Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A RUMOR SPREAD in line that you had to have a copy of your light bill in order to prove the loss. Plus you had to sign an affidavit estimating the value of the food you lost during the outage. Almost everyone in line had hopes of claiming their entire monthly allotment had gone bad and spoiled in the heat which followed the storm. Some folks ran or sent children home to retrieve crumpled utility bills from the trash. Chester and Elvira had only a stained copy of an old bill which Chester found balled up in a corner of their trailer near the garbage pail. He took it with them not on a whim but because he knew the routine. The lights to their property had been cut off for lack of payment six months prior. They both hoped that the welfare worker wouldn't notice the old date on the bill. Chester scraped at the printed date in the corner with a fingernail which smudged it and made it almost illegible. He figured that would cast enough uncertainty on it such that they would get the stamps. Besides, they weren't greedy and were only going to claim that half of their monthly benefit was spent on perishables lost. One thing was sure, he was sick of eating canned goods from the food bank and the first thing they were going to do on the road home was stop at Me-Maw's Superette for a nice plump roaster chicken or two. Some dirty rice, mustard, and maybe a few links of good andouille sausage. And with the cash that Elvira stuffed surreptitiously into her tank top, they would buy beer, wine and cigarettes. Chester smiled a half-smile but winced a little when he put too much weight on his sore toe. The day wasn't starting out too badly, but they seldom did if one didn't expect too much. Roll with the punches, that's the mantra he chanted to himself and indeed lived by.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
ONCE THE STRONG winds abated and the clouds parted, a piss-yellow sun crept out and hung low in the chalky blue sky. A long line of people snaked through the lobby of the welfare office and out the glass doors to the parking lot beyond. Chester Monsoon and Elvira Logan stood out under the rising sun with bare feet already burning on the asphalt. They shuffled their body weight from one foot to the other, as the situation required to abate the sting. Chester had a dirty white cloth bandage wrapped around a wound on his left big toe which made him wince every time he shifted to that foot. Elvira glanced at it nervously and chewed her bottom lip. With heads throbbing and still partly stewed from the night before, they stood in vigilant silence and with the patience of Buddha. A tropical storm grew in the Gulf over the weekend and whipped across the Parish, but just the tip, a near miss if ever there was one. A handful of residents were without electrical power until Monday, a minor inconvenience. The State boys in charge of the matter convened in their dull brown Capital offices but were unable to determine who lost power or the duration of the outage. An executive decision was made to authorize a full month's Food Stamps to everyone on the dole to cover the loss of victuals which might have spoiled in refrigerators and freezers during the aforementioned storm and subsequent power outage. Might congenial indeed. Word spread like lightening and by mid-morning everyone in receipt of Public Assistance in the Parish was aware of the windfall, which accounted for the line of quiet desperation which continued to grow and writhe like a plump earthworm on the sizzling pavement.