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A priest has to say Mass every day, even if no one shows up, although this was rarely the case. In a city as large as Concord there were usually at least a handful of parishioners, already praying the rosary by the time I came out in my vestments.

I was just at the part of the Mass where miracles occurred. "For this is my body, which will be given up for you," I said aloud, then genuflected and lifted the host.

Next to "How the heck is one God also a Holy Trinity?" the most common question I got asked as a priest by non-Catholics was about transubstantiation: the belief that at consecration, the elements of bread and wine truly became the Body and Blood of Christ. I could see why people were baffled-if this was true, wasn't Holy Communion cannibalistic? And if a change really occurred, why couldn't you see it?

When I went to church as a kid, long before I came back to it, I received

Holy Communion like everyone else, but I didn't really give much thought to what I received. It looked, to me, like a cracker and a cup of wine... before and after the priest consecrated it. I can tell you now that it still looks like a cracker and a cup of wine. The miracle part comes down to philosophy. It isn't the accidents of an object that make it what it is... it's the essential parts. We'd still be human even if we didn't have limbs or teeth or hair; but if we suddenly stopped being mammals, that wouldn't be the case. When I consecrated the host and the wine at Mass, the very substance of the elements changed; it was the other properties-the shape, the taste, the size-that remained the same. Just like John the Baptist saw a man and knew, right away, that he was looking at God; just like the wise men came upon a baby and knew He was our Savior... every day I held what looked like crackers and wine but actually was Jesus.

For this very reason, from this point on in the Mass, my fingers and thumb would be kept pinched together until washed after the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Not even the tiniest particle of the consecrated host could be lost; we went to great pains to make sure of this when disposing of the leftovers from Holy Communion. But just as I was thinking this, the wafer slipped out of my hand.

I felt the way I had when, in third grade, during the Little League play-offs, I'd watched a pop fly come into my corner of left field too fast and too high-knotted with the need to catch it, sick with the knowledge that I wouldn't. Frozen, I watched the host tumble, safely, into the belly of the chalice of wine.

"Five-second rule," I murmured, and I reached into the chalice and snagged it.

The wine had already begun to soak into the wafer. I watched, amazed, as a jaw took shape, an ear, an eyebrow.

Father Walter had visions. He said that the reason he became a priest in the first place was because, as an altar boy, a statue of Jesus had reached for his robe and tugged, telling him to stay the course.

More recently, Mary had appeared to him in the rectory kitchen when he was frying trout, and suddenly they began leaping in the pan. Don't let a single one fall to the floor, she'd warned, and then disappeared.

There were hundreds of priests who excelled at their calling but never received this sort of divine intercession-and yet, I didn't want to fall among their ranks. Like the teens I worked with, I understood the need for miracles-they kept reality from paralyzing you. So I stared at the wafer, hoping the wine-sketched features would solidify into a portrait of Jesus... and instead I found myself looking at something else entirely. The shaggy dark hair that looked more like a grunge-band drummer than a priest, the nose broken while wrestling in junior high. the razor stubble. Engraved onto the surface of the host, with a printmaker's delicacy, was a picture of me.

What is my head doing on the body of Christ? I thought as I placed the host on the paten, plum-stained and dissolving already. I lifted the chalice. "This is my blood," I said.


When Shay Bourne was working at our house as a carpenter, he gave Elizabeth a birthday present. Made of scrap wood and crafted after hours wherever he went when he left our house, it was a small, hinged chest. He had carved it intricately, so that each face portrayed a different fairy, dressed in the trappings of the seasons.

Summer had bright peony wings, and a crown made of the sun. Spring was covered in climbing vines, and a bridal train of flowers swept beneath her. Autumn wore the jewel tones of sugar maples and aspen trees, the cap of an acorn balanced on her head.

And Winter skated across a frozen lake, leaving a trail of silver frost in her wake. The cover was a painted picture of the moon, rising through a field of stars with its arms outstretched toward a sun that was just out of reach.

Elizabeth loved that box. The night that Shay gave it to her, she lined it with blankets and slept inside. When Kurt and I told her she couldn't do that again-what if the top fell on her while she was sleeping?-she turned it into a cradle for her dolls, then a toy chest. She named the fairies. Sometimes I heard her talking to them.

