You can now read this as part of the RHUL Creative Writing Anthology! Which is very exciting!
This was written around the same time as Curiosity and ended up becoming almost another take on the same idea. They would sit quite comfortably next to each other in an anthology. It wouldn’t be a very cheerful anthology…
Allan B. Polunsky Unit, Building 12, the home of the death row prisoners of the state of Texas. The play opens in the cell of MAINE, an inmate for five years who has arrived at the day of his execution. He sits with FATHER THESSING in his cell, which consists of a single bed, a toilet and a barred window that looks out onto a brick wall. MAINE sits on the toilet while FATHER THESSING has taken the bed. The set is unbearably clinical, perfectly clean and drained of colour, with the cell door to the left of the stage away from the toilet. MAINE is not imposing; he merely looks like a middle-aged man who has neglected himself. He appears tired, which is common for him. FATHER THESSING is balancing a notepad on his legs, a cigarette in one hand and a pen in the other. It is hard to tell which of the two is older by physical appearance alone, though THESSING looks much healthier.
A third man, a prison officer, enters. He stands beside the door, sniffing and bouncing on his heels, but patient despite his mannerisms. He is wirey and younger than the two other men, but holds the authority clearly. Neither THESSING nor MAINE look up as he enters.
THESSING: Just a minute, sir. We ain’t quite finished.
POLUNSKY: That’s fine, go ahead. You sure it’s alright to be smokin’ in here though?
(Still with his eyes on the page, THESSING drops his cigarette on the floor and crushes it beneath his boot.)
THESSING: (To MAINE) Continue.
MAINE: (Dictating) To answer your question, I have two books that I like to read. One is just a story from when I was a kid. The other is whatever magazines we can get in under the guards’ noses. Our priests like to earn a few points with the Lord by bringin’ me the finest Playboy centrefolds …
THESSING: (Swats MAINE over the head) Don’t be addin’ another sin to your tally, and don’t be doin’ it under my name!
MAINE: Oh, but you tempt me to sin, Father. Ain’t that a bad thing in your book?
THESSING: You should be ignoring the temptation to spill lies itself, not blamin’ me as if I’m offerin’ you these magazines every time you spin me a fancy tale. If I wanted lyin’ I’d go home and listen to my kids. (Spits on floor) Blasphemin’ l’il toe-rags.
POLUNSKY: (Sniffs) No spitting. S’unsanitary. (THESSING runs his boot over it) So what’s this book you used to read then?
MAINE: (Smiles to THESSING) I win.
(POLUNSKY looks confused as THESSING lets out a loud guffaw)
THESSING: (To POLUNSKY) Son, I’m writing this letter for him. What makes you think he can read?
POLUNSKY: Your last request was a bet?
MAINE: I wanted to go out on a win. I felt you’d be a safe bet. No offence.
POLUNSKY: S’fair enough. (Shuffles feet awkwardly) Father, I’m afraid time’s up.
THESSING: Sounds fair. I’ll go finish these letters for you. (He stands and extends his hand to Maine) Safe travels, son. I know you ain’t placed your bets on what’s up there yet, but I just hope that I’m right and they are forgivin’, for your sake.
MAINE: Thanks, Father. (He shakes his hand but remains seated on the toilet) I’ll be seein’ you.
(THESSING snorts as if he considers this a joke and heads for the exit. He stops and offers MAINE one last nod as if to apologise for having laughed, before leaving. The cell door swings shut heavily behind him. POLUNSKY and MAINE remain where they are for a beat, POLUNSKY looking out the window.)
MAINE: (Quietly) How long?
POLUNSKY: Five minutes. Then I’m to escort you.
MAINE: Can I have those minutes on my own?
POLUNSKY: Sure. Don’t you go runnin’ anywhere though. (He heads for the door, stops and turns back to MAINE) One question? Otherwise my curiosity’s gonna be burnin’ long after you’re gone.
MAINE: (Leans back on toilet) Shoot.
POLUNSKY: (Awkwardly) Well er… why on… Why on Earth would you pick that awful thing?
POLUNSKY: The chair, man, the chair. S’not right. Injection’s smooth sailing. You drop right off no trouble, almost seems peaceful after all this, like goin’ to sleep. (He gestures around cell) I ain’t never seen someone go by chair, but I’ve heard all sortsa horrible things. Guys who needed repeat hits. Guys who scream and scream all the way through. Heck, I heard one guy’s head caught fire one time. Sorry. Not that that’ll happen, just… Y’know. It don’t seem right.
MAINE: (Takes a moment to consider his answer) I didn’t come here to go to sleep though. I’ve been waitin’ years to die. It seems right to me. The chair is what I think of waitin’ for me at the end. (Beat) Why were you so curious?
