Contrary to news reports, I, Vernon L. Oliverbrother of Lucy K. Oliver and son of parents who raised their children on corn and Christianityam not insane. Admittedly, my attorney claimed otherwise in my trial against the great State of Florida. I played along, spewed nonsense to the psychiatrists questions, rolled my eyes and lolled my head in front of judge and jury, but in the end, I bear no ill will against the justice system. I made a series of choices that led to nowhere good and those choices landed me in a six-by-ten cell with concrete walls and a steel frame bed.
At one time, not too long ago, I was revereda man who treated his followers with kindness, with love, a man whose heart was open to all. They still send me letters, pleading in their blindness for my innocence, for they cannot believe I committed so heinous a crime. The letters come in bunches, sometimes a hundred or more a day, and Ive requested that the guard only bring a samplingno more than ten, no less than five. I spend my afternoons writing in careful strokes, assuring believers that faith is not an illusion. What else can I do? My acolytes want bright lights and speaking in tongues, they want paraplegics jumping around the stage, they want the hum that permeates their souls when my voice tumbles over the auditorium. So, I give them what I can. Its the least I can do.
Terrence Sandoval, my attorney, is the one who suggested I write an autobiography; a tell-all about Vernon L. Olivers fall from grace. He wants money (more than I have) now that the IRS has foreclosed on my property, frozen my assets, sold my private jet. The money that was left overthe $2 million the government allowed me to keep for legal feesis long gone. When Sandoval suggested in that persuasive way of his, Write the book, sign over the proceeds, or find a public defender to file your appeals, I said I would think about it and get back to him.
And I have thought about it. Ive woken with it on my mind, Ive thought about it while eating the gruel that Florida calls breakfast, thought about it while watching the clock on the wall, listening to it tick toward the time when the guards will enter my cell and take me on the long walk to the chamber where they will strap me to a gurney and plunge the needle into my arm.
I have no desire to stand nakedly before accusers and believers alike, but I dread the damn clock, hate the thought of my footsteps on that cold linoleum floor. Most of all, I dread not knowing whats on the other side.
My attorney says hes here for a visit, to see if Ive accepted his proposal. In a suit, with a tie knotted against his scrawny neck, he sits outside my cell in a chair pulled up for his convenience. I prop open the horizontal slot in the steel door and sit on the floor so I can see his eyes. He wears cologne, a sweet smell that reminds me of windblown flowers, the sweep of a womans breast, of red lips on my pelvis. He peers down at me, all teeth and dimples, asks if Im getting along all right.
That cologne, I say.
Sandoval speaks in a moribund tone, like a bored teacher after a long day of classes. Do you like it?
It reminds me of this guy I knew back in high school. He sucked dick behind the gymnasium in exchange for cigarettes.
I can see were in a foul mood today, Sandoval says. Maybe I should come back tomorrow.
I dont want him to leave, yet I dont want to give him the satisfaction. The satisfaction of what, I dont know. Maybe Im lonely.
A quavery voice comes from down the block, a convict bitching about nothing in particular. John T resides five cells to the left, and hes here because he killed a woman who sold him the wrong foot cream. If anyone should have gotten off on insanity, it was John T.
Copyright © 2011 by T.J. Forrester. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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