135. Learning

“Lowest creature
Crawling God’s green earth.
Abomination
In the eyes of God: Mother
Who’d desert her
Children.” Patty’s
Lips, a thin-drawn line.
Riah sank more
Deeply in the sofa:
Patty’s right.
Riah wondered,
How’d I talk of
Opal with Louise, only
Days ago,
With no thought of
Opal’s soul in Hell?
Riah, pierced with
Guilt–leave your
Children?
Same as leaving
James. Perplexed, she
Frowned–maybe
Louise is
A danger, like they say.
She makes me
Confused. Not like with
Patty, who made
All things clear.
Opal’s family
Sad, her house
Upset: so someone
Was at fault.

“Where’s your kids?” asked
Riah, changing
Subjects. “Oh, that
Colored Ella H. is passing
Through–took them
For the day.
Lordie, I said
I’d pay a whole nickel–
Just to play with
Children.” Patty
Sighed: a Godsend
It had been.
Matt was on
A tear and throwing tantrums,
Woke the baby, till she
Shrieked with colic….
All of them had
Dragged at Patty’s sleeve,
All the while her
Head ticked like
A bomb….”Riah,
I’ll be frank.”
Patty’s fork clicked
Firmly on her plate.
“You know next week
Sewing circle’s here? Well–”
Patty looked proud
As if with a secret:
“Grace and Ivy
Said you shouldn’t come.”
“Grace said that?”
But the question
Irritated Patty–
Riah sounded curious, not
Struck. “My Lord,
Can’t you guess?
If you can’t,
Then perhaps they’re
Right!”
Patty bristled,
“Since you ask–
Problem is
The company you keep.”

Patty tensed: I’ve
Said it.
But the answer:
“Oh.”
Riah thought
A moment. Then, “Louise?”
“That’s right.”
Riah’s face
Became a puzzled
Frown. She mused,
Stirred her cup.
Took a sip.
In a minute,
She proposed aloud:
“No need for them
Two to get riled up.
Maybe….” as if
Settling matters,
“I guess I could
Stay at home that day.”

Patty eyed her
With a mounting
Pique: was Riah
Hiding tears? No.
But this turned out
Not as Patty’d planned.
Riah should be
Scared or shocked or
Angry, cry to
Be let in.
But it seemed she
Scarcely felt the choice.
Was it that she
Cared so little for them?
Patty’s eyes grew
Narrow…or cared
So much for
Louise?
Or, more likely,
Peaceable old Riah,
So dumb she’d not
See this mortal blow.
Well. Patty’d cover
For her once again.
Patty said, “Forget it.
Come ahead.”

“Patty! Coffee!”
Bud strode through the door.
She rose for
The kitchen to go pour.
After so much
Back-and-forth with Riah,
Bud she greeted
With acute relief.
She reached for
The cup, remembering:
Riah’s eyes had
Followed her on out.
Very well, thought
Patty. Let her
Learn.
Let her watch me,
As I watched my
Mother. And learn–
“Patty! On
The double!”–
By example,
As we all have done.

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