82. Shopping

Riah stood with
Patty, Patty’s mother,
And with Opal
Black. They’d met
In the store.
Patty’s mother
Smiled: “We’re pleased!
Always room for
More! Patty
Keeps up with them
Kids. And they don’t
Trouble her to have.
When time comes they
Slip out smooth as kittens.”
They laughed–Patty too–
It was true.
“Like my sis,” said Opal,
“Has them with
No trouble.”
Jeanette walked by:
“Edna told me,
Patty, you’re due
In the fall. But not in
The hospital, I hope?
My cousin in Dallas
Got sick there.”

Coke machine–it’s
Staring?
Riah felt it:
Corner of her
Eye. But who–
“Riah, you’ll be
Spoiling that boy James. He
Needs a brother.
We’ll hear from you
Next”: Patty’s
Mother beaming at her.
“That’s right!
Don’t you keep us
Waiting,” Jeanette said.
They stood by
The yardgoods. Riah
Stroked a bolt, some
Useless dotted Swiss,
Bubbled plush. Likely ordered
Before things had
Changed. She thought: who
Would buy? No place for
This. “Don’t you
Keep us waiting!”
Riah blushed.
She excused herself
To get a coke.

Green eyes. Fiery
Frizz. “Why,
Louise!” Slouching
On the red
Soft-drink machine,
Louise straightened,
Instantly alert, waved
Frantically: turn back.
Riah did.
But she merely
Said, “Excuse me, please,”
To her friends.
They fell silent
As she took her leave.
“Oh, Lord,” Louise
Muttered, Riah
Coming alongside. Speaking
Fast and low,
Glancing sidewise
Round the store,
Louise: “You know,
Won’t hurt me one
Bit, if you
Choose to keep your
Distance here in town.
Shoot!–”
Pawing in her
Purse, she pulled out
Lipsticks–
“Let’s do business!
Act like you might
Buy.”
“Why?”

Louise sighed.
“They’ll all read
The Riot Act to
You. And there’s
Something else”–she
Hissed–“I’m sick
Of this act!
All this crap like
‘Why?’ You call it
Off!”
“What?”
Riah’s friends were
Strolling, browsing round.
“You know what I
Mean, Miss Virgin
Mary. You say
Hi to me,
Act like I’m Miz
Roosevelt today,
But where have you
Been the last two months?”
“I saw you last–”
“Tom say let me be?”
“He did not! Why
Would he?” Riah frowned.

Louise
Rolled her eyes.
Pressed her forehead
To the coke machine.
“Listen–” voice low,
“Say, don’t you know
Men? They’re same as
Dogs and babies.
Never got no
Clue what’s going on,
But they got good
Instincts–they smell
Trouble. They sniff,
And they howl. He
Won’t want you with
Me.”
“But why?”
Louise stood there,
Stumped. “What
A question! Why!
Why?
He won’t want you
With me, since–
No one does–
It’s because I’m–
Because I’m not–
Liked.”
Riah smiled.
She said: “But that’s
Silly.”

None of Riah’s
Friends had left the store.
Louise began
Ranting: “What’s
The point of trying
Talking sense to
You! It’s like stealing
Pencils from the blind!
You won’t
See the problem!
Now I know why
They just let you
Be: where’s
The fun?
Might as well go
Pissing on a tree!
You know”–she jabbed
Riah–“why you
Drive me crazy?”
Riah stared.
Louise: “You’re–” she
Almost said it:
Dumb.

But at once she
Saw plain as the sun,
What Riah would do:
How her face would
Flinch and then would
Fall.
Louise stopped in
Mid-word, breathless,
Stunned:
This was new.
She laughed.
Riah asked, “What’s
Funny?”
“What? What’s funny?
Nothing, that’s what.
Nothing”–Louise
Hiked her purse,
Feeling a sensation that
Confused.

Louise stood.
Considered.
Then to Riah,
Said: “Buy me
A coke.”
“Don’t have
The nickel,”
Riah answered,
“Sorry.”

Louise, with
A half-smile: “No
Surprise.”

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