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M I C H A EL

Every day when I wasn't running the noon Mass, I went to visit Shay.

Sometimes we talked about television shows we'd seen-we were both pretty upset with Meredith on Grey's Anatomy, and thought the girls on

The Bachelor were hot but dumb as bricks. Sometimes we talked about carpentry, how a piece of wood would tell him what it needed to be, how I could say the same of a parishioner in need. Sometimes we talked about his case-the appeals he'd lost, the lawyers he'd had over the years. And sometimes, he was less lucid. He'd run around his cell like a caged animal; he'd rock back and forth; he'd swing from topic to topic as if it was the only way to cross the jungle of his thoughts.

One day. Shay asked me what was being said about him outside.

"You know," I told him. "You watch the news."

"They think I can save them," Shay said.

"Well. Yeah."

"That's pretty fucking selfish, isn't it? Or is it selfish of me if I don't try?"

"I can't answer that for you. Shay," I said.

He sighed. "I'm tired of waiting to die," he said. "Eleven years is a long time."

I pressed my stool up close to the cell door; it was more private that way. It had taken me a week, but I had managed to separate out the way I felt about Shay's case from the way that he felt. I had been stunned to learn that Shay believed he was innocent-although Warden

Coyne told me that everyone in prison believed they were innocent, regardless of the conviction. I wondered if his memory of the events, over time, had blurred-me, I could still remember that awful evidence as if it had been presented to me yesterday. When I pushed a bitencouraged him to tell me more about his wrongful conviction, suggested that Maggie might be able to use the information in court, asked him why he was willing to go along with an execution so passively if he wasn't guilty-he shut down. He'd say, over and over, that what had happened then didn't matter now. I began to understand that proclaiming his innocence had a lot less to do with the reality of his case and more to do with the fragile connection between us. I was becoming his confidant-and he wanted me to think the best of him.

"What do you think is easier?" Shay asked. "Knowing you're going to die on a certain date and time, or knowing it might happen any moment when you least expect it?"

A thought swam through my mind like a minnow: Did you ask Elizabeth that? "I'd rather not know," I said. "Live every day like it's your last, and all that. But I think if you do know you're going to die, Christ showed the way to do it with grace."

Shay smirked. "Just think. It took you a whole forty-two minutes to bring up good ol' Jesus today."

"Sorry. Professional hazard," I said. "When He says, in Gethsemane,

'0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...' He's wrestling with destiny... but ultimately. He accepts God's will."

"Sucks for him," Shay said.

"Well, sure. I bet His legs felt like Jell-0 when He was carrying the

Cross. He was human, after all. You can be brave, but that doesn't keep your stomach from doing somersaults."

I finished speaking to find Shay staring at me. "Did you ever wonder if you're dead wrong?"

"About what?"

"All of it. What Jesus said. What Jesus meant. I mean, he didn't even write the Bible, did he? In fact, the people who did write the Bible weren't even alive when Jesus was." I must have looked absolutely stricken, because Shay hurried to continue. "Not that Jesus wasn't a really cool guy-great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda.

But... Son of God? Where's the proof?"

"That's what faith is," I said. "Believing without seeing."

"Okay," Shay argued. "But what about the folks who think Allah's the one to put your money on? Or that the right path is the eightfold one? I mean, how can a guy who walked on water even get baptized?"

"We know Jesus was baptized because-"

"Because it's in the Bible?" Shay laughed. "Someone wrote the

Bible, and it wasn't God. Just like someone wrote the Quran, and the

Talmud. And he must have made decisions about what went in and what didn't. It's like when you write a letter, and you put in all the stuff you did during vacation but you leave out the part where your wallet got stolen and you got food poisoning."

"Do you really need to know if Jesus got food poisoning?" I asked.

"You're missing the point. You can't take Matthew 26:39 or Luke

500:43 or whatever and read it as fact."

