M I C H A EL
During the drive to Maggie's parents' home, I wallowed in various degrees of guilt. I had let down Father Walter and St. Catherine's. I'd made a fool of myself on TV. And although I'd started to tell Maggie that
Shay and I had some history between us that he didn't know about-I had chickened out. Again.
"So here's the thing," Maggie said, distracting me from my thoughts as we pulled into the driveway. "My parents are going to be a little excited when they see you in my car."
I glanced around at the quiet, wooded retreat. "Don't get much company here?"
"Don't get many dates is more like it."
"I don't want to burst your bubble, but I'm not exactly boyfriend material."
Maggie laughed. "Yeah, thanks, but I'd like to think even I'm not that desperate. It's just that my mother's got radar or something-she can sniff out a Y chromosome from miles away."
As if Maggie had conjured her, a woman stepped out of the house. She was petite and blond, with her hair cut into a neat bob and pearls at her neck. Either she'd just come home from work, or she was headed out-my mother, on a Friday night, would have been wearing one of my dad's flannel shirts with the sleeves rolled up, and what she called her Weekend Fat
Jeans. She squinted, glimpsing me through the windshield. "Maggie!" she cried. "You didn't tell us you were bringing a Mend for dinner."
Just the way she said the word friend made me feel a rush of sympathy for Maggie.
"Joel!" she called into the house behind her. "Maggie's brought a guest!"
I stepped out of the car and adjusted my collar. "Hello," I said. I'm
Maggie's mother's hand went to her throat. "Oh, God."
"Close," I replied, "but no cigar."
At that moment, Maggie's father came hurrying out the front door, tucking in his dress shirt. "Mags," he said, folding her into a bear hug, which was when I noticed his yarmulke. Then he turned to me and held out a hand. I'm Rabbi Bloom."
"You could have told me your father was a rabbi," I whispered to
"You didn't ask." She looped her arm through her father's. "Daddy, this is Father Michael. He's a heretic."
"Please tell me you're not dating him," Mrs. Bloom murmured.
"Ma, he's a priest. Of course I'm not." Maggie laughed as they headed toward the house. "But I bet that street performer who asked me out is starting to look a lot more palatable to you..."
That left two of us, men of God, standing awkwardly on the driveway.
Rabbi Bloom led the way into the house, toward his study. "So," he said. "Where's your congregation?"
"Concord," I said. "St. Catherine's."
"And you met my daughter how?"
I'm Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor."
He glanced up. "That must be unnerving."
"It is," I said. "On many levels."
"So is he or isn't he?"
"Donating his heart? That's going to be up to your daughter, I think."
The rabbi shook his head. "No, no. Maggie, she could move a mountain if she wanted to, one molecule at a time. I meant is he or isn't he Jesus?"
I blinked. "I never figured I'd hear that question from a rabbi."
"Jesus was a Jewish man, after all. Just look at the evidence: he lived at home, went into his dad's business, thought his mother was a virgin, and his mother thought he was God." Rabbi Bloom grinned, and
I started to smile.
"Well, Shay's not preaching what Jesus did."
The rabbi laughed. "And you were around the first time to know this for sure?"
"I know what it says in scripture."
"I never understood people-Jewish or Christian-who read the
Bible as if it were hard evidence. Gospel means good news. It's a way to update the story, to fit the audience you're telling it to."
"I don't know if I'd say that Shay Bourne's here to update the story of Christ for the modem generation," I replied.
"It makes you wonder, then, why so many people have jumped on his bandwagon. It's almost like who he is matters less than what all of them need him to be." Rabbi Bloom began to scour his bookshelves, finally lighting on one dusty tome, which he skimmed through until he found a certain page. "Jesus said to his disciples, 'Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like.' Simon Peter said to him, 'You are like a righteous angel.' Matthew said to him, 'You are like a wise philosopher.'
Thomas said to him, 'Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.' Jesus said, 'I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out.'"
He snapped the book shut again as I tried to place the scripture.
"History's always written by the winners," Rabbi Bloom said. "This was one of the losers." He handed me the book just as Maggie poked her head into the room.
"Dad, you're not trying to pawn off another copy of The Best Jewish
Knock-Knock Jokes, are you?"
"Unbelievably, Father Michael already has a signed copy. Is dinner ready?"
"Thank goodness. I was beginning to think your mother had cremated the tilapia." As Maggie ducked back into the kitchen. Rabbi
Bloom turned to me. "Well, in spite of how Maggie introduced you, you don't seem like a heretic to me."
"It's a long story."
"I'm sure you already know that heresy comes from the Greek word for choice." He shrugged. "Makes you wonder. What if the ideas that have always been considered sacrilegious aren't sacrilegious at all-just ideas we haven't come across before? Or ideas we haven't been allowed to come across?"
In my hands, the book the rabbi had given me felt as if it were burning. "You hungry?" Bloom asked.
"Starving," I admitted, and I let him lead the way.
When I was pregnant with Claire, I was told that I had gestational diabetes. I still don't think that was true, frankly-an hour before I had the test, I'd taken Elizabeth to McDonald's and finished her orange Hi-C drink, which is enough to put anyone into a sugar coma. However, when the obstetrician told me the results, I did what I had to do: stuck to a strict diet that left me hungry all the time, got blood drawn twice a week, held my breath at every visit while my doctor checked the baby's growth.
The silver lining? I was treated to numerous ultrasounds.
Long after most moms-to-be had gotten their twenty-week preview of the baby inside them, I continued to get updated portraits.
It got to be so commonplace for Kurt and I to see our baby that he stopped coming to the weekly OB visits. He'd watch Elizabeth while I drove to the hospital, lifted up my shirt, and let the wand roll over my belly, illuminating on a monitor a foot, an elbow, the slope of this new child's nose. By then, in my eighth month, the picture wasn't the stick-figure skeleton you see at twenty weeks-you could see her hair, the ridges on her thumb, the curve of her cheek. She looked so real on the ultrasound screen that sometimes I'd forget she was still inside me.
