Monday, October 14, 2002

The Woman in Rosewood

A story of deception, sanity, greed, but most of all, the capacity of the human mind.

“Has the jury reached a verdict?” the formidable looking judge inquired in Court Room 18.

“It has, Your Honor,” replied the foreman of the jury.

The judge nodded and his clerk walked over to the foreman to retrieve a slip of paper from him and handed it to the judge. That day Alexandra wore her favorite black suit that she had been saving for the occasion and felt it was appropriate for her to wear it in court as part of her grieving act. She particularly liked its matching black hat trimmed with a delicate black netted lace that covered her face to complement the over all dramatic effect. She stared hard at the piece of paper held by the man sitting atop his place, knowing in her heart that whatever was written on the paper would mark her life forever. It would mean the success or failure of her grand scheme as she calls it.

“The defendant will please rise,” said the judge, his low voice was the only sound that can be heard in the courtroom. Alexandra stood beside her lawyer gathering as much strength to hold her body upright as she held her breath as if doing so would save her life. She watched the grim expression of the judge and she could not fathom any clue as to what her sentence might be.

“The People of the State of New Jersey versus Alexandra Thomas, charged with the murder of her husband James Thomas, the jury found that it is in favor of the defendant pleading temporary insanity on the account of death of James Thomas. It is therefore decided that the defendant, Alexandra Z. Thomas, be committed in a mental institution no less than 5 years and appear again in court after the said period.”

Only then was Alexandra able to breathe a sigh of relief. Her feint composure of being out of her mind almost slipped from her, grateful that she was able to behave as she was supposed to soon after realizing her almost blunder of act. She preferred to stay in asylum than to be sentenced for life and live her remaining years in a penitentiary, with nothing else to do but to count the years left before the death comes knocking on her door to bring her to the hellhole she might belong to. She watched everything in slow motion as the judge used his gavel to close the trial. She distinctively heard the sound of the gavel’s resonating sound to confirm her fate. All she could hear was the thudding of the wood, as if finally sealing everything else to its final end as she felt the reverberation passes through her causing her body to chill and shiver for a while. She stared on it and wondered how a simple piece of wood can cause people in this courtroom either happiness or pure terror. That a simple act of beating it and creating a sound from it could actually mean life or death to anyone standing on trial. The sound from the gavel simply drowned out everything else in her life crashing down upon her in tune with the gavel’s dull sound.

“Mrs. Thomas?” Alexandra woke with a start as she realized that it was just the familiar face of the practical nurse knocking insistently. He was simply doing his daily duty of giving her the tray of food and her stupid pills that doctors think all patients need. He opened the door and left the tray on the bedside table as Alexandra thanked him. It had been four years since she made the asylum her home and she somehow never got used to the people knocking on her door every so often even if she was in the middle of her sleep. The nurse was just outside her room when a much younger woman in a straight jacket assisted by two nurses appeared. She watched the group from where she sat on the bed through the small window opening on her door.

“Ah yes, we have been waiting for your arrival. Do not worry, you shall be under my care while you are here. Welcome to Rosewood.” said the nurse to the young woman in the straightjacket, who, in return only stared at him drooling. Yes, another pathetic patient in the house! Nevertheless, Alexandra always liked the name of the institution she was in - Rosewood, a tropical tree with dark red wood, streaked with black. But to Alexandra it was more than just the literal dark wood that it represents, the patients here are the rosewoods, all flesh and blood as any healthy human being outside this asylum. Like any rosewood, all human beings have their own dark and evil monsters locked inside them waiting to come out. She stared out the window in broad daylight and observed that the institution was located in a large wooded area where rosewoods grow abundant around the vicinity. During spring, to amuse herself, she listens to the sounds of the woodpeckers up on trees and even sees hummingbirds occasionally outside her window. Sometimes when she is lucky enough she can spot wild turkeys and deer walking along the railings gazing on the grass. The grounds were fenced in and the only access before entry into the institution was through the guarded gate. Alexandra thought that the shelter was not bad at all in fact, it was the best private institution in the state of Jersey.