POLUNSKY: It don’t make no sense.
POLUNSKY: (Sniffs) It’s an odd thing to do, no one’s picked anything but the injection for a couple of years, I think. Odd.
POLUNSKY: Thanks. I’d say you’ve got four minutes.
(He opens the door and exits, the door again making a heavy noise as it shuts. MAINE is left alone sat on the toilet. He remains composed, and simply sits for a long time, staring out ahead. He begins muttering to himself, simply counting off the seconds under his breath, eventually talking at normal pace. He seems almost bored of his wait. Some time later, between twenty and thirty seconds, MAINE falls back into whispering and the lights fade out.)
(Lights up. MAINE sits in the electric chair in the centre of the stage. POLUNSKY is strapping him in and applying the sponges to his pads, while a GUARD is tapping his foot impatiently to the side. MAINE is watching POLUNSKY work with curiosity, while POLUNSKY is avoiding making eye contact.)
POLUNSKY: (To MAINE) The first jolt’s gonna knock you out. It won’t be pleasant, but you shouldn’t feel anything. Us two are probably gonna have it worse what with you spasming and all. Then there’ll be a second to knock out your vital organs, though your brain should go on the first one, so y’know…
(MAINE says nothing while POLUNSKY talks. Eventually, POLUNSKY slaps the straps to make sure they’re in place then nods to the GUARD, who disappears offstage. The GUARD reappears in a small box above the stage, to the side of the main set, in a room that’s poorly lit and sound-proofed. All that can be seen is the switch on the wall.)
POLUNSKY: I got ‘nother burnin’ curiosity.
MAINE: A what?
POLUNSKY: Y’know, an itch to ask something.
MAINE: An itch. That’s a funny way of putting it.
POLUNSKY: (Sniffs) I been here almost as long as you have and I still don’t know your damn name.
MAINE: (Speaks as if reciting from memory) S’against prison regulations. No names between inmates and officers. No bonding of any sort and certainly no opportunity for any newsfolk to get a sniff on anyone’s story. You’ll be known by the state that you were born from, and the one that’s disownin’ you. That’s what the warden said.
POLUNSKY: I ask everyone before they go.
MAINE: I’d rather not say. And don’t tell me yours neither. I already got a name for you picked out.
(GUARD speaks through microphone that can be heard in the room.)
GUARD: 30 seconds!
POLUNSKY: (Shouting to the GUARD) Where’s the Doc?
GUARD: It don’t matter, we’ll know if he’s dead or not. Hurry it up!
(POLUNSKY glances over to the door briefly and fidgets.)
POLUNSKY: What’s my name then?
POLUNSKY: Charmin’, that’s the damn building’s name. I don’t wanna be named after this Hellhole.
MAINE: Sorry, it’s just what I think of.
POLUNSKY: Nah, I’m sorry, shouldn’t be makin’ you feel guilty before you go.
MAINE: Oh, I don’t feel guilty. Just thought I should say sorry. S’what folk do.
POLUNSKY: Fair enough. In another life, then.
(Another call, this time POLUNSKY walks away and stands at the side of the stage at attention, facing the audience. MAINE takes a deep breath in through his nose, closes his eyes, and waits. He seems calm.)
GUARD: (Through microphone) 10 seconds!
(MAINE starts counting quietly, eyes still shut. He shows no sign of tension, and by the time he reaches 3, he has fallen silent. Nothing happens. He remains with his eyes shut, as if asleep. GUARD pulls the switch, and there is a loud click.)
(After a few more beats, POLUNSKY, a look of confusion on his face, strides offstage. MAINE opens his eyes and looks around, his breathing picking up in tempo. He is obviously beginning to become anxious. POLUNSKY heads into the box. GUARD shakes his head and shrugs. POLUNSKY lifts the switch and slams it down again to another click. MAINE flinches.)
(Both GUARD and POLUNSKY head back onstage. The GUARD is wringing his hat in his hands, while POLUNSKY is whistling.)
MAINE: I ain’t dead.
POLUNSKY: (Kicks chair) No, you ain’t. Chair’s shot to Hell. No idea what’s goin’ on.
GUARD: Heck, we gotta get someone in to fix this, they won’t let us do it and botch it up. If his head ends up catchin’ fire cause we put the wrong wires together then we’ll be out of a job.
(MAINE is staring out into the audience, in shock. POLUNSKY begins to undo his straps slowly, starting at his wrists.)
POLUNSKY: I know.
GUARD: What’re you doin’?
POLUNSKY: What do you think? He’s goin’ back to his cell.
GUARD: You can’t do that!
