“Why aren’t you in school? I saw ya at the grocery store last Saturday and I thought to myself. ‘That boy should be back in college.’” Elvis stood on Tank’s doorstep, scolding him about not going back to college. “My nana’s real sick right now and needs me at home takin’ care of ‘er.” Elvis could hear Tank’s grammar and accent lapse and innerly scolded himself for not speaking properly in front of the boy. “What yer nana needs is a grandson who got ‘imself educated. And what’s this I hear about you runnin’ for Mayor?”
“How about you come in?” Tank opened his door and the screeching ghost went off as Elvis walked past it. He had forgotten it was Halloween and the kids would be coming to every door in the area, sometimes walking miles between the houses. He looked at the bowl of candy waiting for the children. It was filled with Smarties. A flash of memory from the mid-Seventies when his children were young and Halloween was a cherished holiday. Only poor people gave away Smarties.
“Hello, Mr. Lancaster.” Elvis was shocked at how aged Lola looked. He and Vesta had known her for years, but she had become older than Elvis had ever felt in his life. “What’s this you sayin’ ‘bout my Wilford?” He had headed to the James’ house full of fire, but felt it all extinguish at the sight of Lola James, frail and sickly. “The boy ain’t in school. He’s got a rich guy willin’ to pay his way and he’s home.”
Lola squirmed in her chair. Elvis recognized the design from the early Eighties and the joints of it creaked as if they were about to collapse under her, despite the fact that she barely weighed one hundred pounds. “Don’t see you volunteerin’ to be nursemaid. He told Mr. McCain that he had to help me through this process of dyin’ and the fella said he’d still pay fer his school after I was gone.”
Her bluntness took Elvis by surprise. “You’re dying?” He went to school with Lola back in the Forties. Back when the mill was his daddy’s and he was going to get out of this town and take Vesta with him. “Of course I’m dyin’! Alluv us are. Me, Tort, crazy Eddie, we’re all dyin’. The question is why you’re not.” Then she laughed a rough chortle that turned into a raspy cough. “You and Vesta find that fountain of youth while you were away from Merriton?”
She smiled at him and he could see the mischievous girl she used to be when all the girls wore bobby socks. It made him sad and scared to see that smile in such an old woman. “All’s I’m sayin’ is that the boy has a future and it looks like he’s throwing it away.” Lola waved her hand at Elvis, “Poppycock! He DOES have a future, but this is a boy who ain’t afraid to stand by his family. This is a boy who knows that we lost one son already and he’s willin’ to wait for his future to help me to mine.”
She turned a gray and fluffy head away from Elvis at that point and focused her attention on Tank. “Now, what’s this Elvis hears about you runnin’ for Mayor?” Elvis felt relieved that he was finished with the scolding. It had been a long time since he had felt anyone scold him as thoroughly as Mrs. James.
Tank answered his grandmother as well as he could. “I’m not runnin’ for Mayor, Nana. I’m helpin’ Angie run. I’ve been doin’ door knockin’ for her. Maybe some people got confused…” Lola James waved her hand at her grandson. “Then unconfuse ‘em. If they think you’re runnin’ for Mayor, then you did it wrong.” Tank nodded and then looked to Elvis for help. “How do I do that?”
Elvis headed for the front door. “Don’t ask me, boy. I’m thinkin’ of writin’ you in.” The ancient animatronic ghost hanging by the front door screeched at him and it felt like it was an answer.