19. Introductions

Riah pushed the door more wide.
The woman slid inside,
Behind the wheel.
Purse snug in her lap,
She smoothed her sleeves.
Right one, and the left.
Then with a taut frown
She smoothed her dress.
She said nothing,
Patting up and down.

Riah asked, “How come
You’re hardly ’round?”
The woman creased her hem.
“It’s pretty far away,
The place we live.
Me and my husband.”
She paused as if letting this
Sink in.
“Way by the riverbed.
Plus,” she sighed,
“He don’t trust
The men in this hick town.
Got to watch them every minute.
Don’t like me to come alone.”
She cast an eye toward Riah,
Seemed to wait.
Riah asked, “And what’s
Your name?”

The woman yanked her collar.
“Louisa Kemp. Louise. Husband,
Bo Kemp.” She halted,
Then rushed on–
“I’m the Louise Kemp
Lives by the riverbed,
You’ve heard tell of, maybe,
In your little sewing circle,
Your church club.”
She made a bored face.
Her cheeks were warm.
“What tales they tell,
I’m sure I don’t know.
Fine with me.
I got nothing to hide.”
The bottle sweated, cool,
In Riah’s hand.

Louise glanced at her sidelong.
She blew her nails,
Impatient. “Well,
What did you hear?
Come on.”
Riah shrugged.
She answered measuredly.
“I never heard some stories.
I just heard you were wild.”
Louise huffed. “If it’s true
You didn’t hear no stories,
It’s that they didn’t tell you.
If they don’t,
They have their reasons, too.
Don’t discuss wild women
In your presence?
So.
What’s wrong with you?”

On the farm was quiet–
Riah wished that she was there.
She could scarcely keep up
With those words,
With those last. She felt
Shrunk, as if she sat
Inside herself, alone.
She put down her Coke.
It wet her lap. What
Good, having someone in the car?
Her face darkened.
She said, “I don’t know.”

Louise, taken aback:
“What is it you want, then?
What you want with me?
Make-up?”
She watched Riah like a hawk.
“I told you all already.
My shipment didn’t come
From Abilene.”

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