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April 17, 2010
It was the summer of ‘69. Plants were alive and blossoming in the pleasant weather, finally recovered from the harshness of winter; animals and people alike basked in the abundant sunlight. Celebrations abounded in this carefree season--festivities thrown in honor of the patriotism of our forefathers were, of course, very common, virtually glutting the month with general merriment; and this already rather revelry-filled July was only a few weeks shy of the Woodstock Festival, where thousands upon thousands of “hippies” would assemble to listen to hours of psychedelic rock music (the popular genre of the era), and, of course, to participate in the decidedly overindulgent, not to mention, deadly, ingestion of various narcotics.

Yes--there was a potentially wonderful time to be had by all.

However, while the majority of Americans were “letting their freak flag fly” in preparation for the Festival, a handful of people did not partake--could not partake.

One such lonely and jaded person was Xavier Stone.

Why was this young man so glum?

He was confined, away from the outside world--incarcerated in the Illinois State Penitentiary.

There was, in truth, no legal way for him to escape his predicament--unless he had been eligible for parole. Unfortunately, this was an impossibility, as Xavier Stone was a lonely resident of Death Row.

Somehow or other, though, he was able to extricate himself from his cold, gray prison. How exactly he did it, I am certain I will never know. I conjecture it must have been an incredibly difficult and arduous journey, as he had some obvious physical impairments.

Xavier had lost an eye and leg in Vietnam.

He was always an apathetic boy--it certainly surprised me when he expressed an interest in joining the armed forces, as, ordinarily, he cared about nothing and no one. Perhaps this war was God’s way of telling him to finally get off of his bum and accomplish something.

That doesn’t exactly explain, though, why God then allowed my grandson to have his eye gouged out by some machete-wielding maniac and his leg blown off in a hail of enemy fire.

It was an interesting experience, to open the front door to my modest abode and see him standing there, after all of these years. For reasons I don’t know or understand, I had missed the boy--but I suppose loneliness can make you yearn for any type of social interaction, even that with a murderous fiend.

I never get any less shocked, despite how much time has passed, when I say or think about it--my grandson, the murderer.

Imagine my surprise--opening the door, seeing this haggard, heavily-tattooed, one-eyed, one-legged, young man with brambles in his hair and dirt smeared across his sallow cheeks. Imagine my surprise--learning who he was and why he had come.

He wanted to “atone” he said.

He wanted to “atone”… for his… “sins”.

Xavier Stone… wanting to atone for his sins!

My grandson--my wild, lawless, reckless, rampant, violent, temperamental grandson--wanting to atone for killing his grandmother, my wife!

What else could I do? I let him in and sat him down in my nicest armchair.

I found him a blanket.

I brewed him some tea.

I let him drink.

After a moment of silence--of me, watching him and shaking my head in disbelief, and him, sipping his tea politely as if this were some casual visit--certainly not the first one in ten years, and certainly not the first one following the murder of my darling wife--I asked him--I asked him what in the Hell he was doing in my house, sitting on my armchair, drinking my tea.

I asked him how he found his way here--out of prison.

I asked him why he came, and why I let him in, and why didn’t immediately call the police.

I asked him why he killed my wife.

To this barrage of questions, he merely replied:

“Because you’re my grandfather, and, even though I’m a criminal, you still feel obligated to love me.”

After another brief period of awkwardness, he said this:

“I appreciate that.”

I cannot explain why, but my wrinkled old lips, upon hearing this small confession of hidden gratitude, curved into a smile.

He observed:

“You’re smiling.”

I stared coldly at him, my colorless, emotionless, close-lipped grin still sitting stiffly upon my face.

He said:

“It’s good to see you, Grandfather.”

You know, when he was a child, he liked to find stray cats and torture them. He would tie bags of sand around their paws and whip them with fallen tree branches and trap them in the putrid, garbage-filled dumpsters and kick them hard in their furry, and, no doubt, sensitive little bellies.

…How could I have been so blind?

His name isn’t even Xavier. He had changed that in prison.

I wanted to know why. When I had run out of things to say, I finally demanded he tell me why he had changed his name. He mumbled something about Buddhism being popular on his cell block and told me everyone on Death Row done the same, hoping it would somehow alter their identities and allow them start anew and “successfully follow the Eightfold Path”.

And so, he became Xavier.

He used to be a Jay--like me.

He also used to be a Christian--like me.

What a strange, strange boy he was. He was fairly happy-go-lucky--as a toddler, I mean--until his parents passed away in that fire. That was when Dorothy and I took him into our home.

I didn’t want him. I hated children. I had raised my own, and I was finished.

If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have taken him in at all.

“Because he’s our flesh and blood, and we can’t rightly leave him to rot in the streets,” she had said.

My flesh and blood…

That was enough to convince me. I loved that woman so much I’d do anything to make her happy.

If I had done what I’d originally wanted to do, Xavier would’ve spent his miserable childhood in a foster home, sure, but Dorothy might still be around today. And who knows? Maybe he would have received psychological treatment for his outbursts. Maybe he would have been better.

