38. Breakfast at Opal’s

Opal turned her oatmeal over
With a spoon.
No dust today, she thought.
Sun is bright.
She turned it once again.
The off-white curds had hardened,
Hugging jello-like
Against the unwarm bowl.
She’d had to leave it,
For they’d had a fight, the kids,
Wrestling on the bed,
Lester hitting Nan so hard
Her nose bled big clots
On the quilt.
Well, that’s that, thought Opal:
Won’t come out.
By the time she’d settled it–
“Ernest, get off there.
For Jesus’–”
She stopped just in time
From blasphemy.
Doyle, the oldest,
Stood up on the chair
About to leap, or fall–
“Gitoff!” said the baby.
“Gitoff!”, and it laughed.
“Gitoff, gitoff, gitoff,
Gitoff, gitoff, gitoff, gitoff, gitoff.”
“That’s enough, kids, now.
That’s enough.
Can’t you see Mama’s tired?”
She said it softly,
And they didn’t hear.

Her back hurt.
She didn’t mind so much
If it would wait till lunch,
But breakfast-time….
She waved off a fly.
Hour by hour
Muscles cramped her spine.
The spasm tucked by inches
Up her neck,
Round her waist,
Radiating cramps below.
Not so bad when Nan was born–
Though since the new one came,
She couldn’t stand and iron
But a few hours–
Wouldn’t do.
Couldn’t stoop to tend the garden.
She tried to make them help.
When Ed came home
He eyed her curious,
Like she was a lay-about,
The house a mess–
She’d picked up twice today–
What could she say?
I got no wounds to show.
All wives are tired.
“Give this pretty lady
Time to get her strength back,”
Doc said, after Nan,
As he winked to Ed.

Wes was making Nan eat dirt.
“Ernest, you go tell him
Cut it out.”
Doyle climbed up a chair.
She reached for her nostrum,
Read the label,
Muttering its incantation:
“Cures back ailments, bone soreness,
Weak blood, kidney troubles….”
She poured two spoons
On the oatmeal, dry;
The kids had drained the milk.

The quilt began to smell.
I can’t do wash today.
I can’t.
“Gitoff, gitoff, gitoff, gitoff,
Gitoff!” The baby laughed.
It drooled white down its face.
“That’s that,” she thought,
Wiping with her apron,
Counting days:
Another one
Was maybe on the way.

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