POLUNSKY: Got a better idea? We ain’t exactly gonna kill him ourselves.
GUARD: Well… (fingers gun at his side) we could…
POLUNSKY: Unless you wanna have a go in this chair yourself, you’ll shut up.
(MAINE suddenly makes a choking noise. Though his head is still strapped in, he suddenly bursts out into a loud, uncharacteristic laugh until he’s so out of breath that he starts wheezing. The GUARD and POLUNSKY ignore him as they undo his straps. Lights down.)
(Lights up on an empty cell, rearranged and with a bunk bed. Chanting and shouts can be heard from outside the cell. Amidst the cries can be heard a few individual protestors, who are demanding the execution take place again, and one or two claiming what the family of the victim must think. MAINE eventually enters and looks around curiously at his new home, with POLUNSKY behind him, out of breath.)
POLUNSKY: Welcome to your new home. For now anyway.
MAINE: How long will I be here?
POLUNSKY: (Takes some time to catch his breath) Couldn’t tell you. It’s the weird world of legality. Technically you died in that chair, cause the time when you were meant to die has passed, and since no one expected you to be alive you don’t have a room to go back to. It’s bein’ used by a proper celebrity, a nephew of some senator apparently. (MAINE lifts up the toilet seat and looks straight in it.) So you’re gonna have to sit tight here for awhile.
MAINE: I’m with others?
POLUNSKY: Yeah, two. They’ll be back after recreation. (POLUNSKY leans against the bunk bed) We’ll get you a mattress thrown down or somethin’. I’d say this is a nice turn for you, but it’s Hell out there. You’ll be able to hear ‘em protestors from here, I’m afraid. Warden won’t be able to shake a crowd like that for awhile. I don’t even know how they found out about it, someone must be gettin’ slipped some cash…
MAINE: So I might be here for awhile?
POLUNSKY: Maybe. Stroke of luck, or what?
MAINE: I was s’posed to die.
POLUNSKY: Not today apparently. S’fine by me.
MAINE: (Curious) You don’t think I should’ve fried?
POLUNSKY: No one should fry. (Sniffs) Or be injected or what-not. Should just leave ‘em to stew for a good, long while. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t got no feelings on what you did. Just think you’ve got plenty of years left to stew on it.
MAINE: That’s strange. Everyone there said I should fry.
(A bell is heard offstage to summon the inmates back to their cells. POLUNSKY hears it, gives MAINE a curt nod and leaves. MAINE continues to seem lost in this new cell. He begins to run his hand over the beds, the walls, even the toilet as if trying to take it all in. Lights fade down until there’s only a spotlight on MAINE.)
MAINE: Everyone thought I should’ve fried. Hell, maybe I did and I’m makin’ all this up. This don’t seem right. (Beat, sits on toilet) Dyin’ was right. Everyone told me that dyin’ was right. All them people out there are shouting that dyin’ is right. (He bursts out laughing again suddenly and runs his hands over his own face and chest) No, I ain’t dead. I’m still goin’. There ain’t a chance of somethin’ like that happenin’. Not one. Christ, six years. Six years I been waitin’ for that chair, and on the one day I’m to fry it breaks? In six years I didn’t hear of that happenin’ once… That’s a long time to wait to die, and I’d only just gotten the hang of it too. The waitin’. Maybe they know that and this is some new punishment. I was just gettin’ comfortable with the idea of goin’, too… Maybe that’s what was wrong with the whole thing. Or maybe… I wasn’t s’posed to…
VOICE OFFSTAGE: Oh, HELL no.
(The sound of the jail door being swung open. The voice reveals itself to belong to MAINE’s inmate, a thin man with sallow skin. He wears tattoos along both arms and has ripped his uniform in order to show them off. A second man enters after him, smaller though older, wearing glasses. He places his back against the wall at the first opportunity and stares at MAINE. MAINE stands, unsure of himself, having met no other inmates during his time.)
TATTOOS: (Strides up to MAINE and stares him straight in the eyes, inches from his face.) My cell. You get to sit in my cell?
(MAINE doesn’t speak. TATTOOS breathes heavily, furious.)
TATTOOS: You deaf as well as retarded, you ugly shit?
MAINE: I didn’t think that was a question.
(TATTOOS spits in his face. MAINE doesn’t move, even to wipe it off. He smirks.)
TATTOOS: And now you’re smilin’ at me. This is sick. This ain’t RIGHT! (He screams over his shoulder and kicks the wall in frustration, but no guards respond.) Who the Hell thinks that I should be sat next to you?! PUT THE FREAK IN GARRETT’S CELL! At least he’s as demented as this… this… (He looks MAINE up and down again, yells one last time and then storms over to his bunk, placing his hands against the bed and trying to breathe his anger out.) I thought it was insulting when they stuck me with that l’il bitch over there…
(GLASSES whimpers. TATTOOS slams his hands against the bed and storms back over.)
