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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15

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  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 10
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 16
  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 2
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 3

Then I realized where.

Shay had said it to me the first time I'd met with him, when he'd

explained why he wanted to donate his heart to Claire Nealon.

I kept reading intently, hearing Shay's voice over and over again:

The dead aren't alive, and the living won't die.

We come from the light.

Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone; you will find me

there.

The first time I had gone on a roller coaster, I felt like thislike the

ground had been pulled out from beneath my feet, like I was going to

be sick, like I needed something to grab hold of.

If you asked a dozen people on the street if they'd ever heard of the

Gnostic gospels, eleven would look at you as if you were crazy. In fact

most people today couldn't even recite the Ten Commandments. Shay

Bourne's religious training had been minimal and fragmented; the only

thing I'd ever seen him "read" was the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

He couldn't write; he could barely follow a thought through to the end

of one sentence. His formal schooling ended at a GED he'd gotten while

at the juvenile detention facility.

How, then, could Shay Bourne have memorized the Gospel of

Thomas? Where would he even have stumbled across it in his lifetime?

The only answer I could come up with was that he hadn't.

It could have been coincidence.

I could have been remembering the conversations incorrectly.

OrmaybeI could have been wrong about him.

The past three weeks, I had pushed past the throngs of people

camped out in front of the prison. I had turned off the television when

yet another pundit suggested that Shay might be the Messiah. After

all, I knew better. I was a priest; I had taken vows; I understood that

there was one God. His message had been recorded in the Bible, and

above all else, when Shay spoke, he did not sound like Jesus in any of

the four gospels.

But here was a fifth. A gospel that hadn't made it into the Bible but

was equally as ancient. A gospel that espoused the beliefs of at least

some people during the birth of Christianity. A gospel that Shay Bourne

had quoted to me.

What if the Church forefathers had gotten it wrong?

What if the gospels that had been dismissed and debunked were



the real ones, and the ones that had been picked for the New Testament

were the embellished versions? What if Jesus had actually said

It would mean that the allegations being made about Shay Bourne

might not be that far off the mark.

And it would explain why a Messiah might return in the guise of a

convicted murdererto see if this time, we might get it right.

I got out of my chair, folding the book by my side, and started to

pray.

Heavenly Father, I said silently, help me understand.

The telephone rang, making me jump. I glanced at the clockwho

would call after three in the morning?

"Father Michael? This is CO Smythe, from the prison. Sorry to disturb

you at this hour, but Shay Bourne had another seizure. We thought

you'd want to know."

"Is he all right?"

"He's in the infirmary," Smythe said. "He asked for you."

At this hour, the vigilant masses outside the prison were tucked into

their sleeping bags and tents, underneath the artificial day created by

the enormous spotlights that flooded the front of the building. I had to

be buzzed in; when I entered the receiving area, CO Smythe was waiting



for me. "What happened?"

"No one knows," the officer said. "It was Inmate DuFresne who

alerted us again. We couldn't see what happened on the security cameras."

We entered the infirmary. In a distant, dark corner of the room.

Shay was propped up in a bed, a nurse beside him. He held a cup of

juice that he sipped through a straw; his other hand was cuffed to the

bed's railing. There were wires coming out from beneath his medical

johnny. "How is he?" I asked.

"He'll live," the nurse said, and then, realizing her mistake, blushed

fiercely. "We hooked him up to monitor his heart. So far, so good."

I sat down on a chair beside Shay and looked up at Smythe and the

"That's about all you've got," the nurse said. "We just gave him

something to knock him out."

They moved to the far side of the room, and I leaned closer to Shay.

"Are you okay?"

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you."

"Oh, try me," I said.

He glanced over to make sure no one else was listening. "I was just

watching TV, you know? This documentary on how they make movie

theater candy, like Dots and Milk Duds. And I started to get tired, so I

went to turn it off. But before I could push the burton, all the light in

the television, it shot into me like electricity. I mean, I could feel those

things inside my blood moving around, what are they called again, corporals?"

"Corpuscles."

"Yeah, right, those. I hate that word. Did you ever see that Star Trek

where those aliens are sucking the salt out of everything? I always

thought they should be called corpuscles. You say the word, and it

sounds like you're eating a lemon ..."

"Shay. You were talking about the light."

"Oh, right, yeah. Well, it was like I started boiling inside, and my

eyes, they were going to jelly, and I tried to call out but my teeth were

wired shut and then I woke up in here, feeling like I'd been sucked

dry." He looked up at me. "By a corpuscle."

