249. Louise Speaks

A piercing wail, shrieking
Behind the wall,
Bursting from its jagged cracks
To stab the air.

“Louise!” Riah answered.
“Get out!”, shrilled
The voice. “Private
Property! Christ, it’s–
Christ, it’s trespass!
Trespass on my land!
Take your damn brush,
And go–”
He’s not at home? thought Riah.

“No! Leave me
Alone! Leave me
Some peace of mind,
Could you do that? My
God, you’re always there,
Like some bad penny! You
Keep on rolling back.
The others–never fails–they
Go their way, pop up
Like boogeys in a dream,
Their face! and gone–
They see me or they don’t–
They buy, or not–
But you!

God damn, it’s your face
That gripes my guts!
Clear water in the hand,
That’s all you seem–with your
Sweet-talk invitations,
With ‘Louise, this’ and ‘Louise,
That,’ like you’re just
An open door!
You ain’t no door!
Did you ever in your
Lame life stop to
Think? Before you went to
Mess with someone?
That is a serious–
A risky business!
Have you known?
With all your brooding ways,
You don’t, the same.

“And no, it’s not
The churching that I mean–”
“Louise, I–”
“Who cares how you voted!
That best friend of yours,
That Patty Hines, she’s
Braying to the whole town
You said, church me.
I’ll tell you how I
Felt–I felt
Relieved! You’d showed
The color of your money!
She’ll wash her hands of me,
I thinks–and then!
What do you know?
You’re there in church!
Can’t trust you to do
Nothing! Undependable,
To turn up there like that!
Can’t believe my eyes!
What’s a vote?–that’s
Nothing! But for you to
Come, and sit–white, looking
Like a risen corpse–there
She is, I thinks, that
Penny’s rolled again,
Sticks by till Hell freezes–
Lead me on, you lead me on,
You do! It’s
Killing me!”

“What–” but
Louise’s voice broke in,
Scratched, hollow, hoarse:
“I rue the day I met you!
I mean that,
From the bottom of my heart.
But I can’t stay away–
A patsy, me!
Glutton for punishment.
Can’t stop–I fly,
Then sink back
Down to you. Why,
You’re my grave–you’ll be
The death of me.
You hang around, like
Death, around my neck.
The rest of them are gone,
And here you are.
And that just burns me, Riah,
Don’t you see?–the fires
Of Hell….and now
Here you are again,
My old plug penny.
Who’s knocking there? I says.
‘Pearl of great price,’ the penny
Says. And like a chump, I
Believe it, open up!”

“Louise.” Riah paused, then:
“Come on out.”
“No! No more.”
A whispered mutter,
Washed-out, vicious hiss:
“You toad-eyed thing. You’re
Ugly. You know that?
You go to Hell. Go
Anyplace, and stay. I’m
Wrong, you’re not
Death–death’s too
Good for me.”

Riah stepped up, close.
Beside the door.
“Oh no, you don’t”–
The voice, rueful and low–
“Take a look: I’ve
Watched this wood
Rot through. The sand,
The wind–the walls are
Hollow now.
To the core.
The boards are groaning–
Hear it? Just like
Everything–the skin
Falls off our bones–
Our bodies leave us.
You’re outside it, though,
But God knows how–
Do Riah’s feet touch
Ground? I guess
They don’t.
I hate you.
And I’m tired.
I’m supposed to be
Alone. Riah, leave me
Be. Let me
Sleep at night.”
Riah hesitated.
Then she leaned her head
Against the doorsill,
As if she, as well, were
Mortal tired.
She looked down at her hands,
For a long time. Not
Young hands, any more.

The house creaked.
Louise’s voice, defeated:
“First it hurts the outside.
Moves from outside in, then,
Year to year.
Comes in closer, till it
Gets the place you hurt from.
Then it’s over.
You don’t ever
Hurt no more.
I nearly made it there.”

Riah, silent.
“Get out, Riah.
Now. Have mercy on me.”

A sigh. This, then, was
Riah took a breath.
Louise: “You’ll say now
You don’t understand.”
Riah: “But I do.
Louise, though–
Is Bo here?”

“Nope. He left for town.
Thinks the whole thing’s funny,
You beat that?”
Louise paused–then asked,
Disbelieving, cautious:
“You mean to say,
You reckoned Bo was here?”
No reply.
“You thought he’s running wild,
And wants my blood?”
“And so you come out here,
To find me, Riah,
And brought James?
You figured Bo was here,
But came ahead?”

“My best friend’s
Not Patty,”
Riah said.

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