by Loretta Martin
“A boy–good job, Mom!”
My doctor’s baritone penetrates the delivery room’s soundscape: sighing vacuum pumps, a chorus of medspeak, beeping monitors, all punctuated by surgical tools slapping hard surfaces and latexed palms. Covered in a cheese-like wetness, his indignant shrieks bouncing off apple-green walls, my son finally is more than an ultrasonic heartbeat.
Those memories dissolve when Kevin enters, his eyes those of someone much older than 40. He slouches as if his loose clothes weigh too much. Missing teeth detract from an uncertain smile when he says, “Hey, Mom. Wow. Nineteen years.”
His voice belongs to a longtime smoker. I don’t mention my creased, yellowed wallet photos of a smiling 12-year-old boy wearing new braces.
After Kevin’s first drug arrest at age 16, I stopped blaming my absentmindedness for cash and small items that mysteriously disappeared from our home. He had a MENSA-grade IQ yet barely finished high school. Between sporadic low-paying labor jobs he disappeared for weeks, returning hungry, unkempt, refusing to answer questions. After his 21st birthday I threw Kevin out, changed locks, and grieved when I learned he left town.
Fluorescent lighting gives the plastic table and two chairs—the only furniture in the windowless room—a defeated look. At first we’re like adolescents on a first date until, with surprising pressure, Kevin locks a calloused hand around mine. His letter discouraged trying to fill a 19-year void, so we alternate between saying nothing and sharing random memories: the puppy he demanded then forgot to feed; stick-shift driving lessons; summer camps; calls from school to pick up a sick child. He admits faking illnesses for what he called Mom’s miracle cure: TV cartoons, soup and crackers in bed. When our time’s up, my arthritic hand aches. An embrace is too risky.
Some institutions use one-way mirrors so the condemned can’t see witnesses. Others have closed-circuit TVs in remote observation rooms. True to our briefing, a wall with a picture window divides this area into witness room and soundproof execution chamber. Kevin lies strapped to a gurney, his head turned toward me, an IV in each arm. The warden stands by him facing an out-of-view alcove where, I read, a “death team” waits.
Nine of us have been escorted to a row of seats separated by an aisle. Three guards are present, talk is prohibited. The parents of Kevin’s murdered girlfriend, four state officials, and two reporters sit on one side. I sit across the aisle, noticing the chipped, vomit-green wall paint. A wall clock ticks loudly in the heavy silence.
When the warden extends a microphone offering him the chance for a statement, Kevin shakes his head no, still looking toward me. Did I imagine he mouthed “I’m sorry, Mom. I love you”?
Exactly one minute later the warden nods, authorizing the first of three injections. A mega dose of Pentothal is an anesthetic. Pavulon, intended to paralyze his lungs, follows. Potassium chloride causes my son’s heartbeat to wind down.
Loretta Martin lives near Chicago with her artist husband Phil. She has published lifestyle articles in print and online. This is her first published work of fiction.