Closer to the Morning

by Douglas Page ©2013 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I would have written sooner but I've been hiding. I couldn't contact you because you're the first place they would've looked. They could've traced the call back to me. I figured your house was being watched so I couldn't come over. So, I thought I would try writing. I don't think they can trace the mail. I've been laying low, being careful. Waiting. The boys in AA are keeping me in a safe house. I was in prison, but on the night of my execution I escaped. Maybe you read about it.

I don't remember what I did that got me in there. Sometimes it doesn't take much. And I don't remember how long they had me.

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Sometimes it seems like it's been a lifetime. Other times it seems like it all happened so fast, like the next thing I know they're leading me down this grey corridor that was lit too bright for the circumstances. I was freaking at the prospect of dying in a few minutes. It was weird, the thoughts I was having. Like, how much air can you inhale if you know it'll be the last breath you get? I thought of those people who can hold their breath for two or three minutes, like shell divers or the astronaut candidates in The Right Stuff movie, or the free divers who go down something like 100 meters without air bottles. I heard once the record is something like 10 minutes or more without breathing. I found myself thinking that'd come in handy now. Other ideas crossed through my mind. Like what if I could just stop breathing right now, on my own, and save everyone the bother of an execution - just lay down right here and die, if that’s what they wanted. I wondered, if it was possible, if I'd have that much courage. Would a voluntary death give the system the same satisfaction without the dark rituals - the last meal, that last walk, without the last words in the death chamber when they tilt you up like a water-boarder to face the witnesses? Or would the system feel cheated? It's interesting what you find yourself bargaining for when your only two options are dying right now or dying in 30 minutes. The prison people weren't kidding and as much as I wanted

what else can you do? They don't give you any distractions. They force you in the last days to sit alone. like those old boxers with the flattened noses. no nothing. panicked like some wild animal hopelessly caught in a trap.Page 3 of 20 this to be one of those admonitory nightmares so I could wake out of it in time. no books. I paced until my feet bled.what else is new! But. I was obsessing . I paced. Turn. but how do you hide the fact that a simple thing like breathing is becoming more and more difficult. I couldn't get past it. because there was nothing else to do. bucking helplessly at the thick leather restraints until the . panting almost. Five modest steps back to the steel door. I trembled inside so much my muscles ached from it on the outside. I was trapped there. I rehearsed while I paced the last minutes many times in my mind during that period. Turn. Five modest steps to the toilet wall. Couldn’t eat. I counted them. just you and the doom. For variety I changed which direction I turned. The looming fear was all I thought about. almost every one I took. with no magazines. Couldn’t sleep. I noticed I was breathing through my mouth most of the time. I was aware of my breathing all the time now. I couldn't wake up. imagining how cool it would be if I could stay composed enough at the end not to reveal anything about the fears and terrors that were swirling inside me. How would it feel when they did it? How long would I be conscious? How long would it take to die? Would I snap and spit.

so that they . then swallow you into it? Is there a noise. even though the condemned was supposed to be paralyzed by the first drug. profound silence? Would I see that bright light they talk about? Who greets condemned men on the other side? Or would there just be a closing darkness that faded to nothing at all. No one really knew how it would be. he said. but of course they never came back to tell the rest of us what to expect. Our imaginations filled in the parts we dared not contemplate. the way their victims might have. me worried about my hair right to the end. not even a blackness? No other side. Not even nothing. Some of the other condemned knew.Page 4 of 20 weight of paralysis subdued me? Does a darkness surround you first. that until then there was always the struggle. the ones whose last walk came before ours. but he said it can take sometimes 20 minutes or even more for the heart to stop all the way. the futile thrashing and bucking. There was a cruel guard around on some shifts for a while who liked to freak us with stories of what went on in the chamber down the hall around the corner behind the steel door. The guard said that sometimes they secretly dilute the paralyzer drug so the condemned suffers as long and as much as possible. We could only guess. We didn’t ask. like the deafening roar they say comes with a stroke. trumping sound from all other sources? Or is it just a final. Just nothing. I even wondered how I would look? I thought you'd like that.

