Gladys, Pearl and Nancy rolled down the highway singing to the Greatest Hits of the 1970’s. Gladys even felt her hair feathering back into wings. She looked at Pearl and for the first time since she had arrived the young mother looked relaxed and happy. Nancy was in the back singing as loudly as her voice could sing every single word of the song as if she had written it.
Gladys turned the volume down and asked “are you two hungry?” Pearl looked back at Nancy then at Gladys and said “we are okay. We can eat when we get home.” Gladys looked at Pearl and knew that she was telling her that it wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Then from the back she heard Nancy say “Annie can we eat at Chick-fril-yeah? Pwease?” Well who could resist that request? “Sure Nancy. Your mother will have to tell me where it is.” Nancy giggled and said “White in fwont of chew.” Gladys looked and sure enough there right in front of her was Chick-fil-a. She put on her blinker and pulled into the parking lot.
Satiated and content they traveled back to Dreary Lane after delivering Pearl’s paperwork to the Cornerstone Bank and Trust. The road they traveled took them past the biggest church Gladys had ever seen. It took up at least a half mile of highway frontage. There was the chapel, the sanctuary, the school, the nursery and the church for animals. Gladys was amazed and turned to Pearl and exclaimed “Wow that is a big church.” Pearl snorted and said “yeah, that’s the Church of What’s Happening Now. They are real to themselves and think they are the only ones going to heaven. They even make their young daughters marry old men to keep the true religion alive. I think they are all a bunch of lunatics. I pray for them every Sunday though.” Gladys smiled and said “well, isn’t that nice.” You see the old southern ways were coming back to her.
They arrived back at the Bed and Breakfast just as the sun was setting. “Annie can you push me? Pwease?” begged the little blond headed imp. “Push you where?” Gladys asked. “On dee big girhul swang” she answered as she pulled Gladys into the backyard. Nancy climbed up into the yellow swing and Gladys began to push her as she screamed “highwer, highwer!” Gladys felt the first bite and heard the second one. She looked on her arm where she saw a squadron of blood sucking insects. They were gigantic nuclear waste exposed mosquitoes that could carry away a small cow or maybe even a baby elephant. Gladys not wanting to anger their leader brushed them off and grabbed Nancy. She ran for the back door ducking and running from the dive bombing needle noses. They made it to the back door just as a giant stuck his beak into the screen door. Gladys slammed the back door and inspected Nancy for bites. She had a few on her legs but other than that looked unscathed. “Wow Annie did you see them skeeters?” Gladys looked at the whelps starting to form on her arms and said “yes I did. Did they get you?” Nancy scratched at her leg and said “yeah, I don’t want skeeters no moe.” Gladys dug at her arm and said “me either.”
Gladys thanked Pearl for accompanying her for the day and retired to her room. She packed and repacked her bag in preparation for her trip to Nowheresville. She laid out different outfits trying to decide on the least sweat producing and most comfortable for the long car ride. Finally exhausted she lay down on the bed and began to read. She had been in the room for several hours and not once had the computer made a sound. The screen had sat black and empty. She started to dose off when once again the possessed machine sprang to life. It whirred and whooshed and buzzed. She jerked awake. She got up and walked to the computer. She looked at the screen and there was a picture of on the screen then it was gone. She sat and tried to get the picture to come back up but to no avail. Finally she pushed the blue button, waited for the whirring to stop and switched off the monitor. She crawled sleepily back on the bed and flopped down on the pillows.
She was on the disco floor. The lights were flashing and she was dancing. John Travolta was spinning and lifting her and she could hear the Bee Gees in the back ground. Then the music changed and it was Abba declaring she was the Dancing Queen. She could feel her feet moving and her body swaying. Then the record got stuck and it was making that whop, whop, whop sound. She sat up in bed and realized she was not on a dance floor nor was she eighteen and a dancing queen. She looked across the room and the blue lights of the computer were flashing and the screen popped back on. Gladys had had enough. She got up felt around behind the computer and unplugged it. There she thought that ought to do it. She crawled back in bed and lay back down. Whirrr, whoosh, buzzzz, pop went the now unplugged computer. She didn’t even look. She just pulled the covers over her head and tried to sleep.
She was all packed. She had made sure she had gotten everything from the bathroom, then went back and checked again. She grabbed her purse, camera bag and suitcase and rolled it into the parlor. She looked around and saw Bud sitting watching the Hog Report. She saw fruit on the table and the coffee waiting. She hauled her belongings out to the car and popped the trunk and noticed she had not one but two flat tires. She took a deep breath in then breathed out slowly. She got down and examined the tire. It looked brand new, no holes, no nails, and no visible damage. It was just flat as a pancake. She examined its twin and found nothing unusual except the absence of air. She walked around the car and saw nothing else out of the ordinary. She again reminded herself to breath and walked back into the house and into the parlor.
She looked at the chair where Bud normally sat but it was empty. She wandered into the kitchen and found Pearl washing dishes. “Pearl. I have a couple of flat tires. Does Bud have a compressor I can air them up with?” Pearl looked out the window and pointed with her chin towards the garage. “If he has one it would be out there. Honestly, though he has taken almost all of that kind of stuff up to his lab at the school. You want me to call Mitch? He’ll come take a look at em for you.” Gladys agreed that even if she found the compressor if the tires had holes in them it would do little good. While Pearl called the mystery man named Mitch, Gladys did what any red blooded Southern Woman would do, she had a warm biscuit with butter and honey and another cup of coffee. “Mitch will be here soon and he’ll get you fixed right up” Pearl called from the kitchen. The back door flew open and slammed shut “Annie, your cah is sittin funny” Nancy said as she flew around the corner. “Hey, can I have honey?” she added. Gladys buttered and drizzled honey on another biscuit and handed it to the little one. “No! I don’t want dat. I jist want de honey” she cried as she grabbed the plastic bear full of sweet nectar and ran from the room. “You might want to bring that back” Gladys called after her.
