The day they put my husband to death, I wore silk.
They say that the smells are the perceptions most likely to stay carved in the memory, but what I remember most from that day is touch. The silk dress, the way it caressed my body with my every move. It soothed, cooled, consoled, like a breeze on a hot summer day.
I still remember to the smallest detail what I wore that day. The black silk dress barely reached my knees, so scandalously short it was. The buttons were small and round, like children’s tears. It had a long ribbon around the neck that I tied into a bow. I wore black shoes with velvet bows on them, and I took a pink clutch bag. It gave it the right theatrical touch. After all, it was all a big theater for which I was given tickets I couldn’t refuse.
They abolished public executions a long time ago. They have become a private, almost intimate thing. They only require one member of the family to be present at the execution. Even though the whole family usually comes, they can leave after they say goodbye. One person has to stay until the end. It’s a formality, they say. For me, it is a part of the punishment - maybe more cruel than the actual death penalty and everything that follows.
What they say about the smells must be wrong indeed, because I don’t remember what the room smelled like. Maybe it didn’t have a smell of its own, maybe it was just a blank canvas for the blend of our perfumes, the scent of rain we brought with us, so inappropriate because it was alive. It was a reminder of the world outside that wouldn’t end after this was over, that would still turn when he would be gone. When we would be gone. And maybe there was a hint of the officer’s cologne as he moved closer.
“Have you agreed on the witness?” he asked.
It was then that I realized we hadn’t talked about it. Ever. There was no family meeting, no spoken agreement. There was no need for it.
“I will be staying, sir,” I said.
He gave me a surprised look and I think he didn’t feign it. Usually the wives are not the ones to stay. Not when there are others that could stay - the father, older brother, another male relative. There were five of us in the room, but I wouldn’t ask any one of them to take that place instead of me. Certainly not his mother or sister, and certainly not Daniel, the youngest one. As for my other brother-in-law, I barely knew him. He worked in a different city and only came here because of what happened and what was to follow. When I thought about it, we were a group of strangers only united by this singular event.
The officer turned to them. His voice was quiet and calm, almost sympathetic. It was neither affected, nor honest. I think it was simply his professional voice that he wasn’t even conscious of anymore. “You have to leave now.”
They all nodded in the resigned way of people who have given up hope a long time ago. Except for Daniel. He threw himself at his older brother with the desperation of a fifteen years old boy whose life fell apart in one single minute, whose dreams, chances, ambitions and future loves slipped through his fingers when the judge read the sentence. There was an unspoken question in the way he clinched to him, a question he didn’t want to speak out loud because it would sound like a reproach.
“You have to leave now.”
The voice of the officer was still the same. He sounded like a machine that repeats the same thing every two minutes until you get so angry that you smash it.
The door opened with a buzz. My mother-in-law immediately headed to it, like she was only waiting for it to open again, as if she couldn’t wait to be out of there. As if everything that was happening would become just a nightmare when she would exit that room. Her oldest son and daughter followed her without a word. Again, Daniel decided to take another side. Our side, if we had one.
“I will stay.”
“No.” It was the first word my husband said that day. Simple and resolute. But Daniel didn’t move an inch.
“I will stay with you.”
I didn’t know if he meant only him or us both, but none of us argued anymore. There was some desperate, foolish bravery in those words - childish naivety, hope that such a decision could change something.
I waited until then with my goodbye. A light kiss on the lips, nothing more. No words, there was nothing unsaid between us. If there was anything we didn’t do while we had the chance, it couldn’t be done in the last minute anyway.
The door closed quietly and, for a moment, everything was quiet, almost peaceful, like it was already over. In that moment Daniel’s eyes darted to the door, like he would give anything to be behind it. I did the only thing that I could do. I wrapped my arms around him and let him hide his face in the black silk of my dress, like a mother shelters her child from things he shouldn’t yet see or know. He was no longer a child, but was also too young to know about death and pain. Even though he was to know about them, if not now, then soon.
My eyes didn’t leave my husband’s for a moment. He was calm and composed. There was something eerie in that calmness, something distant. It was transmissible, too. I had thought I would cry, scream, launch myself at them, I had thought I would try to stop them. I didn’t.
I stood there motionless, watched them insert the needle in his vein and let them take him away from me forever.