The kitchen clock read 11:17. Beatrice fetched the garden hose from the shed and brought it to the front yard to water the roses her granddaughter had planted by the mailbox for Mother's Day. After she finished dousing the wilting plants and any other hint of vegetation in the yard, she walked to the hose bib. With a squeak of the spigot and a stiff turn of the wrist, she extinguished the stream and detached the hose. She coiled it loosely around her elbow and trooped toward the porch to enter the house by the front door, too tired to go around to the shed. After she dragged her slight frame up the steps, she noticed her water-splattered legs and mud-covered brogans. Shoulders slumped, she eased down the steps—even more slowly this time—to go around back. Worn-out once she reached the door, Beatrice plopped down on the stoop to catch her breath. She couldn't even make it up the one step.
"I told Ev'lyn them flowers was mo' trouble than they's worth." The hose uncoiled on the ground around her ankles.
Some time later, Beatrice pushed herself to her feet with great effort and left the hose in a loose pile, forgotten. She unlaced and removed her shoes before entering the kitchen. Inside, her hot, wet skin greedily sucked in the cool air from the window unit. Refreshed a bit, Beatrice glanced at the clock over the sink: 11:55. It ain't too early to eat some lunch. I've worked me up quite a hunger.
The refrigerator yielded just enough pimiento cheese for a nice-size sandwich, and she plucked a Granny Smith apple from the bin in the pantry. Sitting at the table facing down her food, she prepared her stomach to eat.
Lord, You know what I need 'cause You the one who gave it to me and blessed it. Thank You. Amen. She took her time chewing, talking her way through her meal, frequently sipping the water, all the while ordering her stomach to stay in line. And just like many of the people in Beatrice's life, it obeyed.
When it was nearly half past noon, Beatrice slid her bookmark on James 1 and closed her Bible. She ignored the scrape of the chair's feet as she pushed away from the table. She scrubbed her lunch dishes, dried them, put them away, and retreated to her bedroom. There she resisted the urge to flip back the curtain to see whatever busied itself on the other side. Instead, she cast an eye at the clock. Its hands told her, '"Time for a nap."'
Nearly two hours later, refreshed and back on the porch, Beatrice leaned on the cushions and replaited her hair. She wound it, tucked it, and pinned the one long, silver braid into a bun at the nape of her neck. By now, the sun had crept toward the rear of the house, mercifully sparing the front porch. She basked in the nothingness stretching out beyond the yard and the street running in front of it. Then, "My Lord!" she entreated, gripping her side. She hunched over as pain speared her insides, inched around her spine and over her hip, and took hold somewhere in the area around her chest. It stole her breath. She sat still as stone, gripping her dress, eyes squeezed shut.
Seconds...a minute...forever passed until at last, the fist of pain loosened its hold, finger by finger, and finally let go altogether. The breeze that merely dislodged the heavy air raised chill bumps on her clammy skin. Doctors had warned her, but the suddenness of this spell caught Beatrice off guard. She had half a mind to cancel her afternoon plans, but before the other half caught up, a car crunched into the drive.
Piece by piece Beatrice put herself together, and then she stepped into her house far enough to retrieve her keys and turn the lock. She'd already pushed the heavy baskets laden with clean laundry onto the porch. Wordlessly Beatrice lifted her head a notch as she passed the hand that tried to help and stiffly took the three concrete steps to the ground.
"How you doin' today, Granny B?"
"Same as always." Beatrice looked neither to the right nor the left as she marched to the ancient burgundy metallic Monte Carlo, much as the second hand had ticked away the time. "You can put them two baskets in back." She threw the words over her shoulder as she climbed in. Beatrice drew from her pride rather than from her depleted stores of energy to slam closed her door behind her.
The other door opened and the seat was let down before the driver scooted the laundry baskets across the back. Then he slammed shut his own door and the engine chugged to life. Reverend Farrow turned to his passenger. "Granny B, are you ready?"
Beatrice nodded briskly. "If I ain't now, I ain't never gon' be."