M IC HAEL
"Why?" June Nealon asked. Her voice was striped with rust and sorrow, and in her lap, her hands twisted. "Why did you do it?" She lifted her gaze, staring at Shay. "I let you into my home. I gave you a job. I trusted you. And you, you took everything I had."
Shay's mouth was working silently. He moved from side to side in his little booth, hitting his forehead sometimes. His eyes fluttered, as if he was trying hard to organize what he had to say. "I can fix it," he said finally.
"You can't fix anything," she said tightly.
"Your other little girl-"
June stiffened. "Don't you talk about her. Don't you even breathe her name. Just tell me. I've waited eleven years to hear it. Tell me why you did this."
He squeezed his eyes shut; sweat had broken out on his brow. He was whispering, a litany meant to convince himself, or maybe June. I leaned forward, but the noise from the kitchen obliterated his words.
And then whatever had been sizzling was taken off the grill, and we all heard Shay, loud and clear: "She was better off dead."
June shot to her feet. Her face was so pale that I feared she would fall over, and I rose just in case. Then blood rushed, hot, into her cheeks. "You bastard," she said, and she ran outside.
Maggie tugged on my jacket. "Go," she mouthed.
I followed June past the two officers and through the anteroom.
She burst through the double doors and into the parking lot without even bothering to pick up her driver's license at the control booth, trad ing back her visitor's pass. I was certain she would rather go to the
DMV and pay for a replacement than set foot in this prison again.
"June," I yelled. "Please. Wait."
I finally cornered her at her car, an old Ford Taurus with duct tape around the rear bumper. She was sobbing so hard that she couldn't get the key into the lock.
"Let me." I opened the door and held it for her so that she could sit down, but she didn't. "June, I'm sorry-"
"How could he say that? She was a little girl. A beautiful, smart, perfect little girl."
I gathered her into my arms and let her cry on my shoulder. Later, she would regret doing this; later, she would feel that I had manipulated the situation. But for right now, I held her until she could catch her breath.
Redemption had very little to do with the big picture, and far more to do with the particulars. Jesus might forgive Shay, but what good was that if Shay didn't forgive himself? It was that impetus that drove him to give up his heart, just as I was driven to help him do it because it would cancel out my vote to execute him in the first place. We couldn't erase our mistakes, so we did the next best thing and tried to do something that distracted attention from them.
"I wish I could have met your daughter," I said softly.
June pulled away from me. "I wish you could have, too."
"I didn't ask you here to hurt you all over again. Shay truly does want to make amends. He knows the one good thing to come out of his life might be his death." I looked at the Constantine wire running along the top of the prison fence: a crown of thorns for a man who wanted to be a savior. "He's taken away the rest of your family," I said. "If nothing else, let him help you keep Claire."
June ducked into her car. She was crying again as she lurched out of the parking spot. I watched her pause at the exit of the prison, her blinker marking time.
Then, suddenly, her brake lights came on. She sped backward, stopping beside me with only inches to spare. She unrolled the window on the driver's side. TU take his heart," June said, her voice thick. TU take it, and I'll watch that son of a bitch die, and we still won't be even."
Too stunned to find any words, I nodded. I watched June drive off, her taillights winking as red as the eyes of any devU.
"Well," I said when I saw Father Michael walking back into the prison, dazed, "that sucked."
At the sound of my voice, he looked up. "She's taking the heart."
My mouth dropped open. "You're kidding."
"No. She's taking it for all the wrong reasons... but she's taking it."
I could not believe it. Following the debacle in the restorative justice meeting, I would have more easily accepted that she'd gone out to buy an
Uzi to exact her own justice against Shay Bourne. My mind began to kick into high gear: if June Nealon wanted Shay's heart-for whatever reason-then there was a great deal I had to do.
"I'll need you to write an affidavit, saying that you're Shay's spiritual advisor and that his religious beliefs include donating his heart."
He drew in his breath. "Maggie, I can't put my name on a court document about Shay-"
"Sure you can. Just lie," I said, "and go to confession afterward.
You're not doing this for you; you're doing it for Shay. And we'll need a cardiologist to examine Shay, to see if his heart's even a match for
The priest closed his eyes and nodded. "Should I go in and tell him?"