On the walk. of realizing suddenly the drugs weren't strong enough. scream. never touch another human again. there was one guard on each of my shoulders. and two behind me. big hard white guys. and there was nothing. too.Page 5 of 20 were left so they could move just enough to feel the strength of the big belts but no more. They prefer to be called correctional officers. but he was the one that sometimes spit in our food trays before he slid them through the slot. the insensible terror of knowing. I always wondered what they thought an execution corrects. like defensive ends. That guard used to laugh at that part. that left you conscious but unable to beg. The tie-down team. I supposed. wondering in your crazy mind how long this would last. They diluted other drugs. never even see one. unable to speak. On the measured march to the execution chamber I asked them if I could sit for a minute and meditate. or cry. . that they went just this far and then no farther. wondering if it would ever stop. I think there were five or six of them. aware that they would never get up again or even move. not one single move or sound you could make to tell them because they have left you teetering above the abyss. he said. They don't like to be called guards anymore. I didn't want to believe him. We called them guards anyway because that was about the only weapon we had. He said you could see it in their eyes.

His pace was deliberate but not somber. There may have been others in the party but I couldn’t concentrate. The warden was out in front. reading something from what I guessed was a Bible as he followed us. None of them made eye contact with each other or with me. His head was rigid and he carried a manila folder against his leg.Page 6 of 20 One for each limb. in a black suit that seemed too tight on him. The hall had an inhuman smell of despair and dry piss. There were occasional scratches and stains on the walls that hadn't been painted over. I tried to focus on what the chaplain was saying but I was having trouble feeling my legs. The blemishes weren't all careless gouges left by mop buckets or food carts. were they the innocent or the guilty? Maybe when you get this far down the hall it doesn’t matter any more. by himself. I tried to keep my mind from wondering how many condemned had kicked and fought right to the very end of their last corridor. leading the way. You’re going to die now. No one . The chaplain was back there. Some looked too much like scuffs from shoe soles and diluted stains of blood and vomit that had been wiped over but not cleaned. right on schedule. peering down over his clerical collar. I supposed the folder contained the sentence proclamation he would read to me once I was strapped to the litter by the tie-down team. There are no other questions. The ones who kicked and cried. no matter how often they had practiced in their mind to maintain a mirage of composure.

taking more and more of the weight. I didn't know what time it was. I asked them if I could sit for a minute. They never turn the lights off on death row and there are no windows. maybe looking for an answer. After a second he nodded his head. I needed to be still long enough to fix a thought in my mind that would give me a comfort to hold to while I died. even though it was unauthorized. He looked at his watch. let the . turned around and looked at me over his glasses.Page 7 of 20 said anything. Everyone seemed calm. and seemed to scan the ceiling. The warden raised his head. Then he looked at the guards. The warden stopped. then whether it's morning or night. Some death rows are underground so the condemned must live out their years of appeals already half buried. whether it was morning or night. I needed to find you. like what can it hurt. and the close echo of the guards' heavy boots. It was silent except for the mumbling chaplain. One of them. my panting. maybe the senior one. When I stumbled a little the guards caught me and slowed to hold me up. An anxiety sweat had started and I think I had already peed the adult diaper they made me put on earlier. Maybe it doesn't matter. but I was losing what little control I started with. You don't see that in Depends ads. shrugged. I could feel the guards on either side guiding me firmly. took a deep breath. Each had a hand on one of my elbows. First you lose track of what day of the week it is. I was walking on memory.

I was a model prisoner. and you find yourself kneading them slowly with rhythmic . Also. The state’s executioner. like the lava in a lamp when the weight shifts. how cupping your hands didn't always work because the bigger breasts tended to roll over the side. But. or peed through the food slot in the door at them. right to the end. cupping my hands underneath the bosoms. about how the bigger ones seem to want to slip right through your fingers even though you try to hold them as best you can. Seems like there was always someone screaming or crying on death row. He'd been around a while and probably just wanted the whole thing to go smoothly. I imagine he hated this part of the job. right? Always the People Pleaser. I never did any of that. about sliding my hands slowly from the rear under the unhooked brassiere. The parts the guards liked were the erotic scenes I wrote. Maybe we were early. If you spread your fingers to compensate for the size. then finally moved me to a solitary cell in the death house. I tried to make it easy on everyone. Before they took everything away those last days. I even let them read my journals. especially the ones I did about female breasts. Any sane person would. on time. I don’t know. I think that helped. even if we were early a new guy would never have bent the rule like that. I never banged my head against the cold concrete walls. never bellowed or wept. the breasts start to slip through the gaps. That’s me. to get it over with.Page 8 of 20 breath out and said "Okay". taking the weight.

