Long Term Care: The Novel


Sample Chapters

                                                                                   Chapter 1

                                                                            Grandma & Josie

The worn unpainted boards of the porch creaked in protest as Grandma moved from the doorway to the mailbox. She pulled out a square envelope. Good. Looked like something personal for a change. Turned it over. “Ooah!”

She jammed it in her apron pocket. “That hyena!” The tone of her voice matched the frown on her face.

Grandma dragged herself back into the house just as a young woman with a small baby came into the front room. “You say something, Grandma?”

The older woman tried to put a smile on her face. “No. Don’t pay no ‘tention to me. Here. Lem’me take Allison. She patted her hands together a couple of times and spread her arms in welcome. Allison reached out.

“I’ll get back to the ham bone.” Josie washed her hands, picked up the paring knife and started chopping up little bits of meat.

Grandma sat at the kitchen table with the baby and began singing softly in a haunting minor key. “A charge to keep, I have…A God to glo-ri-fy…”

“Gorgeous.” Josie put the paring knife down. “I know the words to that one, but your melody is so much prettier. I’d like to learn yours.”

“It just makes me full up when I sing it. I love those old songs we used to sing back when I was a girl. They don’t hardly sing them no more. White folk used to come to our church to hear us. I don’t mean every Sunday. They’d come mostly during revivals. We’d always have choirs coming from other churches to sing with us then. Glorious! We’d welcome the white folk and escort them right down to the front rows of our church.”

“Sometimes we’d go to a white church, too,” Grandma spoke softer. “Not so much joy there. They used to let us sit on the back row. Now that don’t seem right, does it? Still, they wuz nice to us.”

Josie nodded in agreement. She examined the small pile of meat she was able to salvage. “Mighty little bit of ham to season this big pot of beans.”

“What you doing with all that fat?” Grandma laid Allison down on a pallet and started for the sink. “Don’t tell me you’re fixin’ to throw it out.”

Josie nodded. “It’s not good to eat too much fat. Not healthy.”

“It ain’t gonna hurt Eric none. Not with him working hard all day. And long as you’re nursing, it ain’t gonna hurt you neither.”

Grandma looked over at Allison and seeing her happy, picked up an onion. “I’ll chop this up for you.”

Josie cut up small bits of the ham fat. “This enough?”

“Keep going. Put some of the skin in there, too. It’s almost like meat.”

Grandma wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “We used to raise our own pigs and chickens. We’d get eggs, if we could find the nests. And the meat from the chickens and pigs.”

Josie put in more of the fat and skin and raised her eyebrows as she looked over to Grandma.

“Little bit more.”

“Yes’am. I wouldn’t mind having some chickens for eggs, but we’re in the city limits and that’s not allowed. I don’t think I could bear to kill them, though.”

Grandma fanned away the onion fumes and looked into the bean pot. “That’s good enough.”

“It’s probably a good thing you’re in the city then,” Grandma continued speaking as she scraped the onion into the pot. “When we bought our house, we had twenty dollars a month payment. It was hard to come by. One month we had to kill our pig and sell the hams to make our payment. Didn’t have much meat to last us through that winter. But we got by. And I still got the house. Wouldn’t still have the pig. Ate a lot of hoe cake that year!”

“I really, really want us to have our own house, too.” Josie stopped stirring in the onion and took a small sip of the juice. “It’s better already. But it needs salt.”

“Put in half ’a bullion cube.”

That accomplished, Josie reached for the spoon.

“No. You need to wait a minute before you taste it again,” Grandma instructed.

Josie’s brow wrinkled. “OK. I’m ready to get serious about getting a house. Chickens and pigs are out, but if you could buy one when things were that tough for you, there certainly should be some way for Eric and me to get one. He works so hard. I’ve saved money wherever I could. We live in this tiny little shamble of a house…”

“What do you mean by tiny, poor house? You got four good-sized rooms, electricity and running water. It’s just you’re used to being rich.”

“But Grandma! I’ve got to think of the children. I want what’s best for them.”

“I haven’t heard Peter or Allison complaining. What’s best for them is good parents and enough food to eat. At their ages, they could care less about the size of their bedroom or what they’re wearing. Dressing up kids is for the parents. I never had no new dress to wear ’til I was out working. And then not hardly ever. We’d go over to some white family and say, ‘We’ll rake your yard if you give us some clothes yo’ kids have outgrown.’ We’d be so excited when she’d bring out something. But even then, the biggest of us who could wear that dress would get it first and it’d be handed down to the rest of us later.”

“The only reason Peter and Allison have some new things is that they got baby gifts. I’d like to be able to buy them pretty things, but like you say, that would be for me instead of them. I can get real cheap things from yard sales. That’s where I got all my maternity clothes.”

“I won’t even tell you what clothes I wore then,” Grandma grumbled. “Don’t get me wrong, girl. I think you’re doing fine.” She stirred the beans once more and took a sip. “Here. Try this again.”

“You know.” Josie smiled. “This is really good. Thank...”

A small boy tugged on Josie’s pants leg. “Mommy, Mommy.”

“Hi there, Peter. You’re awake from your nap, too?”

“Come give me a hug,” Grandma invited.

