GOD WILLING, AND THE CREEK DON'T RISE
The last thing he said to me was he was gonna drop off the laundry at the fluff-n-fold, grab a Whopper and some onion rings from Burger King, then go by The Home Depot to pick up some Mexicans. In that order. How he ended up across town sticking up the 7-Eleven is truly, truly, beyond me. But that’s how things go with Floyd. Nothing ever just happens simple. And the truth of what did happen is always multiple choice.
How he ended up across town sticking up the 7-Eleven is truly, truly, beyond me. But that’s how things go with Floyd.
True to form, Floyd has Scenarios A, B, and C of the morning’s events rolling off his tongue before I even have a chance to completely sit down on that little round metal stool they have for visitors. You know, the kind that you can swivel on but not move because it’s bolted to the floor. I raise my hand to the Plexiglas window in a I-don’t-want-to-hear-it fashion, and I think he stops talking somewhere in the middle of Scenario B. I gotta break it to him that since we’re not chummy with any judges––and what with it being Friday––he’ll most likely have to spend the weekend in the clink because chances are real slim he’ll make bail. Especially if I can’t find his brother. I can’t help because (try as I might to find new and improved places to hide my money) he’s like a divining rod to water and has cleaned me out again. I explain the situation as I see it to him, and get the pouty silent treatment through the jail phone. Any patience and sympathy I might have had goes straight out the window. The fact that he has the nerve to be pouty when it’s his own doggone fault the money wasn’t in the box of Tide laundry detergent where I been hiding it just plain ticks me off. Besides, it’s his brother Butchie’s turn to bail him out, but who is somehow nowhere to be found. The only good news Floyd has is that he doesn’t think the police impounded his beloved truck from the 7-Eleven parking lot (by mistake or otherwise). Which is a good thing, since we’ve got one of those fast-cash payday loans against it and wouldn’t be able to get it out of the tow lot anyhow. I kinda know the answer, but I ask him if he’s talked to Butchie anyway. He says he ain’t. I make a note to drive by Butchie’s house to see if I can catch him playing possum.
All of this, and it’s just half past noon.
I ask Rosina to give me a ride to pick up Floyd’s truck before anybody gets wise to the fact that it’s still at the 7-Eleven. It was Rosina who informed me that Gustavo, her son, had just seen Floyd getting cuffed. And that Calvin (who owns the 7-Eleven) said it was an attempted stickup. Rosina lives two trailers over, and I’ve known her since she and Gustavo moved into the trailer park just after my sixteenth birthday. I count her as one of my true friends, in spite all of the chintzy junk she’s got surrounding her place. Garden gnomes, plastic flamingoes, ceramic frogs, and all like that. It’s a hot mess. But she’s got a good heart. A really good heart. She likes to say she’s my fairy godmother, and over time I’ve come to believe that’s true. She’s promised me she’s going to find out exactly who reported me and Floyd to Child Protective Services, saying we lived in “unfit conditions.” Those “unfit conditions” being the reason Floyd was picking up some Mexicans––to help clean out the yard. And he was probably trying to stick up Calvin in order to pay them...
The fact that he has the nerve to be pouty when it’s his own doggone fault the money wasn’t in the box of Tide laundry detergent where I been hiding it just plain ticks me off.
I see Floyd’s truck parked right out in front of the 7-Eleven next to the ice cooler. I thank Rosina for the ride, and beeline for the truck. I check the door, and sure enough it’s unlocked with the keys in the ignition. At least it was not running, Floyd being bright enough not to lock up the getaway car. I’ll be damned, though, if the laundry bags aren’t still sitting there waiting to be dropped off. We don’t usually splurge on the fluff-n-fold, what with money being generally tight. But we’ve got our hands full trying to clean the house before the Child Services people come for their “site-visit” on Wednesday. Getting Jasmine back is the only thing on my mind, and what with work and cleaning, I don’t have time for laundry. Or Floyd’s antics. I don’t know much, but one thing I know for sure is that those Child Services people will be able to eat off the floor when they come.
