#Writespiration 61 Death Row

Write about Death RowDeath row is a serious political topic, and not one I want to share my views on. What I will say is, no matter what side your view sits on, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

This week, your challenge is to write a piece about death row. It can be from any perspective, and about anything, as long as it is linked to death row.

Here’s mine:I lingered in the doorway, the darkness of my cell calling me back home. But I wanted to cling to the last rays of warmth from the sun. I shut my eyes, letting the tingle of heat settle on my neck and breathed in the dry desert air. It tasted of sand: gritty, but satisfying.

“Move, convict.”

The guard’s baton dug into my back as he shoved me through the door and into my cell.  My throat was like sandpaper. It ached. But not as much as knowing it was the last fresh breath I’d take.

My skin hummed from the tension rippling through the cells of the other lifers. We could always smell death. Every convict’s execution smelt the same: home cooked food. Our precious last meal was really just a beacon of futility. It spread the stench of lost hope through our prison cells like a rabid dog attack.

“Grub’s up. Hope you picked a good’un.” The guard smirked, tipped his hat at me and disappeared.

“Not even a goodbye,” I snorted.

“He was always an arsehole, John. I’ll knife him later if you like,” Mike said, twirling his toothbrush in the cell next to me. Why they let him have a tooth brush was a mystery to me; he didn’t have any teeth.

“Ha. Thanks, but no need to give them a reason to reject your appeal too.”

He shrugged, already resigned to his fate. My heart clenched. I knew his pain. We all knew our day would come. It only took a few years before we all accepted the only certainty there was in here: the monotonous pacing; the tick tock countdown as our feet padded eleven steps one way, eleven steps back until, eventually, we reached the chair and sat – forever.

The smell of dinner wafted down the row, thick and sweet. My meal was ready.

Straight jacket suffocation gripped my chest. I couldn’t breathe. Pins and needles stabbed at my torso. I dropped to my knees and gasped for air.

“Please,” I choked.

I’d do anything for a heart attack. For Karma to bestow a kindness on me; an honorable death from fate instead of a villain’s crucifixion. Sweat ran down my neck and arms. I tore off my shirt and slumped against the bars, the cool relief of metal massaging calm into my chest.

My breathing, although still labored, stabilized.

“The guilty ain’t meant to panic, John. We did wot we did. We deserve the needle, don’t we?”

His filthy face pressed against the bars of his cell, distorting his weathered skin. I closed my eyes. The only place I’d admitted innocence was in the court room. In here there was a pecking order and the innocent got eaten. I kept my lids shut and inhaled the juicy scent of roast beef drifting into my cell. I sucked my saliva back down savoring every morsel of flavor.

“You know I didn’t do it, Mike.”

“I know lad. I know. But you might as well play the part. It’s your fate now, innit?”

But I didn’t want to play the part. I didn’t want any part. I wanted the life I deserved.

“Fuck fate.”

I looked at my shirt and saw the length of rope it could make if I ripped it in half. The needle couldn’t have me. Not while I had a choice.

“Don’t do it, boy.” Mike’s arm stretched into my cell like a wraith grabbing for its body, but it was too late. I’d already stood up and torn my shirt.

“DON’T lad… John, please. Stays come in all the time. You still have a chance.”

His words faded into the rumble of other prisoners. I was numb. Heavy with the weight of hopelessness. I tied the fabric to the light, looped it round my neck and stepped off my bed.

***

Now to last weeks writespiration, where we were writing about the list.

First up Geoffle, with a truly random list, that reminds me of Mr. Adams guide to the galaxy!

When King Zog the Uncertain ascended to the throne (having been assured he could descend just as quickly if he didn’t like it) he found on the seat a box of papers with a list on the top. ‘What’s this?’ he asked.
‘You father’s royal list,’ the Court answered.
‘What’s a royal list?’
‘Every king has to have a list. It defines his monarchy.’
Zog was Uncertain what that meant but he took it on board. He asked for a private audience with his Chancellor. ‘Lomp, apparently my father had a list and I need one. It will define my monarchy.’
‘Yes, your Majesty and what do you want on your list?’
Zog might have been Uncertain but he wasn’t stupid.’Ah ha! I’ll only know that when I have my list.’
Lomp, who, long before the Ascension/Descension/Ascension debacle knew how this sort of conversation could go in circles with never a decision, nodded. ‘Leave it to me.’
He organised the Royal Cobbler to attend his Majesty.
‘Are you sure?’ said the Cobbler?
‘As sure as my name is Lomp,’ answered the Chancellor.
‘You’re called Lomp?’
‘Believe it, sonny. Now can you make his Majesty his Royal Shoes?’
‘I can, but…’
‘But?’
‘He won’t like it.’
A week passed; the old king’s list sat unregarded. The Court became restless, unsure what to do and fearing their new king might be living up to his title. They awaited the weekly audience with the king at which they expected to receive instructions and directions Meanwhile in the Royal Robing Room, Zog sat with Lomp and the Royal Cobbler. ‘Are you sure, Lomp?’
”Quite sure.’
‘Ok, but I don’t like it.’
‘I told…’
‘Button it, boot boy. This way your majesty.’
The Court held its collective breath as King Zog emerged, leaning at an uncomfortable 30 degrees to the vertical due to the presence of one flat shoe and one with a five inch heel. There was a collective intake of breath. Zog began to feel embarrassed, the Court began to murmur when a your courtier rushed forward. ‘You seen to have a pronounced list your majesty. May I help you?’
Zog smiled and nodded at Lomp and took the young man’s arm. ‘Splendid.’

