Another Mile from Home ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(I posted this short story earlier with a different title.)
We were lost again. We had a map but didn’t know how to use it. I had been driving earlier but now Drusus was driving. His wife, Alma, sat between us, and I sat next to the window. Mama and Chickie were in the back.
The seat wasn’t long enough for mama to stretch out all the way so when she needed to lie down she used Chickie’s lap as a pillow. We were all a little worried about mama. She was so thin and now a little stoop-shouldered as if she didn’t have the strength to stand up straight anymore. We had to stop every now and then for her to get out of the car and walk around. She was car sick and sometimes she vomited. I couldn’t help but notice one time that there was some blood coming up.
“Sing to me, honey,” mama said.
“Oh, mama, I don’t want to sing now,” Chickie said. “I’m supposed to be resting my voice anyhow.”
“Are you nervous about the radio contest?” Alma asked.
“A little jittery,” Chickie said. “I’m trying not to think too much about it.”
“I just know you’re going to win with your lovely voice.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Drusus said. “There’s thirty or forty other people think they’re going to win, too.”
“I’ll do my best,” Chickie said. “That’s all I can do.”
The old woman giving Chickie singing lessons had taught her some opera from a piece called Madame Butterfly, but she was best at singing popular tunes like “Pennies from Heaven” and “Ten Cents a Dance.” She could sing anything, though, even church music; that’s the kind of voice she had.
“And I just know that doctor at the clinic is going to make you well again, Mrs. McCreary,” Alma said.
“I’m not sure he’ll even see me,” mama said. “We leave it in the hands of the Lord.”
“We’re praying for you and Chickie both.”
“He’ll see you, mama!” Drusus said. “We’ll make him see you.”
“How you gonna do that, son?”
“I don’t know. We’ll think of something. Rough him up a little bit, if we have to.”
We all laughed but mama groaned. “He’ll think you’re a bunch of ruffians,” she said.
“We are a bunch of ruffians.”
We came to a tiny town with a cutoff to a different highway. Drusus took the cutoff a little too fast. Mama almost fell to the floor and gave a little yelp. Alma fell over against me and pulled herself away as if I was poison to the touch.
“We’re not in no race, honey!” she said to Drusus.
“Well, this is it!” Drusus said. “This is the right way now. I just know it. We are officially not lost anymore. We are found!”
“Happy days are here again,” sang Chickie. “The skies above are clear again. So let us sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again!”
We passed a sign then that told how far it was to the city. “Only two hundred and thirty-seven more miles,” I said.
“I don’t know if I can last that long,” Chickie said. “Seems like we’ve already gone about a thousand miles.
“We’re doing it all for you,” Drusus said.
“I know,” Chickie said. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“How about you, Wynn?” Drusus asked me. “Do you want to drive for a while?”
“No thanks,” I said. “You’re doing fine.”
I went to sleep with my head against the door and woke up when we had a blowout and Drusus pulled off the highway to change the tire.
We all got out of the car, including mama. She took a few steps and smoked a cigarette and said she was feeling a little better. She wanted to know what state we were in. When I told her I wasn’t sure, she laughed.
We took advantage of the unscheduled stop to have a drink of water and a bite to eat. We still had some bread left over, Vienna sausages, fruit, cookies and other stuff. Mama didn’t want anything to eat but she drank a little water. Alma spread a blanket on the ground for her and Chickie to sit on. Mama sat for a while and then lay down and looked up into the trees.
“This is nice,” she said, “laying on the ground and not having no tires turning underneath me.”
“I think mama’s sicker than she lets on,” I said to Drusus when we were changing the tire.
“The doctor in the city will fix her up,” he said.
“She’s trying to put a good face on it for Chickie’s sake. She doesn’t want to spoil her chance of singing on the radio.”
“Everything will be all right,” he said. “Don’t worry so much.”
Mama went to sleep on the blanket and we had to wake her up to get her back in the car. I took over driving from there, even though I liked it better when Drusus drove and I could just sit and watch the scenery and think.
We were all tired and we knew we were going to have to stop someplace for the night. We hadn’t made very good time, what with our getting lost and mama being sick and all.
At dusk we stopped at an auto court where, according to the sign, the cabins were clean and cheap. I went into the little office in the front and engaged our room and then we drove around to our cabin, number twelve in the back. With the shade trees, the two rows of trim white cabins, and the azalea bushes everywhere, it was a pretty place and plenty inviting.
We tried to get mama to eat some supper, but she just wanted to go to bed. Alma and Chickie helped to get her out of her clothes and into bed while Drusus and I sat on the front step and smoked.
“If Chickie wins the prize money,” Drusus said, “we can pay back Uncle Beezer the money he advanced us for this trip.”
“We can’t expect her to give up the prize money for that,” I said. “If she wins, I hope she’ll use it to advance her singin’.”
“Advance her singin’ how?”
“Go to the city and live there and meet the right people in the music business, agents and promoters and people like that. She could get a real singing career going for herself.”
“Do you really think she has a chance?”
“You’ve heard her sing,” I said. “Isn’t she as good as anybody you’ve ever heard?”
“Yeah, she’s good,” he said.
“If she wins the money, it’s hers. We can’t touch it.”
