176. Dinner Talk

And–just that morning
He had seen
An anthill!
Twenty, thirty
Critters–hard to count–busy
Filling in their
Mound, sure sign of
Rain! Though it was
Difficult to
Tell–might be mistaken–
Now that he thought
Back, some ants were
Digging, and not
Filling in their hole.

Now at table,
James fingered his biscuit.
Sick of beans, he
Wolfed them anyhow.
Ants had marched up
That hill in a lockstep,
All except for
One, the Wrong-Way
Ant that always
Bucked the flow–
As if it had
Secrets to deliver,
Or had had for
Breakfast a wrong
Thing–or, as Tom
Said of James, was
Born contrary….

“Come
Saturday I’ll
Buy a can of salmon.
Nineteen cents”:
It was Riah’s
Voice, and it said,
Murder. James’ eyes
Dropped. There’d been no
Rain today.
Every promise
Of it, high black
Clouds….They’d watched
Skies since dawn. Their
Chance had passed. Tom
Took the bait. “Just
Hold your horses!
Salmon, you say?
Why?” Riah chewed
Slowly: make him
Wait. “I need
A reason?” James watched
Tom leap in: “For
Nineteen cents, you
Do. Nineteen!”
This sum Tom
Repeated, his best
Point–“That’s worth four
Oatmeal boxes.
Four breads, or
Two milks.”

Riah nodded
Toward James’ chair. “He
Needs it.”
“Why?”
“Why? Because it’s
Brain food–” she spat
“Brain”–“and all he
Gets is beans.
I’m afraid he might
Turn dumb, or something.”
James stared
Stupidly, with no
Reply. Tom: “You
Read it in them
Magazines, that right?
A full stomach,
That’s what this boy
Needs! Those beans, just
Fine!”

Riah shot back:
“I can read, at
Least.” James,
Shocked: to mention
Reading, that sore
Spot! “Oh, sure. You
Say!” Worse, worse:
James had hunkered
Down. “Can of
Salmon,” Riah stated.
Then, repeating
Like an insane woman:
“Salmon.
Salmon.” Sweat ran
Down her neck.

“You need
Salmon?”–Oh, no!
Tom had turned to
Him! “Speak up!
Do you?”
Clinging to his
Fork, James held his
Breath. He prayed
For the one safe
Answer:
That he might need
Salmon, but might
Not….
Tom and Riah
At last saw James’
Face.

That ended it.
Tom shoved back his
Chair, and left the table.
Riah bowed her
Head. She pressed her
Eyes:
“It won’t rain.
It has forgot
How. It cannot
Rain.”

“Should have seen those
Ants, though!” James
Replied.

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