TATTOOS: Y’know what he’s done? (Gestures to GLASSES) Fuckin’ peeping. He got caught with some pics of some high school gals. That’s some weak-ass reason to be sittin’ in a cell with me, that’s for sure. Me? I just got itchy fingers.
MAINE: Curious fingers?
TATTOOS: (Slams his fist against the beds again and storms up to MAINE.) STEALIN’, you retard! I ain’t gonna be shacked up with the likes of you! Me and him, we may be stupid, but you are just sick. (He jabs MAINE in the chest with his finger. MAINE steps back towards GLASSES.) I don’t care if they can’t kill you, cause they sure as heck won’t have to. The guys here will do that for ‘em.
MAINE: Then you’ll be the one they’re tryin’ to get in a chair.
TATTOOS: (Laughs and jabs his chest again) Like anyone’ll care. Killin’ scum don’t make you scum. I’d like to see you last a day, tops.
MAINE: (Smirks) You think you’ve got a chance of doing what that chair couldn’t do?
TATTOOS: Ain’t me you’ve gotta watch for. It’s him.
(MAINE turns slowly to face GLASSES, who has drawn a sharp piece of glass out from his uniform. The two stare at each other, with GLASSES holding the weapon against his own chest. He is breathing heavily and seems panicky.)
MAINE: I think I’m gonna place a bet.
TATTOOS: (Still laughing) Oh I wouldn’t talk to him, he don’t like you at all!
MAINE: (Tense, but speaks calmly and firmly) You can’t hurt me. What kinda power you think you got that you’re gonna try and take my life? You think you have it in you? I sat in that chair ready to fry, calm as anythin’, with no last words to God and no sobbin’. If that couldn’t kill me, you think you’re gonna?
GLASSES: Shut the Hell up! This isn’t to kill you, it’s to protect me. (He circles MAINE, still clinging to the wall, until he is on the other side of him. He does not stop pointing the glass at him until he is beside TATTOOS.) You stay away from me, you got that? You stay over there, on the floor, where you belong.
(Without another word he climbs into the top bunk and rolls over to face the wall. TATTOOS grins at MAINE.)
TATTOOS: Maybe he ain’t such a l’il bitch after all. I’d take his advice on the floor by the way. (He begins to climb into his own bunk.) Moment you get a bed I’m gonna be pissin’ all over it. Welcome to your new home.
(A Guard shouts “LIGHTS OUT” from offstage and the lights go down, leaving MAINE in a spotlight again. He leans against the wall furthest from the bunk bed and slides down it until he is on the floor, and visibly becomes less tense. Lights down.)
(Lights fade up slowly but the stage remains quite dark. GLASSES and TATTOOS are sleeping peacefully, but MAINE is moving back and forth. Outside can be heard the constant shouts of the protestors, eventually forming the words “DEAD MAN WALKING”. The protestors take this as their slogan and it becomes louder and louder, until MAINE wakes up with a start and the stage becomes fully lit. He remains crouched by the door, slumped against the wall.)
MAINE: Never thought sleepin’d be so hard. Guess havin’ my eyes closed for that long ain’t so appealing anymore. Used t’ sleep whole days away if Polunsky’d let me. Could barely move my body the first couple o’ weeks after my sentence. Thought it’d all gone numb, tryin’ to make me sleep the years away so I wouldn’t have to wait. I only got to move again when I got curious. Started wondering what death’d be like. The more I thought ‘bout it, the less numb I felt. I couldn’t imagine my body stoppin’, my chest still or anythin’, so I just kept movin’ enough to make sure it was still there. I liked the cell cause it didn’t make me do anythin’, just let me think. My eyes ain’t as heavy as they used to be.
(Beat. MAINE slowly stands, watching his inmates, stretches and heads for the window. He stares out for another beat before speaking again.)
MAINE: I thought I was ready cause I was so tired. Didn’t make sense to me to bother wakin’ up anymore… Hell, I probably could’ve slept in the chair. ‘Cept… well, ‘cept that ain’t true. I thought I was ready… then I heard that click and… Maybe if I’d died there I would’ve been ready. But that didn’t happen… this is all special. This ain’t happened before. Somethin’ didn’t want me dead. I could’ve gone then without even a peep, and no one woulda made a fuss, least of all me. Now I can’t even close my eyes to sleep.
(MAINE looks at his hands.)
MAINE: The Hell am I still here for?
