Until It Ends

“If you plead guilty, they’ll automatically seek the death penalty,” Rose snaps, long manicures fingernails tapping on the top of her briefcase. “It’s your legal right, but as your attorney, I have to advise you against it. I’m in the business of winning cases, not handing capital punishment verdicts directly to the prosecution.”

Gregory leans back in the plastic prison chair. He hooks his hands behind his head and studies the ceiling tiles. There are 88 in this room—he’s had plenty of time to count them.

“Don’t you think sometimes that’s better, though?” he asks, eyes trained upward. Rose has a glare that he’s sure is half the reason the jury votes in her favor, and he’s not very fond of the times when she turns it on him.

“Losing? No, I don’t.”

“Not losing,” he amends. “Dying.”

He watches a fly buzz around the ceiling, slamming its body into the fluorescent light again and again. An apt metaphor, he thinks, and the thought would make him smile if it wasn’t so morose.

Rose shuffles her papers loudly. He doesn’t think he’s ever had paper shuffled angrily in his direction before. Rose is a master of the nonverbal cue.

“Gregory,” she says, her voice sharp. “If you’re trying to seek the death penalty, then I don’t know why either of us are wasting our time here.”

He looks at her finally, taking in the pursed position of her lips before dropping his eyes to the table.

“I don’t WANT to die,” he emphasizes to his lap. “I just thought that maybe it would be better to get it out of the way now. I mean, you can’t choose to not die, so really I’m just picking whether I want to die now—well, in 10 years of so, whenever they get around to it—or if I want to be shanked by someone in prison or if I want to die after 65 years of sleeping on a state issued cot. Not a lot of great options here.”

“Fantastic,” Rose says. “Why don’t you discuss that with your counselor and get back to me when you’ve decided to actually let me help you, then?”

She stands, her heels clicking on the cement flooring, and Gregory shifts in his seat. He doesn’t like the sound of high heels, or the sound of the door when it screeches closed, or the hissing sound the prison pipes make through the night. It’s one of the reasons, he thinks, that it might be better to just…go. He bets the afterlife is silent.

“Does it take a long time?” he asks her, just as she’s made her way to the door.

“What?” she asks. “The trial?”

Gregory shakes his head.

“The part where I…die.”

Rose stops and pauses (most likely for dramatic effect, he thinks). Her eyes fix on his face.

“Five to ten minutes, if it goes well. If there are complications, you can be lying there dying for hours.” She turns back to the door. “I would think about that before you make any decisions about it being an easy way out.”

Then she’s signaling to the officer, and Gregory feels the handcuffs click around his wrists, and he thinks about how ‘trapped’ can take on many, many meanings when every solution is a problem in disguise.

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