Molly Edmonds

Last Meal

Caroline anticipated an easy breakup with Calvin. It had only been a few months, and though Calvin was a nice guy, Caroline wasn’t in love with him. They’d had a nice enough time together, but Caroline wanted something more than just a nice time. She wanted excitement and passion. Drama, even. She and Calvin had never had a fight, and Caroline realized she missed fighting. Caroline’s main concern about the break-up was that she kept a pricey moisturizer at his place, and she didn’t want to forget it after she told him goodbye.

When Calvin opened the door to his condo, his eyes were red and moist. Caroline wondered if she’d managed to break up with him telepathically, somehow, but she really didn’t think this would be his reaction.

“Cal? What is it?”

He wrapped his arms around her. He buried his face in her neck, and she could feel the wet of tears. This type of hug, so naked in need, made Caroline feel like she was the only person in the world. He had never made her feel this way, and she couldn’t decide if she liked the feeling. He let her go and leaned against the door frame, as if he would collapse without it.

“They set an execution date. It’s in ten days.”

“What?”

“William Boyd. The man who killed my parents.” At the word parents, Calvin lurched back against her, hugging her again.

Shit, Caroline thought. I should have broken up with him last week.

Caroline found out about Calvin’s parents before their first date. She’d done a standard pre-date internet search and when all the results were about murder her first thought was that Calvin was a killer. But no, it was William Boyd who murdered Doug and Louise Ingram 15 years ago.

The Ingrams had been visiting Calvin in Atlanta; he’d just finished his undergrad at UGA and had a summer internship at Deloitte that would eventually turn into full-time employment. The three of them spent the day buying and assembling furniture for Calvin’s first apartment. His parents took Calvin out to dinner and then left Atlanta for their home in Clayton, two hours away. Doug and Louise stopped for gas in Gainesville and went into the station to find William Boyd, gun and money in hand. The man behind the counter was already dead.

Boyd forced the Ingrams back into their car and they drove to four ATMs, taking out cash. Boyd then took the couple—him a real estate agent, her a high school teacher, married 26 years, parents to one child—to a grocery store parking lot and shot them both in the head. He’d tried to press the gun into Doug’s hand, to make it look like a murder-suicide, but he’d shot Doug in the back of the head. A security guard had heard the shots and called the police. Boyd’s defense was that he had been on so many drugs that he hadn’t known what he was doing. The prosecutor asked for the death penalty and the jury gave it to him.

Caroline knew all this before Calvin picked her up for dinner. She was more awkward than usual for a first date, talking too much when he asked her questions so that she wouldn’t have to ask him any in return. Most of her questions were about his job, which he was happy to talk about in great detail. He talked about running marathons and his training regimen, to explain why he could only have one glass of wine. He paid the bill and the valet brought the car.

On the way back to her place, he brought it up, his eyes never leaving the road. It was well-rehearsed, Caroline realized, something he had said to others before.

“There’s something you should know about me. When I was 22, my parents were murdered. The guy is on death row. I went to a lot of therapy. I still go to a therapist now if I feel there’s something I need to work through. But it was a long time ago. It’s shitty, but I try not to dwell on it. Okay?”

And Caroline said okay, because there was nothing else to say. She was glad she’d stalked him online, because if she hadn’t, she would have had a million questions, but she knew all the answers and they didn’t talk about it again. She was impressed that he’d brought it up, and he really did seem fine. He was a few years older than her, so maybe, she thought, that’s what maturity looked like. He still told stories about his childhood and his parents, but he never cried or teared up or seemed upset. He was focused on getting ahead at work and focused on beating his personal best at his next race, and that was about it. And that was why Caroline had wanted out; she’d realized she would never rank as high as consulting or running.

That Friday night, instead of breaking up with Calvin, Caroline rubbed his back as he sat on the couch in silence. He occasionally sniffled. Caroline asked him if he wanted to talk, and he said no. She asked him if he wanted to be alone, and he said no. She ordered Chinese delivery, and Calvin ate fried food, which was a sign that he was really upset, since he was in training. He asked her to sleep over, and while Calvin was usually a guy who only wanted a sheet to touch him while he slept, that night he rested his head on her shoulder and put his arm around her. Maybe the past few months had been a warm-up, and now, finally, she was going to get the real Calvin. She wondered if that was enough to change her mind. She also wondered how long you had to wait to dump someone in this situation. A week after an execution? Two?

