Peaches and John Deere
By: Revia Perrigin
The mixed pellets of sleet and snow beat upon the windshield. The wipers operated as fast as possible. This was not just any trip. The occupants were homeless. Thirty-one year old Victor, his wife, Michelle and their two children were going to an unknown destination hoping to find work. Cameron, their six-year-old daughter, was asleep on the back seat. Three-month-old Buster was on the floorboard snuggled in blankets. Their few belongings were packed in the trunk of Victor’s pride and joy, a 1970 Oldsmobile 442.
The car slowed and jerked making a sputtering sound. Victor mashed the accelerator harder. The car jerking shook Michelle awake. “What happened?” she asked sleepily.
“Damn”, Victor said, “The car quit.”
“What are we supposed to do?” asked Michelle with fear in her voice.
“There’s nothing we can do tonight. Come morning, I’ll check under the hood”, Victor said trying to keep his voice normal so as not to show his worry.
“Where are we?” asked Michelle.
Victor took a deep breath before answering, “There was a sign back there, Piggot, Arkansas, thirty miles wherever the hell that is.” Victor thought, flickering his lighter to light a filter less Camel, the last in the pack, what were they going to do? The logo on the lighter read Anheuser Busch know when to say when, God, he could use a beer. The flare of the lighter showed his features dark, almost as dark as his outlook. Usually levelheaded, they had not thought about the weather when making travel plans. They had been living in the car and eating at a mission since he had lost his job for fighting. He took care of his family the best he could but sometimes that wasn’t good enough. Victor didn’t think of himself as a thug but after spending three years in a Mississippi prison, he didn’t take crap off anybody and had lost job after job for fighting.
With snow steadily falling, the family sat out the night. Victor and Michelle dozed but never slept soundly. They spent the night trying to keep themselves and the children warm. As dawn was breaking, only an occasional snowflake was falling. Buster stirred and started crying. He was hungry. Michelle reached for the baby unbuttoning her cheap faded cotton blouse. Victor didn’t look her way as she started breast-feeding the baby.
Victor looked out the window remembering. When he first saw Michelle, she had long brown hair with reddish highlights, a southern drawl, and a small waist. At twenty-two, she was car hopping at Sonic in Benoit, Mississippi. Tennessee Williams filmed his movie, Baby Doll, there putting the town on the map but Michelle hated the small, mostly African-American populated town. Victor was her ticket out of the Mississippi Delta.
Opening the door, Victor stepped into the new fallen snow wearing a blue plaid shirt, faded Carhart jeans, denim jacket and high-topped work boots. Opening the hood, he found moisture on the distributor cap. He learned auto mechanics in prison and knew the points wouldn’t fire while damp. Walking to Michelle’s side of the car, he said, “The distributor’s wet. I’ll have to try to find help.”
Michelle said angrily as if the car quitting was Victor’s fault, “I can’t sit here all day.”
Victor knew he didn’t want an argument so he mumbled, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” His boots made a crunching sound as he walked away. After walking a few miles, his heart felt like it was going to burst. About to turn back toward the car thinking their situation was hopeless, he spied a house in the distance. Tired of walking, Victor made his way to the steps of a huge white house with a wraparound porch.
Victor knocked on the door. Inside an old sounding voice said, “Go away. Leave me alone.”
“My car broke down up the road. My wife and two children are in it. I need help.” Victor replied hoarsely.
The door opened a fraction. Victor was looking into the haggard face of an old woman with dirty, grayish hair, dressed in a ragged housecoat. Victor said, “Please I know the kids are cold.” Sizing Victor up she saw a sandy haired man, probably six-foot and two-hundred pounds. Stepping aside, she allowed Victor to enter a high ceiling room with torn wallpaper. A small fire was smoldering in the fireplace even though plenty of wood was stacked against the wall. Shivering Victor moved closer to the fire.
“I’m Alice Marlow. “The wood ‘s heavy.”
Victor put a stick of wood on the fire and watched the red and yellow flames glow. He wanted to stay by the fire but knew he had to get back to his family. “Mrs. Marlow, I’m Victor Fletcher. Can I bring my wife and children here? They’re in the car up the road.” Mrs. Marlow just nodded.
Arriving at the car he said, “I found a house and there’s a fire. Bring what food we have."
Wrapping the children in blankets, both parents took turns carrying Buster. Victor had a harder time trudging to the house a second time. His boots were wet and his socks seemed frozen to his feet.
Alice opened the door quickly hearing Victor’s knock. Michelle grasped under her breath seeing the woman. Her filthy housecoat had several buttons missing and was hanging on a skeletal frame. The poor woman looked as if she hadn’t eaten a healthy meal in days. Michelle said, “I’m Michelle. You’ve met Victor. This is Cameron and the baby is Buster.”
“Come in by the fire.” invited Alice.
After getting warm, Michelle asked, “Are you hungry?” The old woman pointed to the kitchen. The room was cluttered with pots, pans, old newspapers and boxes. Getting bread, a can of tomatoes and a can of lima beans out of her bag along with a manual can opener Michelle said, “I’ll start cleaning tomorrow if you’ll let us stay a few days. Our car needs work. What’s in the boxes? She was hoping cans of food.
Mrs. Marlow replied, “Just stuff.”
After eating, the Fletchers rested on two rickety couches. Alice sat in her unpainted rocker by the fire.
Early the next morning, Alice showed Michelle a few jars of peaches, jelly and apples in the cabinet. After breakfast Michelle asked, “Mrs. Marlow can I put your hair in a bun? You will feel better.” Mrs. Marlow sat in a kitchen chair while Michelle brushed her hair. She wanted to suggest Mrs. Marlow get into cleaner clothes but did not want to sound offensive.
Victor walking around to the back of the house noticed the sun breaking through the clouds. Behind the house, he found a tool shed, several John Deere tractors, plows, cultivators, and other type of farm equipment. Slamming the door, Victor asked, “Mrs. Marlow who farmed?”
Mrs. Marlow answered, “My husband Robert. He quit trying after our son, Bobby, was killed in Iraq.
Victor said, “I was raised on a farm in Mississippi. I can see this was a paying farm. Can I help?”
Before there was an answer, a knock was heard. Opening the door, Mrs. Marlow found a deputy sheriff. The deputy was big. His jacket sleeves were too short for his arms. His jaw was poked out with a plug of tobacco. Without smiling, the deputy asked, “Ma’am, have you seen anyone. There’s a car up the road, looks like children’s clothes inside. They could have walked in any direction.
Mrs. Marlow replied, “That belongs to my Nephew, Victor. He and his family are staying awhile.”
Stepping off the porch the deputy walked quickly to his 4x4 jeep. Victor and Michelle stared at each other unable to speak. Mrs. Marlow said, “I always wanted a daughter!” Turning to Victor, she said, “If you get your car running we can go shopping. I have some money in the bank.” Smiling and laughing the three of them hugged. Victor and Michelle could work on the house and Mrs. Marlow would be warm, clean and eat healthy. Victor smiling started walking toward his car to see if the distributor was dry.
Victor was tired of trying to make ends meet. He needed a cigarette. He silently made his plans. They would all go to town letting Mrs. Marlow take her money out of the bank. After buying supplies, which would include cigarettes and Bud Light, he would work on the farm, find a job, and be kind to Mrs. Marlow.
One day he might own the farm, Buster could help him work while Cameron learned from Michelle. Grinning, he broke into a slow run toward his 1970 Oldsmobile 442.