Nick and Tristan were on the couch watching a baseball game when Alvin came home.
“Hey,” said Alvin.
“Hey,” said Nick, then so Tristan.
“So, the Reds go three and out here in the first. Cubs coming up to bat in their half of the frame,” said the person on the TV.
Alvin unloaded his bag on his bed and fired up Google news on his computer. He took note of an article by the Atlantic: Man Released from Death Row After Twenty-Nine Years.
“Hm,” he noted and opened the article up. He read the opening paragraphs. “Hm,” he allowed again.
“You going home for Thanksgiving this year?” Tristan asked Nick.
“Yeah. Rika and Alvin?”
“I assume Rika is. I think Alvin’s staying here.”
“Hm.” Tristan glanced over his shoulder then went back to Nick. “Did you ever notice Alvin never talks about his family?”
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Nick said, not diverting his eyes from the game. “I don’t think they’re on the best of terms.”
“Oh yeah? How come?”
“I have no idea. Well, he never talks about them, so that’s kind of a clue. He also told me he’s adopted, so, I don’t know, maybe there’s something weird about that too. I don’t know. I’m just postulating.”
“Hm,” said Tristan. “Are you postulating or extrapolating?”
Nick now turned from the game and looked at Tristan. “Mm, postulating, I think, right?”
“I don’t know that’s why I asked.”
Nick looked back to the TV. “Yeah, postulating.”
“So, what’s extrapolating?”
“It’s extra postulating.”
“Wouldn’t that be extra polating?”
Nick considered it. “Yeah, you might be right there.”
Tristan nodded and also returned his attention to the game. “So, what’s polating?”
Alvin got up from the computer and went to the fridge.
He took a plastic cup from the kitchen cabinet and filled it with ice from the freezer. He took a bottle of 7-Up from the storage beside the refrigerator and put it on the countertop. He then took a plastic cup from the kitchen cabinet and filled it with ice from the freezer.
And then he stopped. A sense of déjà vu took hold. He looked at the cup of ice in his hand with the feeling that he had done this before. Then he looked back at the countertop and realized he did. Then he looked around the kitchen, having the same sense of déjà vu, and not remembering the impetus that caused him to be there in the first place until looking back at the 7-Up and assuming it was because he was thirsty.
He dumped out the ice from the second cup, dried it, and put it back in the cabinet. Then he took the first cup and the 7-Up bottle and headed back to his room.
As he walked past Nick and Tristan on the couch, he heard the television person say, “Bottom of the fourth, one out. We’re tied at three but the Cubs are threatening with men on second and third.”
Alvin stopped and looked at the TV. “Is this a different game?”
“No,” said Nick, looking back at Alvin, wondering why the question was being posed.
“Is it just highlights?”
“No. It’s a live game. Why?”
“When I just came in, they were in the first inning. Now it’s the fourth inning,” Alvin said, and wondered ‘What happened to the second and third inning?’
“You came in an hour and a half ago, Alvin,” Nick said.
Alvin considered it. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah.”
“Did you fall asleep?”
“Oh, yeah, I guess so. Never mind.”
Alvin continued to his room and sat back down at the computer. He anticipated seeing the lone Atlantic article and where he had left off. Instead there were fifteen windows open and their tabs all crammed together at the top of the screen.
“What the hell?” he whispered.
He opened each one. Most were the same article but from different news sources. Three were related to conviction records in Louisiana. One was a name that had no informational link. Another was for a search of trial transcripts from 1991 which provided extensive text.
His thumb and ring finger tapped nervously back and forth on either side of the mouse. Then slowly he edged the cursor up and closed every tab. He didn’t want to know what they said; having no memory of having opened them, he just wanted them to go away.
Rika gave a knock on Alvin’s door. “Are you going to help me make coleslaw for tonight?”
“Help you make or make?”
“Make,” Rika clarified.
Alvin set up coleslaw shop at the dining room table as Rika was occupying the small kitchen area attending to her meatloaf.
