Up till about a few years ago, they used to get last meals. Anything you wanted, the State paid for. Most guys never had a bite, of course. You stare at a sirloin long enough and your thoughts get queer. Start thinking about how you're a few hours away from being more or less meat yourself and the appetite just goes. Still, it was a kindness. The first thing that gets cut from budgets. They gave him a turkey sandwich with some extra mustard, the kind of low rent thoughtfulness that folks around here struggle for. It was a kindness too, but not the same.
Chaplain came by and talked about rites. They went through the whole mumbo jumbo with hand holding. If he had to recall it, which after few minutes, he wouldn't have to recall anything any more, he'd say it was mostly the Pastor saying "I'm sorry," and he saying "I'm sorry too." Or the other way around. Details and sequence seem to have lost their significance.
About twenty minutes to go, Officer Peters shows up. He's not bad for a screw. Some treat you like animals, some like criminals, and others just try and get through the day. Peters was between second and third, wasn't above pleasantries but held every inmate at arm's length. It's hard to tell if it was just the potential for violence or the need to remain detached from condemned men that kept him distant. Amos starts wondering about him, the things that happen outside the uniform and outside the block, but it's getting late.
His hands go through the door and the shackles go on. He walks out when the doors open and they chain his feet. His shackles are removed and adjusted to that he can shuffle with his arms behind his back. With a hand firmly on his bicep, Peters gets ready to lead him to the chamber. He's shaky on his feet and weak in the knees.
"You ok, Amos?"
"Just tired is all, Simon."
Peters acknowledges the sentiment with a gruff clearing of the throat. Something that says hold your head high without giving words to it. A primal invocation to facing finality with dignity. Right now it seems about the hardest thing he can muster, second only to the first step down the hall.
H Block is solemn. He doesn't look at nobody except out of the corner of his eyes. They're all types, really--madmen and psychopaths, guys who came in right but got too stewed in their own juices, boys who got into bad jams and never got out. None were innocent, though more than a couple weren't guilty neither. But all were quiet. What was they watching? Their fate? His? Just another playact that they're too dumb to comprehend?
Peters takes that first step and he wobbles best he can after him.
What's strange, of course, is precisely how things don't change. The halls are tiled the same, the floor the same slate color. He wears the same clothes and walks under the same lights. Outside it might be sunny or slightly overcast. There's no pomp that marks this day as different. It's kinda like walking through a mall of strangers on your birthday. Special, but they don't know it. The metaphor really ends right there, though.
In the chamber they lay him down on a gurney and strap him in with leather bindings. Off to his right side is a big darkened window pane. One of those one way mirrors he ain't seen since he was first pinched and the cops was beating a confession out of him. On the other side are folks that'll see Amos dead. He imagines them. Maybe it's her ma, a hard edged woman with knives for eyes. She didn't cry none during the trial, just glared. Didn't hug when the guilty verdict came down. Barely even spoke at the sentencing hearing. My baby girl ain't coming back. He put her in the ground. Ain't no justice till he's there himself.
Maybe she ain't there, though. She was old then. Fourteen years is a long time. The kind of time that wears down most everything but hate. Maybe though, if she is watching, she could finally get some satisfaction. And Amos wouldn't begrudge her that. If that's all that came out of today, at least it would be something.
The IV goes in with a pinch. He feels mighty restless. He ain't lived nothing but a half life since he's been locked up but it seems so much better than what those needles promise.
Prisoners don't get much in the way of news, but have plenty in terms of idle time. Guards too ain't got much on their hands but got plenty active tongues. Amos knows that Europe won't send the right drugs no more. Some companies just won't sell to the DoC. He knows folks got problems with his fate. His justice. Some of the guys on H Block get pretty righteous about it. Rights, rites, it's all the same. A little bit over his head and too charged for him to have a feeling of an informed opinion. Mostly he wonders about the hurt and how it feels not being. There is a vague desire for a hereafter, but really it leads to more trepidation when Amos starts wondering exactly where his ticket's been punched. He's not sure he should ask for redemption. A little embarrassed to even want mercy. But forever is so long.
The first drug goes in. Miz something now that they can't get the pentobarbital. It's supposed to numb the pain. Another low rent kindness, Amos supposes.
Fourteen years is hard to measure. One way is to look at it in terms of confinement. The last time he was able to piss without a witness. The last belt he owned. The last time he was laid. Another is in terms of lawyering. Appeals, motions, countermotions, disclosures and obfuscation, stays and executive orders. Lastly, there is a view of time since her last breath to his. Time is subjective like that, in inobvious ways. The linear march lends itself too easily to our preferred signposts.
The second drug goes in. It is meant to stop his heart. As the plunger pushes CCs of an otherwise indistinguishable chemical into his veins, Amos understands that he has now crossed the point of no return.
It is a lie to say he had no choice. His brother and sister knew the same want. His brother fixes cars. His sister answers phones for a doctor. He's seen his nephews once, before the visits became too burdensome. That is to say, there were other fates and options available to him. Even though he grew up broke, black, and angry. Even though she was white and college educated and had a loving family. He did not need a TV to fence. He did not need to hit her with a lamp. In hindsight, a burglary beef seems so much preferable to what happened. But that is not a benefit. It is a 20/20 curse.
In other words: the truth still escapes him. There are things that he did that he cannot undo. He would rather, given all he knows now, have been a better person. What is true is that he was wrong. What is true is that Amos is sorry.
It is also true that he feels more comfortable with other people telling him what he deserves, rather than having to reckon it himself.
Vaccuuming bromide, or some homophone thereof, is the last need to go into the IV. It will stop his breathing. Within a few minutes, his lights will dim and unbeknownst to him, either his heart or his lungs or maybe both will cease their reflexive functions. They, above all, have been indifferent to notions of right and wrong, pumping him through fourteen years without care for the pain inflicted on himself and others.
It is his time to go quietly into the night. Yet fate has too many contours and grooves to reach the stated ends of Those Who Would Ordain It. With the same caprice that led Amos Butler to end the days of Mary Lou Sheppard in the course of a home burglary gone awry, so it went that the things coursing his veins--guilt, regret, resentment, confusion, potassium chloride--conspired not to work in harmony towards an end. Rather it was that he, back arched and body racked with a crushing pain about the heart, went shuddering painfully into his final good bye, coughing, gagging, and trying to bellow that it wasn't supposed to have happened like this.