178. Visit To The Relief

Strung up
To the door:
A bell. Clinked as
She stepped in.
Bad sign: drew
Earlier, at home,
Riah’d tried her
Worst dress, then her
Best–though just
A bit less faded–
Would she fail, though,
If she looked too
At last, blushing,
She’d put on
The good.

Corner desk:
Woman with
A pen was seated
In a tweed suit,
Writing. Looked up:
“Yes? How may I
Help?” Riah’s
Heart beat harder,
Harder. Moving
Forward as if
Floating, as if
In a dream,
Her purse she held
Weightless in her
Hand: “Here to
Sign up.” Those words
Right? Louise
Said she once had
Wished to try Confession,
But she didn’t
Know the phrase to start….
“Please sit
Down.” The woman
Was not friendly.
Riah dropped her
Anxious smile, offended.
“Name, please?”

So the Relief
Interview began. At first,
Easy: Name. Address.
Phone? None.
Children? James. One.
Questions about
Money. Riah
Had the bills and
Mortgage papers with her,
Pulled them from her
Purse. “You’re owners?”
Owners rarely
Came here, Riah
Thought. Just tenants….
She conjured this
Scene: she would rise
Wrathful, snatching
All her papers–
Lady has already
Smudged up one–
Tell this lady,
I am an inspector sent by
Seeing if you
Treat your–patients?–
Roosevelt said
“Clients”–treat them
That would teach her!
I’ll just leave, thought Riah,
If she makes
Remarks, or acts out

“Mother?” Dead.
“Father?” Dead.
“Sisters?” None.
“Brothers?” Dead.
There a pause, but
Riah’d not say
Fire. Heard some
Question she ignored.
Woman went on–
Trying to determine, Riah
Guessed, if she’d
Folks to borrow from.
Any loans from
Friends? No.
Any uncles,
Aunts live out of town?….
“They have same as
Us.” Namely,
“List possessions.”
Riah, droning on:
Chairs, the rug, the truck….
“Dead.” Riah almost
Smiled: same answer
To all questions.
Here the woman
Glanced up. Riah
Looked away.
Portrait hung up
On the pale green
Wall–was Roosevelt.

Riah’s mind
Repeated: No one’s
Again: No one’s
Here. It felt
Oddly like
The day the doctor’d come, and
Took the baby
Who had died inside.
Doctor’d told her,
Move this way, move
That, asked
Questions like this
Lady, probe, poke.
Back before, when
Tom had left to
Fetch him, she had
Been so foolish,
Longing for
The time the doctor’d come.
She’d thought: for this,
He’s the only

But he had been
No one. He was
There, but not there.
No one with
The baby, or with
They had lost each
Other, each
Alone. Now
In this room, this
Emptiness felt–right.
No mistake.
Riah counted
Pencils in a tray.

“That will do us.
I must make your
Home visit, of course.
How’s tomorrow?”
Riah had not
Known: she pondered,
Shook her head.
“Thursday own’t work.
Tom is likely
Home. Do Friday.”
“Well,” the woman
Lightly tapped her finger,
Hesitant, “I do have to
Schedule. I’m
Not as far as
Your place every
Day. Thursday….”
“Tom will kill you,”
Riah said,
Impassive. She kept
Ten, eleven
Pencils in that

Relief lady
Did not seem unnerved.
But she answered:
“Make it Friday, then.”

2 Responses to “178. Visit To The Relief”

  1. Sunny Shaver Says:

    I am delighted to find your poetry on the Horton Foote Society Website.
    I am going to try to catch up on the parts of the story I had missed.
    Keep writing!

  2. sshaver Says:

    I moved your comment to the Welcome page where everyone could see it, and I replied to it there!

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