Peter rubbed the sleep from his eyes and went to crawl up into his great grandmother’s lap. He gave her a noisy hug, and before Grandma could stop him, reached into her pocket to see if there were a treat. He pulled out the envelope and waved it around.

“Oh. The mail.” Josie wiped her hands on a towel and reached for it. “I thought I heard you at the box.”

Grandma grimaced. “I’m sorry, Josie… I wish I could ‘a kept this from you.” Her voice had a harsh ring. She continued to focus keenly on Josie’s face.

Josie turned the envelope over. Her eyes narrowed as she recognized her own handwriting. “Addressed to my brother… It can only be the baby picture I sent him.”

Her lower jaw pushed forward as she bit her upper lip. She read the scrawl written across the address. Refused. Return to sender.

Grandma made an almost imperceptible nod. Fight Josie! Fight!

It was like seeing someone thrown into a mill pond. The splash sent shock waves all around her. Arms flailed. Mouth opened in a silent scream. Swim girl! Do it this time!

But suddenly the angry look on Josie’s face washed away. She was going down again. The third time?

Grandma stretched out the lifeline of her arms. They enfolded Josie to her thick shoulder. As Josie’s shudders eased off, Grandma slowly changed her grip to Josie’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length.

“He’s not worth it, honey. That boy goes out of his way to insult you… always has… always will. He ain’t never gonna change. Why keep trying? He’s a bad one.”

Grandma’s eyes bored into Josie’s. “What you need to do - who you need to talk to – is yo’ Uncle Joe. You owe him an apology.”

Fresh tears welled in Josie’s eyes. “But Grandma…”

“Yes... It’s hard to admit you’re wrong.”

“But I’m not. He told me that…”

“I know what he said. In a way, he wuz right, too.” Grandma slowly nodded. “What you did though, was to cut him off - him – the only one in yo’ family who ever showed you any love. So he disapproved – said you wuz making it hard on yo’self.” Now Grandma’s head moved vigorously up and down. “He wasn’t wrong, was he?”

Josie’s jaw firmed. “I’m not sorry! I love Eric and I’m happy. I’m glad I married him.”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Grandma scolded. “You were wrong to cut off your uncle – not wrong to marry Eric. You need to tell Mr. Joe you’re sorry. You need his forgiveness and he needs you, too.”

Josie turned from Grandma. “Everybody will think – he’ll think – I’m doing this ‘cause I want something. I just can’t.”

“Josephine Walker! You listen to me, girl. You’re being proud. Those who know you know your heart. You start caring about what them – what them – scalawags think and you can’t do nothing right. That brother of yours won’t never think you do nothing decent ‘cause he judges you by his standards.”

“I just can’t!”

“Now you look at me, honey. You got the truck today. You just get in it and drive over to yo’ uncle’s right now.”

“Oh, no. I’m a mess and the kids…”

“Go wash yo’ face and put on a clean shirt. It ain’t never gonna’ get no easier.” Grandma reached out and patted Josie’s shoulder and turned her towards the bedroom. “I’d do it for you if I could. Go on now.”

Josie hesitantly moved towards the door – looked back at Grandma as if to plead her case but continued on her way as she saw those determined eyes.

Grandma sat in a chair, held her head in her hands and closed her eyes. “Oh Lord. Help this chile.”



                                                                          Bradley Benson

“I’m glad you brought that to my attention, Mrs. Stevenson. I’m sure I can track down that deposit.” The banker’s too-soft hands held the elderly woman firmly. “You just rest easy. I’ll take care of it personally.”

Mrs. Stevenson pulled back her arm and Mr. Benson finally relinquished it - but only after a final pat with his left hand. She gave him a curt nod before she turned to leave his office.

Benson closed the door softly. He swiped his hands down the pockets of his Armani pin-lined coat before tracking her retreat through a crack in the Venetian blinds. He cursed under his breath as he returned to the gleaming desk. “Five thousand dollars. Who’d have ever thought she would notice that? Crusty old biddy.” He glanced at the blinking lights of the console, then at the closed door. “Probably puts herself to sleep at night counting dollars as they jump into her purse.”

He unlocked the center drawer, pulled out a desk calendar laden with pads, ledgers, and a calculator; then swung his chair to the computer behind him. “OK. Le’me see.” He entered his password and studied the list of entries. He compared the list with the checkbook data – then frowned. Back to his papers. After grappling with a pad and calculator, he returned to the computer, opened a new file and punched in a different password. Almost instantly a spread sheet appeared. He altered a few figures and watched the automatic response on the bottom line. He shook his head and then clicked sum in a redundant fashion.

He couldn’t afford to wait much longer.It was time to sell something on E-Bay.

None of this would be necessary if Uncle Joe would just have the decency to die. Couldn’t spend all his millions if he tried. What was he waiting for? Why wasn’t Joe asking for his help? He’d made it clear to him that he was willing - certainly the obvious choice to do his finances. But who’d he given POA to? The least able one of the family. The one who…

“Oh, no!! The auditor’s going to be here next week.”

He flipped his Rolodex to the new card. “Simmons Alexza Cooper.” What a time to have to break in a new auditor. Or maybe that was fortunate. He’d be so overwhelmed he’d be happy to sign off on anything.

