This house was built in 1893. In 1992, its roof caught a tree cut down by a tropical storm off of Mobile Bay. In 2001, the living room wall was struck by lightning. The logs in the fireplace never burned. Katie sleeps next to charred sheet rock, wingback chairs and half-eaten sandwiches served to visitors. Antiques are stacked like champagne glasses at a wedding reception, memory bubbling down their rusted edges. The bed provided by hospice displays her at forty-five degrees, the room has been set at a comfortable sixty-eight. Blood rises every ten minutes, pumped by an oil donkey called cancer, into a white handkerchief that should, but does not, stain. I become paler as the sweat on my face evaporates. She wakes.
I want to be baptized, she says.
In the next life, I say.
Now, she says.
Although the water in the font comes only to my waist, I am afraid she will drown. Napoleon gathers her body in one arm. I focus to find her shape like a cloud in the sky. He removes the tube.
She gags as the back of her head touches the water. All hair must be covered for this. I am glad she has none.
We finish and I retire to the men’s room, dry from the waist up. The wet pants chafe my knees where they rub the tile floor and I weep.
We bring her home. Place her again as the centerpiece in a room of expired use. We mourn.
Her eyes are open—still wet—staring at the blistered ceiling.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Brandon Henderson