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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 5 ñòðàíèöà
swallowed a hummingbird. I assumed it was nerves about starting
classes, but hours later—when she stood up to solve a math
problem at the chalkboard—she passed out cold. Progressive arrhythmias
made the heart beat like a bag of worms—it wouldn't
eject any blood. Those basketball players who seemed so healthy
and then dropped dead on the court? That was ventricular fibrillation,
and it was happening to Claire. She had surgery to implant
an AICD—an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, or,
in simpler terms, a tiny, internal ER resting right on her heart,
which would fix future arrhythmias by administering an electric
shock. She was put on the list for a transplant.
The transplant game was a tricky one—once you received a
heart, the clock started ticking, and it wasn't the happy ending everyone
thought it was. You didn't want to wait so long for a transplant
that the rest of the bodily systems began to shut down. But
even a transplant wasn't a miracle: most recipients could only tolerate
a heart for ten or fifteen years before complications ensued,
or there was outright rejection. Still, as Dr. Wu said, fifteen years
from now, we might be able to buy a heart off a shelf and have it
installed at Best B u y . . . the idea was to keep Claire alive long
enough to let medical innovation catch up to her.
This morning, the beeper we carried at all times had gone off.
We have a heart, Dr. Wu had said when I called. I'll meet you at the
For the past six hours, Claire had been poked, pricked,
scrubbed, and prepped so that the minute the miracle organ arrived
in its little Igloo cooler, she could go straight into surgery.
This was the moment I'd waited for, and dreaded, her whole life.
What if... I could not even let myself say the words.
Instead, I reached for Claire's hand and threaded our fingers
together. Paper and scissors, I thought. We are between a rock and a
hard place. I looked at the fan of her angel hair on the pillow, the
faint blue cast of her skin, the fairy-light bones of a girl whose
body was still too much for her to handle. Sometimes, when I
looked at her, I didn't see her at all; instead, I pretended that she
"What do you think she's like?"
I blinked, startled. "Who?"
"The girl. The one who died."
"Claire," I said. "Let's not talk about this."
"Why not? Don't you think we should know all about her if
she's going to be a part of me?"
I touched my hand to her head. "We don't even know it's a
"Of course it's a girl," Claire said. "It would be totally gross to
have a boy's heart."
"I don't think that's a qualification for a match."
She shuddered. "It should be." Claire struggled to push herself
upright so that she was sitting higher in the hospital bed. "Do you
think I'll be different?"
I leaned down and kissed her. "You," I pronounced, "will
wake up and still be the same kid who cannot be bothered to clean
her room or walk Dudley or turn out the lights when she goes
That's what I said to Claire, anyway. But all I heard were the
first four words: You will wake up.
A nurse came into the room. "We just got word that the harvest's
begun," she said. "We should have more information
shortly; Dr. Wu's on the phone with the team that's on-site."
After she left, Claire and I sat in silence. Suddenly, this was
real—the surgeons were going to open up Claire's chest, stop her
heart, and sew in a new one. We had both heard numerous doctors
explain the risks and the rewards; we knew how infrequently
pediatric donors came about. Claire shrank down in the bed, her
covers sliding up to her nose. "If I die," Claire said, "do you think
I'll get to be a saint?"
"You won't die."
"Yeah, I will. And so will you. I just might do it a little sooner."
I couldn't help it; I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I wiped
them on the edge of the hospital sheets. Claire fisted her hand in
my hair, the way she used to when she was little. "I bet I'd like it,"
Claire said. "Being a saint."
Claire had her nose in a book constantly, and recently, her Joan
of Arc fascination had bloomed into all things martyred.
"You aren't going to be a saint."
"You don't know that for sure," Claire said.
"You're not Catholic, for one thing. And besides, they all died
"That's not always true. You can be killed while you're being
good, and that counts. St. Maria Goretti was my age when she
fought off a guy who was raping her and was killed and she got to
"That's atrocious," I said.
"St. Barbara had her eyeballs cut out. And did you know
there's a patron saint of heart patients? John of God?"
"The question is, why do you know there's a patron saint of
"Duh," Claire said. "I read about it. It's all you let me do." She
settled back against the pillows. "I bet a saint can play softball."
"So can a girl with a heart transplant."
But Claire wasn't listening; she knew that hope was just smoke
and mirrors; she'd learned by watching me. She looked up at the
clock. "I think I'll be a saint," she said, as if it were entirely up to
her. "That way no one forgets you when you're gone."