“Don’t set the mandoline blade too low,” she called to him.
“Yeah, I know. I’ll make sure not to make angel hair coleslaw this time.” He set the blade to 3/16ths , as opposed to 1/16th which is where he had it last time.
“And make sure to use the spiky food holder to hold the cabbage and not your fingers.”
“Tristan,” Rika called to her other roommate in the living room, “are you going to help do something since it’s your parents that are coming for dinner tonight?”
“No thank you,” Tristan replied. “Game.”
“Okay, well, when the game’s over, you’re doing the dishes.”
Alvin got through a quarter head of cabbage, dumped it in the mixing bowl, and set the other quarter in the mandoline. “You know, after I put the sauce on, this really should set over night.”
“Well, four hours is gonna have to do,” Rika said, “unless you want me to call Tristan’s parents and tell them not to come till tomorrow because Alvin’s coleslaw isn’t ready yet because he forgot to do it yesterday even though I reminded him to yesterday morning.”
“Yeah, that’ll work.”
Tristan’s parents showed up around six, Rory a half hour later, and then everybody else except Nick—who had a date—sat down to Rika’s meatloaf.
“Good coleslaw, Alvin,” Tristan said. And others mumbled polite agreement.
Alvin had paused in his eating. There was a crow outside the window, sitting on a tree branch. It cawed. Alvin wondered what its purpose in cawing was. Was it calling? Was it warning? Was it talking to itself for the pleasure of hearing its own voice?
“Alvin,” Rika called.
“What?” he said turning back to the others.
“Tristan complimented you on the coleslaw.”
“Oh.” Alvin considered it for a long five seconds. Then he turned to Tristan and with a face devoid of emotion said, “Thank you.”
“Are you alright?” Rika asked.
“Are you sure? You look kind of funny.”
Rory helped himself to a tad more meatloaf. “Did you hear about that guy that’s been on death row for twenty-nine years and he just got released?”
“Wow, you’re kidding,” said Tristan’s mother.
“No, apparently they found the person who actually committed the murder.”
“What’s his name?” asked Tristan.
“The guy who got released?”
“Ehhhh, I don’t remember now.”
“Eric Palmer,” said Alvin.
“Oh, did you read this too?”
“So he gets convicted for killing some jeweler or watch maker or something,” Rory continued, “and he wasn’t even there—the guy who got sentenced to death. Three other guys did it. The other guy wasn’t even there. Nice justice system, huh?”
“Isadore Blume,” said Alvin.
“What?” asked Rory.
“Isadore Blume. He was the victim, as opposed to some jeweler. He was the person that died.”
“Well, excuse me if I miss some details like the guy’s name.”
“Age fifty-nine, married with a family of four.”
“Yeah, anyway, that’s just so outrageous,” Rory said, “an innocent person in prison for twenty-nine years.”
“And sentenced to death, too,” said Tristan’s mother.
“That’s why we shouldn’t have the death penalty,” added her husband.
Alvin had turned to Rory and paid no attention to the comments from Tristan’s parent. “Is that your idea of innocence?” he asked coolly.
“What do you mean?”
“Did you read the whole article?”
“Yeah,” said Rory.
“And you perceive him as an innocent person.”
“Well, yeah, because he wasn’t the person who pulled the trigger, so that makes him innocent.”
“Then you’re an idiot.”
“He had fifty-five prior burglary convictions; he was friends with the actual murders; and he tried to pawn the jewelry that was stolen in the course of the murder of the jeweler, who actually had given him a job maintaining the landscape around the store. I’d certainly have no problem executing him for that alone. Whether he actually pulled the trigger is irrelevant.”
“Oh, my God!” said Rory, “What’s the matter with you? You don’t execute somebody for stealing!”
“Why not?” said Alvin.
“And you don’t execute somebody just because they happen to know somebody!”
“That’s reductio ad absurdum.”
