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       A Verse Narrative by Michael E. Mautner


    Objects, in setting this scene,
    lend it such a bleak mien:

          A cracked doctor-bag,
          leather and black,
          opens on the desk top
          blotter.  The stethoscope,
          folded once, is swallowed
          by it; it goes back in
          as the bag closes.  Doc
          Everett retracts his arm,
          turns to Clark.  He dislikes
          this part of his job most,
          dislikes being


          --    Nothing more I can do.
                With walking pneumonia,
                maybe for months, collapsed
                lungs, drowning in herself,
                there's nothing to be done.
                She wants to be awake
                for the end, or else
                I'd've sedated her,
                spared her the pain.
                It'll come soon now.
                Nothing anyone could've done.

    (Stage whispering):

          --    Edge, did you get the woman's name?

                --    It's 'Ghent,' Mr. Luther; I think.

          --    Well, be sure.  See that her people
                are cared for.  Spare no expense.
                And arrange for me to leave at once.
                You are responsible for this, Edge.
                "Visit the workers," you said,
                "Shake hands in reporters' sights,
                 boost investor confidence and beat
                 the 'robber baron' tag to boot,"
                you said.  Now?  Disaster.  Since
                you broke it, Edge, you'll fix it.
                You'll stay in this gray backwater
                until this whole incident's forgot!
                Do I make myself clear?

                --    Yessir!

          --    I want my private train by nine.

                --    Yessir!

          --    And find that lazy son of mine!

                --    Yessir!

          And off the mogul storms,
          never out of range
          of super-hearing.
          Thus the hero, listening,
          confirms this suspicion
          (only moments old):  Sin
          thrives in Wealth's dominion.
          It spreads like spit glistening
          on a shiny band of gold.
          Today is a christening --
          he is done with the Comp'ny --
          and a day of reckoning.
          An accounting (fitting term)
          will come.  In due time.  Not now.

    Lana clears the room.
    Mother and son should be alone
    when the end comes.  "Call if you need me,"
    she says.  And he: "I will," as she goes.
    Then they are alone,
    and with the heel of his hand
    Clark shifts the steel-gray strands
    of Ma's hair off her brow.
    "I can see you better now,
     son," Sarah says.
    "How do you feel," he asks,
     feeling instantly foolish.

    --    It hurts.  But, it should hurt.
          Not meant to be easy,
          this last ride.  Let the dirt
          cover me, son.

          --    No coffin?

    --    None.
          I want to go like my Pa.
          He said wood would only
          get in the way,
          that the worms should
          be able to eat him up so that,
          one day, fat off him, a big one could
          help a boy catch the biggest fish
          in the whole county    that season.
          Let me die toward such a reason
          and I will die    a happy woman, son.

          --    It will be done just that way.

    A long pause, her eyes closed.
    Then she begins again, so quietly
    that no one but he could possibly
    hear her:

    --    Clark?

          --    Yes, Ma?

    --    From what kind of world did you come?

          --    A cold one.
                I know from a vision
                that it was warm, once.
                But weapons of war,
                as men are wont to make,
                shifted its orbit
                and the whole planet froze.
                It exploded a century later,
                its axis having crumbled,
                its people never humbled.

    --    Why are you here?

          --    I don't know.  My good luck,    I guess.

    --    I know.

          --    You do?

    --    Yes.

          --    Why?

    (She sighs, then sinks a bit
     into the pillow, pulling sheet to chin.)

    --    You are here for them...    To... atone.

    (She sighs again, heavier this time.)

                --    Ma?    Ma!

    He is alone.

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