Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Writings # 41 - A Dutiful Death

Welcome to my weekly "Wednesday Writing" post. These weekly exercises serve as motivation to ensure that I spend at least 30-60 minutes each week doing some creative writing. In the ideal week, I will write every day. But at the very least, I will do at least one writing segment which I will share here on my blog.

These are very quick 'free write' sessions without editing, planning, etc.

I invite and love feedback - criticism, praise, whatever.  Just let me know what you think.

I do this equally for myself and to share.


A Dutiful Death

This all would have been so much easier if James had died. He was expected to die. He was SUPPOSED TO die.

The wind outside is rattling the glass in the windows. I'm sitting in this chapel on this hard wooden bench, surrounded by people I don't know and don't care about listening to this old man speak about hell fire and damnation.

The wind gusts again and tree branches scrape across the stained glass. I try not to smile as the entire congregation cringes at the screeching sound. I glance around the room, careful not to hold eye contact for more than a split second with anyone.

Everyone seems so pious. So holy. But when I really look at them, I can tell that some of them are like me. Like James. Just waiting for the inevitable. Sitting here. Listening. Because it seems like the thing to do. The RIGHT thing to do. When in reality, our mind is elsewhere. Outside. Rushing around outside like the rain and the wind. Wandering from adventure to adventure. Free and aimless.

The woman in front of me erupts in a fit of coughing that shakes her damp hat off of her head and onto my lap. Her umbrella clatters to the floor loudly as she turns around and mumbles something that's supposed to be an apology as I hand her hat back. Her face is spotted and streaked with makeup sent swirling away in a rainstorm. Her smile is awkward and missing at least one tooth.
As she takes her hat back, she stretches her fingers out to pat my hand. As I look up at her she smiles, winks and does some half-kiss thing with her mouth. I struggle to show no emotion. I fight down the grimace and look of horror. At the same time, I make sure I don't smile. Don't show anything that could be interpreted as either acceptance, or worse, reciprocation of her intentions, whatever they may be.

She continues to stare at me. I break eye contact and stare hard and steely at the man standing at the pulpit. He had stopped talking about damnation and had transitioned to salvation.

Although this in a church, I don't really know who the man is or what his position is. This isn't a church service specifically. Rather it's a multi-denominational gathering of thoughtful and concerned members of the community. In spite of all the publicity and the excitement around this meeting, I wouldn't have come. Not if I didn't have a specific duty to perform.

I checked my watch.

7:23 PM

Nearly there. I'd survived nearly half an hour without falling apart. Without bursting out of the building. Tom had asked if I'd like to be taken off this assignment. I'd told him NO. He even offered to let me wait outside and be called in when the moment came. Again, I turned him down. Part of me wanted to see the whole thing unfold. To witness the entire drama. And yet, as I sat here now, I wasn't really witnessing anything. I was so distant from the procedings that I couldn't give an accurate report to anyone if my own life depended on it.

Just a few more minutes and it would be my turn.

I checked the small pamphlet I'd been handed on entering. It outlined the program. The current speaker must be 'The Honorable Professor Samson Jones visiting from Upland University.' I'd never met a Samson before but I was pretty sure this man didn't look like any Samson I'd ever meet again. He was a frail looking man, probably in his late 70s with whisps of white hair wildly flying in all directions on the top of his balding head. He gesticulated with his long bony fingers as he spoke which made his whispy hair fly even more frantically and also showed just how baggy his flowing black robes were. His wrinkled skin was nearly as white as the translucent candles burning on either side of the pulpit. His voice was gravely and harsh. When he pounded on the pulpit for emphasis, which was frequently, it looked as if the force of his action was about to throw him off balance and onto his back. Yet somehow he continued preaching.

The program indicated that after he concluded speaking, the congregation would sing the hymn "The Strife is O'er, the Battle Done." It made me wonder who had come up with the program and how well they knew James or knew the events to come. I wondered if perhaps the program was chosen before or after they knew James was still alive.

The honorable professor finished his speech and hobbled awkwardly back to his seat, fighting off the hands of the youthful aides who offered to help him. The organ chimed in and everyone stood and belted out the words. In spite of the words surrounding me I knew that my own personal strife and battle were far from being over. In fact, this hymn was a mere prelude to the war I was about to wage.

I looked up at the chairs seated behind the pulpit. Tom stared me down and, when he was sure he had my attention, he nodded softly and patted the empty chair next to him. I swallowed hard and then stepped out into the aisle and walked up to the front of the chapel. I could feel the eyes of those people who had noticed me and were staring as I walked up the few steps at the front and took the seat next to their Mayor. Looking back, I saw a few people whispering to one another and pointing my direction.

The song ended and everyone took their seats. The arbitrator of the meeting stood and announced that their own Mayor Thomas Andrews would now address the congregation. The crowd burst into applause. Tom patted my knee and then stood and walked to the pulpit. He glanced back at me over his shoulder and gave what was meant to be a reassuring smile but really just made me feel worse about what he was about to say.