"Not much longer," the technician had said to me that last day as she wiped the gel off my belly with a warm washcloth.
"Easy for you to say," I told her. "You're not the one chasing around a seven-year-old in your eighth month."
"Been there done that," she said, and she reached beneath the screen to hand me that day's printout of the baby's face.
When I saw it, I drew in my breath: that's how much this new baby looked like Kurt-completely unlike me, unlike Elizabeth.
This new baby had his wide-set eyes, his dimples, the point of his chin. I folded the picture into my purse so that I could show it to him, and then I drove home.
There were cars backed up on the street leading to mine. I assumed it was construction; they'd been repaving the roads around here. We sat in a line, idling, listening to the radio. After five minutes,
I started to worry-Kurt was on duty today, and had taken his lunch break early so that I could go to the ultrasound without dragging Elizabeth along. If I didn't get home soon, he'd be late for work.
"Thank God," I said when the traffic slowly began to move.
But as I drew closer, I saw the detour signs set up at the end of my block, the police car sprawled sideways across the street. I felt that small tumble in my heart, the way you do when you see a fire engine racing toward the general vicinity of your home.
Roger, an officer I knew only marginally, was diverting traffic.
I unrolled my window. "I live here," I said. "I'm married to Kurt
Before I could finish, his face froze, and that was how I knew something had happened. I'd seen Kurt's face do the same thing when he'd told me that my first husband had been killed in the car wreck.
I snapped off my seat belt and pushed my way out of the car, ungainly and awkward in my pregnancy. "Where is she?" I cried, the car still running. "Where's Elizabeth?"
"June," Roger said as he wrapped an arm around me firmly.
"Why don't you just come with me?"
He walked me down the road where I lived, until I could see what I hadn't been able to from the crossroads: the glare of police cruiser lights, blinking like a holiday. The yawning mouths of the ambulances. The door to my house wide open. One officer held the dog in his arms; when Dudley saw me, he began to bark like mad.
"Elizabeth!" I yelled, and I shoved away from Roger, running as fast as I could given my shape and size. "Elizabeth!!"
I was intercepted by someone who knocked the breath from me-the chief of police. "June," he said softly. "Come with me."
I struggled against Irv-scratching, kicking, pleading. I thought maybe if I put up a fight, it would keep me from hearing what he was about to say. "Elizabeth?" I whispered.
"She's been shot, June."
I waited for him to say But she'll be just fine, except he didn't.
He shook his head. Later, I would remember that he had been crying.
"I want to see her," I sobbed.
"There's something else," Irv said, and as I watched, a brace of paramedics wheeled Kurt out on a stretcher. His face was white, leached of blood-all of which seemed to be soaking the makeshift bandage around his midsection.
I reached for Kurt's hand, and he turned toward me, his eyes glassy. "I'm sorry," he choked out. "I'm so sorry."
"What happened?" I shrieked, frantic. "Sorry for what? What happened to her!"
"Ma'am," a paramedic said, "we've got to get him to a hospital."
Another paramedic pulled me back. I watched them take Kurt away from me.
As Irv led me to the steps of another ambulance, he spoke, words that at the time felt as solid and square as bricks, layered sentence upon sentence to build a wall between life as I'd known it and the one I would now be forced to lead. Kurt gave us a statement
...found the carpenter sexually abusing Elizabeth... standoff... shots were fired... Elizabeth got in the way.
Elizabeth, I used to say, when she was following me around the tiny kitchen as I cooked dinner, I'm tripping over you.
Elizabeth, your father and I are trying to have a conversation.
Elizabeth, not now.
My legs were numb as Irv led me into a second ambulance.
"She's the mother," he said as one of the paramedics came forward.
A small form lay on a stretcher in the central cavity of the ambulance, covered with a thick gray blanket. I reached out, shaking, and pulled the cloth down. As soon as I saw Elizabeth, my knees gave out; if not for Irv, I would have fallen.
She looked like she was sleeping. Her hands were tucked on either side of her body; her cheeks were flushed.
They'd made a mistake, that was all.
I leaned over the stretcher, touching her face. Her skin was still warm. "Elizabeth," I whispered, the way I did on school days to wake her. "Elizabeth, time to get up."
But she didn't stir; she didn't hear me. I broke down over her body, pulling her against me. The blood on her chest was garish. I tried to draw her closer, but I couldn't-this baby inside me was in the way. "Don't go," I whispered. "Please don't go."
"June," Irv said, touching my shoulder. "You can ride with them if you want, but you'll have to put her down."
I did not understand the great hurry to take her to a hospital; later, I would learn that only a doctor could pronounce Elizabeth dead, no matter how obvious it was.
The paramedics gently strapped Elizabeth to the gurney and offered me a seat beside it. "Wait," I said, and I unclasped a barrette from my hair. "She doesn't like her bangs in her eyes," I mur mured, and I clipped them back. I left my hand on her forehead for a moment, a benediction.
On the interminable ride to the hospital, I looked down at my shirt. It was stained with blood, a Rorschach of loss. But I was not the only one who had been marked, permanently changed. It was no surprise when a month later I gave birth to Claire-an infant who looked nothing like her father, as she had that day at the ultrasound, but who instead was the spitting image of the sister she would never meet.
Oliver and I were enjoying a glass of Yellow Tail and a TiVo'd Grey's Anatomy when there was a knock on the door. Now, this was alarming on several counts:
1. It was Friday night, and no one ever stopped by on Friday night.
2. People who ring the doorbell at ten p.m. are either a. stranded with a dead battery in their car b. serial killers c. all of the above