Marcel Wayde still calls it ‘the accusation’ even though today he dies for what he did.
“Most of my life I’ve been suffocated by my own ego, pride and doubt. Suppose I always had this coming… the accusation and all,” he says.
Marcel’s hand trembles as he smokes a cigarette. Lucky Strike. Filterless. Maybe his last.
Officer Frank Jeffries intently leans his head against the bars as if trying to draw nearer to Marcel.
“Left me with a sense of helplessness. Felt like death all along,” Marcel says.
Cigarette smoke creeps over calloused knuckles. Trudges through the still prison air towards Frank’s nose.
“All the music you could choose and it’s this. Alternative rock. The eccentric Marcel,” says Frank.
Marcel takes another labored drag. He forces a casual chuckle that rolls into a distinctly dramatic cough.
“The nineties Frank. The era of teen angst. Captures the suffering. The blind pain. It bottles all of it. You don’t just listen, my man. You drink it,” Marcel says.
Frank has heard Marcel’s monologues about everything. He squeezes his eyelids shut. Grabs the worn metal bars until his knuckles turn white.
Frank doesn’t want to witness Marcel go. The accused and convicted teddy bear of a man that he has had the honor of knowing for a decade.
Frank is the one responsible for pressing the button. The one to end Marcel’s life.
“Just listen to this one, Frank,” Marcel says. He points the cigarette hand towards the radio. “Turn it up. Let’s see what we got.”
Frank acts like an apprentice assisting his dearest role model. He rotates the knob gently.
Marcel’s eyes are capital O wide. The last day he’ll see in this life. He studies the same concrete canvas he’s been observing every day since the gavel dropped. He knows every crevice. Every folded crease of the splatter painted brick.
Marcel acknowledges the song and sings along with a scratchy voice.
“How come I end up where I started? How come I end up where I belong? Won’t take my eyes off the ball again. You reel me out then you cut the string. You used to be alright. What happened? Did the cat get your tongue? Did your string come undone? One by one. One by one, it comes to us all.”
Marcel pauses. Absorbs the words in the belly of his ears. A remedy or medication for his nerves. A drink. His eyes fog like a steamy mirror on a pale bathroom wall.
Anticipating the need, Frank pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket. Hands it to Marcel.
“You okay there, friend?” Frank asks.
Marcel lies like a statue then comes to life. A tear falls from his cheek unattended.
“You hear that last line, Frank?”
Marcel exhales and lets the lump in his throat pass like a kidney stone. Pain washes over him in a cold wave but he sings to forget its presence.
“Soft as a pillow. You used to be alright. What happened? Etcetera, etcetera. Facts for whatever. Fifteen steps. Then a shear drop.”
Frank is weak in the knees. Covering his own pain. He shuffles to a plastic chair that he always thought belonged in a trailer park lawn. Gravity pulls him to his rear.
“I don’t get it,” Frank says like a child asking a teacher to explain more. “What does it mean?”
Marcel hands the nearly spent cigarette butt to Frank as if it were a sacred offering.
Frank’s eyes are as innocent as his intentions. A need to truly know this man.
“Do you want another one?” Frank asks.
Marcel nods and takes another. He knows this will be his last.
He forces another tear to drain from a weary duct.
Frank delicately pulls the wrinkly pack from his chest pocket. The side opposite the one labelled Jeffries.
A zippo is given to light the friendly flame.
Marcel smirks as if his sincere explanation is to be presented as a sarcastic joke. It’s more of a foreboding premonition.
He exhales with an audible “puuuuhhh.”
“There was a time in history when a condemned criminal faced death by taking fifteen steps to be hanged. The gallows, as a form of capital punishment, have since been replaced by lethal injection,” Marcel says. “The fifteen steps up to the gallows are like any common staircase, ya know. But the funny thing is, just like the needle, it’s the sheer drop at step fifteen that brings absolute finality.”
The monologue renders Frank speechless. He examines his scuffed boots and silently admonishes himself for not having them freshly polished.
“So… here we are, Frank. Step fifteen,” Marcel says. “And you know what? My greatest hope is that this step is the complete opposite from the condemnation of death I’ve discovered here. Do you understand what I’m saying, Frank? I ain’t facing the drop, Frank. I’m going to keep climbing. Keep… ascending.”
Frank wraps his fingers into one aggressively latched fist of prayer. He loiters around each word. He finds company with every syllable.
It takes courage to divert his gaze from the laces in his boots to the sage on the other side of the bars.
“I. Just. Look. Back,” Frank says.
Frank is brave to speak. His Adam’s apple swells to a golf ball.
He attempts to disguise the grief with a stoic facade but fails to hide.
Frank’s eyes are submerged in waters of sorrow and loss.
Perhaps from empathy.
Blocking a breakdown, he stammers intimate honesty.
“Marcel, when I look back at my life, there are too many times that I’ve fallen and have wished to be in the place you are now. Like, even with a family, a wife and three children, I’d want to end it with the pull of my issued sidearm trigger. The darkness and depression has gotten so bad at times that I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out,” Frank says.
Marcel’s deep murky eyes penetrate Frank’s glossy gaze. He longs to have his friend continue sharing. He sits up in his cot to maintain an inviting posture.
“Khu-khum,” Frank repeats. Another subtle cough. The concrete behind a dam caging endless waters.
“Marcel, how do you maintain that God is not absent when we are broken? What is it, Marcel? How’d you endure the accusation like this?” Frank asks with desperation in his wavering voice.
Frank’s lips purse.
Another sign that the dam of the waters may soon break.
Marcel accepts Frank’s admissions with a stare that hungers to hear more.
Frank obliges without further pause.
“Working here makes me wonder why I’ve gone so much of my life just accepting far more than I’d ever honestly admit,” Frank manages to say. “I’ve seen more death here than I have life. Marcel, why are you here? Why!? I don’t want to see you go. I can’t see you go!”
Marcel dabs the cigarette with his foot to extinguish the dying flare and reaches through the bars to hold Frank’s hands. He allows his own dam to break.
Marcel nakedly lets the tears fall.
“Frank,” he says with an underlying exclamation point that begs audience. “Thank you for the honor of being my friend. You’re a good man, and you’re the only one that ever made me feel like I was not on the inside biting my time, waiting for an expiration date.”
Marcel digs into Franks soul with his stare. The gaze is strained. Almost bloodshot.
“Can you forgive me, Frank?”
The restraint of Frank’s own tears release like a floodgate of woes.
“For. For. For what?” Frank asks like a priest hungering for knowledge of God’s Will.
A moment of pause holds only their beating hearts. An emotional storm breaks with a squall of uncensored honesty.
Marcel’s final monologue.
“The accusation. It’s the truth, Frank. And, without God… without hope, there is no cure for any of the injuries I may have issued or endured. I’m ready to be healed from this wound. My suffering has overshadowed every day God has worked to heal me. The. The. The accusation is the truth. I tell you this now because I don’t want you to ever feel like what you are doing has not made a difference,” Marcel cries.
The gale of tears forces him to sit completely naked and vulnerable before the one man he has regarded as friend among the prison staff.
Marcel gasps for air. He closes his eyes and the preview of death forces him to shift uncomfortably.
For a minute that lasts an eternity they cry together. Their souls both proceed with trepidation and guilt. Regrets of a life never lived to its full potential.
“Frank, I don’t fear the drop anymore. It’s merely the climax of God’s beautifully orchestrated symphony. Every man dies, Frank. Seldom actually choose to live. You helped me see that.”
Frank hangs his chin as if Marcel just embarrassed him.
“It’s okay, Marcel. It’s okay. I understand. I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”