THE POUNDING OF NAILS
In seventeen minutes it’s The Big Midnight for me. I’m strapped to the Execution Gurney with my arms outstretched. I had a choice: lethal gas or lethal injection. Behind that glass must be the families.
I can see my reflection in the one-way glass. I close my eyes and they reflect the execution protocol:
The execution protocol authorizes the use of a combination of three drugs. The first, sodium thiopental or sodium pentothal, is a barbiturate that renders the prisoner unconscious. The second, pancuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant that paralyzes the diaphragm and lungs. The third, potassium chloride, causes cardiac arrest. Each chemical is lethal in the amounts administered. The inmate is connected to a cardiac monitor which is connected to a printer outside the execution chamber. An IV is started in two usable veins, one in each arm, and a flow of normal saline solution is administered at a slow rate. One line is held in reserve in case of a blockage or malfunction in the other.
The red phone is ringing. Can it be? Is there a God after all this? I strain my neck and watch the warden pick it up.
He says curtly, “Yes, Governer, sir. Yes. Very well,” and then he turns to me and holds the phone down to my ear, “It’s for you.”
“What? Hello? What? Mom?! Is that you, Mom? Are you at the Governor’s? How did.. What’s all that noise? No! I told you a million times I didn’t do it. Mom, don’t cry. No, no, no, you are a great mom. No, I didn’t do it! I am! I am too, normal! Your inverted nipples had nothing to do with this! I am too, normal! Who gives a fuck what the neighbors think? Sorry,… no, I did not learn to swear from you…Mom?”
She was gone and I heard voices and the phone being bumped. “Dad? I’m sorry I swore at Mom. No! I keep telling you: I didn’t do it. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was a fine place to work,… yes, I was lucky to even have a job…, yes, you always told me to get along. What has ‘not playing sports’ got to do with it? I am too, normal. Those assholes needed killing, but I didn’t do it. I wish I had the guts, but I didn’t do it! Hello? Aw, you know what it’s like, Dad! Hey, you left your crappy job and started your own business. What was that?”
My father was handing the phone to someone else, “Who is this?” It was my wife, “Yes, water the lawn at least three times a week, more if it’s hot. No, they aren’t going to stick you with the credit card debt. I told you a thousand times that the mortgage is covered by the insurance. The title to the house? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I added your name. Why do I care what color you’re going to re-paint it? I don’t care if you burn the fucking thing down. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure you’ll find someone to mow the damn lawn. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, I am listening! What do you mean by that? Sure, I talked about it like any worker does, but I keep telling you I didn’t do it! What are you saying: I threatened to kill you? What husband hasn’t done that? No, I already said good-bye to the cats. Hello, hello?”
My wife had handed the phone to someone else, “Hello? Phil! Dude! Yeah, man, it is a real drag. I know, I know. Don’t you worry, someone else will appreciate your red thong underwear, without judging you. Yes they will. Oh, yeah? What about Zelmo? Oh? Still? No, I told you, these guys didn’t consider a cigar a ‘last meal’. Yes, you can have the whole humidor. Yeah, yeah, kiss-kiss right back at you, dude.”
My friend handed the phone to someone else, “Kathy? From High School? Holy shit. Wow. I have always…. What? Yeah, … yeah, of course,… sure, now I can see that you made the right choice back then. Yeah. Good hearing from you after all these fucking years. Wait! Don’t hand-off the phone! Kathy! Hello? Oh, Dr. Lu? No, my blood pressure is fine. Yeah. I’m sure it was all that weight I lost. No, I’m sure I’ll keep it off this time. Yeah, thanks. Hello? Reverend Hirth? What do you mean ‘if’ I didn’t do it? No, as a matter of fact, I do not want to go to Heaven. Because: who wants to sing in a stupid choir for eternity? So what makes you think we get to inflict our miserable personalities upon eternity? Well, I hope there is nothing afterall. That’s what I said: Nuh-Thing! What? That is not why I’m going to Hell. I am not going to Hell! This is Hell! Hello? Hello? Are you still there, Reverend? No, I don’t want to talk to the collection agency guy. Tell him that if there is another Hell, we’ll talk later. That’s right. Put the Governor back on!”
A moment later, “Hello, Governor, sir, have you seen the transcripts? Is there any chance… there isn’t? Fine. No, no hard feelings. Yeah, me too. Yeah. Nice talking to you. Good-bye.”
I shook my head and leaned away from the phone. The warden replaced it in the cradle. I felt relieved. I felt good. Hell, for the first time in years I felt positive! I smiled.
“Hey, it’s showtime. I know you’re union here, but it’s midnight. Let’s go…,” and I crossed my stiff legs and I layed my chin on my chest and I took my final bow.
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