December 15, 2014
Her pitted and rusted pickup truck looked like it had been in some Middle Eastern War. The driver’s side door, dying of thirst for lubricant, screeched when she opened it. She kicked at the door with her cowgirl boots and jumped down—she might have five feet, might have weighed seventy pounds—and reached across the seat for two quart-sized Styrofoam cups and walked to the convenience store, me holding the entrance door for her. “Thank you kindly, sir.”
We hold doors here. The roughest river rat of the county will open a door for me, even as he threat assesses me. (My grandpa Red was a short man but a fierce man. His motto: Aim for the knees.)
Her ubiquitous camouflage shirt and pants hung from her. You could have fit two other women in those clothes and the three of them would not touch. Her dishwater blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her skin was sallow and grey and corpse-like. Her spindly fingers looked like wet cigarettes. She reeked of nicotine.
As I poured fifty-one cent coffee, she refilled her cups with Mountain Dew and ice. “I seen y’all before. While back. You was standin’ in line at the register, and was jokin’ about you bein’ a old man. Hell, I thought you might be fifty, mister, sure not no sixty-six—you blew my mind. Guess how old I am.”
The old loaded game, guessing ages. “Fifty-five,” I said, thinking she looked older than me.
“Oh! You ain’t close, hon. I am forty-three.”
This is what meth addicts look like.
She walked to the counter, set down her brimming cups and pulled out her food stamp card. The clerk told her the store couldn’t accept them anymore. She pulled a wad of bills from a pocket and paid, all the while telling the clerk that the next three days would be hell on wheels for her: COPD tests, a discussion about a lung transplant.
“They say I am a bad candidate. What they really mean is, I ain’t colored. BarnesHospital, they save all the expensive stuff for blacks. I was a “smoke,” I’d have me new lungs this very day. What, I ain’t got a right to a life? You just do not know what cards life will deal you. I am cursed with bad lungs and the Type 2. But man, I just keep on rollin’.”
It was sunrise, Mountain Dew time.