86. Bud’s Lunch Break

“When’s Mr. Tally
In?”: Bud leaned
On the counter
Of the Tally store.
At the bank, noon
Hour dragged of late.
Twice he’d checked
The vault. But other
Men were on the street: he’d
Ventured forth.

“Mr. Tally hardly
Comes these days”:
Dry goods clerk,
At the register, name of
Francis–Lord! Bud
Almost laughed.
“Francis–just you
Ask him to drop by.
Government loan money
Coming in.”
“Oh?” Francis paused, eyes
Brightening. Offered:
“Tell you what,
When we’d need that,
Be about two
Weeks. Got high
Inventory now,
Mrs. Hines, these storms–
Stuck with stock on
Shelf. If you’d
Tide us over, we–”
“Ask Mr. Tally.”
Bud used his crisp
Tone, and turned to
Leave. Francis
Watched him out.

At the door Bud
Met her:
Relief lady,
Sent from county seat.
“How do you do,
Ma’am?”: his voice,
Too polite.
“Mr. Hines! Fine,
Thanks.” Bud thought:
It was Mister This
And Mister That
To listen to her,
But she eyed them all
Cool as you please.
He’d a bone
To pick. She’d
No kin in town, so
He was brusque.

“Doc was telling me
You stole his patient.”
She thought, danger:
“And who might that be?”
“Runson woman. Tenant.”
A pang of displeasure
With the doctor:
And she knew at once
Which case it was.
“Runson…Runson,” she mused,
“Sanitarium?”
But Bud was not
Fooled. “Sent to
San Antone. To that clinic
There. On our tax
Money.”
“Ah, yes!” Smiling,
She gazed up at him,
Feather bobbing
In her business-hat:
“Had obstetric
Problems, I believe.”
“You
Had her fixed,” Bud
Drawled. “So that’s
What you’d call her
Problem, I believe.”

Her thumb
Hooked itself
Beneath her purse. Her
Face, a mask.
She thought: Mr. Hines,
You’re right.
For Leola,
One birth every
Year for the past
Eight. Two, now
Sick. Will you
Feed those babies?
Clothe them? Pay
The bills? If you
Will, then tell her
Not to go.
Otherwise–
No more babies:
San Antonio.

She held his stare.
Bud folded his
Arms: “Yourself, have
Little ones?”
Rude on purpose? For
She was a Miss.
Unblushing, she said,
“No.” Bud:
“That’s why you don’t
See.” His voice warmed:
“Ever think
About a little baby?
Helpless,” he said,
Heavily and slow.
“Needs someone to
Feed it, wash it,
Carry it around
From room to room….”
She thought: Lord, he’s
Trembling–
“…A ma to stay there
With it. When it
Wakes up nights. Needs
Every kind of care–”
Where’d he heard this?–
Some preacher somewhere?–
No, he means it.

She frowned. She must
Field this one
Adroitly. If he raised
A ruckus, it could
Mean her job.
Now he stood with
Finger in her face, defending
Babies.

She said, “Mr. Hines–I
Could petition
To retrieve the records from
The doctor–he’s
Quite respected there,
San Antonio, well-off,
A city father–but
Meanwhile,” her face
Earnest, ” I hate
Interfering with your
Lunch–could you
Squeeze a bite in
Now? With me?
Grocery order funds
Hung up at County.
On the funding,
I’d like your advice.
Forms are in my
Office. We could see….” paused
Hopefully.

Bud quietened. Then
He allowed to her
He might have
Time–be glad to give
Advice about that money.
He saw she was
Anxious they should meet.
Most of all, lunch
Hour loomed
Ahead. His
Gold watch, which he
Took out of his pocket,
Winding it so she’d not
Miss its gleam,
Told him it was
Only twelve-fifteen.

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