Mare Nectaris – Kenan Meral
December 15, 2022
I looked at Carlos Baez as I looked at every other man that walks through my life as an article, except that his flesh before it fried was used as an auxiliary to crime. That’s the fact of the matter, and I don’t know why’d I’d admit it to him. Maybe to give him some satisfaction. All I saw was a corporation of flesh waiting for its turn to decay. If he was in here, and was asking for the electric chair, in Lincoln County, that meant nothing to me. In the DoC you can’t let these men get the better of you, and that accompanies a fraternizing. That’s how your sense of career ends up undermining job performance. I’ve had every last insult and every last mixture of human bodily fluids thrown at me, and on many occasions, it has nearly led to job suspensions. And after many years, when I got promoted to Death Row, I’ve also met very guilty minded, fearful men, whose eyes met with terror at the receiving end of impartial justice. Carlos wasn’t necessarily one of those sickos who enjoyed what he did, but he certainly had a streak of the fascination about him. I’ve come across people like him in my career too. My sole responsibility in here was facilitating their deaths and the due processes accordingly.
One afternoon, exactly two weeks before Baez was set to fry, a visitor came by asking for an interview. He was a writer doing an op-ed for the Times and I told him to come back when he had an appointment. He said he’s only in Arkansas for another day and I said come back tomorrow. He said what else’s he doing? So I said okay.
I asked Baez if he was up for an interview, and Baez just kept looking at the bee hive he drew of brown blood paint on the gray wall. Weird freak.
“Mr. Baez seems to be indisposed at the moment, sir.”
“Can I at least get a look at him. Maybe get a picture?”
“No cameras within penitentiary walls.”
“Can I write things?”
“I don’t see why not.” I said.
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Baez said nothing. He kept staring. You could imagine that the orange light thrown out of his eyes could’ve started a fire with a magnifying glass. Besides his terrible eyes his facial features were pinkishly inflamed, and his old jowls were indivisible from his cheeks. Baez had brown-white beard hair right up to under his eyes.
“Mr. Baez, I’m Bob Klimt. I’m a reporter from the New York Times. I’m here to ask you a couple things if you have the time.”
Baez laughed, and then started coughing profusely.
“I got two weeks.”
“Two hours will be more than enough time.”
“That’s not much time.”
“It’ll be just fine, Mr. Baez.”
“That’ll be fine for you I mean.” He said laughing again.
Klimt pulled a chair up to his cage. He turned to the correctional officer, Dupont, and asked him if they can do a one-on-one interview and Dupont said no.
“Mr. Baez, if I can be bold? I’ll say I don’t think you killed all those people. And I’ll tell you that I’m one of those who agreed that you don’t have the self-confidence to be really truly mad at anyone.”
“Don’t beat around the bush huh? Well there’s no sense to it, and I’ll tell you you’re right. I’m not one for the axe. That was in 1943, and they got me cuz they found a bloody hatchet in my hand, cuz I was killing chickens. Not white ladies. And that was 30 years ago, and they picked up the first unlucky looking brown son of a bitch.”
“They said in the report, you were messing around with animals, for pleasure.”
“What’s the difference between that and killing for sport?” Baez said.
“I think a lot of people would say killing for sport is one thing. You might butcher the game, and feed your family. You wanna get it in one shot, so the animal doesn’t suffer. But the things you were doing.”
“I know what I was doing.”
“You were hurting animals for fun. Don’t you find that a little unnerving to people?”
“It wasn’t for fun. It was for interest, that’s how Mr. Dupont put, how’d you call it Mr. Dupont? Not fun a?” He said while looking at his receding hairline.
“A fascination?” Dupont said.
“Yes sir, it was a fascination.”
I lit a cigarette and offered Baez one and he took it.
“A fascination.” I said. “And I guess that fascination started with bees?”
“You can say that it did. I’d call it a bit more of an obsession personally.” He put down the lit cigarette on the metal edge on his cot. “Here look.” Baez pulled an old cigarette carton from under his bed and slid it in between the bars of his cell towards me, through a barrier.
Klimt took the carton tenderly and discovered a carefully procured cornucopia of dead insects, mostly hornets and wasps. They shook around loose, and dried to the perfection of an entomologist. Baez kept a particular beautiful arrangement of beetles, one which caught on its iridescent shell the blood-rays of pliant sun. Klimt admired a beetle’s minuscule shell while holding it up to the sunlight and saw how a man set to die by electricity could get lost in a prism of lustrous colors. He gently placed it back amongst the moths, and a yellow butterfly, and wasps, and slid it back through the bars to him.
“Is this enough to spill blood over?” Klimt asked, titling his head over back towards the wall painting.