(Lights up. TATTOOS is leaning out of the window and shouting at the guards. GLASSES is in his bunk, staring at MAINE. MAINE is sitting back in the position he was in on the floor, awake.)
TATTOOS: Hey! HEY! I don’t mean to be troublin’ or nothin’ but if you’re gonna stick me with a dead man like ‘im can you at least treat me to a bit more food? Maybe a jug of wa’er? I’m practically dyin’ of thirst, it’s hotter than the Devil’s drawers in here!
GLASSES: Water. You don’t ask for a cup of ‘ea’ and you don’t sit and watch the ‘elevision. Maybe if you spoke like a real person and kept your t’s they’d be more inclined to respond to you.
(TATTOOS storms over to the bunk and firmly places his hand on GLASSES’ hanging arm. GLASSES tries to recoil at first but then freezes in horror. After a brief moment, TATTOOS slaps him playfully in the face and laughs.)
TATTOOS: You’re lucky you’re so pretty. There, see? PRE-TTY. (The sound of a cell door being opened) Aw Hell, don’t tell me that actually worked?
(POLUNSKY walks into cell.)
POLUNSKY: Maine. You’ve got a visitor. Your sister wants a word.
(MAINE looks up but his face reveals nothing. He stands and nods to POLUNSKY, who is looking him up and down.)
POLUNSKY: You look different.
MAINE: I feel different.
POLUNSKY: Food here must be good for you. C’mon.
TATTOOS: I thought dead men don’t get visitors?
POLUNSKY: S’long as they ain’t carryin’ a big scythe and apologisin’ for bein’ late then it don’t bother me. If he is dead, no one’s gonna care that someone came to see him. Move it, Maine.
(The two exit the cell, lights down. When the lights are up the stage has been rearranged to make a small part of a visiting room. A table is placed in the centre of the stage with a chair on either side, and a woman sits waiting. The GUARD from earlier is stood to attention behind the woman as POLUNSKY and MAINE enter.)
POLUNSKY: Pulled some strings, ma’am. Here’s your man.
(The woman stays sitting, wringing her hands. One of her legs is shaking under the table. MAINE remains standing, even as POLUNSKY pulls the chair out for him.)
POLUNSKY: (To MAINE) Looks like it continues to be your week. (Sniffs, then speaks to SISTER) I’ll leave you two to it. S’not like you’re gonna make a ruckus now, are you?
(POLUNSKY leaves. MAINE is still standing and staring at the woman, who is matching his stare. GUARD coughs and shuffles his feet from the corner.)
SISTER: This must be strange for you, I know…
SISTER: You’re not an easy man to get hold of, you know that? It’s bad enough that they change your name like that but funnily enough it’s hard work gettin’ into a high-security prison jus’ to give you a firm handshake. You’d think they’re paranoid or something. And of course after enough time you just disappear off the map like you weren’t there in the first place. People stopped asking ‘bout you the moment they heard you were gonna be put down.
(MAINE sits. GUARD occasionally shuffles again in background.)
SISTER: People’re funny like that, aren’t they? S’hard for them to get justice out of something unless they paint someone black and go after them with torches and pitchforks.
MAINE: S’cuse me, but I ain’t had much conversation for the last few years. Please talk straight. Did you screw up the chair?
SISTER: (Leans forward and clasps her hands together on the table) You don’t seem like you had anythin’ to do with it. For one, you wouldn’t have let that officer leave us three alone if you had a guilty conscience.
MAINE: You think I did somethin’?
SISTER: People make connections with dangerous people in places like that. Always a chance you found a way to bribe your way out.
SISTER: But I don’t think you did. I ain’t here to accuse you of anything. In fact, I’m here for the opposite.
(MAINE stands and goes for the door. SISTER leaps to her feet and heads towards him. GUARD becomes more anxious and steps forward, ready to intervene.)
SISTER: (To MAINE) The heck you doin’?
MAINE: I don’t like the way you talk. All over the place. I hate it cause you’ve got a point, but you don’t go straight for it, like you’re ashamed of it. I don’t like that you hide your reason from me. You ever had no reason, no point? Well, it sure as heck ain’t doin’ me any favours to do words with someone like you. So be straight or I’m pullin’ Polunsky back in here.
SISTER: Alright, alright. Then let’s talk straight. (She pulls the chair out again. MAINE sits slowly. SISTER returns to her seat. Beat.)
MAINE: You ain’t my sister.
SISTER: Well, that’s better. No, I ain’t. I bribed this guy to get in, was pretty easy. No one’s got much details on you. (GUARD openly grunts his disgust.) (To GUARD) Oh c’mon now, s’not like anyone’s goin’ to listen to a dead man, even if he did say anythin’.
