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I. M. Bourne
Isaiah Matthew Bourne. We had been told this at his trial, but I had
forgotten that Shay was not his Christian name. "I. M. Bourne," I said
aloud. "Sounds like a guy Trump would hire."
I am bom.
Was this a hint, another puzzle piece of evidence?
There were two ways of looking at any situation. What one person
sees as a prisoner's babble, another might recognize as words from a
long-lost gospel. What one person sees as a medically viable stroke of
luck, another might see as a resurrection. I thought of Lucius being
healed, of the water into wine, of the followers who had so easily believed
in Shay. I thought of a thirty-three-year-old man, a carpenter,
facing execution. I thought of Rabbi Bloom's idea—that every generation
had a person in it capable of being the Messiah.
There is a point when you stand at the edge of the cliff of hard evidence,
look across to what lies on the other side, and step forward.
Otherwise, you wind up going nowhere. I stared at Shay, and maybe
for the first time, I didn't see who he was. I saw who he might be.
As if he could feel my gaze, he began to toss and turn. Only one of
his eyes could slit open; the other was swollen shut. "Father," he
rasped in a voice still cushioned with medication. "Where am I?"
"You were hurt. You're going to be all right. Shay."
In the comer of the room, the officer was staring at us. "Do you think
we could have a minute alone? I'd like to pray in private with him."
The officer hesitated—as well he should have: what clergyman isn't
accustomed to praying in front of others? Then he shrugged. "Guess a
priest wouldn't do anything funny," he said. "Your boss is tougher than
People anthropomorphized God all the time—as a boss, as a lifesaver,
as a justice, as a father. No one ever pictured him as a convicted
murderer. But if you put aside the physical trappings of the body something
that all the apostles had had to do after Jesus was
resurrected—then maybe anything was possible.
As the officer backed out of the room. Shay winced. "My face ..."
He tried to lift up his hand to touch the bandages, but found that he
was handcuffed to the bed. Struggling, he began to pull harder.
"Shay," I said firmly, "don't."
"It hurts. I want drugs ..."
"You're already on drugs," I told him. "We only have a few minutes
till the officer comes back in, so we have to talk while we can."
"I don't want to talk."
Ignoring him, I leaned closer. "Tell me," I whispered. "Tell me who
A wary hope lit Shay's eyes; he'd probably never expected to be
recognized as the Lord. He went very still, never taking his eyes off
mine. "Tell me who you are."
In the Catholic Church, there were lies of commission and lies of
omission. The first referred to telling an outright falsehood, the second
to withholding the truth. Both were sins.
I had lied to Shay since before the moment we met. He'd counted
on me to help him donate his heart, but he'd never realized how black
mine was. How could I expect Him to reveal Himself when I hadn't
done the same?
"You're right," I said quietly. "There's something I haven't told
you . . . about who I used to be, before I was a priest."
"Let me guess . . . an altar boy."
"I was a college student, majoring in math. I didn't even go to
church until after I served on the jury."
I hesitated. "The one that sentenced you to death. Shay."
He stared at me for a long minute, and then he turned away. "Get
"Get the fuck away from mel" He flailed against his handcuffs,
yanking at the bonds so that his skin rubbed raw. The sound he made
was wordless, primordial, the noise that had surely filled the world
before there was order and light.
A nurse came running in, along with the two officers who were
standing outside. "What happened?" the nurse cried, as Shay continued
to thrash, his head whipping from side to side on the pillow. The gauze
in his nose bloomed with fresh blood.
The nurse pushed a call button on the panel behind Shay's head,
and suddenly the room was filled with people. A doctor yelled at the
officers to unlock his damn hands, but as soon as they did. Shay began
swatting at everything he could reach. An aide plunged a hypodermic
into his arm. "Get him out of here," someone said, and an orderly pulled
me out of the room; the last thing I saw was Shay going boneless, sliding
away from the people who were desperately trying to save him.
Claire was standing in front of a full-length mirror, naked. Her
chest was crisscrossed with black ribbon, like the lacing on a football.
As I watched, she untied the bow, unraveled the ribbons, and
peeled back both halves of her chest. She unhooked a tiny brass
hinge on her rib cage and it sprang open.
Inside, the heart was beating sure and strong, a clear sign that
it wasn't hers. Claire lifted a serving spoon and began to carve at
the organ, trying to sever it from the veins and arteries. Her cheeks
went pale; her eyes were the color of agony—but she managed to
pull it free: a bloody, misshapen mass that she placed in my outstretched
hand. "Take it back," she said.
I woke up from the nightmare, sweat-soaked, pulse racing.
After speaking with Dr. Wu about organ compatibility, I'd realized
he was right—what was at issue here was not where this heart
came from, but whether it came at all.
But I still hadn't told Claire a donor heart had become available.
We had yet to go through the legal proceedings, anyway—
and although I told myself I didn't want to get her hopes up until
the judge ruled, another part of me realized that I just didn't want
to have to tell her the truth.
After all, it was her chest that would be hosting this man's
Even a long shower couldn't get the nightmare of Claire out of
my mind, and I realized that we had to have the conversation I
had been so studiously avoiding. I dressed and hurried down254
stairs to find her eating a bowl of cereal on the couch and watching
television. "The dog needs to go out," she said absently.
"Claire," I said, "I have to talk to you."
"Let me just see the end of this show."
I glanced at the screen—it was Full House, and Claire had
watched this episode so often that even I could have told you Jesse
came home from Japan realizing being a rock star was not what it
was cracked up to be.
"You've seen it before," I said, turning off the television.
Her eyes flashed, and she used the remote to turn the show
Maybe it was a lack of sleep; maybe it was just the weight of the
imminent future on my shoulders—for whatever reason, I snapped.
