Culann’s Hound 54: The Crowes

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I am fond of visiting cemeteries to read the names on the stones, look for quirky memorials, and enjoy the manicured “natural” surroundings. One I plan to visit next time I’m in New York is the Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, with its monk parrot colony and its many Egyptian-style mausoleums.

Egyptian mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

For me, cemeteries always evoke genealogy and history. My favorite tombstones are the very old ones in the tiny Boston graveyards, which mark the resting places of early colonists.

The winged skull is a common motif on the gravestones in Boston.

I once knew a family whose back yard bordered on a cemetery. I thought they were very lucky to have a house there. After all, what neighbors could be quieter?

Cherry trees in bloom and violets in the lawn at Harrisburg Cemetery in Pennsylvania.

54. The Crowes

It took Tabitha a full week after her second memory session with Dr. Liffey to summon the resolve required to look for Corbin Crowe. She tried a few Google searches, but learned nothing new. Even his Wikipedia article did not indicate where Crowe was incarcerated, though she gathered that he had been prosecuted under state rather than federal law. Then she went to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections website, which included an “inmate locator.” She typed in Crowe’s name and hit the button, holding her breath. Yes. He was at Rockview, a medium-security facility near Bellefonte, which was right in the center of the state. Medium security? she thought. For kidnapping and murder? According to the website, Rockville was the home of Pennsylvania’s execution chamber, though the prison itself possessed no death row.

The visiting rules were extensive. Visitors would be searched. They could not carry anything but their ID into the visiting room. They had to come during designated hours, and arrive early. They had to be on the inmate’s visiting list, and victims of the inmates were not permitted visits. Am I his victim? she wondered. There was a long list of clothing prohibited for visitors. No shorts or miniskirts. No halter tops. No see-through clothing. No bobby pins or hair pins. Interactions in the visiting room were also strictly limited. Only upon meeting or departing, visitor and inmate may exchange a brief kiss and hug. With a shock, she realized that there would be no glass partition between her and Corbin Crowe, as there was in the movies.

She called the prison’s number and was transferred to a staff member responsible for inmate visits. “I’d like to find out whether I can visit an inmate named Corbin Crowe. My name is Tabitha Hill and I’m his daughter.”

“One moment, please.” After several minutes, the woman returned to the line. “You’re already on his visiting list. It looks like this will be your first visit, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Be sure to read the rules online before you arrive. Do you have a day in mind? I can let him know to expect you.” From the woman’s tone of voice, Tabitha inferred that visitors to Corbin Crowe were rare.

Tabitha’s courage nearly failed her, but she forced herself to say, “Friday morning.”

***

The drive was more than five hours, so she left on Thursday afternoon, and got a room in the EconoLodge in Bellefonte. She slept fitfully, and rose early to drive the last five miles to the prison, which had an imposing but curiously blank façade. It was one of the oldest prisons in the state, dating to 1912. Others too were arriving, mostly women. Some had small children with them. She was careful to leave her cellphone in the car, as the rules required. Inside, she signed a sheet on a clipboard, placed her purse and keys in a locker, and went through the security line, which was only slightly more invasive than the ones at the airport. There was no waiting room. The visitors simply stood in line until they were permitted into the visiting area.

All at once, she realized that she might not recognize Crowe. “Um, I’m sorry, but this is my first visit, and I’ve not seen Cor… my father in a long time,” she told the guard. “I’m not sure what he looks like.” Her voice shook.

The guard nodded. “Okay. I’ll take you to him.” When it was her turn, he led her into a crowded room filled with folding tables and plastic chairs. It resembled a small school cafeteria, but was more stark. There were no posters on the gray walls. The talk was subdued, but the noise level was high enough to provide some minimal privacy for individual conversations. Guards stood throughout the room, observing the interactions between inmates and their visitors. They walked to the far end of the room, where a man in a blue work shirt sat alone at a small table, his back to the wall. His expression, one of intent watchfulness, did not change as he observed her approach.

He stood up when she reached the table, and put out his hand. Hesitantly, she took it, making eye contact with him. He looked far older than she expected. He was seventy now. Of course, she thought. I should have realized that he would be grey. His hair was almost white, stippled with a few black strands, but his eyebrows were black. His eyes were the same color as hers.

“You have your grandmother’s walk,” said Corbin Crowe. “You’re very like her.”

Tabitha drew her hand away from his, noticing his slight reluctance to let it go, and sat.

“What was her name?” she asked.

“Catherine. She’s buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery, in Harrisburg.”

