The cop stared down at the boy. He lay there, gaunt, hollow-cheeked, wasted; a ghost of the hulk he had shot a year ago.
“Hi Bennie, I’m Officer Grant.”
“Yeah--- I--- know.” The words came in guttural belches, synchronized with the respirator.
“How you doin’?”
“How’re the legs?”
“You--- tell--- me--- Officer. I ain’t--- felt e’m or--- moved e’m--- in a year.”
“What about your hands?”
“I haven’t--- been--- able to--- move them--- either.”
The cop dragged a plastic chair to the bedside and sat. The boy stared at the ceiling as the respirator wheezed and a vacuum cleaner snarled somewhere down the hall. The cop hated hospitals; the smells, the sickness, the fear.
“Bennie, I uh just wanted to tell you that I’m the one who shot you.” The words came out blunt and defiant, as if a softer tone would have been an admission of regret. Cop talk, he knew; the way to defend yourself by going on offence.
They sat in what passed for silence in a hospital. The cop wracked his memory for the speech he had planned.
“I didn’t mean to leave you paralyzed,” he finally said.
The boy rolled his eyes to the right, stared at him and then focused on the ceiling again.
“Look! I was cleared in the investigation,” the cop shouted. “The shooting was justified.”
The boy said nothing.
“Hey, kid, I just came to see how you were. You don’t expect me to apologize do you?”
The boy’s eyes rolled back to him, but instead of their previous hopelessness, they looked piercing and alive.
The cop squirmed and said, “I know the guy that got away was the one who held up that gas station. He had a gun. I thought you were with him and had a gun, too.”
Only the sharp stare.
“I---I was scared,” the cop said.
The boy blinked.
“What else could I have done?” the cop whispered, almost to himself.
The boy blinked again.
“I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since it happened.” Now his voice rose in a pleading wale.
The boy continued to stare at him.
“You know something? I’ve even been praying for you. I haven’t prayed since Sunday School.” He stared back into the boy’s eyes and continued, tears blurring his vision. “I prayed for forgiveness, but it didn’t do any good. Then I got this crazy urge to come here---to see you.”
As he watched the boy’s face he noted tears well up in the deathly eyes, but still the boy said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” the cop groaned. “Your forgiveness would mean the world to me.”
He reached for the lifeless hand and held it, weeping, his forehead on the bed. He couldn’t remember how long he stayed there. Finally, he lifted his head and stared at the boy. His eyes were closed, but his face shone with a smile.
“I---forgive---you,” the boy said, as if in a dream.
As the cop tried to leave he felt a gentle squeeze from the boy’s hand.
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