The sky is this mossy greenish-gray, and kinda fits my mood. The Channel 7 weatherman has been saying all week we got a storm coming. Maybe as soon as Sunday. Which makes getting the yard clean sooner than later even more important. I’m sure Butchie’s heard by now that Floyd needs bail, what with Tucumcari being a real small town for a population of five thousand. And what with Floyd in jail for the weekend, I now need Butchie’s help with the yard, too. I don’t speak Mexican, aside from No hablo, and Butchie does. Rosina is always saying I should learn the language. She even tried to teach me, but I was never any good at picking it up. Okay, so I know how to say Hi and Bye, too. Truth be told, I kinda don’t care if I learn it or not. And if my school grades say anything it’s I never quite mastered English.
The sky is this mossy greenish-gray, and kinda fits my mood. The Channel 7 weatherman has been saying all week we got a storm coming.
I cruise past Butchie’s and his truck isn’t in his yard, so I drop off the laundry at the fluff-n-fold. Then, I get myself my own damn Whopper and eat it on the drive home. I’ve got cleaning to do before I go to work. When I get home, I call Butchie. He doesn’t answer, so I leave a message about Floyd, and how tomorrow I need his help cleaning the yard. I’m hoping he’ll stop by the diner later so we can formulate some kinda plan. I know I shouldn’t worry––Butchie always comes through in the end––but my stomach is starting to do flip-flops. I also leave a message for Glenda, my Tuesday-night bowling league team captain, to let her know she needs to find a substitute to fill in for me next week (just in case I need to put any finishing touches on the cleanup job). I hope she can find somebody other than Patsy. Not that I don’t like Patsy––she’s a hoot to be around even though she’s about eighty years old. But, she averages around 120 a game most days, whereas Glenda and I usually bowl around 160. Rosina used to bowl with me. Or I should say that I bowled with Rosina, since it was me who joined her team. She took me and Gustavo to practice with her a lot, and she said I was a natural. After a few years of bowling with them our team was at its hottest. We made out pretty well at the national USBC Women’s Championship Tournament seven years in a row. Then, about five years ago Rosina got a case of the gout in her bowling wrist, and even after it cleared up her wrist never quite went back to being normal. So she quit.
I put in my hot rollers so my curls can set, and start sifting through the junk still left in the living room. I look around, and for the first time really feel like I can get the place clean––truly clean––by Wednesday. I’ve got Sunday and Monday off, and I know if I spend both days cleaning I may even get ahead of schedule. More than impressing those Child Services people, though, I want to make Jasmine proud. Ever since they took her, I’ve had this pressure on my chest like someone’s sitting on it. That, and I catch myself hyperventilating a lot. Like right now. I lean forward and put my head down till the lightheadedness passes. I decide what I need is some cleaning music, so I put on some AC/DC. Nothing like a little heavy metal to get you moving. Then I grab a Diet Coke from the fridge and get down to business.
I open the top box on the heap of boxes stacked next to the TV. It’s full of dusty old video game consoles. I have the feeling that Floyd would say they’re collectibles, but at this present moment they’re trash. Or, that he planned on selling them at the flea market over there at the shut-down drive-in theater. They haven’t shown any movies there for decades. Starr, my pa, would take me when I was young if they were showing something he thought was appropriate for a girl my age. Which usually meant it was animated. Or about a girl my age. In the end, he never really knew if it was appropriate or not because his head would generally tilt back as soon as the previews were done, and he’d sleep through the entire show. He never scolded me for eating up all the popcorn and Twizzlers by myself. I knew better than to drink the whole Coke, ‘cause then I’d have to wake Starr up to take me to the bathroom. Waking Starr while he’s napping is like poking a hibernating bear––you just best not do it. Plus I’d miss part of the movie. Now, at that abandoned drive-in lot they got weeds galore poking through the asphalt cracks, and on Saturdays people put up tents in order to sell all manners of junk. Bootleg movies, T-shirts, baby shampoo, tube socks, firecrackers––you name it, they’re selling it. And Floyd was buying it. Which, I suppose, was a large part of the problem.
