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Keith Hoerner lives, teaches, and pushes words around in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Unusual Appetites 

Keith Hoerner

Our culinary choices often say something about us we cannot articulate.
—Henry Hargreaves

Iowa State Penitentiary, 1963

Victor Feguer, twenty-eight years old, admires his new suit, brown like his eyes only two shades lighter. The coat cuts at the shoulders. The pants tighten at the waist from eating too many potatoes. Morning. Noon. And night. The sleeves and legs ride high...a regular fit for an irregular frame. Still, it’s keen-o, he thinks. He hollers for a mirror and is obliged. Father D. should’ve seen these threads when he met me this morning. Victor laughs, then hacks a cough out of Marlboro Country. A sourness—something between tobacco and yesterday’s Shit on a Shingle—churns in the pit of his stomach. He takes his hand, brushes the right sleeve of his new suit jacket: smooth material under rough palm. Polyester. They might as well just wrap me in plastic. “Act like a Christian, not like an ass,” he hears Father D. chide. Hey, I try to be a dove. That’s why I asked for a goddamn olive as my last meal. If my killer gut doesn’t slaughter the stone, it’ll root, maybe grow into an olive branch. I’ll go out as a sign of peace! How’s that, Father fuckin’ D?

—Upon a post-execution examination before burial, the pit from the single olive requested by Victor Feguer is found in his front coat pocket.

Arkansas State Penitentiary, 1992

Not many people claim to be friends with forty-two-year-old Ricky Rector, but Robert Martin does. Or did. They knew each other way back as kids. Bobby was stocky. Ricky was round. Still, though opposite as two ends of a seesaw, they were as one. If playtime tipped in Bobby’s direction, they’d scare-up a game of Ghost in the Graveyard as night spirited in. But when Ricky got his way, it would be another double-dog dare: like siphoning gas from the neighbors’ cars in the vacuumed silence before sunrise. It was no surprise to anyone that life led ‘em to opposite sides of the law. Ricky’s story really begins and ends with the shooting of a man at a night club and the eventual agreement to surrender—but only to his friend, Officer Robert Martin. Ricky can’t remember exactly what happened: just that Bobby is dead, too. “They say I kill Bobby,” Ricky repeats under the fog of a self-imposed lobotomy from a bullet to the right temple after shooting his friend in the back. All that matters to Ricky is that Bobby is a Ghost in his Graveyard. The pecan pie he ordered as his final meal stays in its dull, knifed-up aluminum plate as Ricky walks to be executed. When asked why he doesn’t eat, he explains, “I’m—savin’—it—for—later.”

—Ricky Rector’s untouched slice of pecan pie is eaten by the guard on duty.

Texas State Penitentiary, 2001

Gerald Mitchell was a sweet boy. Now thirty-three years old, he is soured. Like many before him, he is saved in Christ Jesus. This is a pinch of sugar to his salty state of mind. He never could get that whole optimism thing...raised in the projects, he was tired of being tired. Drugs and money from dealing gave him the kick in his step he was looking for. What he wasn’t looking for was the kick in the head that landed him in this waiting cell. Two pops. Two drops. Soon, he’ll shoot up for the last time, and there’ll be no Narcan to jump-start his heart. Weird, he thinks, to know you’re gonna overdose and for good. He looks around his cell at the smudged, moldy-yellow, chipped-enameled walls. Why, being as he wanted out so badly, could he see the faded print of blue and pink and yellow flowers on the worn, tattered wallpaper from his mother’s kitchen? It was as if these buds, clipped, fell scattered at his feet. “Here ya go, Sweetie!” The bag of Jolly Ranchers he had asked for as his last meal spills out around him, taking its place among Mama’s flowers. “That’s one hell of a request. You think you’re so fuckin’ cute, don’t you?” No, he thinks, I’m just wonderin’ how long they’ll take me—to eat.

—Given time to consume just a few pieces of the hard candy, Gerald Mitchell is stopped from stalling. Upon his leaving, the cell floor faintly resembles a parade route, complete with a confetti trail of blue and pink and yellow.

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