“Please. May I have one more minute with my sister?” The guard hesitates but when I turn the full force of my tear filled blue eyes upon him, he relents.
“Make it quick though. The warden does not like to wait.”
My identical twin sister, Becca, sits in an orange prison jumpsuit on a hard metal cot. I look into her eyes, a mirror of my own, now dimmed and hazy from the injection the prison doctors prescribed to keep her calm. I guess I would be pretty worked up too if I was minutes from execution. I sit next to her and reach for her hand. Because of the handcuffs, both of her hands rest in mine and I cover them with my other hand. I allow my tears to flow freely. I really do feel something—not sorrow or regret—maybe empathy. She has a lot to lose.
Pulling her closer, I lean in and whisper in her ear. “Want to know a secret? I know you did not murder your husband. Want to know how I know? Because I did.”
My sister jerks away from me. For a moment, she is speechless. Until this very moment I have been the supportive loving sister—always there to lean on, dependable, reliable, self-sacrificing, fighting for her until the bitter end. I watch as she processes this new information. I relish her shocked disbelief. Eventually, her glance flies to the guard and she begins to shout. “Did you hear her? She did it. She killed my husband. She just said so. Let me see my lawyer! I am innocent!”
Turning my tear streaked face to the guard, I bite my lip as if to hold back the tears. Finally, amid my broken sobs, I ask, “Can't you give her something? I cannot bear to see her like this.”
“The doctors will probably sedate her a little more before the execution but she has to be able to walk. The state says that she has to be awake and aware of her surroundings until the last minute. Seems kinda cruel to me, but…”
The guard is interrupted by a crackle from his radio. Lifting it, he responds, “Yes sir. We are on our way.”
“But didn’t you hear me? I want to see my lawyer. I am innocent! Please, let me see my lawyer.” My sister attempts to stand but the shackles around her ankles keep her from moving more than a few steps from the cot. I stand and step just out of her reach.
“Look,” begins the guard addressing my sister, “if you don’t calm down I will have to put the hood over your head. I don’t wan’t to do that. You don’t want this cell to be the last thing you see, do you?”
My twin collapses back onto her hard prison cot sobbing. “You have exhausted your appeals. You are sentenced to die today and there’s nothing you can do to stop that.”
I look to the guard again and generously offer, “Maybe I could talk to—“
“No ma’am,” he insists brusquely. Lightening a little, he adds, “There is just nothing left to do. It would be cruel to give her any hope.”
“Damn you Jessie! Damn you to hell!” My sister’s eyes have sharpened with anger. “You were always jealous. You always wanted everything that was mine.”
I feel the guard place his hand on the small of my back. “I think it’s time for you to go.” I can hear her screaming vitriol at my departing back as the guard escorts me to the first of the series of locked gates. At the gate, he turns me over to a second guard that guides me to the viewing room.
Deciding to view the execution was a hard call. I have popular sympathy and do not want to risk it by seeming ghoulish, but part of me needs to see it. The viewing room is not what I expect at all. In my imagination, I saw rows of seats in darkened room beneath a heavily curtained glass window. The curtain, I thought, would be drawn back dramatically to reveal the guilty party. The act of execution would be completed as a mime behind soundproof glass. Instead, the guard led me outside along a brick walkway lined with red geraniums to a industrial looking trailer. When I look at him quizzically, he replies that the trailer is only temporary. I almost laugh when he says, “I guess they are redecorating or something.” I cannot imagine that anyone attending an execution would care about the color of the carpet.
The trailer contains three rooms stacked shotgun style one behind the other. The first room is the viewing room. Two sets of four of metal folding chairs stand centered on a riser in front of a hospital room style curtain. A dozen more chairs lean against the hard, plastic beige walls. I feel the building shutter as the air conditioning compressor attempts to keep up with the sweltering heat outside.
“You can wait here, ma’am. The others will be along shortly. There’s coffee over there, but between me and you, I wouldn’t touch it.”
I attempt a wan smile and place my hand on his forearm. “Thank you so much. You have all been so kind.”
Embarrassed by the intimacy of my gesture, the young deputy blushes and looks at his shoes. “Well, uhm, if there’s anything else I can do…”
I sit on the cold metal chair and fold my hands demurely in my lap. “No thank you, officer.”
“Deputy,” he corrects.
“Deputy. I am a deputy, not an officer,” he adds sheepishly.
“Oh, of course. Thank you, deputy.” I emphasize the last word.