I whirled around and yanked the cable feed out of the wall.
"What is wrong with you?" Claire cried. "Why are you being
such a bitch!"
Both of us fell silent, stunned by Claire's language. She'd never
called me that before; she'd never really even argued with me. Take
it back, I thought, and I remembered that image of Claire, holding
out her heart.
"Claire," I said, backpedaling. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
I broke off as Claire's eyes rolled back in her head.
I'd seen this before—too often. The AICD in her chest was
firing: when Claire's heart skipped a beat, or several, it automatically
defibrillated her. I caught her as she collapsed, settling her on
the couch, waiting for her heart to restart, for Claire to come to.
Except this time, she didn't.
On the ambulance ride to the hospital, I counted all the reasons I
hated myself: For picking a fight with Claire. For accepting Shay
Bourne's offer to donate his heart, without asking her first. For
turning off Full House before the happy ending.
Just stay with me, I begged silently, and you can watch TV twentyfour
hours a day. I will watch it with you. Don't give up, we've come so
Although the EMTs had gotten Claire's heart beating again by
the time we reached the hospital, Dr. Wu had admitted her, with
the unspoken agreement that this was her new home until a new
heart arrived—or hers gave out. I watched him check Claire, who
was fast asleep in the oceanic blue light of the darkened room.
"June," he said, "let's talk outside."
He closed the door behind us. "There's no good news here."
I nodded, biting my lip.
"Obviously, the AICD isn't functioning correctly. But in addition,
the tests we've done show her urine output decreasing and
her creatinine levels rising. We're talking about renal failure, June.
It's not just her heart that's giving out—her whole body is shutting
I looked away, but I couldn't stop a tear from rolling down my
"I don't know how long it's going to take to get a court to
agree to that heart donation," the doctor said, "but Claire can't
wait around for the docket to clear."
"I'll call the lawyer," I said softly. "Is there anything else I can
Dr. Wu touched my arm. "You should think about saying
I held myself together long enough for Dr. Wu to disappear
into an elevator. Then, I rushed down the hallway and blindly
plunged into a doorway that stood ajar. I fell to my knees and let
the grief bleed out of me—one great, low keening note.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I blinked through my
tears to find the priest who was Shay Bourne's ally staring at me.
"June? Is everything all right?"
"No," I said. "No, everything is most definitely not all right."
I could see then what I hadn't noticed when I first came into
the room—the gold cross on the long dais in the front of the room,
one flag with the star of David, another with a Muslim crescent
moon: this was the hospital chapel, a place to ask for what you
wanted the most.
Was it wrong to wish for someone's death so that Claire could
have his heart sooner?
"Is it your daughter?" the priest asked.
I nodded, but I couldn't look him in the eye.
"Would it be all right—I mean, would you mind if I prayed for
Although I did not want his assistance—had not asked for his
assistance—this one time, I was willing to put aside how I felt
about God, because Claire could use all the help she could get.
Almost imperceptibly, I nodded.
Beside me, Father Michael's voice began to move over the hills
and valleys of the simplest of prayers: "Our Father, who art in
heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven."
Before I realized what I was doing, my own mouth had started
to form the words, a muscle memory. And to my surprise, instead
of it feeling false or forced, it made me relieved, as if I had just
passed the baton to someone else.
"Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others ivho trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
It felt like putting on flannel pajamas on a snowy night; like
turning on your blinker for the exit that you know will take you
I looked at Father Michael, and together we said "Amen."
M I C H A EL
Ian Fletcher, former tele-atheist and current academic, lived in New
Canaan, New Hampshire, in a farmhouse on a dirt road where the mailboxes
were not numbered. I drove up and down the street four times
before turning down one driveway and knocking on the door. When I
did, no one answered, although I could hear strains of Mozart through
the open windows.
I had left June in the hospital, still shaken by my encounter with
Shay. Talk about irony: just when I allowed myself to think that I might
be in God's company, after all—He flatly rejected me. The whole world
felt off-kilter; it is an odd thing to start questioning the framework
that's ordered your life, your career, your expectations—and so I had
placed a phone call to someone who'd been through it before.
I knocked again, and this time the door swung open beneath my
fist. "Hello? Anyone home?"
"In here," a woman called out.
I stepped into the foyer, taking note of the colonial furniture, the
photo on the wall that showed a young girl shaking hands with Bill
Clinton and another of the girl smiling beside the Dalai Lama. I followed
the music to a room off the kitchen, where the most intricate
dollhouse I'd ever seen was sitting on a table, surrounded by bits of
wood and chisels and glue gun sticks. The house was made of bricks
no bigger than my thumbnail, the windows had miniature shutters that
could be louvered to let in light; there was a porch with Corinthian columns.
"Amazing," I murmured, and a woman stood up from behind the
dollhouse, where she'd been hidden.
"Oh," she said. "Thanks." Seeing me, she did a double take, and I
realized her eyes were focused on my clerical collar.
"Bad parochial school flashback?"
"No . . . it's just been a while since I've had a priest in here." She
stood up, wiping her hands on a white butcher's apron. I'm Mariah
Fletcher," she said.
"Father Michael Wright."
I grinned. "Busted." Then I gestured to her handiwork. "Did you
"I've never seen anything like it."
"Good," Mariah said. "That's what the client's counting on."
I bent down, scrutinizing a tiny door knocker with the head of a
lion. "You're quite an artist."
"Not really. I'm just better at detail than I am at the big picture." She
turned off the CD player that was trilling The Magic Flute. "Ian said I
was supposed to keep an eye out for you. And— Oh, shoot." Her eyes
flew to the corner of the room, where a stack of blocks had been abandoned.