between the sink and back door.Page 9 of 20 fingers. and tasted faintly of talcum when you nibbled one just freed from its delicate hammock. on death row. I couldn't remember. The . I was just curious. I knew I would never get out. The warden nodded to one of the guards to open a door we happened to be standing next to. I was doomed. but if they knew they wouldn't say. The guards used to elbow each other at the parts about thimble-hard nipples that felt soft and rough at the same time on the lip. like raspberries. I didn’t tell them that part. I just wanted to know what had happened. The warden nodded again toward a folded metal chair that was leaning against one wall. I think they thought I was playing some sort of insanity ploy to get a pardon or commute. then they escorted me inside. I used to ask new guards if they knew why I was in here. I wasn’t crazy. like a kitten on a belly. juggling the warm flow. One of the guards asked me once what someone like me was doing here. exposed under an undone blue cotton work shirt that had nothing to be tucked into. I said I didn't know. Another guard couldn’t understand how I could make up such arousing stories when I was scheduled to die at the end of the month. The stories were all about you. I remember yours hovering above me. in free fall. but the truth was I wasn't making any of it up. I said I didn't know.

The guards have to supervise the clean up. Even bowel muscles forget how to work.Page 10 of 20 guard set the chair out in the middle of the room where they could see it better and motioned me to sit. I heard them talking once that it's the mess they hate the most. So I sat and began to conjure you while the execution party milled around out in the hall near the doorway. laugh anyway just to see if you . the joke went. Maybe custodial. maybe relieved to get a little reprieve of their own. Fear trumps all other instincts. The condemned almost always evacuate their bowels sometime during the exercise. I don't know what the room was for. They looked in once or twice to see what I was doing. Death row jokes are never funny but you still can. I don't think they needed to worry about me. especially the last meal. I hadn't eaten for days. Maybe that was what the sink in the room was for. It was as gray and empty as everything else around there. just for the revenge factor. Most of them don't like this stuff either. but there wasn’t much in it. They said the diaper is hardly ever enough. What was the point? There's a joke that passes from cell to cell on death row in the last days about eating as much as you could stuff in your stomach. like all the paint came from the Navy. Kidney bean chili and lime jellow was believed to form a remarkably disgusting effluent. There was no laughter. that if the timing was right it was like shitting a diseased snake.

"Two minutes. The warden was looking inside that folder. I was trying to decide if we were kissing in a beach parking lot. I waited until none of them were looking. The door they left open.Page 11 of 20 The room was only partially lit. except why UCLA was seeded so high. then I got out of the chair silently and sneaked softly over to the back door. You would scarcely know that in a few moments they would be the crew that put me to death. It wasn't hard to be quiet. talking amongst themselves. Back door?! I looked at the escort party in the hallway from the cover of shadow in the room. Who could be in a hurry to do that? The warden looked at his watch again. It must have been March because two of the guards were arguing about the basketball tournament. No one bothered to turn on the light switch inside the door. from the harsh ambient light coming in from the hallway. Condemned men . in an orchard. It was a regular office door. They didn't seem concerned about much of anything. Indeed. only wider. pretty relaxed. I wasn't wearing shoes. leaning into the room. Maybe they knew that meditation is always easier with the lights out. I wondered if they appreciated the irony. or holding hands on one of our long Strand walks when it hit me. The chaplain was still studying his Bible. They were standing around out there. March Madness. looking in every few seconds." he said. I think the Bible was more of a comfort to him than to me.

It was surprisingly easy from then on. The hall went both ways. I remember thinking I had nothing to lose. In 20 minutes they were going to take my life. For some reason they don’t want condemned man to commit suicide. I thought. All the offices were empty at this time of day. I hurried along. this one dimly lit. Condemned men get cheap one-size-fits-all slip-on slippers. It was unlocked and swung open easily. but there was a glow of light at the end to the left so I went that way. All the office lights were out. How could they hurt me? There was nothing more they could take from me. some of them open. When I got to the back door or whatever it was I turned the knob as fast as I could. Probably administration offices. I could hide in there until I figured things out. No laces. Ha! There were rows of doors on each side of the hall. the jokes on them. conveniently absolving the administration staff of complicity. so no light flooding into the room to give me away. That back door opened without a sound and led to another hallway. They could only be mad at me for betraying their trust for a short time.Page 12 of 20 don't get shoes. The day workers could all come to work tomorrow and . I slipped out and closed the door gently behind me. like a puzzle that was somehow solving itself. Executions are performed on night shift. Ha. like a thief. I was a thief! I was stealing my life back. How would that look? The slippers let me move silently.

