183. Two Left

“I’m going.”
So saying,
Riah’d headed
Outside for the truck.
“I’ll be home.”
Meant bydinnertime.
“James, you run and
Play.” He’d wandered
Out behind her,
Stood alone.
Riah drove away.

Since the drought,
Cars and trucks trailed
Dust-plumes twice their height.
James stood watching:
Riah disappeared.
He commenced
A game of kick-the-can,
Making racket, strayed off
From the house. Relief
Lady? He was
Not sure what that meant.
Guessed he should be
Glad, though: gave you food.
Yet, of all his
Classmates–must warn Ma!–
Relief kids were
Skinniest and
Sickest. One boy
On Relief at
School had coughed and
Coughed. Then was
Gone. They said
He’s with God.
That’s where I don’t
Want to be, James fretted:
Was Relief food
Bad? Some poison
In those cans?
He kicked rocks toward
Home: I’ll go tell
Dad.

Crashing through
The doorway, James stopped
Short.
At the table,
Back to James, Tom sat.
Next to Tom: tall
Bottle.

James stayed still.
All James’ friends knew
Whose dads kept those
Bottles. Playing
In the trash, they
Unearthed pirate
Booty, odd-shaped, glass,
Sniffing them and
Filling them with sand.
James too had
Examined liquor bottles,
Their strange florid
Print. But Thomas
Never drank!
James had closely
Observed other boys,
How they hunched their
Shoulders, slouching,
Dropped their voices,
Their eyes flinching,
While they whispered
What dads drank and
Did–some would
Refuse to say.
One such silent
Boy, the rumor went,
His dad drank two
Bottles, shot his
Dog.

Tangy smell that
Crept inside James’
Nose: his face
Twitched.
He drew near. And
Nearer. Till he
Stood right next to
Thomas, level
With the drink.
Thomas’ eyes were
Red. “Well, son!”,
He exclaimed,
“Seems like you and
Me are on
Relief!”

James
Nodded. He said
Nothing. He looked
At his dad.
Then:
“I guess we’ll all
Die now,”
James said.

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