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"Po-lice," Joey called out, and a moment later, CO Smythe walked in,
followed by CO Whitaker. He helped Whitaker transport Crash to the
shower cell—the investigation into our bacchanal tap water had yielded
nothing conclusive, apparently, except some mold in the pipes, and we
were now allowed personal hygiene hours again. But afterward, instead of
leaving I-tier, Smythe doubled back down the catwalk to stand in front of
"Listen," Smythe said. "Last week, you said something to me."
"You told me to look inside." He hesitated. "My daughter's been sick.
Really sick. Yesterday, the doctors told my wife and me to say good-bye. It
made me want to explode. So I grabbed this stuffed bear in her crib, one
we'd brought from home to make going to the hospital easier for her—and
I ripped it wide open. It was filled with peanut shells, and we never thought
to look there." Smythe shook his head. "My baby's not dying; she was never
even sick. She's just allergic," he said. "How did you know?"
"It doesn't matter." Smythe dug in his pocket for a small square of tinfoil,
unwrapping it to reveal a thick brownie. "I brought this in from home.
My wife, she makes them. She wanted you to have it."
"John, you can't give him contraband," Whitakersaid, glancing over his
shoulder at the control booth.
"It's not contraband. It's just me . . . sharing a little bit of my lunch."
My mouth started to water. Brownies were not on our canteen forms.
The closest we came was chocolate cake, offered once a year as part of a
Christmas package that also included a stocking full of candy and two oranges.
Smythe passed the brownie through the trap in the cell door. He met
Shay's gaze and nodded, then left the tier with CO Whitaker.
"Hey, Death Row," Calloway said, "I'll give you three cigarettes for half
"I'll trade you a whole pack of coffee," Joey countered.
"He ain't going to waste it on you," Calloway said. "I'll give you coffee
and four cigarettes."
Texas and Pogie joined in. They would trade Shay a CD player. A Playboy
magazine. A roll of tape.
"A teener," Calloway announced. "Final offer."
The Brotherhood made a killing on running the methamphetamine
trade at the New Hampshire state prison; for Calloway to solicit his own
personal stash, he must have truly wanted that chocolate.
As far as I knew, Shay hadn't even had a cup of coffee since coming to
I-tier. I had no idea if he smoked or got high. "No," Shay said. "No to all of
A few minutes passed.
"For God's sake, I can still smell it," Calloway said.
Let me tell you, I am not exaggerating when I say that we were forced
to inhale that scent—that glorious scent—for hours. At three in the morning,
when I woke up as per my usual insomnia, the scent of chocolate was
so strong that the brownie might as well have been sitting in my cell instead
of Shay's. "Why don't you just eat the damn thing," I murmured.
"Because," Shay replied, as wide awake as I, "then there wouldn't be
anything to look forward to."
There were many reasons I loved Oliver, but first and foremost was that
my mother couldn't stand him. He's a mess, she said every time she came
to visit. He's destructive. Maggie, she said, if you got rid ojhim, you could find
Someone was a doctor, like the anesthesiologist from Dartmouth-
Hitchcock they'd set me up with once, who asked me if I thought laws
against downloading child porn were an infringement on civil rights. Or
the son of the cantor, who actually had been in a monogamous gay relationship
for five years but hadn't told his parents yet. Someone was the
younger partner in the accounting firm that did my father's taxes, who
asked me on our first and only date if I'd always been a big girl.
On the other hand, Oliver knew just what I needed, and when I
needed it. Which is why, the minute I stepped on the scale that morning,
he hopped out from underneath the bed, where he was diligently severing
the cord of my alarm clock with his teeth, and settled himself squarely
on top of my feet so that I couldn't see the digital readout.
"Nicely done," I said, stepping off, trying not to notice the numbers
that flashed red before they disappeared. Surely the reason there was a
seven in there was because Oliver had been on the scale, too. Besides, if I
were going to be writing a formal complaint about any of this, I'd have
said that (a) size fourteen isn't really all that big, (b) a size fourteen here
was a size sixteen in London, so in a way I was thinner than I'd be if I
had been born British, and (c) weight didn't really matter, as long as you
All right, so maybe I didn't exercise all that much either. But I would,
one day, or so I told my mother the fitness queen, as soon as all the
people on whose behalf I worked tirelessly were absolutely, unequivocally
rescued. I told her (and anyone else who'd listen) that the whole
reason the ACLU existed was to help people take a stand. Unfortunately,
the only stands my mother recognized were pigeon pose, warrior two,
and all the other staples of yoga.