"The nurse said it was a seizure. Do you remember anything else?"

"I remember what I was thinking," Shay said. "This was what it

would feel like."

"What?"

"Dying."

I took a deep breath. "Remember when you were little, a kidand

you'd fall asleep in the car? And someone would carry you out and put

you into bed, so that when you woke up in the morning, you knew automatically

you were home again? That's what I think it's like to die."

"That would be good," Shay said, his voice deeper, groggy. "It'll be

nice to know what home looks like."

A phrase I'd read just an hour ago slipped into my mind like a

splinter: The Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people

don't see it.

Although I knew it wasn't the right time, although I knew I was

supposed to be here for Shay, instead of the other way around, I leaned

closer, until my words could fall into the shell of his ear. "Where did

you find the Gospel of Thomas?" I whispered.

Shay stared at me blankly. "Thomas who?" he said, and then his

eyes drifted shut.

As I drove away from the prison, I heard Father Walter's voice: He's

conned you. But when I'd mentioned the Gospel of Thomas, I hadn't

seen even the slightest flicker of recognition in Shay's eyes, and he'd

been druggedit would have been awfully hard to keep dissembling.

Was this what it had felt like for the Jews who met Jesus and recognized

him as more than just a gifted rabbi? I had no point of comparison.

I'd grown up Catholic; I'd become a priest. I could not remember a

time that I hadn't believed Jesus was the Messiah.

I knew someone, though, who could.

Rabbi Bloom didn't have a temple, because it had burned down, but

he did rent office space close to the school where services were held. I

was waiting in front of the locked door when he arrived just before eight

a.m.

"Wow," he said, taking in the vision in front of hima red-eyed,

rumpled priest clutching a motorcycle helmet and the Nag Hammadi

texts. "I would have let you borrow it longer than one night."

"Why don't Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah?"

He unlocked the door to the office. "That's going to take at least a

cup and a half of coffee," Bloom said. "Come on in."

He started brewing a pot and offered me a seat. His office looked a

lot like Father Walter's at St. Catherine'sinviting, comfortable. A place

you'd want to sit and talk. Unlike Father Walter's, though. Rabbi

Bloom's plants were the real thing. Father Walter's were plastic, bought

by the Ladies' Aid, when he kept killing everything from a ficus to an

African violet.

"It's a wandering Jew," the rabbi said when he saw me checking

out the flowerpot. "Maggie's little idea of a joke."

"I just got back from the prison. Shay Bourne had another seizure."

"Did you tell Maggie?"

"Not yet." I looked at him. "You didn't answer my question."

"I haven't had my coffee." He got up and poured us each a cup, putting

milk and sugar in mine without asking first. "Jews don't think Jesus

was the Messiah because he didn't fulfill the criteria for a Jewish messiah.

It's really pretty simple, and it's all laid out by Maimonides. A

Jewish moshiach will bring the Jews back to Israel and set up a government

in Jerusalem that's the center of political power for the world,

for both Jews and Gentiles. He'll rebuild the Temple and reestablish

Jewish law as the governing law of the land. He'll raise the deadall of

the deadand usher in a great age of peace, when everyone believes

in God. He'll be a descendant of David, a king and a warrior, a judge,

and a great leader . . . but he'll also be firmly, unequivocally human."

Bloom set the cup down in front of me. "We believe that in every generation,

a person's born with the potential to become the moshiach.

But if the messianic age doesn't come and that person dies, then that

person isn't him."

"Like Jesus."

"Personally, I've always seen Jesus as a great Jewish patriot. He

was a good Jew, who probably wore a yarmulke and obeyed the Tbrah,

and never planned to start a new religion. He hated the Romans and

wanted to get them out of Jerusalem. He got charged with political rebellion,

sentenced to execution. Yes, a Jewish high priest carried it

outCaiaphasbut most Jews back then hated Caiaphas anyway be

cause he was the henchman for the Romans." He looked up at me over

the edge of his coffee mug. "Was Jesus a good guy? Yeah. Great

teacher? Sure. Messiah? Dunno."

"A lot of the Bible's predictions for the messianic era were fulfilled

by Jesus"

"But were they the crucial ones?" Rabbi Bloom asked. "Let's say

you didn't know who I was and I asked you to meet me. I told you I'd

be standing outside the Steeplegate Mall at ten o'clock wearing a Hawaiian

shirt and that I'd have curly red hair and be listening to Outkast

on my iPod. And at ten o'clock, you saw someone standing outside the

Steeplegate Mall who had curly red hair and was wearing a Hawaiian

shirt and listening to Outkast on an iPod... but it was a woman. Would

you still think it was me?"

