Potassium Cyanide Drip

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You agreed to meet me in the parking lot. Like always, you walked away ahead of me, you walked a little too fast on those stork legs you have, I raced after to catch up. You wore your one blue shoe and one red, all around the rubber edge you had ballpointed in checkerboards, and robots, too, very careful, very small. (Once upon a time you grabbed my hand, you lined up my wrist two twining sweet pea vines in inky blue and green. You didn’t ask me first, the pin-sharp ballpoint kind of hurt, but I didn’t mind, I let you make your mark on me.)

You dragged your robot-edged sneakers through the weeds, weeds traced the chain link fence, I was taking you back to my Garden that belonged to my Community. (Though I guess the weeds belonged to Nobody? Nobody bothered to pull them out, at least.) You scuffed along like you didn’t care if you rubbed your robots out, you could always draw more designs, you were so casual like that about Things That You Cared About.

(When we first met, my phone dentist drilled against my locker door, my fingers twirled the lock as fast as sound to oh so quickly catch you there: c u soon! And missing u! Yeah, well, I guess that was b4…)

“So,” you started talking finally, you stopped finally to let me catch up, I knew you wanted something then, some secret you could take and keep, you leaned your hip against the garden fence, the chain links shook like loose change you had to spend. “You never told me. How?”

Before that day you never asked me once about my dad. Now you poured me out your liquid look. Your black hair brushed across one eye, you didn’t blink at all. “How?” you said.

Sometimes when you wanted something, I wanted very badly to give it to you.

Sometimes, I wanted very badly to punish you.

Sometimes I wanted both.

The wind lifted up your hair and your eyes got all iodine solution-blue.

“Death row,” I plucked some weedlings up. “Lethal ejection.”

You laced your fingers through the fence, you sucked in a truly impressed breath, like, Wow. Like, better than you’d hoped. Then you sprang with shimmer sounds off of the fence, you loped along again ahead of me.

“It was quarter to midnight,” I pulled up another weed, a piece of plain old oxalis, a simple garden volunteer, but you for some reason wanted to believe a thing like that was something else, a magic four-leaf clover. (My cousin Nathan always says Oh, Little Family Freak! By what he means: I was never great with words AND, but I always was good with things that grow. And this is why I sometimes gave you flowers, but also why I’d pretend I never knew the names of them, you know.) “What are the odds?” you’d grin, this was something sweet about you, like a little kid: about the four-leaf clovers. It was not like you in that way with any other thing I knew: To Believe In Luckiness.

“They just rolled up his sleeves,” I simply strolled along, I chewed a piece of sour grass, I made it up a little as I went, but not, you know, entirely. “The prison guards. All those bright lights, and that one bright little needle, it bit like Amazon piranha teeth right into his arm.”

In the weeds beside the fence, you toed a wild poppy, you slowed down, you stared into outer space, you took the sharp piranha in.

I would never pick a wild one –a wild Golden poppy flower—you are not allowed, you know, they are subject to endangerment, there are really laws for that. But when I looked down, well, suddenly I wanted to give you an orange that orange-ish, or oranger: “He was still wearing the day-glo orange prison suit. Even then. Even at the very end. Of Death’s Row, I mean.” You shook your hair down over sad and wild eyes. “My mom and I got to watch. Through a little window with screws in it. Like a port hole. The other side of glass that’s bulletproof.”

I could actually hear the facts tick out even as I made them up (it was not lying, not one hundred percent): how the death room went so quiet, how I could hear the clock click up to midnight, hear the drip drip drip of poison though the i.v. line. (I did not tell you about Dad’s faint breath poisoned with sickness and with medicine. About Dad’s head on the flower pillowcase. How Dad fixed on me, how Dad’s eyes dewed up, how I’m so lucky, Dad said.)

“Potassium cyanide drip?” you offered me the fancy name, I stared at your so willing eyes, your eyes for one real minute so sincere, so hopeful, too.

It wasn’t really about my dad, even I could see it, even then: you wanted to suck some green and tender part of me I’d never let you touch before (this was the last time you let me see you before you Left for Good). “Really?” You jounced a little on your toes, you really sounded glad.

“No,” I said. I let my fingernails skitter like a stick along the fence. I reached the green oxalis out to you. “Not really,” I let the four leaves drop into your palm, I let the mystery of Dad re-fold, I did not either tell you it was not Four Leaf Clover. I let you think that you had all the luck.

——

“Potassium Cyanide Drip” (938 words) is an excerpt from my unpublished novel, You Don’t Know What Makes Me Tick.

The Author

The 2012 James D. Houston scholar at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hilary A. Zaid’s fiction has recently appeared in Educe Literary Journal and Glitterwolf and is forthcoming in Skin to Skin. “Potassium Cyanide Drip” is an excerpt from the unpublished novel You Don’t Even Know What Makes Me Tick. No California poppies were harmed in the making of this chapter. hilary@zaid.net

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