"See, Shay, that's where you're wrong. I can take Matthew 26:39 and know it's the word of God. Or Luke 500:43, if it went up that high."

By now, other inmates on the pod were eavesdropping. Some of them-like Joey Kunz, who was Greek Orthodox, and Pogie, who was

Southern Baptist-liked to listen when I visited Shay and read scripture; a few of them had even asked if I'd stop by and pray with them when I came in to see Shay. "Shut your piehole. Bourne," Pogie yelled out. "You're going to hell as soon as they push that needle in your arm."

"I'm not saying I'm right," Shay said, his voice escalating. "I'm just saying that if you're right, it still doesn't mean I'm wrong."

"Shay," I said, "you have to stop shouting, or they're going to ask me to leave."

He walked toward me, flattening his hands on the other side of the steel mesh door. "What if it didn't matter if you were a Christian or a

Jew or a Buddhist or a Wiccan or a... a transcendentalist? What if all those roads led to the same place?"

"Religion brings people together," I said.

"Yeah, right. You can track every polarizing issue in this country to religion. Stem cell research, the war in Iraq, the right to die, gay marriage, abortion, evolution, even the death penalty-what's the fault line? That Bible of yours." Shay shrugged. "You really think Jesus would be happy with the way the world's turned out?"

I thought of suicide bombers, of the radicals who stormed into

Planned Parenthood clinics. I thought of the news footage of the Middle

East. "I think God would be horrified by some of the things that are done in His name," I admitted. "I think there are places His message has been distorted. Which is why I think it's even more important to spread the one He meant to give."

Shay pushed away from the cell door. "You look at a guy like Calloway-"

"Fuck you. Bourne," Reece called out. "I don't want to be part of your speech. I don't even want your filthy-ass mouth speaking my name-"

"-an AB guy, who burned down a temple-"

"You're dead. Bourne," Reece said. "D-E-A-D."

"-or the CO who walks you to the shower and knows he can't look you in the eye, because if his life had gone just a little different, he might be the one wearing the cuffs. Or the politicians who think that they can take someone they don't really want in society anymore and lock him away-"

At this, the other inmates began to cheer. Texas and Pogie picked up their dinner trays and began to bang them against the steel doors of their cells. On the intercom, an officer's voice rang through. "What's going on in there?"

Shay was standing at the front of his house now, preaching to his congregation, disconnected from linear thought and everything but his moment of grandstanding. "And the ones who are really monsters, the ones they don't ever want walking around near their wives and children again-the ones like me- well, those they get to dispose of. Because it's easier than admitting there isn't much difference between them and me."

There were catcalls; there were cheers. Shay backed up as if he were on a stage, bent at the waist, bowed. Then he came back for his encore.

"The joke's on them. One little hypodermic won't be enough. Split a piece of wood, and they'll find me. Lift up a stone, and they'll find me.

Look in the mirror, and they'll find me." Shay gazed squarely at me. "If you really want to know what makes someone a killer," he said, "ask vourself what would make you do it."

My hands tightened on the Bible I always brought when I came to visit Shay. As it turned out. Shay wasn't railing about nothing. He wasn't disconnected from reality.

That would have been me.

Because, as Shay was suggesting, we weren't as different as I would have liked to think. We were both murderers.

The only distinction was that the death I'd caused had yet to happen.


Maggie

That week, when I showed up at the ChutZpah for lunch with my mother, she was too busy to see me. "Maggie," she said when I was standing at the threshold of her office door. "What are you doing here?"

It was the same day, the same time, we met for our habitual lunch- the same lunch I never wanted to go to. But today, I was actually looking forward to zoning out while my cuticles were being cut and shaped. Ever since Father Michael had barreled into my office talking about a meeting between Shay and June Nealon, I'd been doubting myself and my intentions.

By trying to make it possible for Shay to donate his heart, was I carrying out what was in his best interests, or my own? Sure, it would be a media boon for the anti-death penalty movement if Shay's last act on earth was as selfless as organ donation... but wasn't it morally wrong to try to legally hasten a man's execution, even if it was what he'd asked for?