MAINE: Tell me straight what you want.
SISTER: Some truth. Y’know how many weird stories there are flyin’ around about all this? No one’s willin’ to admit it was anyone’s fault. But you like speakin’ straight, so why don’t you tell me? There’s a whole crowd of people out there bayin’ like starvin’ hounds outside a butchers. They hear some truth, they might change their tune.
(MAINE smiles. The sight seems to unnerve SISTER, who hesitates a bit before pulling out a notebook.)
SISTER: You let me ask some questions then I’ll tell the best version of your story you’ve ever heard. Sound good?
MAINE: You got a burnin’ curiosity?
SISTER: Like an inferno. What do you know about Marcus Cartwright? (MAINE looks blank.) The man who’s sittin’ in your old cell right now. You ain’t met him?
MAINE: They moved me out quick when the chair failed. He the senator’s nephew?
SISTER: Who told you that?
SISTER: Is that Polunsky back there?
(MAINE nods. SISTER makes a note.)
SISTER: This Polunsky, he mention this guy a lot?
MAINE: We don’t talk much. I just like to make jokes ‘bout him when the priest’s around.
SISTER: (Disbelieving) You made jokes?
MAINE: I was comfortable there.
SISTER: On death row?
SISTER: (Scribbles another note) Who’s the Priest?
MAINE: Father Thessing. He helped write my letters.
SISTER: You can’t write?
MAINE: Nor read.
SISTER: Didn’t leave yourself much career options there.
MAINE: Didn’t plan on gettin’ one anyway.
SISTER: Does Father Thessing speak to the other inmates?
MAINE: S’far as I know. I didn’t talk to ‘em.
SISTER: What did you used to talk about?
MAINE: Death. He liked to talk ‘bout Hell.
SISTER: Did he ever mention Marcus?
SISTER: The Senator’s nephew.
SISTER: (Sighs, puts her notebook between her thighs and rubs her eyes) I’m sorry, brother dear, but you ain’t bein’ very helpful. You know what I’m offerin’ here? Whatever happened to that chair’s given you a whole second chance here. And I’m here to clinch it for you. S’long as there’s shouts for you to die then the Warden, the Governor, they’ll all come down on you to make the shoutin’ stop. But these people hear that you’re sorry, that you’ve changed, that you ain’t the man you were six years ago, they’ll stop shouting. They won’t see you as something to burn but someone, someone they almost brought a torch to. Maybe you’ll get stuck in prison for a bit but you might actually leave some day. This chance ain’t gonna come again. So you start by tellin’ me somethin’ useful and I’ll start writin’ just how sorry you really are.
MAINE: No. (Leans forward slightly) Because I ain’t sorry. That what you like to hear? I used to sit in my cell scared to die but I never felt guilty ‘bout what I did.
(SISTER falls silent and stares at table.)
MAINE: You don’t believe me? Miss, I ain’t ever felt anythin’ ‘bout what I did. How’s that for your story? Polunsky tells me you can tell how someone’s feelin’ by lookin’ in their face when they talk. He says feelings come through. Look in my face. (MAINE leans forward more. Beat. SISTER looks into his face without flinching.) I killed a woman. You see me flinchin’? You see any twitches? I killed a gal, and I didn’t even do it for a reason. I had no reason. I was jus’ curious. (SISTER’s leg starts shaking again. She pushes her chair back a bit. GUARD steps forward again, hand on his gun.) S’been a curious week all over, Miss. I been saved from death. I got a big crowd shoutin’ ‘bout me. I got strange ladies sneakin’ in to talk to me. S’all very curious. Gives a man a purpose.
GUARD: (Nervous) I think your time’s up, well and truly, ma’am…
SISTER: No it ain’t. Let him talk. (She begins scribbling in her notebook under the table while looking at MAINE.)
MAINE: Now I tell you why I ain’t helpin’. I don’t care ‘bout them shoutin’ for my head. I don’t care ‘bout bein’ innocent. What I did, I don’t even care if it were wrong. But what you’re tryin’ to get to, what your reason for bein’ here is, is to say that the reason I’m still alive ain’t nothin’ special. You wanna find that it wasn’t some intervention, or angel, but a mistake. A man did it. You wanna take what makes me special away. Take my reason away. Well, I’ve told you what I did when I had no reason. You sure you still wanna ask me questions?
(SISTER raises her left hand slightly to the GUARD. She licks her lips slowly and speaks very carefully.)
