“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Not at all. What is it?”
The prisoner lowered his head. “What would you do if I told you that I was innocent?”
The executioner frowned. “You wouldn’t be the first to say it. Unfortunately, I have no say in your legal stance.”
The prisoner eyed the syringes that the executioner was sorting through. “Do you suppose that you’ve ever killed an innocent person before?”
Slowly, the executioner nodded. “I suppose I may have.”
“Well I can assure you,” the prisoner told him, “I am innocent.”
The executioner shook his head. “You are beyond saving at this point.”
“Does it feel wrong, knowing that you may kill an innocent man?”
The executioner ignored him. Instead, he turned to his assistant. “Can you fetch me the third injection?”
The assistant nodded and opened a drawer behind him. It was an unpleasant place to be executed. Cramped, musty, unwelcoming. “Here it is,” the assistant said, passing the syringe to the executioner.
Sometimes the family members, or loved ones would request to see a prisoner when he was killed. When people came to observe, the prisoner would be moved into a sort of viewing room. The executioner had noticed that this didn’t happen all that often. I Without anyone to view the death, the prisoner would instead be seated in this grimy office in the back of the facility.
It was a simple process, consisting of three injections. The first injection would render the prisoner unconscious. The second injection would numb the prisoner, assuring that he felt no pain. The third injection would react with the previous two, causing the heart to stop beating and the brain to stop functioning. It was a very precise art, to get the exact doses into the syringes to match the prisoner’s body mass and blood pressure. If a mistake in dosage was too erroneous, then the execution could be extremely painful, and especially unpredictable.
The executioner was both proud and thankful to say that he had not yet made a single mistake when measuring the injections. “We’ll be ready in just a moment,” he assured the prisoner.
“Thanks,” the prisoner muttered, not seeming to be listening.
“I understand that the anticipation is the worst part,” the executioner acknowledged. If he were to be sentenced to death himself, he had always thought that the guillotine would be the best way to go. Perhaps it would hurt, for only a moment, but the executioner was certain that it would effectively kill.
The assistant lined up the first two syringes on the table. The executioner needed only to calculate the dosage of the last drug. He had done so many injections in his career by now that he hardly had to think about what he was doing.
Abruptly, the prisoner spoke up. “Can I have… a final request?”
It was by no means the first time that somebody had said this. “That depends on the request,” the executioner replied curtly.
“I would like to listen to a song,” the prisoner said.
The executioner nodded to his assistant. “We have a computer here. We can play you a song. What would you like to hear?”
The prisoner named a song. The musician was familiar to the executioner, but he tried to take no note of it. Instead, the executioner asked, “Would you like to be put to death after the song has ended, or at some point in the middle?”
The prisoner answered, “I would like to wait until it’s over. The ending is the best part.”
The assistant found the song, and he pressed play. It was a lovely song, and the executioner noted that the lyrics were rather poignant. The prisoner closed his eyes, finally appearing to relax as the executioner prepared the final injection.
It must have been the chorus that the executioner recognized. Yes, he had heard this song before. It had been written back when he was young, and he had forgotten about both the song and the musician entirely.
The prisoner was right. The end of the song was the best part.
“I’m ready,” the prisoner said, as the final note was fading.
Just as he had a hundred times, the executioner injected the first syringe, then the second, and then the third.
The prisoner died, and the executioner hardly took notice.
The assistant removed the body from the room while the executioner replaced the syringes. It was the only lethal injection that had to be performed today.
The executioner went home, to his wife and kids.
He went home and ate his dinner as if it were any other day.
It wasn’t until after the sun had set and the kids had gone to bed that the executioner noticed that there was a song stuck in his head.
He knew the song, but he couldn’t remember the name.
At first it was an unsettling annoyance. The executioner did all that he could to push the song out of his mind. After some time, he found this to be impossible. He wanted to hear the song again, but he still couldn’t remember the name. The lyrics were murky in the back of his head, unclear and meaningless syllables that he couldn’t quite put together.
So the executioner tried to find the lyrics online. He was unsuccessful. He couldn’t recall a single word. All that he knew was the melody, particularly the chorus.
Feeling an uncanny impatience, he sifted through old CDs while his wife watched TV. She seemed to take no notice of him, which was relieving. The executioner felt that he might be losing his mind. Or at least, he would lose his mind if he couldn’t remember the name of that song.
Before he knew it, he was trudging up to the attic, scavenging for boxes of old records. He no longer had a record player, but if perhaps he recognized the cover of the album, he would be able to find the song.
It wasn’t until now that his wife took notice of him, heaving a box of records down the steps, sorting through them on the living room floor.
“What are you doing?” she asked him.
“I have this… song… stuck in my head,” he muttered, sifting through the albums. He could remember every single one of these records, and none of them held the song that still rang in his head.
“Do you remember the name?” his wife asked him.
The executioner shook his head fervently, sorting through the records faster and faster. “I can’t remember the name. I can’t even remember who wrote it.”
His wife suggested, “Do you remember the words?”
“No. None of them.”
His wife, unable to help, went up to bed and left him alone.
All night, he looked through those records. But he couldn’t remember the song.
He couldn’t remember the song.
He couldn’t remember the song.