I noticed I was suddenly thirsty.a semi-circular hub. All the inside doors were closed. The door I stopped by had a reinforced glass window just above the release bar. My heart was pounding so loud now it seemed it was making more noise than my slippers as I jogged toward light at the end of the hall. a cement block cavern with several doors leading into it.Page 13 of 20 pretend they were not part of a state-sanctioned operation that killed people in that room at the end of the other hall lights were out after they’d gone home. of course. out of sight of regular prisoners and office workers when the . I guessed those led to the outside world. I probably should have taken a drink in that sink back in the room. On the opposite wall across the piazza there was a set of giant steel doors. now I was afraid my heart-beat would betray me. I was afraid of dying an undignified death. Condemned men arrive in the rear. I had never seen this part of the prison before. which office I should hide in. I darted quickly through the empty corridor until finally I slid to a stop by the door to what appeared to be the main lobby . I remember wondering how far I would get. I decided to keep moving. whether I should slip into one of the credenzas there against the outside windows. like a Roman piazza. I wondered how long I could hide there before the dogs found me or thirst drove me out. get under a desk. or climb up and get behind the ceiling panels with the computer cables. Before. How stupid.

leaning against the wall beside the rifle rack.Page 14 of 20 and are never allowed outside to exercise or see the sun. It's over now. No alarms. watching as remote cameras scanned the prison for anything irregular. one of them sitting at a cluttered desk. So far I guess I hadn't been missed back there by the escort party. There was nowhere to hide in there. How much time did I have? The warden must have missed me by now. I can't get through there and I can't stay here. then crouched down as far as I could under the bank of windows and crept across to the corner by the huge steel doors. Not even a sofa or coke machine to crouch behind. A glass cage made up part of one wall. the doors that stood between me and freedom were as imposing as a castle wall. Still no alarms. on the left side. I remember thinking. menacing fluorescent lights lit the area with an industrial glare. Were there no cameras in the administration hall? The second guard stood nearby. Miraculously. I slid into the massive lobby slowly. if I could get out there I'd be safe. reading a Playboy. No phones. Two guards were behind the glass. I thought. Everything was quiet. I leaned my hip against the push bar to test it. I glanced behind me anxiously. But. I don't know why they hadn't seen me escape. opposite the double steel doors. No shouts. Inside the hub. staring obsequiously at a bank of closed-circuit monitors. into the hub. The other doors were probably locked on this . it swung open.

Why that mattered to me I don't know. I almost smiled. like junior high boys peaking through a crack into the girls locker room. They hadn't seen me.Page 15 of 20 side and only lead back into other wings of the prison. . but thought maybe I should try the handles first. Doors just kept opening. facing away from me. I might as well just surrender. Both of them were turned away from the big windows. fawning over a Playmate the second guard had dangled in front of the first. I thought. Should I stand up and maybe wave a little? If they see me moving. Twice in one night. not even when I stood up. They hadn't heard me coming through the inside door. trying to open the fortress doors they might shoot. Dying from rifle shells ripping into my neck and chest was bound to be faster than the devil drugs they planned to drip into my blood while I was strapped helplessly to a pillowless gurney. looking down. I remember wondering if tits could save me again. The warden and escort party will have missed me by now and would be looking for an alarm trigger. I couldn't even explain how I got this far. For some reason the guards still hadn't noticed anything. It was all so confusing and dreamlike. It's what some of them lived for. Prison doors! Crazy. I stood up and was just about to shout and wave my arms to get the attention of the guards behind the window. shooting unarmed prisoners. They both nodded and pointed in lecherous satisfaction.

How many people being marched to their death get away at all. hell. The handle wouldn't budge. The massive gate continued to swing open. The door began to swing open slowly to the outside. free air met me. I could feel the stark. . like a glacial wall.Page 16 of 20 I tried the handle while keeping my eyes on them. the alarms growing louder and louder. I thought I heard shouts now behind me. screaming defiantly. already surrendered. air warm with promise. One hand I left in the air. I spun toward the doors. Well. My head rolled back against the steel in absent resignation. heavy steel through my prison shirt. a fuck you war-whoop. much less this far? Just then my eyes landed on an object right next to me. A blast of humid. The door was locked of course. My back was against the doors. The door alarm went off with a deafening discharge. with a metal placard beside it that said EMERGENCY RELEASE in giant yellow block letters. so cold it felt wet and sticky. My shoulders sank. in case I was discovered. heaved myself against the release bar. Without hesitation I pounded the knob as hard as I could with the side of my fist. it was a nice try. I was on the outside. Just then the phone rang on the guard’s desk and alarm bells started to sound in other parts of the prison. Suddenly. How had I missed it? A large blue knob the size of a book was attached to the wall at eye level. deflated and defeated.

