Volume II, Issue III Autumn 2003

Evidence of Innocence

"I couldn't sleep," Michelle said, entering her bright, immaculate living room. Her bespectacled obese brother, AJ, Adam Joseph Wysteria, aged fifty-nine, looked up from his newspaper. Michelle, at fifty-five, a frail, diminutive woman, edged closer, obviously bleary-eyed.

"If only I could remember where I put them," she added.

"Are they that important?" he asked flippantly, then continued reading his paper.

"He's so insensitive," she thought. "He doesn't care at all about them." The "them" were three books, diaries really, belonging to their mom and dad, long since departed. Her intuition about the diaries, although she had no memory of their contents, was that they contained significant information, knowledge that, had it been made known at the time, would have had great pertinence in that fiasco of long ago.

"Could you help me remember, please?" she asked, hoping for his sympathy.

AJ looked up. "Yes, Mishy, I suppose," he said, tossing his paper onto the side table. "Perhaps if you concentrate on when you last remember seeing them."

"It was back in the old apartment. I think I hid them somewhere."

"Our first home," he said smiling, "everything was still unsullied back then."

"Mom told me where to find them, when I spoke to her at the prison before the trial."

"And then what did you do with them?"

"She advised me to hide them somewhere, where no one would ever find them."

AJ was puzzled. "How come you never mentioned them to me at the time?"

"Mom said, 'The fewer people that know the better'."

"If there was anything of consequence in them, she would have told you to give them to her lawyer."

"She and Dad were innocent. Why would they need such evidence?" Michelle said, wondering herself about her mother's wishes.

"Are you saying there was evidence of innocence?" AJ asked, incredulously.

"She told me distinctly, 'the diaries are unnecessary'. Those were her very words."

"Oh my God. You withheld evidence. You killed them, Mishy!"

Michelle stared at her brother, uncomfortably. She could not believe what he had just said. Her mind began to shut down, yet its inner recesses kept working overtime. "What you just said to me is inexcusable. Just go and leave me alone," she said despondently. AJ didn't move. Even as she stood there, her inner mind continued to labour. It was all coming back. She sat down, lay back in the reclining chair, and let it all unfold. Gradually, eyes closed, she began to focus. "I remember now. After the authorities came, I was so traumatized, that I forgot about those damn diaries. When I looked for them a month later, they were not where I had put them."

AJ looked at her intently. "So you think someone took them?"

"I don't know."

AJ became increasingly puzzled. "Why can't you remember?"

Michelle nuzzled her head deeply into the chair's pillow. Her mind was a muddle, but strains of clarity were beginning to emerge. Today was an anniversary of sorts. It was fifty years. Fifty years ago, Alex and Claire Abrams, her parents, had been executed. "Conspiracy to commit espionage" was the charge. They were found guilty of these heinous crimes by a jury of their peers, and sentenced to death by an all-too-willing judge. Throughout the trial, they had maintained their innocence. She had expected that if it became necessary their lawyer would introduce the diaries. But that had not happened. In fact no such diaries were ever mentioned. She tried to remember that period, now fifty years earlier. What about the diaries? What had her mother told her was in them? At the time, at the age of five, she had somehow thought everything would turn out fine. So she had just let that information go. After all, you couldn't remember everything. And if there was something important, why hadn't she retained it?

Her brother became impatient. "What are you thinking about so long? Can't you remember any of it?"

"If I could, wouldn't I have told you before now?"

AJ was exasperated. "Mishy, I don't know what to say. If you had things to tell me back then, why didn't you?"

Michelle cowered into a ball. "They told me if I said anything, that something bad would happen to you, and to me!"

"So someone threatened you?"


"Why didn't you tell me, or the lawyer?"

"I was too scared," Michelle said in utter distress. "I didn't want to die."

With difficulty, AJ got up and slowly made his way to her. He knelt down, looked at her and said softly, "It's okay. You're here with me now. They can't hurt you." He caressed her forehead, kissed it, and held her.

"I know I did a terrible thing."

"No, Mishy, you did what you thought was best." He paused. "I remember when I saw Dad just before the end, he told me that he would have to die. He and Mom were sacrificial lambs for a system badly in need of repair. He was willing to die so that others might live."

Michelle looked up at him. "AJ, you've tried for fifty years to clear their names. And look at the result. Nada."

AJ sent her an acknowledging glance. "But Mishy, I didn't have the crucial piece of evidence."

"You had all the evidence you should have needed. The atomic secrets they were supposed to have passed on were not even relevant at the time. The Russians had all they required months earlier."

"But Mishy, that only meant that their crime would be of lesser importance. What you had in their diaries would have proved them innocent. Innocent. Please, tell me what you remember."

"If I do, AJ," she said hesitantly, "will you promise me not to mention it ever again. I can't bear another media circus. I'm just getting over the first one and that was fifty years ago."

"Please, Mishy, please."

Michelle thought about it for awhile, saying nothing. Her brother fidgeted, waiting for any response. "What the hell," she thought, as the memories of that period came flooding back. "Do you remember how Mom was always ill?"

"I do. Sometimes I had to stay with Bubbie Abrams, for a week or longer."

"Mom needed an operation, really badly. And there was no money. The diaries relate how they went to Canada to visit their cousins. Of course they had to wait several months to have the operation. Mom almost died. And after that, there was a recovery period. They were gone from March to July 1945."

"Oh my God," AJ said excitedly, "that's the period during which they were supposed to have done the espionage. That's it, isn't it. That's the proof I've always needed. How could you withhold this evidence back then? Mishy, what were you thinking?"

Michelle sat up, and said, stoically, "We don't have any relatives in Canada!"

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