After Elizabeth died, I took the box out to the yard, planning to destroy it. There I was, eight months pregnant and grieving, swinging Kurt's axe, and at the last minute, I could not do it. It was what Elizabeth had treasured; how could I stand to lose that, too? I put the box in the attic, where it remained for years. knew it was there, buried behind our luggage and old toddler clothes and paintings with broken frames. When Claire was about ten, I found her trying to lug the box downstairs. "It's so pretty," she said, winded with the effort. "And no one's using it." I snapped at her and told her to go lie down and rest.

But Claire kept asking about it, and eventually I brought the box to her room, where it sat at the end of her bed, just like it had for Elizabeth. I never told her who'd carved it. And yet sometimes, when Claire was at school, I found myself peeking inside. I wondered if Pandora, too, wished she had scrutinized the contents first-heartache, cleverly disguised as a gift.


It had been said, among those on I-tier, that I had achieved Bassmaster status when it came to fishing. My equipment was a sturdy line made from yarn I'd stored up over the years, tempered by weight-a comb, or a deck of cards, depending on what I was angling for. I was known for my ability to fish from my cell into Crash's, at the far end of the tier; and then down to the shower cell at the other end. I suppose this was why, when Shay cast out his own line, I found myself watching out of curiosity.

It was after One Life to Live but before Oprah, the time of day when most of the guys napped. I myself was not feeling so well. The sores in my mouth made it difficult to speak; I had to keep using the toilet. The skin around my eyes, stained by Kaposi's sarcoma, had swollen to the point where I could barely see. Then suddenly, Shay's fishing line whizzed into the narrow space beneath my cell door. "Want some?" he asked.

When we fish, it's to get something. We trade magazines; we barter food; we pay for drugs. But Shay didn't want anything, except to give.

Wired to the end of his line was a piece of Bazooka bubble gum.

It's contraband. Gum can be used as putty to build all sorts of things, and to tamper with locks. God only knew where Shay had come across this bounty-and, even more astounding, why he wouldn't just hoard it.

I swallowed, and my throat nearly split along a fault line. "No thanks,"

I rasped.

I sat up on my bunk and peeled the sheet off the plastic mattress. One of the seams had been carefully doctored by me. The thread, laced like a football, could be loosened enough for me to rummage around inside the foam padding. I jammed my forefinger inside, scooping out my stash.

There were the 3TC pills-Epivir-and the Sustiva. Retrovir. Lomotil for my diarrhea. All the medications that, for weeks, Alma had watched me place on my tongue and apparently swallow-when in fact they were tucked up high in the purse of my cheek.

I had not yet made up my mind whether I would use these to kill myself... or if I'd just continue to save them instead of ingest them: a slower but still sure suicide.

It's funny how when you are dying, you still fight for the upper hand.

You want to pick the terms; you want to choose the date. You'll tell yourself anything you have to, to pretend that you're still the one in control.

"Joey," Shay said. "Want some?" He cast again, his line arcing over the catwalk.

"For real?" Joey asked. Most of us just pretended Joey wasn't around; it was safer for him. No one went out of their way to acknowledge him, much less offer him something as precious as a piece of gum.

"I want some," Calloway demanded. He must have seen the bounty going by, since his cell was between Shay's and Joey's.

"Me, too," Crash said.

Shay waited for Joey to take the gum, and then pulled his line gently closer, until it was within reach of Calloway. "There's plenty."

"How many pieces you got?" Crash asked.

"Just the one."

Now, you've seen a piece of Bazooka gum. Maybe you can split it with a friend. But to divvy up one single piece among seven greedy men?

Shay's fishing line whipped to the left, past my cell en route to Crash's.

"Take some and pass it on," Shay said.

"Maybe I want the whole thing."

"Maybe you do."

"Fuck," Crash said. "I'm taking it all."

"If that's what you need," Shay replied.

I stood up, unsteady, and crouched down as Shay's fishing line reached

Pogie's cell. "Have some," Shay offered.

"But Crash took the whole piece-"

"Have some."

I could hear paper being unwrapped, the fullness of Pogie speaking around the bounty softening in his mouth. "I ain't had chewing gum since

предыдущая глава | Change of heart | 2001."