Been waiting on my appeal for thirteen years. Thirteen years of cold steel toilets, lumpy thin mattresses, and eating slop from metal trays probably made from recycled toilets. I been sitting here waiting to know if I’m going to die. It’ll probably happen before they ever give me the chair, me dying I mean. But they don’t give you the chair no more. Supposed to be more humane, but they can hang me for all I care. I’m dying either way, so who gives a shit.
They got a guy just came in last week, Clyde Burser. He’s probably twenty-five, about five-eight, curly blonde hair and bright green eyes. He’s the whitest person I ever seen. You can see blue veins at his temples and on his hands and by his eyes. He cries so much his eyes remind me of when Mallory got the conjunctivitis once. Her eyes were green like Clyde’s.
Clyde’s cell is next to mine. He prays real loud all night asking God for forgiveness. It makes me laugh. “God’s forgiveness ain’t going to help you,” I say to him. Because God don’t forgive you ‘til you die anyway, right? He better pray his appeal goes in front a sympathetic jury, I tell him. One that believes he killed his own momma in self-defense. His own momma. I ain’t even that sick.
Frank Aucoin’s cell is on the other side. He’s been waiting on his appeal for twenty years. He’s sixty-two, got prostate cancer. One night he woke us all up hollering and screaming his cum was bloody. Doctors gave him six months. That was two years ago. He’s six-two, weighs about a buck ten, can’t barely hold himself up some days, and he shits himself. He’s got a sister who comes once a week after Sunday services. She says it’s a miracle he’s still alive. I say it’s karma.
I was twenty-one when I came to The Farm. Since then I only known one man been sent to Camp F, and that was Howard Saucier-The Crescent City Cutter. Murdered twenty-two prostitutes by slicing them down the middle. He carved each one starting right at her diseased hatchet slash and ending at her chin. He used the same serrated knife for all of them.
Howard wasn’t scared to die, or he pretended not to be. But he sure never let on if he was because he was one jovial motherfucker, that’s the truth. I used to think if Howard wasn’t so deranged he’d be a cool guy to hang with. But he was lofty as a loon, and that’s the truth, too. He had clear blue eyes, the kind you think belong to the Devil. There wasn’t no repentance in them eyes. Not like the petunia next door with his crying and begging for God’s mercy all the time.
Howard wasn’t no dumb ass, either. When he got his book allowance he always picked the real long ones. I used to think of Mallory telling me I should read more. “If you read more you’d broaden your vocabulary,” she said. I didn’t need to broaden my vocabulary. I did just fine with the one I got, I said. Mallory was always making like I was a dipshit. Well maybe I am a dipshit. But her reading didn’t do nothing to save her, so fuck her and her vocabulary.
Howard’s people had money, and they sent him to some rich kid private boys’ school until he was sixteen, he said, and then he was kicked out for assaulting the school nurse. “She had tits this big,” Howard said holding his arms out from his chest. “I just wanted a taste.”
He went to juvenile but they had to let him go when he was twenty-one. While he was locked up he got his G.E.D., and he went to college when he got out. Then he went to medical school, because he liked to dissect things, he said. He told me a story once about the first time his class cut open a cadaver. “I came in my pants,” he said.
I’m not too sure about Howard’s religion, but he read the Bible a lot. He always liked the stories where God smote mankind because He got pissed off for one reason or another. Some of them I remembered from Bible study, sitting in the rectory with twelve other kids and my thighs sticking to the plastic chairs in the summer. It was hot as hell because they only had one of them window air condition units. In the winter we would fight over who was going to sit closest to the space heater. “I can get behind a God who tortures His own creations,” Howard said. “Divine retribution.” He smiled.
Howard liked to screw with the guards. They ignored him most of the time. Sometimes he went too far, and they had to handle up on him. They don’t like to do that too much because it riles everybody up. Like this once when he was let out for gate time, Howard attacked the guard and bit him on the neck just like Dracula. Five guards jumped him, and they threw him in isolation. We was all on lock down afterwards.
