How does a man know what a woman is thinking?
Raymond sat in his cell pondering the question over and over. The question that had imposed itself on him for the past three months, during the investigation, the trial and now the long awaited sentencing which would release him from his spartan six by eight cell for a short time to the courtroom where it had all began three months ago which now, to him may as well have been years.
"Guilty of murder in the first degree". He had heard the jury foreman announce. An announcement which intruded into his thoughts and sleep almost as relentlessly as the dominant question.
"How does a man know what a woman is thinking". There it was again. Like a song you hear on the radio, and even though you hate it, it rings in your head for the rest of the day.
He thought of how young he was, only 37 last August and that soon, depending on the mood of the Judge it could all be over. The alternative was no more attractive, life without parole. He thought of the many talk radio shows he used to listen to when he was on the outside, before the trial, before jail, before the killing. The consensus seemed to be that the court system had gone to hell and as one of his favorite hosts used to say time after time, "there is no justice". Now he was sure there wasn't. After all, it wasn't his fault. Or was it? "No, she drove me to it". He thought as he stared at a cockroach scurrying across the asphalt tile floor only to disappear under the baseboard and back to his cockroach city inside the block walls. Raymond wondered why of all places the cockroach would want to live here. He decided that to the cockroach one wall was as good as any. He concluded that if he were a cockroach he would live in the kitchen of Chez Vous, a French bistro that he and his wife, Cindy used to like to go to during better times. Before the money got tight, before the fights started, before the drinking got out of hand, before she died. On a good night you could get a table with a clear view of the open pass-through kitchen. Behind the battery of chefs was a shelf containing stacks of fresh baked French bread with crusty outsides. That's where he would hang out. If only he were that cockroach. He knew he wouldn't be in this County holding cell in the south part of the east coast of Florida. That was one thing he knew for sure.
His thoughts drifted back to the day it happened. If only he would have come straight home from work. He had finished up early that day, hanging a door for a retired banker who had called him after a neighbor had told him that Raymond was the best carpenter around and cheap. That seemed to be his problem from the beginning of starting his remodeling business back three years ago when the recession hit and it became obvious that the construction boom was at an end. He never seemed to charge enough for his services and then there were the dry spells which drove Cindy who would struggle to balance the checkbook and pay the bills on her meager salary at a local printing company as a computer operator, up the wall. But he decided not to go straight home that day. Instead he picked up a six pack of Bud at a convenience store and drove down to the beach. The old song by Supertramp kept playing in his head, "Take the long way home, take the long way home".
It was Saturday and Cindy was working on the bills when he left in the morning so he knew that a fight would ensue upon his arrival. There had been many in the past few months. He sat in his faded blue Nissan pickup with the spider crack on the passenger side of the windshield and sipped on his first cold one and enjoyed the calm before the storm. Seagulls flew over head swooping down occasionally to terrorize the tourists who always stayed on the beach too long and spent the rest of their vacation recovering from sun poisoning. He smiled to himself and raised his Bud in a mock toast to an overweight woman in a bathing suit that had fit her much better 15 pounds ago. She went on looking for shells to take back to her grandchildren somewhere up north never noticing Raymond in his truck getting comfortably numb. Soon to be Raymond Tyler, murderer. The newspapers said so.
That was the last time he would enjoy a cold beer. The last time he would look out at the eternal horizon of the massive, yet calm luminous blue ocean. The last time for life. Life had stopped that day for him and had become a haze, a roller coaster ride. A movie in slow motion. He had no way of knowing that as he sat there sipping and grinning that back at their apartment, only 15 minutes away his wife lay dead on their kitchen floor. A murder that according to the news reports, the radio talk show hosts he listened to each day, and of course the jury, he committed. Raymond knew better. He knew it wasn't him. He knew who it was. He couldn't tell. He wouldn't tell.
He thought of his situation. In Florida they fry people. He remembered the news reports when they strapped Ted Bundy into the chair. How he kept that 'shit-eating' grin right up until the end. How it took two jolts to do the job. He shuddered and dismissed it from his mind.
He was cracking the last of the six pack when he noticed through the thin haze of the finest grains, hops and yeast that the sun was behind him now and sinking fast. Time to head home to 'Windy-Cindy'. He backed out slowly and cautiously made his way north on A1A careful not to draw attention from the local police who patrolled the area, delighting in pulling over baked tourists. "Maybe she'll be in a good mood". He thought. "Yeah, maybe". "How do you know what a woman is thinking"? He shook his head and turned left onto U.S. 1.
