91. The Typhoid

Louise sat,
Hands muffed in a skein,
Tethered by a brownish
Woolly string.

Riah knit.
“What nobody
Wants, they dump on
Us,” Louise
Complained: “Here it is,
Hot as Satan’s bloomers–
Relief sends our churches
Sacks of yarn.”
Riah smiled,
Reproving. “Come
Christmas,” Louise said,
“Let’s expect
A case of bathing suits.
Cast-off suits they
Can’t use in New York.”
Riah: “Let’s give
Thanks for what we
Get.”
“Oh, foo–”
Louise sniffed–
“You know, typhoid’s
Coming. Think we
Should be grateful?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, the typhoid–
That’s what we get,
Too. You say, give
Thanks.
Make your mind up:
Can’t have it
Both ways.”

Riah’s needles
Clicked, but she
Did this handwork
With no knack,
She who tinkered
Hours with the tractor–
Who had stripped and
Rebuilt Patty’s
Washer–she lacked
Patience here,
Knitting gaps and
Lumps and hoping
In the fuzzy mass no flaw
Would show.
“Typhoid’s back?”
She asked thoughtfully.
“Sure is.
Lost two tenant
Kids that I been watching,
By the riverbed.
But of course,”
Louise plucked the yarn,
“They don’t count:
Just wild rabbits down.
First town kid who
Breaks out–folks will
Howl.” Riah
Looped a row.
“Yep, it’s started, Riah.
Doc has sent me–
I’ve been all around–
Dollie Marker, fever–
Diller Monson, the rose
Spots, the rash.
Typhoid season.
Take awhile to pass.”

Riah tugged.
Louise prodded, piqued.
“Aren’t you scared for
James? ” The knitting clacked:
“Of course.”
“No, you’re not.” Eyes
Narrowed, Louise
Scrutinized her: “How come?”
Ping of needles
Chimed in Riah’s ears. How
Come? She didn’t know.
Her mind drifted
To the sewing circle,
With its easy
Chatter, comfort too,
Others there like
She was, no one
Angry at her,
Safe in courtesy,
As the others
Ripped out hems and smiled,
As if they all
Mended the same piece.

“God’s
Will,” said Riah,
“It’s no use to
Ask.” Louise
Yelled a laugh.
“Oh, you’ll
Ask, all right!
Quick enough you’ll
Ask, when your turn
Comes!
Gracious!” Louise
Stretched in contemplation.
“Gracious, that’s
The problem, seems to me! Just
What you say.
Riah–you know
Why God tortures us?”

“Why?” asked Riah,
Who forgot to scold.
Louise grimaced:
“It’s because we’re
Patsies.”
“What?”
Louise spoke, emphatic:
“Yep. We’re patsies.
Look at this–
God sends typhoid,
Stamps the rash on
Kids who done no wrong–
Ain’t had time–
They die humped up, bawling.
Or he gives you
Someone, let’s say
Tom, to live with–
You get used to
Him–his tractor
Falls, and he’s
Crushed, gone. Or
God gives you that
Body, pretty toy, then–
Riah, you don’t
Know what sickness
Does, what it can
Do, some injuries–”
Louise trailed off
Here, eyes dark–
“And you’re on
The rack and begging mercy.
If you’re lucky–
I’ve heard people
Plead for this–you
Die.”

Louise’s hands fell to her
Sides. She shrugged.
“And what do we
Say? ‘God’s will. God’s
Will. God’s will.'”
“Well?” asked Riah.
Louise: “Well?
Just for once I
Wish we’d say-oh,
I don’t know–
If I was a ma I’d
Never kiss ass–to
The very one who
Killed my kid!”
“Louise!”
Riah was sincerely
Scandalized.
“Louise!” she said.
“Lord! Read the Bible,
You should! Read
Job!”
Louise twisted
Yarn. “Job’s
A patsy,”
She declared, and
Sat in sullen calm.

She had
Gone too far.
Riah, troubled,
Ceased to talk to her.
Sweater-sleeve grew
Long in Riah’s hands.
Riah knit through
Lunch, forgetting
Boiled potatoes
Cooling on the stove.
Scowling, Louise
Hunched up and decided:
I’ll fix her.

“I know why you
Think James won’t catch
Typhoid.” Riah
Knitted on.
“It’s because…”
Louise drawled it, teasing.
“Because–he’s got
The asthma. And
That’s enough bad,
Right? You think that
That’s his curse.
Riah, you think
Lightning won’t strike
Twice–you
Got it figured
Asthma’s what will
Get him, if it
Does.”

Riah, silent.
Louise laughed: “Christ
Jesus, are you
Wrong!
Tell you what, though,
Riah–” laughter
Stopped.
“I just hope to
Hell I’m not around,
Something ever
Happens to that
Boy.”

No reply: just
Riah, knitting on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: