Double Negative

Double Negative

Nothing. That’s what I told the old guard I wanted for my last meal. I wasn’t trying to be an asshole. I didn’t feel bitter. I just told him he didn’t owe me nothing and that’s what I wanted – nothing.

I’ve heard stories about what other guys like me wanted: lobster, wine, pizza with everything, a pack of smokes. One told the guards that it wasn’t going to be his last meal so he didn’t want nothing either. His case had gone back-and-fourth with trials and appeals for so long that he couldn’t accept that it was really the end. Thing is, he must have had a last meal at some point, he just didn’t get to pick it. It’s not like they starved him to death. I guess it would go down the same way with me. At least I’m not in denial like that poor fucker. Anyway, I don’t have much of an appetite.

The old guard didn’t say much at first when I told him, just nodded – he probably expected it. He treated me all right. Even though I knew he thought I was guilty, he still took the time to act like I was a human being. He’s been working here longer than any of the other guards. He’s not like the younger fuckers who came in here and treat you like shit, yell at you, kick you like a dog, just to prove how big their dick is. He doesn’t have nothing to prove. Back when he asked me about the meal I thought about joking with him – telling him maybe if he was talking to me about girls then I’d have an opinion – blonde or brunette, hell maybe even a redhead. My last feel I’d call it. I didn’t think of that joke until after he left though so I never said nothing.

I can’t remember the last time I was with a woman. Or the last time I’ll ever have been with a woman, I guess. I’ve been locked up for seven years, three months, and six days and the last time had probably been months before that. My best guess is that it’s been eight years, eight goddamn years since I’ve fucked anyone. It was hard at first, I mean before I got here that was practically all I lived for, but after I got my sentence it become a bit easier. Creeping death has a way of making you a lot less horny.

Who the hell was that last girl? Obviously, it wasn’t nothing special. No, just one of those good, forgotten lays. I was probably halfway asleep and all the way drunk when it happened. Definitely wasn’t making love, I know that much. I wonder if I would have acted any different had I known.

I remember when I was seven or eight, this one girl, Shirley, we spent one summer together almost every day. Her mom watched me when my mom was at work. I wasn’t even looking for a kiss. My balls hadn’t even dropped. I just wanted to follow her around, talk, maybe hold her hand if no one would see me. That was something. After my mom got fired we moved away and I never saw her again. I always blamed my mom for that.

The first time I got arrested and sent to jail when I was sixteen, I watched my mom crying when I was hauled off. She knew she wouldn’t see me for at least six months. I just looked at her and grinned. Not like I was comforting her, more like mocking her and her tears. I was mad at her for a lot more than just Shirley. Mad that she let my dad screw her and then screw off, mad that she couldn’t keep it together, mad that she was never home. But she was there then, those tears were real and so was my grin. I’d smack it off my face if my arm could reach back far enough. I only found out she died because a lawyer came by to let me know she had left me a few hundred bucks in her will. She must have written it before I got sentenced and never changed it.

A few months ago they asked me to write one. One of the young guards gave me a pencil and paper and I started writing the truth, saying what I’ve said all along. How I never meant to kill no one – never even wanted to. How the whole thing was an accident and how the guy was an asshole anyway. I went through all the evidence and everything I told to the cops and my lawyer and the judge years ago. But the more I wrote, the more pissed-off I felt. I hadn’t felt like that since my first few years here. And I couldn’t stop writing. I’m sure half of it was gibberish, just unreadable sentences about being wronged about a wasted life. Blaming, blaming, blaming everyone – mom, dad, my cheap state lawyer. I broke the tip of my pencil and had to ask the guards for another one, and when that young fucker came back he threw it at me and that got me even angrier so I broke that second pencil. They just ignored me when I yelled for another.

*

The first few days after I said I didn’t want a last meal the old guard kept coming back trying to get me to change my mind. “It looks bad – like I’m trying to torture you before we kill,” he said once. I told him that no one was killing me – not the cops that arrested me, not the judge and jury that convicted me, not even the sorry sucker who will push the button, or pull the lever, or however the hell they turn that thing on. He said something about being a Christian man who was obliged to show a little compassion – even to a son-of-a-bitch like me. He brought up the will again too. I told him about what happened last time and how I wasn’t leaving nothing behind, just my body. I told him that to be honest, what I really want them to do with my body is send it to one of the one of the places where they still eat people. Let them use it for their Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t care. It won’t be mine body anymore.

