M I C H A EL
Shay's last foster mother, Renata Ledoux, was a Catholic who lived in
Bethlehem, New Hampshire, and as I'd traveled up to meet with her, the irony of the name of the town where Shay had spent his teenage years did not escape me. I was wearing my collar and had on my gravest priest demeanor, because I was pulling out all the stops. I was going to say whatever was necessary to find out what had happened to
As it turned out, though, it hardly took any work at all. Renata invited me in for tea, and when I told her I had a message for Grace from a person in my congregation, she simply wrote out an address and handed it to me. "We're still in touch," she said simply. "Gracie was a good girl."
I couldn't help but wonder what she thought of Shay. "Didn't she have a brother?"
"That boy," Renata had said, "deserves to burn in hell."
It was ludicrous to believe that Renata had not heard about Shay's death sentence-the news would have reached up here, even in rural
Bethlehem. I had thought, maybe, as his foster mother, she'd at least harbor some soft spot for him. But then again, the boy she'd raised had left her home to go to juvenile prison, and had grown up to become a convicted murderer. "Yes," I'd said. "Well."
Now, twenty minutes later, I was approaching Grace's house, and hoping for a better reception. It was the pink one with gray shutters and the number 131 on a carved stone at the end of the drive-but the shades were drawn, the garage door was closed. There were no plants hanging on the porch, no doors open for a breeze, no outgoing mail in the box-nothing to indicate that the inhabitant was home.
I got out of my car and rang the doorbell. Twice.
Well, I could leave a note and ask her to call me. It would take more time-time Shay did not really have-but if it was the best I could do, then so be it.
Just then the door opened just a crack. "Yes?" a voice inside murmured.
I tried to see into the foyer, but it was pitch-dark. "Does Grace
Bourne live here?"
A hesitation. "That's me."
"I'm Father Michael Wright. I have a message for you, from one of the parishioners in my congregation."
A slender hand slipped out. "You can give it to me," Grace said.
"Actually, could I just come in for a bit-use your restroom? It's been a long drive from Concord..."
She hesitated-I suppose I would, too, if a strange man showed up at my door and I was a woman living alone, even if he was wearing a collar. But the door opened wide and Grace stepped back to let me in.
Her head was ducked to the side; a long curtain of black hair hung over her face. I caught a glimpse of long dark lashes and a ruby of a mouth; you could tell, even at first glance, how pretty she must be. I wondered if she was agoraphobic, painfully shy. I wondered who had hurt her so much that she was afraid of the rest of the world.
I wondered if it was Shay.
"Grace," I said, reaching for her hand. "It's nice to meet you."
She lifted her chin then, and the screen of hair fell back. The entire left side of Grace Bourne's face was ravaged and pitted, a lava flow of skin that had been stretched and sewed to cover an extensive burn.
"Boo," she said.
" I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"Everyone stares," Grace said quietly. "Even the ones who try not to."
There was a fire. Shay had said. I don't want to talk about it.
I m sorry.
"Yeah, you said that already. The bathroom's down the hall."
I put a hand on her arm. There were patches of skin there, too, that were scarred. "Grace. That message-it's from your brother."
She took a step away from me, stunned. "You know Shay?"
"He needs to see you, Grace. He's going to die soon."
"What did he say about me?"
"Not a lot," I admitted. "But you're the only family he has."
"Do you know about the fire?" Grace asked.
"Yes. It was why he went to juvenile prison."
"Did he tell you that our foster father died in it?"
This time, it was my turn to be surprised. A juvenile record would be sealed, which is why I hadn't known during the capital murder trial what Shay had been convicted of. I'd assumed, when fire had been mentioned, that it was arson. I hadn't realized that the charges might have included negligent homicide, or even manslaughter. And I understood exactly why, now, Renata Ledoux might viscerally hate Shay.
Grace was staring at me intently. "Did he ask to see me?"
"He doesn't actually know I'm here."
She turned away, but not before I saw that she had started to cry.
