49. Cooking Biscuits

Louise pulled a chair up in the kitchen.
Making biscuits, Riah poured the flour,
Water, baking powder in a bowl,
Salted it, and found
Her big wood spoon. She shook
Hunks of dough onto charred trays,
Shoved them in the oven.

“You know,” said Louise,
“What I think about
When I cook biscuits?”
Riah wiped her face.
Something teased her
In Louise’s tone.
“No, I don’t,” she answered, testily.
“I think: what’s eating?
Biscuit goes inside us,
Stays awhile, comes out.
That’s it.”
Riah banged the stove door shut.
“Even pies,” Louise said,
Seeming not to look at Riah,
“Even birthday cake.
All our hard work
Ends up in the outhouse,
Frosted over with lime powder.”
Riah hoped her face showed nothing.
She ought to feel shocked,
But she did not,
Uncertain what to do.

“And that,” Louise ended,
“Is why I hate to cook.
Or put up plums,” she added,
“Or do dishes.
Just this day
I left them sitting there.”
Riah flung more dough
Onto a tray.

“What’d you say?” Louise asked.
Riah poured a kettle of hot water,
Started washing spoons and bowls.
Once it rose, the morning sun
Climbed rapid, till about
Ten thirty, when it hung–
In the fields, seemed
Noon would never come.
This new sunlight inched
The skin of Riah’s throat,
Caught her collar, slow,
Then crept her side.
As if halfway
In bright looking-glass,
She stood, partly lit,
The kitchen hot.

Louise cocked her head
And studied Riah. Thinking,
When she holds her shoulders so,
Might as well put up a sign
Says, “Something eating me!
Something’s wrong!”–stands
Holding that wood spoon
Up to the window, staring
At the handle, or her cuff,
Or what?
Looking like she’s lost
Her oldest friend.
“What is it?” Louise asked,
Slightly peeved.
“What? Oh, nothing.”
Riah held the spoon.
Sure, Louise thought, nothing.
“Get soap on your sleeve?”
“Burn your finger?”

Riah hesitated.
The spoon drooped
Back into sink and suds.
She shrugged, said,
“Just looking at my hand.”
“Well? So?”
“It’s nothing.
Couple weeks ago,
I noticed it–”
Waiting for the words–
“It looks different.”
“How’s that?” Louise frowned.
“It’s not anything.” Riah said,
“I just notice, these days…
It looks kind of like–
My mother’s hand.”
Louise stilled herself
And asked no questions,
Not wanting to tread wrong.
Riah’s voice was hushed,
As a ghost story:
“Dusters last month
Maybe made it worse.
Skin’s stretched apart”–
Examining. “Marked
In little furrows. Not
Smooth now like James’.
Pale spots
Like she used to have.
Guess it’s been this way.
I never saw.”
She touched her hand.

Louise sighed.
“So that’s it,” she said,
Folding her arms.
“If that’s all,
You can get cream for that
At Red and White. Or better yet,
Buy mine.”
But Riah kept on talking,
To herself: “Guess I thought
It wouldn’t, not to me.”

Louise rose to go. “Riah.
Know what hour it is?
Eleven ten.
It’s way past breakfast now–
My, how time flies!
My advice to you:
Don’t think about your hand
Before it’s supper.
Definitely, not
Before it’s lunch.
Then you can have
Half a happy day.
Excuse me,
I’ve dishes home to wash.
See you later.”
She left in a huff.

Riah didn’t mind.
She drained the sink.

2 Responses to “49. Cooking Biscuits”

  1. Mirella Patzer Says:

    A lovely story. How true!

  2. sshaver Says:

    Hi Mirella, I appreciate your comment, especially knowing how busy you are with your own website!

    The awareness of the passage of time, as Riah and Louise take a glancing look at it above, is always lurking somewhere in our thinking, I believe.

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