Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Harrison Abbott

My brother Freddie was sentenced to be executed. He’d been on Death Row for years; but he was due to be killed next week. On the Tuesday. So I drove over to see him for one last time, on the Saturday before.

Freddie was always crazy. He got beaten up a lot by my Dad when he was little. Before I was born, or too young to understand. Because I was born four years after Freddie, and Dad left when I was two, so I don’t remember much of the beatings Freddie took from him. Dad abandoned us and left us with Mum.

And then Mum started beating Freddie. Like it was some kind of replacement. As if she was replacing her man’s behaviour: and those incidents I do remember. Freddie cowering in the corner of the kitchen whilst she kept kicking him; and she would pull his hair and prod him in the kidneys. She did it with me as well. She’d slap me. The vaguest thing would rocket her rage off. Mostly when she was tired after coming home from the supermarket, a thirteen hour shift and she hadn’t had a drink yet.

Then one day when Freddie was nine he fought back. She started on him. Again, in the kitchen; and I began screaming for her to stop. Freddie picked up a chair and he whacked her with it.

And there followed this clean silence in the room. All of us quite amazed. I remember watching Freddie’s face. He didn’t look like Freddie anymore. And I had rarely seen Mother scared before, aside from when it came to bills, and where to find money, or if she had ran out of booze.

Then Freddie hit her again, with the chair, and Mum shrieked and ran away and locked herself in her bedroom.

That gave Freddie a new perspective of himself which was ironic in so many ways. Because he’d responded to his parental battery with physical violence: and it had worked. And yet, there was nobody to help him out with what had happened to him for the previous nine years. There was no soul to tell him that what he experienced was not okay and that it was nothing to do with anything he had provoked.

And so he was left with violence as a means of dealing with the planet. And, because he grew tall and brawny from quite a young age, this worked well for him. Made sense.

Freddie wasn’t so mean to me. You’d expect that with all of the abuse he’d taken, he would naturally take it out on his little sister. But he didn’t. That’s what usually happens in families but I can’t put that label on him.

In fact, he could be pretty kind. Like, if Mother was doing one of her tantrums and throwing stuff around the house, he would keep me in his bedroom until the storm had subsided, so she couldn’t get at me. Or, umm, if I had a fever or the flu he would head down to the store and get me some aspirin and orange juice. Things like those – things that mother didn’t do.

There was one time on my birthday when Mother was out getting drunk somewhere, that Freddie and his mate Benny got me this little cake from the supermarket. There weren’t any candles because we didn’t have any candles at home. So they sang happy birthday to me without any candles on it. But Freddie told me to make a wish anyway and pretend that there were candles there, and that I could blow them out in my imagination. And the wish would still come true. Freddie and Benny had just stolen the cake from the supermarket, because they didn’t have the money to buy it. And Freddie admitted that he’d nicked it. They just put the cake box in Freddie’s rucksack and bolted out the doors with it. Benny was laughing, and it got me giggling as well. So Freddie, Bennie and I gorged on the stolen cake. That remains my favourite birthday. In fact that was the only birthday I’ve ever enjoyed.

Freddie first went to jail when he was 17. There’s not much point in explaining what he did back then. Most teenagers don’t have the ability to keep their decision-making in check. And that spell inside damaged him for the rest of his life. In and out of prisons. He would get released and then do something stupid and would be back in jail for another stretch. His crimes weren’t always violent. Most of them weren’t. But he couldn’t cope with his mind. How can anybody cope with that deranged type of history?

Our Mother died when Freddie was inside on one of these stretches. When I went to visit him, I asked him if he could get permission to leave, for a day, to come to the funeral? Would he be able to do that?

“I don’t want to come to the funeral,” Freddie said. And his face was about as blank as if he was saying he didn’t like a particular taste or smell.

The crime that put him on Death Row, I also don’t want to talk about. That definitely was a vicious deed. Freddie had finally snapped, in an ultimate sense. And he knew that the death penalty was legal in this State. And he must’ve known that he would get caught. He didn’t even try and flee. Just let the police arrest him.

And so now I was driving over to this prison on a Saturday morning to go and see my elder brother for the last ever time.

I tried to listen to music on the drive over. But this was too demented. Because I can only ever listen to pop songs, happy songs; and they didn’t fit the mood of what was happening. Nor did the weather outside match the tone of today, as it was all clear skied with a big smiley sun. The motorway wasn’t busy because it was young morning and I got to the prison building smoothly.

It – the building – looked just as horrible as you’d expect. This stark hulking beast of a place.

I had been here to visit Freddie several times before. I had to go through security checks. It bemused me what threat they expected from a woman who was five foot three. This was a maximum security institution. What could I possibly do here? But, I suppose, I was my brother’s sister. He was notorious and I shared his DNA. And, I’ve certainly done horrible things myself. Am not perfect by any means.

