197. The Way I Used To Look

Louise shook her head
And clicked her tongue.
“When I think….” she began.
“When I think of the way
I used to look….” She
Smiled in rueful disapproval,
Thumbing through her magazine.

“Well, how did you?” Riah asked.
Louise, musing: “What
Gets me, in these ads”–
A brightly colored page–“is
How they try to help us.”
Riah brought the iron in
From the stove.
“Help us? How?”
“Yep. See here, shows what
Type of evening gown to wear.”
She means it, Riah thought:
It was off the shoulder, violet.
“What bag to match. What
Wrap–‘blue-gray fox stole.’
Down to details–
That gold clip. Seen one
Like it, in the store.”
She touched the fur.
“Or, of course, more
At-home wear. We don’t
Go to many parties.”
Riah gave Louise a look,
But she went on.

“For instance, in this ad,” she
Bent, examining the print:
“The people, always helping.
Give each other good advice.
Mom to daughter….
Sometimes, pal to pal….
And everybody–whoo!–
They look just great!”:
Louise exclaimed her admiration.
“Not one hair is out of place.
Eyebrows, just so.”
She studied a new page.
“But not, of course, the person
Who needs help–
The one who’s pale,
Or has got constipated, or
Smells bad.” She smiled benignly.
“But they take her, and
Tell her what to buy–
They fix her,” Louise said,
With satisfaction. “Then they
All sit down to bridge. It’s
Like….” she felt for words,
To praise it as she meant:
“It’s like Heaven,
Riah, sort of. Everybody
At the table. Lookit–
Here’s fall lipstick colors.
‘Pomegranate Scarlet.’
‘Harvest Orange.'”

Rummaging inside the ironing
Basket, “Well, what did
You look like?” Riah asked.
To picture her friend different
Had disturbed her: Louise
Must stay the same.
“I know what you were thinking,”
Changing subjects, Louise
Teased her: “A penny says
I know what you were thinking,
Word for word, when I was
Talking lipsticks.”
Riah smiled:
“You were thinking….”
Louise touched her temples,
Closed her eyes, “I said,
‘Pomegranate Scarlet.’
You were thinking, at that
Moment: ‘Pomegranate
Scarlet? Red is red!'”
Eyes open–
“Am I right?”
Riah had to laugh, admitting.

“Just like you!
Just like you!” Louise accused.
“Ignoring how it’s called.
Well, it matters how you
Say it! Pomegranate
Scarlet is not Red! I
Declare”–Louise sighed loudly–
“The world’s a lucky place
God didn’t pick Riah McKenna
To be Eve. Otherwise, there’d
Be no names for nothing.
Table would be ‘that brown thing
With legs,’ car would be
‘That thing that moves.'”
She held her arm up–
“No way to say, ‘fingers.’
They’d be, ‘those five things there
Sticking off my hand’….
I tell you, Riah–”
Slapping down her page,
She meant business now, pointing–
“If it’s all the same,
And doesn’t matter, then
Why don’t you be Louise?
I’ll call you that: Louise.
You can call me Riah.
What’s the diff?”

Riah did not like that thought
At all. She said, “Don’t
Poke that long thing
Sticking off your hand,
Into my face.”
“A joke!
From the wooden Injun!
A joke, my Lord!” Louise
Began to swoon.
“God bless us, every one!”

“What way did you
Used to look?” asked Riah.
Louise settled down:
“Getting persistent,
Are we? Well, I’ll
Tell you”–ducking
Back into the ads–
“No way.
I didn’t look no way.
There wasn’t no ‘way’ to it.
Sis and me, we just got up,
Threw on a dress, and
Went about our business, tried
To keep arm’s length from Pa.
Plain as mongrel pups.”
“That seems okay,” said Riah.
“No, it wasn’t!” Louise flashed:
“Now I see what-all’s involved,
All the attention, all
The time, just to get
You bet!”
Louise nodded.
“I look much better now.
Hundred per cent. I draw my
Face on, best one
That I ever had.”

Riah gave up, glancing
Sidewise at her friend.
Louise had forgot the penny:
She was glad.

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