Willy waved from the window of the gurgling Ford pickup which had once been white but now sported more rust than paint. A big busted, old woman who looked no younger than one hundred sat behind the wheel looking straight ahead. Her white hair looked as though it had been styled that very day, and she wore a purple dress with some sort of pin that Joey couldn’t quite make out fastened to her right lapel. The thought of the woman driving the truck from Jackson caused Joey to shake his head.
Willy climbed out.
“You sit by Gra-ma? I don’t think I can manage my legs around the gear shift.”
“Sure.” The thought of the woman shifting the gears made Joey smile once more.
“Gra-ma? This is Joey.”
The old woman glanced in Joey’s direction and nodded once before locking her gaze back on the road once more. Joey entered and slid across the cracking bench seat and decided to sit side saddle toward Willy. The cab smelled of lilacs and emanating from the background another scent reminiscent of a dark voodoo shop in the French Quarter.
Willy closed the door, and Grandma gassed the engine which sputtered only a split second before jolting them out into the open road as Willy cranked the window closed.
“This is Joey I’ve been telling you about,” Willy screamed either over the sound of the truck or to enable the woman to hear him. Joey wasn’t sure which.
“You told me his name,” the woman spoke in a quiet voice that was not altogether unpleasant or elderly sounding.
“You know where we’re going?” Willy asked.
“I know where we’re going,” she answered before looking over to him and then to Joey. “He thinks I’m senile, and I know more than he does.”
Her smile was toothy as she grinned at Joey, melting away any misgivings he might have had. Ginger’s Cafe was not exactly what one would imagine for a Thanksgiving dinner, but almost all the other restaurants had closed early for the holiday. The café served vegetables and that was what Grandma Jackson wanted.
The trio entered the restaurant and after ordering sat back and tried to relax in order to break the tension of new people meeting. Instead of asking questions though, Grandma sat studying Joey as the young men made small talk between themselves. She still hadn’t spoken by the time the waitress returned with mason jars of sweet tea and took their orders.
“You have an old soul,” the woman said finally not breaking her gaze from Joey.
“I think I told you Gra-ma used to have a shop in New Orleans,” Willy added looking to each of his companions with an amused expression.
“I guess I do,” Joey said. He grew a bit uncomfortable.
The old woman’s eyes went to Joey’s hands, and a curious expression crossed her face and wrinkled her brow. Her right hand found its way and came to rest on the top of her bust as she breathed in heavily.
“Your hands don’t match your body.”
Joey’s blood went cold, and he tried his best to hide his surprise.
“They’re strong and beautiful, but they belong to someone who has seen more than you could possibly know in your limited time on this earth,” she continued as she reached across the table and past Willy to Joey’s hands.
Her own hands were warm and roughened with deep wrinkles in the palms. Her purple fingernails played along the back of Joey’s hands, behind his fingers, before she delicately turned one hand over with its palm up. Then, she performed the same movement on the palm as she had the front along the lines she found there, sending a shiver up Joey’s spine.
“Who is Michelle?”
Joey looked to Willy who shrugged his shoulders. Willy had not mentioned any name to his grandmother. Joey thought for a moment and tried to answer, but instead felt a wave of grief and sadness pass through his heart. His eyes clouded. He wanted to tell the old woman everything, to spill his inner most thoughts to her and to convey to her the deep sense of loss and loneliness that had overcome him and lingered in his heart every hour of every day for the last few years.
“She’s a girl I used to know,” Joey said trying to smile.
The old woman looked up and studied him silently for a few seconds that seemed like minutes. As if the answer satisfied her, she looked down once more.
“She is fine,” the woman said nodding as she pursed her lips. “She will always love you, until you meet again.”
Now goose bumps raced over Joey’s arms and up his neck as if the chill of death itself had passed over him. Joey looked down to his own palm, afraid to raise his eyes for fear that they might give away what remained of his private thoughts. In his palm it seemed as though he could feel the woman’s heartbeat from her fingertips, then flashes of light swam in his vision. Joey looked into the woman’s face once more, and if he lived a hundred more years he decided he would not want to remember her look of terror and anguish. It passed so quickly that Joey would think back later and wonder if he had seen it at all, and Willy had not been looking, instead gazing at Joey’s face. His expression did change as he saw Joey’s reaction.
“You’re a good man, Joe,” the woman spoke in a voice so low now that Joey could barely make out the words. Her hand held his tightly as if Joey might attempt to pull away at any moment. “You did say your name was Joe?”
“Gra-ma, Joey, it’s Joey.”
“You listen to Grandma Jackson,” the woman said ignoring her grandson and focusing her entire attention on Joey. “When the devil is on your tail, you run and hide. You tell the devil to take a hike. Don’t need no devil.”
The woman’s hand shot up to instantly silence Willy.
“Look into your heart,” the old woman said almost rhythmically and as if the words formed the first part of a cherished tune she continued. “Look and see…love never, ever leaves…”
She released Joey’s hand and leaned back before taking a deep breath. At some point the food had arrived and now sat around them steaming. The old woman selected a piece of cornbread and picked it from a plate with her gnarly fingers before crumbling it into a bowl of steaming pinto beans.
“Eat your food, boys,” grandma said, “it’s getting cold. Happy Thanksgiving Joey.”