A Life in Numbers Lindy Rudd
It’s 78 steps across the parking lot from here. When I get to the automatic door to Walgreens, I’ll count to three then it’ll be open. The sterilising fluid is part way down the second aisle on the left, one shelf from the top. I have the exact money in my purse and I’ll tell them I don’t need a receipt today with my purchase, thank you very much. I hope there’s no line at the checkout.
I used to come here with Grappa but he just died. We used to do everything together but he’d been saying for a long time that things were slowing down for him and we needed to work on getting me right. I’ve driven here before, to work out what to do, but this is the first time I’ve done it without Grappa. Everything went well before I came out so I know it should work the same as it did last time. I want to check the money again, although I know it’s exactly $2.40 because I counted it and put it in piles so I had eight quarters and four dimes and I touched each pile 12 times, one for each coin and I had to breathe real deep because I was thinking fuck you, fuck you God and I needed to make that go away before an angel heard me.
My name’s Ellie-Beth Gilkerson, I’m 38 years old and I live in Gum Corner in Arkansas. I lived with my Granddaddy who I called Grappa because I guess that’s how it came out when I was small. A long time ago, I lived with Mamma. There was a man, too, when I was real tiny, and I remember him saying,
‘That waste of a chile, she always damn poorly,’ and he shook his head while Mamma fed me crushed up ice as that was the only thing that could fit down my throat and I swear it stopped it closing up forever. He might have been my Daddy, but I don’t know and he went anyhow. Then one afternoon I came home from school and the house was quiet. I walked out to the back yard and called to Mamma that I was home but she never answered. I went to fix myself a drink in the kitchen but before I got there, I saw Mamma lying on the floor in the hall. Her face had gotten too big and there was this ring around her mouth the colour of spoiled fruit, like the plums that drop on the lawn that the tanagers eat and then they can’t fly off straight. Then Grappa was there and he said he had something very sad to say, and that’s how I got to live with him.
Mamma and I, we never went to church but Grappa said it was a good thing; show the Lord we understood why Mamma had had to leave us and my Grappa, he knew about these things. It was soon after he started taking me there that these thoughts came; just breaking into my head like when you get static on your transistor radio. It was my own voice, nothing weird like when you hear people say they hear voices, no, nothing like that, just not saying things I liked to be saying. I’d be talking to God real sassy but I couldn’t help it. So I started doing things to cancel it out, make everything go back to zero, like in math. I’d think something really, really bad, so say that meant a minus 50, then I’d have to do something 50 times that had a plus sign to make it just right again. Course, Grappa started to notice that I had to do things over and over but I couldn’t tell him for a long time, though he was the person I trusted most in the world. Finally I worked out how to tell him. It made my face burn with shame to say it and what I told him, well it weren’t even the half of it.
‘Well,’ Grappa said, ‘that’s Lucifer putting you on the path of temptation same as our Lord had to suffer for 40 days and 40 nights.’
So I says to Grappa that it seems like I got a worse deal even than Him, feels like many more than 40 to me.
Grappa asks me, ‘How long this been happening then?’ ‘I don’t rightly know,’ I says, ‘it’s the only darned thing I ain’t been counting.’
We go to see Reverend Kingston but he scares me so much with his incanting and hollering, the words in my head get-ting worse and worse till I’m sure I had sinned enough to die there and then and go straight to hell. There was so much bad clocking up, I didn’t think I’d ever make it right again. But Reverend Kingston, he didn’t stop so I screamed to end anything going in or out. Then next thing, Grappa was holding me and saying it was alright now. Reverend Kingston said that Lucifer had left the child and I thought something dreadful about the reverend straight away, so I knew he hadn’t gone nowhere.
Later, when Grappa fixed me an iced tea, he asked if I felt any different and I said, ‘Yup, I’m scared now, too. I’m scared you’ll take me back to Reverend Kingston and make it worse and I’ll never be right again, Grappa.’
Grappa said that even a man of the cloth can get it wrong sometimes but least now that ole devil knows we’re on his tail. So I asks Grappa what are we gonna do now and he says,
‘Nothing bad will happen if you don’t do your numbering ways, you see if I’m right.’ Well, he gets me to clean the worktop and stops my hand before I finish counting and says,
‘You gotta trust me here, Ellie-Beth, it’s the Clorox what makes it clean, not you scrubbing it 48 times.’ Well, it shoulda been 63, but he were right; nothing bad ever come of it.
Grappa always had a lot of lady friends. In a place like Gum Corner, most of the folk have lived here 50 year or more and more than half of them are ladies. So someone like my Grappa who’s got his own hair and teeth and drives a truck into town every week is a bit of a catch. Mostly they were just gracious and did stuff like bake corn bread and make a fuss of me, but sometimes they acted a bit too desperate. Like old Alice, when the cat got on her lap she went all giggly and said,
‘Hell, I thought it was your granddaddy climbing over me.’ Well she knew that weren’t likely but she were saying what she hoped, that’s for sure. Alice used to bring me newspapers that she got from her son who came to visit her after church on a Sunday. He’d turn up in his Sunday best, though we all knew he never went to church in his life; too busy playing cards and knocking back hooch, but he’d stay for a glass of tea and a cookie and off he’d go again. Well I used to cut bits out of them newspapers to get an idea what goes on outside of Gum Corner. After a while, you notice things; like people are getting hurt and its all moving closer and closer. Once, there was a story about a lady who had pulled up in the parking lot at our very own Walgreens in Eudora and