The Big Store (Part 2)


I was working as night aide for Mr. Kenneth Riley when I heard the Big Store’s membership had opened up; night aides don’t hear as much as the day help but Mr. Riley’s Depends ran out early one week and his great niece, Helen, brought out a case complaining about the trip she’d made to get them.
“Can you get me a glass of tea, Viola?” she huffed.  “I’m about to perish from this heat”
“I’ll bring it to you as soon as I get your Uncle Kenneth changed” I said.   “He’s been going through those diapers fast and I don’t want him to get sores waiting for a fresh one.”
“Never mind, I’ll get it myself then” she said and made a face.  When I came back from her uncle’s bedroom, Helen was sitting with her heels up on a kitchen chair, swilling iced tea like she was the Queen of Sheba.
“When did the Big Store start keeping late hours?” I asked her.
“Last year, I think,” she said.  “Probably, when the credit-union people started going.”
I didn’t understand that.  “The credit union?” I asked.  “No credit union around here hires enough folks to make The Big Store change their hours.”
“Not their employees, their customers” Helen said.  “Anyone with a credit union account gets a membership card to the Big Store, didn’t you know that?”
“No” I said and Mr. Riley bawled out “Viola, you got company?”  Helen dropped her glass to the table.  “Tell him no,” she hissed. “I’ll never get home if he wants to visit and Eddie Junior needs help with his math.”  Like that would fool me.  Helen Riley Biggs has a problem with soiled old men, not her son’s math homework.  Still, she left me with something to think about besides a sink full of dishes.
Everyone knows it takes fifteen dollars to open an account at the Credit Union.  Fifteen dollars, I could spare.   If I shopped at the Big Store, I might find enough bargains to make up for that cost, and then I could start living nicer at home.   I thought about my ratty old bedspread and the mismatched plates in my kitchen.   I could replace everything a bit at a time and shop in the later hours since my work had me sleeping days.   If I could get Cora McAuliffe to take my Saturday night shift some weekend, I could even visit the Big Store with my Friday wages in my pocket and rest enough on Sunday to go back to work.   Pretty soon, I’d be living like I wanted.

I put more effort into my own life that next month than I had in the all the years since Ponder died.  I cleaned the inside of my house down to the walls, and got rid of the three truckloads of garbage.  Ponder’s collection of Confederate bills turned out to be as counterfeit as I figured but his coin collection got rolled and turned in to the credit union for eighty-seven dollars and forty-one cents, over and above the fifteen dollar opening charge.   I carried Hazard Pay down to the credit union stuffed with those coin rolls (those Coach bags are tough as well as beautiful, the leather handle took the strain with no problem) and opened up my account.  The credit union teller took my photograph and then gave me a laminated card with Cavern Warehouse Incorporated printed on the back and a picture of me and Hazard Pay on the front.  I bought a cheap wallet to hold my cash, made a list of what to replace first in my house and looked for a body to take my weekend shift.

That part was nearly impossible.  Seven dollars an hour wasn’t enough to make Cora leave her Saturday Night Bingo, I had to agree to sweeten the pot with twenty more out of my own pocket! (By then, I would have paid her thirty to take that shift.

Finally, I gassed up the last car Ponder ever got me, a 1966 Ford that I call The Old Mule. Oh, that car is stubborn! It balks in front of hills and dies before it will go through any puddle big enough to draw mosquitoes.  Still, I own it outright and Ponder set it up so it takes unleaded gas, so I keep on driving it, silly as that sounds.  That Friday, the Old Mule felt like Cinderella’s coach, to me.  It was taking me to the Big Store at last.

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