s Snow White, hand-painted and pastel-coloured and animated in their seats; all seven dwarfs, with Sneezy sextupled in my mind so as to make a full (and noisy) twelve; and across the years, as I tell this tale, I am distracted by the chorus of wheezing and sneezing and grumping and grouching and laughing and snoring emanating from the jury box—
My inability to answer the Crown Attorney’s question brought out a great horror in me. I started to tremble.
My own attorney, a Queens’ Counsel by the name of Z_______, and who was known, from time to time, to go into paroxysms wherein he thought he was spontaneously combusting, and who would roll around and shriek to this intensely imagined effect, stood up and asked the judge, “Your Honour, is it not possible for the court to rest? Can you not see that my client is ill-fit to be standing trial at this very instant? As ill-fit as the Crown Attorney is to prosecute given his recent outburst?” At which point his eyes bugged out, and he clutched his arms as he was consumed in the imaginary inferno of his own body, and he began rolling around and shrieking, much as I have just described.
“Order! Order in the court!” shouted the judge. He tapped the gavel repeatedly on his desk as my lawyer writhed around on the floor as if possessed by demons. “I call a recess!” At this he brought down his gavel with such force that the whole illusion was shattered, the very scene in front of my eyes smashing with crystalline clarity into shards and splinters, and I found myself in reality, or whatever stood for it at this level of consciousness, standing in my neighbour’s flower garden, missing my pants and urinating on a rose. Again.
From a nearby window, someone giggled.
* I recognize that Alcatraz is a defunct American prison, and that this is Canada, but I forget where the two fugitives escaped from and I feel that Alcatraz is commonly known enough to readers to serve as an appropriate stand-in.