"Could we just this once nor have a Bible study moment?" Shay


"It's an example," I said. "Jesus said that when He came back to

the synagogue where He'd grown up. Let me tell you, that congregation

had a lot of questionsafter all, they'd grown up with Him, and

knew Him before He started the miracle trainso before they could

doubt Him, what did He do? He gave them the words they'd been

waiting to hear. He gave them hope." I looked at Shay. "That's what

you need to do, with June."

The door to I-tier opened, and six officers in flak jackets and full

face shields entered. "Don't talk until the mediator asks you to. And

make sure you tell her why this is so important to you," I urged, lastminute


Just then the first officer reached the cell door. "Father," he said,

"we're going to have to ask you to meet us down there."

I watched them move Shay down the tier. Speak from your heart, I

thought, watching him go. So that she knows ifs worth taking.

I had already been told what they would do with him. He'd be handcuffed

and cuffed at the ankles. Both of these would be linked to a belly

chain, so that he'd shuffle along inside the human box of officers. He

would be taken to the cafeteria, which was now set up for offender

counseling. Basically, the warden had explained, when they needed to

have group sessions with violent offenders, they bolted several individual

metal boxes to the floorand prisoners were put into these miniature

cells along with a counselor, who would sit on a chair in the

cafeteria with them. "It's group therapy," Warden Coyne had proudly

explained, "but they're still incarcerated."

Maggie had lobbied for a face-to-face visit. Failing that, she wanted

to know if we could meet on opposite sides of a glass visiting booth.

But there were too many of us, when you added in the moderator and

June, or so the administration said (never mind I'd seen families of ten

cram into one of those little noncontact booths for a visit with an

inmate). Although Ilike Maggiethought that we were starting at a

grave disadvantage if one of the participants was restrained and bolted

to the floor like Hannibal Lecter, this was the best we were going to


The mediator was a woman named Abigail Herrick, who'd come

from the attorney general's victim's assistance office and had been

trained to do this kind of thing. She and June were talking quietly on

one side of the anteroom. I walked up to June as soon as I entered.

"Thank you. This means a lot to Shay."

"Which is the last reason I'd ever do it," June said, and she turned

back to Abigail.

I slunk across the room to the seat beside Maggie. She was painting

a run in her stocking with pink nail polish. "We are in serious trouble,"

I said.

"Yeah? How's he doing?"

"He's panicked." I squinted in the dim light as she lifted her head.

"How'd you get that shiner?"

"In my spare time I'm the welterweight champion of New Hampshire."

There was a buzzing, and Warden Coyne walked in. "Everything's


He led us into the cafeteria by way of the metal detector. Maggie

and I had already emptied our pockets and taken off our jackets before

June and Abigail even realized what was going on; this is the difference

between someone who has intimate experience with a detention

facility and those who lead normal lives. An officer, still dressed in full

riot gear, opened a door for June, who continued to stare at him in

horror as she walked inside.

Shay was sitting in what looked like a telephone booth permanently

sealed shut with nuts and bolts and metal. Bars vivisected his

face; his eyes searched for mine as soon as I walked into the room.

When he saw us, he stood up.

At that moment, June froze.

Abigail took her arm and led her to one of the four chairs that were

arranged in a semicircle in front of the booth. Maggie and I filled in the

remaining seats. Two officers stood behind us; in the distance I could

hear the sizzle of something cooking on a grill.

"Well. Let's get started," Abigail said, and she introduced herself.

"Shay, I'm Abigail Herrick. I'm going to be the mediator today. Do you

understand what that means?"

He hesitated. He looked like he was going to faint.

"Victim-offender mediation is a process that gives a victim the

chance to meet her offender in a safe and structured setting," Abigail

explained. "The victim will be able to tell the offender about the crime's

physical, emotional, and financial impact. The victim also has the

chance to receive answers to any lingering questions about the crime,

and to be directly involved in trying to develop a plan for the offender

to pay back a debt if possibleemotional or monetary. In return, the offender

gets the opportunity to take responsibility for his behavior and

actions. Everyone with me so far?"

I started to wonder why this wasn't used for every crime committed.

Granted, it was labor-intensive for both the AG's office and the

prison, but wasn't it better to come face-to-face with the opposing

party, instead of having the legal system be the intermediary?

