228. Inside the Red and White

From behind,
Five fingers clamped her arm.
Riah flinched,
And turned.
Louise’s face–
“Riah!”–wrung-out,
Slate-white: “Riah,
They want to church me!”

Riah’s ears
Refused this. She just
Frowned, as she might
At an unkind joke, or
Jeering riddle.
The blood-red fingernails
Bit in her flesh.
She tried to
Shrug them loose: why
Would Louise not
Leave?–her lips are
Trembling, ugly,
Red.
“You’re hurting me.”
Louise let fall her hand.

Riah scanned the shelves.
I need some things–
I need to buy a lug wrench.
If Louise would only go….
But she remained, unasking.
Riah shrugged again.
“What did you do?”

That caught Louise’s breath.
The question spread, and
Filled the silent air.
The body next to Riah’s
Stepped back
Quick. Riah looked,
No higher than the mouth.
The smile was frightful.
Then Louise strode off.
She called, as she slammed out:
“Who wants to know?”

A taunt. As Riah
Glimpsed her, the door
Shut. Standing
Wordless in the store,
Her only thought:
That was the sound,
The very voice I heard,
So many years ago,
In town. On shopping day,
On Saturday–that day
Louise kept circling,
Like a famished stray,
Coming closer,
Teasing, walking
Toward the truck:
Hey, Lady,
Hey.

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