302. One Thing Worse

“Hmm.
He sat there through my story,
I know that. Looked a little
Green around the gills.”
Louise cocked her head.
“A man who’ll sit and hear
What they don’t like to,
I’d keep; he’s a keeper–
Didn’t butt in, neither.”

Louise turned to Riah.
“Now.
You had a candle,
In the bed.”
Riah flinched,
As if she had forgot.
“What’s said in pain,
It counts. Counts
Even more”–
Louise took Riah’s hand
In both of hers. “Okay,
Here’s what I heard.
The night the fire started–
Thunderstorm,
A big one. I know
It broke up quick, and
Then was dry. It quick
Passed through–
Is that right?”
“Yes.”
“Windy?”
“Yes.”
“Squall?”
“Yes.”
Louise nodded,
As in afterthought:
“Lightning?”
“Yes.”

Louise nodded, ruminating,
Like a lawyer with
A client on the stand.
“Okay, Riah. Shall I
Tell you something true?
There’s only one thing
Worse, than if you–just
A girl you were–if you
Did forget that candle,
Fall asleep, whatever,
Start that fire,
Blaming on yourself
That all your family burned,
Holding yourself guilty
Every living hour,
Till your dying day.
One thing’s worse.
Can you tell me?”
Riah’s fingers shrank to ice.
She said,
“No.”

“You know it.
Then I’ll say it,”
Said Louise.
“It’s lightning.”
Riah stared, unknowing.
“Here’s what’s worse:
They died,
It’s not your fault.
It was lightning–
Which I think it was–
A blaze that wild, it
Don’t explode from candles–
Well, we’ll never know.
But what if it was
Lightning?”
“What–”

“Then it was simply
Nothing. Bolt of lightning–
And your mother, and
Your father, and your
Brother, died for
Nothing. From
Nothing. Just
The wrong place,
The wrong time.
Like where I’d been.
That’s all. Nothing.
Nothing more.
No one to blame.”

Louise withdrew her hand,
And settled back.
“That’s worse.
No way to fix it.
Not if Riah’d been
A good girl,
Put that candle out.
Nothing to be done, so
No way to stop it
Happening again–could be
A mother does
The innocentest thing–
She tells her son,
Yes, you go plow.”

A branch crashed down outside,
Against the steps.
The wind had eased, now
Distant, in the fields.
The dust still streaked
Their faces:
Still, the dark.

When, at long last,
Riah had looked up,
She felt no shock
To see Louise’s old,
Familiar smile, a smile
As if to say: we’re
Here. We’ve scrambled
To firm ground, for now.
“You’re breathing
Damn-sight better,” said Louise.
“But then–you were
An hour ago.”

A weariness,
Unutterable tiredness,
Seemed to seep in Riah’s
Bones. “Can I sleep?”
She asked.
Before the answer,
Her eyes closed.

2 Responses to “302. One Thing Worse”

  1. Grad Says:

    This put a lump in my throat. Very well written. You evoke such emotion with such an economy of words, it’s really quite amazing.

  2. sshaver Says:

    I express my thanks on the Welcome Page.

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