Shrunken Heads

Miniature Portraits of the Famous Among Us
Merle Drown


“He’s going to be with the angels,” Mama told me.  I was just a little girl, and I didn’t know if she meant Uncle Bill was getting ready to live in heaven or if he’d already gone there.  I knew it wasn’t the right time to ask because all through our whole house everybody was breathing slowly, like it would be wrong to show off all the breaths you had when Uncle Bill could barely wheeze in the narrow bedroom off our kitchen.

Mama sent me outside to play, so I couldn’t hear if Uncle Bill still breathed.  I wanted to be in the house to see what was going on, but I was mostly curious about the angels.

A shiny, black car drove down our driveway, which was just two ruts where grass didn’t grow.  The men who got out of the long car wore black suits with white shirts and ties.  I thought they were funny looking angels, but maybe the angels in our old Bible were just old-fashioned angels, and these were modern ones.  Or maybe I’d never seen a picture of man angels, just lady angels with long blonde hair.  Or maybe I mixed them up with queens and princesses and fairies from my fairy-tale book.  I didn’t know. I just knew I couldn’t run into the house and ask Mama if these were Uncle Bill’s angels.

I walked to the back corner of the house outside the room Uncle Bill lay in.  It used to be my room, until February when Uncle Bill came to be sick with us.  Mama put my bed at the end of the upstairs hall.  It was cold, but this was May, and I didn’t mind sleeping there anymore.  Now I heard talking from Uncle Bill’s room, wheezing.  I couldn’t tell what Uncle Bill’s angels said because their voices stayed soft like the new blanket Mama bought for me when it was cold in the hallway.

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