185 Seconds
by Carole Bellacera

May 18, 1992, 6:00 P.M.

Chad

Chad couldn’t decide what to order. There were so many foods he liked. At first he’d thought about going with fried chicken, but then, it wouldn’t be his mother’s, would it? Instead, he’d opted for a peperoni pizza, a thin one, New York style, with lots of drippy cheese and tangy sauce.

He was thirty-three years old. How many peperoni pizzas had he put away in all that time? Hard to believe this one would be his last.

So, that was what it was going to be. A peperoni pizza and a giant-sized Big Gulp from Seven-Eleven. And for dessert? A bag of chocolate-covered peanuts.

Not some off-the-wall brand, but Brach’s.

After all, the state was paying for it. A vision of Christ and the Last Supper flashed through his mind. He looked at the clock on the gray wall of the holding cell.

Five hours to live.

Leslie and Russell

“They’re gonna kill that Chad Donovan tonight,” Russell said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. “Eleven o’clock. Gonna zap him in the electric chair.”

With a trembling arthritic hand, Leslie lifted a cup of coffee to her lips and took a slurping sip. “Now, which ones did he kill? The people in the fast food restaurant?”

“Naw, this is the one who burst into that office building and took out three or four people. Electric chair is too good for him, I say. They should put him in a room with the families of the victims and let them have at it.”

“Russ, don’t get yourself in a tizzy. You know what it does to your blood pressure.”

The gray-haired man rolled up the newspaper and tossed it to the floor. “You’re right. He ain’t worth it. Pass the salt, Mama.”

“Dear, you know salt isn’t good for you.”

But she passed it anyway.

Heather

The microwave bell dinged just as Heather finished setting the table.

“Steve! Can you get Brad in his highchair? Dinner’s ready!”

She was like a ballet dancer as she whirled through the kitchen, pouring the fruit juice, arranging the salad on the table, grabbing the Lean Cuisine dinners from the microwave.

The under-the-counter TV was the accompaniment to her Dance of the Dinner Preparation. “Barring any last-minute stays from the governor, convicted murderer Chad Donovan will be executed tonight at eleven o’clock. Donovan has been on death row for the last seven years….

Steve entered the dining room with two-year-old Brad on his hip. “I can’t believe you’re going to the health club tonight. Three years ago, you would’ve been down at the prison with the other protesters.”

Heather grabbed the salad dressing bottles from the refrigerator, closing the door with her foot. “Three years ago I had a different life. I don’t have time to get involved in causes these days. Even if I do believe in them. I still think capital punishment is barbaric, but a bunch of candle-holding hymn-singing activists isn’t going to change anything. So why waste my time?”

She snapped off the TV. The dance had ended.

Sammy

“Eat your broccoli, Sammy.”

The four-year-old boy’s lower lip trembled. His stomach muscles tightened. He knew what was coming. But he just couldn’t eat that green stuff. It made him feel sick.

“Did you hear me, boy? Eat.tm

He looked up at his father. “I don’t like it, Daddy. It tastes funny.”

His mother pushed back from the table. “How about if I heat up some peas for you? You like, peas, don’t you, hon?”

“Sit down, Rachel. The boy has to learn to eat what’s on his plate.”

Sammy felt his father’s hard eyes eating into him. For a horrible moment, he thought he was going to throw up. That would be the worst thing to do. Daddy would think he’d done it on purpose.

“You will eat every bite of that broccoli on your plate… if you know what’s good for you, pal.”

Sammy stared down at his plate and willed it to disappear. But he knew it wouldn’t. Nothing ever disappeared. Not even when the hitting started.
May 18, 9:00 P.M.

Chad

There was nothing to do now but wait. He’d asked for and received a television to pass the last few hours until the scheduled time of his execution. “Murphy Brown” came on and he got caught up in it. Even laughed a couple of times. But at nine-thirty he felt a coldness settle inside him. It was a two-parter. He wouldn’t be around to see the second episode next week. A news brief flashed on the screen. He saw his face looking back at him. “Details at eleven,” the pretty anchorwoman said.

A flicker of fear ate through him.

The day before he’d read a newspaper article about his upcoming execution; 185 seconds, it said. That’s how long it would take to kill him. First 1,825 volts of electricity at 7.5 amps for 30 seconds, followed by 24 volts at 1.5 amps for 60 seconds. A five-second pause would be followed by a repeat of the 90-second cycle … just to make sure he was dead.

Leslee and Russell

They were watching a movie on HBO, a violent saga starring Mickey Rourke as a desperate man holding a family hostage. Russell winced with every foul word that came out of the actors’ mouths. When a nude scene came on, Leslie stood up.

“Want some ice cream, hon?”

“Yeah,” Russell grunted. “Some of that Tin Roof Sundae.”

When Leslie returned with two bowls of ice cream, the nude scene was over.

Heather

Sweat beaded and rolled down Heather’s lithe body as she jogged along with the rhythm of a Paula Abdul song. She smiled as her muscles came alive. This was her reward after a long day at the office. Twice a week she treated herself to a couple of hours at the health club. Not only did it keep her body in shape, it had one added benefit.

It made her horny.

Steve loved Monday and Wednesday nights.

Sammy

Sammy lay on his stomach in his bunk bed and tried to go to sleep. His buttocks and thighs stung where the belt had struck him. He smiled grimly into his pillow. His father had lost the battle. The broccoli had been tossed down the garbage disposal.