"Now, the process is strictly voluntary. That means if June wants to

leave at any time, she should feel free to do so. But," Abigail added, "I

also want to point out that this meeting was initiated by Shay, which is

a very good first step."

She glanced at me, at Maggie, and then at June, and finally Shay.

"Right now. Shay," Abigail said, "you need to listen to June."



They say you get over your grief, but you don't really, not ever. It's

been eleven years, and it hurts just as much as it did that first day.

Seeing his facesliced into segments by those metal bars, like

he was some kind of Picasso portrait that couldn't be put together

againbrought it all back. That face, his fucking face, was the last

one Kurt and Elizabeth saw.

When it first happened, I used to make bargains with myself.

I'd say that I could handle their deaths, as long asand here I'd

fill in the blank. As long as they had been quick and painless. As

long as Elizabeth had died in Kurt's arms. I'd be driving, and I'd

tell myself that if the light turned green before I reached the intersection,

surely these details were true. I did not admit that sometimes

I slowed down to stack the odds.

The only reason I was able to drag myself out of bed at all

those first few months was because there was someone more

needy than I was. As a newborn, Claire didn't have a choice. She

had to be fed and diapered and held. She kept me so grounded in

the present that I had to let go of my hold on the past. I credit her

with saving my life. Maybe that's why I am so determined to reciprocate.

But even having Claire to care for was not foolproof. The

smallest things would send me into a downward spiral: while

pressing seven birthday candles into her cake, I'd think of Elizabeth,

who would have been fourteen. I'd open a box in the garage

and breathe in the scent of the miniature cigars Kurt liked to

smoke every now and then. I'd open up a pot of Vaseline and see

Elizabeth's tiny fingerprint, preserved on the surface. I would pull

a book off a shelf and a shopping list would flutter out of it, in

Kurt's handwriting: thumbtacks, milk, rock salt.

What I would like to tell Shay Bourne about the impact this

crime had on my family is that it erased my family, period. What I

would like to do is bring him back to the moment Claire, four,

perched on the stairs to stare at a picture of Elizabeth and asked

where the girl who looked like her lived. I would like him to know

what it feels like to have to run your hand up the terrain of your

own body, and underneath your nightshirt, only to realize that

you cannot surprise yourself with your own touch.

I would like to show him the spot in the room he built, Claire's

old nursery, where there is a bloodstain on the floorboards that I

cannot scrub clean. I'd like to tell him that even though I carpeted

the room years ago and turned it into a guest bedroom, I still do

not walk across it, but instead tiptoe around the perimeter when I

have to go inside.

I would like to show him the bills that came from the hospital

every time Claire was sent there, which quickly consumed the

money we received from the insurance company after Kurt died.

I'd like him to come with me to the bank, the day I broke down in

front of the teller and told her that I wanted to liquidate the college

fund of Elizabeth Nealon.

I would like to feel that moment when Elizabeth was sitting in

my lap and I was reading to her, and she went boneless and soft,

asleep in my arms. I would like to hear Kurt call me Red again, for

my hair, and tangle his fingers in it as we watch television in the

bedroom at night. I would like to pick up the dirty socks that Elizabeth

strewed about the house, a tiny tornado, the same reason I

once yelled at her. I would love to fight with Kurt over the size of

If they had to die, I would have loved to have known in advance,

so that I could take each second spent with them and know

to hold on to it, instead of assuming there would be a million

more. If they had to die, I would have loved to have been there, to

be the last face they saw, instead of his.

I would like to tell Shay Bourne to go to hell, because wherever

he winds up after he dies, it had better not be anywhere close

to my daughter and my husband.



"Why?" June Nealon asked. Her voice was striped with rust and sorrow,

and in her lap, her hands twisted. "Why did you do it?" She lifted her

gaze, staring at Shay. "I let you into my home. I gave you a job. I trusted

you. And you, you took everything I had."

Shay's mouth was working silently. He moved from side to side in

his little booth, hitting his forehead sometimes. His eyes fluttered, as if

he was trying hard to organize what he had to say. "I can fix it," he said


"You can't fix anything," she said tightly.

"Your other little girl-"

June stiffened. "Don't you talk about her. Don't you even breathe

her name. Just tell me. I've waited eleven years to hear it. Tell me why

you did this."

