Well, the Dixons wanted to me to stay with them at their motel until morning. I didn’t want to, couldn’t afford it and didn’t mind saying so. But while I was arguing, Jerry was moving my plates and cups from the Mule to the back of their van and Gennine said they wouldn’t feel right leaving me here alone in the dark. I finally climbed in between the kids and we started up the hill leaving the Mule behind.
I know we weren’t on the road long. I’d smelled the paper mill when Casey said “Peyton stink”. I started to say that wasn’t Peyton but trees being turned into school tablets when Peyton threw up onto the back of her mama’s seat.
“Jerry, stop the car.” I said and he pulled the van half way into a ditch. When the car light came on, you could see the baby wasn’t well at all. Whatever fried snacks her sister had fed her were scattered over the backseat, me, and the edges of her mama’s hair. I felt Peyton’s forehead and that baby’s temperature was too high.
Gennine was looking for wipes and baby aspirin while I was looking through the bags on the floor for something I could use to clean up the mess. My brain was so tired I couldn’t figure out what else was wrong until Gennine reached around for the baby, Hazard Pay was gone!
“Let me out of this car” I mumbled, climbing over Casey.
“Where are you going?” Jerry said.
“Jerry, go take care of your kids. One of them is sick and my purse is back in the parking lot.”
It was bad after that. I needed to go back and Jerry swore he wasn’t going to let me out of the car. Gennine was trying to take care of Peyton and Casey was starting to blubber.
“Viola, that parking lot back there isn’t safe.” Jerry said. “Those old boys are probably still around the roach coach and what they’re selling now ain’t legal. Go back tomorrow in daylight. Your car won’t interest them – likely your purse is safe.”
“The car I can do without, Jerry, but I can’t leave Hazard Pay. That bag…it’s special.” Then I don’t know why but my throat closed up on me. I don’t believe in crying over things, just people, but I was fixing to cry right then “Those guys won’t bother an old woman like me.”
Gennine came to my rescue. “Jerry, why don’t you walk back with Viola?” she said. “I’ll take the kids along to the motel and you can meet us there.” When Jerry looked thunderous she said, “I don’t blame Viola. A Coach bag costs about four days’ pay and if those dealers see it, she’ll never get it back.” She turned to me. “But he’s right, Viola. Those guys are mean and they’d think nothing about beating up a woman. You take Jerry and his side-arm with you. You’ll be okay.” When we didn’t say anything, she looked impatient. “Come on, I have a sick baby to look after. Can you walk down there and then back to the motel?”
Well, some folks are hard to argue with. Jerry pulled his gun from underneath the driver’s seat and stepped out of the car. Gennine slid over to take his place behind the wheel and took the cell phone while I fought my way out the side door. Once the doors slammed shut, Gennine stomped on the gas and took off, churning rocks up behind her.
Jerry and I started the long walk back, both of us too mad to talk. The bugs were out and the smell of that paper factory was making me sick but all I could think about was Hazard Pay. I stumbled in the dark and started to lose my balance but Jerry caught my elbow and steadied me. That took away my mad and started me talking.
“Jerry, why are you bothering with an old widow woman like me? I’m no kin to you.”
Jerry said, “Viola how long did you have your parents?”
I thought. “Mama made it past her 78th birthday and Daddy lived to 82.” I answered. “Why?”
“Well, my parents died when I was a little boy,” he said. “I don’t remember them much but my mama’s mama raised me. I had her until about three years ago. She was a lot like you, feisty and independent. Couldn’t tell her anything and wouldn’t let me do a thing for her.” He stopped a second and looked me dead in the face.
“I spend time with my girls because I know what I missed as a kid.” he said. “I’m helping you to say thanks to my Grandma.”