"He didn't want me at his trial."
"He probably didn't want you to have to witness that."
"You don't know anything." She buried her face in her hands.
"Grace," I said, "come back with me. Come see him."
"I can't," she sobbed. "I can't. You don't understand."
But I was beginning to: Shay had set the fire that had disfigured her. "That's all the more reason to meet with him. Forgive him, before it's too late."
"Forgive him? Forgive him?" Grace parroted. "No matter what I say, it won't change what happened. You don't get to do your life over." She glanced away. "I think... I just... you should go."
It was my dismissal. I nodded, accepting.
"The bathroom's the second door on the right."
Right-my ruse to get inside. I walked down the hall to a restroom that was floral, overpowering in a scent of air freshener and rose potpourri.
There were little crocheted toilet paper holders, a crocheted bra for the toilet tank, and a crocheted cover for the Kleenex box. There were roses on the shower curtain, and art on the walls-framed prints of flowers, except for one of a child's drawing-a dragon, or maybe a lizard. The room felt like the kind of abode for an elderly lady who'd lost count of her cats. It was stifling; slowly, Grace Bourne was suffocating herself to death.
If Shay knew that his sister forgave him for the fire, then maybeeven if he wasn't allowed to donate his heart-it would be enough to let him die in peace. Grace was in no condition to be convinced right now, but I could work on her. I'd get her phone number and call her, until I'd worn down her resistance.
I opened the sliding mirrored medicine cabinet, looking for a prescription with Grace's phone number so that I could copy it down.
There were lotions and creams and exfoliants, toothpaste and floss and deodorant. There was also a medicine bottle of Ambien, with Grace's phone number across the top of the label. I wrote it on the inside of my palm with a pen and set the pills back on the shelf, beside a small pewter frame. Two tiny children sat at a table: Grace in a high chair with a glass of milk in front of her, and Shay hunched over a picture he was drawing. A dragon, or maybe a lizard.
He was smiling, so wide it looked like it might hurt.
Every inmate is someone's child. And so is every victim.
I walked out of the bathroom. Handing Grace a card with my name and number on it, I thanked her. "Just in case you change your mind."
"Mine was never the one that needed changing," Grace said, and closed the door behind me. Immediately I heard the bolt slide shut, the curtain in the front window rustle. I kept envisioning the dragon pic hire, which was carefully matted and framed in the bathroom, TO GRACIE, it had said in the upper left-hand corner.
I was all the way to Crawford Notch before I realized what had been niggling in my mind about that photo of Shay as a child. In it, he'd been holding a pen in his right hand. But in prison-when he ate, when he wrote-he was a lefty.
Could someone change so radically over a lifetime? Or could all of these changes in Shay-from his dominant hand to his miracles to his ability to quote the Gospel of Thomas-have come from some... possession?
It sounded like some bad science fiction movie, but that wasn't to say it couldn't happen. If prophets could be overtaken by the Holy
Spirit, why not a murderer?
Or, maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe who we were in the past informed who we chose to be in the future. Maybe Shay had intentionally shifted his writing hand. Maybe he cultivated miracles, to make up for a sin as horrible as setting a fire that took the lives of two people-one literal, one metaphorical. It struck me that even in the
Bible, there was no record of Jesus's life between the ages of eight and thirty-three. What if he'd done something awful; what if his later years were a response to that?
You could do a horrible thing, and then spend your whole natural life trying to atone.
I knew that better than anyone.
The last conversation I had with Shay Bourne, before putting him on the stand as a witness, had not gone well. In the holding cell, I'd reminded him what was going to happen in court. Shay didn't deal well with curves being thrown at him; he could just as likely become belligerent as curl up in a ball beneath the wooden stand. Either way, the judge would think he was crazy-and that couldn't happen.
"So after the marshal helps you into the seat," I had explained,
"they're going to bring you a Bible."
"I don't need one."
"Right. But they need you to swear on it."
"I want to swear on a comic book," Shay had replied. "Or a Playboy magazine."