As he turned the corner of their street he saw her car parked in front and knew that she was home. Lying in wait. Ready to pounce. He grimaced and pulled on the grass next to her car. A belch escaped from deep within as he climbed from the sighing Nissan, struggling under the pressure of too many miles and too much abuse over it's 200,000 mile life.
"If she gives me any shit, I'll kill her". He thought as he slipped his key into the lock. No need he found out as the door opened easily. "She never leaves the door unlocked". He thought. His last thought before he saw.
The jury would later look aghast as the Prosecuting Attorney paraded the gory pictures before them of the helpless women with her throat slit, lying in a pool of blood on the white tiled floor of what was once the kitchen of Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Tyler.
Raymond at a loss, grabbed the counter top as he felt his knees start to buckle. He had seen scenes like this in the worst of movies but this was real. This was his kitchen and his wife whom he had just kissed goodbye that morning. The same wife that his next door neighbor in an effort to protect her had called 911 just two weeks prior in the heat of one of their more vocal arguments. The neighbor's testimony at the trial was not helpful to the defense.
He sat on the edge of his bunk remembering and beating back the pain. He thought of three weeks prior to the 'incident', when they had watched for about the tenth time, Cindy's favorite old movie, 'Heaven Can Wait' starring Jean Tearney. He thought of how helpless Tyrone Power was to defend himself when in reality she had killed herself in an effort to reach out from the grave and punish him for the love he had for her sister. Tyrone went to prison in the movie but that was fiction. This was real life. His life. One that seemed soon to be doomed.
Lunch was delivered to him in the form of an over-cooked hamburger and cold fries served on a paper plate with a styrofoam cupful of Hawaiian Punch. He placed it on the mattress next to him and stared at it. His thoughts wondered to the last time they went to Chez Vous. It was a long time ago now. He had just completed a renovation of a house on the river that had been built back in the twenties. The Yuppies had been buying them up and tearing out walls and sanding the original hardwood floors and generally restoring them to there original splendor in an effort to keep up with the Joneses, the Smith's, the assholes. At least that's the term that Raymond applied to them. But he was grateful for the work and they usually paid more than the going rate in an effort to have bragging rights when the Yuppie house parties began soon after Raymond was gone and the check had cleared the bank only to be sucked up by the past due bills. It seems that they always ended up at Chez Vous whenever he made some money. Raymond always deemed it a cause for celebration. Besides Cindy loved their French Dip. Raymond had, had too much to drink in the spirit of the celebration and things got nasty on the ride home. The next thing he remembered was the police knocking on the door. When they finally left after warning upon warning, the two of them retired to the bedroom and made passionate love. A pattern that had developed over the past few years. It seemed the more fierce the fight the better the sex. He glanced back at the 'lunch' and felt a twinge of guilt over the bulge that had developed in his county issued, orange jumpsuit.
He remembered driving back to the beach as he took the first bite of his hockey puck sandwich. He never was clear on why he did that. It was sunset and the tourists were gone. The woman collecting shells, everyone. He sat and stared out at that horizon. He had heard about people blacking out when the drinking got to the point of being out of control but it had never happened to him. Oh sure, there were the occasional lapses when he in a state of Bud euphoria would make elaborate plans for the future and Cindy would have to remind him the next day that he was going to be King of the world but that wasn't a problem. Was it? He choked down a saltless French fry. He recalled a quote by Richard Burton that went: "I have to think hard to name an interesting man who does not drink". He chuckled and almost brought the fry back to the plate. It was there at the beach. Sitting, staring, that the police found him. "The rest is history". He thought.
He could have blacked out. But he didn't think so. He thought about Jean Tearney. "How do you know what a woman is thinking". He thought, as he swallowed his last bit of lunch.
I visited Raymond on the day that he was to be put to death, at the hands of the State of Florida. We had hoped for a stay of execution from the Governor but none came. I heard his confession and administered the Last Rights. The vows that I took and the sanctity of the Confessional are sacred. I watched as they strapped him in the chair. There were nine witnesses watching through the glass as the power surged through his body. It took only one jolt.
Father Thomas Dugan
St. Joseph's Church
Hobe Sound, Florida
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