97. Typhoid Season

They caught it at
School? Or in
The streets?
Drinking from bad
Wells? Out in
The cold? Or heat?
Caught it sleeping
With the window
Open? Window
Closed?
Mothers didn’t
Know how children caught it.
Why did some come
Down, but others
Not?

**********

“Tell you how they
Catch it,” said Louise,
Puffing with a smile
A pilfered smoke.
“From the Dechter
Building, owned by some
Company back east, and
Someone here, he gets
A cut. Crowded
In there, with no
Outhouse, no air, water.
Every migrant
Kid there, red with
Rash–and none too
White to start.”
She laughed roughly.
“Kids on kids like
Fleas. They catch it
From each other.”
“Why’d they come?” asked
Riah, “Place so
Rickety and
Packed–and no work
Here.” Louise
Blew gray rings:
“Guess they clean
Forgot to read
The papers.” Riah
Sent a look.
“Naw,” Louise said,
“Mexico, they
Starve. You know,
Stray dogs wander
Where they last found
Food. Got nothing else.  They
Hoed here four springs
Back. Just like us, they’re
Hoping still.”

**********

Only one or
Two town kids would die.
Mothers, trading
Greetings in the street,
Ran eyes brusquely
Over children’s friends.
If not their child,
It must be another.
Fervently they
Wished each other health.
The air that they
Breathed was all the same. So
If the fever
Fell on one they knew:
Everyone’s bad
Luck.

**********

Clients once too
Shamed to brave her door,
Who would only see her
In their home, now
Stayed near Miss Flynn’s
Office by the hour,
Begging milk to
Ward the typhoid off.
She in turn
Appealing to the doctor:
Drive to this
Encampment, check the Dechter,
To the west, some
Migrants….
“I’ll see some,” he’d
Said. “But I won’t
See them all.
Roosevelt, if
He wants me to work,
Let him pay me–
He pays all
The rest.” Miss Flynn said,
“I’ve sent for
Disbursement–”
“Right. Corn
Don’t pay rent.”
“Sir,” she snapped,
“You’ve more than
Enough to pay the rent.”
He’d reared up.
“That’s a crime then,
Is it, in your
Eyes? You work
Free, madame? You
Pay those businesses
Out gouging me,
Jacking up their prices
For folks’ pills?”
He coughed, weary
Hacking. “Ain’t Saint
Francis here. Could he
Buy pills for all these folks
With his bird-crumbs?”
Miss Flynn had left,
And proved more
Persuasive with that
Mrs. Kemp, doctor’s
Odd assistant,
Who could be
Induced to drive around,
By hints dropped of
Cuts in her Relief.

**********

Louise clambered
Slowly to her feet, clumsy
High heels wobbling.
She brushed dirt from
Off her knees and
Signed the Cross,
Wth deliberation,
Near the dead child’s
Head. This
Comforted the tenants,
She’d told Riah:
“Too dumb to hate
Catholics, anyhow.”
Louise dusted off.
The mother spoke. “She–
Was a good girl.”
“Yes, I’m
Sure she was”:
Louise glanced down
Quick, began to pack.
Woman sat on
Haunches on the floor:
“A good girl.
Now she is with
God.” Louise
Stuffed in washrags:
“Well, that God.
He’s a lucky
Guy. There in
His big chair,
Wedged on every side by
Typhoid babies, shrieking
In His ear–”
“Singing.”
Louise paused, surprised:
“What?”
“Singing. Babes sing
In His ear.”

“Oh.
Sure.” Louise
Resumed her packing.
Woman’s finger
Traced her daughter’s face:
“Don’t they?”
Louise: “Don’t they–what?”
“Don’t the children
Join the Heavenly choir,
Sing to Our Lord
Jesus, night and day?”
Vaguely, Louise
Caught the wording
Of some hymn. Her
Bag clicked shut: “Sure.”
Woman looked at her
Wonderingly:
“Don’t they?” She looked
At her daughter.
“Isn’t my Lorene in Heaven,
Nurse?”

That word
“Nurse”  got to
Louise, thinking:
As if I know
Shit!
But she donned her
Blandest, nurse-like smile:
“Mrs.–”
“Clint.”
“Mrs. Clint,
What’s her favorite
Candy, your Lorene?”
Answer came back
Dully: “Licorice.”
“Well then, Mrs. Clint,” Louise
Assured, “not
Only is she
There–Lorene–
Singing, too–but I
Promise you,
Bible says
Jesus gives each
Precious little one,
A big piece of
Candy they love most.”
Louise, hearty:
“Hands it from
The pocket of His
Robe. Right this
Very minute,
She’s got six or
Seven licorice ropes.”

Hopeful but
Unsure, the woman:
“Bible says?”
“It does.”
“Where?”
“Where?” Louise repeated,
Unprepared–“You mean–
Where?” Louise
Scanned the room.
“Got a Bible here?”
“We had to sell it.”
“Oh,” Louise, relieved, “well–
It’s in that last
Book. The one
With the dragon,
Final days,
Book of Revlonations, Chapter
Two.” Louise,
In a hurry,
Wanting out
Before the body
Smelled. It lay
Limp.

Louise
Reached the door.
The woman
Had not moved.
Her voice:
“Lorene is in
Heaven?”

Suddenly
Enraged, Louise
Bolted–
“Yes!”–
Yelled over her
Shoulder, out
The door.

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