259. Back at Riah’s

Down along her thigh,
She ran a hand.
The wind kicked up:
Skirt billowed
With her stride.

James tagged along beside her
To the shed.
Shoot! Riah thought.
I haven’t cleaned the tractor
Since last storm.
And now–another?
Grit draws grit
Like magnets. What a mess–
And where was I?
At home! We sit too much,
These days. The dirt
Collects, we let the truck
Run down,
We sit….

Inside the shed,
She handed James a rag.
“Crawl underneath, okay,
And wipe the axles.
Mind your eyes.
I’ll look beneath the hood.
Pull off your shirt.”
She plunged in, one ear
Tilted to outside. But
As she rubbed her grease-rag,
She relaxed. No storm,
She thought: not coming. Or–
It’s awful slow.
Spark plug–filthy.
Fan belt–filthy.
If it–“Riah!” Bang,
She scraped her head–
“Darn!” Who?–
At the shed?

Still in her Sunday best–
Hat, bag, and flowered dress–
Patty’s face was drawn.
“Riah, duster’s coming!
Bud’s at county seat,
He won’t be home in time
To list that strip of land of ours
That’s next to yours,
So it won’t blow–
He meant to, last week–
You know that piece,
If we don’t plow,
It’s long-gone.
It’ll wreck yours too,
And in our contract–if we
Leave it in a storm
And county office finds out,
They’ll take back our check–
Can’t you have James do it?
Half an hour’s work,
That’s all.”
“Whoa!” Riah stopped her–
“Patty. First of all, you’re
Mighty sure we’ll have
A storm! Looks
Pretty tame to me.
A little breeze.”

James slid out,
Thin chest naked,
Pink and white.
Patty frowned at him,
Like scared he’d laugh at her:
“Don’t be so smart, Riah!
And don’t jolly me,
And talk like you was Bud.
I know the wind is mild,
I can’t explain–
But back home,
Nothing’s looking right.”

“Go on and laugh! But
Everything is saying–
Coffee-pot, the picture-frames,
The pattern in the carpet,
On the walls,
The woodwork
In the windowsills,
And that no-sound
Sound–it’s like they’re
Saying, ‘Something’s
On its way.’
They don’t look right.”
“Well, maybe it’s the light.”
“Well, sure!
The light is wrong.
It’s not one-thirty light.
That’s all I know.
And Bud is gone.”

There’s the trouble, Riah
Thought. Patty’s so
Skittish! James was
Yanking on his shirt.
“Ma, let me go!”
“Riah, can he do it?”
But Riah said:
“Can’t you?”

Patty blushed dark red.
“What do you mean?”
“Your tractor’s sitting out there?”
“Plain as day. Bud
Left it out this morning.
Meant to–”
“Can’t you drive it, then?”
“I don’t know how.”

Riah laughed,
And smiled as if
To scold: “Well, might not be
Lady-like–you might not
Want to bring it up at
Church, but Patty!
It’s just you and me!
Lips sealed!” She winked:
“Now, you can drive a tractor.”
“No. I can’t,” said Patty,
Firmly, scarlet.
Riah stood a moment.
Her face changed.
“You say–no, you mean it?
“Well, of course!
Why would I ever learn?”
Riah frowned;
But was she mad, or puzzled,
Patty couldn’t tell, and
Riah did not say.

“Mama, let me!
Lawsy sakes, I’m old enough!
I’ve drove the tractor here,
A hundred times!
I helped Dad just this morning!
I’m no baby any more,
You always–”
“All right.”

She had turned her back
On Patty. “James–you know
That ridge. Be careful
With their tractor. It’s
A forty-minute walk.
You plow it half an hour,
Then come home.
A storm starts, James,
You stop.”

He ran off, smiling.
Patty said,
“Good day.”

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