Poem

Two Poems

Mary Ruefle

Milk Shake

I am never lonely and never bored. Except when I bore myself, which is my definition of loneliness—to bore oneself. It makes a body lonesome, that. Today I am very bored and very lonely. I can think of nothing better to do than grind salt and pepper into my milk shake, which I have been doing since I was thirteen, which was so long ago the very word thirteen has an old-fashioned ring to it, one might as well say Ottoman Empire. Traditionally, thirteen is an unlucky number. Little did I know at thirteen that I was on the road, by a single action, to loneliness and boredom. My friend Vicki and I were sitting at the lunch counter in Woolworth’s, waiting for the milk shakes we had ordered—hers chocolate, mine vanilla—when she got up to go to the ladies’ room. The chocolate shake came while she was gone and as a joke I sprinkled salt and pepper on it, because I was, though I didn’t know it, young and callous and cruel. Vicki came back, she took the paper off her straw, she stuck her straw in her milk shake, she sucked through the straw for what seemed an eternity, and then she swallowed, which seemed like forever. This is the best milk shake I have ever had. That’s what she said, though she didn’t say it as much as she sighed it. The best shake I’ve ever had. In such sudden and unexpected ways does boredom begin. I tried her milk shake, I told her what I had done, the vanilla shake came, and we salt-and-peppered that one, too, and afterward we were bored, so we went shopping—we were in Woolworth’s after all—though by shopping we meant shoplifting, as any lonely bored thirteen-year-old knows. Vicki stole a tub of the latest invention, lip gloss, which was petroleum jelly dyed pink, and I stole a yellow lace mantilla to wear to Mass on Easter Sunday, though I never wore it to Mass; I wore it to confession the Saturday before, confessing to the priest that I had stolen the very thing I was wearing on my head. Why not? I had nothing else to confess. Playing a mean trick on my best friend, even one that turned out all right, didn’t seem worth the bother. What bothered me was that the priest seemed bored by my confession; I had thought to shock him, but it was he who shocked me, as I had so little experience of adult boredom. He gave me three Hail Marys and closed the screen. What was happening? I had shocked myself by stealing the mantilla and then confessing it, but bored the priest, whose boredom now shocked me, though it would bore me later, years later, when lip gloss was as common as clover, when the idea of Catholic women covering their heads was antiquated, when priests were suspected of being callous and cruel and the combination of salt and sugar was a raging trend, served in all the swank joints and upscale places. But, as I said, I am never lonely and never bored, and if today is an exception, it is the age-old exception of every day, for every day turns into tomorrow, and tomorrow turns into today, and today into yesterday, and I confess there is very little any of us can do to change it.

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