The soft drink machine ate her last quarter, she kicked it and cursed. A Camel cigarette hanging from her lip, she dug through her purse searching for a lighter. He was sitting on a bench beside what looked like his grand daughter sharing a McDonalds hamburger and a cup of Ramen noodles. Unsnapping the pocket of his Cowboy shirt, the man pulled out a box of Diamond safety matches.
“May I?” he asked. The smell of sulphur filled the air. She sat across from them and took a drag.
“I tell you one thing,” she said exhaling slowly, ” This dang discount store only gives you 2 fifteen minute smoke breaks a day and 30 minutes for lunch. How are people supposed to live these days with so much stress?” She looked at the teenager sitting beside the old man and said, “Sweetheart, you sure are a pretty little thing. What’s your name?”
“Magnolia” she answered.
“Oh how sweet, just like the flower… Well, Magnolia, Let me give you a little advice.
Men are going to try to take advantage of a cute little doll like you. Most of them are scoundrels… No offense.” she nodded his direction. “You wouldn’t know it by looking at me now, but I used to turn a few heads in my day. I had plenty of choices, but I settled…” She inhaled deeply. “I guess we all get what we deserve. I could be living in a Villa in France right now instead of supporting a low life husband and our good for nothing children. I bet your Mama already taught you that, didn’t she?”
Magnolia shook her head. “No Ma’am, she didn’t. I don’t have a Mama.”
“You don’t have a Mama? Oh good Lord! Every little girl needs a Mama. How else is she supposed to learn how to be a lady? Did your Mama get killed or something? Oh, I hope not. That would just be too awful.”
The gentleman stood up, looked at his watch and said, “Magnolia, it’s almost 12:45… time to walk you back to school.” He put the empty cup of noodles inside the McDonalds bag and tossed it into the garbage can.
Magnolia reached up, put her arms around all six foot seven of him and said, “Paw Paw, I’ll be fine; see you after basketball practice..” She kissed him on the cheek, walked across the street and opened the front door of Trenton High School.
“Good Lord, you are a tall drink of water!” she said. “Did you play basketball in high school?”
He nodded ‘yes’ and added, “For Alabama when I was in college.”
She said, “And you taught Magnolia, didn’t you? Well, that’s what men are good at. It’s terrible sad, that girl not having a mama to teach her womanly things and all.”
He smiled and walked toward the store.
“Are you going inside?” she asked.
“Yes” he answered. “I need to buy some thread and lining for Magnolia’s gown; her pageant is on Saturday night.”
“Your wife must be a seamstress.” she said.
“She was when she was with us. My wife passed on five years ago, breast cancer. It’s just Magnolia and me now.”
She shook her head, “Family tragedies always choke me up. Just like when Anna Nicole lost her little boy and then died her own self. She left a baby girl for those two sorry men to fight over. This whole world is going to hell in a hand basket!”
“Yes Ma’am, it may very well be. But Magnolia and me… we’re doing just fine. Thanks for concerning yourself. Anyway, at my age I’m better off teaching her womanly things than free throws. It’s just the way things work in life. Well, I guess I should get on back to my shopping now. A real pleasure talking to you.”
She threw her last cigarette onto the ground and snuffed it out with her shoe.
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