“Okay, but maybe she’ll offer part of it to help pay for this little trip.”
“We wouldn’t take it,” I said.
After a couple of minutes in which neither of us spoke, Drusus said, “Alma thinks she’s going to have a baby.”
“A baby!” I said. “You’ve only been married a month!”
“The curse of the married man,” he said.
“What do you mean? Don’t you want it?”
“We’re poor,” he said. “We don’t have anything. Even the car I’m driving belongs to somebody else. If we start off married life havin’ babies left and right, we’ll always be poor. Just like mama and papa.”
“There’s things even poor people can do, I guess, to keep from havin’ so many.”
“I’m not ready to be anybody’s daddy yet. I’m still young.”
I laughed at that line of reasoning. “People are gonna have babies, I guess, no matter what.”
“That’s a lot of comfort.”
“You’re not sorry you married Alma, are you?” I asked.
“Well, no. Not exactly. I probably wouldn’t do it again, though, if I had it to do over.”
“I’ll be sure and tell Alma you said that.”
“Don’t tell anybody about this,” he said. “She doesn’t want anybody to know about the baby just yet, because it makes it look like we had a shotgun wedding. I swear the baby wasn’t on the way yet when we got married.”
“You don’t have to convince me of anything,” I said.
“Not a word to mama or Chickie yet. Alma wants to make sure about the baby before she tells anybody.”
“I won’t breathe a word of it,” I said.
The women took the beds, so Drusus and I had to sleep on the floor of the cabin but I didn’t mind. I was just glad to be able to stretch out and rest my weary bones. I laid down near the screen door where I could feel a cool breeze and hear the trees rustling. After being on the dusty road all day, it felt like heaven.
As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear Chickie softly singing to mama her favorite song: “Deep night, stars in the sky above. Moonlight, lighting our place of love. Night winds seem to have gone to rest. Two eyes, brightly with love are gleaming. Come to my arms, my darling, my sweetheart, my own. Vow that you’ll love me always, be mine alone. Deep night, whispering trees above. Kind night, bringing you nearer, dearer and dearer. Deep night, deep in the arms of love...”
I slept all night long without waking up a single time and woke up at seven in the morning to the sound of the birds singing. I stood up from my makeshift bed on the floor to slip into my shirt and pants and that’s when I saw Chickie and Alma sitting quietly at the foot of the bed where mama lay. Alma was smoking a cigarette and I could tell Chickie had been crying, I knew her so well.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“We can’t wake mama,” Chickie said.
“Is she breathing?”
“I don’t think so.”
“We’d better get a doctor,” I said.
Alma looked at me and shook her head and that’s when I knew mama was dead.
I shook Drusus by the shoulder to wake him up. When I told him what had happened, he had to see for himself. He went over to the bed and put his ear to mama’s chest and then he took Alma’s makeup mirror and held it to mama’s nose. He looked at the mirror and threw it down on the bed like a child with a toy that no longer works.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“I don’t want to go another mile from home,” Chickie said.
“We’d better call somebody and tell them what happened,” Alma said.
“No!” Drusus said. “We’re not calling nobody! They’ll ask us a lot of nosy questions. They won’t believe the truth about what really happened, that mama was sick a long time and we were on our way to the city to take her to a clinic. They’ll keep us here and make Chickie miss her chance to sing on the radio.”
“I think he’s right,” I said.
“We can’t go off and leave mama here,” Chickie said.
“Of course not,” Drusus said. “We’re taking her with us.”
After Chickie and Alma got mama dressed, Drusus carried her out to the car across his arms. I opened the door for him and he slid mama into the corner of the back seat with her head held in place on two sides so it wouldn’t wobble. He then took a length of rope and tied it around mama’s chest so she would stay upright and not fall over from the movement of the car. Chickie gave mama’s dark glasses to Drusus to put on her and we found a straw hat that belonged to Uncle Beezer in the trunk and put it on her head. With the hat and the glasses and in her regular clothes, she didn’t look like a dead person.
We all got into the car and Drusus started her up. As we were pulling out of the place, the manager stopped us and leaned in at the window and said he was glad to have had us stay in his establishment and he hoped we had a pleasant journey, wherever we were going. He never noticed or suspected anything unusual about mama.
“I’m glad she died in a pretty place like this instead of on the road,” I said.
“She went quick and peaceful,” Drusus said. “That’s about as much as anybody can expect.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Alma said.
Drusus turned around in the seat and said to Chickie, “You’ve got to win the radio contest now. Not for fame or fortune, but for mama’s sake.
When we were on the highway again, going at full speed, Chickie began singing mama’s favorite hymn: “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hand hath made, I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. When through the woods and forest glades I wander I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze, then sings my soul, my savior God, to Thee, how great Thou art! How great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my savior God, to Thee, how great Thou art! How great Thou art!”
“I felt the baby stir in my womb just then,” Alma said.
Drusus groaned. “I could sure use some ham and eggs,” he said, turning and looking at some cows standing alongside the road.
Nobody said anything after that. Nobody needed to. We all felt good, though, even though everything hadn’t worked out as we hoped. We had the feeling, or at least I did, that nothing was going to stop us now. That old car of ours was sure burning up the miles.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp