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M I C H A E L

Dr. Vijay Choudhary's office was filled with statues of Ganesha, the Hindu deity with a potbellied human body and an elephant's head. I had to move one in order to sit down, in fact. "Mr. Smythe was extremely lucky," the doctor said. "A quarter inch to the left, and he wouldn't have survived."

"About that..." I took a deep breath. "A doctor at the prison pronounced him dead."

"Between you and me. Father, I wouldn't trust a psychiatrist to find his own car in a parking lot, much less a hypotensive victim's pulse.

Reports of Mr. Smythe's death were, as they say, greatly exaggerated."

"There was a lot of blood-"

"Many structures in the neck can bleed a great deal. To a layman, a pool of blood may look like a huge quantity, even when it's not." He shrugged. "What I imagine happened was a vasovagal reaction. Mr.

Smythe saw blood and passed out. The body compensates for shock due to blood loss. Blood pressure lowers, and vasoconstriction occurs, and both tend to stop the bleeding. They also lead to a loss of palpable pulses in the extremities-which is why the psychiatrist couldn't find one in his wrist."

"So," I said, pinkening. "You don't think it's possible that Mr. Smythe was... well... resurrected?"

"No," he chuckled. "Now, in medical school, I saw patients who'd frozen to death, in the vernacular, come back to life when they were warmed up. I saw a heart stop beating, and then start up by itself again. But in neither of those cases-or in Mr. Smythe's-did I consider the patient clinically dead before his or her recovery."


My phone began to vibrate, as it had every ten minutes for the past two hours. I'd turned the ringer off when I came into the hospital, as per their policy. "Nothing miraculous, then," I said.

"Perhaps not by your standards... but I think that Mr. Smythe's family might disagree."

I thanked him, set the statue of Ganesha back on my chair, and left

Dr. Choudhary's office. As soon as I exited the hospital building, I turned on my cell phone to see fifty-two messages.

Call me right back, Maggie said on her message. Something's happened to Shay. Beep.

Where are you?? Beep.

Okay, I know you probably don't have your phone on but you have to call me back immediately. Beep.

Where the fuck are you? Beep.

I hung up and dialed her cell phone. "Maggie Bloom," she whispered, answering.

"What happened to Shay?"

"He's in the hospital."

"What?! Which hospital?"

"Concord. Where are you?"

"Standing outside the ER."

"Then for God's sake, get up here. He's in room 514."

I ran up the stairs, pushing past doctors and nurses and lab technicians and secretaries, as if my speed now could make up for the fact that I had not been available for Shay when he needed me. The armed officers at the door took one look at my collar-a free pass, especially on a Sunday afternoon-and let me inside. Maggie was curled up on the bed, her shoes off, her feet tucked underneath her. She was holding Shay's hand, although I would have been hard-pressed to recognize the patient as the man I'd talked to just yesterday. His skin was the color of fine ash; his hair had been shaved in one patch to accommodate stitches to close a gash. His nose-broken, from the looks of it-was covered with gauze, and the nostrils were plugged with cotton.

"Dear God," I breathed.

"From what I can understand, he came out on the short end of a prison hit," Maggie said.

"That's not possible. I was there during the prison hit-"

"Apparently, you left before Act Two."

I glanced at the officer who stood like a sentry in the corner of the hospital room. The man looked at me and nodded in confirmation.

"I already called Warden Coyne at home to give him hell," Maggie said. "He's meeting me at the prison in a half hour to talk about additional security measures that can be put in place to protect Shay until his execution-when what he really means is 'What can I do to keep you from suing?'" She turned to me. "Can you sit here with Shay?"

It was a Sunday, and I was utterly, absolutely lost. I was on an unofficial leave of absence from St. Catherine's, and although I had always known I'd feel adrift without God, I had underestimated how aimless I would feel without my church. Usually at this time, I would be hanging my robes after celebrating Mass. I would go with Father

Walter to have lunch with a parishioner. Then we'd head back to his place and watch the preseason Sox game on TV, have a couple of beers. What religion did for me went beyond belief-it made me part of a community.

"I can stay," I answered.

"Then I'm out of here," Maggie said. "He hasn't woken up, not really, anyway. And the nurse said he'll probably have to pee when he does, and that we should use this torture device." She pointed at a plastic jug with a long neck. "I don't know about you, but I'm not getting paid enough for that." She paused in the doorway. Til call you later. Turn on your damn phone."

When she left, I pulled a chair closer to Shay's bed. I read the plastic placard about how to raise and lower the mattress, and the list of which television channels were available. I said an entire rosary, and still Shay didn't stir.

