THE PAIR STANK a bit and dressed in tattered rags. One got the impression that they could have cleaned themselves up easily enough and probably had decent enough clothes in the chifforobe at home. They defiantly chose to wear the rags. Plus they had sense enough to dress down for welfare appointments. Despite too many routine encounters over the years, Cyprian had never seen them sober. They were blunt and crass toward each other but in a good-natured and jovial sort of way. Cyprian represented State Authority with a capital A, which meant plenty of Yes Sirs, No Sirs and the like. Elvira was especially obsequious in his presence. She whined and squawked in the hopes of furthering her cause. Despite her ingratiating mannerisms and her rail thin frame, there was something pleasant and attractive about her. Chester, garrulous and unshaven, dramatically inhaled puffs of his cheap cigarette and blew plumes of blue smoke into the air. But he toadied to the man as well...this day he walked with a pronounced limp and wore no shoes upon his malodorous feet. He carefully unwrapped a bandage from the big toe of his left foot. The appendage was swollen to triple the normal size, purple and crowned with a cracked yellow toenail.
Elvira said, “Look at it will you? I tell you it looks bad. Don't it Mister LeFluer? He needs to see a doctor but he don't listen. They'll have no choice but to cut it off before long.” She winced. “Gangrene will set in, I keep on telling him. And then where will he be?”
“Shut your pie-hole, will ya?” Chester barked at her. It was a grand bluff, an act. He grinned and laughed aloud as he said it. The three of them did.
Chester began to pick at his gangrenous toe and Cyprian watched fascinated. While in a drunken stupor during the storm, he fell into a drainage ditch and busted the toe on a pipe. He lay there for some time, oblivious to the howling winds and the rain which pelted him. Elvira thought he was lucky not to have drowned. The pain was negligible thanks to the liquor and, once he came to, he brazenly walked on it until he sobered up. Initially bloodied, it had since hardened into a solid mass of scab. He was scabrous; little flesh wounds pockmarked his face and arms. It had been on hell of a tumultuous hurricane party. Chester's breath stank of cheap cigarettes and malt liquor.
Elvira wrung her boney hands nervously.“O Mister LeFluer, do you think we can get more stamps on account of Chester's toe? We ain't got nothin' to eat in the trailer since the lights went out. We go hungry our borrow from neighbors. That's the truth. All our meat went bad. Sausages and everything. And now with this toe can't neither of us work. I got to look after Chester before he cripples himself.”
“Elvira, I'm warnin' you...shut your trap!” Chester snarled. He feigned a readiness to backhand her. Cyprian dreamed of aiding him in that endeavor . They shot each other humorous and conspiratorial glances. Elvira began to chew at the quick of her thumbnail.
“But Chester baby, you know it ain't fair. The blacks get everything handed to 'em on a silver platter and poor white trash like us get nothing. Here we are starvin' to death in the breadbasket of America. I mean, it's a shame Mister Lefluer. What we got to do? I'm tellin' ya from where I sit it looks bad. And now this toe...Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
“Fill out this paperwork in duplicate, for starters, Miss Logan, and I'll see what I can do. And for the love of God, take care of that toe, Mister Monsoon. It looks bad.”
Chester breathed a sigh of relief and an intoxicating whiff hit Cyprian in the face. Elvira made the Sign of the Cross. “God bless you!” The six-month old light bill passed unnoticed.