She didn’t think anything in this world could taste as good as that cold NeHi Grape Soda. Little bits of ice, still clinging to the bottle, eased down the side leaving clear trails behind. She took long swigs at first, then began to drink more slowly to make it last. Eli sat beside her, content to be in a little shade having a cold drink.
Mary Magdalene ran to the car to get her record book and pencil. “This is a good time for me to catch up,” she said to Eli. “How much gas did you put in this time?”
“Oh, don’t know. It took however much it needed to fill the tank,” he said.
“I know that, Eli. How many gallons was it?”
“What you got to keep track of everything for? I don’t know what difference it makes.” His drink all finished, he let go a long, rippling belch. Shaking her head, she went out to the gas pump to see for herself. It read sixteen and one-half gallons, rounded off. She wrote that down on the page she had marked GASOLINE: HOW MANY GALLONS, then turned to a page in the back that she used for figuring. It cost 22.9 cents a gallon. There was always a .9 on the cost of a gallon of gas and she always rounded it up to a one. It made it easier to figure and it also occurred to her that by not counting that extra .1, it was like a little savings account. Who did those gas people think they were fooling with that little .9 on the end of the price? Anybody with half a mind knew it was just a way to make things look better than they were.
At twenty-eight cents a gallon, this fill-up came to $4.62. She placed her pencil in the gulley of her notebook and ran to the car to check the mileage. It was 84,672. The way she figured it, they were getting about twelve miles to the gallon, which Eli said was pretty good for a 1949 model.
She looked through her record book, studying different pages, then going to the back to add things up.
“Eli, how much money did we have when we started out?” she asked. He had leaned his chair back against the wall and pulled his hat over his eyes.
How much money did we have when we started out? Counting the insurance money and everything?”
“Well, let’s see now,” he said. “As near as I can remember, we had about $350 clear after we bought the car and the trailer.” He moved his hat and looked at her. “Why?”
“I’m going to figure this out,” she said. “You might as well go back to sleep for a while.”
Mary Magdalene started a new page marked MONEY SPENT ON JUST GASOLINE. She was going to keep a running account of the money spent and what was left from now on. She didn’t know why she hadn’t done that in the first place. She worked for a long time, stopping twice to go in the store and use their pencil sharpener.
After a good while passed and she had checked all her figures twice, she poked Eli with her elbow.
“Wha. . .”
“Wake up Eli. I need you to count and see how much money we have left.”
Eli stood up, rubbing his face. After a good yawn, he reached for his billfold and handed it to her. She took out the bills and counted. She counted again. She looked in other pockets in the wallet but found no more bills.
“Eli, how much money you got left in your pockets?”
“Why, let me see.” He pulled out a few coins.
“Not that, Eli!” Mary Magdalene ’s voice was urgent. “I mean dollars, bills, folding money.”
“Well I done give it to you, right there. It’s all in my billfold.”
Mary Magdalene stood now, rigid, her book and pencil clutched against her chest. “You know how much money this is, Eli? It’s $37.
“Thirty-seven dollars?” Eli squinted at her and took the money. He counted it, then looked around the floor and the chairs and on the ground beside the porch.
“There ain’t no need for you to look elsewhere, Eli. This is exactly what came out of your wallet. And do you know how much further it is to Little Rock?” Her knees felt like jelly. She had to sit down again.
The swing at the other end of the porch squeaked and the old man sat up.
“We ain’t got nearly enough to get to Little Rock,” she said.