I gotta say, Floyd ain’t been too pouty about me throwing his stuff away ever since I made it clear that he’d be gone with his junk if that’s what it took to get Jasmine back. Also, I am of the opinion that the house didn’t fall into real disarray till Floyd moved in. That was about a year after I had to upend Starr from his palace here in the Charming Vista Mobile Home Court and put him in that old folk’s home a couple towns over in Palomas. Our double-wide––the only home I ever known––was Starr’s pride and joy. Our house was hands down the nicest in the whole park, what with Starr’s cactus and aloe and agave and blue yucca garden surrounding the place truly being a work of art. He even let me help him with the planting and such, like bordering the whole garden with those white crystal rocks. He added a mint-green-striped awning on the south side and put one of those glider love seats under it. He treated the place like it was Graceland. No dilapidated sofas or car seats or rickety aluminum chairs in the yard like some of the neighbors. I’m glad Starr isn’t able to see the place as it is at present, looking now like we’re the trashy neighbors. That’s okay. I’m getting his palace back in shape. I never planned on letting it get to the shape it’s in. It just kinda happened over time. I haven’t broken it to Starr that they took Jasmine. I woulda told him earlier, but what with him having a bad ticker, I’m not trying to put that kinda stress on him. Only one of us needs to be stressed. Plus, he’ll want to know why they took her, and I’ll have to ‘fess up. Which I really don’t want to do. Disappointing Starr is one of the worst feelings in the world––it’s a mix of shame and guilt and letdown that leaves your stomach twisted in a sour knot. I’ve next to never disappointed Starr. Not even when I was eighteen and found myself pregnant.
Our house was hands down the nicest in the whole park, what with Starr’s cactus and aloe and agave and blue yucca garden surrounding the place truly being a work of art.
It’s Saturday, and I have to work a double shift at the diner, so I’m at Butchie’s mercy. He stops by for a burger after the big cleanup at the house and––according to him––the day went off without a hitch. What with the Mexicans’ help and all. He says that the job is about ninety percent done. I take him at his word. A lot of the garden has been ruined by Floyd’s overflow of junk like the riding lawn mower (that doesn’t run), various car parts, and other odd machinery I know nothing about. But, I think me and Jasmine can get it back in shape if we try. I would like nothing more than that. She’s at that age, though, where hanging out with your ma is not the cool thing to do. She’d rather be fooling around on her computer. Or on her phone. Always on the phone. All I really know about her these days is that she wears black nail polish, has a chunky pink stripe ruining her pretty blonde hair, and is all into some vampire book series that they also turned into movies. That she can go on about for days. I wish we could go back to when she was young, and each night before bed I’d read her a chapter from those Little House on the Prairie books. That was back when we were thick as thieves, when we did everything together. When I did for her all the things I wish my ma coulda done for me...
I did pretty well at work tip-wise, even for a Saturday. The diner where I work is on Route 66 and is called “Kicks.” As in get your kicks on Route 66. The owners thought that was clever, and really play up the nostalgia theme. And, we’ve been written about in a travel guide or two, so we get tourists from just about anywhere you can think of. You can count on some of them accidentally leaving a really big tip (what with them not all being so good at calculating the monetary exchange rate from whatever foreign place they’ve come from). On the way home, I decide to treat myself to a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream. Which means either going two miles out of my way to the Circle K, or stopping by the 7-Eleven. I decide I’ll spin the wheel and go to the 7-Eleven. As fate would have it Calvin is working. Calvin is always working. Calvin is nothing if not hardworking. Our junior year in high school Calvin took me to the homecoming dance, and we got drunk on sloe gin and orange juice under the stadium bleachers. I let him get to second base. I think Starr secretly wished I woulda married Calvin when I had the chance.
When I’m at the counter paying, Calvin keeps apologizing for hitting the silent burglar alarm on Floyd. He said that he did what he had to because he couldn’t get Floyd to leave. That they were stuck having some kinda standoff, and neither one would blink. I say I woulda done the same. No hard feelings as long as I’m still welcome in his store. He gives me that wide, gap-toothed Calvin smile and says, You’re always welcome. We leave it at that. I can’t bring myself to flirt with the man who put my husband in jail.
Once I get home I see that Butchie was right––they cleaned the hell out of the yard. I make a note that I owe him for the Mexicans. I kick off my shoes, and perch myself on the glider. Starr and me used to sit out there in the evenings––him drinking Pabst and chain-smoking Marlboros, and eventually me joining him. Sometimes he’d tell me stories about my ma, who came down with cancer when I was four. Other times we’d just sit and be, listening to crickets and watching lizards scoot around in the dust. I eat the entire pint of ice cream, then head inside.
