his civil liberties, and at the same time, bring front and center what's

wrong with the death penalty in this country The only way to do both is

to find a way for him to die the way he wants to. That's the difference between

you and me. You're trying to find a way for him to die the way you

want him to."

"You're the one who said Shay's heart might not be a viable match.

And even if it is, June Nealon will never agree to taking it," the priest


That was, of course, entirely possible. What Father Michael had conveniently

put out of his mind when he dreamed up a meeting between

June and Shay was that in order to forgive, you have to remember how

you were hurt in the first place. And that in order to forget, you had to

accept your role in what had happened.

"If we don't want Shay to lose hope," I said, "then we'd better not

lose it either."



Every day when I wasn't running the noon Mass, I went to visit Shay.

Sometimes we talked about television shows we'd seenwe were both

pretty upset with Meredith on Grey's Anatomy, and thought the girls on

The Bachelor were hot but dumb as bricks. Sometimes we talked about

carpentry, how a piece of wood would tell him what it needed to be,

how I could say the same of a parishioner in need. Sometimes we

talked about his casethe appeals he'd lost, the lawyers he'd had over

the years. And sometimes, he was less lucid. He'd run around his cell

like a caged animal; he'd rock back and forth; he'd swing from topic to

topic as if it was the only way to cross the jungle of his thoughts.

One day. Shay asked me what was being said about him outside.

"You know," I told him. "You watch the news."

"They think I can save them," Shay said.

"Well. Yeah."

"That's pretty fucking selfish, isn't it? Or is it selfish of me if I don't


"I can't answer that for you. Shay," I said.

He sighed. "I'm tired of waiting to die," he said. "Eleven years is a

long time."

I pressed my stool up close to the cell door; it was more private that

way. It had taken me a week, but I had managed to separate out the

way I felt about Shay's case from the way that he felt. I had been

stunned to learn that Shay believed he was innocentalthough Warden

Coyne told me that everyone in prison believed they were innocent, regardless

of the conviction. I wondered if his memory of the events, over

time, had blurredme, I could still remember that awful evidence as if

it had been presented to me yesterday. When I pushed a bitencouraged

him to tell me more about his wrongful conviction, suggested

that Maggie might be able to use the information in court, asked

him why he was willing to go along with an execution so passively if

he wasn't guiltyhe shut down. He'd say, over and over, that what had

happened then didn't matter now. I began to understand that proclaiming

his innocence had a lot less to do with the reality of his case and

more to do with the fragile connection between us. I was becoming his

confidantand he wanted me to think the best of him.

"What do you think is easier?" Shay asked. "Knowing you're going

to die on a certain date and time, or knowing it might happen any

moment when you least expect it?"

A thought swam through my mind like a minnow: Did you ask Elizabeth

that? "I'd rather not know," I said. "Live every day like it's your

last, and all that. But I think if you do know you're going to die, Christ

showed the way to do it with grace."

Shay smirked. "Just think. It took you a whole forty-two minutes to

bring up good ol' Jesus today."

"Sorry. Professional hazard," I said. "When He says, in Gethsemane,

'0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...' He's wrestling

with destiny... but ultimately. He accepts God's will."

"Sucks for him," Shay said.

"Well, sure. I bet His legs felt like Jell-0 when He was carrying the

Cross. He was human, after all. You can be brave, but that doesn't keep

your stomach from doing somersaults."

I finished speaking to find Shay staring at me. "Did you ever wonder

if you're dead wrong?"

"About what?"

"All of it. What Jesus said. What Jesus meant. I mean, he didn't

even write the Bible, did he? In fact, the people who did write the Bible

weren't even alive when Jesus was." I must have looked absolutely

stricken, because Shay hurried to continue. "Not that Jesus wasn't a

really cool guygreat teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda.

But... Son of God? Where's the proof?"

"That's what faith is," I said. "Believing without seeing."

"Okay," Shay argued. "But what about the folks who think Allah's

the one to put your money on? Or that the right path is the eightfold

one? I mean, how can a guy who walked on water even get baptized?"

"We know Jesus was baptized because"

"Because it's in the Bible?" Shay laughed. "Someone wrote the

Bible, and it wasn't God. Just like someone wrote the Quran, and the

Talmud. And he must have made decisions about what went in and

what didn't. It's like when you write a letter, and you put in all the stuff

you did during vacation but you leave out the part where your wallet

got stolen and you got food poisoning."