"No," I said, smiling. "Let me."
After a slight detour, I walked through the metal detectors again and was taken to the attorney-client room outside I-tier. A few minutes later, a grumbling officer showed up with Shay. "He keeps getting moved around like this, the state's going to have to hire him a chauffeur."
I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together, the worlds smallest violin.
Shay ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end; the shirt of his prison scrubs was untucked. "I'm sorry" he said immediately.
"I'm not the one who could have used the apology," I replied.
"I know." He squinched his eyes shut, shook his head. "There were eleven years of words in my head, and I couldn't get them out the way I wanted."
"Amazingly, June Nealon is willing to accept your heart for Claire."
A few times in my career, I'd been the messenger of information that would change a clients life: the victim of a hate crime whose store was destroyed, receiving reparation and damages that would allow him to build a bigger, better venue; the gay couple who were given the legal stamp of approval to be listed as parents in the elementary school directory. A smile blossomed across Shay's face, and I remembered, at that moment, that gospel is another word for good news.
"It's not a done deal yet," I said. "We don't know, medically, if this is viable. And there are a whole bunch of legal hoops to jump through... which is what I need to talk to you about, Shay."
I waited until he sat down across from me at the table, and was calm enough to stop grinning and look me in the eye. I had gotten to this point with clients before: you drew them a map and explained where the exit hatch was, and then you waited to see if they understood you needed them to crawl there on their own. That was legitimate, in law; you were not telling them to alter their truth, just explaining the way the courts worked, and hoping they would choose to massage it themselves. "Listen carefully," I said. "There's a law in this country that says the state has to let you practice your own religion, as long as it doesn't interfere with safety in the prison. There's also a law in New Hampshire that says even though the court has sentenced you to die by lethal injection, which wouldn't allow you to donate your heart... in certain circumstances, death row inmates can be hanged instead. And if you're hanged, you'd be able to donate your organs."
It was a lot for him to take in, and I could see him ingesting the words as if they were being fed on a conveyor.
"I might be able to convince the state to hang you," I said, "if I can prove to a judge in federal court that donating your organs is part of your religion. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
He winced. "I didn't like being Catholic."
"You don't have to say you're Catholic."
"Tell that to Father Michael."
"Gladly." I laughed.
"Then what do I have to say?"
"There are a lot of people outside this prison, Shay, who have no trouble believing that what you're doing in here has some sort of religious basis. But I need you to believe it, too. If this is going to work, you have to tell me donating your organs is the only way to salvation."
He stood up and started to pace. "My way of saving myself may not be someone else's way."
"That's okay," I said. "The court doesn't care about anyone else. They just want to know if you think that giving your heart to Claire Nealon is going to redeem you in God's eyes."
When he stopped in front of me and caught my eye, I saw something that surprised me. Because I had been so busy crafting an escape hatch for Shay Bourne, I had forgotten that sometimes the outrageous is actually the truth. "I don't think it," he said. "I know it."
"Then we're in business." I slipped my hands into my suit pockets and suddenly remembered what else I had to tell Shay. "It's prickly," I said. "Like walking on a board full of needles. But somehow it doesn't hurt. It smells like Sunday morning, like a mower outside your window when you're trying to pretend the sun's not up yet."
As I spoke, Shay closed his eyes. "I think I remember."
"Well," I said. "Just in case you don't." I withdrew the handfuls of grass I'd torn from outside the prison grounds and sprinkled the tufts onto the floor.
A smile broke over Shays face. He kicked off his prison-issued tennis shoes and began to move back and forth, barefoot, over the grass. Then he bent down to gather the cuttings and funneled them into the breast pocket of his scrubs, against a heart that was still beating strong. "I'm going to save them," he said.
"I know God will not give me anything I can't handle.
I just wish He didn't trust me so much."
- MOTHER TERESA
Everything comes with a price.
You can have the man of your dreams, but only for a few years.
You can have the perfect family, but it turns out to be an illusion.
You can keep your daughter alive, but only if she hosts the heart of the person you hate most in this world.