Alexandra heard the other two nurses discussing about her condition and asked if she had caused any trouble in the recent past. That made her remember vividly how she acted when she was new in the institution. She would throw tantrums, rant and rave in her room until the nurses barge in and give her a shot on her arm to calm her down. Then she would laugh until her eyes ran with tears from so much delight while the nurses strap her down on her bed making sure that the leather fastenings were tight to prevent any mishaps. She would snicker, hoot, cackle or sometimes even whistle to amuse herself, which would bring more fits of laughter out of her. The people thought that she was indeed crazy but in truth, Alexandra was laughing herself to death considering her great talent in acting. But that was years ago when she was just new in the asylum. This time, she was halfway through with her act. Alexandra was now the silent, obedient, sane woman hoping to get out.

Upon hearing the conversation, it always gave her an uneasy feeling inside whenever some attendants in the place avoid much interaction with her and treat her as a madwoman incapable of logic and ready to kill anyone in a surge of rage or for just the sake of lunacy. It may be because the people in there feared for their own life. However, she had learned to accept that it was how things must be in order for her to prevent any further torture to herself by being in prison packed with women criminals like her. However, Alexandra knew that she would not be in this institution if not for what she had done to her beloved husband, she thought bitterly. The thought of her husband in the end always left her with the same bitter feelings she had up to her last moment with him.

She was very young when she met James in college, and that gave her an excuse to torment herself now with the belief that it was her naivetĂ© that led her in James’ arms and eventually in his bed. They went out exclusively in college for years and eventually lived in together after graduating. It took them three years before James proposed to her for marriage and she felt it was the happiest day of her life. She adored James above all others and beyond anything else in her life, maybe even more than her life. She became the subservient wife for her James even if her husband became a useless gambler. She always told him that he must work to support his own vice for the reason that his money would eventually run out no matter how much he saved before. For years anything to please him she was willing to give, it did not matter that her spouse became less of a husband to her.

Their marriage was going down the drain and finally Alexandra gave up. She had to take matters into her own hands. Alexandra started going regularly to a psychiatrist to consult her so-called dilemma, it was a good thing that shrinks are so easy to find nowadays and are always seem ready to listen and have a run for their patient’s money. All her acting eventually led her to be diagnosed with Dysthymia - with frequent bouts of major depression. She was given prescriptions and anti-depressants along with some sleeping pills she always carried in her bag for props. She continued her therapy and pretended to be drinking her medicines. So far, her plans were going smoothly. The big event she had been preparing for did not take long. One night after she came home from her therapy, she found an envelope lying beside some bottles of pills on her bedside table. In it were papers filed for divorce.

“Why are you leaving me?” Alexandra asked James when he got home that night noticing that he was reeking from alcohol and that his clothes were all disheveled. Perfect.

“Xandra, you must know that our marriage is simply not working out anymore. I truly care about you but we cannot continue being like this. I’m sorry.” James replied as if he had practiced all those lines in his mind waiting for the right time to say it to her.

“You’re right James. Don’t worry, I do understand how you feel.” Alexandra replied pretending to be feeling similarly. She felt her heartbeat going faster as she anticipated her next step. She made sure that all the money to support her future was safe where she hid it.

That night, while James was asleep too numb from all the alcohol he drank, Alexandra slit his throat. She watched the blood rush from his neck to the bed, down the carpet leaving James only a few seconds of struggle before finally giving in to darkness. The blood was like hot lava flowing from him coloring the sheets a dark shade of red. She watched the gush of thick red blood drip from his skin down the pillows, and she knew that she did the right thing, the right way. Sure that James was dead, she started ransacking the place to make it look like as if they had a violent encounter in the room. Alexandra then went back on the bed where she touched the puddle of blood beside her and covered her face and arms with it watching her James unmoving and pale as he lost more and more blood. She knew that her nosy neighbor had called for help and that was how the police found her. She was on the bed cradling James while humming a lullaby, the blood still on her body all dried up, only this time it was no longer that dark red shade but more of a brown, soil-like sticky thing forming and molding itself on her skin. Everything through the eyes of Alexandra came as a series of events after, all connected and happening before her eyes.