Howard was in there a while, and he was a little calmer when he came out. That wasn’t too long before he moved to Camp F. We didn’t know because they don’t tell us that kind of stuff. Only the warden knows, but one day Howard was taken out for his shower time and never came back. They could’ve plugged him and threw him out in the cotton field to the crows for all I know. But I figure he went to the chamber. We all got a little quieter after that. I guess it sounds weird to say somebody would miss a guy like Howard, but I did a little. He never done me nothing.
Every Sunday the chaplain comes to give Communion and for confession. I don’t trust him. Looks like he probably jerks off to kiddy porn. I don’t got nothing to confess, anyway. I already gave my confession to the cops. And when the judge asked me how I plead, I said guilty. So I don’t got nothing to say to no stupid chaplain. I tell him to go see Clyde.
After the chaplain leaves we’re let out in the yard for an hour. I don’t keep a calendar, but sometimes I can tell what time of year it is by the weather. Sometimes. But down here it can be eighty in the winter, so I don’t never know. I don’t want to know. I just know three times a week I get to go outside, and sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it ain’t. If it’s raining we got to wait for the next day. And if the sky is clear and the sun is beating us down, we sit there holding our hands over our eyes until the guards say it’s time to go back in. Some guys exercise or jog around the yard, but I rather just sit by Frank and breathe the fresh air. What I got to be in shape for?
My lawyer, Art, usually comes once every couple weeks. It depends on how much he’s got court. He said he can’t get me off but he can get me out of the death penalty. He thinks. But I been here thirteen years, and I don’t want to be put in population. I don’t share my cell with nobody, and I get to shower by myself, except for the guards watching me.
I ain’t going to lie. I was real scared at first when I got here. Especially because they was giving me death, and I didn’t want to die. But I figure ain’t nothing to live for anyway. What I got to look forward to? Prostate cancer and bloody cum? I might as well die here. Got to die some place.
“Vince, I’m working hard on your appeal,” Art always says. “I’m not giving up on you. I think I can get your charges reduced to manslaughter. With time served you might only be looking at ten or twelve more years.”
Ten or twelve more years, like it’s a consolation. Not that I wouldn’t want to be free to walk right out of here and go home. If I had a home. But I ain’t. And I don’t think Art’s going to get me out, but my momma keeps paying him with my daddy’s social security, and he keeps taking her money. I don’t have the heart to tell my momma I’m going to die here. So I don’t say nothing.
I went to court about six months ago. It was the middle of summer, and so hot that most times we asked to stay inside when it was time to go out. One day the needle on the outdoor thermometer the guards hung by the door was wobbling between one-ten and one-twenty. We went out for about fifteen minutes, but Frank fell out and we came back in. Nobody complained though. My balls was wet and hot as cotton panties on a virgin at a Bourbon Street sex show, and sticking to my thighs.
My momma bought me a new suit because my old one didn’t fit no more seeing as all the weight I lost. It was a tan color and the tag said it was seersucker. It probably cost more than my momma could afford. I got cleaned up and dressed and brushed my hair and shaved and waited for Art.
The courtroom was real cold compared to outside. My fingers felt like frozen fish sticks. Art was talking to the jury, and my momma was sitting behind me. I could hear her sniffling the whole time. I wanted to turn around, but I wasn’t supposed to. Art gave me a yellow legal pad and a rubbery, bendy pen. They make them like that for safety reasons, to make sure you ain’t going to jab it in somebody’s neck or nothing. I didn’t have nothing to write so I scribbled some drawings like you do when you’re bored in school and the teacher won’t shut up. Plus I wanted to look busy and not like I was just sitting there doing nothing like a psychopath. Because I ain’t one.
I thought of Mallory. I drew her face, the way it was when we met. I colored in her dark hair. She kept it long back then. I bet that asshole Nate is the one told her to cut it. “He stimulates my mind,” she said. It wasn’t the only thing he was stimulating. He might’ve had a broad vocabulary too, but it shrunk up real good when I put my Beretta between his teeth.
