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“Last Requests”

By

Mark S. R. Peterson




Copyright 2016 © Mark S. R. Peterson



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I remember the first time I died.

I woke up, just before dawn, to the echoing clang of the cell doors leading to Death Row. Clarence Diesen soon stopped outside my cell, keys in his hands.

“Ready, Pete?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said, bouncing off the bed. I thrust my hands through the bars and he cuffed them. Then, I stepped back while he opened the door, shackled my feet, and off we went. I couldn’t wait. The warden was kind enough to allow me, as one of my last requests, to see my final sunrise.

But as we neared the outer doors, Clarence’s radio squawked. He pulled it off his belt. “Yes, sir, this is Clarence,” he said.

My heart sank as I heard the warden say, “We’ll have to cancel it. Too many protestors. It’ll jeopardize security.”

“Yes, sir. I understand.” Clarence turned to me. “Sorry, Pete. Warden-”

“I know,” I said. “I heard.”

Stupid protesters. They’ve got to preach their little hearts out about how wrong the government is for killing another human being. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they say. Better to have a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Easy for them to say. They don’t have to do the time.

Breakfast on Death Row was simple: a bowl of oatmeal, two pieces of either bacon or sausage, an orange, and a slice of toast. Every other day we got a hard-boiled egg, the shell already peeled off—they probably didn’t want us slitting our wrists on the shells. But as the guards delivered the usual breakfast to the other inmates, I was given a different one.

I grew up on a large farm in northern Minnesota. We weren’t the typical farming family with a gazillion kids to help with all the work. I was an only child. My parents tried to have more, but after multiple miscarriages they came to the conclusion that they may have to adopt. But adoption was expensive and farming was not always lucrative. One bad crop could have debt-ridden reverberations over the next three or four years.

When I was sixteen, Mom died and Dad became a violent drunken widow. I tried to immerse myself in school and hockey, but my grades fell. After I was kicked off the team because of my low GPA, I decided I had enough. I ran away. I drifted southward over the next few years, finding cash work on farms, until I ended up at a cattle ranch near Waco, Texas.

Breakfasts back home were a big deal. From Mom’s pancakes and waffles to quiche and homemade breakfast pizza, my all-time favorite was her omelets. I have yet to find a chef who could duplicate such a delicious work of art as her omelets—made with three eggs and just the right amount of cheese, peppers, mushrooms, ham, and onions—and I doubt I’ll be able to here either. Prison isn’t a place for thriving culinary skills.

Clarence set my breakfast tray through the bars and said, “Here you go, Pete. Cooks tried their best.”

The chef did put an extra effort into the omelets. Even though they paled in comparison to Mom’s, they were better than the greasy spoons I frequented after I left home.

For the first time that morning, and for the first time since landing myself in prison, I felt some peace with the world.




After breakfast, the prison chaplain visited me. He read a few Bible passages. Then, I asked him, “Am I destined for the furnace down below? That’s what everyone seems to think.”


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