"Do you really need to know if Jesus got food poisoning?" I asked.

"You're missing the point. You can't take Matthew 26:39 or Luke

500:43 or whatever and read it as fact."

"See, Shay, that's where you're wrong. I can take Matthew 26:39

and know it's the word of God. Or Luke 500:43, if it went up that


By now, other inmates on the pod were eavesdropping. Some of

themlike Joey Kunz, who was Greek Orthodox, and Pogie, who was

Southern Baptistliked to listen when I visited Shay and read scripture;

a few of them had even asked if I'd stop by and pray with them

when I came in to see Shay. "Shut your piehole. Bourne," Pogie

yelled out. "You're going to hell as soon as they push that needle in

your arm."

"I'm not saying I'm right," Shay said, his voice escalating. "I'm just

saying that if you're right, it still doesn't mean I'm wrong."

"Shay," I said, "you have to stop shouting, or they're going to ask

me to leave."

He walked toward me, flattening his hands on the other side of the

steel mesh door. "What if it didn't matter if you were a Christian or a

Jew or a Buddhist or a Wiccan or a . . . a transcendentalist? What if all

those roads led to the same place?"

"Religion brings people together," I said.

"Yeah, right. You can track every polarizing issue in this country to

religion. Stem cell research, the war in Iraq, the right to die, gay marriage,

abortion, evolution, even the death penaltywhat's the fault

line? That Bible of yours." Shay shrugged. "You really think Jesus would

be happy with the way the world's turned out?"

I thought of suicide bombers, of the radicals who stormed into

Planned Parenthood clinics. I thought of the news footage of the Middle

East. "I think God would be horrified by some of the things that are

done in His name," I admitted. "I think there are places His message

has been distorted. Which is why I think it's even more important to

spread the one He meant to give."

Shay pushed away from the cell door. "You look at a guy like Calloway"

"Fuck you. Bourne," Reece called out. "I don't want to be part of

your speech. I don't even want your filthy-ass mouth speaking my


"an AB guy, who burned down a temple"

"You're dead. Bourne," Reece said. "D-E-A-D."

"or the CO who walks you to the shower and knows he can't look

you in the eye, because if his life had gone just a little different, he

might be the one wearing the cuffs. Or the politicians who think that

they can take someone they don't really want in society anymore and

lock him away"

At this, the other inmates began to cheer. Texas and Pogie picked

up their dinner trays and began to bang them against the steel doors of

their cells. On the intercom, an officer's voice rang through. "What's

going on in there?"

Shay was standing at the front of his house now, preaching to his

congregation, disconnected from linear thought and everything but his

moment of grandstanding. "And the ones who are really monsters, the

ones they don't ever want walking around near their wives and children

againthe ones like mewell, those they get to dispose of. Because

it's easier than admitting there isn't much difference between

them and me."

There were catcalls; there were cheers. Shay backed up as if he

were on a stage, bent at the waist, bowed. Then he came back for his


"The joke's on them. One little hypodermic won't be enough. Split a

piece of wood, and they'll find me. Lift up a stone, and they'll find me.

Look in the mirror, and they'll find me." Shay gazed squarely at me. "If

you really want to know what makes someone a killer," he said, "ask

vourself what would make you do it."

My hands tightened on the Bible I always brought when I came to

visit Shay. As it turned out. Shay wasn't railing about nothing. He

wasn't disconnected from reality.

That would have been me.

Because, as Shay was suggesting, we weren't as different as I

would have liked to think. We were both murderers.

The only distinction was that the death I'd caused had yet to




That week, when I showed up at the ChutZpah for lunch with my

mother, she was too busy to see me. "Maggie," she said when I was standing

at the threshold of her office door. "What are you doing here?"

It was the same day, the same time, we met for our habitual lunch

the same lunch I never wanted to go to. But today, I was actually looking

forward to zoning out while my cuticles were being cut and shaped. Ever

since Father Michael had barreled into my office talking about a meeting

between Shay and June Nealon, I'd been doubting myself and my intentions.