After I had been searched and padded and so on, I was escorted down a long white corridor that smelled of toothpaste. My escort was a man with tough white hair and a black moustache, who smelled of cigarettes, and who chewed gum in a manic fashion. He had escorted me a few times in the past – this guard – and I’d still never heard him speak.

The visiting room was at the far end of this hallway.

I saw Freddie fairly quickly. He was sitting calmly at one of the tables. And most of the room was empty, aside from the guards and two other inmates who were waiting on their visitors. The inmates and Freddie wore their orange prison clothes. Whilst the guards hung out on the periphery in their icy way.

Freddie grinned.

Despite all of his crimes, and how old and ugly he was, he still had tremendous teeth. When I saw him smile and wave at me I felt this thickness develop in my throat and my eyes began to prickle. But, I made it over to his table. And I was allowed to hug him.

“Hey there, Freddie,” I said.

“Hey there, June.”

His shoulders were like touching a big dog’s back, or the bonnet of a car. We sat down.

“Thanks for coming to see me, June,” he said.

“No problem.”

“How is Bruno doing?”

Bruno was my cat that I had at home. I did not, at this point, have a boyfriend, or any children. And so Freddie usually asked me how Bruno the cat was. I told Freddie he was fine … Then to move the conversation on I began to tell a funny story that happened at my work the other day.

I worked in a restaurant. And the story was that despite me working there for eight years, I had been proud that I had never dropped a single plate or glass, or anything. You know how waiters and waitresses drop plates a lot? It’s just what they do. Well, I hadn’t done that in eight years of working at this joint. And then I finally smashed a plate in front of the kitchen staff. Because I had been working there for so long, all the chefs knew me and were fond of me. And they were stunned that I had finally broken something by accident.

And so they all began cheering and clapping, since I had achieved a breakage. They bought me drinks after the shifts as a way of celebrating.

“Ho ho ho,” Freddie went. “Well done, Sis. Good effort.”

Those teeth were gleaming again.

And then after my story had finished there was this gap in the dialogue. We were the only people speaking in the room. Because the other prisoners’ guests hadn’t arrived yet, and the guards were frozen to the walls; and so I was a bit nervous about speaking up. I’ve never been that good at telling stories orally. As in, face to face. I can write okay, but, I have a naturally quiet voice and I’m just not so neat at saying it in person.

So I was thinking all of the above things and then I looked up at Freddie and he was watching me. He wasn’t smiling and he was concerned, about what I was thinking.

And that heaviness from earlier, in my throat, grew, and my eyes winced. And then I just broke apart and I clapped my hands to my head. Started crying.

It’s odd how when you cry your face blushes up because half of it is with the physical blood of crying and the other half with embarrassment. You can’t control it. And I kept my hands over my face because I felt humiliated in this setting. I tried not to make so much noise. The prisoners and guards were probably aware of it. Where they looking over at me? Yeah, most likely.

Then I felt a warm lumpy feeling on my shoulder. I peeked through my fingers. Freddie was holding me with his thick palm.

“It’s all right, June,” he whispered, “it will be okay.”

I took out some tissues. And soaked up my cheeks, and gradually the blood in the cheeks faded.

“Jesus, June,” Freddie said, grinning, “it’s me that’s getting a lethal injection on Tuesday. Not you. Cheer up.”

I laughed. The tears spilled down my face in hot lines. The way that summer rain does sometimes when you look out at it from a window.

“Hey, Freddie?” I said.


“You remember when we were little. And it was my birthday. I think I must’ve been seven or so. Mum was out, God knows where, getting hammered. She probably forgot it was my birthday. Remember when you and Benny stole that cake for me? You couldn’t pay for it so you robbed it from the store and took it home as a present?”

Freddie’s eyeballs scanned his memory, and then his eyes flashed. He sprang up.

“Ah, ha! Yeah I do remember that. Haha, yeah.”

“It was a really fancy cake as well.”

“Yeah it was pretty tasty.”

We chuckled. I was crying at the same time. I shuddered with rage and despair and memory and humour.

It was crazy that this man was going to be murdered by the State in three days’ time. Insane that this was still happening, that was still allowed to happen, in this century. I couldn’t declare that my brother was a good man. Most likely he wasn’t. But at what point did the State have the right to end his life? Or anybody else’s.

I finally managed to quit crying. And then Freddie began to tell other stories about Benny (who was his best mate back when they were teens). And, see? Freddie was really great at telling tales face to face. Whereas I wasn’t. My brother had that oral skill which I didn’t.

I had an hour to spend with Freddie. That was the time they legally gave us as visitors. There was a clock on the far wall and the long hand got to ten minutes to the hour.

Another little pause in the dialogue. Where we both looked at each other … until Freddie said to me,

“We’ll still see each other in the afterlife, Sis.”

I nodded, and felt my face scrunch up again, go all red again.

Freddie only said the word ‘afterlife’. He didn’t whether it would be Heaven or Hell.

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