He squeezed his eyes shut; sweat had broken out on his brow. He

was whispering, a litany meant to convince himself, or maybe June. I

leaned forward, but the noise from the kitchen obliterated his words.

And then whatever had been sizzling was taken off the grill, and we all

heard Shay, loud and clear: "She was better off dead."

June shot to her feet. Her face was so pale that I feared she would

fall over, and I rose just in case. Then blood rushed, hot, into her

cheeks. "You bastard," she said, and she ran outside.

Maggie tugged on my jacket. "Go," she mouthed.

I followed June past the two officers and through the anteroom.

She burst through the double doors and into the parking lot without

even bothering to pick up her driver's license at the control booth, trad

ing back her visitor's pass. I was certain she would rather go to the

DMV and pay for a replacement than set foot in this prison again.

"June," I yelled. "Please. Wait."

I finally cornered her at her car, an old Ford Taurus with duct tape

around the rear bumper. She was sobbing so hard that she couldn't get

the key into the lock.

"Let me." I opened the door and held it for her so that she could sit

down, but she didn't. "June, I'm sorry"

"How could he say that? She was a little girl. A beautiful, smart,

perfect little girl."

I gathered her into my arms and let her cry on my shoulder. Later,

she would regret doing this; later, she would feel that I had manipulated

the situation. But for right now, I held her until she could catch

her breath.

Redemption had very little to do with the big picture, and far more

to do with the particulars. Jesus might forgive Shay, but what good was

that if Shay didn't forgive himself? It was that impetus that drove him

to give up his heart, just as I was driven to help him do it because it

would cancel out my vote to execute him in the first place. We couldn't

erase our mistakes, so we did the next best thing and tried to do something

that distracted attention from them.

"I wish I could have met your daughter," I said softly.

June pulled away from me. "I wish you could have, too."

"I didn't ask you here to hurt you all over again. Shay truly does

want to make amends. He knows the one good thing to come out of his

life might be his death." I looked at the Constantine wire running along

the top of the prison fence: a crown of thorns for a man who wanted to

be a savior. "He's taken away the rest of your family," I said. "If nothing

else, let him help you keep Claire."

June ducked into her car. She was crying again as she lurched out

of the parking spot. I watched her pause at the exit of the prison, her

blinker marking time.

Then, suddenly, her brake lights came on. She sped backward,

stopping beside me with only inches to spare. She unrolled the window

on the driver's side. TU take his heart," June said, her voice thick. TU

take it, and I'll watch that son of a bitch die, and we still won't be


Too stunned to find any words, I nodded. I watched June drive off,

her taillights winking as red as the eyes of any devU.


"Well," I said when I saw Father Michael walking back into the prison,

dazed, "that sucked."

At the sound of my voice, he looked up. "She's taking the heart."

My mouth dropped open. "You're kidding."

"No. She's taking it for all the wrong reasons . . . but she's taking it."

I could not believe it. Following the debacle in the restorative justice

meeting, I would have more easily accepted that she'd gone out to buy an

Uzi to exact her own justice against Shay Bourne. My mind began to kick

into high gear: if June Nealon wanted Shay's heartfor whatever

reasonthen there was a great deal I had to do.

"I'll need you to write an affidavit, saying that you're Shay's spiritual

advisor and that his religious beliefs include donating his heart."

He drew in his breath. "Maggie, I can't put my name on a court document

about Shay"

"Sure you can. Just lie," I said, "and go to confession afterward.

You're not doing this for you; you're doing it for Shay. And we'll need a

cardiologist to examine Shay, to see if his heart's even a match for


The priest closed his eyes and nodded. "Should I go in and tell him?"

"No," I said, smiling. "Let me."

After a slight detour, I walked through the metal detectors again and was

taken to the attorney-client room outside I-tier. A few minutes later, a

grumbling officer showed up with Shay. "He keeps getting moved around

like this, the state's going to have to hire him a chauffeur."

I rubbed my thumb and forefinger together, the worlds smallest


Shay ran his hands through his hair, making it stand on end; the

shirt of his prison scrubs was untucked. "I'm sorry" he said immediately.

"I'm not the one who could have used the apology," I replied.

"I know." He squinched his eyes shut, shook his head. "There were

eleven years of words in my head, and I couldn't get them out the way I


"Amazingly, June Nealon is willing to accept your heart for Claire."

