At the trial, a circus of wooden, scraping ill-fitting chairs, and the jury making jokes together. It only took them three minutes to decide, coming out laughing and wiping tears from their greedy eyes. He knew it was three minutes, he had counted each ten seconds with a slow, heavy breath. Twenty-two. Twenty-two years old and he had been found guilty of something.
He turned to see his mother weeping upon the side of his grey stepfather, who remained rigidly upright, still, silent and pot bellied. His father sat alone across the other side of the hall, gave him a sly wink when their eyes had rested together. He winked back and then looked at his lawyer. The lawyer had seemed much older at the beginning of the four month trial, now he looked to be the same age. His bald head and baby-face shave focused into a look of direct sympathy.
"I am sorry, truly I am". Three months in, the family had found out the lawyer had once been convicted himself, of something similar. When he had questioned his lawyer about his history, the spectacles had given an ill smile and nodded; "So don't you see? I understand what you are going through," and he had walked away confidently, after patting the twenty-two year old boy on his bony shoulder. Patted four times mechanically.
The judge whacked his oversized hammer with a Bang; the boy looked up. The Death Penalty, three weeks to go. Maybe a little shorter, dependent on the overcrowding issue. The judge had said this last little bit with a Godly grin, though the teeth were those of a hungry wolf, ready to tear that last bit of hope to shreds. No appeal. Another four pats on the shoulder from that lawyer who had somehow managed to get out. Now a striped darkened room and no one around.
Two inmates came round weekly with books and magazines, a pair of viscous twins. The boy had heard from these two that the governor had suggested they each dye their hair, had told them it was "Easier to distinguish, in respect of bonuses, good behaviour, punishment, etc." Apparently he had splurted this at them good naturedly, as a half-devoured chicken lay strewn across his full, bloated desk. It had not occurred to the Governor that only one of the twins need dye his hair. Johnny and Jimmy, red and green respectively. Both in for murder.
Johnny and Jimmy entered the boy's cell a week before the End. Their feet shuffled slowly, with a kind of dignity reserved for familiar shadows who were soon to die. They both looked quite excited and Jimmy (green and thin and pale) clutched a cut-out magazine article and a rolled up sheet of paper as they looked at the boy.
Laid down quiet, staring at the dirty ceiling with a dirty cigarette in his dirty left hand. For the past two weeks this had been the boy's routine. Lying in that small single bed with endless cigarettes supplied by his mindless absent father. Whenever an inmate or warden (even the Governor himself) attempted conversation, the boy had replied with only one line. Quiet, melancholic, hollow, ready and eerily reassuring:
"It's okay, I do want to die".
The conviction, the genuine calm of tone and his unblinking large blue eyes worried everyone who had come into contact with the boy in these two weeks. General talk in the gym, yard, library, convinced strangers that the boy was crazy, fearless. Of course there were many men who were considered "crazies" within the confines of the prison, this was true. Yet all the others, every single one, were distinguishable as being truly afraid of death, no matter how much they boasted, trivialised with the other inmates. The fear was always evident, that small glimmer of hope, burning white in each pupil upon pupil. Upon pupil.
The boy was different. And this worried everyone. The governor had sent for him one day to discuss his feelings. A psychiatrist stepped into the room to watch, lay hidden upon a dark corner couch, occasionally muttering and scribbling with a flamboyantly feathered fountain pen.
But still, even after a heavy beating from the biggest guard (a guard known as "Bulldog" to family, guards and prisoners alike), the boy's reply would stay and state the same, word for word:
"It's okay, I do want to die".
Calm and passive, nose bleeding and black eyes bulging. Hands still, cracked and open.
Johnny helped Jimmy unroll the large sheet of paper. They held it exactly one foot from the boy's still face, who had lifted his thin swanned neck to see the twin's display. The poster, hovering below the excited tufts of red and green above, depicted a Female Figure. She stood confidently in front of a large silver guillotine, wearing a flowered dress that exposed striking white thigh and heavy leather boots. Black and shining. The boy's face travelled the length of the paper legs, up the heaving paper cleavage to the face. The face was not there. Or rather, it was covered. A huge black mask uncovered two large green eyes. A white golden green that lit up in the artificial lighting of the photograph, shone seductively at the boy's raised eyebrows as he breathed another three minutes of his life away.
In the next week. The last week. The boy's routine had altered. He still lay upon that dirty bed (his dirty bed) with cigarette looking up. Though now, instead of looking at that spot on the ceiling where neither inmates nor guards could see anything peculiar, anything special. No holy apparition, no lonely insect ready to be squished, no hidden numbers for the lottery win (to spend on more cigarettes and trips from the nurse, with head held high, legs higher). Now they understood, when they passed by and looked in to see how the boy was getting on, they understood why he now looked up at that spot upon the dirty ceiling. For now that poster lay heavy and gloriously sexy, facing down toward the boy and his welcoming bed. They didn't know how he had managed to stick it up there, and the response to any questioning was the same as it had been for the previous weeks:
"It's okay, I do want to die".
