Thursday, December 05, 2013
By OFW editor:
Carlos J Cortes
Published: December 11, 2013
Seven more minutes.
Perhaps the lights have not dimmed and my imagination, my eyes—grittier than usual and dry—are playing tricks. Mother, I wouldn’t mind crying if only to moisten my eyes, to blur the unspeakable within these green walls. Why green? Why the color of young sage and rice shoots? And what about the guys who did this place? Look at these tile joints, not a single one straight and the corners… these are not even either; if this were a bathroom there would be no need for towel hooks. Mother, hold me. Perhaps the workers were in a hurry to get the hell out of this damn place and return to their wet-dream-filled nights. Perhaps they would find nightmares instead. Mother, don’t let me think. I read somewhere the American Federal Bureau of Prisons spent $300,000 in a lethal injection facility here at Terre Haute. They didn’t spend it in decoration. I must not think. My neck is sore, not much, more of a dull ache from the strain of following the strange motions of stranger people, doctors, and guards and a man in a business suit taking notes. They also left in a hurry. Think of green. The needles one in each arm—as big as soda straws—hurt like hell, but I’m lucky never having mainlined anything; my veins are large and easy to find. Mother, not yet. Joe Da Silva, next in line for this ride, swore up to five medics have taken as much as an hour stabbing needles into a helpless wretch before finding a sane vein. Green. I shudder to think what that must have been like. Mother, help me not to think. Freedom. Why am I thinking of freedom now? Risk. I can’t move. What’s the sequence? Sodium thiopental, I think, forced oblivion before the other stuff: Pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Funny, these names ring of flowers like Pelargonium, yes, this is better, Mother, old good Geraniums mixed with Toadflax, Snapdragons and false Loosestrifes will fill a garden with butterflies, moths and skippers. It must be the green tiles. Please, Mother. I hope the transparent tubes attached to the needles are already filled with something, else they would risk pumping air into my veins and that would be sloppy. Like the tiling.
William leaned closer and peered into the little screen of Mary’s computer as the letters, painfully called on by tiny blows into her mouthpiece, arraigned in a flashing line.
“WILL IT HURT?”
A difficult and multilayered question having little or nothing to do with its premise; Mary couldn’t be concerned about nerve endings, after all she’d not felt anything, pleasure or pain from the neck down in twenty years. The other pain was a different matter and the truth was he didn’t know.
“No, it won’t hurt.”
“YOU RISK YOUR FREEDOM AND PROBABLY YOUR LIFE.”
“I could paraphrase Guevara and say “They can take away my liberty but never my freedom,” but I would be fencing with words. Without risk, there’s no freedom.”
“We live in an illogical world.”
“It’s a truism.”
“If we lived in a logical world, women would straddle horses, and men would ride sidesaddle.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Think about it.”
She resumed her measured puffs.
“FATHER, YOU STILL PRAY?”
There was no hint of emotion in her eyes. They just weren’t participating.
“No, sweetheart, I don’t, I stopped praying in the normal sense a long time ago.” He paused. “Normal sense” made no sense at all when applied to praying. “God is everywhere; in the washing machine during the spin cycle and in your screen. There’s no need to pray. She can read your thoughts.”
William nodded. “‘If we are to believe in fairness and compassion “she” sounds more acceptable.”
He reached for a tissue and dabbed the spit dribbling down her chin.
“YOU ARE A STRANGE PRIEST, BUT I LOVE YOU.”
“And what a compliment that is. Thank you, Mary.”
“WILL YOU HEAR MY CONFESSION?”
The request—normal in the circumstances—caught him by surprise. William teetered an instant at the edge of the precipice opening at his feet but backed away in time.
“No. But she will,” he sentenced, to hide his lack of conviction. What could this young woman confess, having spent two-thirds of her life as a lively head attached to a sack of unaware flesh, was beyond him.
She released the mouthpiece attached to the computer and closed her eyes.