I hate pulling doubles ‘cause when you get home you’re thoroughly dog tired but all keyed up, so it takes forever to wind down and go to sleep. Since I done more than alright with my tips tonight, I know I have to find a really good hiding spot before Floyd gets home on Monday. Just before I fall asleep, I come up with the big idea to hide my money in the box of Tampax. What with Floyd refusing to buy tampons for me (even in a pinch), I figure that spot just might be a winner. I say, Hide the money in the Tampax out loud ten times to help make sure I remember in the morning what I came up with. I’m too close to sleep to get up and do it right then, ‘cause I know I won’t be able to drift back off again if I get out of bed. I make a note that I should keep a piece of paper and a pen next to the bed for such moments. One last thought flits across my mind before I fall asleep: that I believe I’d be a little less bitter about Floyd stealing my money if I didn’t think he spent a good bit of it at that titty bar just north of town. Or losing at poker with his buddies. To say he has the worst poker face on Earth would be an understatement.
I can’t bring myself to flirt with the man who put my husband in jail.
When I wake up Sunday morning the rain is pouring down sideways. As per usual, I go to the ten o’clock Mass at Christ Redeemer. Despite having an umbrella, I’m soaking wet when I finally get inside the church. Plus, my curls have fallen. I look and feel like a drowned rat. It’s weird being there without Jasmine and Floyd. I feel like the whole congregation knows why I’m in attendance by myself. It doesn’t help that it actually made the local news that Floyd tried to rob the 7-Eleven with his hand in his jacket pocket threatening like it was a gun. I guess it was what they call a slow news day. Or simply too ridiculous a story to pass up. I try and avoid as much eye contact as possible. I don’t need nobody’s scorn. Or their pity. They can truly keep their thoughts on my life to themselves. The pastor’s sermon today is on choosing the righteous path, and I feel like somehow he’s talking straight at me. Which makes the back of my neck all hot. I make it through the rest of the service by staring at the alabaster statue of Jesus hanging on the cross behind the altar, and repeating the Hail Mary over and over again, praying that Child Services will return Jasmine to me.
On Sundays, I go visit Starr in the old folk’s home. It’s hard to see him in that place. Each time I do, I feel like he has a little less spark. He calls me at least once a week to complain about how they’re trying to poison his food. Or how the nurses are stealing from him. Every week I explain that the food is aiming to be nutritious––not gourmet––and is not poisoned. And that aside from his TV he has nothing to steal. I promise him I’ll take notice if his TV goes missing. And that I’ll replace it in the unlikelihood that should happen. I realize that last week he hadn’t called to complain about anything, and it made me worry that he was starting to become forgetful, too. Or worse, he’s just given up on caring.
Despite his bad ticker, I can’t help but sneak Starr his favorite eats when I go visit. On the way over, I always stop by Golden Chicken and get a couple leg-and-thigh dinners. Starr likes thighs, so I give him both and I eat the drumsticks. He’s losing his vision a bit, so lately I’ve had to watch him kinda feel around for his food. I mean he kinda pokes around for the mashed potatoes, and like that. He refuses to wear his glasses, saying they give him headaches. I think it’s his vanity and not wanting to look like Mr. Magoo, what with his glasses being as thick as Coke bottle bottoms. They do make him look like he’s got buggy frog eyes. The one time I asked if I could help him with his food he snapped at me so hard I think I jumped a bit in my seat. Now, in the car before I go to his room, I remove the bones and pull the chicken into strips. We never spoke of it. It’s just how it is now.
He’s watching Star Wars when I arrive. There she is, he says. There’s my princess. I kiss him on the forehead. I’m thankful that he can still see enough to recognize me. At least that’s what I like to believe.
You got my chicken? he asks. I tell him this week I brought him fried frog’s legs, which makes him laugh. These days, it takes a lot to make Starr laugh. I take the food out of the bag and set his meal out on his tray table. I stick the plastic spork standing up in the mashed potatoes so he can easily tell where they are. I tell him how Floyd tried to rob Calvin. He lets out a whoop. That’s two laughs in one visit. I feel the weight pressing on my chest ease a bit, and I give him a smile. Starr’s opinion of Floyd is based solely on my stories of his antics. He never asks me why I’m still with such a clown––but I know that’s what he’s thinking. Starr calls Floyd “Tweetie” (what with him being something of a jailbird). This stickup was really the worst of Floyd’s crimes. Usually he’s just gotten into a barroom brawl. They picked him up a couple of times for driving while intoxicated, but he somehow still has his license. I wait till Starr’s finished eating before I tell him how Child Services has taken Jasmine, and that I’m struggling to get her back. He doesn’t come back with some accusatory or gruff or disappointed remark. Instead, his eyes rim with water, and he just pats my hand. Then, he says I’m certain to get her back, God willing, and the creek don’t rise. I don’t know if he’s seen how it’s been raining outside.