"You didn't come across two hellions on your way in?"
"That's not a good sign." Pushing past me, she ran into the kitchen
and threw open a pantry door. Twins—I figured them to be about four
years old—were smearing the white linoleum with peanut butter and
"Oh, God," Mariah sighed as their faces turned up to hers like sunflowers.
"You told us we could finger-paint," one of the boys said.
"Not on the floor; and not with food!" She glanced at me. "I'd escort
"You have to take care of a sticky situation?"
She smiled. "lan's in the barn; you can just head down there." She
lifted each boy and pointed him toward the sink. "And you two," she
said, "are going to clean up, and then go torture Daddy."
I left her washing the twins' hands and walked down the path
toward the barn. Having children was not in the cards for me—I knew
that. A priest's love for God was so all-encompassing that it should
erase the human craving for a family—my parents, brothers, sisters, and
children were all Jesus. If the Gospel of Thomas was right, however,
and we were more like God than unlike Him, then having children
should have been mandatory for everyone. After all, God had a son and
had given Him up. Any parent whose child had gone to college or
gotten married or moved away would understand this part of God more
As I approached the barn, I heard the most unholy sounds—like cats
being dismembered, calves being slaughtered. Panicked—was Fletcher
hurt?—I threw open the door to find him watching a teenage girl play
She took the violin from her chin and settled it into the slight curve
of her hip. "I don't understand why I have to practice in the barn."
Fletcher removed a pair of foam earplugs. "What was that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Did you even hear my piece at air?"
Fletcher paused. "You know I love you, right?" The girl nodded.
"Well, let's just say if God was hanging around here today, that last bit
probably sent Her running for the hills."
Tryouts for band are tomorrow," she said. "What am I going to
"Switch to the flute?" Fletcher suggested, but he put his arm around
the girl and hugged her as he spoke. As he turned, he noticed me. "Ah.
You must be Michael Wright." He shook my hand and introduced the
girl. "This is my daughter. Faith."
Faith shook my hand, too. "Did you hear me play? Am I as bad as
he says I am?"
I hesitated, and Fletcher came to my rescue. "Honey, don't put the
priest in a position where he's going to have to lie—he'll waste his
whole afternoon at confession." He grinned at Faith. "I think it's your
turn to watch the demon twins from hell."
"No, I remember very clearly that it's your turn. I was doing it all
morning while Mom worked."
"Ten bucks," Ian said.
"Twenty," Faith countered.
"Done." She put her violin back in its case. "Nice to meet you," she
said to me, and she slipped out of the barn, heading toward the house.
"You have a beautiful family," I said to Fletcher.
He laughed. "Appearances can be deceiving. Spending an afternoon
with Cain and Abel is a whole new form of birth control."
"Their names are—"
"Not really," Fletcher said, smiling. "But that's what I call them
when Mariah's not listening. Come on back to my office."
He walked me past a generator and a snowblower, two abandoned
horse stalls, and through a pine door. Inside, to my surprise, was a finished
room with paneled walls and two stories of bookshelves. "I have
to admit," Fletcher said, "I don't get very many calls from the Catholic
clergy. They aren't quite the prevalent audience for my book."
I sat down on a leather wing chair. "I can imagine."
"So what's a nice priest like you doing in the office of a rabblerouser
like me? Can I expect a blistering commentary in the Catholic
Advocate with your byline on it?"
"No . . . this is more of a fact-finding mission." I thought about how
much I should admit to Ian Fletcher. The confidentiality relationship between
a parishioner and a priest was as inviolable as the one between
a patient and his doctor, but was telling Fletcher what Shay had said
breaking a trust if the same words were already in a gospel that had
been written two thousand years ago? "You used to be an atheist," I
said, changing the subject.
"Yeah." Fletcher smiled. "I was pretty gifted at it, too, if I do say so
"I met someone who made me question everything I was so sure I
knew about God."
"That," I said, "is why I'm in the office of a rabble-rouser like you."
"And what better place to learn more about the Gnostic gospels,"
"Well, then, the first thing is that you shouldn't call them that. It
would be like calling someone a spic or a Hebe—the label Gnostic was
made up by the same people who rejected them. In my circles, we call
them noncanonical gospels. Gnostic literally means one who knows—but
the people who coined the term considered its followers know-it-alls."
"That's what we pretty much learn in seminary."
Fletcher looked at me. "Let me ask you a question. Father—in your
opinion, what's the purpose of religion?"
I laughed. "Wow, thank goodness you picked an easy one."
I'm serious ..."
I considered this. "I think religion brings people together over a
common set of beliefs . . . and makes them understand why they
Fletcher nodded, as if this was the answer he'd been expecting. "I
think it's there to answer the really hard questions that arise when the
world doesn't work the way it's supposed to—like when your child dies
of leukemia, or you're fired after twenty years of hard work. When bad
things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.
The really interesting thing, to me, is that somehow religion stopped
being about trying to find honest solutions . . . and started being about
ritual. Instead of everyone searching for understanding on their own,
orthodox religion came along and said, 'Do x, y, and z—and the world
will be a better place.'"
"Well, Catholicism's been around for thousands of years," I replied,
"so it must be doing something right."
"You have to admit, it's done a lot wrong, too," Fletcher said.
Anyone who'd had limited religious instruction or a thorough college
education knew about the Catholic Church and its role in politics
and history—not to mention the heresies that had been squelched over
the centuries. Even sixth graders studied the Inquisition. "It's a corporation,"
I said. "And sure, there have been times when it's been staffed
badly, with people who think ambition trumps faith. But that doesn't
mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. No matter how
screwed up God's servants are in the Church, His message has managed
to get through."
