Final Words

He didn't want to open his eyes. If he opened them it would be day again, and if it were day again he would be walking the rickety plank stairs to the gallows, walking towards the last necklace he would ever see and then he would die.
Stupid him, but then he had always been stupid, always been trying to get that last cookie and the final word and everything he could have wanted and never needed. It was never enough, was it? Never enough that he had food to eat and a place to sleep, he needed to see more and do more and challenge himself. A great challenge it was, wasn't it? So great a challenge that here he lay, on a bed of straw and cotton, with his eyes closed fiercely away from the light of day. The light of the last day of his life.
They told him he would have 'final words.'
What words would sum up his life? Would sum up the burn in his chest and the queasy wash of grief and fear in his stomach? He felt as if he could retch for hours, but he had not eaten the night before, or the day before that. Why bother to eat when he was going to be dead before the sun touched the horizon again?
But.for just one more sunset. For one more sunrise. For one more kiss. For one more hug from the woman he had left. From his mother. One more day to swim, to laugh, to feel the brightness of the sun and the chill of the night. One more day to see the world that had never satisfied him.

It was never enough.
Jarod McClane owned the necklace, owned his pretty wife and his two adorable little daughters, and the challenge of a lifetime was to sneak into the house of that man, up the stairs, to his bedroom where he slept with his wife and take the necklace without getting caught. That was all it was. A stupid decision to walk into the house when he had not been invited, to walk into the house when it was dark and the inhabitants asleep.
He opened his eyes, looked at the ceiling of his cell, at the bars that kept him here, caged, with two attendants that were watching to make sure he did not commit suicide. Suicide was illegal, after all, and execution was perfectly correct. Oh yes, he thought with a bitter swallow, you may end my life, but I cannot. The irony of it, of how it was so wrong to take a life except if you wore the black hood of the hangman. But he had lived in bitterness the whole of his life, and as he watched the sunlight streaming in, catching the dust in the air and sparkling, he could not imagine dying in bitterness.
Because it wasn't enough.
He should not be dying today. He should never have climbed those stairs, should not have walked past the little girls' room to their mother's room and opened that door, shouldn't have been there.
Perhaps that's what he could say. Say that he was sorry, that he should never have been in that house, that he never meant for it to be the way it was, and ask for them to forgive him, but then, he didn't think that would be enough. I'm sorry did not fix the things he had done, and I'm sorry would serve no purpose when his body fell through that hole and his neck snapped.
He had been to a hanging once. A botched hanging where the man was dangling at the end of the rope for an eternity before he finally strangled himself. The crowd had dissipated by the time the man was actually dead but he had remained and watched, in morbid fascination. Of Death, morbid fascination of the fear in that man's eyes, the desperation, the croaking noise he made as he tried to free his hands and get the noose off his neck. But the hands were never untied, he had never gotten free and there was no hero on a white horse to ride in and save that man's life.
There never was.
Today, he would die. In moments maybe. He would die when the crowd assembled, die in shame and desperation. Die in fear and hurt. Die. His death was like a show, a play that was to be put on, and he was the main character. Johnny Boy, he thought viciously, Johnny Boy like that stupid play that Jarod McClane had written, that they loved so well up North in New York, and Jarod had gone and bought the gold necklace with the diamond for his pretty wife because she was so pretty and so pregnant again.
Tears were brimming in his eyes as he looked at the dust dancing in the falling sunlight. Tears. Cry, he thought bitterly again, cry now the way you should have cried then when Jarod lit the lamp and saw it was you. Cry because you're going to hell and it'll be a slow trip down that fall. Cry because you've wasted your life and you have nothing to say at the end of it.
Good bye?
See you in hell?
No. He had never believed in hell. It was a sad bedtime story that his mother had made up to convince him to be a good boy. Hell was no more real than God. But he watched the dancing particles in that light and wondered if he could hear the voice of God in that. Wondered now if maybe he hadn't been wrong about everything in his life. Maybe there was a Hell and maybe he was going there now. Going there with the blood of a woman on his hands and some stupid necklace that was worthless to him now. Worthless but he had horded it anyway, when he ran away from Jarod and his pretty wife who lay on the bed gasping for breath and clutching her heaving stomach.
Did the baby die too?
He couldn't remember. Didn't know. Hadn't paid attention. When they came to get him he had said nothing, when the lawyer appeared to defend him he had said nothing, when the prosecutor had pointed at him and presented sworn testimony it was he who committed the crime he had said nothing. That woman was dead. Mrs. McClane. He had shot her in the dark before Jarod had lit the lantern because he heard the words: "I'll kill you," like a growl and his finger slipped on the trigger, the gun jumped and flashed bright. His hand was burned with powder and she was lying there on the bed, staring at him, trying to speak and couldn't.
What use did he have for words when he had taken hers? Her words would have been beautiful to Jarod, would have been beautiful to her daughters, to the baby that was in her womb. Her words and her life were more worthy than his, but as he lay in the straw he did not want to die.
Desperately did not want to die.
Thought that when he climbed the steps to the noose he was going to blubber like a baby and die in shame. Shame for him and his mother and his little brother. Shame for the wife he never married and the children he never had. Shame for the poor family that would be there to see him die and those beautiful little girls of the woman he had killed.
Sorry would not be enough. Sorry did not express his regret, his stupidity, his bad luck, his idiocy, his ignorance, his evilness.
If there was a hell, he was headed to it, and these moments of cowardice would haunt him forever.unless. Unless he would die there today- how short the minutes were now that had seemed like years when he had been a child in Sunday school-and become nothing. He would snap and like trash be broken away but. But.what if there was nothing after this. What if this was his final chance to make good of his life and he had squandered it away because it had never seemed like a good enough reason to do what they said?