She woke to find Calvin gone, because Saturday mornings were for long runs. She called her mother in North Carolina, who said she should keep Calvin company and make sure he ate enough. She called her best friend, who said it would probably be good for Calvin to have someone to talk to. She polled a few girlfriends and close coworkers on the etiquette of breaking up with someone in crisis, and got one response that said, Definitely not this week! Don’t you want to see what happens?

When Calvin came back from his run, sweaty, music blaring from his earbuds, he went straight to the shower, with nothing more than a wave in her direction. In his absence, she’d had four cups of coffee and too much advice, and she was jittery.

“I can’t believe I ate so much last night,” he said when he emerged from the bedroom, holding his laptop. “Huge mistake.” He kissed her quickly on her forehead. “So, I have a ton of work to do today. You can hang out if you want, but I probably won’t be much fun.”

“I think we should talk about last night.”

“I’m sorry about all that. I’m fine now. Got it all out on the run.” He was opening cabinets, pulling out the ingredients for his protein shake.

“I want to be here for you,” Caroline said. “But I have literally no idea what to do.”

“There’s really not anything to do. I got upset at hearing the guy’s name again after so many years, but now I’m relieved that it’s almost over.”

“Almost over? Do you think—is it like—is it like you’ll have some closure?”

He turned the blender on and watched the ingredients spin, avoiding her gaze. Caroline felt like her brain might explode from the noise.

“There is no such thing as closure,” Calvin said as he stopped the blender. “It just means our tax dollars won’t feed and clothe the guy anymore.” He poured his shake into a tall glass and raised his eyes to her. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“All right. I’m going then,” she said, thinking that she would definitely break up with him the next time she saw him. What an asshole. She went into the bedroom for her clothes, and she grabbed her moisturizer so she wouldn’t have to come back. She was at the door when he said her name. She turned and looked at him, ready to be there for him if he needed, ready to ignore the last five minutes.

“Will you take the leftover Chinese with you?” he asked. “I don’t need it in the house.”

Caroline woke on Sunday morning to the repeated ding of her cell phone receiving texts. Friends wanted to know if she and Calvin had seen the paper. The AJC had two big features, one on the history of the death penalty in Georgia, with lots of quotes from people who wanted Georgia to abolish it. And one on William Boyd’s life in prison. He’d found God there. He was a jailhouse minister, counseling the young men who came in on drugs, talking down the ones who wanted to kill themselves, leading Bible studies. He had written a book of devotionals that was passed from inmate to inmate. His four children, who’d been living with their mother and stepfather at the time of the killings, had reconciled with him and visited often. Boyd didn’t want to die; he was asking that his sentence be changed to life imprisonment. He was sorry for what he’d done, he said, but he’d changed, and he thought he could do more good if he was allowed to stay in the world. If he had to die, he wasn’t going to request a big last meal. He just wanted to take communion. Wine, the article noted, wouldn’t be allowed, but the jail did have ministers of several denominations on call who could offer him a communion wafer. Boyd said he wanted to be as close to God as possible in his last hours.

When Caroline finished the articles, she thought Boyd should live, and had to remind herself that this man had killed Calvin’s parents. She closed her eyes and willed herself to picture Calvin’s face. Boyd didn’t want to die, but the Ingrams hadn’t wanted to die, either, and they were gone. She felt she had to stand with Calvin, who wanted it to be over, whatever that meant. She owed him that much.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about that communion wafer.

Caroline texted Calvin after reading the articles, to see if he wanted her to come over. He said he was fine, that he was going for a run, that he’d see her for their Monday night date. Calvin was often on the road Tuesday through Thursday, so Mondays and Fridays had been their nights together. Caroline wondered what would happen if she just missed a Monday sometime soon; if Calvin would keep running and working for weeks before realizing she was gone.

Monday night, it was back to his condo. When he opened the door, he was angry. He stepped aside to let her in, and then paced around the living room.

