My Yoke is Easy
James William Gardner
It was just Amos Handy and God standing there together on a lonely two lane road in Mississippi in the dark in the middle of the night. It was God who first spoke. He said, “Amos, what in the world are you aiming on doing now?” There was a soft, breeze like God’s breath. Amos didn’t answer the Lord right away. He thought about it a while and of course when it’s just you and the Lord that doesn’t really matter because the Lord hears everything you’re thinking anyway. He more than likely knows it before you do.
Finally Amos Handy said to the Lord, “I really ain’t sure. I reckon I’ll just go wherever it is that you lead me.” He didn’t say it out loud. He said it with his mind’s voice the way he was accustomed to talk to God. He felt the breeze again. God’s voice always seemed to come in through the top of his head. It was almost warm like a stocking hat feels. Amos Handy hadn’t eaten since Tuesday afternoon and it was Thursday. “Lord, I sure could use me something to eat if you could manage it. My stomach’s empty as a drum.”
He began to walk again. He could hear the gravels crunch under his feet. He remembered that piece of scripture when Jesus talked about how the Father takes care of his children. He couldn’t think of the exact words. That’s how scripture works sometimes. Just then he saw headlights coming up behind him and he heard a growl of a diesel engine getting louder and louder. He turned to face the light. He wasn’t sure, but it looked like a logging truck. He stuck out his thumb and smiled his best, friendliest smile at the driver. The big truck slowed down. The air breaks hissed and it came to a stop right beside him.
“You need you a ride?” said a deep, raspy voice through the open passenger side window. Behind the voice Amos Handy heard Charlie Pride singing, Kiss an Angel Good Morning.
“I sure do!” answered Amos Handy still smiling as nice as he could. The door swung open and the voice said to climb on up. Amos Handy threw his backpack up into the floorboard and got in. “Man, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” All he could see was the dark silhouetted profile of a face in the dashboard light. It had a cigarette stuck in it that wiggled up and down when the silhouette spoke.
“No problem Brother,” it said. “I’ve done been down and out. I know what it’s like. Where you headed?”
“I ain’t really sure. I’m just walking and seeing where I can get to.”
The silhouette offered Amos Handy a cigarette. He pulled one from the pack. Then a hand came over with a light and for an instant he saw the face of the driver. “Where’re you coming from?”
“I was staying with this woman over near Montgomery until she kicked me out.”
“Women will do that,” said the driver as if it were nothing. The big diesel started moving again. The hand that had held the lighter gripped the gearshift knob and started moving through the gears. “This is a damn lonely old highway,” he said. “How come you to come this way?”
“”I caught me a ride with this guy and he dropped me off back there a ways,” replied Amos Handy. The cigarette tasted good. He hadn’t had one all day. He held the smoke in for a long time and savored every puff.
“Hell Buddy, you look like you could use a meal.”
“Man, you got that right.” Then the big hand came over again and it had a twenty in it. The driver didn’t say a word. Amos Handy took the money and put it in his shirt pocket. “Thank you,” he said.
“There’s a little truck stop up here a piece. A woman named Leona runs it and she makes some damn good biscuits. You tell her Travis told her to fix you up.”
“Okay,” said Amos Handy. Then he got quiet. He was talking to the Lord again. “Lord, you’re mighty good to me and you know I appreciate it.” The Lord just smiled. You know how it is when God does that, just smiles at you. You can feel that too, just as real as anything.”
After a little while the lights of the little truck stop came into sight. The driver pulled the old truck up to the fuel pumps and let Amos Handy out. “Good luck wherever it is you’re headed. Remember; tell Leona that Travis sent you.”
Amos Handy said he would. The airbrakes hissed, and the log truck drove off down the road. Amos Handy reached to check and make sure that the twenty was still in his pocket. It was. He slung his pack over his shoulder and walked inside. It was warm in there. He could smell coffee and bacon. Those are two fine smells when they mix together in the air. He made his way across the little dining room past the tables to the counter and sat down. That Charlie Pride song was stuck in his head. He was humming it under his breath.
“Morning!” shouted a woman’s voice. Amos Handy looked to see. A face was staring at him through the kitchen window, a big round face with little twinkling eyes like two raisins in a sweet roll. “You want coffee?” said the face.
“Yes Ma’am,” answered Amos Handy.
“Just a second Honey, it’s about finished brewing.” He pulled a paper menu out from between the ketchup bottle and the sugar and opened it up. There they were right on top, biscuits and gravy. That’s what he wanted. A minute later the kitchen door swung open and a little fat woman waddled out with a mug in one hand and a coffee pot in the other. She sat the mug down and filled it. “You want cream?”
She reached into the pocket of her apron and pulled out a hand full of little half and half creamers and dropped them in a mound on the counter. “Are you Leona?” asked Amos Handy looking at the two little raisin eyes.
“That’s me,” she said.
“A truck driver named Travis said to say that he sent me. He said you fixed some extra good biscuits.”
“Travis Sellers?” she asked.
“I don’t know his last name. He drives a log truck.”
“That him,” she smiled. “Do you know what you want?”
“Well Ma’am, I tell you the truth I’m awful hungry. I believe I’ll have me a plate of gravy biscuits.”
“Do you want any eggs or grits or anything with that?”
“No, just biscuits and gravy,” he said. The woman nodded and headed back to the kitchen. He watched her as she walked away. She had on jeans, tight jeans and you could see the little dimples of fat on the back of her thighs through the denim. He opened the creamers and stirred his coffee. Then he raised his mug, blew a couple times and took a sip. It was hot, but it was good. An old Pepsi-Cola clock on the wall next to a big mounted fish said that it was a quarter to five. Amos Handy didn’t have a watch. He’d sold it to a guy he met in jail one night in Montgomery for seven dollars. It was all the man had, but the watch wasn’t worth any more than that. He remembered that he’d bought him a pack of Winstons and a can of beanie weenies with the money. After just a little while they were gone and Amos Handy wished that he had his watch back, but really when you get right down to it, he didn’t need to know what time it was. It didn’t matter that much. Time and watches were for people with things to do, places to go and people to meet.