The funeral of a police officer is a breathtaking thing. Officers
and firemen and public officials will come from every town in
the state and some even farther away. There is a procession of
police cruisers that precedes the hearse; they blanket the highway
It took me a long time to remember Kurt's funeral, because I
was working so hard at the time to pretend it wasn't happening.
The police chief, Irv, rode with me to the graveside service. There
were townspeople lining the streets of Lynley, with handmade
signs that read PROTECT AND SERVE, and THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE.
It was summertime, and the asphalt sank beneath the heels of my
shoes where I stood. I was surrounded by other policemen who'd
worked with Kurt, and hundreds who didn't, a sea of dress blue.
My back hurt, and my feet were swollen. I found myself concentrating
on a lilac tree that shuddered in the breeze, petals falling
The police chief had arranged for a twenty-one-gun salute,
and as it finished, five fighter jets rose over the distant violet
mountains. They sliced the sky in parallel lines, and then, just as
they flew overhead, the plane on the far right broke off like a splinter,
When the priest stopped speaking—I didn't listen to a word of
it; what could he tell me about Kurt that I didn't already know?—
Robbie and Vic stepped forward. They were Kurt's closest friends
in the department. Like the rest of the Lynley force, they had covered
their badges with black fabric. They reached for the flag that
draped Kurt's coffin and began to fold it. Their gloved hands
moved so fast—I thought of Mickey Mouse, of Donald Duck, with
their oversized white fists. Robbie was the one who put the triangle
into my arms, something to hold on to, something to take
Through the radios of the other policemen came the voice of
the dispatcher: All units stand by for a broadcast.
Final call for Officer Kurt Nealon, number 144.
144, report to 360 West Main for one last assignment.
It was the address of the cemetery.
You will be in the best of hands. You will be deeply missed.
244, 20-7. The radio code for end of shift.
I have been told that afterward, I walked up to Kurt's coffin. It
was so highly polished I could see my own reflection, pinched and
unfamiliar. It had been specially made, wider than normal, to accommodate
She was, at seven, still afraid of the dark. Kurt would lie down
beside her, an elephant perched among pink pillows and satin
blankets, until she fell asleep; then he'd creep out of the room and
turn off the light. Sometimes, she woke up at midnight shrieking.
You turned it off, she'd sob into my shoulder, as if I had broken her
The funeral director had let me see them. Kurt's arms were
wrapped tight around my daughter; Elizabeth rested her head on
his chest. They looked the way they looked on nights when Kurt
fell asleep waiting for Elizabeth to do that very thing. They looked
the way I wished I could: smooth and clear and peaceful, a pond
with a stone unthrown. It was supposed to be comforting that they
would be together. It was supposed to make up for the fact that I
couldn't go with them.
"Take care of her," I whispered to Kurt, my breath blowing a
kiss against the gleaming wood. "Take care of my baby."
As if I'd summoned her, Claire moved inside me then: a slow
tumble of butterfly limbs, a memory of why I had to stay behind.
There was a time when I prayed to saints. What I liked about
them were their humble beginnings: they were human, once,
and so you knew that they just got it in a way Jesus never
would. They understood what it meant to have your hopes
dashed or your promises broken or your feelings hurt. St.
Therese was my favorite—the one who believed you could be
perfectly ordinary, but that great love could somehow transport
you. However, this was all a long time ago. Life has a way of
pointing out, with great sweeping signs, that you are looking at
the wrong things, doesn't it? It was when I started to admit to
myself that I'd rather be dead that I was given a child who had
to fight to stay alive.
In the past month, Claire's arrhythmias had worsened. Her
AICD was going off six times a day. I'd been told that when it
fired, it felt like an electric current running through the body. It restarted
your heart, but it hurt like hell. Once a month would be
devastating; once a day would be debilitating. And then there was
There were support groups for adults who had to live with
AICDs; there were stories of those who preferred the risk of dying
from an arrhythmia to the sure knowledge that they would be
shocked by the device sooner or later. Last week, I had found
Claire in her room reading the Guinness Book of World Records.
"Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times over thirty-six
years," she'd said. "Finally, he killed himself." She lifted her shirt,
staring down at the scar on her chest. "Mom," she begged, "please
make them turn it off."
I did not know how long I would be able to convince Claire to
stay with me, if this was the way she had to do it.
