:



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 5




swallowed a hummingbird. I assumed it was nerves about starting

classes, but hours laterwhen she stood up to solve a math

problem at the chalkboardshe passed out cold. Progressive arrhythmias

made the heart beat like a bag of wormsit 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 AICDan 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 oneonce 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

hospital.

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

was

"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

girl."

"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

downstairs."

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

realthe 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

horrible deaths."

"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

be one."

"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

heart patients?"

"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

like snow.

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

like rain.

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,

soaring east.

When the priest stopped speakingI 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 fastI 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

Kurt's place.

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

Elizabeth, too.

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

heart.

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 favoritethe 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

Claire's frequency.

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

transplanted."

"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'tI don't understand."

Dr. Wu turned. "I'm sorry, June. Today's not going to be the

day."

"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 quashthe one that Claire

wouldn't survive this operationsomehow 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."

"For real?"

I nodded. "She founded a group of nuns called the Poor

Clares."

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.

Lucius

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 doby 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

that arm?"

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 happenhe'd be offensive

enough to scare her off before she got too close. But before he could

speak, we heard a fluted chirpnot 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

becomes enough.

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 itthe 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 baffledif 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 propertiesthe shape, the taste, the sizethat 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 highknotted 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

snagged it.

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 intercessionand yet, I didn't want to

fall among their ranks. Like the teens I worked with, I understood the

need for miraclesthey 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.

 

June

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 againwhat 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

them.

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

firstheartache, cleverly disguised as a gift.

 

Lucius

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 weighta 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

bountyand, even more astounding, why he wouldn't just hoard it.

I swallowed, and my throat nearly split along a fault line. "No thanks,"

I rasped.

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 pillsEpivirand the Sustiva. Retrovir. Lomotil for

my diarrhea. All the medications that, for weeks, Alma had watched me

place on my tongue and apparently swallowwhen 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

catwalk.

"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,


: 2015-09-13; : 6;





lektsii.com - . - 2014-2023 . (0.011 .)