then into the darkest streets and alleys I could find. swinging my arms madly. I ran so long and so fast my nose started to bleed. Somewhere I had lost those cheap slippers. invisible. I kept running. At any moment I expected to hear the police sirens or the tracker dogs or the helicopters. Still I ran. I remembered seeing a t-shirt once that said 'Pain is fear trying to leave your body'. closer to the morning. I noticed my feet were bleeding. I saw Bill's car. Still. by the primal love of life itself. then eventually find my way back to you. unchained. running like a deer through the fields of youth. too. to tear that fucking diaper off.Page 17 of 20 I fled into the darkness dodging the frantic search lights without looking back. like a miracle. invincible. What did it matter if I got blisters? Nothing mattered but to get as far away from that place as I could. to get lost in the world somewhere. I soared. The big black BMW . I had escaped! I laughed hysterically. Good riddance! Then. I only stopped once. dashing through parking areas from shadow to shadow. It may have been hours. unconcerned with what was happening in the din I left behind. I don't know how long I ran. my knees dancing high. leaping toward the morning light. like a hurdler. driven by an insane madness to live. My sides ached so much from running they felt like they would rip open from the pain.

feeling suddenly safe in the dark leather opulence.I never learned who . catching my breath in that special silent sanctuary that comes with escape. I ended up at John's place by the Causeway just as he and Maggie were finishing breakfast. Most of the guys were happy to see me. I thought. I fired the black sedan to life and drove off. as fast as I could make them spin. screeching the tires. or whether they should do anything at all. I must have run all the way to Sobrio Heights. That meant the car would be open. They'll never look for me in a BMW. Drive it like you stole it. A couple of them . Ha.were so conflicted about helping hide me from the police and how. at . outside his office. Even so. beside the propane shed. but I don't remember how long it was. Ha! Watch this! Things happened slower after that. the car salesmen say on test drives. Word was out that I was back. I jumped in. some of it I don't remember. There they were! I basked for a moment.Page 18 of 20 was just sitting there. I remembered how Bill always left the keys under the front seat because he didn't like to feel them heavy in his pocket against his leg. slumped down and felt for the keys. Then. I stayed in John's pool house for a while. but a few of them were uneasy with what to do next. We let Bill know where his car was and by the time I had finished some eggs Maggie scrambled for me some of the guys from the morning meetings started coming by.

I hate guns. Almost everyone has one. but lately she said she was cross-breeding the tea plants with some other species. I don't get it. We all knew that." she said. was famous for those tea plants around the beach area.Page 19 of 20 best. in a way. I don't understand the gun thing. The police arrived that morning with their dogs and guns from every direction just as I was watering some of Maggie's tea shrubs. All of us knew I wouldn't be back this time. except these guys didn't shoot and neither did I. I went quietly into custody. like Cowboy Bob. I stayed out of the argument. Some people I heard are even wearing them on their hip now in some places. When I asked about it she dismissed it with a wave. even get them into court for aiding and abetting that someone betrayed me. but wouldn't elaborate. This time the guards wouldn't let me out of their sight. The re-capture could have been like a Bonnie and Clyde shootout. . "It's a little gene-grafting experiment. that stay hard even in the holster? Don't they know respect cannot be cornered? Anyway. She had always grown Camellia sinensis. Are guns a hard-on that never goes away. or at worst. Like the Wild West all over again. It was pretty sad. as quietly as I had gotten away. in some parts of the country. What was I supposed to say? So. that might implicate them in some tangle of amends. I suppose it was bound to happen. Then she laughed.

" I said.end- . You get the stories and poems. "Let me get you some tea while you wait. cameras. at the desk. some scones left from breakfast. "Raspberry. I hadn't resisted. The older one." The police looked at each other. "Oh." she shouted back from the kitchen. tugged at an ear lobe. The kids are to get the guitars. and headed off without waiting for an answer." Maggie said." -end. "You can watch.Page 20 of 20 I did ask them. It'll just take a second. I guess they were thinking what could it hurt. I started to write it when they surrounded the house. Their lips were pursed and their jaws were clenched. if I could have just a second to finish the letter. I had already finished writing my will. a sergeant. good. though. and tools. books. You could tell they didn't want any complications. and the songs in the blue folder on the shelf by the red Thesaurus. "I'll be right there.

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