I wrote this piece as an entry for the 2018 Literary Taxidermy short story competition https://literarytaxidermy.com/. The premise of the competition was to take an opening and closing line from one of three short stories and provide your own unique filling. The story I chose was “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker. Without further ado here is my entry, UNREPENTANT.
Please, God, let him telephone me now.
I can’t stand to be in this awful lockup for one second more. It’s undignified to be surrounded by lowlifes, rapists and murderers, all the scum of the earth together in a rat-infested holding cell. All it will take is one phone call from my lawyer and this whole thing will be straightened out. They have no right to keep me locked up for a simple misunderstanding, it’s a violation of my Fourth Amendment rights and they know it.
The parasites here give me a wide berth like I’m some sort of oddity. Like I, of all people, am someone to be stigmatized. The nerve. The detectives are no better, pressing on me hard to admit my supposed crimes, attempting to trip me up in a lie. I’ve given them nothing. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, I can attest to that much at least. Practice makes perfect.
It’s been three days since they knocked down my front door. I was just sitting there watching Good Morning America with a cup of coffee when the door splintered and cracked, and a bunch of brutes piled in and slammed me onto the floor. The coffee stains will be difficult to remove from the carpet. I must remember to file a complaint and have them reimburse me when I am freed. They started destroying the walls and digging up my yard soon after. I suppose I will be lucky if my house is still standing when I get back there.
At long last my lawyer calls and they lead me to the telephone. The cuffs they have placed around my ankles chafe, and the straight jacket they’ve wrapped me in makes it inconvenient to talk on the phone. I manage though, and swallow my pride, knowing that as soon as I talk to my lawyer this whole thing will be straightened out. Some turnkey looms over my shoulder like an ape. Haven’t they ever heard of privacy in here?
“George, finally. It’s good to hear your voice,” I say, the phone crammed between my ear and shoulder. “I trust you’ve arranged bail? It’s been a nightmare in here, I just want to go home.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, so long that I thought the call had cut out. “George? Please tell me you’re still there.”
“I’m here John, I was just thinking of how best to frame this. The list of charges they’ve raised against you is as long as my arm. And the evidence they’ve found…”
“Just give it to me straight, don’t sugar coat it George I can’t stand when people sugar coat things. Tell me the wrongful charges these buffoons have brought against me so we can begin to plan my defense.”
“Well, I must say it is not looking good John. They found what they were looking for, buried under your house. In the crawlspace as well. To be frank it turns my stomach, but you are my client, and it is my duty to defend you. As to our strategy, insanity might be the best—”
It was there I tuned out. Plead insanity? The entire idea was preposterous. There was no reason to do such a thing. As an innocent man in charge of his faculties, the jury would assume I was guilty and just trying to weasel my way out of my judgement. Psychiatrists would be brought in to discredit me. I can’t have that. No, I would need to get rid of this ambulance chaser and bring on new counsel. Perhaps even represent myself? Yes, that will be the only way that I can get a fair trial.
“Thank you George I won’t need your services any more, goodbye,” I said, and dropped the phone from my shoulder. The ape was annoyed that he had to pick it up and quite roughly shoved me back to my holding cell. I’m sure they will be back again soon to put the screws to me, but I am no easy man to bully.
As I am transported from place to place I have plenty of time to think. Mostly I wonder how it is I got here, which invariably takes me back to my childhood, which is always unpleasant to re-experience. I was always wrongly accused of things when I was a child as well. The principal, the priest, and most of all my mother. They were all against me. They were the first to go. I can only hope that any jury of yokels they cobble together have enough brains to know an innocent man when they see one.
At my trial they paraded the bodies they found before the jury, showed the rotting flesh, the yellowing skin, the ruined eyes. The prosecutor counted them up for the simpletons in the jury. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five. They would have kept going long past that if they’d found them all. Sometimes I remember where I hid the rest, sometimes I forget. Sometimes I feel like I’m living more than one life at a time. It upsets them when I don’t react to their suffering, when I maintain my innocence. It is not my fault those people chose to die. The judge calls me unrepentant and I suppose he is right. I am barely there as he reads out my sentence.
Now I sit in my cell for twenty-three hours a day and write appeals letters. One hour a day is spent in the yard performing some light calisthenics while a guard perches in a tower pointing his rifle at me. They don’t allow me to mingle with the other riff-raff. The good souls at the capitol have abolished the death penalty in this state. Thirty-five life sentences to be served consecutively is cruel and unusual punishment no matter what the news media and their cronies say. They can’t hold me forever. Justice will prevail eventually, I am sure of that.
I often get letters of forgiveness or hatred from the families of the people I set free. I toss them in the trash, they are of no use to me, and I don’t understand why they send them. I will never understand why.
Every year I scratch a tally mark into the wall in my cell. I feel like I’ve been doing this for an eternity. This morning on a whim I counted them all up. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five…