A pale ray of sun forces itself through the bars of the window and grazes my face. I have not slept. It seems to me there’ll be plenty of time for that after. Instead, I have tried to spend the night rejoicing in my memories and reminding myself of the things I will not miss. This cell, for one. I hoped the stale stench of urine, unwashed bodies and god knows what else would abate through sheer familiarity, but alas. I fear my own smell has merely added to it. It is practically the only thing of note in here. Indeed, when I think of the choice between death and staring at these featureless walls, I might almost ask for it to come sooner.
The baying has already started outside my window. It’s not specifically aimed at me of course; the cretins are happy to come and just shout obscenities at the building, but every day it feels like a snarling dog circling ever closer. I never thought much of the joy people take in viewing executions, and it is even less palatable now that it is my head that will roll.
I close my eyes and try and fix the thoughts most beautiful to me. My daughter, running through the snow in the park last winter, red cheeked and laughing. I hope she will remember me, and as I was, not how I have been portrayed. My husband, looking up the aisle towards me as I slowly walked to join him. He is already gone of course, and I will surely meet him again today. I even attempt to find solace in my fate itself. After this there is nothing more anyone can do to me. No more worries, no more grief. This should comfort, but somehow the finality makes everything worse.
The bolt jerks back and the door is opened. The guard is stood behind it and all I can see is a yawning black abyss. Part of me longs to cling onto the bedstead and refuse to go, but I have resolved to go with dignity. Besides, they will only break my fingers if I do.
I rise, and walk slowly to the door. My once fine dress is in shreds, the bottom stained and ragged. I have attempted to neaten myself, but I doubt I’ve made any significant difference. Certainly the guard pays no additional heed. The door is locked behind me and we start walking. The last time I made this journey was when I entered the prison. I do not know how long ago that was now, but I do remember it took an age. Not much has changed. It is still dank and cold, and the air is filled with moaning and sobbing. I do not listen, as I did on the way in. I imagine I am once again walking down that aisle at my wedding and that the sounds I hear are gasps of admiration at my beauty and poise. I do not listen.
It is a much shorter journey on the way out. The cart is already waiting, already filled with the rest of today’s unfortunate. The final place is for me, and I clamber up. No-one speaks, save for some muttered prayers. I don’t see the point of praying now. I just stare ahead. Outside, the crowd have sensed we are about to emerge. The noise is rising.
The gates creak open, and we are greeted by a deafening roar. I feel like a gladiator going into the arena. A thin trickle of urine runs down the cart from the top end. Something damp and foul-smelling explodes against the side of my face. I do not react. I am going with dignity. Inside my chest though, my heart is heaving itself at my chest like a battering ram and a cold fist is punching my stomach from the inside. I lift my eyes to the sky. It is grey and pathetic, and that ray of sunshine occupying my cell has long since disappeared. It had never occurred to me to imagine what my final sky would look like, but I think I would have imagined a beautiful salmon tinged mass of clouds, the kind of sky that looks like heaven is just out of reach. Nothing so ordinary as this.
We round the corner and there it is, rising out of the tumult of violently ecstatic faces. The scaffold, and on it, the guillotine. The fist pounds harder now and my blood is cold. I may be facing it bravely, but I just want to live. I want to live! I push away the tears that are starting to rise. I pray that I will be the first pulled off the cart. I have never seen death and I don’t want to start now. I don’t know how long my dignity will remain intact if I have to watch my fate before enduring it.
I am lucky. The rough hand grasps my arm and pulls me down from the cart. I stumble and the crowd roars again. They are simple people, with simple pleasures, I think with disdain. Yet they will live out the day, and I will not.
I walk up the steps unaided and lay my head on the block. My eyes are level with the creatures, their faces moments away from mine. I’d planned to hold someone’s eyes for my last few seconds, anyone’s, but now I am here I cannot do it. I close my eyes, and wait.