I pulled on my jeans, the ones that I admittedly didn't wash very
often because the dryer shrank them just enough that I had to suffer half
a day before the denim stretched to the point of comfort again. I picked a
sweater that didn't show my bra roll and then turned to Oliver. "What do
He lowered his left ear, which translated to, "Why do you even care,
since you're taking it all off to put on a spa robe?"
As usual, he was right. It's a little hard to hide your flaws when you're
wearing, well, nothing.
He followed me into the kitchen, where I poured us both bowls of
rabbit food (his literal, mine Special K). Then he hopped off to the litter
box beside his cage, where he'd spend the day sleeping.
I'd named my rabbit after Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the famous Supreme
Court Justice known as the Great Dissenter. He once said, "Even a
dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over."
So did rabbits. And my clients, for that matter.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," I warned Oliver. "That includes
chewing the legs of the kitchen stools."
I grabbed my keys and headed out to my Prius. I had used nearly all
my savings last year on the hybrid—to be honest, I didn't understand
why car manufacturers charged a premium if you were a buyer with a
modicum of social conscience. It didn't have all-wheel drive, which was a
real pain in the neck during a New Hampshire winter, but I figured that
saving the ozone layer was worth sliding off the road occasionally.
My parents had moved to Lynley—a town twenty-six miles east of
Concord—seven years ago when my father took over as rabbi at Temple
Beth Or. The catch was that there was no Temple Beth Or: his reform
congregation held Friday night services in the cafeteria of the middle
school, because the original temple had burned to the ground. The expectation
had been to raise funds for a new temple, but my father had
overestimated the size of his rural New Hampshire congregation, and although
he assured me that they were closing in on buying land somewhere,
I didn't see it happening anytime soon. By now, anyway, his
congregation had grown used to readings from the Torah that were routinely
punctuated by the cheers of the crowd at the basketball game in
the gymnasium down the hall.
The biggest single annual contributor to my father's temple fund was
the ChutZpah, a wellness retreat for the mind, body, and soul in the heart
of Lynley that was run by my mother. Although her clientele was nondenominational,
she'd garnered a word-of-mouth reputation among temple
sisterhoods, and patrons came from as far away as New York and Connecticut
and even Maryland to relax and rejuvenate. My mother used salt from
the Dead Sea for her scrubs. Her spa cuisine was kosher. She'd been written
up in Boston magazine, the New York Times, and Luxury SpaFinder.
The first Saturday of every month, I drove to the spa for a free massage
or facial or pedicure. The catch was that afterward, I had to suffer
through lunch with my mother. We had it down to a routine. By the time
we were served our passion fruit iced tea, we'd already covered "Why
Don't You Call." The salad course was "I'm Going to Be Dead Before You
Make Me a Grandmother." The entree—fittingly—involved my weight.
Needless to say, we never got around to dessert.
The ChutZpah was white. Not just white, but scary, I'm-afraid-tobreathe
white: white carpets, white tiles, white robes, white slippers. I
have no idea how my mother kept the place so clean, given that when I
was growing up, the house was always comfortably cluttered.
My father says there's a God, although for me the jury is still out on
that one. Which isn't to say that I didn't appreciate a miracle as much as
the next person—such as when I went up to the front desk and the re50
ceptionist told me my mother was going to have to miss our lunch because
of a last-minute meeting with a wholesale orchid salesman. "But
she said you should still have your treatment," the receptionist said.
"DeeDee's going to be your aesthetician, and you've got locker number
I took the robe and slippers she handed me. Locker 220 was in a bank
with fifty others, and several toned middle-aged women were stripping out
of their yoga clothes. I breezed into another section of lockers, one that was
blissfully empty, and changed into my robe. If someone complained because
I was using locker 664 instead, I didn't think my mother would
disown me. I punched in my key code—2358, for ACLU—took a bracing
breath, and tried not to glance in the mirror as I walked by.
There wasn't very much that I liked about the outside of me. I had
curves, but to me, they were in all the wrong places. My hair was an explosion
of dark curls, which could have been sexy if I didn't have to work
so hard to keep them frizz-free. I'd read that stylists on the Oprah show
would straighten the hair of guests with hair like mine, because curls
added ten pounds to the camera—which meant that even my hair made
objects like me look bigger than they appeared. My eyes were okay—
they were mud-colored on an average day and green if I felt like
embellishing—but most of all, they showed the part of me I was proud
of: my intelligence. I might never be a cover girl, but I was a girl who
could cover it all.
