A Document of Public Record
This room, if you can call it a room, is so fucking small that I have no space to walk or stretch, so I sit on the end of my bed smoking a cigarette, watching my son eat a bowl of green Jell-O while the air around us hangs heavy with the scent of cheap tobacco, fried chicken and fear.
"We'll throw ball all the time," I say.
Luke grunts and then smiles and I see bits of green slide down his big front teeth, his mother's teeth, her teeth inside my mouth. His eyes are grey and lifeless and nothing like a child's, and I can only blame myself for that.
"I love you," I say.
"We'll have so much time together soon. Just think. Fishing and baseball, and what would you like to do? Anything you want. That's the magic of it all. I think. So much time to do so much together."
"Yes," Luke says, "I like that."
"It won't be long now."
His face is so clear and young; no sign of the pitch-black madness that plagues me and my father, and I believe may even have tormented my grandfather as well. I christened it the little angry gnome. This is my name for the violence that inhabits me. A part of me that feels so separate, like a little gnome sitting perpetually beside me. And I am very happy to see that these sudden uncontrollable explosions of resentment and fear do not, it seems, possess my son.
"Is mom coming?"
"No," I say.
She won't visit. She never visits. She never will. I know this. Maybe I accept it a little now. Her anger is still too strong, and I understand this, almost crave it. I don't want her to forgive me, not now, not this close to the end. The last time I saw her, my hair was long and blond and my son slept in a crib and I still believed making love was cryptic and special, though we never did it as often as I liked. Our youth bred optimism, courage and love. And I did love her. After work she stood on the other side of 5th avenue and I would walk blindly across the road with my arms outstretched, smiling and free, and when our son was born she tore real bad, but said it was still okay, that she loved me and him and thought Luke was a good name, biblical and strong but still rock and roll.
"She won't come."
"Shame," he says, eats a fry, and looks through the bars at the guard seated at the end of the hall. I think maybe the guard is reading or sleeping, but I can't tell for sure, because he wears dark glasses, and people call him 'Jack' because he behaves like he's famous.
Fluorescent light fills the room, lights the hall. So much fluorescent light the past five years, my dreams are drenched with it. The starched bed sheets are stained with ketchup and tears. Luke eats my fries and I stare into the light and listen to the sound of a clock ticking inside my head.
"What time is it?" Luke asks.
I shake my head, shrug, but I know that it is late. My regulation orange top feels soft and familiar like a teenager's old prized t-shirt. I caress the hem with my fingertips. Orange separates me from the other inmates. It is a mark of the condemned.
"I missed you," I say. "I missed watching you grow, taking your first steps, talking, playing ball, going to school. I missed making home movies, and teaching you to read, and playing Spiderman in the backyard. I missed those things. Or maybe I didn't. Maybe I saw them. Imagined them clearly. The crack of the bat, the smell of linseed oil on your mitt, your blond hair on the orange school bus, the girl you have a crush on, her striped blue dress, mousy hair, her lips, that little pout."
"I like these ribs, " Luke says, barbeque sauce smeared across his face.
The cell door opens and the guard with dark glasses enters with someone I don't recognize but I think works in the hospital. The warden stands in the doorway. His face frozen in practiced mock solemnity. They lead me out of my cell and we walk conjugal-like down the hallway, the warden stroking my head while I try to kiss my son goodbye.
"Why?" Luke asks, and I can't answer because I'm already too far-gone and everything is so sterile and white.
In the execution chamber, I see his face through the window. He sits next to the warden and a grey state appointed witness with a wispy fu-man-chu moustache. My arms and legs are strapped to the gurney. A smile twists my face into something ugly and mean, and I can feel that little dark and angry gnome emerging ready to swallow me up. The light stings my eyes. Everything in the room feels so still and slow and silent.
"Why?" Luke says, and I can hear him, though he's behind glass and I know I shouldn't.
My face softens, the darkness recedes and I'm not afraid.
"Why d'ya hit me so hard?" He says. "It fucking hurt."
I shake my head, tell him not to swear, and that I'm sorry for what I've done, that maybe in some twisted way I saved him from the same sinking despair that I've suffered. I tell him I love him and miss him and will be with him soon, momentarily in fact, and then we will play ball all the time, and these are my final words, my last statement, and in the end this is all that remains of me, just these few words, nothing more than this, nothing more than a document of public record.
About the author:
Richard Brake is an actor and writer living and working in London, England.