When he finally closes the door behind him, I move immediately to the curtained area. Glancing quickly behind me, I slip between the curtains to stand before a nondescript hospital gurney. It looks like any other hospital bed until I notice the shackles at the sides and foot of the bed. I run my fingers along the lambs wool lining of the wrist constraints. “Well that’s nice,” I think. It must be much more comfortable than the cold metal bracelets inmates normally wear.
When I hear a door open in the third room on the far side of the curtained room, I quickly slip back to my folding metal chair. I allow my face to settle back into the façade of grief just as the warden pushes his way through the sets of curtains to join me.
He adjusts his chair so that it is slanted slightly towards me. I’ve read somewhere that this means he is being protective.
“I think we are ready to begin. Are you still sure you want to do this? You know you can still back out.”
I pretend to hesitate and then, as if girding myself, I sit up straight and reply, “No sir. I want to be here for my sister. I do not want her to die alone.”
Resignedly he mutters, “Okay, then.”
The young deputy peeks from the curtained room with a questioning look. The warden gives him a nod and he slides the curtains open. A minister stands near my sister’s head and prays quietly. When he concludes his prayer, he turns to her and asks, Rebecca Parker, you have been sentenced to die by lethal injection today. Do you have any last words?”
My sister lies on the gurney strapped and shackles as if they expect this one-hundred-ten-pound woman to fight them all off and escape. I can hear Becca mumble my name but before she can say more, I call out to her. “It’s okay Becca, I’m here. I will not leave you.”
She surrenders when the priest announces, “May God have mercy upon your soul.”
The warden provides a running commentary. “Before the inmate—“
I interrupt, “My sister.”
He grimaces slightly but continues. “Before… your sister was given the sedative midazolam, the first of the lethal injection cocktail, the prison doctor performed a thorough physical examination. She has a clean bill of health. She was given the opportunity to speak privately to the clergy of her choice, but she refused. She had her last meal -meatloaf and mashed potatoes.”
I sit in silence as he continues.
“The midazolam will relax her and keep her calm. We find that executions are much more peaceful if the inmate— your sister—does not resist.”
The medical staff flutter around the gurney as if their efforts will save the patient. Monitors are secured on her chest and ankles and the heart monitor begins its monotonous bleeping. The nurse gently swabs the inside of my sister’s elbow with alcohol and expertly inserted an intravenous line into her pale arm.
“First, they will give her saline to make sure the IV line is good and that she is well hydrated.”
I consider commenting upon the irony of assuring that she is healthy enough to be executed but decided against it.
“Now, the doctor is injecting the remaining two chemicals into her intravenous line. Pancuronium bromide will paralyze her muscles and cause respiratory arrest and then the potassium bromide will stop her heart.”
While I stare mutely down at my sister, he continues. “I’ve been told that it is relatively painless.”
I turn to glare at him incredulously. Under my intense gaze, he shrugs. “We are not monsters. The courts have declared that she must die but they did not mandate that she must suffer.”
I nod. “Yes, of course. Don’t misunderstand. I am grateful for your compassion. I am just a little… overwhelmed, I guess.”
“Certainly. Understandable. We are all in awe of your strength. Not everyone could so this. You are an angel to be here for your sister. Too many people die alone here.”
“Becca and I have always been close, you know, being twins. We’ve always been there for each other.”
“It shouldn’t be more than a few more minutes.”
We sit in silence watching my sister's breathing slow and then stop. The heart monitor issues its final mournful bleep. The warden crosses himself and announces, “and now your sister’s soul is at rest.”
I sit on a barstool sipping a Jack and Coke in the Holiday Inn Lounge. I have a room for the night but I am not ready to be alone. The box containing my sister's final possessions sits in front of me on the bar. I haven't opened it yet. I am not sure why. It is sealed like a macabre Christmas gift. I run my fingernail along the taped seams.
“What's in the box?” The man on the next barstool asked.
I study him for a moment before answering. “My sister’s final possessions. She…died today.”
“Oh my god. How awful. I feel like such a jerk. Here I am trying to hit on you, and you are mourning the loss of your sister.”
Shaking my head, I apologize. “Don’t worry about it. We were not that close. I haven’t seen her in years. It was just a horrible accident. She was killed by a hit and run driver.”
I take a long swig of my drink and ask, “So… were you really trying to hit on me?”
“A guy can always try.” He confesses.
“Swing for the fences then,” I dare him.
“Whoa. How about we start with an introduction? My name is Harry.”
Smiling I shake Harry's hand and begin, “So nice to meet you Harry. My name is Rebecca, but my friends just call me Becca.”