68. The Checks

On the spigot
Riah cracked a dish.
Tom glanced up from his figures.
Their house clanged with off-notes
Of glass clatter, Riah washing,
Elbows white with suds.
Soaped-up plates
Appeared to heave and
Fall–her thin back, swaying–
Spoons, forks flew.
“Plan to take up juggling
With the circus?”:
He paused with his pencil.
No reply.

One month.
They had one more month
To stay. Bank
Allowed one more,
A courtesy, Bud said,
For Tom’s credit record
Till the drought.
Courtesy! Tom thought.
Riah would not hear the word
Foreclosure. She maintained
The “rental” checks would come,
Roosevelt would pay
For fallowed land.
“Signed a contract.”
That’s all she would say,
Though the promised date
Had passed. Now
She made no move.
On the q.t. Tom’d
Tuned up the truck.
They’d not stay here, sure,
To hire as day labor
Where they’d once owned land:
Unthinkable. And jobs were
Scarce. They’d end up
On Relief.
Tom scribbled numbers,
“Payments Due” in hand.

From the sink:
“Lila’s sister in the East,
Husband works for Government,
With those checks. Says they’re
Working day and night,
Day shift leaves to sleep,
Late shift comes–
To write those checks.”
Riah scrubbed a fry-pan,
“Says his new boss says,
Those checks will be out soon,
Count on it.”
Tom’s mouth, a dry line.
“So,” he said,
“Lila’s sister’s husband’s
New boss says
Those checks will come flying
To this town.”
Riah flushed. Why, now,
Did it sound foolish? Lila,
The prize of sewing club
For this fresh news.
“She talked
To her sister,”
She said, low.

Why in God’s name
Would he want to go?–
If all fails, she thought,
Why not stay here,
Where neighbors at least
Would not let them starve,
Or hurt them. There was
School. They could work–
He’d said no. Said the checks
Would never come.
“You ask Jack Hance?” she’d said.
“Jack–” he’d sputtered–
Riah butted in. “Now, Tom.
Man can misjudge chickens
And still know of checks.”
Tom shook his head:
“Them as can’t, they teach.”
That ended all their talk.

She rinsed a pot. “Oh,”
She told him coldly,
“By the way, got
Nothing for your lunch.
Nothing for James’, either.
Guess we’ll wait for dinner.”
His eyes down, Tom
Skimmed a line of debts,
Denying her
The answer of a look.

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