"You have to swear on a Bible," I'd said, "because we have to play by their rules before we're allowed to change the game."
Just then, a U.S. marshal had come to tell me that court was about to convene. "Remember," I had said to Shay, "focus only on me. Nothing else in that courtroom's important. It's just us, having a chat."
He had nodded, but I could see that he was jittery. And now, as I watched him being brought into the courtroom, everyone else could see it, too. He was bound at the ankles and the wrists, with a belly chain to link the others; the links rattled as he shuddered into his seat beside me.
His head was ducked, and he was murmuring words no one but I could hear. He was actually cursing out one of the U.S. marshals who'd led him into the courtroom, but with any luck, people who watched his mouth moving silently would think he was praying.
As soon as I put him on the witness stand, a quiet pall fell over the people in the gallery. You are not like us, their silence seemed to say. You never will be. And there, without me asking a single question, was my answer: no amount of piousness could erase the stain on the hands of a murderer.
I walked in front of Shay and waited until he caught my eye. Focus, I mouthed, and he nodded. He gripped the front of the witness box railing, and his chains clinked.
Dammit. I'd forgotten to tell him to keep his hands in his lap. It would be less of a reminder to the judge and the gallery that he was a convicted felon.
"Shay," I asked, "why do you want to donate your heart?"
He stared right at me. Good boy. "I have to save her."
"Well," I said, "you're not the only person in the world who can save
Claire. There are other suitable heart donors."
"I'm the one who took the most away from her," Shay said, just like we had practiced. "I have the most to give back to her."
"Is this about clearing your conscience?" I asked.
Shay shook his head. "It's about clearing the slate."
So far, I thought, so good. He sounded rational, and clear, and calm.
"Maggie?" Shay said just then. "Can I stop now?"
I smiled tightly. "Not quite yet, Shay. We've got a few more questions."
"The questions are bullshit."
There was a gasp in the rear of the gallery-probably one of the bluehaired ladies I'd seen filing in with their Bibles wrapped in protective quilted cozies, who hadn't stumbled across a cuss word since before menopause.
"Shay," I said, "we don't use that language in court. Remember?"
"Why is it called court?" he asked. "It's not like a tennis court or a basketball court, where you're playing a game. Or maybe you are, and that's why there's a winner and a loser, except it has nothing to do with how well you make a three-point shot or how fast your serve is." He looked at Judge Haig. "I bet you play golf."
"Ms. Bloom," the judge said. "Control your witness."
If Shay didn't shut up, I was going to personally cover his mouth with my hand. "Shay, tell me about your religious upbringing as a child,"
I said firmly.
"Religion's a cult. You don't get to choose your own religion. You're what your parents tell you you are; it's not upbringing at all, just a brainwashing.
When a baby's getting water poured over his head at a christening he can't say, 'Hey man, I'd rather be a Hindu,' can he?"
"Shay, I know this is hard for you, and I know that being here is very distracting," I said. "But I need you to listen to the question I'm asking, and answer it. Did you go to church when you were a kid?"
"Part of the time. And part of the time I didn't go anywhere at all, except hide in the closet so I wouldn't get beat up by another kid or the foster dad, who'd try to keep everyone in line with a metal hairbrush. It kept us in line, all right, all the way down our backs. The whole foster care system in this country is a joke; it ought to be called foster don't care, don't give a shit except for the stipend you're getting from the-"
"Shay!" I warned him with a flash of my eyes. "Do you believe in
This question, somehow, seemed to calm him down. "I know God,"
"Tell me how."
"Everyone's got a little God in them... and a little murder in them, too. It's how your life turns out that makes you lean to one side or the other."
"What's God like?"
"Math," Shay said. "An equation. Except when you take everything away, you get infinity, instead of zero."
"And where does God live, Shay?"
He leaned forward, lifted his chained hands so that the metal chinked. He pointed to his heart. "Here."
