That much is true. The prisoner can’t ever know the day of his execution. One day it is the day and that’s that. They bring you a snack, some kind of special snack. Something nice. Then they take you out of your cell. They take you to a hall and you notice it is a hall where you haven’t been before. At first maybe you think you are being exercised, or being taken to the infirmary. But, no, it is perfectly clear, this is a different section. It is a hall that is rarely used and it feels that way. You go down the hall and there are little windows and there are no bars, no bars on the windows. Outside you can see a lawn. Then you come to a door. The guard doesn’t have a key. The door just opens. Someone stands behind the door all the time waiting and when someone comes, when the time is right, he opens the door. You go through it. Now you’re in a semi-open space. There is a desk with a guard-sergeant. He has a lamp and a book. He checks your papers against the book. You do not have your papers. In fact, you’ve never seen them. But the guard who came with you has them. A doctor comes out, along with three other guards, ones you have seen before, ones who have dealt with you in the past. You are examined and the doctor and guards sign off. They are making a written statement that you are in fact you, that it is no one else but you standing there at that moment. You sign the document as well, agreeing that you are yourself. When it is done, the sergeant unlocks a door on the far side of the area. He does this once the others have left. It is a procedure. It is all a procedure. They leave; he unlocks the door; you go through. Your two guards have been exchanged for two others. They go in with you, one on each side. You are now in the first of three rooms. The execution suite is composed of three rooms. The first is a chapel. A Buddha statue is on the altar. A priest is waiting. You may have seen him before, on his visits to these very cells. He speaks to you warmly. He might be the only one to meet your eyes. He asks you to sit. There by the altar he reads to you and what he reads you are the last rites. Now you know for sure. Even if you have been pretending that it isn’t so, now it is suddenly clear. Although you have told yourself some irrational story, that on the day of your execution some event of some kind will occur, and that from this event you will know it is the day of your execution, nonetheless, such an event is an invention. The guards do not wear different uniforms. You are not offered a cigarette. You do not go outside to be taken elsewhere in a covered van. Whatever event you have imagined, it is empty and meaningless. You are read the last rites, and that experience is fleeting. So soon it is over. So quickly you are raised onto your two legs. A door in the farther side of the room opens. You go through. The next room is smaller. Someone is waiting there, too. It is the warden. He is dressed very beautifully and appears distinguished, like a general. He waits until you are positioned properly. He waits. When you are standing where you should, he reaches into his pocket. He takes out of his pocket a piece of paper. What is he going to say? Even the guards are restless in this far room. What he reads is this: he is ordering the execution. He uses your name several times, pronouncing it with wonderful care, and it is like you have never heard your name before. You are to be killed by the order of someone or something. He leaves the room and the door locks. Another guard has come in. He has a bag and out of the bag he produces handcuffs. These are placed on your wrists and firmly tightened. Next he produces a blindfold. The guards move around you as if you are delicate. They are performing a series of operations on an object. You are secured. Your arms are secured. Your head is secured. The blindfold is applied to your head and face. Now you can no longer see. The guards guide you now. You go through a door which must have opened soundlessly, the door beyond the warden and the second Buddha statue. You realize you have looked at the last thing you may ever see. If you are wild, if you have become wild, if you become wild, it no longer matters because you have been secured. But most are not wild. Most are led into the room without complaint. Even with animals, covering the eyes produces docility. The bag the guard brought was full of docility and you feel it. The guards have been gentle with you; they are guiding you. You are positioned in the final room, the last room. You feel the space of it around you. The guards touch your shoulders and your head. They lay something over your head, down over the blindfold. They are so gentle with you, like barbers. It is a rope they have laid upon your neck. The rope is laid like a stiff collar on a new dress shirt, and made snug. Everyone is around you, very close. Then, delicately, they remove their hands from you, from off your shoulders, your neck, your arms. They step away. Now it is quiet. You can feel the rope’s upward direction. Occasionally it brushes against the back of your head. Perhaps you can guess where you entered the room. You are doing things like that, guessing with senses that are not operating. A noise comes, a trapdoor has been released and you fall through the floor as if it were not a floor, not the floor of a room such as you have known, but the floor of a room like a gallows. That is the last room, a room like a gallows tree.
This is an extract from Jesse Ball’s book, Silence Once Begun, released by Text Publishing.
Image credit: Michael Coghlan