270. Louise Begins

“Her lips are blue. Most
Times, that’s what goes
Last. The feet turn
Cold, the palms,
The lips.
Fetch me a quilt.”

Knee-bent above
The body on the mattress, Louise
Chafed the lifeless
Fingers, arms, then legs–
Rubbed up and down
Till she was panting.
“Damn it. Damn.”
Tom shook the quilt out.
“Got to tell you–
Corpses are this froze.
Never saw a live one so,”
She said. “It’s news
To me. I thought I’d
Seen it all.”

He stepped closer.
“Back!” she snapped,
Not knowing why–
The nearer Tom,
Her mind was drawn away–
“Back! Christ! I have
Enough here on my hands,
Without I wonder,
How’s Tom getting on?
Take care of it,
Yourself!
I’m not your Ma!”

He faded into darkness.
She grabbed scissors,
Started in to snipping rags
And fiercely folding them
In neat rectangle piles–
“Pour water in the bowl.
The cool. That’s right.”
She moved the lamp
Up next to Riah’s head.
“We want the light
To go clear through
The lids, to pester her,
To catch her eye….”
She dropped the rags
As if she’d lost her
Thought, and bent down
Pressing light and rhythmic, first
On Riah’s chest, then
Waist. “A way of breathing, helps
These kind, sometimes.”
She started rubbing,
Once more, arms–“We want
To just keep knocking,
Knocking,
Until something opens,
Lets us in….”

Louise stopped.
She sat back on her heels.
“She ain’t seeing.
She ain’t hearing.
She don’t feel.”
Tom loomed nearer.
Louise did not seem to care.
She was speaking to herself:
“What? What?–”
Wringing her hands, puzzled.

She scrutinized her patient
Up and down.
She ran a finger
Over Riah’s sleeve.
Louise said,
“Dust.”
She sighed, and then:
“Of course.”
She lifted the hem
Of Riah’s dress.
Of Riah’s underslip,
Raised up a fold.
A thick cascade of sand
Hissed to the ground.

Louise bit her lip,
And frowned.

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