“Bad day?” she asked.

“They called me at work. All day. I had to unplug the phone, give my clients another number.”

“Who called you?”

“The anti-death penalty people. Inviting me to take a stance against the execution.”

“What?”

“I couldn’t get anything done. My boss finally told me to work remotely for the rest of the week.”

“How did they find you?”

“The internet. What a bunch of assholes. Like I have any control over this. Like I’m the one injecting the guy with drugs.”

This was good, Caroline thought. Surely this anger was healthier than nothingness, and it provided a way to get close to him.

“I mean, he was convicted by a jury,” Calvin said. “I didn’t sentence him to death. They did.”

“I’m mad too,” she said. “I read those articles yesterday and there wasn’t anything in there about your parents. People are just talking about Boyd, not the real victims here.”

Calvin stopped pacing. “I’m sorry for venting. It’ll be over soon. I shouldn’t complain.” She didn’t know how she’d done it, but the mask was back up. “What do you want for dinner?” he asked. “We can go out, if you want. Or I have stuff here.”

“I don’t care. I was just about to ask you if your parents—”

“Let’s just do something here. Eggs? I could do an egg white omelet with some veggies. Then I’ll hard boil some eggs to snack on, since I’m going to be stuck at home all week. You can have a few, if you want.”

She sat on a stool at his kitchen counter, watching him prep his eggs. She wouldn’t miss dating a runner. Probably best to never date any kind of athlete again.

“Gary Gilmore requested hard boiled eggs as part of his last meal,” she said. “Before he was executed by firing squad.”

“What?”

“Gary Gilmore. Murdered people in Utah. He wanted hard boiled eggs. And a hamburger. But the hard-boiled eggs stuck in my brain, because I’ve seen you eat so many of them.”

“Why the fuck are you telling me this?”

“Timothy McVeigh wanted two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream before he died. John Wayne Gacy wanted a pound of strawberries. A ton of fried food but also a pound of strawberries!” Her voice was climbing up in volume.

“Caroline!” It was the closest he’d ever come to yelling at her. She wondered if he might throw an egg at her. She wanted him to do it, and then she wanted to punch him in his rock-hard abs, just to see if he’d feel something.

“I can’t help it!” she said. “You have this huge terrible thing hanging over your head and you won’t talk to me about it, and I don’t know what to do with myself, so today at work all I could do was read about the last meals people chose before they were executed.”

He stared at her. “That fucking communion wafer,” he finally said.

“Yeah,” she said. “It’s not an original idea, though. Other people have done that too.”

Another long pause. “Really?”

“Yeah. And there was this guy who just wanted one olive, with a pit, so that an olive tree of peace would grow from his grave.” Calvin was smiling, finally, so Caroline kept talking. “And there was this other guy who asked for 6 billion peas, because that was the world population at the time. World peas, he called it. He was going to eat a pea and wish for peace for each person on the planet. The prison rejected it because eating that many peas would take too long.”

“That’s insane.”

“Actually, I made the pea thing up. The olive with the pit is true.”

Calvin laughed. It was magical to Caroline. When she made Calvin laugh, she felt funny and smart and interesting, though she had finally realized he didn’t make her laugh.

“So what would you have?” she asked him.

“For a last meal?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t have to be because of an execution. Just, you know it’s going to be your last meal.”

Calvin closed his eyes. She tried to guess what he might say, thinking that he’d go with something like a quinoa bowl or salmon or a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter or—

“Fajitas,” he said, opening his eyes. “Steak fajitas.”

“Yeah?” She got up from her stool and walked toward him.

“Flour tortillas. Homemade guacamole. Cheese. So much sour cream. And a bucket of chips and salsa to start.”

“Baby,” she said, turning off the eye of the stove and wrapping her arms around his waist. “Let’s go get Mexican.”

They went to a cheap Mexican place, the kind they usually avoided because of Calvin’s diet. They split a pitcher of margaritas and talked about random things—not the execution, not Calvin’s parents. One of those flirty talks they’d had at the beginning, when she’d volley random ideas at him and he’d serve them back cleverly and then she’d land the punchline. They went back to Calvin’s and had sex, and as Caroline fell asleep she thought, I can do this. I can get him through this execution, and then we’ll part ways.

