First published on WritersCafe in 2014
“What do you mean he’s retired!?” demanded Eric with a palpable air of indignation. “He’s the finest rope maker in town. He can’t just stop”. Eric began to pace about the room in a frenzied manner. Robert, who had been standing quietly before the enraged man, took a deep breath and met Eric’s eyes with his own. This made him even more uncomfortable, but he had a right to anger as well. “I was his apprentice, how do you think this makes me feel?” Eric, who had not really considered the youth standing sheepishly in the corner of the room, glared menacingly at Robert. “You’re young! You have plenty of time to find a new profession. I have been in this line of work for thirty years. A hangman cannot do without proper rope!” Robert considered this very carefully before bringing himself to speak again. “I know someone who can help.”. Eric scoffed at the thought and began his manic pacing anew. Realizing he had been shunned, Robert left the room quietly and slightly wounded.
A few hours had passed since the discourse in the executioners chamber and Eric had finally begun to calm down. This evening would see the hanging of a local adulteress and he needed a length of rope to do the job. Where most would simply purchase their rope wholesale for the sake of convenience, Eric was allowed the leeway to procure the rope the morning before the execution. He found comfort in the ritual of the daily shopping and the opportunity to visit his old friend, the Rope Maker. Perhaps it was that he was a creature of habit, but he had found the old man’s rope to be the most sturdy and reliable in town. The last time he had bought rope from another vendor led to a very embarrassing incident in which an overweight pedophile managed to break the chord. Given there was no second rope, the hanging was forced to become a beheading. Eric disliked the headsman immensely, believing decapitation to be a barbaric practice far below the careful art of hanging.
Eric managed to bring his temper down enough to put on a good shirt and hit the market. The vendors in town managed to put on an excellent display of color and curio. This was Eric’s second favorite part of the day, the first being the actual hanging and the third being polishing his boots in the morning. With a tinge of apprehension he headed in the direction of the tradesmen’s area of the market, a region dominated by dank alleys and begrimed laborers. This is the true heart of this town mused Eric with a hint of a smile. No sooner than the thought occurred to him, he noticed a familiar figure ambling out of a familiar storefront. “Good day, Eric!” exclaimed the roper in the lightest of spirits. Eric was all too surprised to see the face that had caused him all the frustration he had endured that morning. “Old man!” bellowed Eric in a voice that was perhaps too loud for the setting.”I thought you had left by now. To live with your son in Hartford.” The Rope Maker made a gesture over his shoulder. “I mean to go now, I was simply finishing some business with my apprentice.” The two men had finally worked their way toward each other and embraced. The Rope Maker looked up at Eric, a good foot above his own height, and asked him for company on the walk to the caravan.
The two men shared stories about their time together over the years with genuine fondness. When they arrived at stables they simply looked at each other and reflected on the lives they had lived. After a moment, the Rope Maker spoke. “I understand that you are upset about not having me around any more”. After the conversation they had shared, Eric did not want to ruin the mood with any grievances. He looked at the ground a moment before returning to the welcoming smile of the Rope Maker. “I suppose I’ll make due.” The Rope Maker chuckled for a moment, causing slight confusion in Eric’s gaze. “You’ll be fine. I left a length of rope at the shop for tonight. After that, you can go to the Jones’ store for what you need.” This provoked Eric slightly. “I’ve used their rope before. It snapped in two!” The Rope Maker let out another jovial chuckle. “You mean that fat bastard who touched the McAllister’s child? He could have snapped a steel rod! I’m surprised the headsman managed to break through that neck of his.” Eric cringed slightly at the mention of his rival and mortal enemy. The Rope Maker allowed the disgust to leave Eric’s face before continuing. “I learned my craft from the Jones family. They are the finest rope makers in the city. In fact, that is where I’m sending Robert to finish his apprenticeship.” Eric thought carefully about this revelation as he helped the Rope Maker into the carriage. He bid his old friend farewell and headed back toward the market.
Eric had known this man for years and never knew how he acquired his trade. Maybe the Jones’ were a good fit for him. His predecessor had made full use of them and recommended Eric utilize them as well. It was only by chance that Eric had found the Rope Maker in the first place. He had been in attendance at the fat man’s hanging and befriended Eric, a friendship that had endured for twenty-eight years. His reflection had abated by the time he reached the Rope Maker’s old shop were Robert stood patiently with the length of rope that served as a parting gift to Eric. Robert, having been abused that morning, looked at Eric with a weak defiance. “I’ll have you know I made that rope, made the one for the Thompson hanging as well.” Eric looked at him with surprise. “You may not think much of me, but I am as responsible for that piece of justice as you are.” Eric pondered this for a moment before placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder and thanking him. He turned to leave before managing to catch the looked of pride and relief on the young apprentice’s face.
That evening, Eric stood before a crowd of thrilled faces as the hooded Adulteress was fed into the noose. Her cries filled the air creating an atmosphere that he had come to love in his thirty years in the trade. The crowd espousing cheers of ‘harlot!’ and ‘trollop!’ made the event jovial. As the platform dropped and the screams of the Adulteress became strained and muffled, Eric knew that all was right in the world.