Original published in Emry’s Journal via Medium
The slap of the screen door as it closes behind Babe causes her to start. Dammit if she hasn’t asked Earl a thousand times to fix it. What good is a tool box, she mutters, if you never use the tools?
She drags a broken chair out from under the awning of the mobile home, lining it up with a spray of sunlight on the ground. Groaning and panting as she bends at the hip, she collapses into the seat. It cracks slightly, but holds firm enough for her slight frame. She runs her nicotine stained hands through her unwashed hair then smells her fingers as if they might hold a clue. Dangling from her dry cracked lips is an unlit Marlboro, her last one. She hesitates to light it. She sighs at the thought of waiting. The urge to fill her lungs is strong. She can do it. Has before.
The only makeup she bothers with is rouge, a shade lighter than her dyed-red hair and applied as if she is scheduled to perform for Ringling Brothers later that afternoon. She wears only a robe, thin and patterned with faded daisies and adorned with oversized pockets and aluminum snaps. Her dollar store reading glasses hang between her slack breasts, folded and tucked in at the top snap. She’ll need them later to read the numbers, for now they’ll just collect the sweat already starting to bead.
Squinting, she raises her chin to the sun, making sure she is in just the right spot before releasing a heavy sigh that quickly turns into a hacking cough, reminding the dog in the yard to her presence. It’s a breezy 78 degrees. In the distance, she eyes a truck kicking up dust as it passes the Henson’s double wide and putters towards her single. She crosses, un-crosses and then crosses her legs. They are unshaven and sprinkled with scabbed over flea bites.
Ignore the fact that she wears only one slipper, as it serves no purpose anyway. It is filthy and worn. So much that the rubber on the heel is gone, revealing a sheer piece of pink terry cloth, or is it peach? Perhaps once. The mutt stole the other one moments after her butt hit the seat of the chair. He’s taken it to his favorite spot under the leafy oak where grass is only a memory. He chews it viciously, knowing it won’t fill his empty belly. Hope keeps him gnawing.
As the sun passes overhead, she moans and shifts her weight in the cracked plastic Adirondack, revealing sweat marks on her back and between her legs. She takes a slow pull from her warm beer and and waits anxiously for the lottery numbers to be announced on the AM Radio set up on a rusty card table behind her. She found the treasure in the garbage bin outside Len’s party store last fall and was elated at the discovery. The table, not the radio, that was grandad’s. It was the one thing he left her.
The radio announcer is talking about the jackpot. Biggest in Florida’s history. He’s urging listeners to call in. “What are you going to do with all that money? Call in and tell me by dialing 1–800–242-Z955.” If she had a phone she just might, then again, probably not. She shifts again and unconsciously rubs the pocket that conceals her two-dollar fortune.
The mailman pulls up to the box at the end of the drive and shoves in the mail. He departs without so much as a wave. In his wake, he leaves nothing but a dust cloud that makes it way straight for her. She contemplates getting up to retrieve the overdue notices she knows he left but her favorite song comes on, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. As she begins to sing along, the dog’s ears perk up. He whines and relocates to his dog house in the back of the yard, although it’s more of a lean-to. The slipper continues to be his companion.
It’s her 63rd birthday.
Considering she has six kids and is on her third marriage she’s certain today has to be her lucky day. Rent on the mobile home is past due. Franny’s second baby is expected any day. Earl Jr. needs bail money, again, and her very last smoke dangles from her dry cracked lips, anxious to be kissed by fire.
Companion to the print journal est. 1984, Greenville, SC