Claire and I both turned immediately when the hospital door
opened. We were expecting the nurse, but it was Dr. Wu. He sat
down on the edge of the bed and spoke directly to Claire, as if she
were my age instead of eleven. "The heart we had in mind for you
had something wrong with it. The team didn't know until they got
inside . . . but the right ventricle is dilated. If it isn't functioning
now, chances are it will only get worse by the time the heart's
"So . . . I can't have it?" Claire asked.
"No. When I give you a new heart, I want it to be the healthiest
heart possible," the doctor explained.
My body felt stiff. "I don't—I don't understand."
Dr. Wu turned. "I'm sorry, June. Today's not going to be the
"But it could take years to find another donor," I said. I didn't
add the rest of my sentence, because I knew Wu could hear it
anyway: Claire can't last that long.
"We'll just hope for the best," he said.
After he left, we sat in stunned silence for a few moments. Had
I done this? Had the fear I'd tried to quash—the one that Claire
wouldn't survive this operation—somehow bled into reality?
Claire began to pull the cardiac monitors off her chest. "Well,"
she said, but I could hear the hitch in her voice as she struggled
not to cry. "What a total waste of a Saturday."
"You know," I said, forcing the words to unroll evenly, "you
were named for a saint."
I nodded. "She founded a group of nuns called the Poor
She glanced at me. "Why did you pick her?"
Because, on the day you were born, the nurse who handed you to me
shook her head and said, "Now there's a sight for sore eyes." And you
were. And she is the patron saint of that very thing. And I wanted you
protected, from the very first moment I spoke your name.
"I liked the way it sounded," I lied, and I held up Claire's shirt
so that she could shimmy into it.
We would leave this hospital, maybe go get chocolate Fribbles
at Friendly's and rent a movie with a happy ending. We'd take
Dudley for a walk and feed him. We'd act like this was an ordinary
day. And after she went to sleep, I would bury my face in my
pillow and let myself feel everything I wasn't letting myself feel
right now: shame over knowing that I've had five more years in
Claire's company than I did with Elizabeth, guilt over being reC
lieved this transplant did not happen, since it might just as easily
kill Claire as save her.
Claire stuffed her feet into her pink Converse high-tops.
"Maybe I'll join the Poor Clares."
"You still can't be a saint," I said. And added silently, Because I
will not let you die.
Shortly after Shay brought Batman the Robin back to life, Crash Vitale lit
himself on fire.
He'd created a makeshift match the way we all do—by pulling the fluorescent
bulb out of its cradle and holding the metal tines just far enough away
from the socket to have the electricity arc to meet it. Stick a piece of paper in
the gap, and it becomes a torch. Crash had crumpled up pages of a magazine
and set them around himself in a circle. By the time Texas started screaming
for help, smoke was filling the pod. The COs held the fire hose at full spray as
they opened his cell door; we could hear Crash being knocked against the far
wall by the stream. Dripping wet, he was strapped onto a gurney to be transported,
his hair a matted mess, his eyes wild. "Hey, Green Mile," he yelled as he
was wheeled off the tier, "how come you didn't save me?"
"Because I like the bird," Shay murmured.
I was the first one to laugh, then Texas snickered. Joey, too-but only
because Crash wasn't present to shut him up.
"Bourne," Calloway said, the first words any of us had heard from him
since the bird had hopped back to his cell. "Thanks."
There was a beat of silence. "It deserved another chance," Shay said.
The pod door buzzed open, and this time CO Smythe walked in with
the nurse, doing her evening rounds. Alma came to my cell first, holding
out my card of pills. "Smells like someone had a barbecue in here and
forgot to invite me," she said. She waited for me to put the pills in my
mouth, take a swallow of water. "You sleep well, Lucius."
As she left, I walked to the front of the cell. Rivulets of water ran down
the cement catwalk. But instead of leaving the tier, Alma stopped in front
of Calloway's cell. "Inmate Reece, are you going to let me take a look at
Calloway hunched over, protecting the bird he held in his hand. We all
knew he was holding Batman; we all held our collective breath. What if
Alma saw the bird? Would she rat him out?
I should have known Calloway would never let that happen—he'd be offensive
enough to scare her off before she got too close. But before he could
speak, we heard a fluted chirp—not from Calloway's cell but from Shay's.
There was an answering call-the robin looking for its own kind. "What the
hell's that?" CO Smythe asked, looking around. "Where's it coming from?"
