M | C HAEL
Three days after Shay's death, and two after his funeral, I returned to the prison cemetery. The headstones formed a small field, each one marked with a number. Shay's grave didn't have one yet; it was only a small raw plot of earth. And yet, it was the only one with a visitor. Sitting on the ground, her legs crossed, was Grace Bourne.
I waved as she got to her feet. "Father," she said. "It's good to see you."
"You, too." I came closer, smiled.
"That was a nice service you did the other day." She looked down at the ground. "I know it didn't seem like I was listening, but I was."
At Shay's funeral, I hadn't read from the Bible at all. I hadn't read from the Gospel of Thomas, either. I had created my own gospel, the good news about Shay Bourne, and spoke it from the heart to the few people who'd been present: Grace, Maggie, Alma the nurse.
June Nealon had not come; she was at the hospital with her daughter, who was recovering from the heart transplant. She'd sent a spray of lilies to lay on Shay's grave; they were still here, wilting.
Maggie had told me that Claire's doctor had been thrilled with the outcome of the operation, that the heart had started beating like a jackrabbit.
Claire would be leaving the hospital by the end of the week.
"You heard about the transplant?" I said.
Grace nodded. "I know that wherever he is, he's happy about that."
She dusted off her skirt. "Well, I was on my way out. I have to get back to Maine for a seven o'clock shift."
Shay that I would look after Grace, but to be honest, I think he wanted to be sure she'd be looking after me as well. Somehow, Shay had known that without the Church, I'd need a family, too.
I sat down, in the same spot where Grace had been. I sighed, leaned forward, and waited.
The problem was, I wasn't sure what I was waiting for. It had been three days since Shay's death. He had told me he was coming back-a resurrection-but he had also told me that he'd murdered Kurt Nealon intentionally, and I couldn't hold the two thoughts side by side in my mind.
I didn't know if I was supposed to be on the lookout for an angel, like Mary Magdalene had seen, to tell me that Shay had left this tomb. I didn't know if he'd mailed me a letter that I could expect to receive later that afternoon. I was waiting, I suppose, for a sign.
I heard footsteps and saw Grace hurrying toward me again. "I almost forgot! I'm supposed to give this to you."
It was a large shoe box, wrapped with a rubber band. The green cardboard had begun to peel away from the corners, and there were spots that were watermarked. "What is it?"
"My brother's things. The warden, he gave them to me. But there was a note inside from Shay. He wanted you to have them. I would have given it to you at the funeral, but the note said I was supposed to give it to you today."
"You should have these," I said. "You're his family."
She looked up at me. "So were you. Father."
When she left, I sat back down beside Shay's grave. "Is this it?" I said aloud. "Is this what I was supposed to wait for?"
Inside the box was a canvas roll of tools, and three packages of Bazooka bubble gum.
He had one piece of gum, I heard Lucius say, and there was enough for all of us.
The only other item inside was a small, flat, newspaper-wrapped package. The tape had peeled off years ago; the paper was yellowed with age. Folded in its embrace was a tattered photograph that made me catch my breath: I held in my hands the picture that had been stolen from my dorm when I was in college: my grandfather and I showing off our day's catch.
Why had he taken something so worthless to a stranger? I touched my thumb to my grandfather's face and suddenly recalled Shay talking about the grandfather he'd never had-the one he'd imagined from this photo. Had he swiped it because it was proof of what he'd missed in his life? Had he stared at it, wishing he was me?
I remembered something else: the photo had been stolen before I was picked for Shay's jury. I shook my head in disbelief. It was possible
Shay had known it was me when he saw me sitting in the courtroom. It was possible he had recognized me again when I first came to him in prison. It was possible the joke had been on me all along.
I started to crumple up the newspaper that the photo had been wrapped in, but realized it wasn't newspaper at all. It was too thick for that, and not the right size. It was a page torn out of a book. The Nag
Hammadi Library, it read across the top, in the tiniest of print. The
Gospel of Thomas, first published 1977. I ran a fingertip along the familiar sayings. Jesus said: Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.
Jesus said: The dead are not alive, and the living will not die.
Jesus said: Do not tell lies.
And so had Shay, after having years to memorize this page.
Frustrated, I tore it into pieces and threw them on the ground.
I was angry at Shay; I was angry at myself. I buried my face in my hands, and then felt a wind stir. The confetti of words began to scatter.
I ran after them. As they caught against headstones, I trapped them with my hands. I stuffed them into my pockets. I untangled them from the weeds that grew at the edge of the cemetery. I chased one fragment all the way to the parking lot.
Sometimes we see what we want to, instead of what's in front of us. And sometimes, we don't see clearly at all. I took all of the bits I'd collected and dug a shallow bowl beneath the spray of lilies, covered them with a thin layer of soil. I imagined the yellowed paper dissolving in the rain, being absorbed by the earth, lying fallow under winter snow. I wondered what, next spring, would take root.
'There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle."
- ALBERT EINSTEIN