Tuesday, December 1, 2009

BLAME AND FORGIVENESS

This was her fault – that bitch. Rage burned in his gut. She did this to him. And he let her.

Gerald Blount sat on a cold steel bench kicking himself. He gritted his teeth behind the butt of the cigarette in his lips. Tendrils of cigarette smoke, like the wilted ivy guarding the walls outside, tangled around his graying head.

This was all her fault – those fried-egg tits, that innocent smile – that fucking tease. Gerald grinned an evil smirk at the thought of her name. What parent names their kid Chastity? She had no choice but to grow up swinging half-naked around a chrome pole.


Gerald filled his lungs with smoke and paced through his new home. Four steps from one end to the other, but it was still bigger than his last room. The sting of pine disinfectant in the cool air made his eyes water. A stainless steel bowl and basin sparkled in the far corner. He turned and unrolled a fresh mattress across the shining slab of steel that was his bed. Inmates had scrubbed the concrete bricks inside and splashed a fresh coat of paint on the bars.

Angola’s death house was nothing at all like death row.

He stooped to look at his fuzzy reflection in the polished steel above the basin. Big purple bags puffed under his dark eyes. An atlas of wrinkles drooped across his sallow cheeks and forehead. Gerald set his Marlboro on the edge of the toilet bowl and cupped his hands under the faucet. There was a time when his hands were strong enough to choke the life out of a man. Eighteen years on death row, where the most strenuous activity was turning a page in his prison-issue Bible, had withered his hands and the rest of his once-rugged physique. His prison-issue blue jeans and denim shirt hung loosely on his scarecrow frame. She did this to him.

Gerald sneered at the tired face in the cold steel. He loathed the man he had become. And it wasn’t his fault.

Gerald’s reflection scowled back at him. Chastity wasn’t the only one to blame. Jennifer and Lisa were just as guilty. The thought of Lisa’s name tugged the corners of his mouth toward a half-hearted grin. Even though she had a part in this, he couldn’t hate her. Not like he hated the others. She was already dead; hating her served no purpose.

Brass keys clanged at the entrance to the death house rattling Gerald from his day dream. Electric motors rumbled their familiar, quiet call as they slid the heavy steel doors open. Through his cell bars and across the visitation room, Gerald watched Warden Johnson limp in and thank the guard. The guard twisted his big brass keys again; the electric motors hummed the doors closed.

“You got a sick sense of humor, Warden.” Gerald rasped as he hung one skeletal arm through the bars.

“What do you mean?” Warden Walton Johnson answered in his trademark drawl, equal parts good ole boy and televangelist.

“The way you leave the cell door open, like a convic’ got freedom to come and go as he please. Where I’m gonna go? Ain’t got but three rooms, my cell, the death chamber, and the visitation room. Ain’t nobody comin’ see me. Then, if I do sit in there, the Cajun Injector starin’ me in the face.”

“I’m sorry you see it that way Gerald,” the squat warden stepped through the open cell door. “We try to make an inmate’s last hours as comfortable as we can.” The warden checked his watch. 12:09. “We’ve got a little housekeeping to take care of, Gerald.” Gerald nodded and the warden continued with his standard death day litany. “The guards will come for you at 11:30. You know the drill: wrist and leg restraints.”

Gerald nodded again, “Last time I’ll be wearin’ those.”

“There will be three guards in case we have to carry you. It’ll be easier if you walk yourself.” He waited for Gerald to nod, but Gerald just stood there, his blank eyes fixed on the warden. “When you enter the death chamber, you’ll lie on the table, and the guards will remove your chains. They’ll put the straps around your arms, legs, and chest. Again, it’ll be easier if you don’t fight it.”

“Ain’t gonna fight. Only a guilty man scared of dyin’. I ain't done nothin’ she didn’t want me to.”

The warden just shook his head. “One of the guards will start an i.v. in your arm and another in your foot. You’ll have a chance to make a last statement. I suggest you apologize and ask forgiveness. Then, at midnight, we’ll start the procedure.”

Warden Johnson didn’t mince words. He described the process of killing a man like he was reading a procedure manual. “The first drug will put you to sleep. The next one will paralyze your entire muscular system. The last will stop your heart.” He waited for a reaction but got none. “Your spiritual advisor will be here later. He’ll sit with you till the end.”

“Don’t need no advisor, ’less he got a stay in his back pocket.” Gerald forced a grin.

“There’s comfort in the Lord, Gerald. Maybe the chaplain can help you find the strength to admit your sins and seek forgiveness.”

Gerald shook his head. “This ain’t my fault. That bitch did it. Ain’t nothin’ in that Bible you give me ’bout admittin’ somethin’ you ain’t done. I oughta know. I read it enough times.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Gerald. I’ll be praying for you.”

Gerald watched the Warden waddle out of sight, then lay back on his mattress. He thought of the last time he saw Chastity, and smiled a half-smile. She was a fine young thing: hair pulled in a big, blonde ponytail, short-shorts showing off the bottom of her tight, tanned ass, and a pink crop-top with “Tease” written across it in bubble letters – like anyone who saw her would have doubted it. She was standing in the dirt yard outside her trailer, her sandaled foot propped on the tire of a dead Cutlass 88. He could see her like it was yesterday.

Gerald traced the curve of her calf in his mind. Her skin was soft and smooth. He reached to hide the swelling in his crotch, just like he did on that day. She had a way of doing that to him. . .That bitch.