One Friday Night
Julie Webb Kelley
“This way, Mrs. Theobold.” The guard held the door ajar.
“Thank you,” with her final step through the door, she gathered his full frame with her stare – letting him know that she was aware. Aware that he had been examining her every move.
His mouth tilted sideways as he brushed passed her and led the way down the longest hall she’d ever seen. The vividness of the olive green walls seemed to weaken with each step. Finally, when he stopped, she stopped. He parked his chubby hand on the key ring around his belt and looked her square in the eye.
“He’s in a 4 piece, you don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worried, Officer.”
His chin tipped toward her, then in one smooth movement he had the heavy door open. “I’ll be right outside, Mrs. Theobold.”
When she walked in, he didn’t look up. She heard his breath before she saw his face. He was in a full set of restraints, just as the officer had said. Sitting down in the cold chair, she eased her way to the edge of the seat, leaning a bit on the table between them. She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them. She put her purse in her lap, then put it on the floor near her feet.
“Aaron, I was wondering if I could talk with you for just a few minutes . . .”
As she spoke he lifted his head forcing her eyes to make sense of this familiar stranger. Every word she had practiced saying at this moment clung to her throat. Her body trembled as a palpable sense of evil flooded the room. Thoughts from the past forced themselves into her mind. Visions she thought were forgotten flew at her, finally resting like birds on a telephone wire – chirping, shouting.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. No weapon forged against me will prevail. You are God and there is no other. You are God and there is none like you.
“Did you bring me a key?” His voice was flat.
She clutched the side of the table, wondering how to fight off this wave of sickness that was burning her insides.
“Cigarettes. A pack of cigarettes. Got any?” His lips moved but it didn’t seem to her as if the words were coming from him. Her head toggled side to side in disbelief. Here I am face to face with a man who is going to die in two days, and he’s asking me for cigarettes.
“I know what you meant, Aaron, and, no, no I don’t have any. I need to talk to you. We don’t have much time.” She reached down for her purse, tucking it onto her lap.
“What could you possibly have to say that could make any difference now?” The words dripped from his lips like syrup running down the side of a bottle. When they finally reached her ears, it took her several more seconds to unscramble them.
“Um . . .” I will fear no evil . . . Cigarettes . . . How was I going to say this . . .
“What?” He leaned toward her, at least as far as his restraints would allow.
“There’s just been so much that has happened to me and . . .”
“Well, ain’t that just great for you. So you just couldn’t help yourself and thought you’d come share the details of your great life? Is that it?”
“No, no . . . nothing like that.. It’s just that I found . . . something and I . . . I mean, I know it’s been a long time . . . but . . .”
“Twenty-three years, Mrs. Theobold. Twenty-three to be exact. You forgot?”
“No. No. Twenty-three, I know . . . you don’t have to call me that.”
“I really never thought I‘d see you again. This is almost funny.” No smile. No laugh. She clutched her purse to herself and tried to focus her thoughts.
“Aaron, I have to tell you about the person who changed my life.”
“This should be great, just great.” He plopped his body back against his chair and stared at the metal around his wrists. He liked how the reflection of the light fixture above him made a perfect glowing circle of light on the metal; he moved his wrist left and then right to watch the reflection change shapes . . . from a circle to an oval to a streak.
“Aaron, listen to me . . .”
The door opened, “You have five minutes, Mrs. Theobold.”
“He calls you Mrs. Theobold. Why can’t I?” He watched the oval smear into a streak before looking up at her again. “Of course, he don’t know you the way that I know you. Does he? Does he know you, Mrs. Theobold? ‘Cause you‘ve sure known some men in your time, didn‘t you?”
“Aaron, please . . .” She pressed into the table, dropping her purse. Her Bible fell out. Scooting her purse toward her feet, she lifted the Bible to the table, allowing the simple reassurance of its touch to surge through her body.
“How long you been outta the pen, Mrs. Theobold? One? Two months maybe? And now you think you got all the answers? You think you’ve changed your life. You been rehabilitated, is that it? Now you’re just all perfect, better off than death-row-Aaron, is that it?”
“That’s not it Aaron. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and He changed my life and I think you should have the chance to know Him too, before . . . before Friday.”
His expression didn’t change. He forced a long breath from his lungs. “Really. Is that what this is about? Because if it is, then I’ll let you know right now that the kindly warden has already had the high and mighty chaplain talking to me till he’s blue in the face. So if I ain’t saved by know, after all the talk’n he’s done to me, then I don’t know what else could possibly save me.”
“But did you understand what he told you, Aaron? Did you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and to come into your life? To be your Savior?” Her voice brightened, as if remembering her reason for coming.