“I don’t know what the hell that means, but—”
“It means reduction to absurdity, proposing a counter-argument that is taken to its extremes and so concludes with the inane so as to suggest the falseness of the original argument.”
Rory was getting increasingly angry while Alvin remained stoic and calm. “Whatever!” Rory yelled. “The death penalty is just wrong—no matter what. It’s morally wrong, whether the crime is murder or not.”
“What’s morally wrong is to allow your society to fall apart because you don’t have the strength to eliminate threats to it. Your society would do better to nip things in the bud. For example, should you come across a teenager that’s taken to stealing cars, what the most beneficial response is, is to just eliminate said teenager before he, or she, runs further amok and a few years later actually kills someone. The teenager has already demonstrated an inability to have empathy or respect for others or their possessions, and that aspect will never change. Criminality is not born from circumstance, but from within. Circumstance simply provides rationalization for uncivilized behavior. Also, in regard to murder, what’s morally wrong is to punish to a lesser and thus unequal extent the murderer who has aggressed to the ultimate degree and taken a life. That a does a disservice to the victim.”
“You want to kill some child for stealing a car!?” Rory exclaimed.
“Why not?” Alvin replied. “Also, if it was your car, I have no doubt you’d feel the same way.”
“That’s a little severe, Alvin,” Tristan’s mother said. “I can’t agree with that idea at all.”
“Wouldn’t you say, Alvin,” Tristan’s father cut in, “getting back to capital punishment, say, for murder, that there is an hypocrisy in believing it’s wrong to kill but then to also kill in response? I mean, how can you say you value life and then cavalierly take it at the same time?”
“No, in answer to your first question regarding hypocrisy,” said Alvin. “there is no hypocrisy. We consider life to be sacred. We also believe there is no forever. Each person has one go of it, as an existing entity. For any other person to terminate that right is the greatest of sins, if I can use that word, and consequently it’s only just that the aggressor’s life then be terminated. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s fairness.”
“Who’s we?” asked Tristan’s mother.
“Pardon?” said Alvin.
“You said we—we consider life to be sacred. Who’s we?”
“Oh, did I say we? I was generalizing. I just meant people of like mind.”
“Atheists?” asked Tristan.
Alvin considered the word and the question, then after a moment said, “Sure.”
“Well, we’re Christians, Alvin,” Tristan’s father said. “The Bible says thou shalt not kill. That seems quite clear, for us anyway. With all due respect, I think it’s unfortunate that you don’t see it similarly. Justice is mine, thus sayeth the Lord. I’m sure you’re familiar with the words and the concept. If you don’t agree with it, you should certainly appreciate and respect the fact that most people do.”
“Leaving justice in the hands of a supreme being for which there is no evidence of its existence is foolish,” Alvin replied.
“And I think we’re done with this subject!” Rika yelled. “Okay? Let’s discuss something a little more dinner friendly and less controversial. Everybody to their neutral corners. Tristan, you and Nick watched the game today, what did the Cubs do?”
“I wasn’t finished,” Alvin continued. “It doesn’t go unnoticed that most members of this society have a great and bizarre outpouring of sympathy for the scum of the Earth who due to their own choices ended up in prison for a lifetime, but not a word of sympathy for the actual victim of the crime. Firstly, you seem to have your priorities extremely confused, and I take offense that you would so easily disregard a counter-perspective simply because it’s not based on fear, like yours. Secondly, everybody in this country professes to find capital punishment inhumane—right up until the time somebody kills someone they know. Then they suddenly want their pound of flesh. Then they are miraculously cured of their previously convenient indifference in regard to the tragedy of others, because up until that time the people—the victims—they read about were simply one-dimensional figures made up of not blood but little black dots on a newspaper page, or pixels on the Internet, or people who sort of existed, but maybe not, not really in the reader’s world, so probably not actual people, maybe just cartoons or mere renderings of people. You say it’s following the right path to leave judgement in the hands of God. That’s kind of a crapshoot. But if there is such a deity, a supreme being, then I’m sure it can sort things out in the afterlife and make any sort of amends that may be necessary, so as to accommodate the aggressor in this scenario, thus making things equal for their time in eternity, following our just having removed his head from the rest of him with a large blade. To us, the ultimate sin must be responded to with the ultimate penalty. Logic dictates so in order to maintain a civil society, and compassion and empathy dictates so in order to maintain the understanding that there is an unbreakable civilized unity.”
