167. The Next Week

Of course,
Riah had told
No one. And
It was not Tom’s
Way to notice
Plates. Besides,
If they ate off
Cardboard, well, it
Just seemed part and
Parcel with all else–torn
Clothes, worn flapping–
In each other’s
Eyes they were
Reflected: scrawny,
Ill-kempt birds.

In town, happened
At last Riah
Saw her. Standing
With her back turned
By the notions shelf.
“Louise!” Whirling,
Bumping the display, spools
Skidding–Louise
Caught her breath, stiff-shouldered.
She would square off,
Take on Riah
Straight. “Yes?” she said
Boldly, but it only
Hissed in Riah’s ear.
“Louise, I
Want to tell you
Something,” Riah said.

Pair of green eyes
Glittering and sharp as
Slivered glass–
Wicked half-smile.
Riah did not
Seem prepared for
Battle: Louise
Was. “About
What?” she spat.

Oddly, Riah
Lowered her own voice:
“Well, my dishes.”
Louise, loud: “Well,
What about them?”
Yes, the world could
Hear, for all she
Cared! Her head
Buzzed, light. Riah:
“It’s my dishes….”
Louise could not
Breathe, her hands both
Shaking. Riah:
“It’s my dishes.
Don’t do that
Again.”

Louise stood, arms
Folded. Riah, too–
She seemed
Satisfied, as if
She’d just told
Louise to be God-damned.
Louise waited.
In that silence,
Riah looked
Confused. Louise
Frowned.
She thought: was that
It? “That it? That
All you’ve got to say?”

“Don’t do that
Again,” repeated Riah:
Stellar line, rehearsed.
“What is this, some
Joke?” Louise laughed
Shortly. “I broke
Most your plates!”
No answer.
“I broke
In your house!”
“Well–of course–” Reasonable
Riah: “You come
All the time.”

Louise now was
Seized with one desire:
She’d slap sense in
Riah, shake her
Sane! But
At the thought, there
Crossed her mind
A picture: that
Shining braid tied
Back at Riah’s neck.
Clear as day,
Louise saw the sturdy
Frank brown eyes,
Dark with worry,
Looking relieved now,
In the too-thin
Face. “Louise,
It’s good you’re not
Mad–”

“Stop it!”
Louise mumbled,
Feeling stupid, shy,
Cheeks bright red.
Riah plowed on:
“I thought–”
“Stop!” Louise,
Staring hard, away.
“–Thought you might not–”
“Stop it. Stop it!”
“If you–”
Louise backed off,
Laughing edgily–“Stop it!”
“But Louise, you’re–”
“Stop it! Please,
No more!
See you soon.
But–stop–”

Louise clutched her
Purse. She fled
The store.

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