He stood up to refill his coffee. "Do you know what I heard on NPR

on the way over here today? Another bus blew up in Israel. Three more

kids from New Hampshire died in Iraq. And the cops just arrested some

guy in Manchester who shot his ex-wife in front of their two kids. If

Jesus ushered in the messianic era, and the world I hear about on the

news is one of peace and redemption . . . well, I'd rather wait for a different

moshiach." He glanced back at me. "Now, if you don't mind me

asking you a question . . . what's a priest doing at a rabbi's office at

eight in the morning asking questions about the Jewish Messiah?"

I got up and began to walk around the little room. "The book you

loaned meit got me thinking."

"And that's a bad thing?"

"Shay Bourne has said things, verbatim, that I read last night in the

Gospel of Thomas."

"Bourne? He's read Thomas? I thought Maggie said he"

"has no religious training to speak of, and a minimal education."

"It's not like the Gideons leave the Gospel of Thomas in hotel

rooms," Rabbi Bloom said. "Where would he have"

"Exactly."

 

He steepled his fingers. "Huh."

I placed the book he'd loaned me on his desk. "What would you do

if you began to second-guess everything you believed?"

Rabbi Bloom leaned forward and riffled through his Rolodex. "I

would ask more questions," he said. He scribbled down something on a

Post-it and handed it to me.

Ian Fletcher. I read. 603-555-1367.

Lucius

The night Shay had his second seizure, I was awake, gathering ink that I

planned to use to give myself another tattoo. If I do say so myself, I'm

rather proud of my homemade tattoos. I had fivemy rationale being that

my body, up until three weeks ago, wasn't worth much more than being a

canvas for my art; plus the threat of getting AIDS from a dirty needle was

obviously a moot point. On my left ankle was a clock, with the hands marking

the moment of Adam's death. On my left shoulder was an angel, and

below it an African tribal design. On my right leg was a bull, because I was

a Taurus; and swimming beside it was a fish, for Adam, who was a Pisces. I

had grand plans for this sixth one, which I planned to put right on my

chest: the word BELIEVE, in Gothic letters. I'd practiced the art in reverse

multiple times in pencil and pen, until I felt sure that I could replicate it

with my tattoo gun as I worked in the mirror.

My first gun had been confiscated by the COs, like Crash's hype kit. It

had taken me six months to amass the parts for the new one. Making ink

was hard to do, and harder to get away withwhich was why I had chosen

to work on this during the deadest hours of the night. I had lit a plastic

spoon on fire, keeping the flame small so I could catch the smoke in a plastic

bag. It stank horribly, and just as I was getting certain the COs would

literally get wind of it and shut down my operation, Shay Bourne collapsed

next door.

This time, his seizure had been different. He'd screamedso loud that

he woke up the whole pod, so loud that the finest dust of plaster drifted

down from the ceilings of our cells. To be honest, Shay was such a mess

when he was wheeled off I-tier that none of us were sure whether or not

he'd be returningwhich is why I was stunned to see him being led back to

his cell the very next day.

"Po-lice," Joey Kunz yelled, just in time for me to hide the pieces of my

tattoo gun underneath the mattress. The officers locked Shay into his cell,

and as soon as the door to I-tier shut behind them, I asked Shay how he

was feeling.

"My head hurts," he said. "I have to go to sleep."

With Crash still off the tier after the hype kit transgression, things

were quieter. Calloway slept most days and stayed up nights with his bird;

Texas and Pogie played virtual poker; Joey was listening to his soaps. I

waited an extra few minutes to make sure the officers were otherwise occupied

out in the control booth and then I reached underneath my mattress

again.

I had unraveled a guitar string to its central core, a makeshift needle.

This was inserted into a pen whose ink cartridge had been removedand a

small piece of its tip sawed off and attached to the other end of the needle,

which was attached to the motor shaft of a cassette player. The pen was

taped to a toothbrush bent into an L shape, which let you hold the contraption

more easily. You could adjust the needle length by sliding the pen

casing back and forth; all that was left was plugging in the AC adapter of

the cassette player, and I had a functional tattoo gun again.

The soot I'd captured the previous night had been mixed with a few

drops of shampoo to liquefy it. I stood in front of the stainless steel panel

that served as a mirror, and scrutinized my chest. Then, gritting my teeth

against the pain, I turned on the gun. The needle moved back and forth in

an elliptical orbit, piercing me hundreds of times per minute.