The boy had read the magazine article as soon as the twins had left. The article centred around the woman from the poster, with a smaller picture of her vacuuming a house, still hooded. "Still Masked and Anonymous" was printed alongside a page of writing detailing as much as the journalist could manage to find out about her. The unknown woman had risen to celebrity status through three important factors; her large breasts (heaving constantly, even in these still photos the boy delicately grasped in wide eyed wonder), her partying glamorous lifestyle, where she would always be photographed by the latest gossip columns linking her to many handsome male stars (sometimes female), flashing parties, drug fuelled dances, golden royalty, abortions etc. In every photo she would always be masked, recognisably anonymous. The third factor was her job, and possibly the reason her black mask hood was never taken off, at least not in the public eye, and not with any "male company" it had been reported. Her job was the Guillotine. Decapitation for all the gaunt-looking fellows stamped with the death penalty. Her job (that of executioner to varying classes) was what had seemed to excel her celebrity further forward, for she seemed to be the only one in the bloody field. No matter how hard the paparazzi would search, they could never find another female executioner.
She had even had photo shoots with leading men's magazines, covered head to pedicured toe in blood after a successful beheading. The beheadings were labelled "successful" whenever the head missed the head-shaped basket (usually gracefully provided by a relation of the victim) and landed within the crowd. Whoever got to it first was able to keep it as a souvenir. The leading authority even provided a nice clean jar, and all the necessary equipment to keep the human face from rotting on the top of the lucky person's mantelpiece.
She was a true celebrity. A heroine and respectable role model to the female masses, a sex icon and an independent, strong, attractive woman to the male drones. The boy felt his heart roar when he would awaken to the sight and site of that guillotine photo, so lifelike above his fatal bed.
He rubbed his handsome clean-shaven chin that night as he looked for the last moonlit night upon the picture. Tomorrow he would meet her. Perhaps they would converse, he wondered, thinking about what kind of intimacy was required, socially expected, between that of executioner and executionee. Was it the same kind of relationship as a boss would have his worker drones believe to have?
He was allowed to choose whatever he wanted for breakfast. He pointed at the large laminated menu the large chef held out to him, obscuring his morning view of the poster. He was also allowed to choose whatever he wished to drink with his breakfast. He went for coffee and a large bottle of whisky, made by some of the home grown inmates of the confinement.
The bluberry pancakes, cooked from scratch, went down brilliantly with the bottle of whisky the boy had generously agreed to share with the twins. He felt comforted they had turned him on to the Guillotineress, and they felt equally rewarded as they supped their fill. Zig-zagging back to their cells for a nap to forget all about decapitations and blood-filled thunderous applause climaxes.
The boy felt quite light headed when the Governor and his troop came to collect him for the big day. He rose unsteadily and walked in between the large shoulders of "The Bulldog" and Henry Fray, a moustachioed guard with a penchant for beating the elderly prisoners too frail to fight back. Or his own dogs, which he swore he loved. In between those shoulders the boy's blue eyes squinted into the light of the afternoon sun as generous clapping and whooping floated up from the pits of the wooden walkway. This walkway led directly to the Silver Guillotine, which the boy could make out through the heat haze as a distant blur, almost half a mile away. The crowd was enormous and the Governor was on his megaphone, sweating and barking: "Gather round, Ladies and Gents. It's what you've all been waiting for, especially, the Guillotineress ... " At the mention of her name, the crowd's viciousness increased and the boy looked longingly down the walkway to try and spot her. He could only see the dim outline of the shining guillotine and so the trio began walking slowly, the Governor trailing behind in an attempt to sell merchandise and get some heavy-bosomed peasant women from the pit in the process.
It took them thirty minutes to arrive and She was nowhere to be seen. There were steep wooden steps leading to the bottom of the guillotine, where the empty hole beckoned the young boy's dreamy warm head.
She was concentrating on her enunciation when she head the crowd calling. She had to sound just right for the masses. Her breasts would have to heave at just the right points of emphasis in order for her to maintain her celebrity status. The yelling turned into a stomping chant:
"Death Death Death Death"
She was hidden in a secret compartment below the platform and dirt fell from the creaking wooden floorboards to the sounds of the many feet. In the full length silver mirror she put the finishing touches to her expensive mascara lashes and donned the hood to become the Guillotineress.
With a sweep of her many times bloodied summer flowery dress, she entered the stage to a mighty synchronised cheer. Hats were thrown, fireworks whizzed and the boy looked up at this poster figure, tears in his eyes.
The boy's eyes were caught in hers as they sidled up her long legs, wrapped in fishnet. The fishnets beckoned, began up the steep steps as the boy was pushed softly forward by the two guards. Trembling, he began to follow the legs; the woman looked dramatically over her shoulder. When their eyes met this second time, the boy felt a surge of love and perhaps she did too.
A loud cheer arose from the crowd as he heard the sound of air being sliced even.
Perhaps he was wrong.
Perhaps he didn't want to die just yet.
-- Alun Evans
Cover illustration by Andrew Thorpe