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The way I see it, it’s the people you least expect, the people the rest of the world walk right by, maybe even turn away from, who know about the meaning of life, and by that I mean the world beyond this one and all those strings that connect us to it. I know now that Calvery was one of those people.
I was an addict and a liar, but Calvery entrusted me with his dying wish. Me. A guy so lost a bloodhound couldn’t find me. At the time, I thought he was nuts. Now, I think maybe the Divine did have something to do with it.
While doing time for one too many parole violations, all drug offenses, I mopped floors all over Polunsky, including death row. Each time I headed over there, good ol’ Spud, the Boss responsible for setting me up with my job as porter, gave me a cursory pat down. I could have packed a blade in my sock, green money in my shoe and a cell phone in my boxers, but we both knew I wasn’t that kind of convict. What I did was mule sugar.
Calvery lived on the row, and we’d become friends. For the past year, I had slipped him a pound of sugar every couple of weeks. It took eight cups to make a gallon of wine. In return, he always gifted me some of his homemade brew. This ended up a little risky for me, but in his situation, I figured he deserved a little hooch to wash down his bread and beans. He bought his fruit juice in the commissary just like the rest of us, but he needed sugar to ferment the juice into wine. To get sugar, you needed to know someone who worked in the kitchen. Being a porter, I had connections. It was easy enough for me to do him the favor of dropping a pound of sugar in his bean slot every now and then.
When I reached Calvery’s cell, his house as we called it, I pushed my trashcan up close. He dropped a plastic Sunkist bottle full of his wine into the trash. I covered it with the Houston Chronicle and started to slide some sugar through the slot. Talking to death row inmates was forbidden, smuggling sugar, even more serious, so even though Spud seemed to like me, I kept everything on the down low. First and foremost, I wanted to get out of this place.
“I won’t be needing that,” Calvery said. He stood behind the braided wires of his tiny window. I never got to see his face in plain view, but no matter when I saw him, his eyes beamed at me beneath raised eyebrows. In short, he always seemed lit. He lifted a cup to the window and said, “I got plenty to last me.”
This struck me as a strange thing to say given our arrangement. “You attending AA meetings?”
But Calvery only smiled and said, “This is it.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“Tomorrow’s my last day.”
I knew this was inevitable, but we never talked about it. Why couldn’t this happen after my release? I looked stunned, I suspect. Shouldn’t I have felt something? But with the deadly heat of summer stuck to my skin and my teeth clamped tight, I felt empty as a well in August. “I can’t believe it.”
“It’s true,” he said. “How would you say it? I’m starting my descent.” After his comment, he paused waiting for his audience of one to laugh. Calvery had always liked my sayings and tried them on whenever he had a chance. When I just stood there mute and tight-lipped, Calvery added, “I’m in my final approach.”
“Stop.” I raised my voice. What do you say; what could I say?
“I can see the runway.”
“Stop it, I said.” I glared at him, and if a three-inch, steel-reinforced door hadn’t separated us, my hands would have been on his shoulders, shaking him, telling him to shut up. “It’s not funny.”