Fletcher tilted his head. "What do you know about the birth of
"Did you want me to start with the Holy Ghost visiting Mary, or skip
ahead to the star in the East..."
"That's the birth of Jesus," Fletcher said. "Two very different things.
Historically, after Jesus's death, his followers weren't exactly welcomed
with open arms. By the second century A.D., they were literally dying
for their beliefs. But even though they belonged to groups that called
themselves Christians, the groups weren't unified, because they were
an very different from one another. One of these groups was the socalled
Gnostics. To them, being Christian was a good first step, but to
truly reach enlightenment, you had to receive secret knowledge, or
gnosis. You started with faith, but you developed insight—and for these
people. Gnostics offered a second baptism. Ptolemy called it apolutrosis—
the same word used when slaves were legally freed."
"So how did people get this secret knowledge?"
"There's the rub," Fletcher said. "Unlike the church, you couldn't be
taught it. It had nothing to do with being told what to believe, and everything
to do with figuring it out on your own. You had to reach inside
yourself, understand human nature and its destiny, and at that moment
you'd know the secret—that there's divinity in you, if you're willing to
look for it. And the path would be different for everyone."
"That sounds more Buddhist than Christian."
"They called themselves Christians," Fletcher corrected. "But Irenaeus,
who was the bishop of Lyons at the time, disagreed. He saw
three huge differences between Orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism.
In Gnostic texts, the focus wasn't on sin and repentance, but instead on
illusion and enlightenment. Unlike in the Orthodox Church, you couldn't
be a member simply by joining—you had to show evidence of spiritual
maturity to be accepted. And—this was probably the biggest stumbling
block for the bishop—Gnostics didn't think Jesus's resurrection was literal.
To them, Jesus was never really human—he just appeared in
human form. But that was just a technicality to the Gnostics, because
unlike Orthodox Christians, they didn't see a gap between the human
and the divine. To them, Jesus wasn't a one-of-a-kind savior—he was a
guide, helping you find your individual spiritual potential. And when
you reached it, you weren't redeemed by Christ—you became a Christ.
Or in other words: you were equal to Jesus. Equal to God."
It was easy to see why, in seminary, this had been taught as
heresy: the basis of Christianity was that there was only one God, and
He was so different from man that the only way to reach Him was
through Jesus. "The biggest heresies are the ones that scare the Church
"Especially when the Church is going through its own identity
crisis," Fletcher said. "I'm sure you remember how Irenaeus decided to
unify the Orthodox Christian Church—by figuring out who was a true
believer, and who was faking. Who was speaking the word of God, and
who was speaking . . . well... just words?"
On a pad in front of him, Fletcher wrote GOD = WORD = JESUS,
then spun it around so I could see. "Irenaeus came up with this little
gem. He said that we can't be divine, because Jesus's life and death
were so different from that of any man—which became the very begin264
ning of Orthodox Christianity. What didn't fit this equation became
heretical—if you weren't worshipping the right way, you were out. It
was sort of the first reality show, if you want to think of it that way:
who had the purest form of Christianity? He condemned the folks who
got creative with faith, like Marcus and his followers, who spoke in
prophecies and had visions of a feminine divinity clothed in the letters
of the Greek alphabet. He condemned the groups that swore by only
one gospel—like the Ebionites, who were attached to Matthew; or the
Marcionites, who studied only Luke. Just as bad were the groups like
the Gnostics, who had too many texts. Instead, Irenaeus decided that
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John should be the four cornerstone gospels
of what to believe—"
"—because they all had a narrative of Christ's Passion in them...
which the Church needed, in order for the Eucharist to mean something."
"Exactly," Fletcher said. "Then Irenaeus appealed to all those people
who were trying to decide which Christian group was right for them.
Basically, he said: 'We know how hard it is to figure out what's true,
and what's not. So we're going to make it easy for you, and tell you
what to believe.' People who did that were true Christians. People who
didn't were not. And the things Irenaeus told people to believe became
the foundation for the Nicene Creed, years later."
Every priest knew that what we were taught in seminary had a
Catholic spin put on it—yet there was an incontrovertible truth behind
it. I had always believed that the Catholic Church was evidence of religious
survival of the fittest: the truest, most powerful ideas were the
ones that had prevailed over time. But Fletcher was saying that the
most powerful ideas had been subjugated... because they jeopardized
the existence of the Orthodox Church. That the reason they'd had to be
crushed was because—at one point—they'd been as or more popular
than Orthodox Christianity.
Or in other words, the reason the Church had survived and flour
ished was not because its ideas were the most valid, but because it had
been the world's first bully.
"Then the books of the New Testament were just an editorial decision
someone once had to make," I said.
Fletcher nodded. "But what were those decisions based on? The
gospels aren't the word of God. They're not even the apostles' firsthand
accounts of the word of God. They're simply the stories that best supported
the creed that the Orthodox Church wanted people to follow."
"But if Irenaeus hadn't done that," I argued, "chances are there
would be no Christianity. Irenaeus united a whole mass of fragmented
followers and their beliefs. When you're in Rome in A.D. 150 and you're
being arrested because you confess Christ as your savior, you want to
make sure that the people beside you aren't going to turn around at the
last minute and say they believe something different. In fact, it's still
important today to figure out who's a believer and who's just a
nutcase—read any paper and you'll see how anger, prejudice, or ego
are all routinely passed off as the Word of God, usually with a bomb
strapped to it."