There it was, the letter B.

"Lucius?" Shay's voice drifted into my house.

"I'm sort of busy, Shay."

"What's that noise?"

"None of your business." I lifted it to my skin again, felt the needle

working against me, a thousand arrows striking.

"Lucius? I can still hear that noise."

I sighed. "It's a tattoo gun, Shay, all right? I'm giving myself a tattoo."

There was a hesitation. "Will you give me one?"

I had done this for multiple inmates when I was housed on different

tiers-ones that had a bit more freedom than I-tier, which offered twentythree

rollicking hours of lockdown. "I can't. I can't reach you."

"That's okay," Shay said. "I can reach you."

"Yeah, whatever," I said. I squinted back into the mirror and set the

tattoo gun against my skin. Holding my breath, I carefully formed the

curves and flourishes around the letters E and L

I thought I heard Shay whimpering when I started on the letter I, and

surely he cried out when I tattooed the V. My gun must not have been

helping his headache any. Shrugging off his moans, I stepped closer to the

mirror and surveyed my handiwork.

God, it was gorgeous. The letters moved with every breath I took; even

the angry red swelling of my skin couldn't take away from the clean lines

of the letters.

"B-believe," Shay stammered.

I turned around, as if I could see him through the wall between our

cells. "What did you say?"

"It's what you said," Shay corrected. "I read it right, didn't I?"

I had not told anyone of my plans for my sixth tattoo. I hadn't shared

the prototype artwork. I knew for a fact that Shay, from where he stood,

could not have seen into my cell as I worked.

Fumbling behind the brick that served as my safe, I took out the shank

that I used as a portable mirror. I stepped up to the front of my cell and

angled it so that I could see Shay's beaming face in the reflection. "How

did you know what I was writing?"

Shay smiled wider, and then raised his fist. He unfolded his fingers, one

at a time.

His palm was red and inflamed, and printed across it, in Gothic script,

was the same exact tattoo I'd just given myself.

Shay paced his cell in figure eights. "Did you see him?" he asked, wildeyed.

I sank down on the stool I'd dragged in from the control booth. I

was sluggish todaynot only was my head buzzing with questions

about what I'd read, but I was alsofor the first time in a yearnot officiating

at this evening's midnight Mass. "See who?" I replied, distracted.

"Sully. The new guy. Next door."

I glanced into the other cell. Lucius DuFresne was still on Shay's

left; on his right, the formerly empty cell now had someone occupying

it. Sully, however, wasn't there. He was in the rec yard, repeatedly

running full tilt across the little square yard and leaping up against the

far wall, hands splayed, as if hitting it hard enough meant he'd go right

through the metal.

"They're going to kill me," Shay said.

"Maggie's working on writing a motion at this very"

"Not the state," Shay said. "One of them."

I did not know anything about prison politics, but there was a fine

line between Shay's paranoia and what might pass for the truth. Shay

was receiving more attention than any other inmate at the prison, as a

result of his lawsuit and the media frenzy. There was every chance he

might be targeted by the general prison population.

Behind me, CO Smythe passed in his flak jacket, carrying a broom

and some cleaning supplies. Once a week, the inmates were required

to clean their own cells. It was one-at-a-time, supervised cleaning:

after an inmate came in from rec, the supplies would be waiting for him

in his cell, and a CO would stand guard at the doorway until the work

was finishedclose by, because even Windex could become a weapon

in here. I watched the empty cell door open, so that Smythe could leave

the spray bottles and the toweling and the broom; then he walked to

the far end of the tier to get the new inmate from the rec yard. Til talk

to the warden. I'll make sure you're protected," I told Shay, which

seemed to mollify him. "So," I said, changing the subject, "what do you

like to read?"

"What, you're Oprah now? We're having a book club?"

"No."

"Good, because I'm not reading the Bible."

"I know that," I said, seizing this inroad. "Why not?"

"It's lies." Shay waved a hand, a dismissal.

"What do you read that isn't a lie?"

"I don't," he replied. "The words get all knotted up. I have to stare

at a page for a year before I can make sense of it."

" 'There's light inside a person of light,'" I quoted, " 'and if shines

on the whole world.'"

Shay hesitated. "Can you see it, too?" He held his hands up in front

of his face, scrutinizing his fingertips. "The light from the televisionthe

stuff that went into meit's still there. It glows, at night."

I sighed. "It's from the Gospel of Thomas."

"No, I'm pretty sure it came from the television ..."

