23. Coffee Klatch

“Why don’t you plant flowers, Riah?
I planted phlox last year–spread
So fast, they liked to never stop.”
Patty lived in town.
Riah’d walked there from the store
For Patty’s fried hash recipe–
Mrs. Roosevelt’s, from her new book.
Patty’s babies dozed.
Matt was at school.
Her front room had wool rugs,
And a sofa;
Hardly sat on,
Cushions sprang up fresh.

Riah creased the recipe.
“Oh,” she said, “I like
To eat my garden. Either that,
Or sell it.” She smiled.
Patty said, “I see.”
Then, as if a dark thought
Crossed her mind,
Her lips curved up,
But they made a frown.
“Riah. I hear you had
Quite a conversation,
While back in the store, a lady
From out east of town–
What was that name?”
She knows the name, thought Riah:
“Louise Kemp, you mean?
One with red hair?
Sat with me last winter,
You remember. When–” she paused–
“Sick.” Riah stirred her tea.
“Doctor had her come,
That’s how we met. She–
Did good work.”
Ending, hesitant.
“I’m sure she did”: Patty
Set down noiselessly
Her teaspoon, silver, real,
Not the graying ones
That Riah had: “You
Know about her, then.”

Riah sat with knees
Pressed close together.
Why must Patty ask her
What she knew?
Riah’d never been much good
In school. She’d loved books,
The big ones with big print,
But she was too backward
To recite.
Later on she stayed home,
Cleaned and cooked.
On her last school day,
The teacher asked her,
Three times: “Who was
Our first President?”
Patty offered her a piece
Of pie. “Who was
Our first President?”
She ate.
“Who was our first President?”
Every eye on her,
She had said,
Lincoln.

Patty had a perfect parlor,
And she always knew
What Riah didn’t know.
“Guess I don’t,” said Riah.
Patty sadly shook her head.
“Well, my dear, she’s done
Things,” she sighed. “Things
She hadn’t ought.
Always went to dances,
To wild places.
Few years back,
She got herself in trouble
With those rough boys
By the riverbed–
Might have had a–
Rumors, I don’t know.
Too, she’s done some things
Right here in town–
One family moved away–
Violating people’s marriages.”
“She goes to church.”
“She does go to church.
But the scriptures
Just fall on deaf ears.
She don’t care for no one
But herself. I’m telling you–”
Patty raised her finger–
“Everything she touches,
That one wrecks. Everywhere
She goes, she leaves a mess.
She’s got no more conscience
Than a dog.”

Riah had stopped drinking.
“She’s not like us,” Patty said, at last.
“How’s that?” Riah asked.
“Oh, you know. Not–nice.”
“Nice?”
Riah held her saucer on her lap,
Eyes fixed on dark liquid
In her cup.
Lincoln. She would never
Live that down.
Patty, pouring tea,
Did not respond.

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3 Responses to “23. Coffee Klatch”

  1. loretta davis Says:

    Such a real life encounter in a small talk. Captures that feeling that of course ” we are better than she is”. Riah isnt even thinking about that and probably would not feel the same way as Patty.

    Its always interesting how in communities, one sometimes has that bookmark that marks time. You were not smart in school and you still dont know whats going on. One does not have to live up to that reputation, we do change, evolve.

    I love the personal relationship here of friends, friends for many years. That gossip always creep in at tea’s doesn’t it. Here there are just two having tea, but having tea means time to chat.

    I felt like I was right there. Thank you!

  2. Nora Gilstrap Says:

    Liked it. I could feel Riah’s memories. Well done.

  3. sshaver Says:

    Nora, forgive me for not answering sooner. I posted a reply on the big comments thread on the first page.

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