The next morning, Caroline asked Calvin if he wanted her to stay home with him, and to her surprise, he said yes. Her boss approved her work-from-home plan, and Caroline had the feeling that her boyfriend’s notoriety might have been discussed in the office. She went over to her apartment for clothes and toiletries, including the moisturizer she’d just taken from Calvin’s, and then returned to his place. They sat on his couch with their laptops, and just when she’d stopped surreptitiously checking the internet for the latest on William Boyd’s appeal and started to focus on work, Calvin asked her if she’d send him some of the articles about last meals. She sent him links and tried to watch him out of the corner of her eye as he scrolled. He was calm when he asked her what she thought about grilled cheese for lunch. There was a café nearby that was known for a great version, with five different kinds of cheese, and a grilled cheese was what some murderer in Alabama had requested. They walked over, hand-in-hand, and ended up taking a long lunch. Calvin even had a glass of wine. It was the best grilled cheese sandwich Caroline had ever had. She wondered if they’d just been calorically deprived for this entire relationship. That night, Calvin suggested shrimp cocktails (a little bit of a cheat, since most inmates wanted fried shrimp) and they watched a movie. After Calvin fell asleep, Caroline checked her phone. There were photos of activists delivering boxes of signatures to the capital, a huge petition to stop the execution. There was talk of asking the pope to intervene. Local religious leaders were mobilizing for protests. Caroline hoped they would succeed in stopping the death and immediately felt like she’d cheated on Calvin.

On Wednesday, they ordered pizza for lunch. Sausage, pepperoni, onion, and mushroom.

“It’s truly amazing how many people want pizza for their last meal,” Calvin said, blotting the grease from his slice.

“It’s comfort food,” Caroline said. “Plus, it’s such an easy way to get so many delicious ingredients.”

“It’s so bad for you,” Calvin said. “But I guess people stop caring about their health at the end.”

“Yeah, it’s not like they’re worried about any upcoming marathons,” she said. She actually winked at him exaggeratedly when she said this, like a comic actor in a bad movie. He laughed, though.

Calvin’s phone dinged. His friends and coworkers had been texting him, but he told everyone he was fine, no need to worry. If she hadn’t been there, Caroline thought, he’d probably be sitting there alone. Or would he be back on a dating app, arranging first dates like nothing was happening?

“What the fuck,” he said, looking at his phone.

“What is it?”

“How did this fucker get my number?”

“Show me,” she said, taking his phone.

The text read: Hey Calvin. This is Jake Fox. I grew up in Clayton and had your mom for social studies. She was an amazing woman and I know you must miss her. She had a poster in her classroom of Gandhi, with the quote, “An eye for the eye makes the whole world blind.” I don’t think she would want William Boyd to die. He has changed his life and is sorry. God is the ultimate judge, not man. You must use your voice and preach forgiveness.

“Fuck,” Caroline said.

“Yeah,” Calvin said. He put his head in his hands.

“Cal, let’s go away,” Caroline said. “Let’s find a hotel room at the beach and get out of town. Leave our phones here. Come back next week when everything’s over.”

Calvin looked up. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not? You have plenty of vacation.”

“I’m going to the execution. I need to be here Sunday night.”

“You’re…going?”

“Yes.”

She would never have guessed that he’d want to see that. She’d read what would happen, how Boyd would be strapped down and given an injection and then he’d—hopefully, assuming no problems with the drugs—fall asleep. Die.

“Why?”

“Because that asshole needs to see my face. I want him to see me and remember my parents.” His voice was deeper than usual when he said that, and full of darkness she didn’t know he had in him. She had wanted him to show emotion, but now she realized that this was not the emotion she wanted. She wanted him to be sad, not angry.

“I think that’s a terrible decision, Calvin. I think that—”

“Well, it’s my final decision. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.”

Calvin got up from the table. He washed his hands, got a bottle of water, went to the couch and his laptop. The silent Calvin was back.

For dinner, Caroline ate the leftover pizza; Calvin ate some almonds.