"You said you used to go to church when you were a kid. Is the God you believe in today the same God you were taught about at church?"
Shay shrugged. "Whatever road you take, the view is going to be the same."
I was nearly a hundred percent certain I'd heard that phrase before, at the one and only Bikram yoga class I'd attended, before I decided that my body wasn't meant to bend in certain ways. I couldn't believe Greenleaf wasn't objecting, on the grounds that channeling the Dalai Lama wasn't the same as answering a question. Then again, I could believe
Greenleaf wasn't objecting. The more Shay said, the crazier he appeared.
It was hard to take someone's claims about religion seriously when he sounded delusional; Shay was digging a grave big enough for both of us.
"If the judge orders you to die by lethal injection, Shay, and you can't donate your heart-will that upset God?" I asked.
"It'll upset me. So yeah, it'll upset God."
"Well, then," I said, "what is it about giving your heart to Claire
Nealon that will please God?"
He smiled at me then-the sort of smile you see on the faces of saints in frescoes, and that makes you wish you knew their secret. "My end,"
Shay said, "is her beginning."
I had a few more questions, but to be honest, I was terrified of what
Shay might say. He already was talking in riddles. "Thank you," I replied, and sat down.
"I have a question, Mr. Bourne," Judge Haig said. "There's a lot of talk about odd things that have occurred at the prison. Do you believe you can perform miracles?"
Shay looked at him. "Do youT
"I'm sorry, but that's not how a courtroom works. I'm not allowed to answer your question, but you still need to answer mine. So," the judge said, "do you believe you can perform miracles?"
"I just did what I was supposed to. You can call that whatever you want."
The judge shook his head. "Mr. Greenleaf, your witness."
Suddenly, a man in the gallery stood up. He unzipped his jacket, revealing a T-shirt that had been emblazoned with the numbers 3:16. He started yelling, his voice hoarse. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son-" By then, two U.S. marshals had descended, hauling him out of his seat and dragging him up the alley, as the news cameras swiveled to follow the action. "His only son!" the man yelled. "Only! You are going to hell once they pump your veins full of-" The doors of the courtroom banged shut behind him, and then it was utterly silent.
It was impressive that this man had gotten into the court in the first place-there were checkpoints with metal detectors and marshals in place before you entered. But his weapon had been the fundamental fury of his righteousness, and at that moment, I would have been hardpressed to decide whether he or Shay had come off looking worse.
"Yes," Gordon Greenleaf said, getting to his feet. "Well." He walked toward Shay, who rested his chained hands on the witness stand rail again. "You're the only person who subscribes to your religion?"
"I don't belong to a religion. Religions the reason the world's falling apart-did you see that guy get carted out of here? That's what religion does. It points a finger. It causes wars. It breaks apart countries. It's a petri dish for stereotypes to grow in. Religion's not about being holy,"
Shay said. "Just holier-than-thou."
At the plaintiff's table, I closed my eyes-at the very least, Shay had surely just lost the case for himself; at the most, I was going to wind up with a cross being burned on my lawn. "Objection," I said feebly. "It's not responsive."
"Overruled," the judge replied. "He's not your witness now, Ms.
Shay continued muttering, more quietly now. "You know what religion does? It draws a big fat line in the sand. It says, 'If you don't do it my way you're out.' "
He wasn't yelling, he wasn't out of control. But he wasn't in control, either. He brought his hands up to his neck, started scratching at it as the chains jangled down his chest. "These words," he said, "they're cutting my throat."
"Judge," I said immediately, alert to a rapidly approaching meltdown.
"Can we take a recess?"
Shay started rocking back and forth.
"Fifteen minutes," Judge Haig said, and the U.S. marshals approached to remand Shay into custody. Panicking, Shay cowered and raised his arms in defense. And we all watched as the chains he was wearing-the ones that had secured him at the wrists and the ankles and the waist, the ones that had jangled throughout his testimony-fell to the floor with a clatter, as if they'd been no more substantial than smoke.
"Religion often gets in the way of God."