"Orthodoxy takes the risk away," Fletcher agreed. "We tell you
what's real and what's not, so you don't have to worry about getting it
wrong. The problem is that the minute you do it, you start separating
people into groups. Some get favored, some don't. Some gospels get
picked, others get hidden away underground for thousands of years."
He looked at me. "Somewhere along the line, organized religion
stopped being about faith, and started being about who had the power
to keep that faith." Fletcher ripped off the sheet of paper with Irenaeus's
equation, leaving a clear, blank slate beneath. He crumpled the
paper, tossed it into his trash can. "You said that the purpose of religion
was to bring people together. But does it, really? Or does it—knowingly,
purposefully, and intentionally—break them apart?"
I took a deep breath. And then I told him everything I knew about
None of us were getting any sleep, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
Crowds have their own pH, and the remarkable thing is that they can
change in an instant. The people who had been camping out outside the
prison—who were featured in a countdown every night on the local news
(MR. MESSIAH: DAY 23)-had somehow gotten word that Shay had been
hospitalized for an injury. But now, in addition to the camp that was holding
a prayer vigil for Shay, there was a very vocal group of people who felt
that this was a sign, that the reason Shay had been hurt so badly was because
God decided he had it coming to him.
They got louder, for some reason, after dark. Insults were hurled, fights
were picked, punches were thrown. Someone sent the National Guard
down to patrol the perimeter of the prison and keep the peace, but no one
could shut them up. Shay's supporters would sing gospel to drown out the
chants of the disbelievers ("Jesus lives! Bourne dies!"). Even with headphones
on, I could still hear them, a headache that wouldn't go away.
Watching the eleven o'clock news that night was surreal. To see the
prison and hear the resonant shouts of the mob outside echoing the broadcast
on my television-well, it was like deja vu, except it was happening
There's only one God, people shouted.
They carried signs: JESUS IS MY HOMEBOY-NOT SATAN.
LET HIM DIE FOR HIS SINS.
NO CROWN OF THORNS FOR SHAY BOURNE.
They were separated from the Shay loyalists by armed guards toting
guns, who walked the fault line of public opinion between them.
"As you can see," the reporter said, "sentiment in support of Shay
Bourne and his unprecedented case to donate his heart is waning in the
wake of his hospitalization. A recent poll done by WNRK news shows only
thirty-four percent of New Hampshire residents still convinced that the
courts should allow Bourne to be an organ donor; and even less than that—
sixteen percent—agree that his miracles are divinely inspired. Which means
that an overwhelming eighty-four percent of the state agrees with Reverend
Arbogath Justus, who's joining us again this evening. Reverend, you
and the members of your church have been here for nearly a week now
and have been instrumental in turning the tide of public opinion. What's
your take on the Bourne hospitalization?"
The Reverend Justus was still wearing that green suit. "Ninety-nine
percent of the state thinks you should burn that outfit," I said out loud.
"Janice," the reverend replied, "we at the Drive-ln Church of Christ in
God have of course been praying for Shay Bourne's speedy and full recovery
in the wake of the prison attack. However, when we pray, we pray to
the one and only Lord: Jesus Christ."
"Is there any message you have for those who still don't agree with
"Why, yes." He leaned closer to the camera. "I told you so."
The reporter took back the microphone. "We've been told that Bourne
will be released from the hospital in the next few hours, but doctors
haven't commented on his condition . . . " Suddenly, a roar went up from
both sides of the crowd, and the reporter covered her earpiece with one
hand. "This is unconfirmed," she said over the din, "but apparently an ambulance
has just driven into the rear entrance of the prison . . ."
On the screen, the camera swung past her to catch a man decking a
woman in a purple caftan. The armed guards stepped in, but by then other
fights had broken out between the camps. The line separating the two bled,
until the guards had to call in reinforcements. The cameras captured a
teenager being trampled, a man being smacked in the head by the butt of
a guard's rifle and collapsing.
"Lights-out," a CO said over the loudspeaker. Lights-out never really
meant lights-out—there was always some residual bulb shining somewhere
in the prison. But I pulled off my headphones, lay down on my bunk—and
listened to the riot going on outside the brick walls of the prison.
This is what it always comes down to, I realized. There are the ones
who believe, and the ones who don't, and caught in the space between
them are guns.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one being disturbed. Batman the Robin
began to squawk, in spite of Calloway's efforts to hush him.
"Shut that freaking bird up already!" Texas yelled.
"You shut up," Calloway said. "Fucking Bourne. Wish he'd never come
onto this fucking tier."
As if he'd been summoned, the door to I-tier opened, and in the halflight,
Shay moved toward his cell, escorted by a flock of six officers. He had
a bandage on his face, and two black eyes. Part of his scalp had been
shaved. He did not look at any of us as he passed. "Hey," I murmured as he
walked by my cell, but Shay didn't respond. He moved like a zombie, like
someone in a sci-fi film whose frontal lobe has been removed by the mad
Five of the officers left. The sixth stood outside Shay's cell door, his
own personal security guard. The presence of the CO prevented me from
talking to Shay. In fact, the presence of the CO prevented any of us from
I guess we were all so focused on his return that it took us several moments
to realize that the quiet wasn't just a lack of conversation. Batman
the Robin had fallen asleep in Calloway's breast pocket. And outside, that
din—that god-awful din—had gone spectacularly, blissfully silent.
America was founded on religious freedom, on the separation of church
and state, and yet I will be the first to tell you that we're not much better
off than those Puritans were in the 1770s over in England. Religion and
politics get into bed with each other all the time: the first thing we do in a
courtroom is swear on a Bible; public school classes begin with the Pledge
of Allegiance, which declares us one nation under God; even our currency
is stamped with the words In God We Trust. You'd think that of all people, a
lawyer like me from the ACLU would be violently opposed to this on principle,
but no. I had spent thirty minutes in the shower and another twenty
driving downtown to the federal courthouse trying to figure out the best
way to drag religion smack into the middle of a courtroom.
