September 14, 2012 by Alex McElroy
He wakes up.
He warms up the car.
He looks at the sun.
He watches his daughter sleep.
He pours coffee into a thermos.
He drives. He drives. He drives.
He idles in traffic.
He listens to the radio.
He creeps past a small car burning on the side of the road.
Snowfall flatters the flames. Three people in parkas standing next to the car hold their bare hands to the engine well.
He thinks: Today I will kill someone.
He turns up the radio.
He corrects himself: No, he’s killed himself. I’m just the guy giving him what he—
He increases the speed of the wiper blades.
He arrives at work.
Plowed gray snow surrounds the lot like a ring of old teeth.
He nudges his front bumper into the snow.
He greets his coworkers and asks how they’re doing.
He tells them he’s doing fine.
He puts his wallet and phone and pocket change into a small plastic tub.
He steps through a metal detector.
The metal detector beeps.
He has pins in his left knee.
He retrieves his wallet and phone and pocket change from the small plastic tub.
He rinses his face in the bathroom reserved for the guards.
He unties his boots.
He ties his boots.
He exits the bathroom.
He tells the warden that he’s ready.
He follows the warden into a small room the color of oxidized copper.
He pretends not to look at himself in the one-way mirror.
He prepares the IV.
He says, So the compounds are identical?
He is told, Nearly identical.
He examines the gravity bags.
He says, But nearly identical isn’t identical.
He is told, No shit.
He is told, But this stuff’s made in America. Some fine little plant in Kentucky.
He thinks, automatically, Job creators.
He steps aside when the door opens.
The man on the stretcher is wheeled into the room. The door is latched shut.
He connects the IV to the needle stuck in the man’s arm.
He thinks of movies where men in this man’s position dramatically escape custody.
He considers what he will do if the man muscles out of the straps.
He will tackle the man.
He slides a pulse monitor onto the man’s middle finger.
He says, You’re welcome, when the man thanks him.
He listens to the man read a prepared statement in which he apologizes to the family of his victim.
He imagines the parents and older sister of the victim sitting in the witness room.
He imagines the mother of the victim gripping her husband’s hand.
He watches the warden watching the phone.
He administers the IV drip.
The man’s heart rate slows. His breathing slows. His eyelids sink over his eyes.
He waits ten minutes then starts the second drip.
He wonders what the man ate for dinner.
He wonders if his wife will cook dinner.
The man’s heart rate jumps.
He looks at the warden with minor alarm.
He asks the warden if he should detach the drip.
He does not remove the man from the drip.
The man inconveniently twitches. His eyes bulge like a balloon full of milk squeezed in a vise. He tears into the vinyl cover on the armrests. He gulps and murmurs. He defecates.
He peers at the one-way mirror.
He imagines the complicated smiles expressed by the victim’s family.
He helps the warden hold the chair still.
He asks the warden a question.
He doesn’t receive an answer.
He watches the heart monitor’s reflection flat line backwards.
He feels relief working through him.
He imagines the victim’s family thanking him.
He so rarely makes others happy.
He rolls the gurney into the hallway.
He puts the gurney into the care of two coworkers.
He dallies, and when he thinks no one is looking, he peers inside the witness room.
He is startled by its emptiness.
He steps away.
He shakes hands with the warden.
He is commended.
He is told that there are still a few kinks to work out.
He goes to the bathroom.
He doesn’t pee.
He sits at his desk.
He notices a black speck under his left middle finger.
He tries to scrape it out with the point of a pencil and accidentally draws a line under his fingernail.
He laughs at himself for being so stupid.
He phones his wife.
He tells her he loves her.
He eats lunch.
He asks his coworkers what they plan to do this upcoming weekend.
He tells them what he plans to do.
He leaves work promptly at five p.m.
He drives. He drives.
He idles in traffic.
He stops for gas.
He buys a king-size bag of peanut M&Ms.
He eats them three-at-a-time.
He forgets to look for a charred black streak on the side of the road where the car was on fire.
He gets upset with himself for not looking.
He arrives at home.
He kisses his wife on the lips.
He kisses his daughter on the forehead.
He sits on the couch with his daughter.
The man is stripped and cooked until his body turns into flakes and obstinate molars.
He asks her about school.
He watches the news absent-mindedly.
He thinks, Today I have made her a little bit safer.
He lets his daughter watch whatever she wants.
He eats pizza with his family.
He changes the channel to that sitcom that his friends like.
He tells his daughter that she cannot go to her room.
He reminds her that they are a family.
He stares at something indefinite on the wall.
He squeezes his daughter.
He squeezes his wife.
He hopes he won’t be able to sleep.
Alex McElroy’s fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Tin House Flash Fridays, Booth, Word Riot, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Arizona, where he serves as the International Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review.