Back to the computer. This time he scanned several screens of data. He’d better get things rolling. Maybe he could have this set all done before Cooper got here   He reviewed the list and made notes of carefully selected numbers, then opened the customer database and typed in the first listed number. Once the account was opened, he verified that there was no recent activity, proceeded to the card issue screens and selected the Jet Issue New Card option that had recently been added to the Branch. In the Reason box, he selected Lost Card and clicked on the process button. The pin verification screen flashed up and he selected the last four digits of the Social Security number on the account. It was the default option, and what everyone had been trained to use. He didn’t want to leave any flags that this wasn’t a routine transaction. The computer was instructed to print this Pin number on an envelope. He checked the monitor for the special printer number and jotted it down for future use.

He repeated the whole process with the next four numbers on his list.

Still sitting at his desk, Bradley looked through the security view window. He waited for Irene to cross the lobby and then walked with deliberate steps from his office into the alcove where the card printer was secured. Holding his breath, he put the first key number into the printer key pad. The machine purred. He put the new card into a folder and continued the process until he had all five cards in one folder. After returning to his office and wiping the cards with an oily rag, he put each into the envelope with its correct pin number. These were put into his inside jacket pocket.

Suddenly a different pocket started to shake with the silent vibrations of his cell phone. He jerked alert. His hands shook as if with sympathetic vibrations. He examined the phone window.

“Yes,” he said softly.

“Mitchell here. Can you talk?” 

“Yes, but …?”

“Yeah. I’d rather meet, too. How about behind my building?”

“I’ll be there in twenty-five – unless I have a problem.”


Dink. The phone went dead.

Brad tilted back in his office chair and pulled at his ear. “What in tarnation’s going on at Gerber?”

He rearranged his desk, turned off the computer, locked everything securely, adjusted his tie and left his office. As he passed through the outer reception room, he was deliberately pulling cigarettes and lighter from his pocket. “I should be back in time for closing.” He left the building by the back door.




Josie pulled into the driveway behind a brown sedan almost as old as the truck she was driving. She released a deep sigh. The place looked tired. She climbed up the worn red bricks of the front steps. Guess you notice things more when they’ve become less familiar. She turned.Huge oaks put everything in deep shade. Bare patches of red earth were stretching out from the tree trunks. Only azaleas and moss were thriving.

Josie stood there until she became uncomfortable with the thought that someone could be watching – might even be on his way to investigate her presence.

She approached the door – half hopeful, half fearful that her uncle would open it before she reached it. She strained her ears. Nothing. A tentative knock, knock. Only the peter, peter, peter of a Tufted Titmouse. Knock, knock, knock. Louder this time. The Herald on the porch. Was he out of town?No.The car was there. Josie forgot her reticence. Bang, Bang, on the door. “Uncle Joe! It’s Josie!”

Perfect silence from within.

The screen door opened easily. She sought the oval silver knob of the heavy inner door, turned it and looked through the enlarging crack. The tick-tock of a large clock. “Are you all right?” The wide pine planks creaked under foot. She looked into the dining room – kitchen - and finally forced herself to look into the bedroom.

He lay on the bed – pale; unmoving.

“Oh, Lord. Help me. Please help Uncle Joe!”

A trembly hand reached over to Uncle Joe’s forehead. Before she quite touched it, she felt the warmth.

“Uncle Joe. Are you OK?”

Eyes flashed open. Josie’s hand reflexed upward. A sharp breath before she recovered her wits.

Joe’s eyes stared out of an expressionless face.

“What’s wrong? Can I help you?”

No response.

Josie reviewed her alternatives: Eric was at work. Grandma? She couldn’t really help. Her father? Not much help there. Her brother? Oh please. Not him! Doctor? Emergency? Yes. 911.



                                                                          Chapter 2

                                                                   Gerber Enterprises

Exactly 18 minutes after he left his office, Bradley pulled into the parking lot beside Gerber Enterprises. A giant tank towered to the sky. Huge holding tanks lounged in an adjacent lot. Hisss, groan, hisss moaned the compressors. He pulled his car into the back of the mostly empty lot, carefully folded his coat and removed the yellow silk tie before loosening the collar and rolling up the sleeves of the stiffly starched shirt. Less conspicuous now, he checked his watch before committing himself to the broiling heat and strolling towards the back of the main building.

After a long five minutes, Mitchell walked around the corner. His eyes just missed meeting those of Benson’s as they shook hands.

“OK, Mitchell. What’s …” Benson reached nervously for a cigarette.

Greg grabbed at his hand. “Please. No smoking. That could really be bad for your health. We could be propelled out of here like a rocket.”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Now you explain what’s going on.”

“Just wanted to give you a warning…”

“Hold on there.” Benson’s hackles rose. “You’re giving me a warning!”

“Come off it,” Greg spoke in a mild voice. “It’s not like that. I wanted you to hear it from me first. My company is having a bit of trouble. We’re trying to hold on, but …”

“There’s no way under the sun we can lend you more money. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah. That’s the problem. Have you noticed the price of oil? Costs are up, demand is too slow for us to raise prices - but it’s our debts that are about to pull us under.”