Suddenly, a twitter rose from Joey's cell, and then a higher cheep from
Pogie's. To my surprise, I even heard a tweet come from the vicinity of my
own bunk. I wheeled around, tracing it to the louvers of the vent. Was
there a whole colony of robins in here? Or was it Shay, a ventriloquist in
addition to a magician, this time throwing his voice?
Smythe moved down the tier, hands covering his ears as he peered at the
skylight and into the shower cell to find the source of the noise. "Smythe?"
an officer said over the control booth intercom. "What the hell's going on?"
A place like this wears down everything, and tolerance is no exception.
In here, coexistence passes for forgiveness. You do not learn to like something
you abhor; you come to live with it. It's why we submit when we are
told to strip; it's why we deign to play chess with a child molester; it's why
we quit crying ourselves to sleep. You live and let live, and eventually that
Which maybe explains why Calloway's muscled arm snaked through
the open trap of his door, his "Anita Bryant" patch shadowing his biceps.
Alma blinked, surprised.
"I won't hurt you," she murmured, peering at the new skin growing
where it had been grafted, still pink and evolving. She took a pair of latex
gloves out of her pocket and snapped them on, making her hands just as
lily-white as Calloway's. And wouldn't you know it—the moment Alma
touched him, all of that crazy noise fell dead silent.
M I CHAEL
A priest has to say Mass every day, even if no one shows up, although
this was rarely the case. In a city as large as Concord there were usually
at least a handful of parishioners, already praying the rosary by the
time I came out in my vestments.
I was just at the part of the Mass where miracles occurred. "For this
is my body, which will be given up for you," I said aloud, then genuflected
and lifted the host.
Next to "How the heck is one God also a Holy Trinity?" the most
common question I got asked as a priest by non-Catholics was about
transubstantiation: the belief that at consecration, the elements of
bread and wine truly became the Body and Blood of Christ. I could see
why people were baffled—if this was true, wasn't Holy Communion
cannibalistic? And if a change really occurred, why couldn't you see it?
When I went to church as a kid, long before I came back to it, I received
Holy Communion like everyone else, but I didn't really give
much thought to what I received. It looked, to me, like a cracker and a
cup of wine . . . before and after the priest consecrated it. I can tell you
now that it still looks like a cracker and a cup of wine. The miracle part
comes down to philosophy. It isn't the accidents of an object that make
it what it is . . . it's the essential parts. We'd still be human even if we
didn't have limbs or teeth or hair; but if we suddenly stopped being
mammals, that wouldn't be the case. When I consecrated the host and
the wine at Mass, the very substance of the elements changed; it was
the other properties—the shape, the taste, the size—that remained the
same. Just like John the Baptist saw a man and knew, right away, that
he was looking at God; just like the wise men came upon a baby and
knew He was our Savior . . . every day I held what looked like crackers
and wine but actually was Jesus.
For this very reason, from this point on in the Mass, my fingers and
thumb would be kept pinched together until washed after the Sacrament
of the Eucharist. Not even the tiniest particle of the consecrated
host could be lost; we went to great pains to make sure of this when
disposing of the leftovers from Holy Communion. But just as I was
thinking this, the wafer slipped out of my hand.
I felt the way I had when, in third grade, during the Little League
play-offs, I'd watched a pop fly come into my corner of left field too fast
and too high—knotted with the need to catch it, sick with the knowledge
that I wouldn't. Frozen, I watched the host tumble, safely, into the
belly of the chalice of wine.
"Five-second rule," I murmured, and I reached into the chalice and
The wine had already begun to soak into the wafer. I watched,
amazed, as a jaw took shape, an ear, an eyebrow.
Father Walter had visions. He said that the reason he became a
priest in the first place was because, as an altar boy, a statue of Jesus
had reached for his robe and tugged, telling him to stay the course.
More recently, Mary had appeared to him in the rectory kitchen when
he was frying trout, and suddenly they began leaping in the pan. Don't
let a single one fall to the floor, she'd warned, and then disappeared.
There were hundreds of priests who excelled at their calling but
never received this sort of divine intercession—and yet, I didn't want to
fall among their ranks. Like the teens I worked with, I understood the
need for miracles—they kept reality from paralyzing you. So I stared at
the wafer, hoping the wine-sketched features would solidify into a portrait
of Jesus . . . and instead I found myself looking at something else
entirely. The shaggy dark hair that looked more like a grunge-band
drummer than a priest, the nose broken while wrestling in junior high.
the razor stubble. Engraved onto the surface of the host, with a printmaker's
delicacy, was a picture of me.
