255. Idle Hour

“I look at them.
And I think:
They can’t stand it.”
Louise had walked,
With Riah, to the fields.

“Who?” Riah asked.
Louise shooed off some gnats.
“Those men that sit there,
Waiting for Relief.
I overhear them,
Out in that Flynn’s office–
I speak with her myself,
About my clients.
Or, I did….”
Riah bent,
To scoop some dirt.
“They’re telling little lies.
They hate it, too.
Sticks in their craw.
They come, to wangle more:
‘The grocer, ma’am,
Mislaid my grocery order.
Could you write another?’ Or:
‘He didn’t have no flour,
Put me off–
Write it again?’
‘Says six potatoes here,
But up at county, they said
Give us ten.’
‘My brother’s kids moved in,
Now we’ve got nine.
Yes, ma’am. They’re residents,
For true.'”
Louise shrugged, slapped a fly:
“Haggling for food.”

She dragged her toe
To stir a plume of
Dust, then stood and
Watched it drift, her forehead
Dripping sweat.
“I declare. What
Do you see out here?
It wrecks my shoes.”

Shrugging, Riah nudged 
A tumbleweed, then
Raised the prickly ball
Poised in her hand.
“Looks big,” she said,
“But hardly weighs.
It’s like the globe
There at James’ school.”
Breezes snatched the weed–
It skittered off.
“Some days,
I’m standing, looking–
Then I’ve lost my feet!
Sand. Gone.”

Louise peered at her face:
“Sure, buried. So?”
I’m listening to her good,
Louise thought:
I’ve been dim, past weeks,
Since the–well, now
It’s best we meet out here.
My head has cleared–
Riah shrugged:
“It feels like floating.”

Seized with rudeness,
She did not know why,
Louise broke in.
“Anyhow, the doctor’s office,
It’s the same:
‘We need more!’
Wives can do it,
Bow and scrape: ‘Could we
Pay you next week?
I’ll have eggs then.’
‘Oh, we’re glad see you, doctor,
That salve helps….’
But the husbands!
Every time they got to coax,
Or butter up, or
Squeak by, or ask
Pretty-please, or
Oil the wheels,
Or bite their tongue–
Lord, they just gag.
They can’t stand it.”

Louise considered:
“And I figured why. It’s
Because the wives have practice,
Wheedling husbands, and more,
Wheedling kids! Lord, you’ve
Seen kids in the store–those
Pups, they walk so slow,
Like syrup, till Ma prods!
You’ve seen babies eat–
They can’t be rushed. And so
You got to egg them on,
To grease the tracks,
To try it this way,
Try it that way: ‘Ain’t it tasty?’
‘See how Mama likes it?'”
Riah laughed: “Can’t
Stuff food down their throat.”
“Why, no! You got to
Pull some stunts! You got to
Play games with the spoon,
And sing some rhymes….”

Louise doubled over. “Oh–”
“Louise!” Swift,
Riah braced her up.
“What’s wrong?”
But Louise clenched herself:
“I got a pain–
A pain.”
“Where?
Sit down.
Where?”
Louise crouched,
Panting fast.

As suddenly,
She stood.
“Whew. Felt like
Someone punched me.
Cramp, I guess.”
Riah flushed–I’m
Tired of saying nothing.
“Is it Bo?”
“Nope.”
“Is it–”
“Nothing.”
“Nothing! Nothing!” Riah yelled.

Startled, Louise stared,
Amazed. The quiet one!
Then slow, across her face,
There spread a smile.
“Sweetheart”–her arm
Swept toward the horizon–
“Darling mine:
All this peace and quiet–
Fresh air–these
Magnificent, wide-open
Spaces–make you jumpy?
Drives you mad!”

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