The problem was, you never heard anyone say, "Wow, check out the
brain on that babe."
My father had always made me feel special, but I couldn't even look
at my mother without wondering why I hadn't inherited her tiny waist
and sleek hair. As a kid I had only wanted to be just like her; as an adult,
I'd stopped trying.
Sighing, I entered the whirlpool area: a white oasis surrounded by
white wicker benches where primarily white women waited for their
white-coated therapists to call their name.
DeeDee appeared in her immaculate jacket, smiling. "You must be
Maggie," she said. "You look just like your mother described you."
I wasn't about to take that bait. "Nice to meet you." I never quite figured
out the protocol for this part of the experience—you said hello and
then disrobed immediately so that a total stranger could lay their hands
on you . . . and you paid for this privilege. Was it just me, or was there a
great deal that spa treatments had in common with prostitution?
"You looking forward to your Song of Solomon Wrap?"
"I'd rather be getting a root canal."
DeeDee grinned. "Your mom told me you'd say something like that,
If you haven't had a body wrap, it's a singular experience. You're lying
on a cushy table covered by a giant piece of Saran Wrap and you're
naked. Totally, completely naked. Sure, the aesthetician tosses a washcloth
the size of a gauze square over your privates when she's scrubbing
you down, and she's got a poker face that never belies whether she's calculating
your body mass index under her palms—but still, you're painfully
aware of your physique, if only because someone's experiencing it
firsthand with you.
I forced myself to close my eyes and remember that being washed beneath
a Vichy shower by someone else was supposed to make me feel
like a queen and not a hospitalized invalid.
"So, DeeDee," I said. "How long have you been doing this?"
She unrolled a towel and held it like a screen as I rolled onto my
back. "I've been working at spas for six years, but I just got hired on
"You must be good," I said. "My mother doesn't sweat amateurs."
She shrugged. "I like meeting new people."
I like meeting new people, too, but when they're fully clothed.
"What do you do for work?" DeeDee asked.
"My mother didn't tell you?"
"No . . . she just said—" Suddenly she broke off, silent.
"She said what."
"She, um, told me to treat you to an extra helping of seaweed scrub."
"You mean she told you I'd need twice as much."
"Did she use the word zaftig?" I asked. When DeeDee didn't answer—
wisely—I blinked up at the hazy light in the ceiling, listened to Yanni's
canned piano for a few beats, and then sighed. "I'm an ACLU lawyer."
"For real?" DeeDee's hands stilled on my feet. "Do you ever take on
cases, like, for free?"
"That's all I do."
"Then you must know about the guy on death row . . . Shay Bourne?
I've been writing to him for ten years, ever since I was in eighth grade
and I started as part of an assignment for my social studies class. His last
appeal just got rejected by the Supreme Court."
"I know," I said. "I've filed briefs on his behalf."
DeeDee's eyes widened. "So you're his lawyer?"
"Well . . . no." I hadn't even been living in New Hampshire when
Bourne was convicted, but it was the job of the ACLU to file amicus
briefs for death row prisoners. Amicus was Latin for friend of the court;
when you had a position on a particular case but weren't directly a party
involved in it, the court would let you legally spell out your feelings if it
might be beneficial to the decision-making process. My amicus briefs illustrated
how hideous the death penalty was; defined it as cruel and unusual
punishment, as unconstitutional. I'm quite sure the judge looked at
my hard work and promptly tossed it aside.
"Can't you do something else to help him?" DeeDee asked.
The truth was, if Bourne's last appeal had been rejected by the Supreme
Court, there wasn't much any lawyer could do to save him now.
"Tell you what," I promised. "I'll look into it."
DeeDee smiled and covered me with heated blankets until I was
trussed tight as a burrito. Then she sat down behind me and wove her
fingers into my hair. As she massaged my scalp, my eyes drifted shut.
"They say it's painless," DeeDee murmured. "Lethal injection."
They: the establishment, the lawmakers, the ones assuaging their
guilt over their own actions with rhetoric. "That's because no one ever
comes back to tell them otherwise," I said. I thought of Shay Bourne
being given the news of his own impending death. I thought of lying on a
table like this one, being put to sleep.
