Ross Wakeman succeeded the first time he killed himself, but not the second or the third.
He fell asleep at the wheel and drove his car off a bridge into a lake -- that was the second time -- and was found on the shore by rescuers. When his half-sunken Honda was recovered, the doors were all locked, and the tempered glass windows were shattered like spider-webs, but still intact. No one could figure out how he'd gotten out of the car in the first place, much less survived a crash without even a scratch.
The third time, Ross was mugged in New York City. The thief took his wallet and beat him up, and then shot him in the back and left him for dead. The bullet -- fired close enough to have shattered his scapula and punctured a lung -- didn't. Instead it miraculously stopped at the bone, a small nugget of lead that Ross now used as a keychain.
The first time was years ago, when Ross had found himself in the middle of an electrical storm. The lightning, a beautiful blue charge, had staggered out of the sky and gone straight for his heart. The doctors told him that he had been legally dead for seven minutes. They reasoned that the current could not have struck Ross directly, because 50,000 amperes of current in his chest cavity would have boiled the moisture in his cells and quite literally made him explode. Instead, the lightning had hit nearby and created an induced current in his own body, one still strong enough to disturb his cardiac rhythm. The doctors said he was one hell of a lucky man.
They were wrong.
Now, as Ross walked up the pitched wet roof of the O'Donnells' Oswego home in the dark, he did not even bother with caution. The wind coming off Lake Ontario was cold even in August, and whipped his long hair into his eyes as he maneuvered around the gabled window. The rain bit at the back of his neck as he worked the clamps onto the flashing and positioned the waterproof video camera so that it was pointing into the attic.
His boots slipped, dislodging some of the old shingles. On the ground, beneath an umbrella, O'Donnell squinted up at him. "Be careful," the man called out. Ross also heard the words he did not say: We've got enough ghosts.
But nothing would happen to him. He would not trip; he wouldn't fall. It was why he volunteered for the riskiest tasks; why he put himself into danger again and again. It was why he'd tried bungee jumping and rock climbing and crack cocaine. He waved down to Mr. O'Donnell, indicating that he'd heard. But just as Ross knew that in eight hours, the sun would come up -- just as he knew that he'd have to go through the motions for another day -- he also knew he couldn't die, in spite of the fact that it was what he wanted, more than anything.
The baby woke Spencer Pike, and he struggled to a sitting position. In spite of the nightlights kept in every room at the Shady Pines Nursing Home -- nearly enough combined wattage, he imagined, to illuminate all of Burlington, Vermont -- Spencer couldn't see past the foot of his bed. He couldn't see anything these days, thanks to the cataracts; although sometimes he'd get up to take a leak, and in the mirror, as he passed by, he would catch a glimpse of someone watching him -- someone whose brow was not spotted and yellow; someone whose skin was not sighing off his bones. But then the young man Spencer had once been would disappear, leaving him to stare at the crumbs that were left of his life.
His ears, though, were sharp. Unlike the other sorry old morons in this place, Spencer had never needed a hearing aid. Hell, he heard things that he didn't even care to.
On cue, the baby cried again.
Spencer's hand scrabbled over the covers to the call button beside his bed. A moment later, the night nurse came in. "Mr. Pike," she said. "What's the matter?"
From Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. Copyright Jodi Picoult 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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