SISTER: Maybe it was special for you. Maybe the accident happened because you were meant to live… But that ain’t what I need to know it for. I need to know what was goin’ to happen before the accident happen… That’s why I need to know why the chair…
MAINE: NO! (MAINE flings the table to the side. SISTER kicks herself backwards and screams. GUARD has his gun out in an instant and is pointing it directly at MAINE’s face. MAINE is still sitting. Immediately after his outburst he is quiet again, staring straight down the barrel of the gun.)
(The door opens with a crack and POLUNSKY is inside in an instant, his own hand at his holster. He sees the situation and places the gun back, approaching the scene calmly.)
POLUNSKY: Easy now, folks. (To GUARD) Someone wanna tell me why you got a gun pointed at our dead man?
MAINE: She’s a reporter.
(SISTER runs at that instant. POLUNSKY takes a step as if to stop her but decides to stay in the room.)
POLUNSKY: Goddamnit. God damnit. (To GUARD) Alright. Maine here ain’t any trouble to anyone. He’s got a clean record in Polunsky unit. Let’s put that gun down, son.
GUARD: (Shaking) Look what he did to the table, sir!
POLUNSKY: That’s between him and the table. Maybe he’ll apologise.
(GUARD slowly lowers his gun. MAINE and POLUNSKY breathe an open sigh of relief.)
MAINE: Couple o’ days ago I wouldn’t have stopped for a gun.
POLUNSKY: Couple o’ days ago, no one had a reason to point one at you. (To GUARD) I think you need a time-out. Go a get yourself a coffee. No, scratch that, you’ll just get the jitters even worse. Go have a water.
POLUNSKY: Now. ‘Fore I have to ask you how that reporter got in.
(The GUARD opens his mouth to say something but is silenced with a look. He steps over the upturned table and heads out. POLUNSKY picks up the chair SISTER was sitting in and places it back facing MAINE.)
POLUNSKY: (Sniffs) Well? S’not like you to be chuckin’ things around.
MAINE: Who’s Marcus?
POLUNSKY: I tell you, you promise you ain’t gonna throw the table again?
(Beat. MAINE is looking at nothing.)
POLUNSKY: Some poor kid who’s been shoved through the whole process faster than a cow hit with a cattle prod. He weren’t even waitin’ two weeks for his date.
MAINE: He’s in my cell?
POLUNSKY: (Tapping feet on floor) Yeah. For a couple more days. There’s all kindsa outcry for an appeal, but after you got off like that, no one’ll wanna look at it.
MAINE: I wanna go back to my cell.
POLUNSKY: (Checks watch and sniffs) Way I see it, you’ve got a couple more minutes of visitin’ hours. I jus’ been on the phone to Building 12. They want you back in ‘bout two months. We can move you back in a couple of days. It’s clear after Marcus is done. I’m afraid you got more waitin’ to do.
MAINE: Back to my cell?
MAINE: That’s what I wanted anyway.
POLUNSKY: Not makin’ friends here? (Snorts) (Beat) I gots another question for you.
MAINE: (Smiles) A burnin’ curiosity?
POLUNSKY: Heh. S’pretty simple. (Sits back in chair) Why’d you chuck the table?
MAINE: (Glances at table. He becomes tense again.) She wanted to… disprove it. That reporter thought that… the chair…
POLUNSKY: Easy, there. You think God did it?
(MAINE looks defensive, but POLUNSKY is asking straight.)
MAINE: I don’t believe in none of that. But…
POLUNSKY: Good. You think God would want to keep you alive? (He stands and heads for the door, fumbling with his keys. He sniffs and turns back.) You were so calm, when I sat you in that chair. You moved like you were already dead.
MAINE: I think I already was.
POLUNSKY: If you had to sit in that chair now, could you do that again?
(MAINE looks down at his own chair and starts shaking at the thought. He brings his hands to his face and stares at them.)
MAINE: (Quietly, as if scared of the answer) Why’m I here?
(POLUNSKY is clearly torn, his keys still in his hand. With MAINE no longer watching he openly struggles with the decision to tell him.)
POLUNSKY: One last curiosity, Maine. Before I put you in the chair… were you happy?
MAINE: No. I wasn’t anythin’ then.
POLUNSKY: (Sighs) Maybe that’s the best.
(He pulls the chair back and sits again.)
POLUNSKY: Ask me again.
MAINE: (Lowers his hands and takes a deep breath) Why ain’t I dead?
POLUNSKY: You’re s’posed to be. There’s been no convictions yet but s’pretty obvious that heads’ll roll. Word’s goin’ round that someone paid someone to botch that Marcus’ kid’s execution. He’s innocent, and he’s only been pushed through to make his uncle look like shit. Y’know, his nephew’s been given the death sentence, he’s a family of criminals. But someone’s botched the botchin’. You’re alive, and now Marcus is gonna fry, cause there’s no way two executions in a row are gonna be skipped. So you get an extra couple o’ months. It was just a screw-up. And hey, maybe the screw-up was some kinda intervention meant to save you, but it sure as heck ain’t saved that kid. And… well, you’ve got your own date again now. Ain’t done you much good either.