He thought about that girl Tammy, the one in Montgomery that had let him stay with her and then kicked him out. “Get your shit and get the fuck out of my house this minute!” he could hear her shout. The sound of it ringing in his head pushed out the Charlie Pride song. Tammy was a raunchy, messed up chick anyway. She was on something, nervous and twitching all the time and skinny as a rail. He though about it a lot after he left and he figured it was probably the best thing that could have happened after all. Still, he couldn’t understand why she’d turned on him all of a sudden like that. She’d even said that she loved him.
“Here you go, Baby,” said the little fat, raisin eyed woman as she sat the plate of biscuits and gravy down in front of him.
“Lord!” he said. “That’s the prettiest, biggest plate of biscuits I’ve ever seen!”
“Any friend of Travis Sellers is a friend of mine.” She laughed. “You enjoy that, Honey. It’s on the house.” Then she turned and waddled away. He looked at the biscuits. There are very few things as pretty as good soft biscuits and sausage gravy with plenty of meat in it. It was steaming.
“Thank you Lord,” he whispered under his breath.
“Certainly, Amos,” answered the Lord. “I hope you enjoy it.” That’s the way the Lord works sometimes at least on easy things, at least for Amos Handy. He picked up his fork and took a bite. It was as good as he’d ever tasted. As he was eating a guy walked in and sat right down beside him. He was a heavyset guy with a black leather cowboy hat perched back on the head and a leather vest with tassels. He looked over at Amos Handy. First he looked at his face. Then, he glanced down and eyed his backpack on the floor. For a second he looked judgmental, like he was going to say something mean, but then he brightened up and the guy smiled. He was missing two bottom teeth right in the middle.
“How’re you, Buddy?” he said.
“I’m doing right good,” answered Amos Handy.
“Them’s some damn pretty biscuits,” he said.
“They are. You ought to get you some.”
The guy hollered out, “Leona! Get me a cup of Joe and a big plate of biscuits and gravy!” The woman with the eyes looked out from the kitchen.
“Billy Ray, where in the devil have you been? I ain’t seen you in over a week.”
“I been down in Hattiesburg. We’re putting up a warehouse down there. It’s a big job, thirty-two-hundred square feet.”
The woman pushed the kitchen door open with her knee and came out. She poured the man’s coffee. “I seen Shelly the other day. She was asking about you.”
“We ain’t seeing each other no more,” he said. “Not since Friday before last. I’m done with her this time for good.”
“Hell, I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“Aw, I don’t feel like talking about it. I’ve done pushed it out of my mind.”
The woman didn’t say anything for a minute. The man just looked at her over his coffee cup. Amos Handy stared at his plate and ate.
Then the woman said, “Well…” and let it just trail off. Then she walked back in the kitchen.
The guy in the hat turned to Amos Handy. “You know something, Buddy? You can’t trust a woman, not no woman. They’ll do you wrong as soon as your back is turned.”
Amos Handy thought about that Tammy in Montgomery again. Then he said one of those stupid, predictable things you say when you don’t know what else to say. “You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.”
“You got that right,” said the guy. The woman, Leona came back out with the guy’s order and sat it down. Amos Handy ate slow. He was making it last, enjoying every bite as much as he could. After a while the woman brought more coffee. She filled their cups without even asking. Finally, Amos Handy got down to his last bite. He looked at it. Then he stabbed it with his fork, mopped up the last of the gravy and popped it into his mouth. Sometimes the last bite is the best of all. Other times you can barely taste it. He had one more cup of coffee, then thanked the woman and stood up from the counter.
“You on the road?” asked the guy in the hat.
“Yeah,” said Amos Handy as he slung his pack over his shoulder.
“Want a lift? I’m headed back down to Hattiesburg if you’re going that way.”
Amos Handy looked at the Lord. He wondered if that’s where the Lord wanted him to go. He’d never been to Hattiesburg. Maybe something good was waiting there. He glanced over at the Pepsi-Cola clock next to the fish. It was almost six. “Okay,” he said to the man.”
“Leona Honey, let me have one more cup of coffee to go.”
The woman got it. The man paid and then they walked out. It was just starting to get light. Amos Handy saw an old man coming through the parking lot. The old guy was pushing a baby stroller. When he got close Amos Handy noticed that inside the stroller the man had a twenty-four pack of Blue Ribbon Beer. The guy never looked. He just walked on by. “Wonder what the hell that old dude’s doing with that beer at this time of morning,” said the man in the hat. Amos Handy didn’t answer. The man pulled out a pack of smokes and offered him one. Then, they just stood there and watched it grow light. The breeze of the Lord blew softly across Amos Handy’s face. Over on the other side of the parking lot next to a puddle of water, he saw a duck sitting there. It was just as still. It didn’t move a bit.
They finished their cigarettes. The guy flicked his butt high over into the bushes. Amos Handy flicked his. Then they stepped down off the curb and walked out into the parking lot. Amos Handy kept looking at the duck, waiting for the thing to move, but it didn’t. Then he squinted. It wasn’t a duck at all. It was a damn plastic grocery bag. It sure looked like a duck. A lot of times it’s hard to say what’s real. Then sometimes, it doesn’t matter anyway. He climbed up into the cab of the truck with the guy in the hat and they headed off for Hattiesburg.