Suddenly I couldn't breathe. The blankets were too hot, the cream on
my skin too thick. I wanted out of the layers and began to fight my way
"Whoa," DeeDee said. "Hang on, let me help you." She pulled and
peeled and handed me a towel. "Your mother didn't tell me you were
I sat up, drawing great gasps of air into my lungs. Of course she didn't,
I thought. Because she's the one who's suffocating me.
It was late afternoon, almost time for the shift change, and I-tier was relatively
quiet. Me, I'd been sick all day, hazing in and out of sleep brought on
by fever. Calloway, who usually played chess with me, was playing with
Shay instead. "Bishop takes a6," Calloway called out. He was a racist bigot,
but Calloway was also the best chess player I'd ever met.
During the day, Batman the Robin resided in his breast pocket, a small
lump no bigger than a pack of Starburst candies. Sometimes it crawled
onto his shoulder and pecked at the scars on his scalp. At other times, he
kept Batman in a paperback copy of The Stand that had been doctored as a
hiding place—starting on chapter six, a square had been cut out of the
pages of the thick book with a pilfered razor blade, creating a little hollow
that Calloway lined with tissues to make a bed. The robin ate mashed potatoes;
Calloway traded precious masking tape and twine and even a
homemade handcuff key for extra portions.
"Hey," Calloway said. "We haven't made a wager on this game."
Crash laughed. "Even Bourne ain't dumb enough to bet you when he's
"What have you got that I want?" Calloway mused.
"Intelligence?" I suggested. "Common sense?"
"Keep out of this, homo." Calloway thought for a moment. "The
brownie. I want the damn brownie."
By now, the brownie was two days old. I doubted that Calloway would
even be able to swallow it. What he'd enjoy, mostly, was the act of taking
it away from Shay.
"Okay," Shay said. "Knight to g6."
I sat up on my bunk. "Okay? Shay, he's beating the pants off you."
"How come you're too sick to play, DuFresne, but you don't mind sticking
your two cents into every conversation?" Calloway said. "This is between
me and Bourne."
"What if I win?" Shay asked. "What do I get?"
Calloway laughed. "It won't happen."
"I'm not giving you Batman—"
"Then I'm not giving you the brownie." There was a beat of silence.
"Fine," Calloway said. "You win, you get the bird. But you're not going
to win, because my bishop takes d3. Consider yourself officially screwed."
"Queen to h7," Shay replied. "Checkmate."
"What?" Calloway cried. I scrutinized the mental chessboard I'd been
tracking—Shay's queen had come out of nowhere, screened by his knight.
There was nowhere left for Calloway to go.
At that moment the door to I-tier opened, admitting a pair of officers
in flak jackets and helmets. They marched to Calloway's cell and brought
him onto the catwalk, securing his handcuffs to a metal railing along the
There was nothing worse than having your cell searched. In here, all
we had were our belongings, and having them pored over was a gross invasion
of privacy. Not to mention the fact that when it happened, you had an
excellent chance of losing your best stash, be that drugs or hooch or chocolate
or art supplies or the stinger rigged from paper clips to heat up your
They came in with flashlights and long-handled mirrors and worked
systematically. They'd check the seams of the walls, the vents, the plumbing.
They'd roll deodorant sticks all the way out to make sure nothing was
hidden underneath. They'd shake containers of powder to hear what might
be inside. They'd sniff shampoo bottles, open envelopes, and take out the
letters inside. They'd rip off your bedsheets and run their hands over the
mattresses, looking for tears or ripped seams.
Meanwhile, you were forced to watch.
I could not see what was going on in Calloway's cell, but I had a pretty
good idea based on his reactions. He rolled his eyes as his blanket was
checked for unraveled threads; his jaw tensed when a postage stamp was
peeled off an envelope, revealing the black tar heroin underneath. But
when his bookshelf was inspected, Calloway flinched. I looked for the small
bulge in his breast pocket that would have been the bird and realized that
Batman the Robin was somewhere inside that cell.
One of the officers held up the copy of The Stand. The pages were
riffled, the spine snapped, the book tossed against the cell wall. "What's
this?" an officer asked, focusing not on the bird that had been whipped
across the cell but on the baby-blue tissues that fluttered down over his
"Nothing," Calloway said, but the officer wasn't about to take his word
for it. He picked through the tissues, and when he didn't find anything, he
confiscated the book with its carved hidey-hole.
Whitaker said something about a write-up, but Calloway wasn't listening.
I could not remember ever seeing him quite so unraveled. As soon as
he was released back into his cell, he ran to the rear corner where the bird
had been flung.
The sound that Calloway Reece made was primordial; but then maybe
that was always the case when a grown man with no heart started to cry.
