17. Picture

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Henry stumbled through the doorway into his apartment, his head still clouded in a haze of booze. When he blew out a thunderous belch, bile rose midway up his throat, leaving behind a burning sting. He waved his hand in front of his nose, and the smell of sour beer gave way to an odor of musty leaves and a half-eaten ham sandwich left to die on the peeling window sill ahead.

As the door slowly closed out the electric glow from the hallway, Henry reached over a small square table and flicked a metal lighter to the oil lamp. The pale light revealed a studio apartment with barely enough room for the Murphy bed, two-seater couch, kerosene stove, and an oak icebox – all of which looked like thrift store rejects.

Henry plodded past the stove and plucked a glass from the wall cabinet with a missing door. He gave the faucet handle a twist and water dribbled into the glass until it was about half full. He took a few noisy gulps and wandered over to his bed. As he set the glass down on the night stand, his knuckles brushed against something papery and it drifted to the floor.

In one swoop, Henry leaned over, picked up the paper, and then plopped back onto the bed, his legs swinging up over the side. His head settled into a lumpy pillow as his back was getting jabbed by loose box springs. He lifted the paper to see what he had knocked over.

A photograph.

Even though it was black and white, faded and worn. Even in the dim light of Henry's apartment, his mother's graceful features were a shining beacon.

In '16, Gloria Louis died of Scarlet Fever at the age of fifty-six. She was fine on Easter Sunday. Fine for the service at First Baptist. Fine that entire day. A week later, she was dead.

Henry could hear his heart crashing against his chest so hard he thought it might burst.

"I'm sorry," Henry whispered, gazing at his mother's warm expression. "I failed you."

Henry fought back a wall of tears. "I failed you," he repeated, even softer.

He reached over to the nightstand and stood up the picture against the small white bottle of laudanum.

Henry felt his body relaxing ... his thoughts unwinding. The alcohol in his head seeped into his eyelids and pulled them shut and Henry faded to sleep but not before uttering one final word:

Sarah ...

Author's Note:

The chapter image is a vintage kerosene light like the one in Henry's apartment. Henry also owned:

1) a Murphy bed, the kind that folds down from the wall,

2) a kerosene stove with two burners and a compact oven (by today's standards at least),

3) a Knickerbocker-brand oak icebox.

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Take care!


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