“Ah cain’t her you, son, spake up!” Ameshia yelled in Dwight’s direction. He held his phone to his ear with his right hand and waved his left hand in front of his mouth while flashing Ameshia a dirty look. “Sorry, I cain’t hear you, you callin bout money? Cuz you ain gettin none, brotha, I’m on Social Security.” Ameshia snorted, “He say ‘You ain gettin no money, I’m on Social Security”’. The older man had already begun walking away from the break area, holding his phone with his shoulder and tucking the rough cotton tail of his dollar store uniform into his slacks.
“I don know whachu talkin bout,” said Chawntinae, seated across the break table. She hadn’t looked up from her phone nor paused her excavation of Cheez-Its out of her vending machine bag. “Dwight, girl, he don’t miss a beat. That phone rang an he like ‘You call bout money? You call bout money?’” Ameshia affected a low tone and mimed holding a phone to her ear. “Leave im alone, that man old enough ta be yo grandaddy,” said Chawntinae. She saw Shelly enter the combination storage and break area of the dollar store through the swinging doors and said loud enough for her to hear, “Aw, here come Texas!”
“Hey girls,” Shelly said with a brief glance over her shoulder. She proceeded to the old metallic punchclock on top of the rusted filing cabinet and she threw her backpack up beside it. “What time we gettin outta here tonight?” Shelly asked, examining the calendar pinned on the corkboard behind the punchclock. “Eleven,” Ameshia drawled. She had given up on her idea of picking on Dwight and retrieved a bottle of lotion from her purse.
Shelly snatched her backpack back and walked toward the girls seated at the round break table, pulling out a chair and sitting in it. “How was the morning with you an Dwight?” she asked, looking at Chawntinae, who had already put her phone down and smiled at Shelly. “Fine,” she said, “You done yo fiddle playin last night, huh? My cousin Dimitrius been wantin ta try one a them bar thangs wi his fiddle, but he jus playn round the farm.” Ameshia’s phone had started playing music. “I sit on ya face it tastes just like candy,” she repetitiously sang along, rubbing the lotion into her arms. “Oh, your family got a farm?” Shelly asked Chawntinae with her chin resting on her palm, trying to remain distracted before yet another evening shift with Ameshia. “It our grandaddy’s,” said Chawntinae, “Been in our family for ages. We the Blythes, everyone down our way know us. As grandaddy always say, ‘You got yaself chickens an pigs, ya know what they doin when you in bed asleep? They’s makin you money! An that’s how the Blythes live.’”
“So what got yo broke ass workin at the dolla sto?” asked Ameshia, raising an eyebrow as she scrolled through her phone.
“Not tryin keep Pampers on my chile’s butt, that’s fa sure,” Chawntinae threw slight shade, “You kiss yo baby wi that mouth?”
“Cursin in front a kids ain’t shit,” declared Ameshia, “As I grew up I knew they was grownups’ words. I want them ta gimme some hardcore evidence that shit gone mess them up.”
“So what’s up with you and Jamil?” Shelly asked Ameshia while unzipping her Realtree jacket.
“Oh he still be on the same shit, they all be,” answered Ameshia.
“Why you such a man-hater?” asked Chawntinae.
“Because I don live on my daddy’s farm,” Ameshia snapped back.
“They all have they mommas.”
“That’s so real, Chawnty. So real,” Ameshia rolled her eyes and glared, “We hash that shit out. If he stay in town an I got somethin he need then yeah, sho, we hash that shit out.”
“It’s real,” said Chawntinae, eyes wide.
“It’s real real. You thank he ain see neabout fitty-’leven wuhmen at the same damn time as I been in the hospital wi his son? Sheeit, he been eatin macaroni wi his momma while I was pushin out huh graynson. You know that boy got him a momma. You right, though. The thangs we take fo granted out this bitch.”
“Well some attitudes do make it hard fo a man. You step out like that an that’s where you gone wind up, type deal. You come to every man like he gone play you an only thems that’s gone play you gone be left aroun.”
“I need me some nice young man, workin hard at the dolla sto. A nice young Dwight. Maybe then we can buy us a farm an go back ta pickin cotton an shit.”
“Y’all tryna grow cotton round here y’all gone be real broke,” Chawntinae trailed off.
“What y’all grow? Strawberries? Me an Lil Dwight gone grow strawberries. I’m jus messin wi you girl, I respect you, but thangs was diffrent fo me growin up. I din have no daddies or cousins or ponies, so…”
“With all due respect, Ameshia, you don know nothin,” said Chawntinae.
“Why y’all gotta ask me about a man anyhow, from the minute I —” Ameshia was interrupted by the appearance of Dwight through the swinging doors. “Where my work wife at?” he asked, looking at Ameshia, “There she is! C’mon, Miss Prissy, somebody gotta clock on with me here.”
