His weathered hands still trembled as he held the billfold he had found an hour earlier in the middle of Elm Street. Lately he experienced few pleasures in the long days at home, and walking to Freeze’s Grocery Store for a fresh sack of Bull Durham was the pinnacle. Melvin’s wife was known as a back-slid Baptist for the past ten years but one of the neighbors, Shirley Bassett, convinced her to attend Reverend Dr. Julius P Shoemaker’s tent revival last summer and afterward joined the Iron Creek Holiness Church and adhered to a very strict lifestyle for the past six months. Melvin was also held to a different standard and getting to smoke hand rolled cigarettes was about all that remained of his former lifestyle. Beer and hard liquor was no longer tolerated. Going to the movies or having a television set was forbidden as well as salty language. Melvin loved Joanne but refused her new rules at first, but then the accident occurred.
Eleven years at Morton Oil Company and he had never missed a day. Melvin toiled in the shipping department and loaded pallets of cooking oil to be sold in stores all over the country. Once he had a New Year’s hangover that lasted three days, plus he caught a bad case of the flu, and still he worked ten hour days the whole week. He winced as he recalled looking up at the full pallets of fifty five gallon barrels of refined cooking oil on the fork lift. This part of the plant took the manufactured oil and sent it to the line where it was bottled and shipped. The pallet cracked loud as the cascade of barrels fell. Melvin felt the bone snap below his knee before he fell into the sea of oil and passed out. The company doctor kept saying the injury was not permanent and his half pay disability would run out in three weeks. Joanne had to return to the diaper factory to help keep a roof over their heads and therefore was entitled to mandate new rules of morality. Joanne hated the fact he still smoked and spent many evenings thumbing to find Bible passages that would come right out and say God didn’t like it either. Melvin agree to quit by the end of the year.
That same morning he rolled over and bed and reached for the bottle of aspirin to quell the pain from his leg. Joanne was frying bacon and calling the children to the table for breakfast. Melvin wet down his hair and combed it into a presentable form and joined them. Guilt stabbed him as he waved goodbye to his wife and children as they walked to school and work. He sat on the porch hoping his leg would heal soon and life would return to normal. As they went out of sight, he reached for the sack of Bull Durham and saw it was almost empty. He reasoned there was enough for about half a cigarette. It still hurt to walk. He slowly moved across Elm Street and noticed the leaves were starting to fall and drift into piles. The air was cooler and that meant the hot summer was gone. He almost stepped into the pot hole, that would have caused even more problems, when he saw it lying there. He crossed the street and stopped, looked back and watched as a car went by. Was that a billfold? It must have fallen from someone’s car. Surely they would be back. Melvin waited and grew tired. He wanted to smoke. It was not his wallet.
He wandered around Freeze’s Grocery Store and was reminded how low they were on food. He bought the fifty cent’s worth of tobacco and begin his way back home. When he got to Elm Street, he was surprised the wallet was still resting down in the crater. He was sure someone would have claimed it by now. Melvin watched himself stroll over the pot hole, scoop up the billfold, and jam it in his pocket. No cars or neighbors were in sight. Melvin limped home and went to the kitchen table. Forgetting his tobacco crave, he pulled a wad of currency from the wallet and sweated as he counted.
Come back Friday for more of this story…