20. The Talk Continues: Louise Tries To Make A Sale

Louise reached in her purse,
All crisp efficiency.
There, a paper square.
Unfolding it,
“Now look at this”–
Her voice, a soothing tone–
“Tell me something.
Which of these do you think
Looks like you?”

Riah took the paper.
Picture from a magazine:
Three pairs of eyes.
“Where’s their face?” she said.
“What? Why, it’s just eyes.
Which pair looks like you,
In your opinion?” Riah held
The picture, peering hard.
Louise looked at her,
Then at the paper, waiting
For an answer.
Then back at Riah’s face.
“Well,” Louise said, prompting,
Then say which
You’d like to be”–as
Good, to make the sale.
Riah frowned, and
Stared down at the pictures.
Louise sighed.
She nibbled a hangnail.
She hummed.

“Look,” she said, leaning forward.
“See those words below?
Beneath each pair?
They’re labeled ‘Colorless.’
‘Conspicuous.’ ‘Charming.'”
She paused, to make clear.
“Now. I guess you know
Which you’d rather be.
Remember,” she said,
To press the point: “Colorless.
Conspicuous. Charming.”
Riah held the picture.
She angled it.
Turned it a little bit.

“Are you blind?” Louise:
She couldn’t help it.
“Guess you got no eyes,
And that’s the hitch! Well,
I’ll help you out then–
I don’t mind! Let me
Ask you–right here–”
Finger jabbing–
“See these? Take a gander
At this pair.
You want to look
Colorless, like your lashes
Woke up chewed by lice?”
Louise moved her finger.
“Or to look
Conspicuous, that pair,
Like a whore?
Or do you pick
Charming?” Louise
Waved the third.
She was done.
Riah shook her head:
“No, none of these pictures
Look like me.
Can’t tell without faces,
Anyhow.”

Louise snatched it. “Swell.”
She studied it herself
With puzzled brows,
Then turned to her purse.
“Want a face?”
She smiled.
“I have a face.
Voila!” Big picture,
Color ad. Man and woman
Sitting, side by side.
She showed this to Riah.
“It says, ‘Will your hair stand
Close inspection? Your hair,
More than any other thing,
Makes your whole appearance.'”
Louise nodded sagely.
“Here’s the crucial part. ‘Your hair
Tells the whole world
What you are.'”
“How do they mean?” asked Riah.

Louise bit her lip.
“You don’t read, do you–
Magazines? Don’t own
A radio? My, how’d I guess.
It’s an ad! Means,
If you meet someone
On the street,
They spy your hair. That
Tells them what you are–
What kind you are.”
Riah seemed to balk:
“Who I see in town,
Know who I am. Know
My name, my farm.”
Louise shook her head.
“No, not that.
Imagine.
You’re out on the street.
Whole town sees your lustrous,
Sleek coiffure. Then
They know: a woman with
Some pride. That’s it!–”
She had hit it–
“Read a mag sometime!
A woman prides herself
On lovely hair.
Or white hands”–glanced down–
“No hope for you there.
Stick with hair.”

Riah had heard “pride.”
“Everybody knows
How I keep house. How I
Keep the farm, and Tom, and James.
They know we work hard.”
“Okay, okay.”
Louise’s second try:
“What if someone came here
From afar. A stranger. Then
He’d have no way to know,
You see?”
Riah paused a second. Then,
“He’d only have to ask.
Ask anyone,
Or drive to see my place.”

“Don’t you want to have
A nice appearance?
Don’t you want to
Make a good impression?”
“We’re–” said Riah,
Starting up a speech–
Louise cut in.
“Let me ask one thing.”
This never missed.
She spoke slow.
“When was the last time–
What’s your husband’s name?”
“Tom.”
“When’s the last compliment
You got from him?”

That stumped Riah.
Louise hid a smile.
No one, she knew, could
Get past that question.
Customers who heard
Were at your mercy.
They would buy.
Riah had a thought.
She said, “Well.
I guess it was last week.”
“What’d he say?” Dismayed,
Louise still hoped.
“He said,
I was right about the gin.
I said that the scale’s off
At the gin, and so it was.
Any fool could see,
But Tom was pleased.”

Louise packed her things
Back in her bag.
She folded up her ads.
She closed her purse.
“If you did not want
To buy cosmetics,”
She said with distinctness,
“You might have the decency
To tell me so.”

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