"The words. Shay. The ones I just said. They came from a gospel I

was reading last night. And so does a lot of stuff you've been saying to

me."

His eyes met mine. "What do you know," he said softly, and I

couldn't tell if it was a statement or a question.

"I don't know," I admitted. "That's why I'm here."

"That's why we're all here," Shay said.

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save

you. It was one of Jesus's sayings in the Gospel of Thomas; it was one

of the first things Shay Bourne had ever told me, when he was explaining

why he needed to donate his heart. Could it really be this simple?

Could salvation be not a passive acceptance, like I'd been led to believe,

but an active pursuit?

Maybe it was saying the rosary, for me, and receiving Holy Communion,

and serving God. Maybe for Maggie's father, it was meeting with

a bunch of die-hard congregants who wouldn't let the lack of a physical

temple dissuade them from prayer. Maybe for Maggie, it was mending

whatever kept her focused on her faults instead of her strengths.

Maybe for Shay, maybe it was offering his heartliterally and

figurativelyto the mother who'd lost hers years ago because of him.

Then again. Shay Bourne was a killer; his sentences curled like a

puppy chasing its tail; he thought he had something phosphorescent

coursing through his veins because a television had zapped him in the

middle of the night. He did not sound messianicjust delusional.

Shay looked at me. "You should go," he said, but then his attention

was distracted by the sound of the rec yard door being opened. Officer

Smythe led the new inmate back onto I-tier.

He was an enormous tower of muscle with a swastika tattooed on

his scalp. His hair, sprouting out from a buzz cut, grew over it like

moss.

The inmate's cell door was closed, and his handcuffs removed. "You

know the drill. Sully," the officer said. He stood in the doorway as Sully

slowly picked up the spray bottle and washed down his sink. I heard

the squeak of paper toweling on metal.

"Hey, Fatheryou watch the game last night?" CO Smythe said, and

then he rolled his eyes. "Sully, what are you doing? You don't need to

sweep the"

Suddenly the broom in Sully's hands was no longer a broom but a

broken spear that he jutted into the officer's throat. Smythe grabbed his

neck, gurgling. His eyes rolled back in his head; he stumbled toward

Shay's cell. As he fell beside me, I clasped my hands over the wound

and screamed for help.

The tier came to life. The inmates were all clamoring to see what had

happened; CO Whitaker was suddenly there and hauling me to my feet,

taking my place as another officer started CPR. Four more officers ran past

me with pepper spray and shot it into Sully's face. He was dragged out of

the tier shrieking as the closest physician arriveda psychiatrist I'd seen

around the prison. But by now, Smythe had stopped moving.

No one seemed to notice that I was there; there was far too much

happening, too much at stake. The psychiatrist tried to find a pulse in

Smythe's neck, but his hand came away slick with blood. He lifted the

CO's wrist and, after a moment, shook his head. "He's gone."

The tier had gone absolutely silent; the inmates were all staring in

shock at the body in front of them. Blood had stopped flowing from

Smythe's neck; he was perfectly still. To my right, I could see an argument

going on in the control booththe EMTs who'd arrived too late

and were trying to gain admission to the tier. They were buzzed in, still

shrugging into their flak jackets, and knelt beside Smythe's body, repeating

the same ineffective tests that the psychiatrist had.

Behind me, I heard weeping.

I turned around to find Shay crouched on the floor of his cell. His

face was streaked with tears and blood; his hand slipped beneath his

cell door so that his fingers brushed Smythe's.

"You here for last rites?" one of the medics asked, and for the first

time, everyone seemed to realize I was still present.

"I, uh-"

"What's he doing here?" CO Whitaker barked.

"Who the hell is he?" another officer said. "I don't even work this

tier."

"I can go," I said. "I'll... just go." I glanced once more at Shay, who

was curled into a ball, whispering. If I hadn't known better, I would

have thought he was praying.

As the two EMTs got ready to move the body onto a stretcher, I

prayed over Smythe. "In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created

you . . . in the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the

Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in

peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God. Amen."

I made the sign of the cross and started to get to my feet.

"On three," the first EMT said.

The second one nodded, his hands on the slain officer's ankles.

"One, two . . . holy shir," he cried as the dead man began to struggle

against him.

"One of the proofs of the immortality

of the soul is that myriads have believed it.

They also believed the world was flat."

-MARK. TWAIN, NOTEBOOK

 

June

Claire would be cut in half, her sternum buzzed open with a saw


: 2015-09-13; : 17;


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