165. Messenger

On his way, James
Stooped to find a twig.
Stubble by
The path, now dried to
Death, stung waspish
At his knees.
James plucked off
A prickly branch.
Poked his weapon
At the fat red
Ant requiring torment.
But the irate creature
Climbed his stick: James
Shuddered, let go.
Then he trundled
On, resumed his mission,
Down the well-known
So-called G-Man Trail:
Older boys said
They’d seen G-men there.
James guessed they’d come
Seeking Mrs. Kemp,
Who most surely
Stood outside the law.

What he carried:
Small box made of
Cardboard. Riah’d
Had it–he thought,
Should be mine–now
Wrapped with thread for
Ribbon, tied up loose.
By a string he
Dragged the box
Along, bump-jumps
Pleasing, the box
Heeling on its leash.
James was proud:
Riah knew he’d
Find Louise’s house, though
Far away. Riah’d
Never been.
James reflected: I know
Everything.

Sure enough,
The house: right there.
Not as bad as
Barker’s, but still
Worse than James’.
With his box he
Bumped up to the door.

He knocked. The door
Opened. James gasped,
Stunned.
Louise, half-undressed in
Camisole,
Torn lace, bright blood
Steaking neck to
Breast: a gnarled,
Dribbling bruise. Said:
“What you want?
I got nothing,
Boy, belongs to
Her!” She spat.
She held a wet
Cloth. James pushed back
Panic–no car
Here, so Bo’s not
Home! He’s mean–
“Ma says–” here James
Started over,
Hoping to sound strong. “My
Ma says, give you
This”–held up
The box–” and
This”–fished from his
Pants, a folded scrap.
“And Ma says to
Tell you, Happy
Birthday.”

Louise frowned:
“Birthday’s not this
Month!” James waxed
Emphatic:
“No ma’am. She says
‘Happy Birthday.’
Now.” Louise
Took the box while
Darkly eyeing him.
“You seen
In it?” she asked, sharply.
James lied. “No ma’am!”
“What’s pinned on it?
Note? Wrote it
Herself? She hates to write.”
“Yes ma’am,” James,
Surprised: he’d not known.
Louise shook it,
Seeming to consider.
“You go on then,”
She said. “No need
Snooping.”
“Yes ma’am.” James was
Gone.

Without even
Bothering to move,
Or to go in,
Louise shook that
Box. Bo
Had not yet seen
Riah, that she knew:
Out of town.
She jerked off
The thread-bow, pried the lid.
“A brush!”
Hairbrush, firm sleek
Bristles, good as
New, with fine oak
Handle.
“Beautiful.”
Where had Riah
Got it? Must have
Been a secret–
From the deep dark
Bottom of some drawer.
“Well–”
Out loud, “can’t keep
This!” She knew she
Would. Keep it
Forever. Louise
Stroked its grain.
“Note!” Louise
Unfolded it,
Wishing James were
There to read hard words.
Her eyes
Focused, squinting.
Louise moved her
Finger, scrawl to scrawl.
It read: “Dear
Louise. I never
Sed it,” in large
Labored print,
“RIAH” drawn out
Painfully below.

From a prudent
Distance, James stopped
And looked back.
All he saw:
Louise, still
Unmoving at
The door. What
He had seen! James
Shivered: won’t tell
Ma.
He resumed once
More the G-Man Trail.

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