114. A Visit: Sewing Club

At the door she
Heard it: “Why, Louise!”

Riah’s voice chimed
Guileless as a girl’s–
There she sat at
Sewing Club at Patty’s–
“Louise! Come on in.”
Gluing on her
Most crowd-pleasing smile,
Louise stepped in
Dread inside the screen:
Riah, honey,
Even though you’re
Such a mouse,
You’ve a way of
Making all things
Worse.

“I’m just
Here to leave some
Makeup–” Inching in,
Louise was
Deferring to the ladies,
Whose legs shifted
Like a dog slunk by.
“–Drop stuff off.”
Better not say
What. Who knew
What offends?
What might scald their
Ears? “Bath oil”
Might cause a scandal:
They’d shriek, faint, God
Knows–Patty’s
Order had shrunk anyhow,
Louise thought,
Irate. Don’t want
Trouble now.
Louise sat down,
Drew her legs in, too.

Patty,
Out of sight. So
Glad to see
Louise, Riah
Did not notice
How the room grew
Suddenly quite still.
“Mrs. Tyler,
Go on,” Riah urged,
Filling in Louise: “her
Daughter’s ill.” Louise
Took the cue,
Thinking, I’m
A nurse of sorts–
“Oh, yeah? What’s she got?”
Met with a straight
Question, Mrs. Tyler must
Reply. Pulling up,
“She has,” she intoned,
“Neurasthenia.”
No one spoke.
“Neurasthenia,” she said
Again, “Female sickness–
My girl has five
Sons–” nods of praise.
“Every few months,
Though, she suffers
Spells–” they clucked
Their regret–
“She gets them and
Can’t sit up in bed.
Terrible!
They bring her
The boys–the babies–
Shows no interest. None.
Can’t clean house. Or
Wash her husband’s
Clothes–can’t hear him
Talk!
If they ask her
If she’d like to
Cook, she says
No! It’s quite
Mysterious.”
“My stars!”–Louise–
“Where can I
Catch this?”
In the stifling
Room, a silence
Fell.

Patty entered
With precise tea-tray.
“Mrs. Kemp!”
Louise leapt up
Grimacing at Riah,
Who did not say
That she’d asked her in.
“Miz Hines, got your
Package, and–”
Louise searched her
Pockets–“your gift sample!”
Gift! Fixed in place,
Patty stood outraged.
Then she bent down
Graceful with the tray. “Why,
Mrs. Kemp,” she said, cool as
Gelatin: “I’m afraid you’ll
Have to take it back.”
“Back? Your
Order?”
“Yes, I’m afraid you
Will.” Patty’s
Head shook, rueful,
Voice an even tone.
“You know my last
Order? Well–I
Hate to say it
With these ladies here,
But it was so–
Well, inferior–inferior–
I cannot
Accept more of the same.
You might recommend another
Brand? Some future
Time?”

Louise
Stood, morose. She
Felt her nakedness.
Through ther eyes she
Saw her patched-up dress.
Her dried lipstick.
Limp uncurling hair.
Hers no worse than
Theirs. But somehow
They wore armor
That she did not wear.
“Yes. I–
Guess I could.
Sure,” she finished lamely,
Shouldering her
Purse and heading out: “You
Tell me when.
Cashback guarantee.”

The room
Kept its silence:
They’d remember
Riah for this day.
There they’d sat,
Struggling with poor
Mending on their laps,
Trying to make
Decent conversation:
Avoid money,
Food. But this Kemp
In their midst–here
At their tea!
Just one extra
Insult, more
Unpleasantness. Now
They felt all
Off-balance.

Riah too:
For Louise had
Gone with no
Goodbye.

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