“How could anyone lose money when they get all their raw materials free? All you have to do is suck in the air and squeeze it into its parts. Man! It’s been less than a year since we bailed you out. This didn’t happen overnight. You made a patsy out of me! You…”

“Hold your mouth, you hypocritical oaf! Like you didn’t use this little occasion to pad your mattress? You were thinking of your bank’s precious stock holders? Not likely you V.S.O.P.”

“And your end?” Benson’s pitch went up an octave. “No personal gain in it for you? Ha. You better have buried it deep and dark.”

“Sink or swim.” Mitchell’s palms turned upwards in a shrug. “We’re both in it together.”

Benson considered the options. Maybe he could cash out something.“Gimme the low down. What can we salvage?”

“Ha. Nothing here but compressors and real estate. Our storage tanks are full of compressed nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and even some helium – in case you need to float something besides a loan. Outside of a nice explosive, or freezing the tail off of anything, there’re no other assets for you to seize. Besides, we’re probably going to be forced into restructuring to get out from under our debts. We’re confident that with an issue of new stock and no unsecured debts to service, we can make a nice profit.”

“I intend to look this thing over very carefully. In fact, you cut me a key so I can come out here in the down time.”

“I promise you there’s nothing for you to find.” Gregg sounded smug.

“Then you should have no objection…”

“OK. OK. Just remember not to leave your signature behind. You have more to lose than I do.”

Thoroughly disgusted, Brad sped to the bank, did not pass Go and did not get to collect $200. 


                                                                      Josie and Eric

Josie climbed from the cab of the ambulance and tried to follow as they wheeled her uncle through the inner door of the emergency room.

“Just a minute, Miss!” An attendant called out to her.

Josie’s head switched between her uncle and the uniformed woman.

“I’m sorry,” the clerk rose from her chair. “They won’t let family go back there. He’s in good hands. You need to check him in with me.” She indicated a chair.

“Yes. Whatever you need.” Josie dug into her purse and pulled out her billfold. “I only have forty-five dollars.” She thrust her grocery money towards the older woman. “I have more at home. I can get Eric to bring it when he gets home from work. Oh, no. I have the truck. Would tomorrow be OK?”

The receptionist lifted her palms and shook her head. “How old is your father?”

“Father?” After an instant, Josie realized the mistake. “That was my uncle. Let me think. My father was born in 1936. Uncle Joseph is twelve years older.”

“Then 1924? That would be eighty-five?”


“Then he is on Medicare or Medicaid?”

“Yes. Medicare I believe.”

“That’s good. How about other insurance?”

Josie felt embarrassed to know so little. But all she could say was, “I don’t know,” once more.

“And you are his niece…” The inflexion in her voice rose in the statement that was really a question.

“I’m Josephine Walker.”

“Next of kin?”

“I guess my father is.”

“Let’s fill out the rest of the form. We may have to contact your father.” The attendant’s eyes moved upward to the top of the page. “Name of patient?”

“Joseph Benson.”

“Joseph  Ben…” The clerk stopped writing and jerked her eyes to meet Josie’s. “Joseph Benson? Joseph J. Benson?”


“Oh my goodness! Who’s his doctor? Let me see if I can get him.”

“Dr. Jefferson, I suppose.”

The clerk jumped from her seat and rushed from her cubicle to the inner office. “That was Joseph J. Benson who just came in! Is Dr. Jefferson on the floor? Could you page him?”

Josie glanced at the clock. Almost three o’clock. She studied her feet. She needed to phone Eric. He’d have to take a taxi over to Uncle Joe’s to get the truck. Did he have enough money? Allison was gonna be mighty hungry before she got home. Guess we’ll both be hurting!

Finally Josie was shown to a crowded patient waiting room. Yes. A phone. She dialed the lumber yard, and after a short delay explained the situation to Eric.

Next she talked to Grandma who insisted that all was going well. Easy calls completed, she reconciled herself to phoning her father. She looked around the crowded room. No privacy. She could hear her old home phone ring. Five times and then the instruction to leave a message. For the first time in her life she was grateful for answering machines. “This is Josie. I’m in the emergency room waiting for word on Uncle Joe. I don’t know what’s wrong yet. Would you please let the others know?”

She sat down and prayerfully waited for whatever would come next.

It was five o’clock when Dr. Jefferson entered the room. “Benson’s?”

Josie went over to him. “I’m his niece, Josephine. I’m the one who brought him in. How is he?”

“It’s much too early to know anything yet.” He led her to a tiny private room. “We suspected a stroke so immediately gave him imatinib, better known as *Gleevec, to prevent leakage of the blood-brain barrier and to extend the window of opportunity for treatment. Tests have shown that will reduce the extent of clot damage by one third.”

Josie’s forehead furrowed. “I think I’ve heard of Gleevec, but…”

“Probably heard of it for cancer – for myeloma.”


The MRI located a blockage area in the left middle cerebral artery.” Dr Jefferson pointed to the left side of his forehead. “We focused ultra sound waves on the area while injecting it with WE-thrombin.”

“So he could get well?” Confused hope spread across her face.

“I don’t want to give you false hope. The main speech center is in that region. There may be other damage as well. We’re also using Citicoline, the newest drug for reducing stroke damage. I want you to know that I consider your uncle my friend as well as my patient. I’ve pulled out all the stops. Everything I know how to do is being done.”

