293. 9 p.m. April 15

          Ladybird, Ladybird,
          Fly away home.
          Your house is on fire,
          Your children all gone.
          All but one,
          And her name’s Ann,
          And she hid under the frying pan.

Louise sang,
And stitched a towel.
Sitting crosslegged, she seemed
Not to notice Riah, though
Tom knew, somehow, she did.
He frowned.
Why must she chant
That nursery rhyme?

          All but one,
          And her name’s Ann,
          And she hid under the frying pan.

Riah’s eyes had opened.
From his table, Tom felt
She was being taunted
In some way, as Louise
Sang her lilting song:

          House is on fire,
          Children all gone.

Slowly, Riah turned her head
From left to right.
Louise kept stitching,
Humming: but against
That sound, the grate
Of Riah’s wheezes rose
In volume, snagging air,
And tearing at the room,
Harsh, strangling.
Tom clenched his hands,
But he’d made up his mind:
Louise decides.

          All but one,
          And her name’s Ann,
          And she hid under
          The frying pan.

Tensed,
Louise leaned forward.
This, she figured, her last
Shot: what with
Asthma crushing in
The struggling chest, the weak
Lungs filling, vigor
Failing. James’
Arrival had revived
Her silent patient
One last time–

Louise’s voice was silky,
And her eyes were slanted,
Orange in candle-light:
A demon cat.
“Well, you almost lost
Another one,” she offered.
“Sent your son
Out in a storm
To choke to death.”
Tom froze.
Louise moved closer:
“What about the others?
Dead, and you alive?

“Tell me
About the fire.”

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