296. Confession

“Move them
Fires!”

Louise snatched up a candle,
Pushed it close to Riah
Till Tom smelled scorched hair.
Face corpse-white,
Riah, rising,
Jacked her twisted body up
Until she fell.

“How’d you get out?”
Crackling voice, Louise:
“How’d you get out–
You, the only one?
You saw the fire,
Got scared,
Cut and run?
Didn’t warn them,
Is that it?”
“No–
I slept
Closest the door–
No faces,
I saw,
Only fire.
Door and fire,
I saw–only
Fire.”

At this, Louise
Seemed enraged. She
Seized Riah’s arms, and
Shook: “You did
Something bad!
I know you did!
What’s eating you?
You got it in your blood,
You got it
On the brain, it’s
Stuck smack in your craw,
So spit it out!
You cough it up!
Whatever did–”
“I had–
A candle
In the bed.”

Louise released her.
Riah dropped,
Contorting to inhale:
“I thought
I put it out.
I always
Put it out.
A candle
By the bed.
But then,
The fire.
It all happened.
After, I sit outside
By a car,
And they were
Gone. All of them,
Gone. I had
A candle
In the bed.”

Louise’s eyes, taut slits,
Had never left her.
“Why?”
“For–
Reading.”

Louise glanced at her sharply.
Tom, hesitant, spoke
With uncertain hope:
“That’s it, then?”
He stood up.
“She’ll buck up now–
Rest easy–
Do you reckon?
Like you thought,
She had a secret.
She was thinking it’s
Her fault–eats away
At you, the guilt–
That’s what’s wrong?”

Unspeaking, Louise
Crouched among her
Rags, red hair
Matted to her head
Where she had dozed.
Transfixed, she was absorbed
In Riah’s face.

She wavered.
Then her eyes
Flashed black with
Pain: a jolt that
Struck Tom like a blow.

He sat down.
Louise frowned.
She said:
“No.”

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