“You jus reminded me why I need ta be comin here zooted,” said Ameshia, standing and collecting her belongings back into her purse.
“Zooted? Dressed like Cab Calloway? What y’all younguns talkin bout?” The elder grinned at his own indifference to their slang, and their indifference to his, pulling up his britches. As Ameshia passed by he sedately added, “How’s the chile, Miss Ameshia?” before they both disappeared back into the store.
“She act like she don know nothin,” began Chawntinae, looking down at her hands as she began to fold up her empty Cheez-Its bag, “but she do. She grew up out here, she know. She know my family, an she know Dwight’s family. Ain no one tryin ta judge huh, but she always take this position of ‘I spent three months in Charlotte once upon a time, I don’t need y’all’, or somethin.”
“I spent 30-some-odd years in Texas, I don’t need y’all neither!” Shelly joked.
“Man, I went to A&T, but I still shovel horse poop in Guilford County. Not like I went to Spelman. And why not? Seriously, why not? Maybe ‘cause there ain nothin out there but other horse stables or baby’s daddies. I’d rather take the stables from my daddy than have some other daddy come along an take a baby outta me. For real, the last thang I wanna do is go back an forth wi huh again like that. It gets real old. I think she made the choice to rely on men rather than ta rely on folks at home.”
“Well, hometowns are the original fool’s gold, but don’t ask this white girl, she don’t know! Ameshia ain’t meetin many men bein out here still, so she must like y’all’s company well enough.”
“It’s independence, I get it. That’s why my grandaddy killed my granny… my daddy’s daddy.” The two sat in silence for a moment. Shelly looked down into her lap, where she was winding a strap from her backpack around an index finger. “Everyone know it,” said Chawntinae, “how that one Blythe girl got killed by huh man down by Reedy Fork. Apparently my grandaddy couldn’t take all their family an farm crap, either. Hard ta work under the shadow of his woman’s daddy’s forty acres an a mule. You see, I really don care. I love the land, but I ain makin no excuses for it. There’s some that found independence in the land, there’s some that found slavery in it. Sometimes they was one an the same. I really don care. The Ameshias an the men? No thank you!” Dwight entered through the swinging doors with a shopping cart full of empty candy and snack cake boxes, and pushed it off into a corner of the store room with a gentle thrust. Shelly stood up and walked towards the employee refrigerator. “I’ll feed my horses, an work at the dolla store. As long as I can pay for food an taxes,” Chawntinae continued.
“Dolla? Taxes?” chimed Dwight on his way back out. He pointed a finger at Shelly, “Six shooter Shelly, ain that where you from, Dollas, Taxes?”
“Amarillo, Taxes,” she smiled at him. Dwight feigned astonishment and then walked back into the store. Shelly opened the refrigerator. “What the hell? This is like something from a horror movie…” She held aloft two gallon-sized containers of Brunswick stew, “The fridge is full of these!” Chawntinae laughed, “That’s Dwight! He’ll probably let you have some if you want. This time of year when they sellin Brunswick stew everywhere, you know. He got some from the Baptist church, he got some from the Methodist church, he got some from the fire department, he got some from the Sheriff’s Office…” Shelly curled her lip and returned the containers to their shelf, “No, thanks. That stuff’s basically just plate scrapings from a barbeque joint.” Chawntinae raised a hand and shrugged, “Hey girl, there’s you a new business idea. As long as these folks feel like they gotta sell the stuff all winter they might as well buy it off you, instead. An as long as Dwight’s around you’ll have all the consumer you’ll need. Call up Hursey’s and tell em you want them plate scrapins.” Shelly decided not to toss her Hot Pocket into the refrigerator with Dwight’s stew. She walked back over to the table. “How is that place, Hursey’s?” she asked. “Real good,” Chawntinae replied, “famous for the fried chicken, but real good all around. You know we don do much brisket round here! You like the North Carolina style? Vinegary, yeah?”
“Yeah, like Smithfield’s. I like it,” Shelly replied.
“Why’d you move here, anyway?” asked Chawntinae.
“Independence, I guess,” said Shelly, “It was time for six shooter Shelly to get the hell outta Dodge.” Shelly sat again, looking down in thought once more, weaving the backpack strap between the fingers of her left hand. “Can I come see your horses?” she asked, looking up.
“You know how to ride?” asked Chawntinae, surprised. “Yeah. I used to compete,” said Shelly, “basic horsemanship, obstacle courses…”
“Did you ever race?”
“No,” said Shelly, jerking her head to the right to toss the hair out of her face, “I didn’t run in those circles.”
“Ha! Good one!”
“I know,” Shelly smiled.