182. The Relief Lady Visits

“We have
Met, Mrs. McKenna. This must
Be your son.”
Woman slipped in
Before Riah spoke:
“Good morning.”
There she was, that
Stranger bending,
Shaking hands with James.
Miss Flynn knew that
She was liked by
Children. They smell
Food on her?
Stooping to his
Frail tanned face, she
Thought: pellagra?
Not yet. No TB. Worms?
Still had teeth. But
Early malnutrition.
She made mental
Notes. Riah:
“You’d like coffee?”
“No, thanks.
It’s a four-room
House? May I see?”
Parlor, bedroom, bedroom. Few
Dollars’ worth: chipped
Table, tattered chair.
“The kitchen?”

Riah followed,
Slowly, at a loss.
Miss Flynn glanced
Along the stove. Then
Riah thought: she’s
Opening the ice box–now she’s
Opened it. She’s
Looking in. She’s
Standing. Now she’s
Opening the cabinets.

Riah’s eyes were
Frozen with disbelief–my
Shelves, she has
The right–
Half a can of
Lard. And two cracked
Cups. Riah
Raised her hand as
If to shut those
Doors. Miss Flynn
Turned to her,
Speaking straight,
In the firm tone
Used with skittish colts:
“Mrs. McKenna,
I must see your
Closet. I’ll be
Leaving then.”
Dimly, Riah heard
Reward: “Leaving.”
Miss Flynn smiled as
If Riah agreed. And
Left her there–
Heading for her
Closet—there to
Touch her clothes?
Riah thought: how
Is it,
Things are always
Worse than I suppose,
Though I try so hard
To guess them bad.
Riah, face red,
Felt she had been tricked:
This event was
Worse than Louise said.

Miss Flynn
Thought she heard some
Noise. An engine? Sighed:
The closet, such
A strain. They couldn’t
Understand–why should they?–
That they must hide
Nothing. That she
Had to check.
Clients hoarding,
Jeopardized them all.
Congress and
The papers ached for
Fraud. Miss Flynn
Walked back to
The parlor. She glimpsed
Riah’s face. And
Stopped: someone
Blocking the front door.

Thomas, raking
Riah with his eyes.
His gaze flew to
James, sitting
Motionless at
Table; and then
Back. Frigid
Silence no one

Miss Flynn’s suit,
Severe business gray,
Stiffened like steel
Mail. She hiked her purse.
“Mr. McKenna?
I’m Miss Flynn. Good
Day.” Meanwhile
She had gauged his
Aspect: no small talk.
She said, “Pleased to
Meet you. I’m
Afraid I’ve run late.
I must go,”
Starting toward
The door. However,
Tom did not make
Way. Miss Flynn
Wavered. Not from
Fear, but thinking:
If I leave, what
Happens to
The wife?

Riah stepped up
Closer–fists clenched–
Closer, till she
Stood before Tom’s face.
Miss Flynn heard
A voice she scarcely placed,
As the tongue-tied
Farm wife of before:
“Tom, excuse me–”
Riah’s words were
Loud–“Miss Flynn
Needs to leave.
Seems you’re in her
No one spoke.
Miss Flynn gripped her

Took a breath.
His eyes locked to
Riah’s. He then
Stepped aside.
Miss Flynn turned to
Riah, whose face
Said: I’m safe, go on.
Miss Flynn eased past
Thomas, and was

Three of them,
Tom: “I won’t
Forget this.” Won’t
Forgive this.
Riah said,

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