“I’ll tell you my fascination with bees began naturally as a result of the harvesting process, from the farm where I was raised. My first interest revolved around the order of a bee’s life, how it gave itself fully to a compulsion to sniff out pollen, and to carry back as much of it as possible for the hive’s alchemical purposes.” Klimt showed surprise on his face at the man who he previously assumed was a completely impulsive idiot. “I remember the first time I saw bees sting something other than me. It was the dog. One of them was still moving, and flung itself headlong into a creature much larger than itself. I was obsessed with that.”
“Is that why you killed your little cousin?”
“I didn’t kill him.” He flicked his cigarette outside of the cell, where it landed just short of Klimt’s shoes. “It wasn’t me who killed him.”
“Then what happened?”
“Let me tell you that story by telling you another.” He stood up and walked over to the metal seatless toilet. Baez turned his back to the opening, unzipped his pants, and started pissing. “When I was around 9, I was going back outside the apiary shed, just before the meadow, where he stored our raw honey, when my dad told me to go fetch some. Some customers had came, somewhere from out east, New Jersey area, and they were driving out to Ohio. When I walked back, I reached into the shed cupboard, and I cracked the honey jar open, placing it on the shelf. I paced over the door, to make sure no one could catch me eating some, when I saw a little mouse, lurking on the second shelf of the desk, just above the jar.”
Baez finished up and flushed and kept telling his story, as he was walking back over to his cot.
“Suddenly falling from the desk’s second shelf, I saw a little mouse toss itself into my open jar. It was innocent enough at first, had seconds not separated me from its astonishing feat.” He was looking at me cold dead in the eyes. “The rodent, subdued completely by instinct, realized immediately afterwards that its humanlike fingers could not reach the lip of the jar. Still, he spun around in panicky excitement, nibbling nectar off his paws, sinking deeper down into pleasure. His nails scraped on the jar’s glass walls, almost escaping over the top. Then he went back to eating again. The poor creature was writhing between its instincts.”
“And what did you do?” Klimt asked.
“I didn’t do anything. Watched it. I learned something about the animal instinct. There’s no logic to it you know? That day, I saw the two domineering desires which commanded the animal mind, split the creature in two. One voice shrieked upwards in flight, and clawed at me for life. Another instinct demanded a ravenous compliance to eat. The stronger won out. The one that pulled him downwards to satiate hunger. I stood transfixed by this biological fission erupting between two desires rooted in the same energy. The mouse couldn’t even trust its own instincts. Both instructions were telling him the same thing, just in two opposite directions. Just live.”
“Did your Pop find you?”
“Never. But I think that day, it wouldn’t have changed much if he did, cuz I was a changed boy.”
Baez thought back to his childhood bedroom. A largely vacant one with wooden walls, and a draft in the winter time. He thought about how the seasons passed, and how he felt laying in that bed, looking out the window when evening would come. On bleak midwinter nights, he could remember how his death infatuation was something he had begun to feel an anxiety about. How he could see the way his family and friends at school were looking at him, after Andy died. How they knew there was something more than a deadly allergic reaction at hand.
Outside the window, the child Baez shuddered at a feeling of dark transcendence about the world. He’d come inside from sneaking out for early morning walks and think to himself, “In the winter I could live.” In his memory, he saw the moon illuminating the Earth in constance. The way light reflected into his eyes, reflected the meadow’s scarcity, which was no more fertile than a lunar lava plain.
He also remembered, the summer day his cousin died. And told it all to Klimt.
While he could profess no attachment to his actions, he had to confess a scientific appreciation for spiritual death. It wasn’t the decadence, frankly, that disgusted him. It wasn’t the act of cruelty, the killing of small rodents, dropping them in honey jars, watching them writhe. Watching slowly, waiting for the synapses to stop firing, waiting for the green flash to ignite and let the mouse’s spirit rip from life’s sunset. He believed in religions, and he believed in God. And he was terrified to find out the Truth, but he needed to test the boundaries, to find out if he could see something, find anything angelic, when a body dies.
“Cousin Andy came for a visit when he was a very little boy. Maybe six, and he escaped the house with me. And we ran down to the meadow in the Summertime, when the flowers basked in full fervor. He got stung bad. He’s allergic. And I didn’t tell anyone, and I didn’t say nothing. He just got stung, and boy he plumped up too, and I saw it. I saw something I can’t describe. Something religious, I don’t like to get too, um, supernatural. But something clicked with me. I knew God was real. And then his momma caught me watching him. And she screamed and he croaked.”
Klimt didn’t say anything, and even Dupont, in his decades in the department of corrections work, was horrendously offput.
“But those other people. Those girls. I didn’t kill them. I’m not that typa guy. You oughta know that.”
