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He woke in darkness, a weight upon his spirit, as always, and heard footsteps. Yes, he thought, today they were taking him outside the walls of the prison. It was a year since he had been allowed to breathe fresh air. A year of dampness and prison stink, the moldy smell of the iron-press room, the poor visibility of the corridor lighting, mere hints of the light of the world stealing into the prisoner’s cold cell. He woke to the wintry numbness of the toes, the pinched tips of fingers, and the point of the nose frosty to the touch. He would not wish anyone to touch him, hold his fingers, kiss him anywhere on the cold, rancid flesh of his face, not in his current condition. A year of bland, tasteless, cold food. But today, at least for a while, he was leaving the prison walls to go where there was life.
And where there was life, even in the hellish days of courtroom mockery, he found some goodness. People he did not know became the supporters, and friends. Twelve women, so he had read in the Boston newspaper, women who fought for women’s rights like Veenie, attended his trial on a daily basis. A few of these Boston ladies, fine ladies with their good clothes and beautiful voices, came to see him now, brightening the prison’s bare visiting room with their presence, their talk, their smiles, their lives. The one the others called Aunt Bea came often and brought fine gifts of things to eat, which he shared with Nicola, and the guards who did him the favor of carrying a half a loaf of bread, a couple of oranges, or a cut of salami to Nick’s cell on the other side of the century-old prison. There was the young woman Kathryn too, who was much younger, and who volunteered to bring books, paper, and pens to Vanzetti, and to teach him the finer correctness of English spelling and written composition. He must write to Kathryn, tell her how much this meant.
The cell grew light enough for the prisoner to rise and dress in the morning chill. He was ready when the guards came at last to get him for his return to the courthouse in Dedham, the only place in the entire world where the prisoner could see the light of the natural world.
It was already the fall of the year. He knew this. Blinking in the unaccustomed sunlight on the city street outside the prison gates, Vanzetti took in this unlived passage of time in the few, thin trees of that desolate place of narrow streets and wide brick factory buildings. Now, even such cramped, dirty places were beautiful to a prisoner freed from his dark cave for a single day. He rode in big black car, with an officer in front beside the driver, and a second officer in the back seated close beside him, the two men’s hands shackled one to another like lovers who’d been wed at the altar and were therefore bonded for life. In mere minutes, almost at once, it seemed, they were outside of the streets of Charlestown, and then of the city of Boston, and the picture of the world presented to him changed. Streets opened. Trees bloomed yellow and orange and rusty brown in the half sun of autumn. The streets were lined with a jumble of houses, wooden houses mostly, big, small, and medium in size. He most liked the smaller houses. They reminded him of the humble dwellings of the workers in Plymouth, where he had once been at home, been an ordinary man known to no one of importance, who dug holes for a few dollars a day, and listened to a child play the violin. Or was that a dream?
A fist gripped his heart. No, it had been real enough, but those days were now lost. What remained of that world appeared only in dream-like glimpses through an automobile window.