After three sleepless nights, all I wanted was to close my eyes, soak my hands in warm water, and think of anything but Shay Bourne.

My mother was wearing a cream-colored skirt so tiny it might as well have come from the American Girl doll store, and her hair was twisted up in a chignon. "I have an investor coming in," she said. "Remember?"

What I remembered was her vague mention of adding another wing to the ChutZpah. And that there was some very rich lady from Woodbury,

New York, who wanted to talk about financing it.

"You never told me it was going to be today," I said, and I sank down in one of the chairs opposite her desk.

"You're crushing the pillows," my mother said. "And I did tell you. I called you at work, and you were typing, like you always do when I call even though you think I can't hear it in the background. And I told you I had to postpone lunch till Thursday, and you yessed me and said you were really busy, and did I have to call you at work?"

My face flushed. "I don't type while I'm on the phone with you."

Okay, I do. But it's my mother. And she calls for the most ridiculous reasons: Is it okay if she makes Chanukah dinner on Saturday, December

16, never mind that it's currently March? Do I remember the name of the librarian in my elementary school, because she thinks she ran into her at the grocery store? In other words, my mother phones for reasons that are completely trivial compared to writing up a brief to save the life of a man who's going to be executed.

"You know, Maggie, I realize that nothing I do here could possibly be as important as what you do, but it does hurt me to know that you don't even listen when I talk*o vou." Her eyes were tearing up. "I can't believe you came here to upset me before I have to sit down with Alicia

Goldman-Hirsch."

"I didn't come here to upset you! I came here because I always come here the second Tuesday of every month! You can't blame me because of a stupid phone conversation we probably had six months ago!"

"A stupid phone conversation," my mother said quietly. "Well, it's good to know what you really think of our relationship, Maggie."

I held up my hands. "I can't win here," I said. "I hope your meeting goes well." Then I stormed out of her office, past the white secretary's desk with the white computer and the nearly albino receptionist, all the way to my car in the parking lot, where I tried to tell myself that the reason I was crying had nothing to do with the fact that even when I wasn't trying, all I did was let people down.

I found my father in his office-a rental space in a strip mall, since he was a rabbi without a temple-writing his sermon for Shabbat. As soon as I walked in, he smiled, then lifted a finger to beg a moment's time to finish whatever brilliant thought he was scribbling down. I wandered around, trailing my fingers over the spines of books written in Hebrew and Greek, Old Testaments and New Testaments, books on theurgy and theology and philosophy. I palmed an old paperweight I'd made him in nursery school-a rock painted to look like a crab, although now it seemed to more closely resemble an amoeba, and then took down one of my baby photos, tucked in an acrylic frame.

I had fat cheeks, even then.

My father closed his laptop. "To what do I owe this surprise?"

I set the photo back on the mahogany shelf. "Did you ever wonder if the person in the picture is the same one you see when you look in the mirror?"

He laughed. "That's the eternal question, isn't it? Are we born who we are, or do we make ourselves that way?" He stood up and came around his desk, kissed my cheek. "Did you come here to argue philosophy with your old man?"

"No, I came here because... I don't know why I came here." That was the truth; my car had sort of pointed itself in the direction of his office, and even when I realized where it was headed I didn't correct my course. Everyone else came to my father when they were troubled or wanted counseling, why shouldn't I? I sank down onto the old leather couch that he'd had for as long as I could remember. "Do you think God forgives murderers?"

My father sat down next to me. "Isn't your client Catholic?"

"I was talking about me."

"Well, gosh, Mags. I hope you got rid of the weapon."

