The Big Store (Part 9)

December 1, 2015
     Those next hours were the worst and the longest I’ve known since Ponder died.  I kept struggling to move forward with Jerry’s arm around my neck, his bad right foot banging against my left like we were the last pair in a three legged race. We walked through fields a good five yards away from the road and tried not to stumble.  The hot still night hugged my right side and Jerry hugged the left.   Sweat and blood brought out ever biting bug and they got every inch of us that wasn’t covered by clothes or each other. As we rocked along like some old, drunken couple, I heard myself singing under my breath:

“Leaning, leaning, leaning on the ever-lasting arms of God”
“Leaning, leaning, leaning on the ever-lasting arms of God”        

    Jerry threw back his head and laughed “Viola, I’d never have picked you as a holy roller!”  Well I’m not but I’d gone to church enough to learn the old hymns.  Jerry must have too because he joined me on the chorus after we hit the paper mill smell.

     On and on, over and over, I put one foot out and then the other, dragging Jerry forward by pulling his arm around my neck.  I didn’t worry about the drug dealers any more.  I didn’t think about the car or those dad-gum dishes I couldn’t live without.  My mind didn’t reach that far.   All I could do was get Jerry to move one step further through the night, one step closer to that hotel. 
     I kept singing and the bugs kept biting but the worst of the heat finally wore out and Jerry started to shiver against me.  More and more of his weight was on my shoulders now and I couldn’t help but notice his bad leg was dragging more.  I couldn’t see behind us to see if we left a blood trail and I didn’t dare stop to look.  Neither one of us could have made it to our feet again if we sat or laid down here.
     Jerry changed the hymn to “Church in the Wild Wood” one of my mama’s favorites.  The words seem to keep us going.  I never thought about religion much but I could almost see that little church we sang about.  It was just a bit ahead of us and it had a side-yard statue of Jesus standing with his arms held out to us.  I’d think about that and then pull Jerry through the next step. 
     I didn’t recognize the first light I really saw.  It was too small and high to be a car’s headlight.  When I tried to look at it, sweat ran into my eyes so I dropped my head back down.  That light had been shining on us at least ten minutes before I saw the corner of the hotel roof ahead.

     “Jerry” I panted.  “Is that it?” 

     I tried to look at him but couldn’t really see Jerry’s face.  He didn’t speak anyway, just moaned. 
     It took another twenty five minutes to reach the back of hotel.  I pulled Jerry up a concrete slope they put in the sidewalk for wheelchairs and supply dollies.   We were at the corner of the hotel when Jerry collapsed on the sidewalk, nearly taking me down with him.
     “Jerry!” I hollered, but that didn’t wake him.  The lights didn’t show any color in his cheeks and the smears and drops behind him said he was still bleeding, probably had been for two hours.  “Jerry!” I yelled again, and started banging on the windows and doors of the hotel rooms close to us.  “Help somebody, I need some help out here!”  Just then I heard a child’s scream “Daddy!” and little Casey was running past me, barefoot and wearing pink pajamas.   “Daddy!” she screamed again and I turned around to see her at her father’s head.

     I said “Casey, please get your Mama”.  Then, my breath seized up in my chest and my heart seemed to swell up and choke off my airway.   I leaned against a pillar.  “Ponder, you help me on this,” I thought. “That little girl doesn’t need to see her father dying; I don’t want her to have that on her memory.”  Casey was crying and had her father’s head in lap, her little fingers wound in his hair.  She kept saying “Daddy, wake up, I need you.”

     A light flashed on by one of the room doors and I saw Jerry’s hand rise alongside of his body. “I’m all right, Baby.” I heard him murmur.  I closed my eyes and slid down the wall myself as I heard a strange man’s voice yell “Myrna, call the cops!  We got wounded people out here!”   Then I heard running footsteps and Gennine’s voice telling Jerry he would be all right, he and the girls were safe.  People were tending to me but I didn’t care.  I was thinking about how tomorrow would be, if I lived to see it. I would spend time with a wrecker and the police trying to compare discount dishes and a leather purse to the life of a man who helped strangers.  It didn’t make sense.
Now, if I live long enough to apologize to Gennine and give her Hazard Pay that will make me happy.   After that, I’ll catch up to Ponder and tell him how rich he made my life.  Then, I’ll look up Jerry’s grandma and tell her what a fine boy she raised.   Mostly I’ll thank the Lord for good friends and the smell of evening honeysuckle and the way a child smiles up at her dad.   Those are the things I care about now.  Everything else is just trash.

Well, that’s Viola’s story.  I hope you liked it.  Thanks for sticking with her (and me) until the end.  LLG

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