I don’t have any idea how long we had been following the truck, but if you squinted into the noon glare the familiar pig’s head logo could be made out with the words “Portion Control Meats, Good Taste for Good Times.” I felt no pride in the fact that the vehicle was from Mr. Sunbelt’s own massive fleet. He had a long day in front of him and was sleeping soundly in the back, so I decided not to wake him to tell him we were behind one of his trucks. The old man was also asleep, nodding fitfully in the sun with his banjo beside him.
The old man, Sunbelt and I had made many of these trips from Old Dominion to New Iberia over the years; it was all usually connected to one of Sunbelt’s schemes. The old man came to remind us, and I just drove.
I could smell the salt in the air for about an hour before the gulf was visible. We dropped Mr. Sunbelt and his scissors off at the ribbon cutting ceremony. The old man and I used stay in the early days and laugh about how every time Sunbelt cut a ribbon his accent was two or three inches shorter. But the joke wasn’t funny anymore.
This day I followed the dimly scrawled map that led us to Beauvoir, the Jeff Davis death house. A fire helped ward off the chill from the sea. The old man stared at the house all night, as each tired plunk of his banjo marked the withering and browning of some magnolia blossom deep in his dreams. As for me, I looked out at the barrier islands and wondered if I was strong enough to swim there.
The two of us left early the next morning; Mr. Sunbelt could find his own way home.
Jim Biedenharn is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, a historic town located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers—the very southern tip of the famed Mississippi Delta. His roots run deep in the region, which in turn runs deep in his writing. Writing under the nom de plume “Dr. Jas. O’Phelan,” his stories first appeared in Canopic Jar: An Arts Journal in 1987. He is the author of River City Ebb & Flow: Dr. Jas. O’Phelan’s Stories from the Wicker Basket under this Fragile Balloon.