85. Business

The house, newly
Painted. Louise rang
The doorbell: la-de-da,
A doorbell, ain’t we
White!
Chatter inside
Ceased. The voices
Hushed. Patty
At the door.
Louise inhaled:
“Morning! Order
Came, Miz Hines. Here
Now”: she spoke
Dutifully, as if she had
Rehearsed. Patty:
“Wait there.” Screen door
Banged.

Naw, I’m
Busting in:
Louise grimaced, scuffed
A polished shoe.
Through the screen
The ladies, with their
Teacups, leaned out
From their seats, to see
Louise. Or demurely
Gazed down at the floor.
Louise looked
Away. I should
Show them tricks:
Rip my blouse off,
Shimmy down, or drool–
But here’s Patty.
The screen, Patty pushed
Ajar one crack.

Patty’s payment
Sealed in envelope:
No chance they would
Touch when it changed hands.
Louise swapped, offered
The brown bag.
“Hope you’re pleased,
Miz Hines.” The others
Listened.
Patty’s face had
Stiffened with distaste.
Louise wondered,
What’s she think I’ll
Say? Then: “Yes ma’am,
Thanks again.”
The door closed.
Behind, titters rose.

What’s so funny?
Louise drove on home,
With the precious
Payment in her purse–few
Buyers now.
Louise turned it
Over in her
Mind: her words,
Patty’s–what was
Funny?
Dress she wore
Today was brown, sedate.
No one could find
Fault. Not any way.
Still the door had
Closed and they had
Laughed.

Louise, home now, lay
Still on her bed.
It don’t seem to
Matter what I do.
It must just be
Something I can’t
See.

Cigarette!
Her hands fumbled,
Searching, at
A loss. Louise
Rubbed her mouth.
These past years, two,
Three, she had
Started slipping,
Sleeping more and
More. Sleeping later
In the mornings, later,
And not waking
Under Bo’s dire threats.
She would go to bed
Right after supper,
In the summer
With the sun still
High. Too,
Napping killed long
Hours of afternoon.

Louise in past
Years had grown
A garden. it filled
Most her time.
On bad days she’d
Wildly weed or hoe.
But the last had
Died out long ago.
Only a madwoman,
Like McKenna, could keep
Roots alive, white
Heat, no rain.
That one tended,
Cosseted her sprouts,
Everything but
Bring the plants to bed.
Drowsy, Louise
Fell into a dream:
Vines of soft green
Winding at her waist,
Slender tendrils
Twining at her arms,
Spiraling from
Fresh-turned garden loam.

She woke.
The air seemed more
Heavy in harsh sun.
Bedroom walls
Contracted, wavering.
Loneliness rose
In a panicked sweat.
Coated with it,
Louise tossed in bed,
Her cracked hands and
Feet itchy with heat.
Louise strained to
Hear: what’s that?–No
Sound. No one
Would appear.

If I had
A garden I’d sleep
In it, lie in shady
Lettuce bed,
Sweet thyme or some
Mint beneath my head,
Cornsilk tassels bowing,
Tease my eyes.
The round squash and
Shiny purple eggplant,
I’d lie close to
Their skins, always
Cool. Curl up.
Rest.

That McKenna!
Riah’d failed her
Test.
Louise for three
Weeks had stayed
Away: she
Wanted to find out
What Riah’d do.

Riah had done
Nothing: had not
Noticed, nor
Come after her.

Louise floated.
Each thought stunted
To a sterile stop,
Insides sick with
Sleep:
I give up.

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