There was a walk now. They passed doors, like random choices. They all looked the same, all the colour of pale nicotine. But some of those doors were in the business of living and some were not. As you walked past them, you could feel hope slipping away. Which door? Which one? It was like a game the devil might play as you entered hell. Eventually the passengers reached the end of their journey and were shown into another room which was similar in size to the last but with what looked like a window on one side. The window was dark for the moment, with a black blind pulled down and opposite, there was a gallery with seating. The seating was slightly raked, like a theatre. They were here for a performance.
‘That’s 11.30 gone now,’ someone said from the far end.
‘Show must go on.’ Keller mumbled.
There was a crackle and then an audio test from the speaker in the corner. Keller imagined that President Descher had arranged a televised viewing and that all over the State the people could see and hear this: factory workers, grandmothers, schoolchildren, stopping what they’re doing and watching. From the audio speaker, Keller recognised words from the phonetic alphabet, then the date, today, June 23rd 2021, the location, the prisoner’s name and number HCI 72259-931 and the time scheduled for execution.
Keller knew that the duration for the poison to act was ten minutes maximum and that the ratio to be injected was set against the inmate’s weight and height.
Somewhere behind him, Keller could hear mumbling about the victims’ families and an officer explained that they were seated separately, in another viewing room. He imagined that the families’ room was crowded, since eight victims had lost their lives that day.
At 11.45 am, the time was announced once more on the speaker and the blind was pulled up manually, revealing the execution chamber. Keller had forgotten who was seated directly next to him now, but whoever it was flinched.
The prisoner was already strapped onto the gurney. There was a sheet over his body but you could see where the constraint buckles jutted up into the clean white cotton. His left arm was exposed however and the intravenous tube was already in. He was clean shaven. Keller had never seen him without a beard. He could almost pretend he did not know him.
Three Harfield guards came into the chamber now. They did not look at the window, which to them was a mirror. Who would want to see themselves doing what they were about to do, even if it was their duty. The three guards were each handed a syringe. The content of one of the syringes was deadly and the other two contained a harmless fluid. The guards would never know who among them administered the lethal injection.
The condemned man’s chest began to rise and fall. He blinked rapidly and his Adam’s apple bulged in his throat, as he struggled to find an impossible place between dignity and the screaming of his nerves to stay alive.
Keller murmured, ‘There is nothing to do now but die.’
A man in the chamber who had been out of their view, moved into sight. He was dressed in a plain dark suit. He identified himself as Warden James and held up a chart. His hand was steady enough, his white knuckles though suggested a very tight grip on that chart.
Keller stared down at the inmate who seemed to be staring back, though Keller knew that the glass was one way and that all the condemned could see was a reflection of his own final scene. All the same, their eyes met.
Warden James turned to the prisoner. ‘Is there anything you would like to say or read before we administer this lethal injection?’
Keller frowned down at the neighboring lap. It was the redhead next to him, the PhD student, twisting that engagement ring. The girl who more than likely had it all, the girl who could not cope without her cell, was barely coping at all. Keller could feel her trembling against the length of his torso and the anger in his veins burned. The young woman held her hand up to her mouth and whispered into it, ‘God, dear God.’
The Warden lowered his eyes to Prisoner HCI 72259-931 on the gurney and blinked several times. He said to the inmate, ‘Go ahead, what do you want to say.’
‘I would like to ask a question.’
‘What is your question?’
‘I would like to ask a question and have it answered.’
Warden James looked around the room at the other officials.
‘Go ahead and ask your question.’
‘Not until you tell me that I will have an answer.’
Keller smiled and nudged the redhead. ‘You see? Make the most of every goddamned moment.’
The young woman was on the edge of her seat and on the edge of tears.
In the chamber, the suits and uniforms huddled and muttered amongst themselves and the Warden came free of the pack once more.
‘We shall try to answer your question. And cannot commit beyond that. I ask you therefore again, is there anything you would like to say?’
The inmate tried to lift his head but the strap across his brow was held tight. He cleared his throat and said in that thick Carolina accent that Keller thought he’d forgotten but which now reignited in his memory and ripped through his heart.
‘I want to know if my son can see me.’
Jenny Morton Potts was born in a smart,
dull suburb of Glasgow where the only regular excitement was burglary. Attended
a smart, dull school where the only regular excitement was the strap. Worked in
smart, dull sales and marketing jobs until realising she was living someone
Escaped to Gascony to make gîtes. Knee
deep in cement and pregnant, Jenny was happy. Then autism and a distracted
spine surgeon who wanted to talk about The Da Vinci Code, wiped out the order.
Returned to wonderful England – and unlikely ever to leave again – Jenny, with
assistance from loyal hound, walked and swam her way back to manageable health.
Jenny would like to see the Northern
Lights but worries that’s the best bit and should be saved till last. Very
happily, and gratefully, partnered for 28 years, she ought to mention, and
living with inspirational child in Thaxted, Essex.
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