'LIFE'S FULL OF SHARP TURNS'
- A Short Story -
Here's something different. It's a short story I wrote some years ago. Oddly, when I wrote it, I wasn't communicating with a prisoner on death row. I am now, and have been for sometime.
He’d almost run out of time. Perched on the edge of his bunk, the prisoner casually glanced at a silver clock on the wall outside his cell. The big hand had not moved. He frowned, lay down and refused to look at it again. The authorities would notify him when it was time. That’s what happened on death row. Resigned to an unfortunate outcome, he recalled something his father had always said, “Life’s full of sharp turns”.
‘Sharp turns don’t get any sharper when you sit on death row,’ he muttered, and thought of his young lawyer who’d worked tirelessly to free him. He’d even sold his home to bankroll the lengthy case and offer the best defense. However, there were no hard feelings. They’d become good friends. Given the same circumstances, he’d employ the same lawyer. Even now, he was working diligently to have his sentence commuted; lodging appeals for clemency to the Governor.
In the large administration building a few hundred yards away, stood an older man a year from retirement, having spent forty years in the prison system. Standing behind his desk, the warden peered at the quadrangle below; one that provided recreational space for inmates. Observing the quadrangle was something he’d done countless times before. Today he felt lonely; for himself and for a man to be executed. For four decades he’d learned to listen to his gut when it came to people; especially prisoners. His gut had never let him down. In fact, it had inspired him to read every word of the court transcripts relating to the prisoner in cell forty-three. His research had engulfed him, and convinced him of the man’s innocence. Unfortunately the prisoner’s fate was in the hands of the Governor, a man who’d never commuted a sentence on death row, rising to power on a tough law and order platform. The warden sighed. He looked at his watch for the umpteenth time, folded his arms and said a quiet prayer to anyone who’d listen.
Miles away at a large palatial mansion, two men were behind closed doors; a promising young lawyer and the State Governor. After an emotional phone call, the powerful man had finally allowed the lawyer ten minutes of his time. Outside, two women sat in a beaten-up vehicle, the lawyer’s young wife and the convicted murderer’s spouse. They’d done all their talking and sat in silence. It was time to pray. The occupant of cell forty-three was also praying. He could hear every second tick away, knowing that the warders would soon arrive to prepare for his execution.
As the Governor stood up to signal the end of their futile conversation, his telephone rang loudly.
‘Excuse me,’ he said with an irritated expression. The lawyer sat with his heart in his mouth. His visit had been fruitless. A passionate plea for leniency had fallen on deaf ears, and the stresses and strains of the past two years had hit him like a hammer. Deep-seated pangs of failure and inadequacy overwhelmed him and his temples throbbed. ‘Hello. Yes, it’s the Governor here. What? Are you sure, Commissioner?’ Anxiously, the Governor cancelled the call and pressed another button on the telephone – a red one.
The lawyer glanced at his watch. With twenty-three minutes to be present at the execution, he sat on the edge of his seat and buried his head in his hands as tears of despair welled in his eyes.
‘Warden! It’s the Governor. Abort the execution! I repeat … Abort the execution,’ he hollered. ‘Yes … He’s innocent.’ The Governor gently replaced the handset and offered a wry smile when the lawyer looked up in disbelief.
‘Governor … Did I hear you correctly?’
‘Yes. That was the Police Commissioner. Another man has confessed to the murder.’
The lawyer raised his eyebrows and muttered. ‘Jeez.’
A press conference was conducted that evening; attended by all the networks. The previous occupant of cell forty-three sat quietly; flanked by his lawyer and his wife, surrounded by a bank of microphones. Standing at the back of the large crowd was the lawyer’s emotionally charged wife. Standing alongside her was an older man – the warden. Neither had ever met. In the warden’s coat pocket were two letters. One, was a copy of a compassionate letter he’d mailed to the Governor, requesting a stay of execution for an innocent man on death row. The other, was a personal letter from his doctor; received that very day. It contained bad news. He had three months to live. The warden casually tapped his coat-pocket and muttered an expression he’d heard from an innocent inmate on death row ... ‘Life’s full of sharp turns.’
Clancy's comment: There you go. Hope you enjoyed.