What is my head doing on the body of Christ? I thought as I placed
the host on the paten, plum-stained and dissolving already. I lifted the
chalice. "This is my blood," I said.
When Shay Bourne was working at our house as a carpenter, he
gave Elizabeth a birthday present. Made of scrap wood and
crafted after hours wherever he went when he left our house, it
was a small, hinged chest. He had carved it intricately, so that each
face portrayed a different fairy, dressed in the trappings of the seasons.
Summer had bright peony wings, and a crown made of the
sun. Spring was covered in climbing vines, and a bridal train of
flowers swept beneath her. Autumn wore the jewel tones of sugar
maples and aspen trees, the cap of an acorn balanced on her head.
And Winter skated across a frozen lake, leaving a trail of silver
frost in her wake. The cover was a painted picture of the moon,
rising through a field of stars with its arms outstretched toward a
sun that was just out of reach.
Elizabeth loved that box. The night that Shay gave it to her, she
lined it with blankets and slept inside. When Kurt and I told her
she couldn't do that again—what if the top fell on her while she
was sleeping?—she turned it into a cradle for her dolls, then a toy
chest. She named the fairies. Sometimes I heard her talking to
After Elizabeth died, I took the box out to the yard, planning
to destroy it. There I was, eight months pregnant and grieving,
swinging Kurt's axe, and at the last minute, I could not do it. It
was what Elizabeth had treasured; how could I stand to lose that,
too? I put the box in the attic, where it remained for years.
knew it was there, buried behind our luggage and old toddler
clothes and paintings with broken frames. When Claire was about
ten, I found her trying to lug the box downstairs. "It's so pretty,"
she said, winded with the effort. "And no one's using it." I
snapped at her and told her to go lie down and rest.
But Claire kept asking about it, and eventually I brought the
box to her room, where it sat at the end of her bed, just like it had
for Elizabeth. I never told her who'd carved it. And yet sometimes,
when Claire was at school, I found myself peeking inside. I wondered
if Pandora, too, wished she had scrutinized the contents
first—heartache, cleverly disguised as a gift.
It had been said, among those on I-tier, that I had achieved Bassmaster
status when it came to fishing. My equipment was a sturdy line made from
yarn I'd stored up over the years, tempered by weight—a comb, or a deck of
cards, depending on what I was angling for. I was known for my ability to
fish from my cell into Crash's, at the far end of the tier; and then down to
the shower cell at the other end. I suppose this was why, when Shay cast
out his own line, I found myself watching out of curiosity.
It was after One Life to Live but before Oprah, the time of day when
most of the guys napped. I myself was not feeling so well. The sores in my
mouth made it difficult to speak; I had to keep using the toilet. The skin
around my eyes, stained by Kaposi's sarcoma, had swollen to the point
where I could barely see. Then suddenly, Shay's fishing line whizzed into
the narrow space beneath my cell door. "Want some?" he asked.
When we fish, it's to get something. We trade magazines; we barter
food; we pay for drugs. But Shay didn't want anything, except to give.
Wired to the end of his line was a piece of Bazooka bubble gum.
It's contraband. Gum can be used as putty to build all sorts of things,
and to tamper with locks. God only knew where Shay had come across this
bounty—and, even more astounding, why he wouldn't just hoard it.
I swallowed, and my throat nearly split along a fault line. "No thanks,"
I sat up on my bunk and peeled the sheet off the plastic mattress. One
of the seams had been carefully doctored by me. The thread, laced like a
football, could be loosened enough for me to rummage around inside the
foam padding. I jammed my forefinger inside, scooping out my stash.
There were the 3TC pills—Epivir—and the Sustiva. Retrovir. Lomotil for
my diarrhea. All the medications that, for weeks, Alma had watched me
place on my tongue and apparently swallow—when in fact they were
tucked up high in the purse of my cheek.
I had not yet made up my mind whether I would use these to kill
myself . . . or if I'd just continue to save them instead of ingest them: a
slower but still sure suicide.
It's funny how when you are dying, you still fight for the upper hand.
You want to pick the terms; you want to choose the date. You'll tell yourself
anything you have to, to pretend that you're still the one in control.
"Joey," Shay said. "Want some?" He cast again, his line arcing over the
"For real?" Joey asked. Most of us just pretended Joey wasn't around; it
was safer for him. No one went out of their way to acknowledge him,