William Boyd’s daughter was on all the network morning shows on Thursday. She said that even though she was just nine when the murders happened, she felt like the deaths were her fault. She’d called her dad in tears because kids at her new school were bullying her. She didn’t have the right clothes or shoes, and her dad had promised that everything would be okay, that he’d get her the things she needed. And the next night, he committed his crimes.

The anchor asked the daughter what she wanted to say to the victims’ families.

“I am so, so sorry for your loss, and I know that my dad is so sorry too. He is a changed man now. I would say, if you lost your parent that night, you know how terrible it is. And now I’m about to lose mine. Please don’t let the state of Georgia do this to us.”

Calvin watched the woman on the television. “When I talked to one police officer, he told me that my mom was still wearing all of her clothes, that it was clear she hadn’t been violated,” he said. “Because that motherfucker had a previous conviction for rape and battery. He thought I’d be reassured to know.” Caroline wracked her brain for something to say in response, even though she felt like he was addressing Boyd’s daughter. She didn’t have time to say anything, though; Calvin went to the bedroom and emerged in his workout clothes. When he came back from his run, he told Caroline he had a therapy appointment, that he’d set it up yesterday to talk through some stuff. Thank God, Caroline thought.

While Calvin was gone, Caroline read a long article by a professor of theology on the sincerity of religious conversions of death row inmates. She looked at a website of inmates’ last words. For lunch she had hummus, which she hadn’t seen on any lists of last meals, but she was feeling sick from everything she’d eaten in the past few days. She had a constant stomachache now, but it was hard to tell if it was from the ceaseless state of dread about the execution or from the food.

When Calvin came back from the therapist, she asked him how it went.

“Great,” he said. “What do you think about the Colonnade for dinner tonight?”

“The Colonnade? Seriously?” The restaurant was an Atlanta institution, known for fried chicken and southern sides. It was not the kind of place she expected Calvin to suggest; it was fifteen cheat days rolled into one meal.

“We should eat some fried chicken for our last meal project,” he said. “People about to die love fried chicken.”

“Did you tell your therapist about us eating these last meals?”

“No. Why?”

“It just seems relevant, I guess.” She wanted professional proof that she wasn’t destroying him somehow, that he’d be okay when this was over and she released him back into the wild.

“Nah. Listen, I’m going to do an interview with the AJC tomorrow. About my parents. They’ve finally figured out that there are two sides to this story. So I’m going to go through some photos and stuff in my study.”

“Do you want any help?”

“Nope.” That therapist was good, Caroline thought. Calvin was back to his old self.

The interview was taking place in Calvin’s condo, so Caroline cleared out ahead of time. She was happy to have a break from his place, to breathe some fresh air and move around. She hoped he’d get a good reporter, that he’d open up about his parents and tell their story, because that was the part that she thought might give him peace. Not seeing the execution. They hadn’t mentioned his decision since Wednesday, which felt like weeks ago now.

She went to the grocery store, because Calvin had made a special request for dinner that night: the last meals of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, the Lonely Hearts Killers. They were a couple who robbed and killed women they found through personal ads. Not a great omen, Caroline thought, for someone who was going to be single soon. Martha ate fried chicken (Caroline had plenty left over from the Colonnade), fried potatoes, and salad before she died, while Raymond had an onion omelet, French fries, and chocolate. Calvin was really intrigued by an omelet with just onions. Caroline was amazed at how much he’d read about the case, but more amazed by how determined he was to stick to this theme. But her mother had told her to make sure he ate, and he was certainly doing that.

When she got back to the condo, Calvin was asleep in the bedroom. In the living room, there was a box of photos. Calvin as a little boy. His mom. His dad. Caroline looked at the photos of Calvin’s mom and tried to imagine that it was her own mom who had been gunned down. Would she want revenge? Would she want to see the murderer die? But it was too abstract. She could barely imagine her mother dead, let alone imagine her mother murdered. She did know she’d want to avoid this week that Calvin was having, with strangers calling him and his parents’ murderer on television all the time, and that was reason enough to think that she’d be okay with a murderer getting life in prison. But she couldn’t really know how it felt.