Why the hell did he really keep asking? He said it made him look bad, but I know that ain’t true. Anyone who cares enough to look up what I’m eating or if I got a will just wants to make sure I’m suffering as much as possible. He said it was on account of him being a Christian man too, but I have it on authority of no less a man than the prison’s chaplain himself that the guard doesn’t believe one word of that black leather book.

I agreed with him about that. I’ve read that book a few times since I’ve been here and it is mostly bullshit. I’ve read some other books too and some of those weren’t. The reading started one time when they were bringing the library cart around and one of the young pricks picked up a random book and chucked it at me – said to the librarian he doubted I could read one sentence of it. I proved him wrong, finished it that night and threw it back at him the next day. He beat the shit out of me so bad I ended up in the infirmary, but it was worth it.

I’m sort of glad he picked that book to throw at me. It was all about these things called genes. It said they’re in every man, woman, child, animal, and plant on Earth. It said these genes want to stay alive and that’s why we stay alive. They live inside of us, so if we go they go. They’re what make us duck when someone throws a book at us and they’re why we can’t hold our breaths under water. To be honest, reading all that scared the hell out of me. I’m fine with dying, I’ve been waiting long enough that I can accept it, but I don’t want these genes fucking with me right before I go, making me feel scared and start screaming or something just because they can’t accept what I already have.

The book said the reason it feels good when we fuck is because these genes are in my cum and they want to get in a woman and make a baby and live in them too. It said that’s the whole reason my mom took care of me and gave me her milk, because the genes in her wanted to keep her genes in me alive. Maybe they’re the whole reason my dad left too, because he wanted to put his genes in someone else after he’d finished with my mom. It said we only love people because they have more of our genes in them, so I’d save someone in my family from a fire before I’d save someone else. And whites hate blacks and blacks hate whites, because blacks have more of the same genes as other blacks and whites have more of the same as other whites.

*

You would think the night I got arrested would be easy for me to remember, but to be honest, it’s mostly just a few snapshots in my head. I was drunk, of course, so that explains a lot of it, but even when I remember other nights when I was further gone than that one, there are at least a few feelings I can remember – a woman’s back when I tried to pull her towards me, the dry dirt I’d get in my mouth when I’d been pushed out of the bar by her boyfriend, the sour taste of stomach acid when I puked after stumbling home. That night I can’t remember feeling nothing – not my heart beating when they told me why they were arresting me, not the sound of the sirens when the cop car pulled away, not even the cold familiar feeling of steel on my wrist when they cuffed me. Really, it just feels like it was happening to someone else, in a movie or something.

I knew the guy they said I killed. He was my boss for a few months (one of the longer jobs I held) when I was a landscaper. He made a killing but paid me three fifty an hour. He gave even less to the Spanish guys. He was an asshole. Made us work every day. One hundred degrees out, he didn’t care. Even when there was a thunderstorm he found some bullshit work to keep us busy in the workshop. All that was all right though. I’d had asshole bosses before and he probably wasn’t even the worst. There was only one thing I couldn’t handle and that’s what got me here.

One hot, humid day in July I was mowing the lawn around the pool at some rich family’s house across town from where I lived. It was me and some of the Spanish guys. The family’s teenage daughter and a few of her friends were sunbathing and swimming, enjoying their summer vacation while we worked. The boss stopped by to give us some shit about the work we were doing – pointing out spots we missed, telling us we were wasting gas leaving the mower idling. Because I was the only one who spoke any English, I had to take almost all of it. That was fine, I was used to it. But when he was leaving to give the same shit to one of the other teams across town, I saw his hairy sunburned hand grab the ass of one of the girls who was hanging out around the pool.

Obviously I’m no hero or nothing like that, hell me and the Spanish guys gave each other a few bilingual nods and winks when they walked out in their tiny bikinis, but seeing that lazy motherfucker do that really pissed me off. They couldn’t have been more than sixteen. The worst part was how casual he was about it, like this was something he did all the time. He just took a handful of cheek and wrinkled bikini, turned around, grinned and walked right down the stone walkway to hop in his big red truck that still had the engine on. She didn’t say nothing. None of her friends saw either. She turned in my direction, but I looked down and went back to work. If she thought no one saw nothing, I decided I wouldn’t say nothing either. I acted like a goddam coward really.

