111. Patty’s Voice

Baby’d cried since
Breakfast from the heat.
Sitting these days
More and more at home,
Bud was finding
More and more done wrong.

“Lord!
I’ve seen tenant
Houses peacefuller!
Tenant brats they
Lay there, they don’t howl.
Lay there and just
Take it. Don’t
Hear them squalling
To be fed.”
Bud said tenant
Wives made kids behave:
Set in boxes, drawers, these
Infants not so much as
Turned their heads.
They just lay.
These tales pleased him,
But left her
Uneasy–she’d
Leave and change
The baby once again.

He was gone now–
Gone to “check the land.”
Nothing there–
He checked twice a day.
As he read
The paper twice, each page.
As downtown he
Walked each afternoon,
Bought a penny
Ledger, mints for Matt.
Then God help Matt
If the boy ran off
Forgetting “thank you,”
Or to stand in place
In gratitude–
“It’s great candy,
Dad.” Patty
Blessed the blaring
Radio. The papers
Made Bud mad.

On this morning,
Mrs. Moore dropped by.
“Coffee?” Patty asked.
Mrs. Moore used
Boiled nuts for coffee:
“Yes! Sure would.” She
Settled on the couch.
Patty poured. Then, lap
Already soaked with sweat, she
Held the baby, shrilling.
“Try her barefoot,”
Offered Mrs. Moore,
“It’s feet makes them
Cool. Don’t need
Booties, this hot.” Patty
Pulled them off:
“My ma made them.”
She paused–“Nice to
Touch.”

Her guest
Sized her up:
“You begun to
Show.” Patty
Blushed. “Well, I’m
Due this fall.”
“How old now’s this
Little one?”
“Six months.”
Mrs. Moore’s eyes
Lowered. She took cream:
“I recall,” said casually,
“I kept each of
Mine at breast two
Year.” She emphasized:
“Each of them, two
Year.” Patty
Said, “Mine goes
Dry before.” Mrs. Moore
Considered. They drank
Coffee, their cheeks
Moist with steam.

“So…just had
three?” said Patty.
“Yes, three. Long ago. So
In another–five months?–
This one be your
Knee-baby, one new.”
Mrs. Moore appeared
To muse on this.
“Peculiar. I note,
Some has them like
Clockwork, one each year.”
Patty gripped her
Cup: what did she mean?
“My Mr. Moore, you
Know him. Know he
Chews?”–seemed
The subject changed.
“No.”
“Always did,
Tobacco. Nasty stuff.”
Mrs. Moore seemed
Filled with purpose now.
Patty sipped.
She tensed as
The woman touched her knee:
“Know what my ma
Said my wedding day?”
“I don’t.”
Mrs. Moore leaned
Forward, more
Intent. “She said, ‘Sarah,
If you don’t want
Big mess in your kitchen,
When he spits make
Sure it’s out the door.'”
Baby squealed.
Patty felt quite ill.
“Best advice my
Mother ever gave.”

“I’m sure…” Patty rose.
As the baby
Shrieked more loud, Bud
Entered–angry,
She could see: “Still
Caterwauling?
Mrs. Moore!
Won’t you teach my
Wife to shush a child?
Reckon Patty
Missed that day in school–
That, and long division.”
Mrs. Moore smiled coyly–
Ugly, Patty thought–then said,
“Mr. Hines,
Cute as this child
Is, and with her
Daddy’s eyes,
You won’t even
Stand a tiny fuss?”
Bud smiled, pleased.
“Mrs. Moore, now,
Don’t you sweet-talk me.”

Patty stared: he
Never smiled on
Her. What on
Earth could she be
Doing wrong? Why’d
Baby cry?
She looked down
Embarrassed at her skirt–
Damp spot near the waistline
Where she showed.
She tried shifting
Baby to that
Place. Its cries
Did not cease.

Her voice straining,
“I don’t know!” snapped
Patty.
They stared at her
Answer: no one’d
Asked.

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