I was just determined to do it without offending the personal beliefs
of the judge.
In the parking lot, I called the ChutZpah and reached my mother on
the first try.
"What kind of name is Haig?"
"You mean like the general?"
"Sounds German, maybe," she mused. "I don't know. Why?"
"I was talking religious affiliation."
"Is that what you think I do?" my mother said. "Judge people on their
"Does everything have to be an accusation? I just need to know before
I go into chambers, so that I can tailor what I say to the justice sitting on
"I thought the whole point of being a judge was being impartial."
"Right. Just like the whole point of being crowned Miss America is to
promote world peace."
"I can't remember if Alexander Haig is Jewish. I know your father
liked him because he supported Israel . . ."
"Well, even if he is, that doesn't mean that my judge is. Haig isn't
quite as easy to figure out as someone named O'Malley or Hershkowitz."
"Your father once dated a Jewish girl named Barbara O'Malley, for
your information," my mother said.
"Hopefully before he married you . . ."
"Very funny. I'm just saying that your theory isn't airtight."
"Well, you don't meet many Jewish O'Malleys."
My mother hesitated. "I think her grandparents had their surname legally
changed from Meyer."
I rolled my eyes. "I've got to go. No matter what his religion is, no
judge likes a lawyer who's late."
I had received a call from my secretary when I was meeting with
Warden Coyne about Shay's protection in the prison—Judge Haig
wanted to see counsel in federal court the very next morning, a mere
four days after I'd filed my complaint there. I should have realized
things were going to move blisteringly fast. Shay already had an execution
date scheduled, so the court had put us on an expedited trial
As I turned the corner, I saw the AAG from the appellate division,
Gordon Greenleaf, already waiting. I nodded at him, and then felt my cell
phone vibrating in my purse with a text message.
GOOGLED HAIG-ROM CATI1. XO MOM
I snapped the phone shut as the clerk arrived to lead us into Judge
The judge had thinning gray hair and a distance-runner's body. I
peered at the collar of his shirt, but he was wearing a tie: for all I knew,
he might be wearing a crucifix, a star of David, or even a rope of garlic to
ward off vampires. "All right, boys and girls," he said, "who can tell us
why we're here today?"
"Your Honor," I answered, "I'm suing the commissioner of corrections
of the State of New Hampshire on behalf of my client, Shay
"Yes, thank you, Ms. Bloom, I already breathlessly read your complaint
from cover to cover. What I meant was that Mr. Bourne's impending
execution is already a zoo. Why is the ACLU turning it into a bigger
Gordon Greenleaf cleared his throat. He had always reminded me of
Bozo the Clown, with his tufted red hair and allergies that left his nose
red more often than not. "He's a death row inmate trying to delay the inevitable,
"He's not trying to delay anything," I argued. "He's just trying to make
amends for his sins, and he believes this is the way he needs to die in
order to reach salvation. He'd be the first to tell you you can execute him
tomorrow, as long as it's by hanging."
"This is 2008, Ms. Bloom. We execute people by lethal injection.
We're not going back to a more archaic form of execution," Judge Haig
I nodded. "But, Judge, with all due respect, if the Department of Corrections
finds lethal injection impractical, the sentence may be carried
out by hanging."
"The Department of Corrections doesn't have a problem with lethal
injection!" Greenleaf said.
"It does when Mr. Bournes First Amendment rights are being violated.
He has the right to practice his religious beliefs, even in a prison
setting—up to and including during the moment of his execution."
"What are you talking about?" Greenleaf exploded. "No religion insists
on organ donation. Just because one individual gets some crazy set
of rules into his head to live—or die—by, that doesn't qualify it as a religious
"Gee, Gordon," I said. "Who died and left you God?"
"Counselors, back to your corners," Judge Haig said. He pursed his
lips, deep in thought. "There are some factual issues here that need to be
fleshed out," he began, "but the first of these is, Mr. Greenleaf, whether
the state will agree to hang Mr. Bourne in lieu of giving him a lethal injection."
"Absolutely not, Judge. Preparations are already in place for the
method of execution that was specified at his sentencing."
Judge Haig nodded. "Then we'll set this down for trial. Given the
very real deadline we're working under, it will be an expedited hearing.
We're going to pretend that there's no such thing as federal discovery;
we're going to pretend that there's no such thing as summary judgment
motions—we don't have time for them. Instead, I want witness lists on
my desk in a week, and I want you prepared to go straight to trial in two
Gordon and I gathered our belongings and stepped outside chambers.
"Do you have any idea how much money the taxpayers of New
Hampshire have spent on that death chamber?"
"Take it up with the governor, Gordon," I said. "If the rich towns in
New Hampshire have to pay for public education, maybe the poor towns
can cough up the funds for future death row inmates."
He folded his arms. "What's the ACLU's game here, Maggie? You can't
get the death penalty declared unconstitutional, so you use religion as a
I smiled at him. "You do if it helps you get the death penalty declared
unconstitutional. See you in two weeks, Gordon," I said, and I walked
off, leaving him staring after me.
Three times, I picked up the phone and dialed. Three times, I hung up
just as the line connected.
I couldn't do this.
But I had to. I had two weeks to get the facts; and if I was going to
fight on Shay's behalf to donate his heart, I needed to understand exactly
how this was going to work—and be able to explain that in court.
When the hospital switchboard connected, I asked to speak to Dr.
