Christopher let his head fall gently against the damp wooden bench. He hadn’t had a good night’s rest in nearly ten years — not since he was first thrust into the cell, and the cell’s key tossed away. The room was small. Christopher had only enough room to lie down with his feet pressed firmly against the ever-moist sone composing the wall that kept him from the outside world. There was only one bible-sized window. Over the years, that window became the only sliver of hope remaining with Christopher. A single remaining bastion of his former life.
A drop of rain hit the sill of Christopher’s window, as he sat, stilly and silently, waiting for sleep’s arrival. Soon another. And another, and another until drops leaked through the ceiling, and landed on his forehead. He drew in a deep, exasperated breath, smiled a little, and counted the drops. A few drips later, and at long last, Christopher drifted to dreams.
The next morning, precisely at sunrise, Christopher woke, as he always did, to the clanking of a heavy sword dragging across iron bars, and to the orders barked by the tower’s guards. A few hours later, when Christopher a guard normally hurled his breakfast through the bars, the soft and painfully piercing familiarity of a woman’s voice penetrated the silent cell. Christopher raised his head and saw, for the first time since he was sentenced, his wife standing before the cell door. He had always tried not to think of her, but when he did, he remembered the way her curly hair cradled her head like an auburn crown, and the way her face radiated a pale light in the morning sun. In his head, she was ageless, like busts of the ancients: forever youthful and forever perfect. Time had, however, taken its toll. The sun’s glow on her pale skin remained, but was now accompanied by the shadows of the wrinkles landscaping her face, and her hair was now a several shades nearer grey than Christopher remembered.
Christopher stood up promptly, and straightened the filthy, tattered rags draped over him as though that would somehow make him seem less like the criminal she now thought him to be. He went to the bars, and pushed his scarred, bony hand through a set, trying to take her hands in his. She looked down for a brief moment, then completely ignored the gesture.
“Amelia,” he said. He had forgotten how magnificent those syllables felt when they flew from his lips.
“Hello, Christopher.” she said. She kept herself from smiling, though she loved him, still. She couldn’t smile. Not when she knew that he was only days from the gallows. “It’s nearly time, now.”
Christopher dropped his gaze to the floor. Those words felt like a lead brick slamming into his stomach. He last saw his wife on the day of his sentencing, and cried when she left without a word. He never expected to see her again, and had prepared nothing. Even his mind, the only thing left of his former self, failed him. He said the only thing he could think to: “Yes. It is.”
“Edward… he wants to see you. Before you’re…” she hesitated. “Well, before he can’t.”
“How is he?”
“He’s smart. Very smart. I taught him to read. To write. He’s smarter than we ever were. He has the mind of a philosopher. I’ll never know where he got that from,” She hesitates. “He looks like you. Too much like you.”
“Does he…” Christopher couldn’t bring himself to finish that sentence.
“Christopher, I don’t understand this. How could he?”
He didn’t know, and stopped a moment before speaking again. He didn’t like the idea that his son’s only memory of his father would be like this. In this place. And he know Amelia didn’t, either.
“Do you want him to see me?” Christopher said.
“He wants to see you before you’re gone. In the end, you are still his father. I can’t change that. Seeing you is his right, and if that’s what he wants… well, I won’t stop him. I only came to ask if you wanted to see him.”
Of course Christopher did. He missed the boy, who was only a year old when Christopher held him last. He remembered when he picked him up for the first time. The boy was so small, and seemed so fragile. Christopher’s hands trembled so powerfully that he thought he might drop the child then and there. But when he looked into the boy’s blue eyes and listened to his first cries, somehow all that terror melted away. Christopher had never felt so loved, or so proud then he did at that moment.
“What have you told him?” Christopher asked.
Amelia’s face reddened, and she looked to the ground. “I told him the truth. He deserved to know… who you were Why you were never there. Look, I didn’t come here to explain myself… Will you see him?”
Christopher took a long moment before responding. He looked again into the enormous opalescent eyes of his wife. He missed those eyes. The eyes their son inherited. Finally, he sighed and softly said, “Yes.”
“I’ll send him here tomorrow, then,” she said. Then, with no further ceremony, she turned and left. For the rest of the night Christopher pondered what he would tell his son — how he would explain his sin in terms a ten-year-old could understand.
The next morning, Christopher waited anxiously for his son to arrive. It felt as if someone was using his stomach as a meat grinder, and the scraps of food the guard threw to the ground never had tasted so terrible. He still wasn’t sure what he planned to say.
An hour later, a guard told Christopher his son had arrived. The guard, a surprisingly compact man, led Christopher to a small room with only a table and two chairs at its center.
“Wait here,” he told Christopher, who couldn’t find the strength to sit down. Not only was his stomach still pounding with pain, but Christopher felt as if hundreds of ants were crawling the length of his arms and legs, and the chains seemed to weigh heavier on him, now, than ever before. It was all he could do not scratch the skin from his arms. He looked like a drunk waiting for the pub to open.
The door opened, and Christopher eyes darted to the guard and the young boy standing beside him. Christopher nodded, then the guard left them. Christopher examined the boy. Took each arm in his hand, felt his hair, looked deeply into his eyes. He was the same infant Christopher remembered. Perhaps older, perhaps bigger, perhaps closer to manhood, but his eyes were unchanged. Christopher knew those eyes. He could never forget those big, hopeful blue eyes. For a long time, silence shrouded the room as boy and man stood before each other, unsure how to proceed.
Finally, the boy walked passed Christopher and sat in one of the rickety, uneven chairs. Christopher did the same. Still, no words between them. Words could only have sullied this. Could only have made tangible those emotions which are not meant to be voiced or understood. They stared at each other for a moment longer before Christopher decided something did need saying, events did need acknowledging.
“Edward…” Christopher started, not knowing how to finish. He never was good with words, but he had hoped that some luck might be granted him. Hopefully, enough luck to happen upon the right words. “I’m sorry,” was as close as he came.
Edward did not immediately have a response. And, in fact, did not look to have anything to say. His face was empty save for intrigue and a hint of sadness.
“Why did you do it?”