“May I see him?” Josie asked.

“Not yet. He’s still in recovery. We’ll let you know when he’s assigned a room. But even then, he won’t be cognizant for quite a while.”

“Thank you so much, doctor.” Josie started tearing.

Dr. Jefferson reached out and patted her on the shoulder before leading her back to the waiting room. “I’ll be in touch.”

Josie grew more and more uncomfortable as Allison’s feeding time came and went. Oh. I hope I don’t hear a baby cry! I’ll be drenched.

It was almost six before Eric came to take her home. He returned to the hospital to take her place.

Grandma was walking back and forth holding Allison. Much to Josie’s surprise, Allison wasn’t crying. “However did you manage?” Josie reached for her baby.

“I just made her a sugar tit.”


“Used to be if we were off somewhere and couldn’t feed the baby, we’d take a scrap of cloth, put a piece of cotton and sugar in it and tie it with a string. Works real well. Isn’t that right, Allison?”

By then, Allison was too busy feeding to respond.


Eric spent the night in a recliner in the non-communicative Uncle Joseph’s room. He introduced himself to the doctor who was making his Saturday morning rounds. “Please give me some good news for Josie. She’s upset she can’t be here, but she really needs to be home with the children.”

Dr. Jefferson was rather grim-faced. “I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. He’s holding his own, but there’s no telling at what time he had the stroke. That’s the problem with someone living alone. With immediate attention, he could have almost complete recovery. But the longer the interval… Well, you know how it is.”

The words almost complete recovery vibrated in Eric’s mind.

The clot was fairly close to the Broca’s speech center,” the doctor counseled. “If that was damaged, he’ll need therapy or aphasia may be permanent.”


“The ability to speak.” Dr. Jefferson clarified. “Possibly. Maybe, probably.”

Eric nodded. “Could we take him home with us after he’s released?”

Dr. Jefferson thought for a moment. “He could be brought to rehab for therapy. So I don’t see why not. He’ll need some special equipment. A hospital bed, and … well it just depends on the extent of his recovery.”

“We can rent one of those. Josie is home all day with the little ones. She’ll be happy to have her uncle there, too. She’s always had a special love for him.”

“Yes. I do know that Joseph felt very close to her. I’ll keep you informed.” 



                                                                              “George J. Smith”

“George J. Smith” was dressed in well-worn jeans, a loose blue tee shirt and an old baseball cap pulled well down on his forehead – the standard dress for the under thirty or the “don’t really care older than dirt generation”. A closer look would show dirty fingernails, a perpetual tan of liver spots, slower steps and grayish unkempt facial hair. Pass by too closely and you might also get a whiff of stale tobacco mingling with the ammonia from weeks of accumulated sweat.

It’s three o’clock in the mor-ning. The first five words of the old song repeated themselves over and over again in his head. He sniffed the air. Yep. It just smells different early in the morning. He harkened back to the time when he and his kid brother would get up at an impossible hour to open up the neighborhood gas station just in case a car or truck would wander off course and need to stop for gas. Then there would be extra money in the till for the owner when he came in at his regular eight o’clock opening time. Foolish, but there it was. The owner had trusted them to run his whole station with no one to check on them.

My brother. His heart got a little soft each time he thought about him. Still M.I.A. after all these years. Nobody left but him.He walked a little faster andforced his mind to switch subjects.

He glanced at the sun peeking through the distant trees. Probably seven o’clock instead of three. Not much traffic.Just a few shift workers and exercise nuts around.He walked up to the America’s Bank machine in the empty parking lot of the grocery store; pulled his cap way down on his forehead   He inserted the card and using his knuckles rapped in a PIN number, then No Receipt and the cash amount of $475.00. “George” shifted his weight from one foot to the other while the system hesitated. But the machine thanked him quite nicely for his business and spilled out the money in crisp bills. He looked quickly from side to side before reaching out and taking the money. As he retrieved the card, he unobtrusively smeared the surfaces he might have touched; made his way out of the enclosed space and walked across the parking lot and onto the sidewalk.

Thirty minutes later he approached a row of large, rusty metal boxes with heavy sliding doors haphazardly cracked open. When traffic subsided, “George” went behind this row of boxes, then to the far end and crossed in front. With a practiced motion he rolled under an opening of about 30 inches. Gradually he pierced the darkness of his abode. Any disturbance would set off alarm bells equal to any elaborate security system. Yes. The rags of bedding were the same. Discarded clothes were in the same corner with a rubble of cans and bottles. Nothing disturbed. His pads of paper and stubs of pencils were still in the places where he had left them. Other scraps of paper and old newspapers were still thick on the floor. The broken pieces of dishes were in another corner. Such an open spot and yet so undetectable. He nodded. Much better than overpass ‘condos’ where cops and drug addicts alike were likely to rumble you. He laughed to himself as he thought about renting out the other boxes and becoming a real estate tycoon.

Sweat poured off his brow – and not just from the heat of the box. His hands trembled as they separated the bills. Yes. All there - $475. Crisp consecutively numbered bills.

OK. I’ll do it. His stomach rumbled.It had been a long time. The man would never know. Probably never even counted it. And…? His shoulders rose in a shrug.He was doing the dirty work – what could the man do?