By trying to make it possible for Shay to donate his heart, was I

carrying out what was in his best interests, or my own? Sure, it would be

a media boon for the anti-death penalty movement if Shay's last act on

earth was as selfless as organ donation . . . but wasn't it morally wrong to

try to legally hasten a man's execution, even if it was what he'd asked for?

After three sleepless nights, all I wanted was to close my eyes, soak my

hands in warm water, and think of anything but Shay Bourne.

My mother was wearing a cream-colored skirt so tiny it might as well

have come from the American Girl doll store, and her hair was twisted up

in a chignon. "I have an investor coming in," she said. "Remember?"

What I remembered was her vague mention of adding another wing

to the ChutZpah. And that there was some very rich lady from Woodbury,

New York, who wanted to talk about financing it.

"You never told me it was going to be today," I said, and I sank down

in one of the chairs opposite her desk.

"You're crushing the pillows," my mother said. "And I did tell you. I

called you at work, and you were typing, like you always do when I call

even though you think I can't hear it in the background. And I told you I

had to postpone lunch till Thursday, and you yessed me and said you

were really busy, and did I have to call you at work?"

My face flushed. "I don't type while I'm on the phone with you."

Okay, I do. But it's my mother. And she calls for the most ridiculous

reasons: Is it okay if she makes Chanukah dinner on Saturday, December

16, never mind that it's currently March? Do I remember the name of the

librarian in my elementary school, because she thinks she ran into her at

the grocery store? In other words, my mother phones for reasons that are

completely trivial compared to writing up a brief to save the life of a man

who's going to be executed.

"You know, Maggie, I realize that nothing I do here could possibly be

as important as what you do, but it does hurt me to know that you don't

even listen when I talk *o vou." Her eyes were tearing up. "I can't believe

you came here to upset me before I have to sit down with Alicia


"I didn't come here to upset you! I came here because I always come

here the second Tuesday of every month! You can't blame me because of

a stupid phone conversation we probably had six months ago!"

"A stupid phone conversation," my mother said quietly. "Well, it's

good to know what you really think of our relationship, Maggie."

I held up my hands. "I can't win here," I said. "I hope your meeting

goes well." Then I stormed out of her office, past the white secretary's

desk with the white computer and the nearly albino receptionist, all the

way to my car in the parking lot, where I tried to tell myself that the

reason I was crying had nothing to do with the fact that even when I

wasn't trying, all I did was let people down.

I found my father in his officea rental space in a strip mall, since he

was a rabbi without a templewriting his sermon for Shabbat. As soon

as I walked in, he smiled, then lifted a finger to beg a moment's time to

finish whatever brilliant thought he was scribbling down. I wandered

around, trailing my fingers over the spines of books written in Hebrew

and Greek, Old Testaments and New Testaments, books on theurgy and

theology and philosophy. I palmed an old paperweight I'd made him in

nursery schoola rock painted to look like a crab, although now it

seemed to more closely resemble an amoeba, and then took down one of

my baby photos, tucked in an acrylic frame.

I had fat cheeks, even then.

My father closed his laptop. "To what do I owe this surprise?"

I set the photo back on the mahogany shelf. "Did you ever wonder if

the person in the picture is the same one you see when you look in the


He laughed. "That's the eternal question, isn't it? Are we born who we

are, or do we make ourselves that way?" He stood up and came around

his desk, kissed my cheek. "Did you come here to argue philosophy with

your old man?"

"No, I came here because . . . I don't know why I came here." That

was the truth; my car had sort of pointed itself in the direction of his

office, and even when I realized where it was headed I didn't correct my

course. Everyone else came to my father when they were troubled or

wanted counseling, why shouldn't I? I sank down onto the old leather

couch that he'd had for as long as I could remember. "Do you think God

forgives murderers?"

My father sat down next to me. "Isn't your client Catholic?"

"I was talking about me."

"Well, gosh, Mags. I hope you got rid of the weapon."

I sighed. "Daddy, I don't know what to do. Shay Bourne doesn't

want to become the poster child against capital punishment, he wants

to die. And yeah, I can tell myself a dozen times that we can both have

our cake and eat it, tooShay gets to die on his own terms; I get the

death penalty put under a microscope and maybe even repealed by

the Supreme Courtbut it doesn't cancel out the fact that at the end of

the day, Shay will be dead, and I'll be just as responsible as the state

that signed the warrant in the first place. Maybe I should be trying to

convince Shay to get his conviction overturned, to fight for his life, instead

of his death."

