Today I’m five. My grandfather says five is a lucky number, but I’m not sure I believe him. The first four were nothing special, just your run of the mill state mandated executions. In fact, the gurney in the room next door gets more business than I do, what with lethal injection considered “humane.” I don’t know about that either. Those who find their way into my seat and get strapped in generally seem remorseful. I don’t know what pain they go through, though I feel them quiver within the boundaries I provide. A rush of heat overwhelms the air, and when it’s finished, the last of their spirit disappearing from above, the metal cups always feel warm when they brush against my wood.
It’s the memories that get me every time. I am privy to the last thoughts and delicate flashes of life revealed in those final moments. If I had lips to spill the secrets with, I’d swear to at least one man’s innocence.
It was the year I turned three, and his name was Zion Jeffries. His girth was wide, his body cramming in between my seat and arms as he sat down. Listening to the walls chatter around me, I knew that his crime against humanity was great. Convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of three very young sisters and their mother, the attacks were especially brutal, earning him death by electrocution. He was the first to sit in my chair without a choice.
He was also the first to be innocent.
As his last fleeting memories disappeared with his brain function, there was no recollection of his crime. There were short memories of his time spent in jail, time spent with his family, and the last day on his job as a car mechanic. A woman entered the shop with three tow-headed little girls following her.
“Excuse me?” she said. He looked her direction.
“How can I help you?” he said, his voice filled with pleasantries.
“My car…” She looked down as if embarrassed. “…it’s broken down about a block away. Please? You were the first shop I come to. I don’t have any money.”
Zion followed the woman and her girls down the block to where an old Buick sat, half on the road, half off. Smoke black as pitch escaped in billowy clouds from the creases of the rusty hood. He popped it open and leaped back as flames reached their long fingers out to embrace the oxygen.
“Get back! Get the children as far away as you can. Run! If the fire reaches the gas, it will explode!” Zion cautioned the woman.
She pushed the girls ahead of her and they ran back towards the shop. Zion followed, his curses airborne on the wind behind him. When they reached the shop, he left instructions for his assistant, grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall, and took off towards the old Buick again.
“I’ll be back shortly!” Zion shouted in passing. He paused at the door. “There’s coffee and some bottled water in the fridge. If you need to call someone, there’s a phone in my office.”
Zion returned to the shop to find his assistant, the woman, the girls, and his personal truck gone. After listening to his assistant’s song and voicemail for the umpteenth time, he drove the company tow truck, hitched up the Buick, and towed it back to the garage.
The next morning, Zion awoke to find his truck in his driveway, the tow truck gone, and the police swarming the property. As the cuffs clicked around his wrists, he took in the drawn faces of his family. All three of his boys openly wept. He could tell by the set of his wife’s jaw that she was attempting to hold it together. That was the last time he would see his boys. His wife became a distant memory, as well, as the evidence began to pile up against him. The tears shed now were his own.
Even then, on the chair, tears spilled behind the mask. It was the first time the soul wasn’t at rest. It was the first time I felt I was more than just a piece of wood formed into a chair. It was the first time I felt what I could only describe as remorse. It penetrated every fiber of my existence.
With four came relief. This one was guilty and the horror of his memories eliminated whatever remorse still remained.
Now, today I’m five. My grandfather says five is a lucky number, but I’m not convinced. Three gave me heartache. Four gave me horror. What luck could five possibly bring?
I guess I’ll know in a few minutes.
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