“Which sin should I bother this God of yours with, Mrs. Theobold? The attempted murder of my father? Or how ‘bout the sin I’ll be paying for on Friday night, huh? The murder of our child when I was so blown outta my mind I couldn’t see straight . . .”
“Stop it!” She wilted in her chair, fighting off defeat, knowing that her time was running out. I can do this. I will fear no evil. I trust in You, the one and only God of all heaven and earth.
“Did you confess your sins, Mrs. Theobold?” He head swung side to side. “Did you tell your God about the folks we cut? About the jumping out we did for one lousy skeet?” Aaron quieted to a whisper. “Did you tell Him how you just stood there and let me murder our child? Too stoned yourself to stop it? Too . . .”
“Yes! Yes, I did tell Him --- everything. I told Him everything. And I served my time for it too, all of it.” She looked around, wondering if the shouting was really her voice.
“Why didn’t you stop me, Alyson? Why’d you let me hurt him? Huh? Where was your God then? Why didn’t He help our little boy? Why?”
“You don’t think I haven’t asked the same questions?” She placed her hands in her lap, squeezing them together trying to stop the trembling. “I don’t know the answers to all the whys. But I know that our sins lead to death and for you they’re still leading to death. But, it’s not too late. I just thought you should know . . .”
“Know what? That you found God and everything‘s OK now? That’s crazy! There’s no way your nightmares have stopped. There’s no way you can look at a child on TV or on a playground without . . .”
She stood up, stopping his words. Gathering her purse from beneath her chair and her Bible from the table, she clasped them both to her side. “Goodbye, Aaron. I just wanted to give you a chance, the chance that I got, to put it all behind you and know what real freedom is like.”
Aaron sniffed, sucking in deeply to ensure that his exhaled words would be generously covered with hate. “Get o’tta here. Just leave me alone.”
She walked to the door and gave it a sharp tap. An officer she did not recognize stepped passed her and toward Aaron, he leaned down to unbolt him from the floor. The round officer who had accompanied her down the hall held the door open for her, keeping them all in his sight.
“Stupid bitch,” Aaron mumbled after her.
Her steps halted. She turned back, walking around the table toward Aaron.
“Mrs. Theobold, you must stay back . . .” The officer reached his arm in front of her stopping her short.
“Aaron, I wish I could take your place on Friday night.”
Without his approval, Aaron’s face turned from calloused to shocked. A jolt of disbelief pierced his body meshing it into the chair he sat on. He didn’t move. He didn’t blink. With eyes gaping, he stared at her, realizing that he didn’t even recognize her now. He wondered if this is how it would feel on Friday night – when suddenly faced with a reality so overwhelmingly real that it appears unreal.
“You see, I know where I’m going to spend eternity when I die. I just wish you had a little longer to figure it out, to find Jesus for yourself.”
With that, she turned, following the pudgy officer down the long olive green hallway again. Just when she was sure it would never end, the ’exit’ sign loomed ahead of her. Not a sigh of relief yet -- not until you’re through that door. She quickened her pace, although the officer leading her didn’t notice.
He stopped and tapped his round fingers on his keys, pausing, parting his lips to speak. Then, as if he had thought better of it, in a single move, he opened the door and allowing her to pass.
At the front desk she retrieved the items they had taken from her purse before she went back. She thanked the women and headed toward the locked exit.
She heard the buzz and began pushing the door open.
“Mrs. Theobold.” The voice made her stop.
The stubby officer had followed her to the door.
“Will you be returning on Friday night to witness the death of your husband?”
Mrs. Theobold didn’t let her gaze fall from his face.
“Yes, I will.” She said without a nod. “I’ll be there.”
“Seems like a waste, if you don’t mind me saying, ma’am. A good looking woman like you. You’ve paid your dues, seems like you’d have better things to be doing than witnessing yourself become a widow.”
“Good day, Officer.” She began pushing at the weighty door again.
“But . . . you didn’t really mean that, did you?” She turned again to see that he had stepped in close to her.
“Mean what?” She peered into his eyes without moving, her muscles tensing against the door.
“You’d take his place . . . just to give him more time.” She felt his hot breath invade her face.
“On the very first Good Friday, Jesus Christ took our place on the cross so that condemned people might live. I am one of those condemned people. So is Aaron. And, so are you, Officer. You don’t have to be on death row to be condemned to death. But, the good news is, you don’t have to get as far as death row to be pardoned.”
She leaned toward him. “Would I take his place? If it meant he’d get only one more chance to know my Jesus?” She smiled. “You bet I would. Good day, Officer.”