Two passions, p.1
Two Passions, p.1Ted Reynolds
Copyright 2013 by Ted Reynolds
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“Masserman,” said the priest, “I am here to help you in any way I can.” He tried to speak encouragement, but his voice seemed weak and dull in this secluded cell.
The condemned man looked up from the lumpy knot of his clasped hands. ‘You going to stop the execution tomorrow?” he asked with slow sarcasm.
The priest shook his head sadly. “I cannot do that. No one can, now. You have to understand that you must pay society for your actions. But tomorrow is not the end; afterwards, you must still face your God . . .”
Lloyd Masserman rose heavily to his feet. His normally sullen face was reddening. He was a massive man. His huge hands slowly rose toward the priest. Twelve citizens, all more slightly built than Masserman, had condemned those hands for three murders. The priest did not flinch. The armed guard outside the cell door made a slight gesture, and the hands slowly dropped again.
“You’re an ass,” Masserman said flatly. “You damned priests are all damned asses.”
“This is no time for passion, son,” the priest said. “You should be considering the state of your soul before God.”
“If there’s a God, he’s the worst ass of all,” retorted Masserman.
Now the priest did find himself flinching, but he covered the incipient shudder by settling his glasses more firmly upon his nose. His tongue wet his thin lips once, rapidly. He was young, as stereotypical a priest as the other a murderer, as he was well aware. He felt like a cliché. Acutely conscious of his obligations toward the soul before him, he was at the same time quite doubtful of any success in touching it.
Outside it was early October, late afternoon. The interior of the cell seemed beyond possible change of time or season. A pale blot of sunlight that slipped through the bars lay dully against the stained metal wall, and reached a bleak finger out toward the priest. He had never before spoken with a healthy man so near his death.
“Christ suffers for you,” said the priest hesitantly. Faced with the stubborn unspiritual nature of this man, his lifelong creed rang unpersuasively in his own ears. “He has not forsaken you. Until the last moment of your life, He still holds His hand out for yours.”
Masserman grinned, an expression more fierce than his previous scowl. “All he’ll get of my hand is the back of it!”
“I understand what you’re going through – “
“You haven’t a damned idea! Shut up and get out. You don’t give a damn what happens to me.”
The churchman was stung. Perhaps he feared that at some level the charge was justified. He fought down that feeling; it was basic to his whole life and calling that all souls were precious in God’s sight. “That is not true. I deeply care about your spiritual danger.”
“Bullshit! You don’t like me, you don’t care about me, and you wouldn’t lift a finger to help me.”
The priest raised a hand, and realized that he really did not want to physically touch the other man. He felt as if he would soil himself by doing so. His hand fell again to his side. So, of course, now he felt worsened by not having reached out. Was there no way to reach this man? Words came into him which pleased him, and he said,
“Rather than have your soul face God unprepared, I would willingly take your place myself.” Did I say that? he thought. Did I mean it?
Masserman glared at him. “Then go to the governor, and tell him to stick that needle in you in the morning instead.”
The priest looked down at the grimy floor, feeling oddly embarrassed by his inability to comply with the outrageous suggestion. The furthest streak of barred light fell just short of his shoe. “He couldn’t do that,” he protested.
“Then you’re just wagging your jaws, woman,” said Masserman. His beefy face worked angrily, as if the priest represented all the injustice that was stripping him of his life. “You won’t do anything for me.”
“But if I could take your place…”
“Then take it!”
The shaft of sunlight touched the tip of the priest’s shoe. He looked up again.
“All right,” said the priest.
Something happened within the cell. The guard felt it and tensed slightly.
But nothing had happened; no one had moved. The two still stood looking at one another. Neither spoke. The priest took a single step backward, and again stood still. The prisoner raised his large hands before his face, and stared at them blankly. The priest passed his palm over his brows, touching the glasses, and became motionless. The prisoner slowly sank to the edge of his cot, and buried his face in his hands.
There was a long silence.
“Are you finished, Father?” the guard asked at last.
The prisoner looked up from his cot, his face pale. He spoke in low, intense tones. “Get out now,” he said.
The priest looked as pale as the other. “But you are – “His voice caught oddly, and he stopped.
“Get out, man!” said the prisoner. “Can’t you see there’s nothing more for you here?”
The priest stood another moment, as if stunned, and then turned to the guard. “Washroom,” he said, sounding sick. “Nearest washroom, please.”
As the heavy cell door opened and closed and locked, the large form of Masserman did not look up from its slumped position on the cot in Death Row.
Unbelievably, he reached the street safely. Despite the protection of the body he wore, the identification which passed him by guard after guard, he had not really believed he would get out of the prison. He had been sure something would tell on him; the voice, perhaps, which seemed terribly wrong to him.., but it was the priest’s voice. He had felt at each step he was blowing it, taking the wrong turn, forgetting to pick up his coat . . . but the guards had attributed it all to his evident onset of queasiness. His unspecific claim of illness had been enough for them to lead him gently out through all the turnings and checkpoints.
“You’d better get home, Father,” said the guard who escorted him through the final door to the parking lot. “You don’t look well at all.”
Since he’d seen the priest’s face in the washroom mirror, he had felt really sick, and he thought it must be from joy.
He tried to smile, while frantically wondering if the priest had come in a car. He might give himself away if he had the guard call a taxi for him; he hadn’t the least idea which car, if any, would be his. Then he realized he didn’t know if he had enough money on him for a taxi. He didn’t want to look through his pockets for car keys, or sift through his wallet in the guard’s presence. He’d better leave as soon as possible. But suppose he started walking in the wrong direction.
“Where can I buy a newspaper near here?” he asked. It was a very neat way out of his problem, except he’d stopped just short of asking for a place to buy a beer, which would really have been a bad move for a priest.
He walked in the indicated direction, imagining eyes on him the whole way, and turned the first corner. The moment he was out of sight of the prison, he felt as soaring a feeling of freedom as if his shoulders had sprouted wings.
Now he must take steps so that they’d never get him back there. What an idiot that priest had been! His wonder at the other man’s stupidity almost overwhelmed the wonder that such a thing was possible in the first place. He had thought priesthood all superstition, but it seemed there were powers behind it. No use to the possessors, though, if they
He turned down a narrow alley between two cement walls, feeling the liberty of choosing to walk this way or that without constraint. At the end were a couple of stained iron waste containers. They were filled with slop. The light of the descending sun, reflected from windows high above the alley, struck highlights from their rusted sides. For long moments he stared at them in unconscious ecstasy. To his prison-hungered eyes, they shone as lovely as flowers.
But it’s still just trash.
My eyesight is better, he thought suddenly. I never saw like this for years. Why, there are separate leaves on the trees. It must be the glasses, he realized. He took them off, and shapes and colors merged in confusion. He put them on again. Maybe I needed glasses and never knew it. Funny the priest’s prescription matches what I need.
The approaching scream of a police siren made him shiver, but it soon passed and faded away into the distance. He turned and retraced his steps to the main street.
He still felt weak, and his breath was coming short, although he hadn’t walked many blocks from the prison. It wasn’t all the shock and the emotion. This body wasn’t in near as good shape as his old one had been. He was weak, not sick, that’s what it was. He frowned.
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