“Your honor, members of the jury,” said Art, “I think we can all agree that what my client Mr. LeRoche-a man with no prior criminal record-experienced on the date of June seventeenth nineteen-ninety-eight was an unconscious rage, a type of temporary madness if you will, brought on by blind fury and passion.”
I scratched out Mallory’s face. I didn’t want to see it no more. I was still mad at her for running around on me, and for being such a bitch about it, and on our anniversary. “What do you expect, Vincent?” She always called me Vincent even though most everybody else calls me Vince. “Nate makes me feel . . . sexy.”
“And what I don’t?”
“No. You make me feel like I’m being pawed by an inexperienced prepubescent.”
I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but I knew it wasn’t no compliment. Something thumped against the closet door. “No,” Mallory gasped when I swung the door open. Some dude was kneeling right between my Dickies and my Levis. I figured he was Nate. The shoebox where I kept my pistol was open on the floor. I looked at Nate again. Maybe he was hoping it was in there. Maybe he was going to shoot me. But it wasn’t in there. It was in my hand, and then his brains was all over my Levis and my Dickies. I felt calm in a strange way.
Mallory screamed and tried to run out the room, but I caught her by the hair and threw her in the closet right next to her boyfriend. Her mouth was stuck open like it froze that way. It reminded me of when my grandma died and we didn’t find her for five days after. Her mouth was opened like that. Mallory lifted her left hand to cover her face, and I seen she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. “You dirty slut,” I said. Mallory’s eyes was wide and tears was flowing out of them like a busted spigot.
I reached down and grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her out the closet. I threw her on the bed and held one hand over her mouth. The other hand held my Beretta. I crushed her body against the mattress with my body.
“Psychopath!” She was crying, curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed. She was staring at her boyfriend in the closet. I grinned and raised my gun again. Mallory tried to run but I was quicker. Maroon slime and something that looked like oatmeal splattered against the wall. Long streams ran down to the sand colored carpet. I thought of Mallory always complaining how she hated them white walls. “These walls are so bland. You need to paint them.”
I heard sirens and guessed the neighbors called the cops. They pulled up while I was sitting on the porch smoking my Camels. They had their guns on me while I finished my cigarette and threw it in the grass. Two of them snuck me and tackled me out my chair. One of them crushed my face into the cement with his boot while another one cuffed me. Cops were crawling all over the house. There was about twenty cop cars in the street it seemed like. I just sat there until they put me in the car. I didn’t say nothing. Wasn’t nothing to say.
Mallory and Nate’s family members got to talk to the jury after Art was finished his speech. Nate’s momma showed them pictures from when he was a baby and pictures of him when he was in school. I thought about how much she loved him, and my momma sitting behind me in the courtroom crying, and of Clyde killing his own momma.
Nate’s sister wrote a poem she read to the jury. His dad stood up and told me I deserved to be murdered, and he wished he could be the one to do it. My momma started crying real hard then, and Art went to calm her down.
Mallory’s parents stood up together and asked me why I did it. Her best friend that I always hated told the jury I condemned Mallory and Nate to death for their adulterous misdeeds, and asked them if they didn’t feel I deserved to be condemned to death, too. She had pictures and articles with headlines from the papers blown up to poster-size. She showed them to the jury. “Vidalia Love Triangle Ends in Murder,” read one of them. It had a picture of Mallory and me on our wedding day with a separate picture of Nate. “Concordia Sheriff Describes Scene as the Most Disturbing He’s Seen in Years,” read another. That one had a picture of our house taped off by the cops. “Small Town La. Man Charged with Rape, Murder,” read the last one, and it had my mug shot under it. Art objected but it was too late because they already seen it.
The jury came back after about an hour. Art kept handing Kleenex to my momma while the judge read the verdict. I was afraid Momma was going to choke to death because she wasn’t breathing right. Mallory and Nate’s families was clapping and hugging each other.
I turned around and said sorry to my momma. She grabbed me by my suit jacket and pressed her face into my chest. A dark, imperfect circle expanded outward from where her tears wet my shirt.