***

Next the lovely Dwayne is back with this sporty little number, with a cliff hanger ending.

One brown, dilapidated piece of paper. One piece of paper that was the difference between William knowing whether destiny was still in his control or not. This was not just any old piece of paper though, it was one of great value because on it were the names of the lucky ones, the ones whose blood, sweat and tears would not fall in vain, the ones who would be able to take the next steps without having to take steps backwards. “That damn list, if only I had it now so I could see if my name was on it” said an impatient William, his mind fixated on knowing whether he had made the grade, whether he’d made the cut, whether he’d made the team. It was so close, William could see the piece of paper clearly on the table and yet it was so far as the table was in the head coach’s office which was locked. “I really want to know whether I did enough”, William thought to himself as he pressed his face against the door window, he could not help himself, he just had to know if he’d made the cut.
Ever since he was a young boy, William had dreamed of playing for his local football team and now his dream was almost about to happen. But for that dream to come true, he had to impress the head coach and his backroom staff, to show to them that he had what it took to play for such a big club. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” The words William said to himself before every trial, before every hurdle put in his way, he knew that he had to work hard, work harder still, fail hard, fail harder still and try again in order for him to reach the top. The hours in the gym and on the pitch, all the tackles, the close misses, all the niggles and injuries, all of that was worth going through so as long as he made the grade, for all of that effort to go to waste would bring crippling devastation but William knew that with every failure life brought, he had to get up and try again, fail again and fail better.

***

46 comments

  1. Wow Sacha, that was powerful! Love the toothbrush for the guy with no teeth… thats exactly the kind of quirk which makes me fall in love with a story! Very well done!

    1. you are too kind. thank you – do you know, that toothbrush line was added right at the last minute! it was added that morning 2 minutes before it went live!! thats a good lesson to learn though – that its those little character nuggets that give depth – I didn’t even think about it at the time. I must commit this lesson to memory <3

      1. Your muse was working through you! ? You’re right though, its exactly that ind of detail that grounds the story and gives it character, and makes it believable.

  2. Fantastic imagery in there, Sacha. For instance ‘It spread the stench of lost hope through our prison cells like a rabied dog attack.’ Serious topic too. Having done some work for Reprieve who deal With death row appeals and Guantanamo Bay victims and been proud of my law firm’s pro bono support I’m not about to hide my views. State murder is wrong, period. I’ll see if I can come up with something.

    1. Thanks Geoffle. Really appreciate the comments. I think thats fab that your company did pro bono work – did you actually work on cases? looking forward to your piece 😀

  3. Wow, that’s a great death row story, Sacha; very powerful. I wouldn’t even attempt to write something like that. When I think of death row I think of the movie “Dead Man Walking”. That was a powerfully scary story. I don’t know how they cope with death. I don’t know that I’d choose as John as did either. I hope that Mike’s words are not lost in despair.
    But then it is told in the first person …

    1. Thank you so much Norah. <3 means the world that you liked it. I don't think I have seen that film, I have however seen the green mile which is also a death row story.

    1. Blimey, thank you so much <3 what an absolutely amazing compliment, I don't even know what to say <3 thank you. I think I will have to edit it and then find somewhere to submit it – its a bit of a shame it counts as published by putting it on your blog so can't put it anywhere in its current state.

      1. Well, if you’re inclined, it really is a strong piece. I’ve never read anything from the pov of someone on death row who is so close to the final moment. The thread of food was powerful, a last sensory blast that is so very human. I thought the whole thing was great.

