Think Nothing of It
Copyright © 2005 by Conor Murphy. All rights reserved.
These mornings, she doesn’t look any different than others; moving from sleeping to waking, she doesn’t look like a killer. Shaving, she cuts the underside of her knee; she will have helped to end a life by the time the stubble has grown back. She does this, the shaving, in the shower, and gets ready in a mirror still fogged over. Some cereal with those dehydrated strawberries that can’t be fresh, a brush of the teeth in front of a more salient reflection, and she looks good enough to kill.
Leaning over the body of the condemned to find a usable vein, she notices that whatever he had for lunch reeks all the way from his throat, and he didn’t brush his teeth. A slight break of skin, some Versed with its date-rape effects, and she passes her lethargy down to him. When she leaves the room the stink of his next-to-last meal sticks in her nose.
The ride to work is passed in silence. Neither she nor the other passengers has anything to say. They sit in a classroom like children too frightened of the teacher to pass notes, dreading the humiliation of discovery. The man across from her stares as much at the window as at the murderous woman, and he wonders what she does for a living, the overcoat she wears silencing her uniform’s answer. This, after the sun removes his reflection from the window.
The desire and contempt of the inmates color her day. They come to her for any reason; what is her monotony is their thrill — her routine their relief of it. Not these ones, though. This one would give anything for the boredom of living in a cell, desiring anything but the stupor given him by her needle. She comes to him for the second injection one hour later. The stink of lunch is gone, but this time he talks too much. The drug increases the docility sought by executioner and dignity sought by condemned, but he won’t shut the fuck up. Whether he’s trying to say something, or just trying to exhale as much as possible, she doesn’t care, and he doesn’t know. Leaving, she ignores his parting comments.
As the day outside changes, so does the prison. No windows in the fluorescence of her office, the change communicated by the interior. The prisoners stop inventing excuses to escape to her office. Taking their place, the warden steps in to speak with her. She scratches the cut on her leg as he talks; he tries to hold himself with the dignity which he imagines his job demands, and his presence could make her choke. Not the mispronunciation of her name, the arrogance, the inanity — the cologne. The utter stink of it. How his wife tolerates it baffles her. She pictures crawling into bed with him at the end of the day and nearly gags.
Now dressed in his funeral get-up, the condemned has become insufferable. The reek of food has returned by the third and smallest Versed injection, but the verbosity has left. What maddens her, she can’t say. Something in his clothes, his smell, his presence. Something rotting. A priest enters, and waits silently in the corner as she finishes her dose. She does not hear him speak until she has left and shut the door. His voice disappears as she walks down the corridor, back to her office.
The witnesses enter, except those who must watch on the prison’s closed-circuit television owing to the size of the room. The sadomasochism of the event lends reverence to these audience actors, as they harden themselves and try to think about that balancing whore Justice. Each eye straightened at the curtain blocking the empty room from which their prize will come. A strict recognition of silence breaks only with stifled coughs and murmured condolences.
She and another nurse strap him onto the gurney. They must be sure the bands aren’t too tight in order not to constrict the flow of blood and poison. The priest and the warden watch silently. She and her partner roll the motionless body out of the cell, sleeves rolled up, limbs strapped down. The stifling combination of the warden and the condemned dissipates as they move down the hallway, but returns in the execution theater. Here her grimace mimics those of the witnesses blinded by the curtain that separates the two companies. She can’t believe that she will be able to stand in this room for long, that the disgust in her stomach won’t escape. Watching herself run choking and gagging out the door, she hardens herself against the smell and tries to breathe through her mouth.
The warden stands in the voyeur tomb speaking to its inhabitants. His image and voice condensed and carried to those not in possession of live seats. A more attentive audience couldn’t be found, though they don’t hear a word. It’s easy to speak to these faces frozen in docile dignity, he being much more experienced in his role than they in theirs. The novelty of their situation removes any ability to entertain new instructions, which renders the warden’s words, rehearsed and performed so many times, as meaningless to his audience as they are to him.
Another setting of stage occurs on the other side of the curtain. She ties a noose: two 35cc syringes, each containing 20cc of sterile normal saline, she labels “NS;” three 35cc syringes, each containing 50 milequiv KCL in 50cc, she labels “3;” three 35cc syringes, each containing 50mg of pancuronium bromide in 50cc, she labels “2;” one 35cc syringe containing 5.0g of Sodium Thiopental, she labels “1.” This, after another curtain removes her from the priest and condemned. The former’s voice nearly inaudible, the latter’s silence screaming.
The protesters and their protesters screech clever slogans at each other, unable to breach the silence of the interior. Cameras transport them to televisions; reporters relate the details of the crimes. The cameras still come, though the ratings hardly justify doing so. Those who would watch prefer the other side of the lens, hoping their placards and chants will penetrate empty homes, but no one wants to watch the outside of a prison.
The heart monitor itself is behind the curtain with her, but it stretches underneath to the man lying silently on his death bed. It is this, the screen, she watches during. The electrical signals of his heart register on it, so she knows that both he and it are running smoothly. She recalls his last Versed injection but can’t remember the dosage. The electrocardiogram communicates slight variations in the rhythm of its object’s heart, palpitations that don’t concern her. She inserts the angiocath with precision, a relief to almost everyone in the room, having witnessed more troublesome preparations in this place. Delicate veins of junkies and diabetics rupturing through excessive use; those of others through fearful constriction or lack of skill. She repeats on a secondary location with less ease, starts the saline drip and waits, marking time with her anxious patient.
As she arrives, from the first she departs her routine. She walks, instead of first to her office, to him and his seldom used cell. The guards remove the empty breakfast tray as she enters. They don’t say anything, but one eyes her while shutting the door. The inmate knows why she is there, and begins to undress and joke about the superfluity of her purpose. Only after several minutes of her remaining unresponsive does he stop and submit. She finds a sign of something incomplete, but doesn’t tell him or mark it. She knows that bone fragments from that auto accident lie lodged in the muscle tissue. A view from the stethoscope reveals the wheezing of a half-starved manic-depressive just dying to get loose, and praying on a quiet eulogy.
She’s miles from the prison and rid of the smell. He choked her even with his agonal breath. She undresses and crawls into bed with the man she murdered and a child she never named.