I sighed. "Daddy, I don't know what to do. Shay Bourne doesn't want to become the poster child against capital punishment, he wants to die. And yeah, I can tell myself a dozen times that we can both have our cake and eat it, too-Shay gets to die on his own terms; I get the death penalty put under a microscope and maybe even repealed by the Supreme Court-but it doesn't cancel out the fact that at the end of the day, Shay will be dead, and I'll be just as responsible as the state that signed the warrant in the first place. Maybe I should be trying to convince Shay to get his conviction overturned, to fight for his life, instead of his death."

"I don't think he'd want that," my father said. "You're not murdering him, Maggie. You're fulfilling his last wishes-to help him make amends for what he's done wrong."

"Repentance through organ donation?"

"More like teshuvah."

I stared at him.

"Oh, right," he smirked. "I forgot about the post-Hebrew School amnesia.

For Jews, repentance is about conduct-you realize you've done something wrong, you resolve to change it in the future. But teshuvah means return. Inside each of us is some spark of God-the real us. It's there whether you're the most pious Jew or the most marginal. Sin, evil, murder-all those things have the ability to cover up our true selves.

Teshuvah means turning back to the part of God that's gotten concealed.

When you repent, usually, you feel sad-because of the regret that led you there. But when you talk about teshuvah, about making that connection with God again-well, it makes you happy," my father said. "Happier even than you were before, because your sins separated you from

God... and distance always makes the heart grow fonder, right?"

He walked toward the baby picture I'd put back on the shelf. "I know

Shay's not Jewish, but maybe that's what's at the root of this desire to die, and to give up his heart. Teshuvah is all about reaching for something divine-something beyond the limitations of a body." He glanced at me.

"That's the answer to your question about the photo, by the way. You're a different person on the outside than you were when this picture was snapped, but not on the inside. Not at the core. And not only is that part of you the same as it was when you were six months old... it's also the same as me and your mother and Shay Bourne and everyone else in this world. It's the part of us that's connected to God, and at that level, we're all identical."

I shook my head. "Thanks, but that didn't really make me feel any better. I want to save him, Daddy, and he-he doesn't want that at all."

"Restitution is one of the steps a person has to take for teshuvah," my father said. "Shay has apparently taken a very literal interpretation of this-he took a child's life; therefore he owes that mother the life of a child."

"Its not a perfect equation," I said. "He'd have to bring Elizabeth

Nealon back for that."

My father nodded. "That's something rabbis have talked about for years since the Holocaust-if the victim is dead, does the family really have the power to forgive the killer? The victims are the ones with whom he has to make amends. And those victims-they're ashes."

I sat up, rubbing my temples. "It's really complicated."

"Then ask yourself what's the right thing to do."

"I can't even answer that much."

"Well," my father said, "then maybe you should ask Shay."

I blinked up at him. It was that simple. I hadn't seen my client since that first meeting in the prison; the work I'd been doing to set up a restorative justice meeting had been on the phone. Maybe what I really needed was to find out why Shay Bourne was so sure he'd come to the right decision, so that I could start explaining it to myself.

I leaned over and gave him a hug. "Thanks, Daddy."

"I didn't do anything."

"Still, you're a better conversationalist than Oliver."

"Don't tell the rabbit that," he said. "He'd scratch me twice as hard as he already does."

I stood up, heading for the door. "I'll call you later. Oh, and by the way," I said, "Mom's mad at me again."

I was sitting under the harsh fluorescent lights of the attorney-client conference room when Shay Bourne was brought in to meet with me. He backed up to the trap so that his handcuffs could be removed, and he sat down across the table. His hands were small, I realized, maybe even smaller than mine.

"Hows it going?" he asked.

"Fine. How's it going with you?"

"No, I meant my lawsuit. My heart."

"Well, we're waiting until after you speak to June Nealon tomorrow."

I hesitated. "Shay, I need to ask you a question, as your lawyer." I waited until he looked me in the eye. "Do you really believe that the only way to atone for what you've done is to die?"

"I just want to give her my heart-"

"I get that. But in order to do that, you've basically agreed to your own execution."

He smiled faintly. "And here I thought my vote didn't count."

