“I don’t understand how you can still love me after all I’ve done?”
I stood unnoticed around a corner listening to Charlie’s side of the conversation, feeling as awkward as a peeping-tom must on his initial ‘visit’.
“You want me back?”
Poor guy- I felt bad eavesdropping, but thought worse of interrupting. I had work to do, but decided to keep still for another couple of minutes.
“Really? I’ve said this a thousand times- but, I am so sorry. I’ll be home soon. You’ll be waiting for me? Where? At the gate? That’s fine. I can’t wait to see you. Will… Charles junior be with you?”
After a restrained sob he continued.
“Thank you… for giving me another chance. I love you, too.”
“Hey Charlie, it’s time to go.” I said stepping up as though just arriving.
He looked at me- nodded- then turned away again as he said goodbye.
“Are you ready?” I asked as he stood.
“Yes sir, officer Bradley- let’s get out of this place.”
Now came the most difficult part of my job.
Two pompous immature guards, which were not my choice, showed up to accompany us.
“Who were you talking to today, Charlie?” One of them asked.
“Jesus… my redeemer.” He said cheerily.
They eyed each other snickering. The entire distance they tossed around more taunting remarks and insults, but Charlie’s joyous expression and lively step unwittingly mocked their failure to intimidate him.
In my thirty years working here I have seen men crawl, fight, cry like babies, dragged, carried, even soil themselves while making these final few yards of life, but Charlie stepped as though he had no care in the world- like he anticipated dying. Maybe he was crazy after all- not fully realizing what was about to happen. I have seen men snap over a lot less than he had endured.
Charles junior was taken from their yard when he was five. A year after the authorities found his body a suspect was sentenced to a hospital for the criminally insane. That same day Charlie executed his own sentence with a hunting rifle as the police led the perpetrator to their car. Since Charlie was found guilty of premeditation, and sanity, he landed here on death row.
As the leather straps were tightened about his wrists and ankles his composure never waned. He just repeated “thank you, thank you Lord” mantra style.
When given the chance to speak he addressed his wife, family and friends on the other side of the glass wall. “Please don’t grieve or cry for me.” He pleaded. “I have talked with God and he has forgiven me. Soon I will be with Him- and with my son. I love all of you and I will to see you again- up there.”
Later- while gathering his few possession- I noticed he had not touched his meal. Actually he had touched. He formed three miniature crosses from carrot sticks that stood upright in a mound of mashed potatoes. Strangely the word Golgatha resonated in my mind.
My attention was drawn to the far end of the cell. On the cold, gray concrete wall Charlie had attached a paper cup on a string and ten plastic buttons from a discarded uniform using chewing gum as adhesive. Black marker numbered the buttons zero through nine. Thus formed the make believe telephone on which he spent most of his time in pretend conversations. Some believed he was creating evidence for the insanity plea.
I have seen what this place can do to a man and Charlie was not the worst of it.
I picked up the cup and tentatively brought it to my ear. I am not sure why- maybe just curiosity. You know… the kind of morbid curiosity that compels you to throw aside the shower curtain although certain no one would be hiding there.
I heard a muffled whooshing sound like that of an empty seashell. Suddenly my blood chilled like compressed freon and my heart palpitated unnaturally as a calm alluring voice gently reached impossibly from the paper cup.
“Hello, Sam. I have been waiting for you.”
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