She got up to refill her cup and saw a large man in overalls outside eyeing the Camaro. She grabbed her keys and went out to meet the man who must be Mitch. “I didn’t see any puncture marks” she told him as she watched him walk around the car. “Sweet Ride” he said as he retrieved his floor jack and some boards from his truck. “The tires look in good shape. I didn’t see anything stickin out of em. Where did you get this baby?” he asked as he worked. Gladys bent over and looked at the driver’s side rear tire “it still has the valve stem cap on it. Oh I got it from U-Drive-Em over at the airport. It’s a rental.” Mitch crawled around to the other tire and took a look. “That Lurlene, she sure gets some doozies.” Gladys wasn’t sure if he was talking about her or the car and decided from the way he was caressing the car it was she to which he was referring. He worked fast and efficient and had the one tire changed out and checked and the other inflated. He rolled the tire and plopped it into the trunk and turned to Gladys “here’s the thang. That there tire has a bad valve stem. Nothin you can do bout it. It’s a brand new tire so I’m a guessin that it came from the factory that way. Now the other one I don’t know. It looked fine and didn’t look tampered with. It may have just dumped its air because it was feelin sympathetic twards the other one, but I doubt it.” Then he handed her a form to sign and was gone.
Gladys checked her watch and went in to call U-Drive-Em. “Hi, this is Mrs. McGuillicutty. I rented a car from you and I changed it out yesterday. Yeah I have the Camaro. Well the thing is…” and she went on to explain the problem. “Well you didn’t buy the LDW. Your gonna have to buy a new tire” Lurlene responded. Gladys noticed once again she was holding her breathe. She made herself blow out the breath and then counted to ten. “Why do I need to buy a tire? I picked up the car yesterday and this morning it had a flat. The tire was not blown out nor was it damaged. The tire was defective” she explained. Lurlene snorted and said “well that car you brought back ain’t got nuthin wrong with it and I took it over to Hank myself. He drove it and put it on his machine and said it is jest fine.” Gladys took another deep breath and said “I don’t know what’s wrong with the other car but it died on me. We aren’t talking about that car, we are talking about THIS car and the fact that I am not buying a new tire.” Lurlene screeched into Gladys’ ear “you didn’t take out the Loss Damage Waiver. It states in your contract you are responsible for anything that happens to it as soon as you drive off the lot.” Gladys sat there a moment and said “Lurlene, do you have a boss? A manager or supervisor.” Lurlene sat quiet then replied “yeah but she’s on the other line.” Gladys mustered every ounce of her calm and gathered it around her like a shawl and said “I’ll hold.” Lurlene then clicked the button.
Gladys waited in silence. No muzak, no George Strait trying to get to Amarillo before morning, just silence. She waited and waited until her calm started to buckle and wane. She pulled her phone from her ear and realized she had been disconnected. She sat down on Bud’s chair and blew out the air she had been saving. She marched out to her car and retrieved her little bag which contained her computer. She sat down on the porch, plugged in her wireless card and pulled up the number for the corporate office of U-Drive-Em. She got an answer on the first call. She ran through the whole scenario with first a woman named Monique. Monique transferred her to Twyla who transferred her to Sinjinni in Roadside Assistance. She listened patiently to Gladys tell her story. She calmly told Gladys that while the woman named Lurlene is correct in the Loss Damage Waiver it would only be so if the tire were damaged and not defective. She also asked if Gladys would please hold while she called the Itty Bitty City branch and sorted it out. Gladys agreed she would hold and did so this time listening to Celine Dion. Sinjinni came back on the line and explained to Gladys that she must take the car back to the agency and retrieve a new car at no extra cost. She also said that she had confirmed the availability of another car and it would be waiting for her. Gladys thanked Sinjinni profusely and went to tell Pearl of her predicament.
“You are not going to drive all the way to Nowheresville after all of this are you?” Pearl questioned. Gladys really hadn’t thought it out. “Well yeah, I mean I only made reservations with you for the 3 nights and I probably really should get on down the road” Gladys explained as much to Pearl as to herself. “Well you are more than welcome to stay here. I don’t have anyone coming in until tomorrow night. Why don’t you come back here and leave out early in the morning?” Pearl suggested. Gladys thought about it and then agreed “yeah I think your right.” She grabbed her keys and cell phone and started out the door “can I come? Mawma can I go wid Annie?” Pearl looked at her daughter and at Gladys “no you better stay here. Ms. Gladys doesn’t need to try and keep up with you.” The little girl stuck out her bottom lip and looked up at Gladys “I be good. I pwomise.” Gladys looked at Pearl and said “I don’t mind. I mean if she wants to come and it’s okay with you.” Pearl looked at Gladys then looked into Gladys and said “I’m sure you will take good care of her. Go get your safety seat Nancy.” Gladys and Pearl weren’t strangers. No in fact they were old friends. They were the type of friends who had come through hell together and were forever linked to one another. Pearl knew that Gladys would not anything happen to her baby girl. She had seen Gladys in action a time or two. So she smiled a knowing smile at Gladys which was returned in kind.
Nancy put her hands on her hips and said “I aweady did. It’s in de cah. Wets go Annie.” Then she was gone in a flash.
Iris. With some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
7 hours ago