177. July 6

With a scissors,
James sat at the table.
“Why don’t you go
Play ball?” Louise asked,
Hating sharing
Riah: each time
James would stir,
Riah’s head would
Turn. “I said–
Scram!” Louise scowled.

James cut on,
Brow smooth with
Contentment as he
Rounded corners,
Snip! And paper
Fluttered down in strips.
Pot of glue at table’s
Edge, too close. It
Wobbled. Louise moved it.
James, like Riah,
Read Louise’s
Voice with little
Trouble: hearing
Her, he knew he
Need not scram.

“Riah,
You gone into
Town yet since the Fourth?”
“No. Why?”
By the stove that
Would not heat
Sat Riah, prodding
With a knife.
Louise, pleased that
Riah asked that question,
Since a simple
“No” was more her style–
Louise thought, I’ll
Make her chatter
Yet!–and said, “Got
News for you.
That old Dechter
Building. Burned down
Flat!”

Riah stopped.
She seemed strangely
Slow to grasp this fact.
“It what?”
“Accident. The Fourth.
They think kids with
Firecrackers did it.”
Louise paused,
Watched James’ ears prick up.
So did Riah:
“James–you there?”
Asked plain, plainly
Answered: “No,” he said.
Riah nodded.
“Mark my words–”
Louise, filing
Her torn nail–
“Now it’s gone, that
Damn God-rotten pest-hole,
Means the end of
Typhoid in this town–that’s
Where it’s bred. And
Owned by that big
Company out east! All
Rents, sent there.
All those migrants–
Better off
Outside! Riah–you
Been in there?”
“Don’t recall.”
“Hey, James–” Louise
Faced him–“bet you
Heard who lit it.”
James frowned at his
Cutting, clipped an edge.
“I hear stories,” he said,
Noncommittal. Louise
Rolled her eyes.

James
Glanced at Riah,
Dropped his scissors,
Quick. He slipped down
From his chair and came up
To her side: “Mama,
Stove is broke?”
Louise swiveled:
What had he
Detected?
“No….was anyone–”
Riah gripped
The greasy knife–“Were some?–”
She could not say:
Burned.
“Lasted an hour,”
James made conversation,
Filling up her
Gap: “But no one
Hurt! Fire
Climbed up through
The walls and through
The roof, high school
Boys, they told me.
Just the stairs was
Left. And it was
Loud.”

Riah, silent–
Eyes fixed on some
Place beyond the stove.
“Look, Ma,
What I made!”
Anxious, he held
Out a paper bird.
Riah would not
Take it. She seemed
Not to hear.
Her face had lost
Focus, dark and
Vague. James reached
Up to tug–but
Louise stayed his hand.

She replaced it
Gently by his
Side–she, too,
Watching Riah.
Louise mouthed to
James: “Not now.
Wait.
Let her be.”

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