199. Storm, February 13 (Visibility, 3 miles; Duration, 6 hours)

Grit blasted in her face.
It’s dumb to bitch, she thought–
Dumb to breathe,
In such a storm.
Louise yanked the car-door,
Heaved it shut,
Then leaned into the wind,
Skirt blown waist-high.
Charging toward the shack,
She paused to cough
And spit a wad of mud.

“Now, then.
What’s the trouble?”
A mother and a daughter,
Staring at her.
Scattered children, naked,
In the room; dad rocking
Baby on a stool.
Taking in the scene, Louise
Shook out her sleeves.
She was “making rounds,”
As Miss Flynn called it;
Liking that, Louise
Now said it, too.
She’d begun to keep some lists:
Patients, illness, what prescribed,
And when. The doctor, she
Observed with satisfaction, helped
Just with hard cases now.

She’d pulled out her list
This very day, and
Caught off-guard the cool
Miss Flynn, who’d said:
“You visit all of these?
All these clients?
On this list?”
If she thinks I’m hinting
For more groceries, Louise
Thought, well, I’m not:
I want more gas.
“Sure do.”
Get me, lady, get me
Out the house.
Louise’s rounds had widened;
She’d drive deeper, reaching
To the tenant patches:
Repeat trips, where
People recognized her;
First trips, where they
Asked her who she was.

“I’m with the Relief.
Assistant Medical. Miz Kemp.
You spoke with Miss Flynn.
What’s the problem?” Gradually,
She mentioned the doc less,
And Miss Flynn more.
Eyeing her, the mother
Nodded toward her daughter.
The girl was twelve or thirteen,
Skinny, freckled–me
At her age, Louise thought–
Long limbs dangling
From an old child’s dress;
Damp red rags between her legs.
“She been hurt?”
“No. But she does it worse.”
“Worse, huh?”
Louise crouched.
The girl drew back.
“I’ll feel. I won’t look.
Won’t hurt much.
Tell me if it does,
I’ll wait.”

Louise cleaned her hands and
Felt. But all seemed normal:
Monthly pains.
“Well,” she thought out loud,
“She’s old enough. So, fine.
How long she’s been doing it?”
“Two year.”
Louise scribbled:
“Little young,” she said,
“But that’s okay.”
She squatted by her bag.
It’s only ignorance, she thought,
That makes them worry.
“And how often?”
The woman, her arms folded,
Peered and frowned:
“How’s that?”
“I’m asking you, how
Often does it come? Each
Thirty days?”
“Been two year.”
“No, no!” Louise snapped,
Laying out clean
Rags. She rephrased:
“How often does it stop?”
The woman nodded.
“It don’t stop.
Two year.”
Louise looked up.

“Lady!”–a small boy
At her side, hand
On her arm, insistent:
“Ask me this.”
He held a page torn
From a catalogue.
She glanced down: cans of
Housepaint, green, black, blue.
“Lady, ask me this,”
The boy insisted.
“My boy knows all his colors,”
Said the mother. “Well, nurse, what–”

Louise stood, sudden,
Backing off.
“Wait! Just a….It’s
Supposed to stop.”

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