At the edge of the bed. Shay's medical chart hung on a metal clip. I skimmed through the language that I didn't understand-the injury, the medications, his vital statistics. Then I glanced at the patient name at the top of the page:


I. M. Bourne

Isaiah Matthew Bourne. We had been told this at his trial, but I had forgotten that Shay was not his Christian name. "I. M. Bourne," I said aloud. "Sounds like a guy Trump would hire."

I am bom.


Was this a hint, another puzzle piece of evidence?

There were two ways of looking at any situation. What one person sees as a prisoner's babble, another might recognize as words from a long-lost gospel. What one person sees as a medically viable stroke of luck, another might see as a resurrection. I thought of Lucius being healed, of the water into wine, of the followers who had so easily believed in Shay. I thought of a thirty-three-year-old man, a carpenter, facing execution. I thought of Rabbi Bloom's idea-that every generation had a person in it capable of being the Messiah.

There is a point when you stand at the edge of the cliff of hard evidence, look across to what lies on the other side, and step forward.

Otherwise, you wind up going nowhere. I stared at Shay, and maybe for the first time, I didn't see who he was. I saw who he might be.

As if he could feel my gaze, he began to toss and turn. Only one of his eyes could slit open; the other was swollen shut. "Father," he rasped in a voice still cushioned with medication. "Where am I?"

"You were hurt. You're going to be all right. Shay."

In the comer of the room, the officer was staring at us. "Do you think we could have a minute alone? I'd like to pray in private with him."

The officer hesitated-as well he should have: what clergyman isn't accustomed to praying in front of others? Then he shrugged. "Guess a priest wouldn't do anything funny," he said. "Your boss is tougher than mine."

People anthropomorphized God all the time-as a boss, as a lifesaver, as a justice, as a father. No one ever pictured him as a convicted murderer. But if you put aside the physical trappings of the body something that all the apostles had had to do after Jesus was resurrected-then maybe anything was possible.

As the officer backed out of the room. Shay winced. "My face..."

He tried to lift up his hand to touch the bandages, but found that he was handcuffed to the bed. Struggling, he began to pull harder.

"Shay," I said firmly, "don't."

"It hurts. I want drugs..."

"You're already on drugs," I told him. "We only have a few minutes till the officer comes back in, so we have to talk while we can."

"I don't want to talk."

Ignoring him, I leaned closer. "Tell me," I whispered. "Tell me who you are."

A wary hope lit Shay's eyes; he'd probably never expected to be recognized as the Lord. He went very still, never taking his eyes off mine. "Tell me who you are."

In the Catholic Church, there were lies of commission and lies of omission. The first referred to telling an outright falsehood, the second to withholding the truth. Both were sins.

I had lied to Shay since before the moment we met. He'd counted on me to help him donate his heart, but he'd never realized how black mine was. How could I expect Him to reveal Himself when I hadn't done the same?

"You're right," I said quietly. "There's something I haven't told you... about who I used to be, before I was a priest."

"Let me guess... an altar boy."

"I was a college student, majoring in math. I didn't even go to church until after I served on the jury."

"What jury?"

I hesitated. "The one that sentenced you to death. Shay."

He stared at me for a long minute, and then he turned away. "Get out."

"Shay-"

"Get the fuck away from mel" He flailed against his handcuffs, yanking at the bonds so that his skin rubbed raw. The sound he made was wordless, primordial, the noise that had surely filled the world before there was order and light.

A nurse came running in, along with the two officers who were standing outside. "What happened?" the nurse cried, as Shay continued to thrash, his head whipping from side to side on the pillow. The gauze in his nose bloomed with fresh blood.

The nurse pushed a call button on the panel behind Shay's head, and suddenly the room was filled with people. A doctor yelled at the officers to unlock his damn hands, but as soon as they did. Shay began swatting at everything he could reach. An aide plunged a hypodermic into his arm. "Get him out of here," someone said, and an orderly pulled me out of the room; the last thing I saw was Shay going boneless, sliding away from the people who were desperately trying to save him.


June

Claire was standing in front of a full-length mirror, naked. Her chest was crisscrossed with black ribbon, like the lacing on a football.

As I watched, she untied the bow, unraveled the ribbons, and peeled back both halves of her chest. She unhooked a tiny brass hinge on her rib cage and it sprang open.

Inside, the heart was beating sure and strong, a clear sign that it wasn't hers. Claire lifted a serving spoon and began to carve at the organ, trying to sever it from the veins and arteries. Her cheeks went pale; her eyes were the color of agony-but she managed to pull it free: a bloody, misshapen mass that she placed in my outstretched hand. "Take it back," she said.