- BONO, AT THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST, FEBRUARY 2, 2006
Shay stood, his arms akimbo, looking just as surprised to be unshackled as we were to see him that way. There was a collective moment of disbelief, and then chaos exploded in the courtroom. Screams rang out from the gallery. One marshal dragged the judge off the bench and into his chambers while the other drew his weapon, yelling for Shay to put his hands up. Shay froze, only to have the marshal tackle and handcuff him.
"Stop!" Father Michael cried behind me. "He doesn't know what's happening!"
As the marshal pushed Shay's head against the wooden floor, he looked up at us, terrified.
I whipped around to face the priest. "What the hell's going on? He's gone from being Jesus to being Houdini?"
"This is the kind of thing he does," Father Michael said. Was it me, or did I hear a note of satisfaction in his voice? "I tried to tell you."
"Let me tell you," I shot back. "Our friend Shay just earned himself a one-way ticket to the lethal injection gurney, unless one of us can convince him to say something to Judge Haig to explain what just happened."
"You're his lawyer," Michael said.
"You're his advisor."
"Remember how I told you Shay won't talk to me?"
I rolled my eyes. "Could we just pretend we're not in seventh grade anymore, and do our jobs?"
He let his gaze slide away, and immediately I knew that whatever else this conversation had to hold, it wasn't going to be pleasant.
By now, the courtroom had emptied. I had to get to Shay and put a solitary, cohesive thought in his head, one that I hoped he could retain long enough to take to the witness stand. I didn't have time for Father
Michael's confessions right now.
"I was on the jury that convicted Shay," the priest said.
My mother had a trick she'd employed since I was a teenager-if I said something that made her want to (a) scream, (b) whack me, or (c) both, she would count to ten, her lips moving silently, before she responded.
I could feel my mouth rounding out the syllables of the numbers, and with some dismay I realized that finally, I had become my mother. "Is that all?" I asked.
"Isn't that enough!"
"Just making sure." My mind raced. I could get into a lot of trouble for not telling Greenleaf that fact in advance. Then again, I hadn't known in advance. "Is there a reason you waited so long to mention this?"
"Don't ask, don't tell," he said, parroting my own words. "At first I thought I'd just help Shay understand redemption, and then I'd tell you the truth. But Shay wound up teaching me about redemption, and you said my testimony was critical, and I thought maybe it was better you didn't know. I thought it wouldn't screw up the trial quite as much..."
I held up my hand, stopping him. "Do you support it?" I asked. "The death penalty?"
The priest hesitated before he spoke. "I used to."
I would have to tell Greenleaf. Even if Father Michael's testimony was stricken from the record, though, you couldn't make the judge forget hearing it; the damage had been done. Right now, however, I had more important things to do. "I have to go."
In the holding cell, I found Shay still distraught, his eyes squinched shut. "Shay?" I said. "It's Maggie. Look at me."
"I can't," he cried. "Turn the volume down."
The room was quiet; there was no radio playing, no sound at all. I glanced at the marshal, who shrugged. "Shay," I commanded, coming up to the bars of the cell. "Open your goddamn eyes."
One eye squinted open a crack, then the other.
"Tell me how you did it."
"Your little magic act in there."
He shook his head. "I didn't do anything."
"You managed to get out of handcuffs," I said. "What did you do, make a key and hide it in a seam?"
"I don't have a key. I didn't unlock them."
Well, technically, this was true. What I'd seen were the still-fastened cuffs, clattering to the floor, while Shay's hands were somehow free of them. He certainly could have unfastened the locks and snapped them shut again-but it would have been noisy, something we all would have heard.
And we hadn't.
"I didn't do anything," Shay repeated.
I'd read somewhere of magicians who learned to dislocate their shoulders to get out of straitjackets; maybe this had been Shay's secret.
Maybe he could double-joint his thumbs or resettle the bones of his fingers and slide out of the metal fittings without anyone being the wiser.