Maybe he wouldn’t have killed her at all.

…Isn’t that ironic?

He spent the night.

I was surprised no police officers had arrived by the next morning. The layer of dew on my lawn remained eerily beautiful, completely undisturbed.

I prepared a light breakfast--eggs, toast, freshly-squeezed orange juice--and we ate, again in silence.

Eventually, he spoke.

He told me:

“Grandfather, I have broken a promise to you.”

I, biting into a jam-slathered wedge of toast, eyed him curiously.

“A promise?”

He replied:


I said no more. He continued without encouragement:

“You took me into your home. And, as it is with every charitable deed, there is an unwritten agreement between the parties involved--to offer respect and love and appreciation in exchange for hospitality or generosity or whatever the Good Samaritan is kind enough to provide.

“And so, I have not kept up my end of the bargain. And so, I broke my promise… No… broke isn’t nearly a strong enough word…”

“No, it isn’t,” I interjected icily.

He continued:

“Ah! I shattered--shattered my promise to you. And for that, my Good Samaritan, I am sorry.” He looked at me, a tiny, sheepish smile on his lips, almost expectantly. It sickened me. I felt as though all of the acrid acid and boiling bile in my belly would crawl up my throat and bubble out my mouth.

I almost hoped it would happen. Anything to rid myself of the unpleasant sensation.

Instead, I vomited words:

“You’re sorry… You’re sorry…”

“I’m sorry,” he said meekly, as if to confirm his apology. I didn’t pause.

“You’re sorry… You think that counts for anything, you ungrateful, lowlife b*****d?” He appeared stunned.

“Why… but--”

“But nothing! Your apology means nothing to me--bupkiss!

“Do you know what you put me through? Do you know what pain and suffering you put me through, you scum? You slimy beast! You heartless--!” I rose from the table, so full of rage I was quaking.

“I didn’t want you! I never wanted you! You idiot!” I screamed, slamming my fist repeatedly on the flimsy wood until the tabletop itself snapped in two. “You insolent, arrogant a**! How dare you! You think you can offer me one little apology and suddenly everything’s fixed? You unbelievable b*****d…

“You think one little apology can atone for the murder of my wife, the woman I loved, and the only person who ever loved you…” Here I began to chuckle dryly. “My wife, my love… my world, goddamnit!” Here, I began to sob. Xavier appeared absolutely astonished, his good intentions bringing about highly unanticipated repercussions.

“But… Grandfather, after all this time--”

“You think that matters?” I cried, “You insensitive--you think I can magically forget that my wife was murdered in a lousy ten years?”

He did not respond, but stared blankly. Uncomprehendingly.

I could not suffer his audacious ignorance any longer.

I commanded him to leave my house at once. Thankfully, he obliged.

If he hadn’t left, I might have killed him then and there.

Of course, he hadn’t long to live anyhow.

A band of police officers stopped by the house a few days later. I told them I had never seen him.

They returned in a week’s time to inform me that they had finally found him--dead, having committed suicide by throwing himself down a ravine not a mile from my property.

There was a muddied piece of paper crumpled in his clenched fist--a note.

It read:


I don’t really know how to put this into words. All I can think to say is that
I am sorry--truly, heartily sorry.

I wanted you to forgive me. But Buddhism dictates that I should not desire,
and so, I must refrain from dwelling on your inability to do so.

Now that I think more about it, I absolutely understand how you cannot.

Without your forgiveness, however, I feel I must seek some elsewhere.
Perhaps I will find Grandmother on the way to my reincarnation (as my karma is
certainly not in tip-top shape, and I am positive I will be once again cast down to
Earth) and see if she can forgive me.

I am certain she, of all people, has reached Enlightenment.

One last note--though I don’t believe in your Christianity, I do accept the
possibility of a Heaven and Hell.

Though sometimes I think Earth is the real Hell.

All the best,

Xavier Stone

That was his note. Short, sweet, succinct--just as I would have written mine, had I been dumb enough to throw myself down a ravine.

My flesh and blood.

And so, I’m all alone now--my wife is dead, my son is dead, his wife is dead, my only grandchild is dead.

All that’s left is little old me.

People ask me all the time--“Is it worth it, living alone? No family, no one around?”; “Is it worth it, having to live knowing you helped to kill your grandson? Didn‘t you realize he had mental issues from the very beginning?”

Helped to kill my emotionally-addled grandson…

They blame me. As if I’m at fault--as if I’m the villain, the murderer.

Xavier Stone is right.

Earth is the real Hell.

Well. Well.

Give the people what they want, I say.

My entire family is dead, dead, dead.

Why be the odd one out?

Today I find that my grandson and I are very much alike indeed.

And though I’m still not dumb enough to throw myself down a ravine, I am certainly dumb enough to buy a pistol and blow my dusty old brains out.

Goodbye, cruel world.

Hello, flesh and blood.

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