The old man led her down protesting stairs, past Atlas, the tree trunk that holds the hand hewn beams upon his shoulders, into the wine and fruit room full of jars and bottles. He opens a closet door and puts a human skull into her hands. "This is Nokomis," he said. "They say she was an Indian girl of nineteen years killed by a blow behind the ear. See the hole? I found her in the forest where a giant tree had fallen. This skull was in its roots. No other bones. Wolves had taken them but could not hold her skull in their great jaws. I thought of covering her but something said "Do not abandon me" and so I brought her home to cherish.
The woman held the polished skull and ran her fingers over it, traced around its eye holes, caressed the high cheek bones. "I have not held death in my hands before," she said.
Later, she asked the old man, "Please may I touch your skull too?" and when he nodded ran her fingers over it. Except for skin and wisps of hair it was the same. She stroked his cheeks and beard until he spoke.
Later, alone, she swirled her own dark hair, smoothed it with her hands and chanted "Kyrie eleison."