42. An Arrival

Who’s outside?
Drives like a house afire, Riah thought.
She paused with the broom,
Winced at brakes’ whine–
Dirt, rocks popped.
A car door slammed.
These days, though, who knew?
Someone from the bank,
Come for the farm?
Come to take the house?
Lately, like a new child
On the street, she clutched
Her belongings close, mistrustful
Of who happened by.

“Hi!” It was
That woman, Louise Kemp,
At her doorway, smiling,
Peering over Riah’s shoulder,
Looking past–then, just as natural,
Stepped in the house.
“Surprise! You’re floored to see me,
Is that right? I knew you’d be.”
Riah, by her broom,
Asked at last:
“What can I do for you?”

Louise inhaled,
As if with secret joy.
Her eyes widened,
And she hushed her voice:
“See this brown case here?”
Yes, Riah saw.
Victorious, “Free
Samples!” said Louise.

“Would you like a cup of coffee?”–
Riah set aside the broom.
Louise stared.
“Oh. Of course. Why sure,
I guess I’d take some.”
“On the stove.”
Riah headed for the kitchen.
Pausing a split second,
Louise came.
She sat at the table,
Spread her skirt.
“You know,” she said–
Her eyes took in the room–
“I have an awful time.”
Riah, back turned, at the stove:
“Why?”

Louise dangled her leg.
“Living out here in the sticks!
In business, too–my company
Won’t send the stuff
I need.” She brushed the red-checked
Oilcloth, deciding it was
Clean: she set her case.
“Take this, it’s leatherette–
That’s same as leather,
But it’s out of rubber, cloth, or
Something”–glancing up
Expectantly. Riah said to her,
“Sure looks like leather.”
Her response
Seemed to impress Louise.
“Just this case,
I asked for, for a year.
How can I carry merchandise?
Or seem professional?
But no! I get ignored.” Angrily,
She tapped the tablecloth.
“It’s my fault
I get small orders, then?
They ignored me! No!”

“You take sugar?”
Riah brought two cups.
She laid out two cloths.
“What? Yes. Look at this.”
Louise waved a jar of rouge.
“Eight months I asked for these!
High quality–from Italy, or France–
It’s got some sacred spice–
Elegant, and pretty cheap–
They all wanted it,
The ladies, all the clubs–
You belong, too, don’t you?”
Riah nodded.
“But my order wasn’t filled! Eight
Months, at last they come–
Who wants them then?
Could I sell one?
No! Not on a silver platter!
Couldn’t give the little peepots
To a corpse.”
Louise slammed down the jar.
The coffee sloshed.
“Just to spite me, reckon–
Giving me a hard time,
The world’s hobby.”
“Two spoons?” Riah asked,
And shooed a fly.
“Three. Why me, you may ask?
Just my luck.
Can’t get nothing I want.”
“You like cream?”

They drank coffee, heads bent
To the case. Great round
Logs of lipsticks, eyebrow
Brushes. Tiny palettes
For the cheek. Pastels, polish,
Inside glass. Louise
Built a pile of samples,
To leave there.
Riah, though, said doubtful:
“Like the man says:
Nothing’s free.”
Serenely,
“Creamy European Sunset Rouge
In the two-ounce size is,”
Said Louise.

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