His stomach growled. Not only had the broccoli been thrown away, so had the fried chicken. He liked fried chicken, but he hadn’t been permitted to eat any until the broccoli was gone.

The door to the bedroom opened. It was his mother. She walked across the room quietly. Sammy knew it was because she didn’t want his father to know.

“I brought you a piece of chocolate cake and some milk,” she whispered. “Eat it quickly.”

He did.

May 18, 11:00 P.M.

Leslie and Russell

The movie had gone off at ten o’clock. They’d turned the channel to the Ten O’Clock News where they watched a clip about Chad Donovan and his last hours on death row.

Leslie sighed. “Can you imagine? With all the tasty foods in the world, he orders peperoni pizza and chocolate.covered peanuts for his last meal. Probably never had a lick of home cooking in his life, poor man.”

“Good riddance, I say,” Russell snorted. “The world’s a better place without him.” The news moved on to Washington where a group lobbied for a handgun bill. “Look at those stupid do-gooders,” he went on. “Now they want to take away our right to defend ourselves in our own homes!”

Leslie squeezed his arm affectionately. “Oh, hon… you know the N.R.A. won’t let them get away with that.”

“‘You’re right, Mama. Thank the good Lerd we’ve got somebody watching out for us ordinary citizens.” He put an arm around his wife. “Let’s go to bed, Pretty Lady. Tomorrow’s another day.”

Heather

Brad cried out once while Heather and Steve were making love. They tensed and waited a moment. Silence. They continued in what they were doing.

Sammy

The door to his bedroom burst open.

“‘What the hell are you whispering about?”

The light came on. Sammy cowered in the corner of the bed, staring up at his father’s furious face.

“Oh, Jesus Christ! You’ve wet the bed again, haven’t you? What am I going to have to do to break you of this nasty habit?”

Sammy shrank back as his father approached. There was no escape. His cruel grip fastened upon the boy’s skinny arms. Trembling, Sammy stared up into his cold eyes. It would begin now. As always, he prayed for his mother to rescue him, but he knew it wouldn’t happen.

The only thing he could do was disappear into himself, all the time wishing it was his father who would disappear… forever.

Chad

They’d shaved his head and right calf. Chad felt as if he’d already been electrocuted as they strapped him into the chair and covered his face with a restraining belt with holes cut out for his nose. Why? For breathing? But they wanted him to stop breathing! An electrode was placed onto his shaved calf. He was numb. On the other side of a window, the press was seated in three rows of benches. They were waiting to witness the execution. The clock on the wall, the one that would record the moment of his death, read ten-fifty-eight.

The metal helmet, lined with a brine-soaked sponge, was placed onto his head and buckled beneath his chin. It bit into his skin. He grimaced. For a moment, panic washed over him. He didn’t like pain. And in a matter of seconds, a massive jolt of electricity would kill him. A sudden memory flashed in his mind. A hot summer day in 1971. He, a sturdy twelve-year-old, washing the family car. His favorite song, “Maggie May,” had come on the radio he’d plugged into the outlet just inside the garage. Bare-footed and standing in a puddle of water, he’d thoughtlessly reached for the volume diai and received a jolting shock that vibrated through his fingers and down to his toes for a good two seconds. For days afterwards his arm had been numb.

That had been a little shock. Now… in a matter of moments … he would experience the big one. He thought back to the day that had brought him here. It was the receptionist’s fault. If she’d only put him through to her boss. Ross Jackson was an old friend. He would’ve found a place for him at the firm. But the receptionist refused to put him on the phone. How many times had he called only to be told Ross was out or on another line or in a meeting. Always after he’d told her his name, of course. It was obvious she’d been screening Jackson’s calls… and his had been one that wasn’t allowed through. It took him a while to realize Ross had been refusing his calls. But they’d both paid for their arrogance, hadn’t they? The others had just got in the way.

It was time. Chad waited for the ring of the red phone on the wall. That was the line where the call would come in—-the one that would stay the execution. It would happen, wouldn’t it? It always did in the movies. The clock’s hand was straight up—eleven o’clock.

The executioner walked to the control panel, his eyes studiously avoiding Chad’s. Panic overcame Chad. The stay wasn’t going to happen. They were going to kill him. He bucked at the restraints, but of course he couldn’t move. There was no escape, no reprieve. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing this to be a horrible nightmare, all of it, the beatings he’d taken from his father, the aimless wandering from job to job, the failure of every relationship he’d attempted, the petty thefts, the drunken brawls, the murders, the years on death row, and now… this. His entire life had been one long nightmare.

Nothing was happening. His eyes opened as a tiny peephole of hope entered his brain. Then he heard the low hum. His body stiffened. He tried to look out at his audience, to tell them, “Hey, you see what they’re doing to me? Can’t you stop it? They’re killing me, They’re really doing it.”

“This is it…’, screamed his brain in its final moments.

Leslie and Russell had another day. Heather went to work at the office. Sammy nursed his wounds of the night before. Twelve years later the four of them would meet in a shopping mall.

Sammy would have a gun.
_________________________________________________

“185 Seconds” won WbtR member Carole Bellacera the 1st place Prose Award in Columbia Pacific University’s CPU Review in 1993.  

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