There was a crash, and a sickening crunch. A whirlwind of destruction
as Calloway fought back against what couldn't be fixed. Finally spent, Calloway
sank down to the floor of his cell, cradling the dead bird. "Motherfucker.
"Reece," Shay interrupted, "I want my prize."
My head snapped around. Surely Shay wasn't stupid enough to antagonize
"What?" Calloway breathed. "What did you say?"
"My prize. I won the chess game."
"Not now," I hissed.
"Yes, now," Shay said. "A deal's a deal."
In here, you were only as good as your word, and Calloway—with his
Aryan Brotherhood sensibilities—would have known that better than
anyone else. "You better make sure you're always behind those bars," Calloway
vowed, "because the next time I get the chance, I'm going to mess
you up so bad your own mama wouldn't know you." But even as he threatened
Shay, Calloway gently wrapped the dead bird in a tissue and attached
the small, slight bundle to the end of his fishing line.
When the robin reached me, I drew it under the three-inch gap beneath
the door of my cell. It still looked half cooked, its closed eye translucent
blue. One wing was bent at a severe backward angle; its neck lolled
Shay sent out his own line of string, with a weight made of a regulation
comb on one end. I saw his hands gently slide the robin, wrapped in
tissue, into his cell. The lights on the catwalk flickered.
I've often imagined what happened next. With an artist's eye, I like to
picture Shay sitting on his bunk, cupping his palms around the tiny bird. I
imagine the touch of someone who loves you so much, he cannot bear to
watch you sleep; and so you wake up with his hand on your heart. In the
long run, though, it hardly matters how Shay did it. What matters is the
result: that we all heard the piccolo trill of that robin; that Shay pushed
the risen bird beneath his cell door onto the catwalk, where it hopped, like
broken punctuation, toward Calloway's outstretched hand.
If you're a mother, you can look into the face of your grown child
and see, instead, the one that peeked up at you from the folds of a
baby blanket. You can watch your eleven-year-old daughter painting
her nails with glitter polish and remember how she used to
reach for you when she wanted to cross the street. You can hear
the doctor say that the real danger is adolescence, because you
don't know how the heart will respond to growth spurts—and
you can pretend that's ages away.
"Best two out of three," Claire said, and from the folds of her
hospital johnny she raised her fist again.
I lifted my hand, too. Rock, paper, scissors, shoot.
"Paper." Claire grinned. "I win."
"You totally do not," I said. "Hello? Scissors?"
"What I forgot to tell you is that it's raining, and the scissors
got rusty, and so you slip the paper underneath them and carry
I laughed. Claire shifted slightly, careful not to dislodge all the
tubes and the wires. "Who'll feed Dudley?" she asked.
Dudley was our dog—a thirteen-year-old springer spaniel
who, along with me, was one of the only pieces of continuity between
Claire and her late sister. Claire may never have met Elizabeth,
but they had both grown up draping faux pearls around
Dudley's neck, dressing him up like the sibling they never had.
"Don't worry about Dudley," I said. "I'll call Mrs. Morrissey if I
Claire nodded and glanced at the clock. "I thought they'd be
"I know, baby."
"What do you think's taking so long?"
There were a hundred answers to that, but the one that floated
to the top of my mind was that in some other hospital, two counties
away, another mother had to say good-bye to her child so that
I would have a chance to keep mine.
The technical name for Claire's illness was pediatric dilated
cardiomyopathy. It affected twelve million kids a year, and it
meant that her heart cavity was enlarged and stretched, that her
heart couldn't pump blood out efficiently. You couldn't fix it or reverse
it; if you were lucky you could live with it. If you weren't,
you died of congestive heart failure. In kids, 79 percent of the cases
came from an unknown origin. There was a camp that attributed
its onset to myocarditis and other viral infections during infancy;
and another that claimed it was inherited through a parent who
was a carrier of the defective gene. I had always assumed the latter
was the case with Claire. After all, surely a child who grew out of
grief would be born with a heavy heart.
At first, I didn't know she had it. She got tired more easily than
other infants, but I was still moving in slow motion myself and
did not notice. It wasn't until she was five, hospitalized with a flu
she could not shake, that she was diagnosed. Dr. Wu said that
Claire had a slight arrhythmia that might improve and might not;
he put her on Captopril, Lasix, Lanoxin. He said that we'd have to
wait and see.
On the first day of fifth grade, Claire told me it felt like she had