Kay

Everybody in the family knew the story
of how Henry’s war bride got out of the car
in the yard dressed up in a kimono
and bowing. Their father was so surprised
he dropped his pail of feed. None of them
ever wondered about the shock she
must have felt to find her new father-in-low
among a gang of hogs in the Ozarks
wearing bib overalls and a straw hat.
She being a foreigner, it was her job
to understand him. “Over there,” Henry said,
they eat fish raw,” and he had his older
sister show her how to make biscuits
and pork gravy. In the end, sorrow opened them
to her. After just seven years, Henry,
who’d been drinking, drove his truck over
an embankment and died in the accident,
leaving her with two young girls, and hardly able
to speak English. Henry’s brother got her a job
as a waitress at the local restaurant, and his sisters
took turns babysitting. “You could eat right
off her floors,” one of them told a friend,
and later, when the restaurant’s owner
promoted her to bookkeeper, they bragged
about how fast her fingers moved on the abacus
she’d brought from Japan. There, no one
would have understood how her first daughter,
who looked like Henry except for her black hair
and her eyes, could have been so wild
as to jump on a motorcycle at fifteen behind
her new boyfriend, and her mother couldn’t make
herself understand it, either. “Oh, Kay,”
the women said at the funeral, holding her,
for by then she was part of the family.
None of them ever wondered about her real
name, or knew how pleased she was long before
to have this one, which Henry gave her
on the way to America, where she would spend
the rest of her life discovering who Kay was.