Tom McConnell threw the book at the wall. It struck with a flat slapping sound and tumbled to the floor with a soft plop. The black-leather book lay on its back with the gold leaf title and cross imprinted on the front brightly reflecting the dim light.
“It’s just too damn hard and too damn late,” Tom murmured to himself, burying his face in his hands. He sat that way on the edge of his bed for a long time, then his hands parted and his eyes were once again drawn to the book on the floor. With a heavy sigh, he stood, walked over, and picked it up.
He ruffled the book front to back through the pages, the gold trim edging flashing in the light. With a sigh, he sat back down on the bed and allowed the book to randomly fall open on his lap. He raised his finger in the air, looked at it a moment, and then watched as he willed it descend to the page below and point to a line on the page.
Slowly he began to a read and sound out the words where they emerged from beneath his finger.
Ba…be-les-s-ed ar the mer-ca-ful for……
His voice echoed off the walls and came haltingly back to his ears. A warmth spread through him and the words he read on the page slowly came smoother and easier and his voice stronger.
Tears streamed down his face as he closed the book, opened it again, and his finger found a new place for him to read. This happened over and over again in the following hours as each time his finger landed and he read the words there, their meaning became more understandable and clear to him.
After some time the tears stopped and a peace settled on him.
He was rocking back and forth holding the book to his heart when the door opened and the four of them entered his room; the warden, the two guards, and the minister.
“It’s time, Tom,” the warden softly said. “It will be painless and quick. I’m so sorry.”
Tom stood and handed the Bible to the minister. “It wasn’t too late for me,” he whispered to the minister. “I finally understand. I only wished I’d learned to read as a child.” Then he turned to the warden and touched him on the arm. “I understand it’s what you have to do. I did the crime.”
They started out the cell door. It clanked loudly behind them. The minister followed holding the Bible.
Tom asked the warden “Is the family there to watch?”
“Yes, they came,” he replied.
“Can I read to them something from the Bible?” he asked.
“I’m sorry again Tom, but the minister can read something short if you like.”
Walking beside them, holding Tom’s Bible now with both hands, the minister asked, “What would you like me to read?”
“Just open the book and point with your finger anyplace on the page and read that. I’m sure it will be the exact right thing to read. Please, tell them I’m really sorry.”
They entered the room with the table and the clear plastic tubes. The curtain was drawn across the wide viewing window. The door to the hallway behind them closed with a loud snapping sound.
Two men in white gowns and masks placed Tom on the table, fixed straps and tubes to him, and left the room.
Tom quickly turned his head and watched as the minister opened the Bible, raised his finger in the air, and then lowered it to a place on the page.
A startled look came over the minister’s face for a moment. He glanced back at Tom and then waved for the curtains to be drawn open. He spoke a few words into the microphone to the group on the other side and then began to read.
The voice of the minister came out strong and clear. The sound echoed off the walls of the small enclosure.
Tom closed his eyes with a smile on his face that, after a while, went completely still.
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
The minister closed the book quickly with a flat slapping sound that carried out through the microphone and into the viewing room where it echoed off the walls.
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