He remembered the unhappy sensation: a pleasure tainted by his conscience. He vowed then and there never to let such irrational feelings spoil a good meal again….”
by j.r. salling
It seemed fitting that the corpulent Don and his lawyer amused themselves by playing hangman while the prosecution built its case. He had committed atrocities of the hanging kind. Although the legal codes no longer permit such retribution, an extra long rope would have been required if they did. The Don’s neck was thick, thicker than the bullet head it propped up.
He took the stand in his own defense. “I’ve never done anything. Never. Not in my whole life,” he testified. “Ask mama.”
His old but still raven-haired mother lowered her romance novel and smiled long enough for the average shutter speed, should a photographer want to capture another image of her. Like everyone else, she knew her son would be convicted and sentenced to death, and had become bored with the proceedings. At least she could look good in the papers.
The defense rested with no other witnesses.
“All the evidence points to his guilt,” declared the chief prosecutor in summation, holding photographs of blood splattered victims in both hands high in the air so that the molecules of retribution could circulate.
The defendant belched. The sound echoed throughout the chamber, causing the entire gallery to hold their collective breath, as if a vial of nitro teetered on a precipice.
“I object,” said the prosecutor to no avail, the precedents against courtroom gastritus rare and somewhat muddled, no matter how contemptible. While he returned to his speech, still certain of getting his desired verdict, the Don leaned over and whispered to his lawyer. “I was wondering where I’d left that particularly Catholic part of myself.”
When his lawyer returned a puzzled look, he pointed to the evidence table. Never presented was a little black spongy mass with a small paper label, upon which someone had written the case number and the word “guilt – G. Bilioso.” Lost many years earlier, the Don had believed he would never see that part of himself again. But there it was in the flesh, held, if necessary, to take the stand against him, self against self.
The mere presence of his missing part took him back to his childhood for the first time in ages, back until he sat in his mother’s kitchen with his older brother. The memory so vivid, he watched himself snatch his brother’s breaded veal patty and stuff it whole into his fleshy face. He remembered the unhappy sensation: a pleasure tainted by his conscience. He vowed then and there never to let such irrational feelings spoil a good meal again, nor the satisfaction of any appetite for that matter.
He sensed a renewed craving for his favorite childhood dish as he recalled the event. Then, oblivious to the proceedings, he revisited every evil deed he had ever committed, one by one, in rapid fashion. This was no confessional. With each scene his hunger grew sharper, like a shoal of juvenile piranha had discovered his massive gut.
By the time he was returned to his cell, he would have eaten anything, but the prison fare they served up failed to improve his condition. Nothing they gave him tasted like food at all. Hunger soon became the Don’s existence, his every waking hour, his substitute for sleep. Only his mother’s veal recipe would eliminate the terrible cravings. He was certain.
Nothing changed after his conviction and death sentence, except that his once corpulent body shrank to mere skin and bones over the next few months. So strong, so unremitting are his hunger pangs that he now maintains a constant vigil, his cell cloudy with incense, praying for it to be the day when the state grants him his last meal request, his only appeal. “Then,” the Don told his lawyer, “I’ll eat like there’s no tomorrow.”
In the meantime he waits and tries to take his mind off of his suffering by having others on death row come up with words. The emaciated Don then guesses the letters.
(illustration: john richen)
J.R. Salling is a teacher of mathematics, which should not imply any special ability in the discipline. His stories, for example, don’t always add up in the end. Publication credits include Pindeldyboz, Opium Magazine, Yankee Pot Roast, Facsimilation, Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k), Insolent Rudder, The Dead Mule, uber, Ten Thousand Monkeys, Copperfield Review, Rumble, Skive, Subterranean Quarterly, Defenestration & Thieves Jargon.