“I’m real sorry, Momma,” I whispered.
“We’ll get you another appeal, Vince. They can’t do anything as long as we keep appealing,” said Art.
My momma looked up at me. Make-up ran down her cheeks. I placed a hand on either side of her face, holding her small head in my hands. I used my thumbs to wipe the black streaks off her face. I thought about how much she probably paid for my suit, and I hoped the stain would come out. Because I don’t want her buying another one just to bury me.
Copyright Donnell Jeansonne. All rights reserved. Reproduction or duplication whole or in part not permitted without permission and credit to the author.
It was cold. Colder than usual for a fall night. Carl looked upward. The stars were like far away diamond specks against the sky’s sapphire backdrop. The first quarter moon was bright and cast a smoky glare. Carl thought it looked like rain.
It’d been six months since Carl last walked the trail through the woods to the old house, his grandparents’ house. There was no reason to since grandma’s funeral. But his mother had asked him and his brothers to remove the old spinet. Once his great-great-great-grandmother’s, the instrument had literally been in the family for centuries. His brothers were supposed to be meeting him there with the truck. Carl thought they should have gone earlier in the day, but Geof didn’t get out of work until after five. And Brian couldn’t make it until eight for some reason. He didn’t have an explanation, like usual. We always do things on their schedules, thought Carl.
Carl’s foot came down on something long and narrow. It was hard, harder than a small fallen branch or brush. The thing rolled as Carl’s shoe made contact with it, and Carl’s foot slid before him for about a foot before he caught himself on an extended tree limb. He knelt down to examine this long, narrow, and hard thing.
It was difficult to see at first because Carl’s eyes hadn’t adjusted to the level of light under the canopy of trees. He held the thing, holding it in both hands, his palms open. He lifted it with care, like an infant at a baptism.
Carl squinted to see in the dimly lit woods. He brought the thing closer to his face, and when he realized what he held, he threw it down and wiped his palms against his clothes-as if he would cleanse them that way. His breath was heavy; he placed a hand on his chest. He stared at the thing. Carl turned around, looking in all directions, as if he would find an explanation as to why such a thing was laying on the path.
He contemplated turning back, but he decided it was best to walk to the house. Geof and Brian would be there. He would tell them. Maybe they would call the police.
Carl swallowed hard, but his mouth and throat were dry. He could feel his pulse in his head and in his throat.
Suddenly, Carl was aware of the sounds of the woods. Sticks cracked under the foot of some unseen animal. The bushes’ leaves thrashed and whipped, the victims of some unknown commotion. A cat shrieked.
Carl broke into a run, nearly tripping down the path as his feet attempted to outrun his body. Neither Geof nor Brian were there when he arrived at his grandparents’ dark and abandoned house. He wanted to go inside, but he didn’t have a key. He wished he’d brought the thing with him. He didn’t remember where it was. He was so frightened by his discovery that he couldn’t remember where on the path the thing was located.
Ten minutes passed as Carl stood with his back against the house. With his leg crooked, he tapped his shoe against the wooden slats. They were neglected and needed painting. Carl’s mother had sent him and his brothers to paint the house, but their grandmother refused to allow it saying she’d rather spend the afternoon with her boys. She took them all in from the heat and made them lunch and dessert. Five days later, she suffered the stroke. Carl thought of his grandmother and wished she were there now, to take him inside.
After fifteen more minutes, the headlights of Brian’s Chevy appeared on the long driveway. Carl stood in front of the house waiting for his brothers, squinting against the light. Geof exited the truck first, then Brian’s door swung open. He groaned, and he stepped out.
“Let’s get this done,” he said as he pulled up the waist of his jeans. “What’s wrong with you?” Brian asked when he saw Carl’s anxious expression.
Carl explained to his brothers about his discovery. He told them how he’d fled and didn’t exactly remember where to find it. His hands were shaking, and he crossed his arms and stuffed his hands into his armpits.
“It’s probably from some animal,” scoffed Geof.
