269. Setting Up

On her hands and knees,
She felt for Riah.
“Ah!” A candle flicker
Found the silent face.
Tom knelt too.
“What!”–Louise, a stifled cry–
“God!–” lunging, swinging
Fists, she struck Tom
In the mouth,
And fell. Her knuckles
Bled. He spat a shattered
Tooth, and gagged.
“What did you call me
For?” she screamed.
“She’s dead!”

Tom said, “No,
No, no–” seizing
Riah’s wrist, he
Fumbled for her pulse,
First grabbing here,
Then there. His heart,
A tumor in his throat
That rose and choked him,
Clumsy fingers sliding
Up and down her arm.
He bumped a candle over–
It went out–
Another blinked,
And failed–
“Here–here.”

But Louise had shrunk back,
Pulled away:
“Her lips are blue.
Her fingernails are
Bue.” She sat now
Rocking on her haunches,
Slowly swaying, arms
Held up across her eyes.
“No,” Thomas said,
“Feel here.
Feel here.”
She rocked. Frantic,
Tom laid hands on her,
And gently shook.
Her shoulders heaved.

He clutched her fingers,
Pried them from her face–
Her fear must go
Away, she must
Agree, must feel
The pulse!–
He unpeeled her
Fist, stiff as 
A cramp, and yanked that
Arm until her fingers touched
That wrist–

It was not a river.
Not a stream. Not
A running torrent–but
The barest rill, a weak and
Weightless current
Trickling under flesh.

“Bring the mattress”-
Louise spoke out, low.
“So if I’m in the kitchen,
She’ll still hear.
I’ll need to stay in earshot,
All the time.
When you’ve put her on it,
I need–water.
Tie rope to the door,
You don’t get lost.
Tank–the pail–
As much as you can get.
It needs to boil,
Silt to settle down. Then
Skim the top.
I need a cup,
And candle matches.
Find the kerosene.
I need bowls,
And rags.
Boil every ounce you got,
Out in the kitchen.
I want clean, if–”

Tom had started
Toward the door, a peculiar
Look, sharp, torn,
Across his face.
She rebuked him:
“He’s a needle in a haystack,
Out there plowing,
And the haystack blown away.
Wild goose chase.
Tom, you know as well as me
That it’s no use.
A storm’s a storm. Later,
Drink or pray. But now’s
No time for silly-acting.
All we’ve got to give her:
Water, clean, and
Ease. Now, I
Need my bag–I
Dropped it on the porch.
I need scissors.
I need water.
I need rags.”

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2 Responses to “269. Setting Up”

  1. Kaki Warner Says:

    “Later, drink or pray.” Great line, says it all. You do have the gift.

  2. sshaver Says:

    Kaki, I am enjoying following this trail of comments. Will answer on the Welcome Page!

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