  4. Wow! I don’t know how you find time to write your posts let alone have a go at your own challenges (hangs head in shame :-() This is fab, as always. Great challenge 🙂

  5. Marje McCrae made tea. Gordon McCrae held open the living room door allowing Marje to carry the tray to the footstool and put it down. Marje fiddled with the best cups – she liked the handles to point away from the drinker so they had to turn the cup round. That little twist and the subsequent small rippling ‘brought out the flavour’ she said.
    Gordon opened the green baize-covered card table that had belonged to Great Grandma O’Connor and placed the square brown clock (Auntie Phyllis had given it to them for a wedding present) in the centre. ‘Me and the clock’ Gordon joked, ‘Always on time.’ For the first time since he had wound it up in October 1979 he opened the back and turned the hour hand ahead by six hours.
    The clock now showed ten minutes to seven. Outside in Gallashields, no one stirred at such a late hour. Gordon took his seat. He couldn’t look at the clock but he counted each tick in his head while staring at the black house phone that sat on the side table.
    At one minute to seven, Marje leant forward. Gordon put a hand on her cardigan sleeve. ‘Nay, another minute, love.’ He could feel Marje trembling under his fingers but he could neither do nor say anything that might stem the shakes.
    At a few seconds after seven, the clock on the tower of St Mark’s Kirk struck one and Gordon removed his hand. Methodically Marje went through her routine for pouring the tea. Gordon pulled the little wash bag onto his lap and opened it. Careful not to drop any, he counted out the pills. He reached forward and placed one set on Marje’s saucer.
    For the first time since the representative of the Foreign Office had confirmed there would be no reprieve Marje’s gaze met Gordon’s pale blue eyes. Somewhere, thousands of miles away, in dirt and squalor one life was about to end. She nodded. Two other innocent victims held each other’s hand and with a studied care that had framed their lives they joined their son.

    1. Fucking hell Geoff. That was brutal. I was like completely sucked in loving the story thinking the characters were really well rounded, instantly. You did that detail thing with the cup handles and then…… jesus effing christ. I feel bereft. like heart…. torn…. out.

  6. Love the way you use the sense of smell in your story, Sacha. It’s the sense we nearly always overlook and it’s supposed to be the most powerful of all. I could smell all those last meals very strongly!

    1. Thank you Jane, odd isn’t it that we have a tendency to focus on one sense over another, funny too that smell is the strongest of senses that can evoke memories better than any sense and yet is the one that as you say, is the most powerful 🙂 <3

      1. You made me realise that what’s missing in the descriptions in this thing I’m working on now is the smell of the place. I’ll go back and make it smell—should make it come alive!

  7. There aren’t many challenges I won’t take up…

    “No,” I say. “No blindfold. I want his last sight to be the eyes of his victim’s mother. Let him take that to hell.”
    I watch from behind the glass screen. Close. I see the terror in his eyes and I gloat.
    That’s how she felt, you filthy piece of shit. That’s how my baby felt at the end.
    He reads the thoughts in my eyes. He sees the hatred I feel and he knows that if this piece of glass wasn’t between us I’d rip his heart out with my bare hands. The executioner looks at me. I turn to the abject, quivering scum in the chair, and I grin. I let him know.
    This is your last moment, bastard. Fry!
    His eyes open wide. He pisses himself. The executioner pulls the switch.
    I watch it all, never taking my eyes off him, never letting him remove his petrified gaze from mine. I watch every twitch and convulsion, savouring ever spasm, hoping it hurts. Hoping it goddam hurts so much!
    I watch until the end, and he slumps to one side, his glazed eyes still fixed on mine. Only then, in the silence of expiation, do I see the woman on the other side of the room, sobbing. A man, her father maybe, holds her shoulders while she weeps. Only then do I see the image in the dead eyes—the woman and the two children—not me, not my baby, but his. In that instant I feel no sense of satisfaction, no savage joy in watching a just killing. Emptiness fills the space where love used to be, my future that was in watching her grow is dead, shrivelled.
    I want to go to the weeping woman and share her tears, but the man hurries her away, back to her children—children with no father, me with no child. Is the balance restored? Will the blackbird ever sing for me again? One broken family goes back to try and put the pieces together. I go back to the hollow sky and the sound of a dead child’s laughter.

    1. um…. choke. This was HARROWING. Beyond harrowing. Talk about torture your characters. This was so stunning because you played on her loss immediately and it’s what made me feel for her SO much. And then bam. I didn’t think you could make her wrong – how could she be wrong in this situation? but her loss, was the loss of another. Bloody traumatic, i ADORED it, I adored the main character. <3

      1. I’m glad you thought this piece worked, Sacha. It IS a harrowing subject and the emotions are so complicated. What it comes down to I suppose is that loss is loss, what has gone can never be got back, and there’s no lasting satisfaction in revenge.. I just hope I never have to be in that situation to test the theory.

  8. For lack of a better word, I have to use powerful as many others did here Sacha. You know how to grip a reader. All I can say is that I can’t wait for your book to come out!!!! xo

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