So, here I am standing next to the stage. The twelve wooden stairs that lead up to the old, well-worn timber platform seem like they go into the sky. The stage door is closed, for now. As I survey the crowd I see that nearly the whole town is here to watch my performance. It is quite early in the day for this much anticipation. Who am I to garner this much attention? I wonder if I will give them what they expect. The energy is radiating from the buzz of whispered voices in attendance for my show.
The man in the nice black suit stands on the stage worrying over the preparations. The concerns crease his face at the sides of his mouth when he is not talking. The glint of sunlight flashes off the fancy star-shaped pin on his lapel and into my eyes below. To his side stand Judge Parker and a small crowd of local VIPs who have secured their special places on the stage so they may enjoy what I bring today. A handful of stagehands whir about as they follow the instructions and commands given. It is quite the process to prepare for such a simple show.
The time draws near for me to climb those stairs and stand bare in front of that crowd for my performance. I look out into the flow of faces, some familiar, some not. Just before I mount the first step I catch the eyes of my Jenny. She is near the back of the audience. Her face fills with emotion for me. I see what looks like worry, fear, and even some pride. I do this for her. She is the love of my life and makes me a better man. Her father, the man above me in the black suit, knows nothing of our love. As some fathers are wont to be, he is quite protective of her, and rightfully so. Even after all of his restrictions and protections, however, she still found her way into my arms and my heart.
One of the stagehands calls to me. Showtime. He asks me to come stand next to the man in the suit. As I take each stair, it feels like my boots are made of lead and mired in wet clay earth. I wring my hands in front of me. Am I ready for this? My world slows down and I am conscious of every intake of breath as my chest becomes tight. By the fourth stair, I say a short prayer that God, if he is listening, will bolster my spirit for this undertaking. As I reach the stage I can taste the dust in the air from the stirring crowd, the slight tinge of acid rising from the knot in my stomach, and the sickly metallic taste of iron in blood from where I worried a small hole in my lower lip.
Everything is almost ready. I stand in front of the stage door. My performance is imminent. The man in the suit is addressing the crowd with a booming, baritone voice. My heart races. In a flash, I think of my dead parents. What would my mother think of my performance today? Would she stand in the audience with the hot morning sun overhead to see her boy? Am I my father’s son? I barely notice the stage hands around me as they make ready.
My introduction draws to a close and I look down at the timbers of the stage. They are sturdy and strong, made from very old trees. The hinges on the stage door are free of rust and well oiled. I am ready for this. This is my time. My guts turn and beads of sweat drip down the small of my back. Jenny’s eyes go big as I step onto the stage beside her unknowing father. As he finishes speaking to the crowd, he slowly turns to me. In a low voice he says, “Son, you ready? You deserve this.” I nod slightly at his affirmation as I look squarely into his sun-creased face. It is my time.
I take a firm, deliberate step forward and survey the whole of the crowd. So many expectant faces here for me. All here for me. The man in the suit moves off to the side by the VIPs. I find Jenny one last time in the sea of faces. I wink at her with a slight smirk on my face. She always makes me smile and feel a bit more at ease. Then, I take a very deep breath. I feel my chest swell. My body stresses the buttons on my overcoat. With that breath, I turn my head and nod again at the man in the suit. Showtime. It is all up to me now. I feel the knot in my stomach drop away as the stage door opens. Momentarily, I am weightless. A snap thunders in my ears.
The show is over. I perform perfectly. The show is over. From the thick hemp rope, my body slowly swings in the dusty shadow of the sturdy gallows stage.