I realize that last week he hadn’t called to complain about anything, and it made me worry that he was starting to become forgetful, too.
I wait to leave till Starr’s fallen sound asleep, which is shortly after the “TV classics” cable station’s rerun of Gunsmoke has gone off. But first, I sit and watch Starr for a few minutes, watch his chest heave and his eyelids flutter. I’m wondering what he’s dreaming about when I see that the rain has stopped. The Andy Griffith Show is coming on now, and I’m halfway tempted to wake him, what with that being his all-time favorite show.
I watch Starr some more, but my mind drifts to three things. Finishing cleaning up the house. What I’m gonna make Jasmine for dinner (if they let her come home––Lord I pray they let her come home). And, what dress I’m gonna wear to pick up Floyd when he makes bail (thanks to Butchie). I’ll probably make Jasmine her favorites––fish sticks and tater tots with hot fudge sundaes for dessert. And, Floyd likes it when I wear the chiffon robin’s-egg-blue dress with the handkerchief hem that I found on sale at Stein Mart the time we went to Reno. We actually came home from that trip with more money than we had when we left. Which is funny considering how broke we usually are. So, Floyd considers the dress lucky. I wish he thought it was me that was good for his luck, what with that being the only time we ever went gambling together. That also being something of a belated honeymoon. We got married by a justice of the peace down at the courthouse first thing one Monday I happened to have off after he spontaneously asked me to marry him the night before when we were sitting on the glider doing shots of tequila. I wanted to get hitched before he was able to sober up too much and change his mind, so off to the courthouse we went. We were first in line. And, it’s entirely possible we were still a bit drunk. It wasn’t until two full weeks later that I was able to finagle a weekend off. Floyd surprised me though. Our first night in Reno he slipped a gold band on my ring finger, and gave me a wink. That was his way of saying it hadn’t been the tequila talking. I found the pawn shop receipt for the ring in his jeans pocket when we got home, but I actually refolded it and put it back before I could see how much he’d spent.
I wish he thought it was me that was good for his luck, what with that being the only time we ever went gambling together.
I gather up all evidence of the chicken dinners to take with me so the nurses won’t find it. Then, I gently kiss Starr on the forehead, and quietly close his door behind me.
Parked in a wheelchair across the hall is this crumpled old lady. She has thin jet-black hair with two inches of gray roots, and it’s hanging down in sad, saggy curls. Her head is tilting a bit to one side, and her eyelids are droopy like she wants nothing more than to lie down and go to sleep. I can smell her dusty rose perfume from across the way.
Hey lady, she says to me. Her voice is croaky but quiet. Will you untie me?
I take notice that she’s in wrist restraints, and I just shake my head. I’m careful to avoid eye contact, and focus instead on the exit ahead. It’s dark out, and the rain has made everything slick. I manage to mumble an apology as I skirt past her down the hall.
Please lady, untie me. I’d do it for you, she calls out. I can still hear her as I make my escape out into the parking lot. C’mon! the old woman cries, as the sliding glass doors slowly creep closed behind me. C’mon, lady! I’d do it for you...
Author's Commentary: Having grown up in the Midwest, the largely southern phrase “God willing and the creek don’t rise” intrigued me. It always made me think about what type of drama might lead someone to console another with those words. I felt that there would have to be someone with a heavy weight on their shoulders, who needed uplifting. One day, I was told of a friend’s visit to their grandmother’s retirement home. A resident was restrained in her wheelchair in the hallway, begging to be freed. I suddenly had an end scene, and knew the person being asked to take off the woman’s restraints had to be suffering her own burdens––someone who felt shackled in her own life. I also knew the title phrase had to come from the one person in her life that she could depend on. So, the story was essentially written starting with the end, and built up from there.
T. E. Wilderson is a New Orleans-born writer. Currently a student in Spalding University's MFA writing program, Wilderson is a student editor for The Louisville Review, and is at work on a short story collection and a novel.