It’s never all the way dark in here. Like they’s worried bout what we’ll do without the light. Like it could be any worse than what we done out there.
Think every one of us murdered somebody. I only done the one, but I did her up right. Did her up so good they couldn’t identify her body for weeks. Now they got all that new-fangled computer technology and such. Prolly coulda pulled me off the street by the look in my eye, for all I know. Been in here so long don’t rightly know what year it is, let alone what they been inventing.
All I know is they caught me, and I confessed. I knew I done wrong. Can’t tell ya why I even done it. Something inside me just made me do it. Like there was somebody else taking hold my hand, guiding that knife. I heard her screams, but they was like in a different room of my brain. Does that make sense? Prolly not.
Round here, down on the row, we call ‘em hanging days. Course they quit hanging folks years back. Too cruel and unusual they says, but I reckon whatever brung us here in the first place, well, let’s just say we deserve cruel and unusual. Maybe me more than any of them for what I done to that little girl. Don’t know why they waited around this long to finish me off.
I start my day out slow. They give me a brush and some paste. Every day I make sure I get my teeth pearly white. Want ‘em to last, ya know. I go bout my routine: making my bed, doing my exercises, rinsing out my extra pair of underwear. I like me a clean pair every day. Just cause I’m in here don’t mean I can’t be clean.
They give me my breakfast bright and early, but I don’t wolf it down like I used to. I cut it up in tiny pieces. Make myself wait. Then give myself a little reward throughout the day. Pretty sorry excuse for entertainment, I know, but any distraction is better than nothing.
I run my hand through my hair, or what’s left of it, trying to tame the mess in the back. When you is young you got hair, you got your looks, you on top of the world, but life sneaks up and steals a strand here and there and adds wrinkles when you ain’t looking. Pretty soon the person who stares back at ya from the mirror is a stranger. Things you done in your past just memories that twinkle at you like stars in the sky, too far away to mean much, but you still hold ‘em dear.
Not that I got a mirror, Lordy no, they don’t give out no sharp objects down here on the row. The shiny sheet of metal bolted to the cell wall does good enough for me, in fact the blurry face staring back is pretty much what I member bout my time. Days blurred to weeks blurred to months. You get the picture. I look back, and I don’t member nothing since I been here. I swear it. Yesterday same as day afore and same as day afore that. Time lost all meaning years back.
I got too much time, or at least I did up till today. Used to count out the seconds, mark ‘em down in my mind adding up the minutes, and piling ‘em up to make hours. Never made it through a whole day, though. Me and math never did get along too well. Now I couldn’t give even give ya a number as to how many years I been here. Don’t want to know, Lord no. Those kinda facts might make a man crazy.
My lawyer feller shows up just like always, all sad and feeling bad for me.
“I’ve put in a final call to the Governor for a Stay of Execution.”
“Now why you go and do that for? Ain’t I been in here long enough? Ain’t you getting tired of fighting for me? I know I’m tired. Tired of counting out them bricks, tired of reading the same ole books, tired of that shit they call food. Why can’t ya just forget about me like everyone else done?”
“Junior, I can’t. There are reasons why you shouldn’t be executed.”
“You saying I ain’t right in the head, but I know what I done. I’d like to think I’m ready to go. Like to think that there’s some kinda higher power who’ll show some mercy, but that don’t seem likely. I don’t deserve no mercy.”
“Don’t you want to live?”
“I ain’t lived a day since I been on this row. You think I got problems with my head? Well, damn straight I do! This row got all sorts of brain problems. The ones of us that been able to escape into our minds are the lucky ones, let me tell you. We all been dead the moment they locked us up.”
“I have to represent you, Junior. I have to do what’s in your best interest.”
“Best interest be damned. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all you done, but it’s time for you to get. Find yourself some other fool who got a chance, cause I done used up all my chances.”
His heavy sighs just piss me off, like I’m a disappointment to him, like I’m his failure. Well boy, I done failed long afor this whipper-snapper ever got a law degree.
“I’m sorry, Junior. I did what I could.”
“Don’t you go blaming yourself, now. I got no complaints about you. I’m fine. Fine as rain.”
“There’s a few things you need to sign before you… before I go. This paper explains that your… You will be… your final resting place will be in the state cemetery outside the prison gates.”
“Don’t get all choke up, boy, I know I’m gonna die tonight. No need to sugar-coat it.”
He clears his throat and takes a glance around the eight by ten room. “This form identifies who gets your possessions.”
I cackle to high heaven. “Lordy Lord, there ain’t nobody that wants a worn out copy of Old Yeller and my newspaper clippings. Burn all of it with me. Write that down on yer paper. Burn it all.”
“All right then.” He sticks out a hand, and I shake it. “I’ll be in the witness room. I’ve contacted your family few weeks back, but I didn’t hear from them. I’ll be there for you though, Junior. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Think you done all you could, sir. Good luck with yer career and all.”
“Daddy, is that you? Can’t hardly recognize you.”
“It’s been long time, boy. You was just a skinny thing last time we seen each other. What you go and do? Why they put you in here?”