He wiped his face on the sleeve of his tee shirt; made another furtive glance around him and peeled off the two last Andrew Jackson’s.

The wad of money returned to its envelope, “George” reversed the incoming procedure and turned his face towards the drop - an abandoned shack out in the middle of nowhere but just ten minutes from home. There were only squirrels to see him slip the money under the mass of leaves inside the rusty Observer box. “George” looked rather longingly at what remained of the house. He thought about its coolness in contrast to that of his box. Then he contrasted the relative dangers. He’d be scared every time a hickory nut fell on the roof. Probably leaky, anyway. He turned away and slowly walked down the road. If it weren’t for the winters…His joints twinged at the thought of January when the cold soaked through the metal of the box. He determined that in spite of the fiddle he had going there, that he’d have to move on in the fall. 

His errand! He stepped lively as he set his face towards the nearest ABC store. He could splurge.When he came out both back pockets were happily filled.

The day passed in a blissful blur with never a thought of disappointments and the uncharted future. The heat did not discomfort him nor did the mosquitoes touch him. If he dreamed, he had no remembrance the next day. The dull headache and the terrific thirst were a small price to pay for a break from his memories.

He took a drink of tepid water from his can. “Cheers!” He again felt the rush of alcohol cloud his brain. After about an hour, this feeling of pleasure faded and he headed to the drop place to check for another assignment. 




Bradley took an old towel, soaked it in water, gave it a halfhearted squeeze, ran it over the tile floor and tossed it in the dryer. He repeated the towel trick but instead of wiping down his floor, took it to the carport and washed his car with concentrated effort on the tires. A couple of fabric softener sheets followed the two towels. Not quite satisfied, he went to his closet and brought out a load of sneakers. Lastly he tossed in the accumulated documents, the smushed crinkly money, and started the dryer. Every 10 minutes he took out some of the now, not so new papers.

Voila!”These would pass inspection under a microscope.


                                                                                    Chapter 3

                                                                                Will and Alexza

“Sorry,” muttered Alexza as a roofing nail dropped very close to Will’s head.

Will looked up. He couldn’t help but smile when he saw five other nails dangerously dangling from lips so compressed they looked like a seam joining the bottom third of an otherwise perfect face. He watched as Alex picked a nail from the seam, set it with a small tap from the hammer and then with a single “crack” finished driving it home.

Hmmm… Do I make her laugh and drop those nails or could I use this opportunity to… “Oh Alex. I’ll pick you up for supper about seven.” He started round the corner.

This turned out to be a fortunate move as all four remaining nails torpedoed in the direction which his head had exited.

“Will! Come back here.”

He crept back.

She dropped her voice. “I told you I can’t go out with you. You’re much too young for me.”

“Just being a friend. Can’t friends have supper together?”

“That depends on how friendly they intend to be.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior.”


Will looked up with his best imitation of The Little Tramp.

She almost hid her smile by looking down and fumbling in her apron for more roofing nails. “OK. Dutch treat.”

“Perhaps due to my immaturity, you should treat me. Then we could go to a fancy place where you have to wear shoes and shirts - and everything.”

“Then I get to choose the place?”

“Guess so.”

“OK,” said Alex. “We’ll walk over to Wendy’s right after we get cleaned up.”

Will finished picking up the nails. “Glad you weren’t using a nail gun.”


After another two hot hours of pounding nails and hauling trash, Alex was reviving in a stinging blast of tepid water. She delayed turning off the tap, but then grabbed a bath sheet for herself and another which she used to wipe down the shower stall. She took a third towel from the shelf and rubbed her long dark hair. A few sweeps of her brush later, the thick wavy hair was feathered away from her face and bangs were curled gently under. After a thin powdering of makeup, her honey cream complexion was glowing with the bloom of youth and health. There was no need for eye make-up, for the enormous brown eyes were framed with even darker lashes and brows. A little lip gloss completed this practiced sixty second makeover.

She pulled herself into a pair of baggy jeans and topped them with her favorite brown shirt.

About that time, the door bell rang. “Be right there!” She shoved her feet into a pair of sandals.


They ended up - not at Wendy’s – but to Will’s surprise - at a cafeteria. “Really, Alex. I don’t see anyone here under seventy years old. I do feel like a kid.”

Alex looked down at her tray. Two green leafy’s, a salad and Trout Almondine. “Old people know where the healthy foods are - and the bargains. I can’t fill up on less than a thousand calories at a fast food place. It’s all right for you. You work outside all week long as well as on your weekend postman’s holidays. I don’t move around enough during the week to keep warm - much less to burn up any fat.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You look great!” His eyes smiled at her.

Alex lowered hers. “If I were on one of those survivor shows, I’d probably end up gaining weight rather than getting gaunt. I don’t think I waste a single calorie.”

“I’ll sign up if you will!”

Will looked around. Not his idea of intimate dining. Wendy’s would actually have been more comfortable.But the salad bar was a plus, the roast pork was well prepared and it was nice to be using metal silverware and sitting at a table with a cloth cover. He spread butter on his roll. If all went well - who knew? Maybe a Pizza Hut and then a steak house and Italian places with candles on the tables. He made good money. Maybe not as much as she did, but certainly a comfortable living.And debt free. One good thing about not going to college!



