126. News

“You’ll
Never ever
Guess what’s happened
Now!”
Louise wore her
Dress of pale peach hue:
Lit her face and
Set her hair
Aflame. Shines
Like a movie poster, Riah
Marveled. She said:
“What?”

“Opal’s
Gone!”–with face flushed
At this proclamation,
Louise paused to
Savor Riah’s stare.
“That’s right! She skipped
Town! A railway ticket.
Took the baby
With her, and that Nan.
Left the older
Ones to swarm the walls.
Last I seen they’re
Tying up some cat.”
Louise leaned back
With some satisfaction. “Clean
Gone.”

“How come you to
Be there?” Riah
Felt a stir:
Louise, Opal’s
Friend? Riah
Had not known.
“Last week Opal
Asked me to drop
By. Named this
Day–why? She says,
Check the kids. So
I come, no one
Answers. See stale
Dishes on the table,
Bowl of oats half
Ate, and chair pushed back–
Look like she just
Stepped out feeding
Chickens. But
Flown the coop. That
Ed, he’s shit a brick.”
Riah’s voice was
Awestruck: “She have kin?”
“Yeah–he don’t know
Where!”
“What?”
Louise sniffed
Disgust. “Yep.
She was close-mouthed,
Sure. But him not
Know! I tell him
To his face: Ed,
Think it’d be too
Taxing on your brain,
To recall her
Hair-shade for
The police–blonde, or
Brunette? Think hard, now.”
Riah, staggered
By her gall, asked: “And?”
“What he called me,
You’re too young to
Hear.” Riah:
“Police?”
“Never find her.”

Mulling over,
Riah ripped one
Page from the newspaper,
Wound it on her
Hand, crossed to a window.
She began to
Polish, circling slow.
In a while she
Murmured: “Well, I
Didn’t know–
That she felt
So bad.” Talking to
Herself, her voice
Reproached.
“Oh, forget it!”–
Louise answered sharply–
“No one does.
No one ever
Knows.”
Riah rubbed
The glass, around and
Round. Murmured,
“Just the same.
Could have watched her
Kids for her sometime. She
Had a passel,
And I got but
One.” Breathed
On the pane.

“Holy Bejesus!”
Louise laughed out loud.
“Why don’t you just
Start in bawling,
Then? I can’t
Believe my ears!” Her
Arms swept wide:
“You stand here with
Three beans in
The pot, James in
Scarecrow duds–and
Now you’re aiming
To help someone
Else? That’s
A laugh! Guess you’ll
Pout all day you
Don’t darn Opal’s
Drawers!”
Blushing, Riah
Grimaced: “Oh, Louise!”

“Lord!” Louise rolled her
Eyes, “So you will
Babysit! And
She asked me to
Drop by, check her
Kids!” Pause for
Breath–“What’s more,
You hens trading
‘Budget’ recipes–
Loaning one another
Scraps to sew–
Patch each other’s
Clothes–it’s pitiful!
Pitiful!
And that Relief
Witch–how I
Hate her!–
Hauling shriveled
Peas from door to door!
What a world, I’ll
Swear! Town of
Dead folks do
The Lindy Hop!
Walking stiffs that
Prop each other up! And
Ruling this whole
Scene–who do we
See? Why, it’s Frank
Roosevelt, come
Wheeling his way
Through!
Good God:
A conspiracy of
Cripples! Man
Overboard! All
Who can’t swim,
Jump in!”
Louise cackled,
Riah’s silence
Dampening the sound.

By Louise’s
Hand, newspaper lay.
Tore a corner,
Crumpled it and
Wet it on her tongue.
Watched her spit-wad
Bounce off Riah’s cheek.
Getting no
Reaction, Louise shrugged.
Started picking
Lint off from her dress.
Then took a deep
Breath. She sighed.
Louise cleared her
Throat: settling down.

“You know,” she said,
“That last baby–
Labor Opal
Had–the best I’ve
Seen.” Louise
Called to mind:
“It was only
Her and me, was there.
She would warn me
When a pain was
Mounting. ‘Coming
Up!’ she’d say.
‘Ready, girl?’ I
Says. And she’d be
Ready.
While the pain bore
Down, I’d grab her
Fingers. Sometimes
We would count it
Out, how long.
Lord, the woman
Nearly sprained my hand–
She was riding
Them things like big
Waves. ‘Quite some
Bull, this baby,’
Says to me,
‘Butting hard.
Strong one, right,
Miz Kemp?’ Sweat
Running in her
Hair–‘Come out!’ she
Calls to it, ‘Come
Out!’ Then she’d
Jam down, let up
When it’s time. ‘Right
Now! Come out and
Meet your ma!’ She’d
Laugh and scream.
Then it come,
Bloody black-haired
Thing, red-faced–we
Laughed….
Anyhow I
Told her afterwards:
Opal!–
Nice sharp knife or
Gun works good as
Rubbers! Failing that–but
She says, ‘Well, you
Know they’re hard
To talk to’–”
She caught Riah’s
Smile–
“What’s with
You? Cat ate
The canary?”

Riah only muttered,
Laughing, “gun,” then
Finished with her polishing
The window: anger at
Louise was clearly
Gone. Riah’s patience
Bloomed with cool
Relief.
“Louise,” she said,
Turning, calm, aside:
“Can’t be, can it,
There’s a someone
Knows where Opal’s
Gone? And where’s her
Kin?–but that
Someone, she ain’t
Telling?”

Riah felt her
Friend’s eyes on her
Back.
Second later, spit-wad
Grazed her neck.

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