(MAINE sits silently as POLUNSKY explains. When he is finished speaking they both remain sat, POLUNSKY waiting for MAINE to react. MAINE looks like a shell in his chair. POLUNSKY sighs after a long while.)
POLUNSKY: C’mon. Back to your cell. Time’s up.
(Lights up. MAINE has returned to his cell in Building 12. He sits on the toilet while FATHER THESSING lights up a cigarette on the bed. Is it the date of MAINE’s execution. He seems very tired again.)
THESSING: Well son, I ain’t ever had to give my last sermon to the same guy twice.
MAINE: I enjoyed it so much the firs’ time, I thought I should come back.
THESSING: Heck, you never listened to a word I said. (He takes a long drag. Beat.)
MAINE: S’just comfort stories. I didn’t need it.
THESSING: Well I ain’t surprised you aren’t into it. Bein’ honest, if I was sentenced twice, I’d question what the heck the big man was thinkin’ too. Makin’ me suffer not just once, but twice.
THESSING: That was open opportuni’y for you to say you were sufferin’ through my sermons, son. Swing and a miss. (He stamps the cigarette under his boot.) What’s your last bet this time gonna be then?
MAINE: I bet that I can survive your sermon.
THESSING: Oh? Interested all of a sudden? Which bit did you like, the bit ‘bout burnin’ for eternity or that circle of Hell where all the whores live?
MAINE: I don’t care for any of that. But… s’nice you do. You got a strong belief that God’s up to somethin’.
THESSING: Alright, s’long as you stay quiet through it. (He reaches for his Bible. Lights down.)
(Lights up. THESSING has completed his sermon and is preparing to leave.)
THESSING: (Pulling his jacket on) Anythin’ else I can do for you ‘fore I go?
MAINE: Jus’ one thing. Can you read me somethin’?
THESSING: You got more letters from your lovin’ public askin’ you to hurry up and die? I don’t think you should be goin’ through hate mail before you go. Gotta keep yer chin up.
MAINE: It ain’t that. (He stands and pulls the bed to one side. It scrapes along the floor and FATHER THESSING winces at the noise. MAINE struggles with the simple task. When he moves he moves slowly, and he kneels down to examine the wall at a very gentle pace.) This.
THESSING: (Kneels down next to him and pulls out his glasses) How long ago’s this from?
MAINE: S’new, wasn’t here last time I was. What’s it say?
THESSING: Faith, son. That’s all it says. Just faith.
(MAINE escorts the FATHER to the door.)
THESSING: In the next life then. You’ll be expected, I’m sure.
MAINE: Thank you.
(THESSING leaves. POLUNSKY opens the door to let him out, and nods to MAINE as he does so.)
POLUNSKY: Two minutes.
(He shuts the door. MAINE sits on the floor, beside the writing. He is not at all as still as he was during the beginning, but keeps shifting himself. Beat.)
MAINE: Faith, huh? Didn’t take you two lives to figure that out. Sorry, Marcus. (Beat) Y’know what, I still think Polunsky and that reporter are wrong. That’s probably stupid. Hell, this whole thing’s been stupid. But pointless? I been thinkin’. See, this coulda happened to anyone. Why’d it happen to the one guy in this whole joint who probably wanted to sit in that chair? Cause I shouldn’t have wanted it. And I don’t now. I don’t wanna die.
(He starts to cry softly. He brings his hands to his face and wipes some tears away, and ends up staring at his hands again.)
MAINE: I didn’t care ‘bout her dyin’, Marcus. When I killed her. Part of me thought that was right. Even if I was out there I would’ve just been waitin’ for death anyway. Had no way, no point. I think s’why that chair broke. Cause I sure don’t feel right that you died. And I had nothin’ to do with that. Strange.
Polunsky wanted me to feel nothin’. It took me awhile to get it. Never really understood people. It took me a couple of weeks, but I think I get it. He thought I was better off when I was ready to die. S’kind of him. He sure does remind me of this place. Kind, but not right. Dyin’ without feelin’ bad about it was probably all I had left. Well, that’s what he thought anyway. I ain’t mad.
(Noise outside and footsteps coming towards door. MAINE pulls himself to standing slowly.)
It was nice to feel special. (He starts counting down again as the footsteps approach. He reaches zero, the door opens.)
© Danny Dourado 2011-2013