“Patience” by Nancy Kangas

Nancy Kangas


Reference desk, phone call, 8:19 p.m. She wanted to know
which laundry detergent to use in the front-loading machine
that she has been using for over a decade.

When I said, May I put you on hold?
I meant it. She said, You take all the time you need.
I did. I perfected a sentence in the email

I’d been writing to Josh and drafted a few more
about how we might develop our project proposal.
I may have even swiped all

over my slick sweet phone and opened every single app
that would tell me anything: the weather, the breaking,
the love others have.

I let my face ache. I took her time. When I came back
with a Consumer Reports article on the best laundry detergent
for front-loading machines she listened to every word

and said she was writing many of them down.
When I told her that the top-rated soap
had benefits of removing all sorts of stains

—blood, grass, chocolate, tea—
she told me she was a very old person
who lives alone and that nothing ever

gets truly dirty.
She asked about fabric softeners
so I read to her the Consumer Reports caveat

that if used on children’s pajamas,
fabric softeners can undo the feature of retarding the flames,
and she gasped and wrote that down, too (I think).

She wanted to know where to go for this best soap
so I read to her some of the names of the stores
that might sell it—Walmart, Kroger, CVS—

and after each, she let out a sigh
like a porpoise surfacing.
Then she thanked me

for what I’d done,
for my patience,
and asked if she could tell my supervisor how

kind and good I was
and when I gave her Jennifer’s name she asked if Jennifer
were there right now. I said Jennifer was not.

So I wished her a good evening
and she said, You have a wonderful

evening, with a warm engine in her voice.
I set the crap receiver back in the crap cradle
and thought, I am in the dark entryway

just inside the back door of her house and she is in her immaculate kitchen
resettling her own phone. She is glowing. She is the light. She sits on a chair
near a stack of folded linens and wears pressed pajamas.

There is the smell of hot cotton.
It is a childhood home.
It is a mother.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018


Nancy Kangas: “By the time I was 21 I had tried working in daycare centers, on construction sites, and in fancy business offices where I typed all day. I thought I was going to be a musician, a carpenter, or maybe a tailor. I dropped out of college twice. Things were looking grim career-wise until I got a job shelving books at the Eureka Valley Harvey Milk Memorial Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. I loved my boss, how people came in and sat, and the smell of dust that was everywhere. Five years later, I became a librarian.” (web)

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