The scaffold went up overnight, and it’s waiting for me now. From every corner of this room, I can see it through the only window, a stark silhouette against a pallid morning sky, beckoning like an outstretched finger. Whether that finger is on the hand of God or of the Devil, I suppose that I won’t know until I answer its call.
What little there was to say has been said, and almost everything there was to do has been done. All that is left is for the crowd to gather, and for the sun to reach its peak, and for the man who sits outside of my door to walk me up the hill. I will not try to fight it, and I will not try to run. I will not ask my God for his forgiveness, nor the people at the gallows for theirs. It has already been decided that the blood is on my hands, and I will say nothing to the contrary.
I would like to say now that I am not afraid. I would like even more for that to be the truth. But as I sit on the edge of a cot in the last home I’ll ever have, the tremble of my hand and the tapping of my heels remind me that I have never been a brave man, and I am very much afraid. Not of the scaffold, and not of the rope, and not of the jeers of the crowd or of the man who will drop the floor. What keeps this lump in my throat is that I have to wonder now, will she be there? After the drop, and after the snap, wherever I end up, will she be waiting? Is she waiting for me now? When I am called upon to answer for the things that I have done, will the eyes that look upon me be the eyes of Sadie Lee? Will they be the same bright, cheerful blue as on the day we met, or will they be as dark and full of tears as on the day I went away? Will they be cold and still and cast in the same slate gray I found on the day that I came back?
In the Ozarks, in Missouri, the name Josiah Stanton – my name – is bound to be remembered, but buried in a potter’s field with no prayers and no stone, I can hold some hope that, with some time, that memory will fade. What matters is that Sadie Lee will never have to lie in unconsecrated ground. The roses they’ll plant by the marble that will come to bear her name will spread and bloom in crimson, like blood across the placard of a faded gingham dress.
When the man at the door told me that the funeral was done, I didn’t say a word, just as I hadn’t when he told me that the bullet fit my gun.
He didn’t mention the child she carried, and I guess he didn’t know. Sadie had just found out herself, or so her letter said. They’ll never find that letter. I’ve made sure of that. No one will ever know that my hand hadn’t held the gun, or that I hadn’t made it to her yet when the trigger had been pulled.
A sizable crowd has gathered now, and the sun is near its peak, and soon the man who sits outside of my door will walk me up the hill.
I will not try to fight it, and I will not try to run.
Derek Alan Jones is one of a great many Derek Joneses in the world and is almost certainly not the one you’re thinking of.