"I think you know what I mean," I said. "Your case is going to shine a beacon on the issue of capital punishment, Shay-but you'll be the sacrificial lamb."

His head snapped up. "Who do you think I am?"

I hesitated, not quite sure what he was asking.

"Do you believe what they all believe?" he asked. "Or what Lucius believes? Do you think I can make miracles happen?"

"I don't believe anything I haven't seen," I said firmly.

"Most people just want to believe what someone else tells them,"

Shay said.

He was right. It was why, in my father's office, I'd had a breakdown: because even as a confirmed atheist, I sometimes found it just too frightening to think that there might not be a God who was watching out for our greater good. It was why a country as enlightened as the United

States could still have a death penalty statute in place: it was just too frightening to think about what justice-or lack of it-would prevail if we didn't. There was comfort in facts, so much so that we stopped questioning where those facts had come from.

Was I trying to figure out who Shay Bourne was for myself? Proba bly. I didn't buy the fact that he was the Son of God, but if it was getting him media attention, then I thought he was brilliant for encouraging that line of thought. "If you can get June to forgive you at this meeting, Shay, maybe you don't have to give up your heart. Maybe you'll feel good about connecting with her again, and then we can get her to talk to the governor on your behalf to commute your sentence to life in prison-"

"If you do that," Shay interrupted, "I will kill myself."

My jaw dropped. "Why?"

"Because," he said, "I have to get out of here."

At first I thought that he was talking about the prison, but then I saw he was clutching his own arms, as if the penitentiary he was referring to was his own body. And that, of course, made me think of my father and teshuvah. Could I truly be helping him by letting him die on his own terms?

"Let's take it one step at a time," I conceded. "If you can get June

Nealon to understand why you want to do this, then I'll work on making a court understand it, too."

But Shay was suddenly lost in his thoughts, wherever they happened to be taking him. "I'll see you tomorrow, Shay," I said, and I went to touch his shoulder to let him know I was leaving. As soon as I stretched out my arm, though, I found myself flat on the floor. Shay stood over me, just as shocked by the blow he'd dealt me as I was.

An officer bolted into the room, driving Shay down to the floor with a knee in the small of his back so that he could be handcuffed. "You all right?" he called out to me.

"I'm fine... I just slipped," I lied. I could feel a welt rising on my left cheekbone, one that I was sure the officer would see as well. I swallowed the knot of fear in my throat. "Could you just give us a couple more minutes?"

I did not tell the officer to remove Shay's handcuffs; I wasn't quite that brave. But I struggled to my feet and waited until we were alone in the room again. "I'm sorry," Shay blurted out. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it,

I sometimes, when you..."

"Shay," I ordered. "Sit down."

"I didn't mean to do it. I didn't see you coming. I thought you were- would-" He broke off, choking on the words. "I'm sorry."

I was the one who'd made the mistake. A man who had been locked up alone for a decade, whose only human contact was having his handcuffs chained and removed, would be completely unprepared for a small act of kindness. He would have instinctively seen it as a threat to his personal space, which was how I'd wound up sprawled on the floor.

"It won't happen again," I said.

He shook his head fiercely. "No."

"See you tomorrow, Shay."

"Are you mad at me?"

"No."

"You are. I can tell."

"I'm not," I said.

"Then will you do something for me?"

I had been warned about this by other attorneys who worked with inmates: they will bleed you dry. Beg you for stamps, for money, for food.

For phone calls, made by you to their family, on their behalf. They are the ultimate con artists; no matter how much sympathy you feel for them, you have to remind yourself that they will take whatever they can get, because they have nothing.

"Next time, will you tell me what it feels like to walk barefoot on grass?" he asked. "I used to know, but I can't remember anymore." He shook his head. "I just want to... I want to know what that's like again."

I folded my notebook beneath my arm. "I'll see you tomorrow, Shay,"

I repeated, and I motioned to the officer who would set me free.


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