118. Everybody Knows

“They are just like
Children, don’t you think?
I do.
James and Tom,
Aren’t they both
The same? Bet they
Both throw clothes down
On the floor.”
Patty laughed:
“Men. Just boys.”
Riah hesitated.
James and Thomas
Did not drop their clothes.
When they did, she
Pitched a fit.
“And my Bud and
Matthew, both come
Dragging in–
I see ‘fore they do
That they’re hacked off.
How can I get
Mad? Oh sure, they
Yell–but I see
Through it all.”
Patty, sitting combing
A child’s hair: “There.
Run and play.”
The girl glued
Herself against her
Knee. Cry rose
From the nursery:
“Excuse me.”

Rash again!
She unpinned
The diaper. Heat rash,
Colic, teething–
Patty bit her
Lip–too much
This day, all that
Crying, crying.
Wasn’t Baby’s
Fault, of course. But
Riah-why so
BlankĀ about the clothes?
Thomas don’t do
Laundry, I know that. Or
Maybe does!
Shoot, why should we
Keep her in
The club? A hen that
Crows.
Patty picked up
Baby, and came back.

She spoke
Through its wails:
“Just today I
Saw your Mrs. Kemp.”
That “your,” Riah
Sensed, was meant to rile.
“Had this jagged
Cut went up and down,
Looking like some
Jack-o’-lantern’s grin.
On her cheek.”
Patty thought:
She’ll speak now, all right.
She sat back.
Riah paused:
“Was it very–
Red?”
“A pretty mess,”
Patty said offhand–“Guess Bo
Told her off again.”
“What?” Riah, her eyes
Wide.

Patty could not
Hide her irritation.
“Well, what did you
Think? A grizzly
Slashed her face?
Sure, he beats her!
Lordy! She drives him
Insane! Fancy being
Husband to that thing!
Beats her, sets her
Straight. Then she just
Turns around and
Shames herself again, so….
Riah, you did know!”

But Riah
Had not known.
Though she must have
Known–those cuts, those
Bruises–
But she had not
Thought it. And not
Said: “He beats her.”
Why the shock?
It was not
Uncommon–husbands
Did, she knew. She
Foundered: so with
Such cause to
Suspect, why did she
Not….

Patty shook her
Head, amazed, half sorry.
Riah had turned
White as store-bought soap.
“Everybody
Knows it!”: Patty, sternly,
Feeling curt when
Faced with ignorance.
The Kemp
Marriage–it was
Just a fact, writ
In the book of
Common knowledge–
Patty thought: that
Riah’s so
Remote!
Book of common
Knowledge–that book,
Public, filled with
What we know, and
She does not.

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