Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Reckoning

[Media prompt] Nebraska Dem official ousted for saying he’s wished Rep. Scalise dead.
The Reckoning

Through a small window, Jeremy Butler could see the eastern sky turning orange, the sun still below the far hills, but now close enough to daybreak for the distinction between night and day to be impractical. This was the time they always came. It was not a topic polite people mentioned in conversation, but it was something he knew now. He sat, waiting, looking at the cuffs on his wrists as if he had just discovered them.

Waiting was the worst of it. Along with the nights. When light filled his cell, after they took someone else, he had the whole day in front of him. For a reason he did not understand, the light brought hope. There was a possibility of a future. Perhaps things were not as bad as they seemed. The warden may drop by, apologise for the mistake, and escort him through the front gate himself so he could wave him off in a taxi.

But at night, when the guards shut the door at the end of the hall, it was as though they shut off hope. Nobody entered the area except the night guard, and only to check the cells. He never uttered a word, though he sometimes clanged his night stick on the metal bars. And then in the hours before dawn, he imagined somewhere around three o’clock, hopelessness spread through his body like a fever. It weighed him down, making him half-crazed with panic and rage.

Yesterday morning, his world evaporated for a moment when they stopped at his door. His hands trembled. His legs, normally strong, had barely the strength to push his chair back from the table. Instead, they took Martin Petty from the cell opposite. As the sounds of his removal faded away, Jeremy looked up at the pale ceiling and prayed. He had known Martin, a long time ago in another life, a professor of English literature accused of interpreting Shakespeare in a positive light.

Butler’s cell was bathed in soft light, the sun’s mushroom head poking from beneath the horizon. He heard the main door slide open. He heard the steps, in unison, of the four guards. They marched quickly. Never a word between them. The chances of them halting outside his door for the second day in a row were infinitesimal. The orange sun oozed over the hills like a hot dessert. The sort his mother used to make, before the Reckoning brought a stop to un-American activities.

He held his breath. The steady beat of their boots on the floor rang louder in his ears with each step that brought them closer. A calmness settled over him. His fear vanished, replaced with a resolve to go quietly and with dignity. He knew before it happened that they would stop at his door. His legs felt strong again, and he stood. When they unlocked his cell door, he was waiting for them, standing straight and smiling. The men who wished him dead would themselves one day stand facing God. He prayed they would be so lucky.

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