On Saturday, Calvin rolled out of bed and went on his long run, as usual. But he was only gone for an hour, far shorter than his normal times. He took a shower and went to the store. He came back with the ingredients for banana splits (“Mad Dog” Taborsky, executed 1960) and steak (so many murderers). They ate a banana split for lunch, and then another one for dinner. Cooking a steak seemed like too much effort. They watched movies and did not talk. Caroline wondered what William Boyd was doing and snuck looks at her cell phone when Calvin went to the bathroom. Boyd’s supporters were all over social media, asking all elected officials they could find online for clemency, for a life sentence. Others responded to their posts and said that Boyd was getting what was coming to him. Justice had to be done. Legal analysts seemed to think any sort of stay or clemency was unlikely, that the execution would proceed at 12:01 a.m. on Monday morning. Caroline wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed and wipe Calvin and William Boyd from her memory.

The article on Calvin’s parents was the front page of Sunday’s living section. There was also an article about the gas station worker. Calvin didn’t read them; he watched stand-up comedy specials in the living room all morning. Caroline stayed in bed, reading and re-reading the online versions of the articles, where there were already comments about how these were wonderful people, clearly, but killing someone else wouldn’t bring them back.

The paper also had an article about how ministers from all over the country would be taking to the streets to offer prayer. Some churches would be celebrating multiple Eucharists throughout the day, in honor of Boyd’s last meal. There would be churches open that night for candlelight vigils; some congregations were organizing caravans to Jackson, to the prison, so that they could be near William Boyd. If he had to die, they wanted him to hear hymns and prayers from people who loved him. It felt, Caroline thought, like God was not on the side of the Ingrams. She finally mustered the courage to get out of bed and face Calvin.

“I have to leave here at 3,” he said, as she walked into the living room. Calvin was meeting a victim’s advocate in Jackson at 4 p.m. The advocate would stay with him until 12:01 a.m., or whenever it was over.

“Okay,” she said. She sat on the couch next to him.

“I think we should make a big brunch before I leave. I’m going to take some granola bars with me, but I don’t think I get dinner.”

“What do you want?” She reached out to rub his shoulder. She was determined to take care of him today, no matter how hard it was.

“I’m thinking Ted Bundy’s last meal. Steak and eggs. Hash browns. Toast.”

When he said “Ted Bundy,” she thought she might vomit. She gripped his arm. “Calvin, please don’t go to the execution.”

“Of course, Bundy didn’t request this meal. He didn’t request anything, so they just gave him this. It was the standard in the state if you didn’t have a special request.” He was reading from his phone.

She shook his arm, trying to get him to look at her. “I think you’ll see something you can’t unsee. I don’t think it’s healthy to watch a person die.”

“He didn’t eat anything, though. Just let it sit there. I’m going to eat it. Can’t go wrong with steak and eggs.” He stood up, and Caroline grabbed his hand to prevent him from walking away. He stopped and looked down at her.

“If you go, I won’t be here when you get back,” Caroline said. It was a bluff. She’d be gone soon enough.

He looked straight at her, calm, collected. He was either not worried about her leaving, or he didn’t care if she did. “How many eggs do you want, Caroline?” He dropped her hand.

“It won’t bring you any peace. It won’t change anything.”

“How many?”

She maintained eye contact with him, saw that he stood firm. “Two,” she finally said.

Calvin walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, opened various cabinets. He was whistling, as if today was a normal day and he was a normal boyfriend making breakfast for his girlfriend. She’d done this to herself, Caroline thought, bringing up what dead men ate. Accept responsibility. That’s what Boyd has to do. She wondered what he was doing right now. The last ten days had crawled by for her, but she imagined they’d raced by for him. Time can be weird when you’re waiting for something inevitable.

Caroline listened to the sizzle of the meat and the eggs and decided she was done waiting for the right time to break up with Calvin. When he leaves, you leave, she told herself. She closed her eyes and waited for him to cook the last meal.

Molly Edmonds was born and raised in North Carolina. She worked for over a decade as a communications manager for transportation engineers, theology professors, and obstetrician-gynecologists. She is currently pursuing her MFA in fiction at North Carolina State University.