No one was eating now, just staring at Alvin, except for Rory who herded some peas onto to his fork. “Well,” he said, “It’s been proven that having the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. So, that’s all I can say.”
“Gee,” Alvin said, “that’s amazing how you said that and I didn’t even see anybody pull the string on the back of your neck.”
“No, no,” Alvin calmly replied, “Please,” and extended his hand to Rory, “fuck you.”
“Boys! Boys!” Rika vehemently cut in and slapped the table with a flat hand. “Stop it! We’re not going to have a pissing contest, so both of you drop it now. Got it?”
Alvin offered no objection. He looked down at his dinner plate. His head jerked back just a little as if in disdain of what he was looking at. “Is this meat?” he asked.
“It’s meatloaf,” Rika answered, “so, yeah? Is there a problem?”
Alvin continued to look at this plate, then picked up a fork and started in on the meatloaf, not responding to Rika’s question. He looked up and noticed most everybody else not eating and instead just staring at him. “What?” he asked.
“I said is there a problem,” Rika answered.
“No, it’s great. Why?”
“You seemed concerned about it.”
“No. It’s good. First rate. Very moist.”
Alvin sat at his desk with his back to the door scribbling random words in a small Moleskine notebook. When he heard footsteps from behind, he closed it and put his pen down.
“Am I intruding?” Rika asked.
“No, not at all,” Alvin said, turning to her.
She sat herself down on the bed in front of him. “I don’t mean to interrupt you if you’re in the middle of writing something.”
“Oh, no, it’s just stuff.”
She nodded. “So,” she started casually, in a pleasant tone, “that was different. I think I’ve now seen a side of you I hadn’t seen before.”
Alvin considered it but had no immediate response. When he did come up with a response it was, “Okay,” and then about five seconds later, “What?”
“I’ve never heard you so, um, verbose. Or opinionated. Or direct and pointed. Or rude.”
“I was rude?”
“Well, yeah. Telling Rory you thought he was an idiot and telling Tristan’s parents you thought their believing in God was basically stupid, I think was a little over the top and unnecessary.”
Alvin lacked any response for this beyond a stony-faced, “Mm hm.”
There was discomfort given that she wasn’t making much headway in getting her point across. She opted for a momentary lightness. “Well, we all learned what reductio ad absurdum means anyway. At least I did. I guess that was informative, despite everything else. Ha.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I never heard that word, or term before.”
“Reductio ad absurdum. Am I saying it right?”
Alvin didn’t say anything. He just stared at her like he was trying to understand somebody speaking to him in Portuguese.
This empty look didn’t go unnoticed by Rika. She reached out her hand and patted the top of his. “How are we doing?” she asked.
“Fine,” he said.
“Yeah? Sure? Anything you want to talk about?”
“No, I’m fine, really.”
She patted his hand again and then pulled hers back. “Okay,” she said. “Don’t forget we’re friends. You can talk to me.”
He nodded, gave a reassuring smile, and said, “I know. I’m fine.”
Note to the Mother Ship
I am not fine. I don’t know what I am, but I’m quite confident that fine is not it. I’m losing time. In the past I’ve had little periodic blips where time advanced forward without me knowing how. In other words, I would blackout but still be conscious and upright. These were previously infrequent and they would be quite small, mostly lasting for only seconds. However, I’m pretty sure the two most recent ones I’ve experienced have been extensively long. I’m also concerned that they happened in consecutive days. Well, I think they were consecutive days.
I don’t know how to deal with this.