"I don't think he'd want that," my father said. "You're not murdering

him, Maggie. You're fulfilling his last wishesto help him make amends

for what he's done wrong."

"Repentance through organ donation?"

"More like teshuvah."

I stared at him.

"Oh, right," he smirked. "I forgot about the post-Hebrew School amnesia.

For Jews, repentance is about conductyou realize you've done

something wrong, you resolve to change it in the future. But teshuvah

means return. Inside each of us is some spark of Godthe real us. It's

there whether you're the most pious Jew or the most marginal. Sin, evil,

murderall those things have the ability to cover up our true selves.

Teshuvah means turning back to the part of God that's gotten concealed.

When you repent, usually, you feel sadbecause of the regret that led

you there. But when you talk about teshuvah, about making that connection

with God againwell, it makes you happy," my father said. "Happier

even than you were before, because your sins separated you from

God . . . and distance always makes the heart grow fonder, right?"

He walked toward the baby picture I'd put back on the shelf. "I know

Shay's not Jewish, but maybe that's what's at the root of this desire to die,

and to give up his heart. Teshuvah is all about reaching for something

divinesomething beyond the limitations of a body." He glanced at me.

"That's the answer to your question about the photo, by the way. You're a

different person on the outside than you were when this picture was

snapped, but not on the inside. Not at the core. And not only is that part

of you the same as it was when you were six months old . . . it's also the

same as me and your mother and Shay Bourne and everyone else in this

world. It's the part of us that's connected to God, and at that level, we're

all identical."

I shook my head. "Thanks, but that didn't really make me feel any

better. I want to save him, Daddy, and hehe doesn't want that at all."

"Restitution is one of the steps a person has to take for teshuvah," my

father said. "Shay has apparently taken a very literal interpretation of

thishe took a child's life; therefore he owes that mother the life of a


"Its not a perfect equation," I said. "He'd have to bring Elizabeth

Nealon back for that."

My father nodded. "That's something rabbis have talked about for

years since the Holocaustif the victim is dead, does the family really

have the power to forgive the killer? The victims are the ones with whom

he has to make amends. And those victimsthey're ashes."

I sat up, rubbing my temples. "It's really complicated."

"Then ask yourself what's the right thing to do."

"I can't even answer that much."

"Well," my father said, "then maybe you should ask Shay."

I blinked up at him. It was that simple. I hadn't seen my client since

that first meeting in the prison; the work I'd been doing to set up a restorative

justice meeting had been on the phone. Maybe what I really

needed was to find out why Shay Bourne was so sure he'd come to the

right decision, so that I could start explaining it to myself.

I leaned over and gave him a hug. "Thanks, Daddy."

"I didn't do anything."

"Still, you're a better conversationalist than Oliver."

"Don't tell the rabbit that," he said. "He'd scratch me twice as hard as

he already does."

I stood up, heading for the door. "I'll call you later. Oh, and by the

way," I said, "Mom's mad at me again."

I was sitting under the harsh fluorescent lights of the attorney-client conference

room when Shay Bourne was brought in to meet with me. He

backed up to the trap so that his handcuffs could be removed, and he sat


down across the table. His hands were small, I realized, maybe even

smaller than mine.

"Hows it going?" he asked.

"Fine. How's it going with you?"

"No, I meant my lawsuit. My heart."

"Well, we're waiting until after you speak to June Nealon tomorrow."

I hesitated. "Shay, I need to ask you a question, as your lawyer." I waited

until he looked me in the eye. "Do you really believe that the only way to

atone for what you've done is to die?"

"I just want to give her my heart"

"I get that. But in order to do that, you've basically agreed to your

own execution."

He smiled faintly. "And here I thought my vote didn't count."

"I think you know what I mean," I said. "Your case is going to shine a

beacon on the issue of capital punishment, Shaybut you'll be the sacrificial


His head snapped up. "Who do you think I am?"

I hesitated, not quite sure what he was asking.

"Do you believe what they all believe?" he asked. "Or what Lucius

believes? Do you think I can make miracles happen?"

"I don't believe anything I haven't seen," I said firmly.

"Most people just want to believe what someone else tells them,"

Shay said.

