189. Shelling Peas

That satisfying
Feeling in her hands:
Shelling peas.
Snap of taut pod,
Good clean zip that
Ripped it, ripe to
Split. Riah’s
Thumb pressed green:
Wet plush sheen.
Tinny thuds as
Fresh peas struck the pail.

Sighing, Louise
Shifted,
Punching pods in
With her fingernail.
Then she asked
Abruptly: “You eat
Breakfast?”
“Yes.” Worn
Paper-sheer,
Riah’s dress clung
Closely as if crepe.
Louise frowned and
Thought of fairytales: poor girl
Whose stepmother
Dressed her just in paper,
Made her pick
Strawberries in the snow.
“What’d you eat?”
To Louise,
Riah had such
Slender princess fingers:
Moist peas from her
Fingertips, like pearls. “Well?
What’d you eat?”
Riah shelled:
“These peas.”
“More peas? For breakfast?”

Silent, Riah
Pushed back straggling hair.
Her pail, by
Louise’s, twice as full–
Riah’s pods, they burst
Of their own will–Louise’s
Snagged and tore.
Louise turned
Suspicious. “What’d you
Eat for lunch?”
Riah: “Lunch? Peas.”
“Uh-huh.” Louise
Got the picture.
Glowering, she
Sucked in both her
Cheeks: “You close-mouthed
Dog!
And for last night’s
Dinner, let me
Guess–these
Peas.”
“Yes.”
Louise stomped–pods
Sprang across the floor. “What’s
Going on here?
Where’s your grocery order?”

Riah stiffened.
Louise thought, oh
No, that scowl don’t
Faze me–I’ll still
Make you tell! You’re
Not tough, Riah thin-bones, little
Onion-skin-dress
Girl. “Where’s your
Grocery order?”
“Well,” Riah, still shelling:
“There’s been some
Delay. That’s all.
Papers lost at County…some
Delay. Miss Flynn
Says a week.”
“And meanwhile–”
“She found us
These peas.”
“That slut!” Louise
Cried, her anger rising,
“Too dumb to plug
Sand inside a rat-hole!”
“Don’t say that. It’s
Not her fault.
There’s more–” Riah
Broke in with reluctance.
“Before peas she
Brought a grocery order.” Riah
Snapped a pod.
“Think she got it
Somehow on her own.
Think she paid for
That from her own pocket.”

Louise sat back,
Peas in hand,
Floored. “Her own?
How’d you know?”
“Grocer told me.”
Louise tossed
A pod: “Swell. Swell,
Nice of him.
I can see how
Eager he would be–then of
Course you went straight
To her.” Riah
Nodded at the pail: “Said we
Can’t accept.”
“And she said–”
“Well, she said:
“It’s just–interim.'”
Louise sideglanced,
Cautious: “Oh? Interim?”
“Don’t know what that
Means.”
“Me neither.”
“I told her we
Couldn’t take her pay.
Next day she came
By here with these
Peas.”

Louise flexed her
Legs. She rocked back
In her chair. She
Crossed arms, mulling
Over her strange friend.
Eaten only
Peas now for–how
Long? Riah’s
Face was drawn.
“Riah.” Louise
Sighed. “Riah.
Why you never
Tell me something’s wrong?”

Riah, shelling,
Seeming not to hear.
“Riah?”
Riah raised her
Eyes. Louise,
Startled at their
Bafflement: blank
As a brown stone wall.
Riah spoke.
“When it burned.
Later on,
The minister came by.”
Just in time,
Louise bit her
Tongue, did not say:
What? Her body
Tensed. Louise
Spoke up casually: “And
What’d he say?”

Riah sat
Impassive.
She spoke as if
Sinking in a dream.
“I asked things I
Shouldn’t. On
The fire….He
Said it was God’s
Will. He said
Nothing’s wrong,
And such talk as
Mine, would do
No good.”
A slight shadow
Crossed her face: then
Gone. “Serves no
Purpose.”
She looked simply
At Louise, and
Shrugged.
“There’s a week’s
Delay”: Riah
Spoke with firmness,
Held Louise’s gaze.
“Week’s delay.
That’s all. Nothing’s
Wrong.”

First time
She’s spoke of
The fire–don’t
Rock the boat:
Louise held quite
Still.
She reached for one
Pod, unzipped it deftly.
Act relaxed,
Let it pass for
Now. “That’s right,”
Louise said,
Eyes on lap.
“Nothing’s wrong.
Week’s delay. Not
The end of the world.
Big deal.”

With a strange
Efficiency, she
Shelled.
The peas rang out
From the battered
Pail.

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