"Okay. Whatever." I exhaled heavily. "Here's the thing, Shay. I don't know if you're a magician, or a messiah. I don't know very much about salvation, or miracles, or any of those things that Father Michael and Ian
Fletcher talked about. I don't even know if I believe in God. But what I do know is the law. And right now, everyone in that courtroom thinks you're a raving lunatic. You have to pull it together." I glanced at Shay and saw him looking at me with utter focus, his eyes clear and shrewd. "You have one chance," I said slowly. "One chance to speak to the man who will decide how you die, and whether Claire Nealon gets to live. So what are you going to tell him?"
Once, when I was in sixth grade, I let the most popular girl in the school cheat off my paper during a math test. "You know what," she said after ward, "you're not totally uncool." She let me sit with her at the lunch table and for one glorious Saturday, I was invited to the mall with her
Gordian knot of friends, who spritzed perfume onto their wrists at department stores and tried on expensive skinny jeans that didn't even come in my size. (I told them I had my period, and I didn't ever shop for jeans when I was bloated-a total lie, and yet one of the girls offered to show me how to make myself throw up in the bathroom to take off that extra five.) It was when I was getting a makeover at the Clinique counter, with no intent of buying any of the makeup, that I looked in a mirror and realized I did not like the girl staring back. To be the person they wanted me to be, I'd lost myself.
Watching Shay take the witness stand again, I thought about that sixthgrade thrill I'd gotten when, for a moment, I'd been part of the in-crowd;
I'd been popular. The gallery, hushed, waited for another outburst-but
Shay was mild-mannered and calm, quiet to a fault. He was triple-chained, and had to hobble to the stand, where he didn't look at anyone and simply waited for me to address him with the question we had practiced. I wondered whether remaking him in the image of a viable plaintiff said more about who he was willing to be, or whom I had become.
"Shay," I said. "What do you want to tell this court?"
He looked up at the ceiling, as if he were waiting for the words to drift down like snow. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news," he murmured.
"Amen," said a woman in the gallery.
I'll be honest, this was not quite what I had had in mind when I had told Shay he could make one final attempt to sway this court. To me, religious scripture sounded just as wacky and zealous as the diatribe Shay had given on the nature of organized religion. But maybe Shay was smarter than I was, because his quote made the judge purse his lips. "Is that from the Bible, Mr. Bourne?"
"I don't know," Shay replied. "I don't remember where it comes from."
A tiny paper airplane torpedoed over my shoulder to land in my lap.
I opened it up, read Father Michael's hastily scrawled note. "Yes, Judge," I said quickly. "It is."
"Marshal," Judge Haig said, "bring me the Bible." He began to thumb through the onionskin pages. "Do you happen to know where, Ms.
I didn't know when or if Shay Bourne had been reading scripture.
This quote could have come from the priest; it could have come from
God; it could have been the only line he knew in the whole Old Testament.
But somehow, he'd piqued the interest of Judge Haig, who was no longer dismissing my client outright, but instead tracing the pages of the
Bible as if it were written in Braille.
I stood, armed with Father Michael's citation. "It's in Isaiah, Your
Honor," I said.
During the lunch recess, I drove to my office. Not because I had such an inviolable work ethic (although technically I had sixteen other cases going at the same time as Shay's, my boss had given me his blessing to put them on the back burner of the largest metaphorical stove ever), but because I just needed to get away from the trial completely. The secretary at the ACLU office blinked when I walked through the door. "Aren't you supposed to be-"
"Yes," I snapped, and I walked through the maze of filing cabinets to my desk.
I didn't know how Shay's outburst would affect the judge. I didn't know if I'd already lost this case, before the defense had even presented its witnesses. I did know that I hadn't slept well in three weeks and was flat out of rabbit food for Oliver, and I was having a really bad hair day. I rubbed my hands down my face, and then realized I'd probably smeared my mascara.
With a sigh, I glanced at the mountain of paperwork on my desk that had been steadily growing without me there to act as clearinghouse.