A Glooming Peace
By Rebecca Salomonsson
I thought I heard her call to me the night she died the first time. I had only just left her chamber and a faint call of, “Nurse!” reached my ears. But then all was silent, and I did not return to her. If I had, all might have been saved. All might have been forgiven.
Forgiveness. It is not something I have yet found. For myself or for them. The horror plays itself out again and again, never granting me a moment’s peace. I wake in the night, having wept through my sleep, only to weep through my day. My lady is dead, and I to blame.
Though the Prince exonerated me and my Lord allows me to stay, I know in my heart that all could have been prevented had I told him instead of allowing it to continue – nay, enabling it to continue. I know he knows that too, for sometimes I catch him staring at me while I pour his tea or serve his dinner. I cannot look in his eyes, for the torment I see there is too great and I know I am the cause.
She died twice. The first time it was I who found her.
“And what did you do when you found her, seeming dead?” asked the prince at my trial.
“Grief-stricken, sir, I screamed and brought the household running to her chamber.”
“And what did you think at that moment?”
“I thought he had killed her.”
“Yes. Not that he had strangled her in her bed, but that she had died of grief because of his cruelty.”
“His cruelty in forcing her to marry?”
“Yes, your highness. He said terrible, cruel things to her – that he would rather see her dead in the street than not married to his friend – and the like. I hated him for that.”
“But then you thought she had consented?”
“Yes, your highness. I counseled her to consent, saying this second match was better than her first, that she would be joyful in her new marriage. She seemed to change heart then. She said she would be ready to marry on Thursday, and she went to the friar to seek forgiveness for displeasing her father.”
“Or so you thought.”
“So I thought.”
The friar is allowed visitors now, and I go to see him from time to time. He is the only one among us who has been imprisoned, so I take him small comforts – extra food and blankets – believing that I deserve to be in that dank cell alongside him. His mind is healing now and we are able to talk of all that transpired.
“I cannot sleep,” I say.
“Nor I,” he says.
“Has God forgiven us, do you think?”
“I cannot tell. It seems He has abandoned me, for I do not hear Him nor feel Him here.”
“Nor I. Perhaps we are not listening,” I offer. “I cannot hear anything save the tearing of my own heart.”
“I cannot forgive myself, how can I expect God to forgive me? I killed two of His children.”
“You did not kill them. You did not poison one and stab the other. It was them that did that themselves. You cannot say you killed them.”
“No, but I married them in secret, I gave her the sleeping potion, it was my letter that went astray and never made it to Romeo’s hands. One misstep led to another, leading to their deaths.” He takes the blanket I have brought him and turns to the wall of his cell, curling himself inward and away from me.
“You thought all for the best. You thought to end the feud, you wanted his happiness, just as I wanted hers.” But he does not hear me. He has descended into his grief this time, just as he has done on other visits. I will come again next week.
The second time she died, I heard of it from Peter.
“Madam, there is news from town,” he said.
“Be gone, boy. I care not for your news.” I sat in Juliet’s chamber, looking out the window I had sat in front of a thousand times before, nursing her from my own breast, singing her to sleep. My Juliet was dead. My second daughter, beloved as much as the other I lost. Susan from my flesh, Juliet of another’s, but loved both the same by me. I sat at the window, wishing I could tear Capulet’s eyes out with my fingers for his cruelty to her, wanting to stab him in his sleep, poison him in his tea. But I would do none of those things, for the fault was mine as well.
“I have just come from the tomb, where the Lord and Lady Capulet are grieving anew, and with them the Lord Montague. Romeo is dead in that same tomb where Juliet lies. Romeo is poisoned and Juliet stabbed.”
I turned from the window to look at Peter, whose eyes were red from weeping.
“What fresh hell is this to torment me? Romeo dead too? Juliet stabbed?”
He told me what he knew, what Friar Lawrence had confessed to the prince and the nobles. The potion that Juliet drank to make her look dead, the letter, never delivered, that was supposed to tell Romeo – banished to Mantua – that he was to meet her in the tomb where she would wake.
“Friar Lawrence is under arrest for his hand in it. And there is word they will come for you as well.” Peter ran to me then and laid his head on my lap, and we sat together until nightfall, when the soldiers came for me.
“Did you, for a moment, consider the consequences of enabling Juliet to marry Romeo in secret?” asked the Prince.
“I did not, sir,” I answered. I felt no need to lie, to try to save myself from imprisonment. I cared not what would become of me.
“Why did you fail to consider your actions?”
A question I had asked myself thousands of times, for which I had only one answer: I wanted Juliet’s happiness and nothing else.
“She was my child from another’s flesh, my lord. I would have done anything she asked of me.”
I wish he’d imprisoned me, tortured me, burned me at the stake, for my body is not capable of feeling pain akin to that in my soul, and torture of the flesh might come as welcome relief from the torture in my heart. But he released me, and I have remained with the Capulets – and now, just the master himself, for the mistress died some months ago. My comfort is Peter, always trying to cheer me. He will not blame anyone for the death of my Juliet, but points to the feud and lack of forgiveness from generations of Capulets and Montagues. There is peace in the streets now – if one blessing could come of this, it is that. Peter urges me to forgive the master and move forward. And I almost have. I almost have.