Klimt still was at a loss.
“Mr. Klimt, I have a real fascination with the winter. You can catch a glimpse of the osmosis of life. Feel the air in here. In this cell. The mistral air measuring the width of our lungs, dictating the cost of our breathing, the cost of diffusing heat.”
“And you expect me to believe you’re not a murderer?”
“I ain’t one. I ain’t a bad guy. I just have fascinations.”
Klimt didn’t want to do this interview anymore. Maybe he wasn’t cut out for it, so he got his papers, picked up from the folding chair and nodded his head at Dupont. “Mr. Klimt, you look like you’re just about wrapped up here. But before you get up I gotta tell you something. You see that moon coming up? You see them stars too huh? Right out my little window. I’ll tell you what, my younger cousin felt as far away to me as all these things. At night, during the winter, I could think to myself that he’d been buried in a black space somewhere, somewhere between the star fields. It made no difference to me if he had sunken beneath the Mare Nectaris, or under some soil one hundred feet away from my bedroom. To me, Andy is a shade blemishing the moon. That’s all he is to me. When Andy died I learned that I could be as spiteful as I wanted towards King Death because he would never make any sense. There was no difference to me where he was out there, buried meagerly beneath a bed of flowers, or washed away, down the Milky Way. He could be buried under the jailyard for all I care and I would sleep, and I will continue to sleep and I would sleep well, for the rest of my rotting body’s one thousand days.”
“I can’t wait to write your obituary.”
“Look forward to it.”
“One more thing, Baez. I did my research on you. You look a lot like him. Your cousin.” Klimt was guided out, by Dupont. He wrote the article. No clemency was asked. No last minute Hail Marys. Just the chair. And the electricity. The execution and then an obituary.
As a matter of fact, Klimt drove all the way back down two weeks later to fill a seat as a witness to an execution. And he didn’t look anybody in the eye. A young lawyer turned to him, from Baez’s defense team. Klimt and Vince Newell shook hands and introduced each other. He said he read Klimt’s article. Newell said Baez told him the honey jars are still out there. He said they’re buried behind the shed.
A year to the day, after Carlos Baez was put to death in the state of Arkansas for triple homicide, Klimt made the pilgrimage back down to Lincoln County. In the afternoon, he parked his Buick on an overgrown path where the driveway should’ve been. Klimt got out and walked around back, past the decrepit home and made it to the shed. It was overlooking a terribly overgrown array of flowers, barely a meadow now, and he turned his head to see a window by the rotten wooden home. It was small, but he saw that bedroom window.
After digging around for a while Klimt took a break to look at the childhood yard, and the farm of the murderer Carlos Baez. Klimt looked towards an old farm field where the apiary would’ve been. He saw the over grown meadow contrasting the sky, hanging its possessions vibrantly above frozen lilies in the nudity of their dying stage. The mare nectaris was accentuated in the early morning by an Indra’s net of burning pearls. “If I was Buzz Aldrin or Neil Armstrong I would’ve almost certainly gone awol up there.” Klimt thought out loud. And then he nicked something and dusted the soil off, and in the moonlight he held a relic of a minor cataclysm, mice and rats at decrepit angles, some red-eyed.
In the jar, in the abyssal redness, an experiment held its victims in frozen honey. And as a matter of fact, Klimt began to figure that there are some relics, some pieces of the past, which command a talisman of darkness. Maybe Baez didn’t kill those people, maybe he did. That was there and then. What Klimt held in his hands now was material evidence of empirical evil. Was that true? The question of the thought was answered in his head by a renunciation his previous morals. There is a transcendental darkness on Planet Earth that says there is room to spare on this graveyard moving through space time. Klimt couldn’t figure it out, but something meditatively evil laid in a ditch before him. Who is to say that such meditations on cruelty cannot also be encapsulated in a koan describing pure malevolence as a singularity? Like the Shroud of Turin, or a golden reliquary box containing a finger bone of Gautama. There are objects in this realm that detail a vortex of transcendental suffering. This jar of honey, this jar of mice, was one such artifact.
He placed the glass jar of mice back into the dirt. He couldn’t think to carry it with him, or to destroy it, so he covered it up in the soil. Honey and glass decay very slowly. Though Klimt knew that one day, more than likely, he would have to return to the scene of this travesty and destroy it. Klimt figured, in a not so decisive way, that the world was filled with little treasures of undiscovered horror. He also felt that the human race would be reduced as a whole if the knowledge of this evil in the world was unveiled. It would have to be hidden. Klimt, in his old age, would return to haunt the scene of the crime many decades later.
He would dig down into the Earth to find the little jar of mice, dead and serene. And many years later, he found it missing.