285. Awake

Louise took care
To stay in Riah’s sight.
She spoke deliberately.
“You’re all right.
You’ve got the asthma,
Bad. But it’s okay.”

At once, the brown eyes
Shifted to the window.
Louise shivered:
Just to see them move!
The shrilling wind–
“Some kind of storm.
Worse than the rest.
It’s black as pitch–”
She paused.
Did Riah know–
Had she forgot?

“Tom’s taken James, and
They’ve gone in to town.
Get you the doctor–”

Riah’s chest began to rise
And fall, quick, quicker,
Whistle of her breath
Constricted, piping
Higher, higher, speeding to
A racing pant–
“All right!
All right, Christ-sake!
So James is lost.
But listen–Tom’s
Gone out to find him.
Got a posse, kind of.
They’ve spread over
Every inch of ground–
Yes, I expect to see them here
Within the hour. James, he’s
Hid in someone’s barn.
Calm down,
Will you now?”

Riah’s breath dropped
Back to shallow skimming
Through her teeth–
Eyes wildly on Louise.
“There’s a posse. Jesus
Christ, I swear it’s true!
You thought, because I
Lied, he’d bit the dust?
No! There are dozens,
Out in cars and trucks.
They’re sure to find him.
You can bet the rent–
It’s true. I never
Should have lied, I’m
Sorry! But you’re sick–
You know, so to spare you,
I said James was here.
But–I swear on my
Grave, my mother’s
Grave–God strike me
Dead if it’s a lie–
A posse. I say ‘posse’
Like the movies,
Since you’ve never seen
A group so big. And they
Mean business, too!
They mean to find him.”

Riah’s stare took in
Her face, alert for just
The slightest tic, a nervous
Laugh, a give-away.
“Give me the third degree!
But you relax.
He’s coming home.”
A sudden thought–
Louise added slyly: “Why
Wouldn’t Tom be here?
He was, you know.
How come Tom’s not here?
I’ll tell you why.
He’s with the posse.”

She believes me, Louise thought:
The little sucker. God,
I’m good.
Louise kissed Riah’s cheek.
“That’s fine.
Take it easy.
Breathe in peaceful.
I got to say, it’s
Good to have you back.”

Suddenly, Louise
Snatched up her purse. She
Rummaged for a lipstick
And applied it, slowly,
Drawing on a mouth. “Lord,
I must look
A fright!” She pulled
A compact out. “No
Lipstick on for–hours?
Couple days?”
Anxious, her gaze
Strayed to Riah.
“I look lousy,
Do you think?”
Louise laughed and rose,
Fixed on the mirror,
Yanking, frowning at
Her hair:
“Think I liked it better
When you couldn’t see.”

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