64. The Permanent Goes On

Fine idea, Louise thought,
To come here.
True, the wave solution
Burned in rings around her ears
And down her cheeks.
“Ow! Ow! Riah, Lord,
You’re blinding me!”
Her companion’s damp cloth
Wiped her eyes.
“All right,” said Louise,
But with a pout.

Good with her hands,
Riah liked to learn.
All intent,
She scanned the diagram.
Wielding combs
As if they were dirt hoes,
She would part the wet hair,
Row by row.
Each finger-width was daubed
In wave solution,
Cracked blue bowl.
Soaked, Louise’s hair
Turned russet-hued,
Dark as homespun.
Riah’s fingers stretched it
And then rolled.
Awkwardness now gone,
She wound quick,
Expertly tucking ends.

That solution stinks
To the high heaven, thought Louise.
She shut stinging eyes,
Tilting her head. Noses ran
As odor thick as incense
Wrapped both Riah and her client
In its mist,
Invading every nook.
Riah’s fingertips were
Dabbling, plashing.
Out back, chickens
Scratched, fussed amiably.
Louise stretched her shoulders.
She made believe
That she lay on a beach:
The big river
She’d known as a girl.

“Do you know, Riah–”
She half-drawled the sound out,
Teased the name–
“I saw the Mississippi?”
“Well, I swan,” said Riah,
Busy marveling:
How well she rolled!
A novice, too.
Miffed by her absorption,
Louise tried
For more impressive news:
“My folks came from New Orleans.
Ma was born there.”
“New Orleans,” said Riah.
Patty’d had a permanent.
The others talked about it–
Now she knew.

“Your people–where they
From?” inquired Louise.
“Grandfolks, Massachusetts
Come through Arkansas.”
Louise eased in her chair.
She yawned. Her scalp was tender–
Riah didn’t hurt at all.
The flies kept distant,
Bumping on the wall.
She wiped her face once more.
“Do you know,”
Louise said, sleepily,
“What women call the curse
In New Orleans?”
“What?” said Riah,
Not much keen to hear.
She wound up a roller
Nice and tight.

“They call it,” Louise replied,
“‘The flowers.'”
Laying her head back,
She closed her eyes. She laughed
To herself.
Outside, hens were scratching.
“They say,
‘Got the flowers,'”
She said, low.

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