I let that stew in my head the rest of that day and most the next. I was still thinking about it when he stopped by to do another of his visits a few days later at a different place across town. That afternoon was even hotter than the one before. By the time he made the jump out of his truck to the pavement I was standing right in front of him. He didn’t even have time to give me or the other guys any of his boss shit before I slugged him on the side of his head. Knocked him right to the ground. Called him an asshole and just walked off. I could hear the Spanish guys laughing and him shouting at me, still with his ass on the driveway. He said I was fired and that he’d call the cops. But I didn’t give a damn. I wonder if he even knew why I did it.

I don’t know if he ended up calling the cops, but that night they did show up at my favorite bar where I was drinking away the last of the money that fucker paid me. No reason to go through it all again, God knows I’ve done that enough and like I said I don’t remember much, but it turned out he died a few hours after I slugged him. They said something burst in his brain, I never really got it. When they took me in that was the first time of many I tried to tell them I didn’t want to kill him. They didn’t care and no one ever did. I suppose it didn’t matter much to them what I wanted. I guess it doesn’t matter for me now anyway.

*

A few weeks ago I decided to try the Bible one last time. The chaplain put seven copies in the cart. My mom had been into all that stuff when I was younger, so I thought I’d heard it all before. Like I said, most of it was bullshit: floods, burning bushes, water to wine, but I didn’t really care about that stuff. I read about Job and started to imagine that I was like him. But I knew that was bullshit too. Everything that had happened to me, even being on death row for a crime I didn’t commit was my own goddamn fault. I think the weight of all that other shit sort of earned me my spot here.

It wasn’t until I got to the parts about Jesus that I started thinking. That guy mostly had it figured out, or he was at least part of the way there. He walked the walk. I mean I don’t think him dying actually did nothing, but he probably thought so. That must count for something. I just don’t like how he had his followers go and tell everyone about everything he did, all that “come all ye faithful” and “go tell it on the mountain” stuff. It’s great to die for everyone’s sins, but do you really need to let everyone know? Aren’t the sins forgiven either way? I feel like the guilt of knowing someone did that for you takes away any of the good the dying did. I’ll take my sins, but not any of that damn guilt.

I guessed the old guard only kept asking for a will because it was a formality that the state made him go through, something they needed to check off in a file somewhere. That was one thing I could do for him – help with his paperwork. The young guards probably remembered what happened last time. So it took forever for me to get a pencil. When I did the words came easy enough, even easier than before when I was mad. Except this time I wasn’t pushing down so hard and my writing was halfway decent. I wasn’t looking for revenge or redemption or whatever the hell a man dying usually wants. This time it was about what other people wanted. I wrote that I killed the guy and I was getting what I deserved. I wasn’t being sarcastic or nothing. I said it just how they – the family, the friends, the aggrieved (like I’d heard the prosecutor call them a few times) – wanted to hear. I wrote how I knew now that this was the end I deserved, that everything I said before was a lie and the sad pathetic sack of shit I am wanted to do one last good thing before it was all over. I wrote that being alone on death row got me scared and made me see the error of my ways.

I felt like I was giving those fucking genes the finger. I wasn’t gasping for air. I was going down easy, the opposite of what they wanted. I don’t know if those things will make me start sweating and crying and begging when they’re strapping me down, but they couldn’t stop how easy these words came out. I even tried writing in the cursive I learned in grade school before I realized I’d forgotten at least half the letters. But that will was easy enough to read and I hope anyone that wanted to take a look would.

I decided I would have a last meal too. I think writing that will make me feel a little generous. As the day got closer, I could see the old guard getting more nervous while I stayed calm. Probably should have been the other way around. So one time, when he came to ask for the hundredth time what I wanted for my meal, I just gave up. At this point, I thought if I kept saying I didn’t want nothing he would go before I did. I only had one demand, he needed to say what he wanted and we would eat it together. Maybe I was being a bit of an asshole. Who was I to make any demands? I don’t know. He seemed relieved though. Especially when he told me what he wanted me to order – catfish. Said it was his favorite, but his wife never made it for him – the whiskers freaked her out. My mom made it when I was younger and I hated it too, but I’ll eat it until it hurts. I can imagine that gross fish staring back at me. Makes me think about holding the hand of that redheaded girl when I was eight and my balls hadn’t dropped. I think that’s the closest I’ll get to that again – stuffing my face with some awful fish and not saying nothing.

Devan Hawkins is a freelance writer from Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in In Shades magazine and his writing about travel, books, and politics has appeared in a number of places including The Islamic Monthly, CounterPunch, and Matador Network. Outside of writing, Devan works in and teaches about public health.

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