I woke up from the nightmare, sweat-soaked, pulse racing.

After speaking with Dr. Wu about organ compatibility, I'd realized he was right-what was at issue here was not where this heart came from, but whether it came at all.

But I still hadn't told Claire a donor heart had become available.

We had yet to go through the legal proceedings, anyway- and although I told myself I didn't want to get her hopes up until the judge ruled, another part of me realized that I just didn't want to have to tell her the truth.

After all, it was her chest that would be hosting this man's heart.

Even a long shower couldn't get the nightmare of Claire out of my mind, and I realized that we had to have the conversation I had been so studiously avoiding. I dressed and hurried down 254 stairs to find her eating a bowl of cereal on the couch and watching television. "The dog needs to go out," she said absently.

"Claire," I said, "I have to talk to you."

"Let me just see the end of this show."

I glanced at the screen-it was Full House, and Claire had watched this episode so often that even I could have told you Jesse came home from Japan realizing being a rock star was not what it was cracked up to be.

"You've seen it before," I said, turning off the television.

Her eyes flashed, and she used the remote to turn the show back on.

Maybe it was a lack of sleep; maybe it was just the weight of the imminent future on my shoulders-for whatever reason, I snapped.

I whirled around and yanked the cable feed out of the wall.

"What is wrong with you?" Claire cried. "Why are you being such a bitch!"

Both of us fell silent, stunned by Claire's language. She'd never called me that before; she'd never really even argued with me. Take it back, I thought, and I remembered that image of Claire, holding out her heart.

"Claire," I said, backpedaling. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"

I broke off as Claire's eyes rolled back in her head.

I'd seen this before-too often. The AICD in her chest was firing: when Claire's heart skipped a beat, or several, it automatically defibrillated her. I caught her as she collapsed, settling her on the couch, waiting for her heart to restart, for Claire to come to.

Except this time, she didn't.

On the ambulance ride to the hospital, I counted all the reasons I hated myself: For picking a fight with Claire. For accepting Shay

Bourne's offer to donate his heart, without asking her first. For turning off Full House before the happy ending.

Just stay with me, I begged silently, and you can watch TV twentyfour hours a day. I will watch it with you. Don't give up, we've come so close.

Although the EMTs had gotten Claire's heart beating again by the time we reached the hospital, Dr. Wu had admitted her, with the unspoken agreement that this was her new home until a new heart arrived-or hers gave out. I watched him check Claire, who was fast asleep in the oceanic blue light of the darkened room.

"June," he said, "let's talk outside."

He closed the door behind us. "There's no good news here."

I nodded, biting my lip.

"Obviously, the AICD isn't functioning correctly. But in addition, the tests we've done show her urine output decreasing and her creatinine levels rising. We're talking about renal failure, June.

It's not just her heart that's giving out-her whole body is shutting down."

I looked away, but I couldn't stop a tear from rolling down my cheek.

"I don't know how long it's going to take to get a court to agree to that heart donation," the doctor said, "but Claire can't wait around for the docket to clear."

"I'll call the lawyer," I said softly. "Is there anything else I can do?"

Dr. Wu touched my arm. "You should think about saying good-bye."

I held myself together long enough for Dr. Wu to disappear into an elevator. Then, I rushed down the hallway and blindly plunged into a doorway that stood ajar. I fell to my knees and let the grief bleed out of me-one great, low keening note.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I blinked through my tears to find the priest who was Shay Bourne's ally staring at me.

"June? Is everything all right?"

"No," I said. "No, everything is most definitely not all right."

I could see then what I hadn't noticed when I first came into the room-the gold cross on the long dais in the front of the room, one flag with the star of David, another with a Muslim crescent moon: this was the hospital chapel, a place to ask for what you wanted the most.

Was it wrong to wish for someone's death so that Claire could have his heart sooner?

"Is it your daughter?" the priest asked.

I nodded, but I couldn't look him in the eye.

"Would it be all right-I mean, would you mind if I prayed for her?"

Although I did not want his assistance-had not asked for his assistance-this one time, I was willing to put aside how I felt about God, because Claire could use all the help she could get.

Almost imperceptibly, I nodded.

Beside me, Father Michael's voice began to move over the hills and valleys of the simplest of prayers: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Before I realized what I was doing, my own mouth had started to form the words, a muscle memory. And to my surprise, instead of it feeling false or forced, it made me relieved, as if I had just passed the baton to someone else.

"Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others ivho trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

It felt like putting on flannel pajamas on a snowy night; like turning on your blinker for the exit that you know will take you home.

I looked at Father Michael, and together we said "Amen."


M I C HAEL | Change of heart | M I C H A EL