Alexandra then found herself in a courtroom sitting somewhere near the judge needing to defend and explain what she did to her husband.

“Your name?”
“Alexandra Thomas.”
“Would you speak up, please?”
“Alexandra Thomas.”
“Mrs. Thomas, what happened on the night of November 18, 1994?”
“My husband came home that night. He was drunk.”
“Was he always drunk?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Four years.”
“Have you always fought with each other?””Yes ma’am every time that he comes home drunk, he picks a fight.”
“Have you ever been under pills for depression?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“And have you been seeking professional help from a psychiatrist since your marriage with Mr. James Thomas?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“I see. Mrs. Thomas, can you tell the court what happened on that fatal night?”
“James came home that night, he was drunk and he was yelling at me. He said he wanted to end our marriage.”
“For what reason Mrs. Thomas?”
“He said that he had another woman.”
“Did you know about it?”
“No ma’am.”
“Then what happened?”
“Our argument became vicious when he told me about his mistress.”
“In what way vicious Mrs. Thomas? What did he do?”
“He started throwing things in the room. He wanted me to sign the papers. I was crying, pleading him not to leave me. He told me I was a good for nothing son of a bitch.”
“What did you do?”
“I could not think straight. All I wanted to do was escape. I cried and begged him not to go. I was holding onto him but he just grimaced at me. He was so evil.”
“Then what happened?”
“I can’t remember clearly. All I saw were the blood in our room. Blood all over me. Blood everywhere. And James, James was not moving.”

Alexandra felt nervous when her psychiatrist was called to the stand. She was hoping so much that her consultations with him for years would help her win the case. After all, she already had put too much of her money in his pocket just to make her scheme a success. She silently prayed to heaven that her psychiatrist would say the right words to acquit her from this case.

“Your name?”
“Dr. Stephen Jones West.”
“Dr. West, how long have you been treating the defendant Mrs. Alexandra Thomas?”
“More than a year now.”
“What is her condition?”
“She is suffering under a form of depression called Dysthymia.”
“Was she ever under any drugs?”
“If you mean anti-depressants, yes.”
“Can you say that a patient under Dysthymia can be totally mentally balanced?”
“Care to explain doctor?”
“Well, there are instances that men or women under the said condition tend to have lapses in memory especially when under certain psychological or emotional strain.”
“Thank you Doctor West.”

Alexandra was no longer aware of all the proceedings in the courtroom. She was so lost in her own world that everything she saw was like a movie screen picture in front of her eyes with no sound. Because of her condition, she left everything in the hands of her lawyer as she thought of what might happen and asked herself if she had not made any error. She was thinking that if they win the case, she would definitely increase the payment of her lawyer. Her last memory of ever being in court was the loud thud of the gavel signaling the end of her trial. The jolting sound indicated that her life was sealed and shall change soon. She could still hear the pounding of the gavel in her head only to realize that it was the nurse knocking on her door again for the hundredth time.

“Hello Mrs. Thomas. Sorry to disrupt your thoughts but I must get your tray.” He said as he approached Alexandra’s table where the tray was.

“Thank you.” She smiled at him putting on a serene look on her face. She took the glass of water from the tray and drank her medicine placing the glass carefully back on the tray that he was holding before her.

He nodded with a little smile on his face as he walked towards the next room where the patient inside was chanting and banging the door with the tray.

Alexandra heard his retreating footstep and knew that the other nurses were coming to assist in the commotion that was happening in the next room. When she felt it was safe, she spit the pill that was all the while hidden under her tongue. She could still taste the bitterness of it in her mouth as she fixed the sheets of her bed and stretched out on it. One more year and she will be out of Rosewood, she can come home and hopefully find all the money she stashed in her hiding place. Alexandra smiled and closed her eyes.

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