                                                                         The Walker Family

“OK, Peter. Rinse ‘em off.”

Peter took the sippy cup of water from his daddy’s hand and only spilled a little down his fresh shirt.

“We’re off, honey,” he shouted towards his wife. Then thinking better of it, he hurried into their bedroom and gave her a goodbye peck on her mouth.

“We’ll try to be ready when you get back. Half hour?” Josie looked at herself in the mirror. “Does this jacket look OK if I don’t button it?”

“The word, ‘Wow!’ comes to mind.”

Er-ic! You know what I mean.”

“Yes, my dear. I do – and you’ll do just fine.”

“Thanks. Forty-five minutes before Sunday School. I’ll try to be waiting.”

Eric gathered up Peter in his arms and bounded out to the truck.

This was like the story of the man trying to get the fox, the chicken and the bag of grain all safely across the stream when the boat would only hold three of them. Let’s see. He’d take Peter to Grandma’s, and then take Grandma and Peter to church. Then back to the house where he’d pick up Josie and Allison.

It sure used to be easier when five or six would crowd into a pickup cab – or into the back. …But not safer.

He strapped Peter into the car seat and then drove a couple of miles over to Grandma’s.




Grandma eased down into her porch rocker as she waited for Eric. She looked at her watch. Still got a while. I could’ve pressed my dress after all.

“Well, Pansy.” She faced the empty rocker to her left. “Looks like we got time for a little talk. I miss you something terrible since you went off. Felt bad I didn’t have time to raise you proper. Always working just to put food on the table. You say you understand… but I wonder. I done my best for your boy, too. He’s a blessing to me. He’d be for you, too, if you’d give him the chance.”

Grandma examined thefat-heeled ivory shoes and then the hose which gave her legs an unaccustomed lighter hue. No runs, anyway. Guess I’ll do.

“There was a time when I had to put cardboard inside the only shoes I had. I just carried them with me when I walked down the dusty road to church. Had to carry a wet rag with me to wash my feet when I got there. Didn’t really mind. ‘Most everbody else did the same thing.”

Grandma rocked thoughtfully and then faced her daughter’s chair once more.We had little enough but Momma loved me and I miss her so much today I can hardly stand it.” She reached in her bag and pulled out a tissue to wipe away the trickle of tears. Thank you, Jesus, for Momma.

Don’t everbody have that. I sho’ wouldn’t swap that for the big house and the clothes and shoes without no holes.



Emma’s thoughts went way back to her first run-in with Josie’s family.

“Yes’am I kin do the cooking and keep the floors clean.”

“Yes’am. I kept house for Miz Anglin for four years and she never found no fault with me. She didn’t need me no more after her children got up in age.”

“No’am. I could tell she really couldn’t afford to pay me no longer so that’s why I’m looking for another job.”

I looked around. It’s a real big house, this one. Guess she’ll want me to wear uniforms. I heard two black voices in the kitchen. Hope I’m not gonna put somebody else out of a job. But she’d put the word out that she was lookin’.

Sour look on her face. How much do I want this? Uniforms will cost me a week’s pay. Lots of curlicues to dust and a woman maybe hard to please.

Then I saw her. Thin sad-faced chap in the corner of the landing of the stairs. I look the woman over. Hers? The help’s? Dressed too good for that. I was like that possum who was drawn to a persimmon tree across the highway. I had to check out this chile. And I never saw the truck comin’. Or maybe I saw it and just didn’t care.

Two big chaps came down the steps. Little chile cringed - looked around for a hole to hide in. Boy swung his sack wide enough to clip her on the side of the leg. Big girl giggled. Little chile didn’t even whimper. Like she come out lucky this time. That settled my mind. Maybe my sister can lend me money for the uniforms.

“I kin start in the morning if you want.”


“What’s yo name, honey?”


I smiled at her. “Sapphire? That’s pretty. I’m Emma.”

I called her Sapphire until Rassie told me different. “She ain’t no kind of jewel, that girl. You need to take a better look.”

“What’s she ever done to you, Rassie? Little biddy thing.”

“Got no spirit. Just a nuisance. More work for me. I come here at seven in the morning and have to stay until I get supper on the table. And they takes off and don’t get back until way after six sometime. They don’t care and they don’t pay me a bit more.”

“And you been doing all the cleaning, too?”

“No, that’s your job. Cora Nita, she up and quit.”

“But the lady,” I said, “she asked me about cooking.” I always liked cooking best!

“Well I’m in charge in the kitchen. You take yo’ orders from me. I’ll let you know what I want you to do.”

Now I want to ask you. What’s the use of being tall and built like a barn when I couldn’t take on this little turtle of a woman? Hump. I could wipe up the kitchen floor with her without breaking a sweat. I felt my blood going up. Couldn’t do a thing.

Instead I went out with a dust mop and looked all over the house for just the right floor to mop. I found one that had this little one in it. She wuz just sitting in a chair looking out the winder. I started singing to myself while I dusts around the carpet. I tried to push the mop under the chiffonier. “Would you mind too much helping me, Josephine?”

“Me? I don’t know how.” Josie’s voice was so faint and quivery I knew she was scared.

