by Adam Breckenridge
The birth of his child was one of the few reasons they would ever let David out of his cell. He knew that what little bits of freedom they allowed him here and there were things that were supposed to be cherished but he wasn’t quite sure what to do with freedom. He knew he should want it; that it was better than the life he lived and that if he were ever given a chance to have it, that it was something to be taken. But the concept was as alien to him as sight was to a man born blind.
The last time they had let him out of his cell was when they had led him into another room to lay with a woman, a pleasure that was only allowed to him because of how important it was that he have a son. The first two times he’d lain with a woman she had given birth to daughters who were taken away, never to be seen by him again. They would be allowed their freedom. It was the sons who had to carry on the burden of the family’s obligation and if the child being born today were a son then David would never know the touch of a woman again. So must it be. The thought of rebellion had never more than tingled at his mind, nearly as difficult a concept as freedom. He had even thought before that if he killed himself he would be freeing his successors of their suffering – but also denying them the opportunity to exist at all. He didn’t know if he had the right to do that or not.
The guard brought him to a room with a bed in the center. Laying in it was the woman he had been with nearly nine months ago, her face twisted in the agony of childbirth. A doctor and a nurse were attending to her and he was ordered to sit in the corner.
“Is it a boy?” he asked, his voice raspy. He didn’t get to speak to others very often. The doctor turned to him, face grim. David would worry at that except he was sure it was only because the doctor knew who he was and why this birth was so important.
“We don’t know yet but so far the birth has been going smoothly.”
“It needs to be a boy.”
“I know,” the doctor said, and David thought he saw some pity in the man’s eyes.
The woman screamed. David cringed. He was kept isolated from the other prisoners and rarely ever heard loud noises. His existence was a dull and quiet one. He understood that to many of the other prisoners his existence was only a rumor, a horror story for them: the man suffering the ultimate penalty.
David waited through the screams and cries, plugging his ears with his fingers until a different cry emerged: that of a newborn baby.
“It’s a boy,” the doctor said. There was no joy in his voice. David looked at him and thought of all that this meant. His family’s burden would be carried on for the next generation.
“Can I hold him?” David asked the doctor. The doctor looked to the guard, who nodded his assent. David stood and took the bundle into his arms. This was probably the only time he would ever get to see his son. Like him, this boy would never get to leave the walls of this prison. He would be confined here for his entire life just as David had been and just as his father had been. His grandfather was the last to have known the outside of a prison and it was he who had committed a crime so heinous that the high court decided to punish him with the most brutal sentence ever handed down: seven life sentences to be carried over through seven generations of their family. Three more sons of the family would have to live and die entirely within this prison before the sentence was fulfilled. David often cursed his grandfather for condemning him and his successors to this fate. What kind of life could I have had except for him, he often wondered, though he tried not to think about it. It was the most painful thought he ever could have imagined except now for the new one presented to him: what kind of life could his son have had?
“That’s enough,” the guard said. The doctor took David’s son from him. The guard grabbed David’s arm and led him away. When they got to the door David turned to the doctor and said “Will you name him David? Please. It’s the only thing I have to give him.”
The guard dragged him out before he could hear what the doctor said.
David sat quietly on his bed for a long time after he was returned to his cell, not even bothering to get up to grab his dinner after it had been slipped under the door. Now that he had a son there was no reason for him to go on living. He could end his wretched existence, but doing that would guarantee that the sentence handed down to him sixty years before he was born would have been fulfilled. An entire life spent in prison doesn’t instill much of a sense of rebellion in one but there was a tiny flame in him, buried somewhere deep, that wanted to believe that someday he could be freed of his burden; that a day would come when the walls of the prison would crumble and he and his son could walk free hand in hand, learning together what it meant to have the world at your feet.
© Copyright 2023 Adam Breckenridge
About the Author
Adam Breckenridge is an Overseas Traveling Faculty member of the University of Maryland Global Campus where he travels the world teaching US military stationed overseas and is currently based in Japan. He has thirty-three story publications to his name and has most recently appeared in the Fantastic Other, Lucent Dreaming and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.