William bowed his head and tiptoed back to the warm room in the recesses of his mind where time slowed down to a trickle, where his kin—a sea of smiling faces—nursed his tattered soul. He knew them all. They all stuck on his mind with the peculiar tenacity of childhood impressions. “You are a strange priest,” she had said. A faithless man, more likely.
Like a discarded second skin, his faith had torn to shreds in the barbwire of countless hospital wards where quadriplegics endured potted-plant fates in the name of god.
Why it is that peace can be imposed but not justice?
He peered into the familiar faces, glad they had kept him in one psychological piece, nurturing the fragile membrane that separates us from the triumph of unreason and evil, and helped him to resist swapping bodily security for existential insecurity. Somewhere along the line he’d shed his white feathered wings and joined the ranks of the fallen angels, but that was a long time ago.
Startled, William roamed the battery of machines sustaining Mary’s roots. Everything seemed normal.
She was staring at him, her mouthpiece clenched on fine teeth.
“HAVING SECOND THOUGHTS?”
He shook his head, drained and afraid. “Of course no. You?” Fear blotted out other emotions.
She pondered an instant and her clear eyes shone.
“ONLY IF IT PAINS YOU.”
Pain? Like a crown of thorns.
“I WON’T SEE YOU AGAIN.”
He ran a knuckle along his upper lip. “You’ll live forever in my memory.”
“Eternity is boring,” William said, clasping at levity. “There are no incentives.”
She hesitated a little longer before pressing her lips and puffing into the tube.
She changed. The paleness in her face came from within.
An expectant silence muted William’s cozy room. His kin hushed, as they always did, to unshackle his will from memory. Yet the doubts gnawed insistently.
“Are you sure?”
A smile flitted across her thin lips.
“I’VE BEEN SURE FOR TWENTY YEARS.”
Her eyes moved, and he could have sworn he heard the cadence of her voice, a raw, hoarse voice, yes, he could somehow
her voice. For a while, they looked at each other as though a mist obscuring their faces had been blown away.
William studied her expression a little longer and then nodded. Leaning over Mary to set the mouthpiece aside, he wiped her chin and kissed her lips softly, his fingers dancing over her emaciated rib cage to the third intercostal space where he buried the needle.
“Rest now, sweetheart.”
A cacophony of beeps and buzzers echoed behind him as he swiftly marched along the corridor, loudspeakers blaring metallic-sounding words.
Machines speaking like humans, and humans speaking like machines.
He came to a sudden halt before violence—god’s punishment for daring to free the damned—an onrushing sea of heavy boots, oily weapons and flack vests.
Here we go.
Mother, where are you? The tubes have trembled before the onrush of coolness. Funny they should have chosen a narrow gurney bolted to the floor with two wings projecting sideways at arm’s height. Mother, why have you deserted me? The image delivered by that camera above must appear disturbingly familiar to the torturers behind me; strange torturers, some even familiar with Voltaire and Wittgenstein. I’m, drifting. Here I am, my arms outstretched, my feet together, held with Velcro straps instead of spikes, arranged, awaiting death. And hiding beyond two-way glazing in the five rooms behind me there are the scribes, the Sanhedrin members, the priests, the centurions, the thieves, my mother....
Mother, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
“That’s it then.”
Vernon Quinn, from the Saturday Evening Post didn’t reply. He stood and filed toward the exit.
“Come on!” Jenny Gauthier caught his arm and trotted beside him. “William Turner was as guilty as hell.”
“How can you be so sure?” He stopped and gaped at the glazed doors leading to the parking lot.
“You must be kidding! He’d murdered over one-hundred crip—.” Then she followed his frightened stare.
Outside, instead of a glorious dawn, thick murkiness blotted out the sun. Thunder roared in the sky and darkness shuddered with lighting. Fetid blackness spewed like a low fog as the earth shook in a low baritone rumble, and the garish-colored Native Indian tapestry covering one wall of the Terre Haute Facility’s hall in Indiana tore from side to side.
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