Gallagher's office. I left my name and number with a secretary, fully anticipating
the fact that it would take some time before he returned my call,
during which I might actually develop the courage to speak to him. So
when the phone rang almost as soon as I put down the receiver, I was
shocked to hear his voice. "Ms. Bloom," he said. "What can I do for
"You weren't supposed to call back this fast," I blurted out.
"Ah, I'm sorry. I really should be less punctual with my patients."
"I'm not your patient."
"Right. You were only masquerading as one." He was silent, and then
said, "I believe you called me?"
"Yes. Yes, I did. I was wondering if you might be willing to meet with
me—professionally, of course—"
"—to talk about hanging and organ donation."
"If only I had a dime for every time I've been asked to do that," Dr.
Gallagher said. "I'd be delighted to meet with you. Professionally, of
"Of course," I said, deflated. "The catch is, I have to meet you fairly
soon. My client's trial starts in two weeks."
"Well, then, Ms. Bloom, I'll pick you up at seven."
"Oh—you don't have to do that. I can meet you at the hospital."
"Yes, but I really prefer to not eat the cafeteria Jell-O on my days
"It's your day off?" He called me back on his day off? "Well, we can do it
some other time . . ."
"Didn't you just tell me this was something that needed to be done
"Well," I said. "Yeah."
"Then seven o'clock it is."
"Excellent," I said in my finest courtroom voice. "I look forward to it."
I held my breath, waiting for him to lay down the parameters of this
meeting. Do not expect this to be any more than it is on the surface: two
professionals doing business. Do not forget that you could have asked
any number of doctors, even ones who don't have eyes the color of a
moonless night and an accent that tugs like a fishing hook. Do not delude
yourself into pretending this is a real date.
"I don't know where you live."
Whoever said that black makes you look thinner obviously did not have
the same clothes that were hanging in my closet. First I tried on my favorite
black pants, which were no longer my favorite because they only buttoned
if I stopped breathing and didn't intend to sit at all during the
meal. The black turtleneck that still had tags on it made me look like I
had a double chin, and the black crochet shrug that had looked so cute
in the catalog showed every inch of bra roll. Red, I thought. I'll be bold and
make a statement. I tried on a crimson silk camisole, but the only statement
I seemed to be sending was Frederick's of Hollywood. I sifted
through wraps and cardigans and shells and blazers, A-line skirts and
pleated ones and cocktail dresses, tossing them off one by one onto the
floor as Oliver hopped away in vain, trying not to get trapped underneath.
I tried on every single pair of trousers in my possession and decided
that my ass was well on its way to being declared one of Saturn's
moons. Then I marched myself to the bathroom mirror. "Here's the
thing," I said to myself. "You don't have to look like Jennifer Aniston to
discuss the best way to execute someone."
Although, I imagined, it probably helped.
Finally I decided on my favorite pair of jeans, and a flowing pale
green tunic that I'd found for five dollars at an Asian boutique, so I
always felt good about wearing it, even when I didn't look perfect. I
twisted my hair up and stabbed it with a hair stick, hoping it looked
artful and Grecian instead of just messy and out of time.
At exactly seven, the doorbell rang. I took one last look at myself in
the mirror—the outfit clearly said casual, together, not trying too hard—
and opened the door to find Dr. Gallagher wearing a coat and tie.
"I can change," I said quickly. "I didn't know we were going somewhere
nice. Not that I wouldn't expect you to take me somewhere nice.
Or that you're taking me. I mean, I'm taking myself. And you're taking
you. We're just going in the same car."
"You look lovely," he said. "This is how I dress all the time."
"On your day off?"
"Well, I am British," he replied, an explanation; but he hooked his
finger in his collar and slipped the tie from his shirt. He draped it over
the inside knob of the front door.
"When I was in college and someone did that it meant—" I broke off,
remembering what it did mean: don't enter, because your roommate is
getting lucky. "It meant that, um, you were busy studying for a test."
"Really?" Dr. Gallagher said. "How strange. At Oxford it meant your
roommate was inside having sex."
"Maybe we should go," I said quickly, hoping he didn't notice that I
was blushing fiercely, or that I lived alone with a rabbit, or that my hips
were so big that they probably wouldn't fit into the seat of the little sports
car he'd parked in my driveway.
He opened the car door for me and didn't turn the ignition until my
seat belt was fastened. As he sped off, he cleared his throat. "There's
something I'd like to get out of the way before we go any further," he
said. "I'm Christian."
I stared at him. Was he some kind of fundamentalist who limited his
extracurricular conversations to people of the same faith? Did he think
that I harbored some secret desire to elope, and was he giving me the lay
Well, whatever. I'd been eating, sleeping, breathing religion with
Shay's case; I was even more sensitive now about religious tolerance than
I'd been before I took up this mantle. And if religion was so vitally important
to Gallagher that he had to bring it up as the first point of conversation,
I could give as good as I got. "I'm an atheist," I said, "but you
might as well know right now that my father's a rabbi, and if you have a
problem with that I'm sure I can find another physician to talk to me,
and I'd really appreciate it if you didn't make a joke right now about
"Well," he said, and glanced at me. "Perhaps you'd rather call me
I was pretty sure Emily Post wouldn't have covered this topic, but it
seemed more discreet to wait until after we were served our main course
to start talking about how to kill a man.
The restaurant was inside an old colonial home in Orford, with floorboards
that rolled like the seas beneath my feet and a bustling kitchen off
to one side. The hostess had a husky, mellifluous voice and greeted the
doctor by name.
The room we were sitting in had only six tables, covered with mismatched
linen and dishes and glasses; candles burned in recycled wine
bottles. On the wall were mirrors in every shape and size—my own personal
version of the ninth circle of hell—but I hardly even noticed them.