I tried hard to focus on Tom as he spoke. To block out everyone and everything else. To ignore the emotion of the speech. To ignore the hundreds of eyes staring accusingly at me as he spoke. I felt the air swimming around me as I listened. The words blurred and slurred through the air around me as my gaze flew from face to face of the hundreds of people in the audience staring up at me.

"Thank you.....are difficult times and we all......never fully understand......assure you that everyone in my office.....full confidence that every precaution was......I know him to be a good and honest.....hearts go out to the family.......pray that the right thing can be done......that forgiveness can be found..........David. David? David?"

I suddenly realized Tom had finished his speech and was now calling me forward.

I stood. Aware suddenly of the silence in the chapel. I looked around the room. Every head. Every eye. Was focused on me. I slowly stepped forward and stood beside Tom. He placed his arm around me. Clasped his hand on my shoulder. And continued talking.

"Now, by now, you've all heard of David. I've known David since he and his family moved to this town nearly ten years ago. He's worked his way up through the ranks. He's served this town with all his heart and with more effort than half the people in my own office. For the past three years he's been the best darn sherrif I've ever known."

Some sort of murmuring burst out in the back corner, followed by muffled shouts. Tom raised his hand for silence.

"Now, I know some of you are a might riled up and you have every right to be. Since this whole thing happened, I've been flooded with calls and letters. I've been ambushed at the office. Even at my own home. Everyone has an opinion. Tomorrow morning we'll be having an open town hall meeting to let each of you voice your opinion or submit it formally. We'll compile the information and have it evaluated and on hand for the official court hearing on Friday.

"But tonight, we are here in a spirit of compassion. Of love. Of peace. There are only two men who know what happened in that field. Only two men on earth can shed light on what has happened and why. One of them stands beside me now, ready to face whatever fate and justice has in store for him. And the other..."


The interruption came from the shadows far to my left. I recognized the voice as belonging to Paul Chartle. Paul was James's brother-in-law and the most outspoken against me.


Shouts burst out around Paul. I could see at least a dozen men near him shouting and waving their hands in the air. I took half a step backwards but Tom held his arm firm over my shoulders and pulled me back beside him.

"Quiet! Quiet! All of you. Paul. As has been explained to you many times, you are more than welcome to visit James. Any of you are. But there are certain protocols to be maintained not only for the integrity of the case. But also for his personal health and safety so the doctors can do their job to save him."


More people came to their feet. Some shouted in agreement and looked accusingly at me. Others shouted at Paul and his crew to sit down. I felt my stomach churn. I wanted to bolt. I knew it was good form to have me make a public appearance. To show my own sense of right and innocence. But this was a hard town with hard people. And when I'd shot James that night, I'd fired a bullet into the heart of some of the hardest members of the town.

If he'd just died outright, gun in hand, things might have gone better. But the way it happened. With him struggling and fighting for his life. With him attacking me and pouncing on me so I had to fire another shot. And another. It just made things look bad. And feel worse.

The whole crowd was shouting now. It was impossible to distinguish who was shouting at who or what anyone was saying. Tom leaned over and whispered some apology to me then motioned back to the main host of the event who raced to the choir and organist. Over my shoulder I heard the pipes of the organ flare to life, trying to drown out the cacaphony of men with the music of God.

Then a sound cut through the air and somehow made it to my ears. A sound I'd heard many times. Through the loud noise of the crowd, the sound was just a quiet popping. Then it came again, slightly louder, but this time followed by an outburst of screams. The third pop was definitely louder and rang with the common metallic burst such that anyone could easily distinguish it as a gunshot.

Looking to the back of the chapel, I saw James Cano leaning against the frame of the chapel door, his rifle dangling awkwardly from his hands. My hand instinctively went to my hip to pull my own gun. As I stepped forward, I felt Tom's arm pull against me. At first I thought he was pulling me back to safety but he was pulling me down to the ground. I turned and looked and he was falling. His hand clutched his chest, blood already trickling over his fingers.

I looked back to James just in time to see the rifle grow steady in his hands, pointed straight at me. Even at the distance, I swear I saw the faint flash of the muzzle as he pulled the trigger. Saw the pellet fly from the barrel through the air. Straight and true I watched the bullet pass over the heads of the frantic mob in the church. My eyes trained on the piece of metal as it passed over the pulpit and embedded itself in my left shoulder.

I looked back up at James across the room and suddenly noticed another gun at the edge of my vision. I hardly even recognized it as my gun. In my hand. I don't know when I pulled the trigger. Or when I had found the confidence to know I was aiming at James. But I watched as the bullet from my gun found its place right over his heart.

I felt myself falling to the floor but kept my eyes focused on James. His eyes were filled with shock and sorrow. Just as I fell behind the pulpit, I saw him stumble and fall as well. I lay my head back on the floor and saw the tall candle flickering above me. Craning my neck, I tried to make out the distorted upside down scenes in the stained glass window in the wall behind me. Then I closed my eyes. The noise became a blur and I let myself drift away to sleep.

And I thought once again just how much easier all of this would have been if James had just died like he was supposed to.

1 comment:

logankstewart said...

This was wonderful. Such great language and voice. I loved it, especially the line "And when I'd shot James that night, I'd fired a bullet into the heart of some of the hardest members of the town".

Once again, great job.