I could not go straight home from the prison. I was shaking so hard that at first, I couldn't even drive; and even afterward, I missed the exit off the highway twice. I had gone to that meeting to tell Shay Bourne we didn't want his heart. So why had I changed my mind? Maybe because I was angry. Maybe because I was so shocked by what Shay Bourne had said. Maybe because if we waited for UNOS to find Claire a heart, it could be too late.
Besides, I told myself, this was all likely a moot point. The chance of Bourne even being a good physical match for Claire was negligible; his heart was probably far too large for a child's body; there could be all sorts of compromising diseases or long-term drug use that would prohibit him from being a donor.
And yet, there was another part of me that kept thinking: But what if?
Could I let myself hope? And could I stand it if, once again, that hope was shattered by Shay Bourne?
By the time I felt calm enough to drive home and face Claire, it was late at night. I had arranged for a neighbor to check on her hourly throughout the afternoon and evening, but Claire flatly refused a formal babysitter. She was fast asleep on the couch, the dog curled over her feet. Dudley lifted his head when I walked in, a worthy sentry. Where were you when Elizabeth was taken? I thought, not for the first time, rubbing Dudley between the ears. For days after the murders, I had held the puppy, staring into his eyes and pretending he could give me the answers I so desperately needed.
I turned off the television that was chattering to nobody and sat down beside Claire. If she received Shay Bourne's heart, would
I look at my daughter but see him staring back at me?
Could I survive that?
And if I couldn't... would Claire survive at all?
I fitted myself around Claire's body, stretching beside her on the couch. In her sleep, she curled against me, a puzzle piece fitting back where it belonged. I kissed my daughter's forehead, unconsciously reading it for fever. This was my life now, and Claire's: a waiting game. Like Shay Bourne sitting in his cell, waiting for his turn to die, we sat imprisoned by the limitations of Claire's body, waiting for her turn to live.
So don't judge me, unless you've fallen asleep on a couch with your ill child, thinking this night might be her last.
Ask instead: would you do it?
Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love?
Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish?
In school, I was the kind of kid who crossed her t's and dotted her is. I made sure to right-justify my papers, so that the type didn't look ragged. I'd craft elaborate covers-a tiny, two-dimensional working guillotine for my essay on
A Tale of Two Cities; a science lab on prisms with the header rainbowed in multiple colors; a scarlet letter for... well, you get the picture.
To that end, putting together a letter to the commissioner of corrections reminded me a little of my days as a student. There were multiple parts involved: the transcript of Shay Bourne attesting that he wanted to donate his heart to the sister of his victim; an affidavit from Claire Nealon's cardiac surgeon, stating that she did indeed need a heart to survive.
I had made a call to facilitate a medical visit for Shay, to see if he was a match for Claire; and I had spent an hour on the phone with a UNOS coordinator, to confirm that if Shay gave up his heart, he could pick the recipient.
I fastened all these letters together with a shiny silver butterfly clip and then turned back to the computer to finish my note to Commissioner
As evidenced by the letter from the defendant's spiritual advisor,
Father Michael Wright, execution by lethal injection will not only prevent the defendant from his intention of donating his heart to
Claire Nealon - it also interferes with his practice of religion - a blatant violation of his First Amendment rights. Therefore, under the New Hampshire criminal code 630:5, subsection XIV, it would be impractical for the commissioner of corrections to carry out the punishment of death by lethal injection. A sentence of death carried out by hanging, however, would not only he allowed by the criminal code, but also would allow the defendant to practice his religion up to the moment of his execution.
I could imagine, at this moment, the commissioners jaw dropping as he realized that I had managed to piece together two disparate laws in a way that would make the next few weeks a living hell.
Furthermore, this office would be pleased to work in conjunction with the commissioner of corrections to facilitate what needs to be done, as there are tissue matches and medical testing to be completed prior to the donation, and because time is of the essence during the organ harvest.
Not to mention-I don't trust you.
It is imperative to settle this matter swiftly, for obvious reasons.
We don't have a lot of time to work this out. Because neither Shay
Bourne nor Claire Nealon have a lot of time left, period.