“I’m telling you, it isn’t,” insisted Carl. “I’m in my third year of biology. I know the difference.”
Geof and Brian looked at one another then back at Carl. They decided to call the police.
“If it’s some kind of dog or something, I’m going to kick your ass, Carl,” swore Brian as Geof made the call.
“It’s not,” Carl said. “I swear to you; it’s not.”
The men moved their family’s spinet into the truck while they waited for the police to arrive. Carl thought he would feel more comfortable inside the house, but he didn’t. The electricity had been turned off, but everything else was the same. The furniture was all there, the television. All of the doors in the house were open. It was as if his grandparents simply vanished leaving everything in place. Carl thought it was creepy.
The police arrived just as Geof was locking-up. Carl explained to them about his find, and that he wasn’t sure where on the trail he’d found the thing. Another police car manned by two officers pulled into the long driveway. The seven men started on the path, walking away from the house. The officers held flashlights, and their beams joined to create one uniform glow over the path. They were almost to the end when Carl stopped them.
“It wasn’t this close to the street,” Carl explained.
“We walked the whole path, Carl,” sighed Geof.
“I know but . . .” Carl was interrupted by the sound of brush crackling and more chaos in the tall grass between the trees. The officers shone their lights in the direction of the noise. It stopped, and they walked into the woods to investigate. Brian and Geof followed, and finally so did Carl.
Carl stood several feet behind his brothers and the officers, not wanting to be left alone but not wanting to head into the danger. The officers moved the leaves of the bushes around while Geof and Brian watched. It seemed they were satisfied they hadn’t found anything significant, and all seven men turned back to the path.
“Good job, jackwad,” sneered Brian as he passed Carl and gave him a hard push.
“It was there. It was somewhere,” said Carl. It really was, he thought. Wasn’t it?
The others walked back toward the house while Carl followed, staring at the dirt the whole time. He hoped to see his thing. He didn’t imagine it.
Brian and Geof were far ahead of Carl, talking to the officers and offering apologies for their brother. Carl heard something to his left, like shoes shuffling in the dirt. Before he could turn to look, four hands were on him, forcing him into the brush. Someone pressed a long, narrow, hard thing against his throat.
“Seems you found something don’t belong to you,” a man breathed into Carl’s ear. Carl could smell his rancid breath. He tried to scream, but the thing was pressed hard against his throat. Someone else took hold of him, and then he was off his feet.
Carl struggled and writhed, but the men were too strong for him. He was losing oxygen and losing strength. When they reached their destination, the man holding Carl’s legs let go of them so that his feet struck the ground hard.The first man with the rancid breath was still holding the thing against Carl’s throat. Carl looked up at the man through his half-opened eyelids. The man realized this and spat in Carl’s face. Carl tried to turn his head, but the thing was pressed too tight against him.
The second man had Carl’s legs again, and the first man abandoned the thing he used to crush Carl’s trachea. He took Carl by the shoulders, and both men heaved him into a sort of pit. Carl was dizzy, but having his oxygen renewed, he scrambled to his feet. He looked at the high earthen walls surrounding him. Helpless, he looked up at the men. They grinned at him and turned away for a moment. Carl clawed at the dirt, but it was useless. The more he tried to climb out, the more the soft clay came apart in his hands and crumbled to the floor of the pit. With his back pressed against the cool, damp earth, Carl peered at a form crouched in the corner. His heart rate increased, and his breathing was again heavy. He swallowed, but his mouth was full of dirt. Carl knelt down beside the figure in the corner. Mud struck Carl’s head as the men shoveled dirt on top of him. Carl’s hand shook as he reached out to touch the figure. It tumbled to its side when Carl’s trembling hand felt it. He could then see it was a female skeleton, its left femur missing. Carl knew. He was in his third year of biology.
Today instead of posting my own poetry (because I have nothing new) I’d like to share a poem by another poet, a very well-known, classical poet. Someone whose work is well worth sharing, I think.
I present Mr. Robert Browning’s
“The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
and did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me—she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!”