Last Rites

Last Rites

 

He walked in slippers and shackles. Five guards walked with him—one in front, two behind, and two at his sides. The guards steered him through the corridors. The group reached a narrow hallway with an orange metal door at the end. A few more guards stood at the door, and when the group approached, one unlocked the handle, and motioned them through as he rattled his keys back onto his belt clip.
        Before they brought him out of his cell that night he was lying on his bed. They asked him what he wanted for a last meal. He closed his eyes. “Steak. Potatoes. Corn. Big glass of milk. Don’t let them overcook the steak. I know it’ll be a shitty cut—the least they can do is give me some juices.”
        An hour later they had his last meal ready. He said the steak was satisfactory, but only ate half. His lawyer tapped on the cell door as the guards brought the plates out. “No good?” he asked.
        “There’s no sense in finishing. Nothing special. Maybe if I could get real food in here. Something worthy of a last meal.”
        A guard opened the cell door and the lawyer walked in and sat on the bed. He clipped open his brief case but didn’t pull anything out.
        “And what’s the use? I don’t think any man—inmate or not—ever had a last meal worth dying after. If you die on the outside it’s bland hospital food or whatever hamburger and fries you had on your thirty minute lunch break before a truck kills you on the highway.”
        The lawyer told him he had a chance with the governor. He was a new governor and hadn’t executed anyone yet.
        “He would have given me clemency by now.”
        The lawyer said the legal team would fight for him to the final moment. The lawyer had nothing more to say.
        “I just want to be alone now.”
        An hour later a guard asked if he wanted any religious services. He declined. The guard left. He returned with a technician.
        “This is our team leader tonight,” the guard said.
        The team leader explained the execution process. “First, we knock you out. Then, we’ll inject two different paralytics which will stop your breathing and your heart. It’s completely painless, and it’ll be over in ten minutes.”
        “Ten minutes is a long time to die. I would have chosen firing squad if I had an option.”
        They laughed.
        Once through the orange metal door to the execution room he suddenly wanted a cigarette.
        “Sorry, this is a smoke-free area,” one of the guards said.
        “But I’m going to die.”
        “I’m sorry.” The guard pointed to the smoke-free sign. “I know it’s absurd. I wish you would have smoked in your cell. But rules are rules.”
        When the guards finished strapping his appendages to the gurney he tilted his head toward his chest and watched the silent onlookers inside the viewing gallery. He expected more people.
        “A few weeks ago, I read a list of famous last words. Most of them weren’t very clever, so I felt less pressure to come up with something.” He looked down at his feet, at the straps across his hips and torso, at the plastic tube inserted into his arm. He looked back up. “I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I’m not looking forward to what’ll happen next. I wish I could die like a man. I wish they would let you kill me with your own hands. But they must put me to sleep like a dog. There’s too much dignity in this. It’s nearly grotesque. Very well. That’s all.”
        He nodded to the guards.