Maggie Bloom, Attorney
I printed out the letter and slipped it into a manila envelope I'd already addressed. As I licked the envelope, I thought: Please make this work.
Who was I talking to?
I didn't believe in God. Not anymore.
I was an atheist.
Or so I told myself, even if there was a secret part of me that hoped
I'd be proven wrong.
People always think they know what they'd miss the most if they had to trade places with me in this cell. Food, fresh air, your favorite pair of jeans, sex-believe me, I've heard them all, and they're all wrong. What you miss the most in prison is choice. You have no free will: your hair is cut in one style, like everyone else's. You eat what's being served when it is given to you. You are told when you can shower, shit, shave. Even our conversations are prescribed: If someone bumps into you in the real world, he says
"Excuse me." If someone bumps into you in here, you say "What the fuck, motherfucker" before he can even speak. If you don't do this, you become a mark.
The reason we have no choice now is because we made a bad one in the past-which is why we were all energized by Shay's attempt to die on his own terms. It was still an execution, but even that tiny sliver of preference was more than we had on a daily basis. I could only imagine how my world would change if we were given an option to choose between orange scrubs and yellow ones; if we were asked whether we'd like a spoon or a fork with our meal trays, instead of the universal plastic "spork." But the more animated we got at the possibility of, well, possibility... the more depressed Shay grew.
"Maybe," he said to me one afternoon when the air-conditioning had broken and we were all wilting in our cells, "I should just let them do what they want."
The officers, in an act of mercy, had opened the door that led to the exercise cell. It was supposed to afford us a breeze, but that hadn't happened.
"Why would you say that?"
"Because it feels like I've started a war," Shay said.
"Well, imagine that," Crash laughed. "Since I'm over here practicing my shooting."
This afternoon Crash had been injecting Benadryl. Many of the inmates here had made their own points-homemade hypodermics that could be sharpened every few uses by scraping them against a matchbook. Benadryl was given out by the prison nurse; you could accumulate a stash and open up a capsule, then cook down the tiny beads of medicine in a spoon over a soda-can stove. It was a speed high, but the buffers used in the medicine would also make you crazy.
"Whaddya say, Mistah Messiah... you want a hit?"
"He most certainly does not," I answered.
"I don't think he was talking to you," Shay said. And then, to Crash:
"Give it to me."
Crash laughed. "Guess you don't know him as well as you think you do,
Liberace. Ain't that right, Death Row?"
Crash had no moral compass. He aligned himself with the Aryan Brotherhood when it suited his needs. He talked of terrorist attacks; he'd cheered when we were watching the news footage of the World Trade Center collapsing.
He had a list of victims, should he ever get out. He wanted his kids to grow up to be addicts or dealers or whores, and said he would be disappointed if they turned out to be anything else. Once, I heard him describing a visit with his three-year-old daughter: he told her to punch another kid at school to make him proud, and not to come back till she did. Now I watched him fish Shay the hype kit, hidden neatly inside a dismantled battery, ready for a hit with the liquefied Benadryl inside it. Shay put the needle to the crook of his elbow, set his thumb on the plunger.
And squirted the precious drug onto the floor of the catwalk.
"What the fuck!" Crash exploded. "Gimme that back."
"Haven't you heard? I'm Jesus. I'm supposed to save you," Shay said.
"I don't want to be saved," Crash yelled. "I want my kit back!"
"Come and get it," Shay said, and he pushed the kit under his door, so that it landed square on the catwalk. "Hey, CO," he yelled. "Come see what
As the COs entered to confiscate the hype kit-and write him a ticket that would include a stay in solitary-Crash slammed his hand against the metal door. "I swear, Bourne, when you least expect i t... "
He was interrupted by the sound of Warden Coyne's voice out in the courtyard. "I just bought a goddamn death gurney," the warden cried, conversing with someone we could not see. "What am I supposed to do with that?" And then, when he stopped speaking, we all noticed something-or the lack of something. The incessant hammering and sawing that had been going on outside for months, as the prison built a death chamber to accommodate
Shay's sentence, had fallen silent. All we heard was a simple, blissful quiet.
"... you're gonna wind up dead," Crash finished, but now we were starting to wonder if that would still be true.