Execution Days

Execution Days

From the book My Funny Cowboy Dance

If I lived back in the days of public executions, and I was able to go to one, I hope I wouldn’t do anything to bring dishonor on myself or my fellow rabble.

When the condemned prisoner came out, and people started hurling taunts and abuse, I hope that I would be able to come up with something good to yell, and not just the usual “You’re gonna die!”

If I threw a rotten fruit or vegetable at the condemned and I was lucky enough to hit him, I hope that I wouldn’t gloat, but would modestly accept the compliments of those around me.

I would try not to bring my kids to the execution, because you’d be chasing them all over the place and then you’d hear a big cheer and know you missed the execution.

I hope I would appreciate not only the work of the executioner but also all the people who worked behind the scenes to make the execution possible.

If the prisoner gave a final speech, I hope I wouldn’t heckle and jeer throughout, but would listen and quietly acknowledge the good points.
I would hope that upon the moment of execution I wouldn’t let out a hideous shriek of glee, but would turn to the person next to me and calmly say something like “Makes you think, doesn’t it.”

I hope that I would have to come a long way for the execution, because that would make it more special. At first my wife would object, pointing out that our hovel needed re-wattling, and now that the cow was sick we would have plenty of fresh manure for the job. I would look disappointed. “You really want to see someone executed, don’t you,” she would say. Then she would brush the flies from her face, place her hand on mine and say, “When you get back I want to hear every detail.”

I would head off down the road. Soon a horse-drawn wagon would pick me up. The wagon would be full of mussels only three days out of the sea. 

“Where you headed?” the wagoner would ask.

“To the city, to see the execution of that fancy duke, the one who used to ride around on his ostrich, trampling orphans.”
He would get a wistful look in his eyes and talk about the time he saw a hanging.

“That’s something!” I would say.

“Not really,” he would explain. “You see, the man was already dead and buried. They dug him up and hung him out of spite. He pretty much fell apart.”

“Still, that’s pretty good. Why don’t you come with me to the execution?”

He would say that he couldn’t, that he had to get the mussels to market by the end of the next week.

It would be the first time I had ever gone to the big city. The sights and sounds would overwhelm me. People would laugh at my plain, unfashionable codpiece.

The time would finally come for the big execution. I would get there early, to get a good viewing spot. But not too early, because people might get bored and execute you. Or chase you around, whipping you with their belts for sport.

Finally, the fancy duke would be marched out. He would be wearing the finest brocades, with extra-long frilly cuffs. On top of his tricornered hat he would be wearing another, smaller tri- cornered hat, to show how haughty he was. He would take out his silk handkerchief, pretend to wipe his backside, then toss it at the crowd. The people would go wild with rage.

Later, over a tankard of ale at the pub, I would wonder why I felt so empty. Was that all there was to an execution, pounding a big metal spike into a man’s head, then hanging him until he was almost dead but not quite, then taking him down and drawing and quartering him, then sewing him back together, then hanging him again, then shooting him full of arrows?

Just then a toothless old man would come in. “You know that fancy duke they just executed?” he would cackle. “Well, now they’re going to execute his ostrich!” We would all cheer and rush back to the square.