King’s Rook (poem)
“I’m married to a freak,” she tells him.
She talks, and when she talks, her story entrains
to a detail that couples to another
And while she was only holding a parking space
so Artsy could truck some canvasses down
The traffic stalls them pulling free, and Rainy talks
“You wanna know why I ever did it? Got married.
Cause I was a coward, a little dummy.
I could have lived a lot poorer.
You don’t know this about me, but I got a habit.”
She takes off her shoe by the strap and dangles it.
“But,” Artsy says, “you could give things up now? You’re sad?”
“Sad! Like what, I’m gonna kill myself? He could wish.”
She’s teasing, or she’s fishing. He knows not much about it,
talking to women. But Rainy, under her own steam, rolls over all slack.
“I don’t hate him…I mean hate him in the house.
I’m a nice person, I can live and let live.
The way he keeps the TV room dark.
And he doesn’t watch sports.
Like a guy. He watches movies.
He doesn’t want me cooking supper, he waits til I give up and shut the bedroom.
Then he leaves. I wish you were not a little punk, Artsy,
so I could come visit you. I’d have someplace to go myself.
I go out to the Walmart, cause it’s always open. I come back,
and that hollow in his chair’s flickering over with the screen.
Still gone. So you know who his friend is?”
Artsy shakes his head, studying the dashboard dust, the stick of gum
the yellowed basket velcroed on, the cassette tape, pharmacy receipt,
hairband with twisted hair caught, sunglasses, one lens out
The crocheted baby, plastic-faced, hanging from the mirror
“Oh, she’s special! I mean, it must be great to be a girl, and be strong!
To wear all the clothes, the fashion. I could never hold up my back
in freaking heels like that. With these legs. No, I’m saying, Artsy. She’s one of those…
Those…” Rainy looks vicious.
“Those types of people,” she finishes, “we aren’t supposed to talk about.”
“Do what?” he asks, innocence unfeigned.
“She’s not a woman, right? Jeez almighty!”
Artsy giggles. Rainy sits, and yaks, her seatbelt undone.
“You’re not in charge of outcomes, son. You’re gonna be in the car,
keeping your eye on chances. Grab the wheel.
I don’t say smash into a person standing.
Do it when there’s a van. Her insurance.”
Y. Murray, instructing, had shrugged.
“She could break my arm. I mean, I think she would.”
“Well, cry. That always throws em off.”
And Y. Murray laughed, long. “This is when you give her my name.
And you tell her, some money needs put back.”
They’ve reached an intersection, Rainy in the left lane.
“Get over quick,” Artsy says. A second in time passes, where he believes
he can do this job. But open sky, so rarely looked up at, winks on the sly.
“How come I wanna?”
“Cause the highway south. You got cash?”
She frowns. Hard. She heaves the wheel to a bellow of horn.
She takes the exit.
And Artsy says, when they start to cruise, “I got no ties in the world, Rainy.
How about you?”
(2023, Stephanie Foster)