The attendants stood up, and the warden came in. He spoke to them curtly, then looked at him. "Do you want a priest son?"
Fear was alive. Alive in him, squirming in his belly, in his chest, in his ears and his brain like worms that ran through the rotted corpse because that was all he was today. A body buried in shallow soil and he croaked out something, did not even pay attention to what the words were, climbed to his feet and ran at the bars, grabbed them in sweaty fingers and thought that the tears were coming now. Bursting out of his eyes and running down his face. Tears of the man that murdered a pregnant woman. That took the jewel Jarod had bought and buried them in the field behind his mother's house and never said where they were.
Maybe he would tell them now.
Maybe his final words would be an act of attrition; an apology and a way to give back just some of what he had stole.
But it was worthless now, and he had bought that necklace with blood. It was his. His brother would find them someday or his father, or his nieces and nephews he would never see. They would find that jewel and do with it as they saw fit. He felt the heat of the tears on his cheeks and hoped like hell that they threw it away.
The gold that had seemed to him to be so shiny, the diamonds so brilliant, they were nothing now, smudged with dirt and blood and tears.
Besides it was a different necklace entirely that he would wear today- both of them had killed him, the gold by metaphor and the noose by fact.
The warden had left, the attendants moved toward the door, away from him, the walking dead, the condemned, and he bit his lip so hard it bled, remembered his childhood in clouded clarity. Struggled to find a moment to laugh, a moment to see something that would give him meaning, that would take what he had done-the evil he had done-and undo it. He saw distortions of his life, of his impatience. Saw imprints of his little brother's face, of punching him, of his father scolding him. Of his mother wiping the tears out of her eyes.
She cried for me, he realized at last, she cried for me because she knew this would be my end. And then hate filled him until he was gasping for breath (no, he was sobbing. Sobbing like a baby when it falls down the stairs.) She had cried for him but she had never TOLD him! She had betrayed him! She had abandoned him and left him to lead this life, to come to this end, to the end where the warden returns to tell him that he is but minutes from death.
The attendants move. The cell door opens at last.
She had known, his mother, she had known all this time and cried for him then. She had gone to heaven before his disgraceful end, and he would go to hell. Down to where the sinners lived and burned forever. Not even Satan would forgive him now.
They took his hands and tied them behind his back, asked again if he wanted a priest and he shook his head. Why pray now when the end was moments away and he had never believed in God before? Why step in at the last moment like a pauper and ask forgiveness for a crime he committed while he didn't believe in the power of the savior? He did not believe in redemption then, and wiped the tears out of his eyes.
A life. His life, the whole of his life was there in his eyes and he had wasted it away every second. Spent all his years in spite and hate and envy, had killed another man's wife, betrayed the woman he had once loved (long ago, oh, so long ago, when he took the whore against the side of the 9brothel and gone to tell his beloved about it. Rage and spite.) He was a person that deserved to fall now.
He would ask no forgiveness. He would apologize to no one. He would leave the necklace there to rot in the ground, if gold could rot.
He watched his life passing before him as they led him out of the cell, out of the jail, out into the brilliant sunshine and the rising heat of the early morning, out to the crowd of people that were already snarling at him and the little girls who were crying for their poor dead mother. They led him out, and he climbed the stairs. Stumbled on each of them felt his knees like jelly and his muscles as solid as riverweeds, bending under him when they should have supported his weight.
Not that it mattered. This disgrace, this red-faced and crying-eyed disgrace that he was, this was the disgrace that would die forever, the memory that would live in the eyes of these people. A man of nothing. A person who was evil.
He turned, saw the warden again, saw his mouth moving, but he couldn't hear what the man was saying. The words were fuzzy, out of focus, and colors were more brilliant now than they ever were, combining together until he couldn't see anyone, and he shuffled and stumbled over to the noose. Thought of the man he had seen hanged, and looked out at that mass of colors again.
A hand touched his arm, and he pulled back, the noose tightened and he thought he would scream, but it was only the warden, trying to speak again. "Final." He just stared at the warden. "Words?"
Final words? Words that would make some difference that would redeem him and worth to him? Words that would be what they would remember forever. What words could possibly do this? What words could he possibly offer? None. There were no words for this.
"Tell her," he said suddenly, as the light came back into focus, as the noise of the crowd became so loud, and he shuffled toward the warden, felt the noose around his throat and thought of her, of the woman that he had once loved and once hated, and he saw her face and the beautiful fall of her brown hair. "Tell her I always loved her," he said.
The warden nodded. "Alright son." Then he stepped away and moved forward, read the charges, (the baby, she had died after all, in the womb of her dead mother) read the conviction, read the sentence, looked at his watch and at the hangman, one nod.
One nod, he thought, one nod has just ended my life.
The slats of wood gave out under him, and he gulped in a breath as he fell, prayed in that second that he would snap his neck, that he would never live to feel the humiliation and shame of his death, that someone in the crowd would forgive him. As his head went under the gallows, and the crowd came back into view, he saw Jarod again.
Standing there in black, standing there with hate. Thought of the pain that had been on that man's face but weeks ago when his wife was dying, thought he had ruined their lives as well as his own. Ruined it for them all of life. Saw the girls there, angry little girls, the two of them, one hand in each of their daddy's and they were wishing now that he would go to hell.
"BURN!" the littlest one screamed, and the taller one buried her face in her father's jacket.
There was one shattering moment of that girl's little face and her hair flying in her face, her tears and her hate, her little fists thrown out toward him, her scream of BURN BURN BURN BURN! One shattering moment of realization that he had killed that girl when he had killed her mother, because she would grow up to hate everything the way he had hated everything. He had spread his evil to her. One shattering moment to feel the tear on his cheek again.
Then nothing.