“You look well,” she said, for lack of anything better. Her heart was beginning to slow down now, but she still felt jumpy and breathless.

He gave her a half-smile, without showing his teeth, a look she remembered. “Let’s not talk about me. Tell me about your life. I’ve tried to follow you online, but there’s not much. You got your Ph.D., didn’t you?”

She told him the outlines of her academic career, and he listened carefully, interjecting a question now and then. “So now I’ve got this job working for Galen Porteous,” she finished. “It’s the most exciting and best-paid job I’ve ever had. In fact, I went to the British Library a few weeks ago to check on a manuscript.” Suddenly she stopped. Perhaps it was rude, to brag about her travels to a man who could not leave the grounds of Rockview, and probably never would, except in a coffin.

Crowe seemed to understand her hesitation. “Go on,” he urged. “Tell me more about that.” She explained about the manuscript, and the disappointment of the razored pages.

“You say it’s a manuscript about Cúchulainn? That’s a topic I know well.”

“It is?” she asked, surprised.

“Oh yes, Tabitha.” She shivered a little as he spoke her name. “The Crowes are Irish, from Ulster. Didn’t you know?”

“What?” She shook her head, hardly able to process the statement, and he said, “I might have known that Melinda wouldn’t discuss that with you. She always hated it when I talked family history. Said it was boring. How is your mother these days?”

Tabitha hesitated. To speak of Melinda at all to this man felt like a betrayal. Finally she said, “She’s well.”

He nodded, accepting her reticence. “In any case, I spent a great deal of time researching our history. The name Crowe is a form of MacEnroe, or in Irish MacConchradha. There are quite a few Crowes in Tipperary and Clare. The ones in County Antrim are usually assumed to be of English extraction, but our family was not English. We’re Catholics, of course.”

“I’m not,” she said.

“Actually, you are,” he contradicted her. “I baptized you. Church law allows it in cases of necessity if the baptizer has the requisite intention.” He stared at her, with his intense gaze.

“There was hardly a case of necessity,” she pointed out. If Crowe had not been holding her and her mother captive, a priest could easily have performed the rite.

“When you were born, the cord was wrapped around your neck and you looked blue. I thought you were dying, so I baptized you.”

Again, she was stricken to silence, that this stranger knew so much about her. She thought about her mother giving birth in the bathtub, alone, except for the man who had raped her. Finally she said, “Melinda never told me that.”

“I gather you two aren’t very close,” he said, a smile playing about his mouth. “I can see why. You’re a lot more like me.”

She didn’t answer this, but compressed her lips as he continued, “In any case, your grandmother Catherine was Irish too, a Lavery. It’s the same name as Lafferty. An old Ulster name. A Lavery and a Crowe came to America in the early eighteenth century as indentured servants, on the same ship. Both men founded large families which have intermarried from time to time, over the centuries.” He paused. “Crowes and Laverys are always attracted to each other. Something in the blood.”

“If you say so.” She didn’t tell him about Rúairí Lafferty. It was none of his business.

Crowe gave her a considering look. “I’m glad you came, Tabitha. I’ve been waiting a long time.”

“I came… I came because I wanted to ask why you did it. How you could do those things.”

“What things?” he asked.

She grew angry at the question. “You’re a rapist,” she suddenly accused. “And… and a killer.” She choked on the last word.

Corbin Crowe appeared unruffled by her accusation. “Cúchulainn was a rapist and a killer,” he said.

She drew in her breath quickly, and turned her head away. How dare you compare yourself with him!

“If I hadn’t taken Melinda, you wouldn’t be here,” he reminded her. “Do you think I can bring myself to regret that? Never.”

She answered dully, “That makes me hate myself.”

He reached across the table and took her hand, holding it gently in his, like a wounded bird. “Don’t, Tabitha. You’re beautiful and good. The only good thing I accomplished in my life. You were always beautiful, even as an infant. After your blue color went away, your skin turned a pearly white with touches of pink. It glowed. I wanted to name you Fand, which means a pearl, but also a tear, for the tears your mother cried.” His expression changed from earnest tenderness to exasperation. “Melinda would have none of it. She insisted on calling you Tabitha, from that inane TV show she liked.”

Bewitched,” said Tabitha, her mind in turmoil.

“Yes, that was it.”

At her limit, she rose and caught the guard’s eye. “I’m sorry. I have to go now.”

Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss

Notes: I have never visited anyone in prison, so I had to do some research for this chapter. I looked at the rules for visiting inmates at Rockview State Prison, which are just as I have described them here.

Construction on Rockview was begun in 1912 and finished in 1915. The main building looks rather like a post office!