Instead, I drank water and wine and pretended that I did not want to
spoil my appetite by eating the freshly baked bread they'd served us
along with dipping oil—or by talking about Shay's execution.
Christian smiled at me. "I've always imagined one day I'd be forced
to consider how one went about losing one's heart, but I must admit, I
didn't think it would be quite so literal."
The waiter arrived with our plates. The menu had been full of the
most delectable cuisine: Vietnamese bouillabaisse, escargot tortellini,
chorizo dumplings. Even the descriptions of the entrees made me salivate:
Handmade to order, fresh Italian parsley pasta filled with fresh artichoke
hearts, roasted eggplant, a medley of cheeses, and sweet roasted red and yellow
pepper, tossed with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. Slices of boneless chicken
lined with thin slices of prosciutto filled with fresh spinach, Asiago cheese, and
sweet onion rolled and served with fresh fettuccine and a tomato marsala wine
reduction. Boneless breast of duck roasted, thinly sliced, served with a sun-dried
cherry sauce and a wild rice pancake.
In the wild hope that I might fool Christian into thinking my waist
size was not what it seemed to be, I'd swallowed hard and ordered an appetizer.
I'd fervently wished that Christian would order the braised leg of
lamb or the steak frites so that I could beg a taste, but when I explained I
wasn't all that hungry (a colossal lie), he said an appetizer was all he
really wanted, too.
"From what I imagine," Christian said, "the inmate would be hanged
in such a way that the spine would be fractured at C2/C3, which would
arrest all spontaneous respiration."
I was trying very hard to follow along. "You mean he'd break his neck
and stop breathing?"
"So then he's brain-dead?"
A couple at the next table glanced at me, and I realized I'd been talking
too loudly. That some people didn't like to mix death with dinner.
"Well, not quite. It takes some time for anoxic changes to the brain to
result in a loss of reflexes . . . which is how you test for brain-stem function.
The problem is that you can't leave your man hanging for a great
period of time, or his heart will stop, and that disqualifies him as a
"So what has to happen?"
"The state needs to agree that the fact that respiration's ceased is
enough to justify taking the body down from the noose on likely suspi
cion of death, then intubate him so that the heart is protected, and then
test for brain death."
"Intubating him isn't the same as resuscitating him, then?"
"No. It's the equivalent of someone brain-dead being on a ventilator.
It preserves the organs, but there won't be any brain function once that
spinal cord is severed and hypoxia sets in, no matter how much oxygen
you pump into his system."
I nodded. "So how do you determine brain death?"
"There are multiple ways. You can do a physical exam first—check to
make sure there are no corneal reflexes, no spontaneous respirations, no
gag reflex—and then repeat it twelve hours later. But since time is of the
essence, I'd recommend a transcranial Doppler test, which uses ultrasound
to measure blood flow through the carotid arteries at the base of
the brain. If there's no blood flow for ten minutes, you can legally declare
I imagined Shay Bourne—who could barely string together a coherent
sentence, who bit his fingernails to the quick—being led to a gallows.
I pictured the noose being drawn tight around his neck and felt the hair
stand up on the back of my own.
"It's brutal," I said softly, and put down my fork.
Christian was quiet for a moment. "I was a resident in Philadelphia
the first time I had to tell a mother her child had died. He was the victim
of a gang shooting—eight years old. He'd gone to the corner store to get
a quart of milk, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will
never forget the look in her eyes when I told her we weren't able to save
her son. When a child is killed, two people die, I think. The only difference
is that his mother still had to suffer a heartbeat." He looked up at
me. "It will be brutal for Mr. Bourne. But it was brutal for June Nealon
I sat back in my chair. This, then, was the catch. You meet a welleducated,
intensely gorgeous, charming Oxford-educated man, and he
turns out to be so right-wing he's nearly pointed backward. "Then
you're in favor of capital punishment?" I asked, trying to keep my voice
"I think it's easy to take the moral high road when it's all theory,"
Christian said. "As a physician, do I think it's right to kill someone? No.
But then again, I don't have children yet. And I'd be lying if I said that
when I do, this issue will still seem crystal clear to me."
I didn't have children yet, either; at the rate I was going, I might
never have them. And the only time I'd seen June Nealon, face-to-face,
we'd been at the restorative justice meeting and she had been so filled
with righteous anger that I found it hard to look at her. I didn't know
what it felt like to carry a child underneath my heart for nine months, to
feel my body give way to make room for hers. I didn't know what it felt
like to hold an infant and rock her to sleep, to find a lullaby in her
breathing. But I knew what it was like to be the daughter.
My mother and I hadn't always argued. I could still remember
wishing that I was as glamorous as she was—trying on her highheeled
shoes, pulling her sheer satin slips up to my armpits as if they
were strapless dresses, diving into the wondrous mystery of her
makeup bag. She had, at one point, been the person I wanted to grow
up to be.
It was so damn hard to find love in this world, to locate someone
who could make you feel that there was a reason you'd been put on this
earth. A child, I imagined, was the purest form of that. A child was the
love you didn't have to look for, didn't have to prove anything to, didn't
have to worry about losing.
Which is why, when it happened, it hurt so badly.
Suddenly, I wanted to call my mother. I wanted to call June Nealon. I
was on my first date since the dinosaurs had roamed the planet, a date
that was really just a business dinner, and I felt like bursting into tears.
"Maggie?" Christian leaned forward. "Are you all right?" And then he
put his hand on top of mine.
Arrest all spontaneous respiration, he had said.
The waiter appeared at the side of the table. "I hope you've left room
I had nothing but room; my appetizer had been a crab cake the size
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