Sour Oasis

Bachir Miloudi / Sputnik Photography 

“I saw the ad on a newspaper.” 

“A newspaper?” 

“Yep, right in print during my morning coffee.” 

“Huh, she really did it.” 

“Yes, she did it, all for you!” 

“How about you, why did you do it?” 

The act that was in question was a last supper, of sorts. During the Monday traffic of a new week, Stefanni North found herself seated on a park bench indulging in what little serenity she could find before her break would end and she’d find herself back on the grind.  

She dreaded Mondays, she dreaded work and she deeply dreaded her life. Oh, her privileged life of working a six-figure job, her dreaded life of breaks in Central Park, her dreaded life of living in the Big Apple, her dreaded life of being a member of the coveted one per cent, her dreaded life of countless academic achievements, her dreaded life of thousands of how about coffee this afternoon or care to join me for dinner at this restaurant from desperate men that she’d no doubt ignore until late in the evening after a drinking binge with her friends as she desired another body to lie with in the cold night. 

Stefanni was sick of it, absolutely tired! Tired of having everything she ever wanted at the very tip of her fingers and yet, finding that nothing, nothing sated nor satisfied.  

She took a bite from the apple, and it was sour. 

As she sipped her coffee searching for distraction in the New York Eye, a press she’d helped start up and yet another addition to her portfolio, she found an interesting curiosity, a sudden oasis in her supposed desert of dissatisfaction. She found an ad. 

The ad in question came about when Serena Veri found herself talking to her son, separated by thick glass. Her heart ached at his sight. This would be the last time she would ever see him. After this, he was, as he put it: 

“Going home now, going to see Papa.” 

“No, nooooo.” 

“Don’t cry Mama, please, this is a good thing.” 

She hadn’t the energy to protest, she didn’t even have the strength to weep. All Serena could do was stare at her boy, tears flowing down her eyes, snapshotting his face, for this would be the only way to ever reach him again, in the castle of her mind. 

“There’s nothing that can be done, so let’s not spoil what little moments we have, what little moments I have.” 

She stared, blankly. 

“I love you Mama and I’ll always love you and I’ll always be there, me and Papa both, forever.” 

He reached out his hand, waiting for her to return, and she lingered. Maybe she wasn’t willing to accept, wasn’t willing to say goodbye. If she didn’t say goodbye, she wouldn’t have to leave him, she wouldn’t have to hear him say goodbye. 

This couldn’t happen to her again, not again, and yet here it was, occurring right before her eyes. 

It was strange, to be there, to be present, as it all crumbled. To realize that this truly was the last time she’d ever see him, that even in death, she would never truly have him again. He had said that he had repented, but that sin, that cannot be forgiven. She had forgiven him, but the Lord cast his own judgement, one she would never know until her own time came. 

“Please Mama…” 

That’s all he could say. 

Serena stared again, giving him nothing, nothing but tears that flowed, yet there was no weeping. 

“I guess that’s why she did this, huh, to say the goodbye that she never could.” 

That was what stared back at Stefanni as the morning wind rustled her paper. She wondered if that was even allowed, if it was legal, how was it even printed, maybe she’d need to call up the board on this one, yet here it was. 

After having left her son, Serena deeply regretted not having said goodbye to him, as Stefanni would recall after she’d followed up the ad. 

“I just didn’t know what to do,” Serena said. “I couldn’t reach out my hand, I physically couldn’t. All I could do was just stare at him and, and just stare at him.” 

Steffani took in the information, understanding, but did she really understand? 

Upon reflection, Stefanni wondered what she would’ve done if she was in Serena’s position. 

To be a mother having to see your son for the last time, knowing he would be killed, sentenced to death for a crime, one that you yourself could barely forgive. 

“I forgive him, but how can I?” Serena said, now weeping. 

What Serena had done was she had begged for her son to not dine alone during his last supper, she begged for him to have a guest, some friendly human company before facing the gallows. 

Stefanni wondered how this was even legal. What she found was a weeping mother, who begged for one last chance to say goodbye to her son, she begged Stefanni to do it. 

“So here I am,” said Stefanni, seated across from Serena Veri’s son. 

He wasn’t like anything she’d anticipated. 

When she thought of death row, she thought of hardened criminals, scary and brutish, monstrous and inhuman. 

Yet here was Veri’s son, a timid-looking young man who always shied away from her eyes in a boyish awkwardness. Stefanni told herself she was seating across a monster, a literal danger to society.  

He was not to be thought of as human. 

But at the same time, Stefanni’s heart wondered otherwise. 

Maybe it was the stories Serena had told her about the young man, how he used to cry all the time as a baby but whenever his mother held him, he would cease immediately, comforted by her presence. Maybe it was the first time he learned to walk, how without struggle nor fall, he simply stood up and, to this day, remained walking, causing great celebrations for his mother and father. Maybe it was the young teenager who would comfort his mother when they all found out his father had been gunned down by the police and how whenever they saw his face, it was mugshots of previous arrests, his eternal memory being that of a criminal, no backstory with no future, perpetual villainy, until death. 

A legacy of sin. 

This paradox stared back at Stefanni, and she didn’t know how to engage. 

“You’re probably wondering why I did it.” 

Stefanni simply stared back at the young man’s prompt. 

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” he said. 

“What I’m wondering is…” Stefanni said. “Do you regret it?” 

The man then stared at her, unwaveringly. 

“Would you believe me if I said yes?” He then blinked, tears starting to swell. “Would you believe me if I said I’m deeply sorry, if I said I was a changed man, if I said I wanted redemption, a chance to make it all right?” 

Stefanni blinked. 

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” he said. 

The rest of the supper was silent. 

Stefanni had thought she’d say more, that he would say more, that there would be more to this. 

I mean, this was insane, this isn’t something that happens every day. This was the inciting event, the very thing that would radically change her life. Instead, she merely watched him, her serving running cold, the silent room littered with the sounds of a scraping fork and chewing teeth.  

He finished his meal, having cleaned out the plate. 

He then turned to her. 

“Thank you, thank you for allowing me to be human again, even if it was merely for a second. If you ever see my mother again, tell her I’ll spend eternity making things right, I promise.” 

He then reached out his hand, and Stefanni stared at it. She then reached out for it, gracing him one last touch, shaking his hand. 

The young man shed a tear at this. 

That was the last she would ever see him. 

Stefanni found herself back at that park bench again, years after the event, and she let her paper down, reminiscing. 

She’d picked the same paper up a few months after the event, reading a story of how it all unfolded, authored by herself. Her story would earn her national attention, particularly with progressive movements that were attempting to do away with the death penalty in the execution’s state. From this event, she became the spokesperson on this front invited to several important offices and events. There was even talk of turning it all into a film, and she’d already spoken to big producers and prospective directors. 

I suppose she wanted to drink from the Oasis, to make it mean something. 

The mother had become a hint famous too, starting a foundation against the death penalty, aiding families and friends who had been affected by their loved ones’ fatal sentences, Stefanni being her biggest donor.  

A lot had come from it. 

Yet, as Stefanni now sat on that same bench, she still felt that it was all a mirage. 

She had taken a bite from the apple, and it was sour. 

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