124. Music

Morose, Louise
Sat on Riah’s floor.
She hiked up her
Dress to freckled thighs.
Wet patch between
Breasts, she scrutinized:
“Niagara Falls.”
Sweat was pooling,
Sprouting at her belt.
One-hundred-twelve:
Sluggish, Louise
Fanned with magazines.
“I’m baked. No, I’m
Basted! Riah,
For Christ’s sake,
Have some mercy
On me! Tell some
Jokes! Or sing
A song!”–but not that
Hymn, please, God.

Riah, ironing
With a grim
Resolve, her hair in
Sodden snarls–
She’d determined
They must all look
Better! She must
Iron! Eyebrows
Gleaming sweat,
She began to
Sing, voice weak and high,
Swaying toward and
From the board in
Time:
          “Standing on the promises
         Of Christ my King,
          Through eternal
          Ages let His
          Praises ring;
          Glory in
          The highest I will shout–”
Slam the iron–
          “And sing,
          Standing on
          The promises of God.
          Standing,
          Standing, I’m
          Standing on
          The promises of God–”
She gasped for breath: the heat.
          “Standing on the promises
          That cannot fail,
          When the howling
          Storms of doubt and
          Fear assail,
          Standing–”

“Riah, honey–” Louise
Bit her tongue–“that’s sure
Pretty.”
Three o’clock: no
Life left in the day.
It was drained of
Freshness, drenched in heat.
Louise sat there
Panting through her teeth.
“Tell you, Riah,
When you sing that song,
Same one over,
Over, once again,
It just makes me
Want to meet my Maker.
Makes me wish I
Was in Beulah Land.”

Flattered, Riah
Launched a second hymn,
One pleasingly
Grand. Her tune
Wobbled:
          “Earth might be
          Fair, and
          All men glad and wise.
          Age after
          Age, their
          Tragic empires rise,
          Built while they
          Dream, and
          In that dreaming weep;
          Would man but
          Wake from
          Out his daunted sleep,
          Earth might be
          Fair, and
          All men glad and wise.”

Louise: “Ain’t it
The truth!”
She had missed
A few lines, caught
The gist. “So
True,” she said.
She sang lustily:
          “Life is
          Just a bowl of
          Cherries!
          Don’t take it
          Serious! It’s too
          Mysterious!
          You work, you save, you
          Worry so, but you
          Can’t take your
          Dough when you
          Go, go, go.”
Louise sighed.
“If I had it,
I’d sure want to
Take it.”
She cocked back her
Head, and shut her
Eyes.

When she woke,
Clothes had all been
Ironed.
Riah’d hung them
Up on closet pegs–Patty
Had bought Riah’s
Hangers for
A dime.
Louise sat up.
Then she seized her
Copy of Screen Secrets
Waving it
Aloft–“Guess what I
Dreamed?
Dreamed I was
Discovered!” Riah
Faced her:
Louise, radiant.

“Like the stories
In this magazine!
Just think, Riah!”–Louise,
Shivering with
Joy–she looks
So tired, Riah thought–
“Picture it! You’re
Sitting in the drugstore!
One of them big
Air fans overhead,
Twisting, swishing slow.”
Louise spread
The fingers of both hands.
“It’s cool. Lights are
Dim. Picture:
You’re just sitting,
Only lipstick on.
Sipping at your
Tall glass, cherry
Coke!”: eyes wide,
She spoke low, enthralled.
“In come these two
Fellows. Gentlemen.
Suits and New York
Ties. Smoking
Top-notch brands
So high-class, we’ve
Never even
Seen. They
Sit”: Louise showed how.
“Order. Steaks.
Then–”
Louise held her
Breath, gaze riveted.

“Then–it’s about to
Be! Bolt
From the blue!
Pointing straight at
You!” Louise
Bit her lip.
“One of them, he
Turns. He scans
The soda fountain,
Easy. He stops
Dead! Now you’ve been
Spotted–caught his
Eye! He whispers
To his friend. Friend
Looks. He can’t
Disguise it: he is
Stunned.
They rise.
They are walking
Over where you
Are!”

Louise trembled,
Chill-bumps on her
Arms. “And do you
Know then, Riah,
When at last they
Reach you, what they
Say?”
Riah, mystified: what
Could it be?
“Just two little
Words.” Louise, hushed
Voice: “Two words. And
You’re discovered
Then. They say–”
Pause, transfixed.
“They say:
‘That face! That
Face!’
they say.
It’s what they’ve been
Seeking, all these
Months. Searching!
There’s a part that
None but you can
Play!–You’ve waited
For it, didn’t
Know it, all your
Life–they just
Say, ‘That face’–
Like the face,
The fate. And
There you sit–with
Only lipstick on!”

Now the wonder
Overcame Louise.
She was wiping
Streaming, shining eyes.
Unsure, Riah
Fetched a cup of water,
Gave her friend
The glass.
Feeling wordless,
Shy, she crouched down
Close.

Louise
Drained it dry.

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