Gray by Jennifer NicholasShe is beautiful, she is always beautiful. She is nervous, you can tell. The nerves in her neck are throbbing. It was a delicate neck, one to wrap your hands around and kiss. Her lips are set, her nose is pert. Her eyes are elsewhere. Dazed, ethereal, they stare out unseeing. The life they have seen! The life they have caused. For the first time he finds himself thinking of more than death at an execution: he thinks of life. He swears. Damn, he thinks, the trip over the Channel has addled his senses. She comes forward, her steps are dainty. Up, up, up, she ascends the steps of the scaffold. To him: to death. To him who is death. He must erase this doubt, this dissatisfaction. Had he thought of this? No. In Calais it had seemed a job, an enviable one at that. Murder the notorious whore. Give the heretic a coup de grace. It was his job, swords. His job was all he had. It was all he could do. He would become famous, the executioner of La Puchaine. The sword suddenly becomes heavy in his hand. Where to put it? Nowhere. She cannot see it. She stares at his face. Slowly, deliberately, she walks down to him. “Good sir”, she lilts, and he thinks, I will serve you forever. “Good sirs, if you may, please dispatch me quickly.” The four attendant women are weeping and glowering. Are they sad? Are they happy? Do they wish it done? Suddenly he sees her as Jezebel. Watch, she is leaning out the window. Look, she has leaned too far! Do you see? She is falling. And there he is. He is Jehu, driving his chariot of angry horses over her lifeless body. She is not dead. He shakes himself. Wake up, wake up, you are hired for skill. He had chosen not to be drunk for a reason. The man, Thomas, the man who’d killed her brother, was drunk. The executioner was always drunk. There was no other way to deal with the death. He was never drunk at an execution. Maybe that was why he was so good. Thomas had looked through him. “There is something about them. Something strange, something, something that makes you hate your job.” Then he had drunk five bottles of beer. "Make her feel it. Make the bitch hurt. Make her fear. Make her regret all the hurt she has caused this country”. Jezebel is looking into his face, through his eyes. Her eyes are gray; they are rain clouds beating a castle. Not black, not white. Gray. She thrusts the bag of payment into his hand. He determines to count it later. Her eyes plead mercy. You shall have it, his answer. They are happy now. She turns. Part of him relaxes. He notices that she wears a gable hood, an English gable hood. Appearances count, even those e for Belial. She is speaking now. Gabriel, Jezebel, Helen of Troy, Athena, Aphrodite, Ruth, are all her personalities. Gabriel’s voice; Jezebel’s sense of sin. Helen’s war; Athena’s courage, Aphrodite’s beauty; Ruth’s faithfulness. : They are all her. The voice of Gabriel holds the audience silent. Her ladies swallow all tears, and do their jobs. They all have a part to play in this charade. They all must act their roles. She is exceptional. Her words are chosen carefully. They must be. The audience is unkind. It is an audience of statesman, nobles. What could they do? Much, if they wish. But they do not wish. He knows them all by name. She pleads mercy before God, prays the king to long reign over the people. They do not notice. They do not care. Most haunting, she says, "and if any will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge, and judge the best." She speaks as if it is a joke. “And thus I take my leave of the world, and you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.” And she pleads mercy once more, for god measure. She tucks her dress under her feet. One of her women takes away the gable hood, her last deceit for English appearances. Her hair tumbles out, she does not notice, her eyes are closed, she is not there. He knows what he must do. She is kneeling. Before he can reconsider, he speaks. “Thomas, bring my sword!” Thomas is confused. She had dreamed of this as a child in Kent. He knew. Mary had told him. The play is not over for the rest of them. Her head falls into her skirts. He picks it up. Her hair is silk, smooth. Are her lips moving? He does not notice. “So die all the kings’ traitors!” He can barely croak it. But it is said. It has affected the crowd. They look sick. And then they disappear. He rushes through. Thomas grabs his shoulder. He pushes him off. Someone offers him a drink, he declines. All he wants is to go home, to sit, to think. He must get to Calais by the next day. His English is good, good enough to ensure him not being cheated. He still has not counted the money. He makes a resolution: do not spend it, or count it. He must leave before he spends it. Arrive in England late, leave as soon as possible. He does not want to se the Seymour woman. Thomas invites him to stay for her coronation. He declines. Thomas mutters and walks away. He must get to Calais. He arrives in Calais the next day. It is never the same. He remembers when her sister spoke to him. Mary had said, "Anne has no fear. As a girl in Kent, she dreamed she was executed. It was the summer when Empson and Dudley were executed. She came to believe that her death was inevitable, more inevitable than anyone else’s. That is why she has no fear. She is to be executed anyway; why not do whatever you want? You know, there is a verse in John that epitomizes her life. 'He was a bright and shining light; and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light'". Hold your finger up, the wind, the season, has changed. Mary does not speak to him anymore. It is dead, finished. Only later does he realize that she had been dead. She had died the day they pronounced her guilty. The bag of gold sits on his shelf, uncounted. He cannot look in any woman’s eyes, all he sees are her eyes. Not black, not white. Gray. The price of his executions goes up. He is a celebrity. They are calling him something else now, in Calais, l’homme qui a tue Anne Boleyn. The man who killed Anne Boleyn.
AUTHOR’S NOTEI am unaware of some of the correct grammar for certain words and sets in this piece. I have just graduated eighth grade, and, therefore, my grammar may not be completely correct. I have read numerous pieces written in this form, and believe I have used correct grammar in all instances. However, if it is not, it was written in good faith. I have used Google Translator for the French.
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