“Kilt a little girl. Did more than that to her.” I’d run over the picture show of the murder in my mind a thousand times. Hell, a million times. “She was my first, you know? Pretty sure I was her first, too, being as young as she was, and the way she fought me.”
“Now why would you go and do something like that for? You go to hell for that.”
“Learned it from you, daddy.”
“I got no idea what you talking about.”
“Everybody in town knew it was you, but ya got ole Leroy down at the bar to vouch for ya, but I seen ya. Seen ya haul that girl by the hair behind the bleachers. Emily Sue Cartright was her name. Yep, I member it good even if I was just a kid. She weren’t much older than me at the time.”
Daddy leaned back against the cell wall. “Ain’t nobody prove nothing.”
“Nope. I guess you was the smart one, not like me going and getting myself caught and all. Don’t make it any less true though. And I seen the way you treated Momma. You was always making her cry, cry like the devil was in her. She always toll us she hit her head or fell or some such nonsense. Us kids, we didn’t want to think you was knocking her around, but we weren’t stupid. How come you so evil, daddy? How come you made me evil? It just ain’t fair.”
“Shut your trap, you rotten little liar. You never had a lick a sense. You ain’t too old for me to teach you a lesson.” He starts to unbuckle his belt.
“You kin keep yer belt on, daddy. Ain’t nobody listen to a thing I got to say. Anyhow, it too late for Emily Sue. Too late for that little girl I did. Just want to know why I got that bit of ya in me. I know there’s good too, but that bad speck took over. Me and her never stood a chance.”
“Stop yer whining, boy. What I always say? You ain’t worth the shit stain on my drawers. Don’t surprise me none you ended up here.”
The door to my cell opened and ole Gus came in carrying my lunch. This was a treat. Usually he just slid it through the slot at the door.
He ignored my daddy who took his chance to escape without so much as a goodbye. Good riddance, I guess. Don’t know why he bothered to show his face now. Maybe just to rub in the fact that’s he’s free, and I ain’t. That would be just like him.
“I brought you a cupcake. My Polly made some last night, and I thought you might like one.” Gus held up a glorious dessert covered in a thick layer of chocolate frosting. “Hope you like white cake. I had her put chocolate on top just in case you don’t.”
“Why that’s awful nice of you folks.” I took it with both hands careful not to drop it on the filthy floor. “You tell Miss Polly thank you. She just wasting a sweet on me, ya know.”
“You been a good man all the time I’ve known you, Junior. Never caused a fuss, not one time. Wished it could have turned out different for you.”
“Getting what’s coming to me, that’s all. Just wish it hadn’t taken so damn long.”
“Well, enjoy. Have you figured out what you want for supper yet? Anything you want, you know.”
“I been itching for some fried chicken and biscuits and gravy. You think you could russle some of that up?”
“Sure thing, Junior, sure thing.”
“Sissy! Man oh man, is it good to see you! Been a long while now hasn’t it?”
“Sorry, I ain’t been to see ya, baby brother, you know how it is.”
“Well you’re here now, that’s what counts. Sit down for a spell. Don’t have nothing to offer ya cept a drink of water.”
“Don’t worry bout it none. Just came to see ya off.”
“Well I sure have missed ya. Seem like it been years since I had company. They ain’t never let anyone come into my cell afore. How ya been? How the kids? Reckon they all growed up by now.”
“Kids are good. Little Jack done broke his leg last summer, but he healed up all right.”
“Sissy, you ain’t changed a bit. After all these years, you don’t look a day older. Taking care of yourself, I reckon.”
“Living the good life. High on the hog and all.”
I didn’t know what else to say. We sat there looking at each other, but it wasn’t uncomfortable like. Fact it was kinda nice. Kinda like when we used to share the tire swing when we was just kids. It was a great big tire and our skinny butts fit in there fine. Kinda snug, but kinda comfy, too.
“Member that big ole tire swing, Sissy?”
Her face brightened. “I do. We used to have us a fine time.”
“You ever go back there? It still there? I betcha them young’uns of yours would like it just fine.”
“Don’t rightly know. You know momma sold off the place after daddy run off.”
“That’s right.” I tap my skull. “Sometimes things get a bit mixed up in the ole noggin.”
Daddy never was good for much more than drinking, cussing, and smacking us around went he got a belly full. Loved his whiskey a lot more than he ever loved us.”
“Ya know, he came to see me today. Sat right when you sitting now.”
Sissy’s lip curled like she done smelt month old milk. “He was here? Right here? He got a lot a nerve showing up like nothing happened, like he never left us high and dry.”
“Better him leaving than staying.”
“Well, you got that right.”
“Glad you’re here. Gives me a chance to thank you for all you did fer me.”
“I ain’t done nothing.”
“Ya say that, but ya know ya did. More an once you took the heat fer me, and Daddy let ya have it.”
“Had to, Junior.” Sissy’s face turned red trying to hold back the tears. “You was so scrawny. He woulda broke ya in two.”
“And mommy never was right after daddy run off. Like he punched the life right outta her. I wished I’d knocked his lights out. I mean, what I got to lose?”