A few times in my career, I'd been the messenger of information

that would change a clients life: the victim of a hate crime whose

store was destroyed, receiving reparation and damages that would

allow him to build a bigger, better venue; the gay couple who were

given the legal stamp of approval to be listed as parents in the elementary

school directory. A smile blossomed across Shay's face, and I

remembered, at that moment, that gospel is another word for good


"It's not a done deal yet," I said. "We don't know, medically, if this is

viable. And there are a whole bunch of legal hoops to jump through . . .

which is what I need to talk to you about, Shay."

I waited until he sat down across from me at the table, and was calm

enough to stop grinning and look me in the eye. I had gotten to this

point with clients before: you drew them a map and explained where the

exit hatch was, and then you waited to see if they understood you needed

them to crawl there on their own. That was legitimate, in law; you were

not telling them to alter their truth, just explaining the way the courts

worked, and hoping they would choose to massage it themselves. "Listen

carefully," I said. "There's a law in this country that says the state has to

let you practice your own religion, as long as it doesn't interfere with

safety in the prison. There's also a law in New Hampshire that says even

though the court has sentenced you to die by lethal injection, which

wouldn't allow you to donate your heart . . . in certain circumstances,

death row inmates can be hanged instead. And if you're hanged, you'd be

able to donate your organs."

It was a lot for him to take in, and I could see him ingesting the

words as if they were being fed on a conveyor.

"I might be able to convince the state to hang you," I said, "if I can

prove to a judge in federal court that donating your organs is part of your

religion. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

He winced. "I didn't like being Catholic."

"You don't have to say you're Catholic."

"Tell that to Father Michael."

"Gladly." I laughed.

"Then what do I have to say?"

"There are a lot of people outside this prison, Shay, who have no

trouble believing that what you're doing in here has some sort of religious

basis. But I need you to believe it, too. If this is going to work, you

have to tell me donating your organs is the only way to salvation."

He stood up and started to pace. "My way of saving myself may not

be someone else's way."

"That's okay," I said. "The court doesn't care about anyone else. They

just want to know if you think that giving your heart to Claire Nealon is

going to redeem you in God's eyes."

When he stopped in front of me and caught my eye, I saw something

that surprised me. Because I had been so busy crafting an escape hatch

for Shay Bourne, I had forgotten that sometimes the outrageous is actually

the truth. "I don't think it," he said. "I know it."

"Then we're in business." I slipped my hands into my suit pockets

and suddenly remembered what else I had to tell Shay. "It's prickly," I

said. "Like walking on a board full of needles. But somehow it doesn't

hurt. It smells like Sunday morning, like a mower outside your window

when you're trying to pretend the sun's not up yet."

As I spoke, Shay closed his eyes. "I think I remember."

"Well," I said. "Just in case you don't." I withdrew the handfuls of

grass I'd torn from outside the prison grounds and sprinkled the tufts

onto the floor.

A smile broke over Shays face. He kicked off his prison-issued tennis

shoes and began to move back and forth, barefoot, over the grass. Then

he bent down to gather the cuttings and funneled them into the breast

pocket of his scrubs, against a heart that was still beating strong. "I'm

going to save them," he said.


"I know God will not give me anything I can't handle.

I just wish He didn't trust me so much."



Everything comes with a price.

You can have the man of your dreams, but only for a few


You can have the perfect family, but it turns out to be an illusion.

You can keep your daughter alive, but only if she hosts the

heart of the person you hate most in this world.

I could not go straight home from the prison. I was shaking so

hard that at first, I couldn't even drive; and even afterward, I

missed the exit off the highway twice. I had gone to that meeting

to tell Shay Bourne we didn't want his heart. So why had I

changed my mind? Maybe because I was angry. Maybe because I

was so shocked by what Shay Bourne had said. Maybe because if

we waited for UNOS to find Claire a heart, it could be too late.

Besides, I told myself, this was all likely a moot point. The

chance of Bourne even being a good physical match for Claire was

negligible; his heart was probably far too large for a child's body;

there could be all sorts of compromising diseases or long-term

drug use that would prohibit him from being a donor.

And yet, there was another part of me that kept thinking: But

what if?

Could I let myself hope? And could I stand it if, once again,

that hope was shattered by Shay Bourne?