He was right. It was why, in my father's office, I'd had a breakdown:

because even as a confirmed atheist, I sometimes found it just too frightening

to think that there might not be a God who was watching out for

our greater good. It was why a country as enlightened as the United

States could still have a death penalty statute in place: it was just too

frightening to think about what justiceor lack of itwould prevail if

we didn't. There was comfort in facts, so much so that we stopped questioning

where those facts had come from.

Was I trying to figure out who Shay Bourne was for myself? Proba

bly. I didn't buy the fact that he was the Son of God, but if it was getting

him media attention, then I thought he was brilliant for

encouraging that line of thought. "If you can get June to forgive you at

this meeting, Shay, maybe you don't have to give up your heart. Maybe

you'll feel good about connecting with her again, and then we can get

her to talk to the governor on your behalf to commute your sentence to

life in prison"

"If you do that," Shay interrupted, "I will kill myself."

My jaw dropped. "Why?"

"Because," he said, "I have to get out of here."

At first I thought that he was talking about the prison, but then I saw

he was clutching his own arms, as if the penitentiary he was referring to

was his own body. And that, of course, made me think of my father and

teshuvah. Could I truly be helping him by letting him die on his own


"Let's take it one step at a time," I conceded. "If you can get June

Nealon to understand why you want to do this, then I'll work on making

a court understand it, too."

But Shay was suddenly lost in his thoughts, wherever they happened

to be taking him. "I'll see you tomorrow, Shay," I said, and I went to touch

his shoulder to let him know I was leaving. As soon as I stretched out my

arm, though, I found myself flat on the floor. Shay stood over me, just as

shocked by the blow he'd dealt me as I was.

An officer bolted into the room, driving Shay down to the floor with

a knee in the small of his back so that he could be handcuffed. "You all

right?" he called out to me.

"I'm fine . . . I just slipped," I lied. I could feel a welt rising on my left

cheekbone, one that I was sure the officer would see as well. I swallowed

the knot of fear in my throat. "Could you just give us a couple more


I did not tell the officer to remove Shay's handcuffs; I wasn't quite

that brave. But I struggled to my feet and waited until we were alone in

the room again. "I'm sorry," Shay blurted out. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it,

I sometimes, when you . . ."

"Shay," I ordered. "Sit down."

"I didn't mean to do it. I didn't see you coming. I thought you were

would" He broke off, choking on the words. "I'm sorry."

I was the one who'd made the mistake. A man who had been locked

up alone for a decade, whose only human contact was having his handcuffs

chained and removed, would be completely unprepared for a small

act of kindness. He would have instinctively seen it as a threat to his personal

space, which was how I'd wound up sprawled on the floor.

"It won't happen again," I said.

He shook his head fiercely. "No."

"See you tomorrow, Shay."

"Are you mad at me?"


"You are. I can tell."

"I'm not," I said.

"Then will you do something for me?"

I had been warned about this by other attorneys who worked with

inmates: they will bleed you dry. Beg you for stamps, for money, for food.

For phone calls, made by you to their family, on their behalf. They are

the ultimate con artists; no matter how much sympathy you feel for

them, you have to remind yourself that they will take whatever they can

get, because they have nothing.

"Next time, will you tell me what it feels like to walk barefoot on

grass?" he asked. "I used to know, but I can't remember anymore." He

shook his head. "I just want to . . . I want to know what that's like


I folded my notebook beneath my arm. "I'll see you tomorrow, Shay,"

I repeated, and I motioned to the officer who would set me free.



Shay Bourne was pacing in his cell. Every fifth rum, he pivoted and

started circling the other way. "Shay," I said, to calm myself down as

much as him, "it's going to be all right."

We were awaiting his transportation down to the room where our

restorative justice meeting with June Nealon would take place, and we

were both nervous.

"Talk to me," Shay said.

"All right," I said. "What do you want to talk about?"

"What I'm going to say. What she's going to say... the words

won't come out right, I just know it." He looked up at me. "I'm going to

fuck this up."

"Just say what you need to. Shay. Words are hard for everyone."

"Well, it's worse when you know the person you're talking to

thinks you're full of shit."

"Jesus managed to do it," I pointed out, "and it wasn't like He was

attending the Tuesday Toastmasters meeting in Nineveh." I opened my

Bible to the book of Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he

has anointed me to preach good news ..."


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