In the seconds before the noose bit his neck Romeo Pembrey, the widow’s man, gazed at the faces of the townspeople and their children there to watch him hang. His crime was forgetfulness. When the mayor’s wife spoke to him in town, he had failed to remove his hat.
The eyes of the adults blazed with a cruel exhilaration while the children laughed and played without understanding. Two men in white hoods had taken Romeo from behind his plow and marched him across the furrowed field to the big oak where they stripped him and stood him in the back of a horse-drawn wagon. Another hooded man doused him with gasoline. The men knew what they were doing. They left his hands free so the people could watch Romeo claw at the noose when the time came, prolonging the show, and bringing ridicule from the crowd.
The children played beneath the wagon and threw stones at the horses hoping to make them bolt, but the drayman had a firm grip on the reins. Women pretended not to notice his cock, but Romeo could see fear and lust in their eyes. He knew cocks often got fully erect during a lynching and would make the women gasp. He guessed that was why the men wanted to burn him, to crush his defiance with humiliation.
The drayman heard the order to walk on and smooched the horses. Romeo would not fight the noose, but dangle quiet and die easy. Still and all, when the rope grabbed his neck, he worried he hadn’t finished the plowing and made good his promise to the widow.