By the time I felt calm enough to drive home and face Claire, it

was late at night. I had arranged for a neighbor to check on her

hourly throughout the afternoon and evening, but Claire flatly refused

a formal babysitter. She was fast asleep on the couch, the

dog curled over her feet. Dudley lifted his head when I walked in,

a worthy sentry. Where were you when Elizabeth was taken? I thought,

not for the first time, rubbing Dudley between the ears. For days

after the murders, I had held the puppy, staring into his eyes and

pretending he could give me the answers I so desperately needed.

I turned off the television that was chattering to nobody and

sat down beside Claire. If she received Shay Bourne's heart, would

I look at my daughter but see him staring back at me?

Could I survive that?

And if I couldn't... would Claire survive at all?

I fitted myself around Claire's body, stretching beside her on

the couch. In her sleep, she curled against me, a puzzle piece fitting

back where it belonged. I kissed my daughter's forehead, unconsciously

reading it for fever. This was my life now, and Claire's:

a waiting game. Like Shay Bourne sitting in his cell, waiting for

his turn to die, we sat imprisoned by the limitations of Claire's

body, waiting for her turn to live.

So don't judge me, unless you've fallen asleep on a couch with

your ill child, thinking this night might be her last.

Ask instead: would you do it?

Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate

if it meant saving someone you love?

Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting

your enemy's dying wish?


In school, I was the kind of kid who crossed her t's and dotted her is. I made

sure to right-justify my papers, so that the type didn't look ragged. I'd craft

elaborate coversa tiny, two-dimensional working guillotine for my essay on

A Tale of Two Cities; a science lab on prisms with the header rainbowed in

multiple colors; a scarlet letter for . . . well, you get the picture.

To that end, putting together a letter to the commissioner of corrections

reminded me a little of my days as a student. There were multiple

parts involved: the transcript of Shay Bourne attesting that he wanted to

donate his heart to the sister of his victim; an affidavit from Claire Nealon's

cardiac surgeon, stating that she did indeed need a heart to survive.

I had made a call to facilitate a medical visit for Shay, to see if he was a

match for Claire; and I had spent an hour on the phone with a UNOS coordinator,

to confirm that if Shay gave up his heart, he could pick the recipient.

I fastened all these letters together with a shiny silver butterfly

clip and then turned back to the computer to finish my note to Commissioner


As evidenced by the letter from the defendant's spiritual advisor,

Father Michael Wright, execution by lethal injection will not only

prevent the defendant from his intention of donating his heart to

Claire Nealonit also interferes with his practice of religiona

blatant violation of his First Amendment rights. Therefore, under

the New Hampshire criminal code 630:5, subsection XIV, it would

be impractical for the commissioner of corrections to carry out the

punishment of death by lethal injection. A sentence of death carried

out by hanging, however, would not only he allowed by the criminal

code, but also would allow the defendant to practice his religion up

to the moment of his execution.

I could imagine, at this moment, the commissioners jaw dropping as

he realized that I had managed to piece together two disparate laws in a

way that would make the next few weeks a living hell.

Furthermore, this office would be pleased to work in conjunction

with the commissioner of corrections to facilitate what needs to be

done, as there are tissue matches and medical testing to be completed

prior to the donation, and because time is of the essence

during the organ harvest.

Not to mentionI don't trust you.

It is imperative to settle this matter swiftly, for obvious reasons.

We don't have a lot of time to work this out. Because neither Shay

Bourne nor Claire Nealon have a lot of time left, period.


Maggie Bloom, Attorney

I printed out the letter and slipped it into a manila envelope I'd already

addressed. As I licked the envelope, I thought: Please make this


Who was I talking to?

I didn't believe in God. Not anymore.

I was an atheist.

Or so I told myself, even if there was a secret part of me that hoped

I'd be proven wrong.



People always think they know what they'd miss the most if they had to

trade places with me in this cell. Food, fresh air, your favorite pair of jeans,

sex-believe me, I've heard them all, and they're all wrong. What you miss

the most in prison is choice. You have no free will: your hair is cut in one

style, like everyone else's. You eat what's being served when it is given to

you. You are told when you can shower, shit, shave. Even our conversations

are prescribed: If someone bumps into you in the real world, he says

"Excuse me." If someone bumps into you in here, you say "What the fuck,

motherfucker" before he can even speak. If you don't do this, you become a


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