“Come on over here. I’ll show you. This is fun.” I looked round to make sure no one would come in and object. Like maybe they didn’t want the daughter of the house to do any real work. So I lets her help me on the sly until one day I got caught and they didn’t even care. Long as I got all the work done. So I worked extra hard so they wouldn’t find no fault. And soon Josephine had her own little mop and broom and trailed after me like a mouse hoping I’d drop a peanut.

“Come here, lil’ one. Let me fix yo’ hair.” And I brushed out the white matted hair. Like cotton when it’s wet. And she never mewed.

I waited until the family had left the house and took a brush, comb and scissors one day. I evened out the bottom and used her sister’s special shampoo with that stuff in it that smoothed out tangles. Then I put it in dog ears for a few days so Delilah and nobody else would know.

Soon’s I figured out nobody cared a whit, I took her home with me. “Mrs. Benson, I kin watch after Josephine some this afternoon if it would help you out.”

Mrs. Benson, she didn’t have a thought about Josephine. I was kinda worried what the others would do to her if they got a chance without me there. So she’d come over in one of her pretty smocked dresses and soon I’d have her in a pair of old overalls. She learned real fast she could wallow in the dirt with them and it was fine. She’d soon be following Eric all over the place. Eric, he pretended not to like it, but I think he always did. He sho’ly does now.

“No, you can’t come. I’m gonna play stick ball with the big boys. You stay in the house with Grandma.”

Then he’d see her turn her head so he couldn’t tell she was crying. So he’d say. “OK. Just this time. But you’re gonna haf to do just what I tell you. You understand?”

Josie would wipe her face on her sleeve and look sober as a cow and promise to do anything he said. 


Emma looked back over at Pansy’s empty chair and slowly nodded her head.

“And now the prince of Africa done married the princess of England. And the people rebelled and took the throne away from them. But the happy couple ran off to an island in the middle of the sea and will live…”

Eric’s truck drove up the short graveled driveway.

Grandma looked at her watch again. We gotta hurry.

I still kinda’ like Sapphire for her. Like her blue eyes.


Eric jumped out of the car. His timing was good. Grandma was in her porch rocker.

“Chile, Chile! You’re looking fine!” Grandma looked him up and down. “I don’t need to ask if my little girl is taking good care of you.”

Eric stood up a little taller than his normal five’ eleven. “Never better, Grandma. And you’re looking mighty good yourself. I’ll be proud to have you on my arm any time.”

He helped Grandma up into the truck. She squeezed in next to the car seat.

“My. My. My!” Grandma patted her great grandson’s head. “You get prettier every day!”

Peter smiled up at Grandma, but Eric scolded her. “That’s my boy you’re talking to! Don’t you be trying to make a sissy out of him. Save those platitudes for Allison.”

She turned to Peter. “Yo’ Daddy didn’t turn out so bad and he was just about as pretty as you. So there.”

Peter giggled.

Eric rolled his eyes back, but there was a smile on his lips.

Grandma continued to gaze at Peter. He looked almost like Eric had. Same full lips, broad nose and big brown eyes. But his skin was about three shades lighter. Such a sweet baby. I know that Josephine loves him. Wonder if she ever wishes he looked more like her?

“Oh!” injected Grandma. “Look out for that cat!” She watched the cat anxiously. “Please don’t go to the left!”

“Now Grandma. You know good ‘n well there’s no way cats can bring luck.”

“Yes. I do know that – now. But old habits die hard. We used to believe it. We also believed that Woolly Worms could predict weather. Matter of fact, I still sorta’ believe that.”

“And,” Eric helped her out, “that hearing a rain crow* means it’s gonna’ rain.”


“Around here, it used to be that if you smelled Bowater Paper plant, it was going to rain within 24 hours. And you could count on that.”

Minutes later Grandma was installed in her pew with Peter happily rearranging the hymn books. “We’re fine. Don’t dawdle.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Eric turned towards the door. “Be back in a few minutes.”

Eric returned home. He loaded a baby into the car seat and Josie into the not-so-spacious remaining space.

“I wish we could afford for you to have your own car,” said Eric.

“No. First things first. We’re going to have extra expenses with Uncle Joe. Next will be a washing machine. That will even help us save.”

“Then the car?” Eric teased.


“Oh. Did I forget the down payment for the house?”




After lunch when the children were taking their naps, Josie went to the hospital for a visit with her uncle. He lay in bed, moved about a little and had his eyes open, but showed no recognition of her even when she told him how much she loved him. She talked to the nurses. “He’s doing well. Give him a few more days,” they’d encouraged.

She also checked to see if her father or brother had visited. The only visitors on record were Eric and herself. She gave a big sigh and phoned her father once more. Again she was connected to the answering machine. “Dad, this is Josie. I just wanted to tell you that Uncle Joseph did have a stroke. He’s in Room 236 in the county hospital. He’s not coherent yet, but does seem better. Please keep the rest informed.”

I suppose I should get in touch with them myself, but I just can’t. Her dad should take a little responsibility.Not that there was anything they could – or would – do. No. That was mean. Forgive me, Lord.

“Uncle Joseph. I’m going to leave now. I’ll check on you as often as I can. There’s a spot fixed for you in my house. We’re anxious for you to get well enough to come live with us. I love you.”

Josie turned and left for home.