Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Teri Denine

St. Martin's Griffin


The screaming baby woke Hazel up for the second time that night. “Oh, my God,” she whispered, “please just let me get at least one hour of sleep. Jesus.” Hazel looked over at Jimmy before she got out of bed. He was as still as a dead man as usual, every time the baby cried during the night.

“I hate this,” she said, rolling out of bed.

Hazel rushed through the darkness and went next door to the baby’s room and quickly gathered him into her arms before his crying woke up everybody else. Even as Hazel held the baby close to her chest and gently patted his back, he continued to cry. She slipped one hand under his diaper to see if he was wet. He wasn’t. Hazel paced back and forth frantically trying to quiet the baby.

“What’s the matter with you, boy? Don’t you know you done already caused more trouble than I ever seen? Lucky for you I can’t do nothin’ about it.” Hazel shook the baby a little harder now. “Come on now; stop cryin’, you little devil you. What’s the matter with you?” Hazel sniffled. Before long, she was crying right along with the child. “Lord, what’s wrong with my baby?” Hazel cried, laying one hand on the child’s forehead. The overhead light in the room was suddenly switched on. Hazel nearly jumped out of her skin. “Oh, Momma, you just ’bout scared the mess outta me,” she said, turning toward the door to face her mother.

“What are you cryin’ for?” Greta asked.

“Momma, I think somethin’s wrong with this baby,” Hazel said.

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that baby; he’s hungry. When was the last time you fed him?” Greta asked.

“I just gave him four ounces of milk not even two hours ago, just like the doctor said.”

“That child is four months old, he’s big as the dickens, and he’s hungry. Give him to me,” Greta said, reaching for the baby. “I don’t care what them doctors say; I know what my grandbaby needs.” Greta gathered the child into her arms and almost immediately his screams lessened to a whimper while his granny carried him down to the kitchen to get a full bottle.

Hazel followed them down the steps. “What would I do without you, Momma? I know I couldn’t do this by myself. Thank you for letting Jimmy and me stay here.”

“This is your home,” Greta said, as she put the baby’s bottle in a small pot of water on the stove to warm it. “You don’t have to thank me for letting you live here.”

“I know, Momma, but we do appreciate it. Even though it’s just temporary until we can afford a place of our own.”

“Y’all are welcome to stay here for as long as you need to. I just appreciate all the help I get from you with your daddy. That diabetes done tore him up. Them sores on his leg ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

“Talk to him, Momma. Make him listen to the doctors and let them cut off his leg or he’s gonna die.”

“There ain’t no more talkin’ to him. You heard your father. He said that cuttin’ off his leg would be like cuttin’ off his manhood. Said if he couldn’t function like a normal person and take care of his family, then he would rather be dead.”

“But, Momma . . .”

“Just pray, Hazel; just pray.”

Hazel was silent. She stuck her finger into her baby’s palm and watched him squeeze it. She looked at his big, round face while he lay on Greta’s lap feeding and she couldn’t help but see her father’s face in his. She couldn’t help but think that they should have named him Henry, after her own father, instead of Jimmy’s deceased brother Ricky.

With all of Henry’s stubbornness, he refused to have his leg cut off. Exactly four months and a day later, he died.
“what are we gonna do now?” Hazel asked Jimmy, one night as they lay in bed after Henry’s funeral. “Daddy paid most of the bills and Momma ain’t got no money. The little money I bring home from my job ain’t gonna help much. And you’re havin’ such a hard time finding work.”

“We’ll get by. We’ll be all right. At least we’ll eat and have somewhere to live.”

Hazel reached over and held Jimmy’s hand. Finally, he drifted off to sleep.

Hazel couldn’t sleep, though. She lay awake in the wee hours of the night, staring at the ceiling. Then she tossed and turned until Jimmy woke up. “Would you lay still?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Well, try,” Jimmy said, turning over on his side.

“Jimmy, I’m worried about us.”

Jimmy didn’t answer. He only sighed and stuck his head deeper into his pillow.

Hazel continued to talk. “I don’t know how we’re gonna get by on just one income.”

Jimmy lifted his head up off the pillow and looked at Hazel. “What are you talkin’ about, woman? Who said you’re gonna be the only one workin’? I’m gettin’ up and I’m goin’ down to Webber’s first thing in the mornin’ to see if they’re hirin’. But right now all I wanna do is get some sleep.”

Jimmy buried his face down into his pillow again.

“Okay, Jimmy,” Hazel said quietly. She turned over on her side, facing the wall. Eventually, sometime around sunrise, she fell asleep just as it was time to get up to go to work.
webber’s wasn’t hiring, and it seemed like nobody else was, either. Jimmy went out every day, and every day a door was slammed in his face. He didn’t give up, though. He couldn’t. Jimmy was sitting next to Hazel on the living room couch. Hazel had a cardboard box in her lap and a pair of scissors in her hand. She was cutting the cardboard into the shape of a foot.

“See,” Jimmy said. “It eats me up inside whenever I think of what my momma and daddy said to me. They told me I had to lie in the bed that I made for myself, without their help. They cut me off, Hazel. I can’t go to them, no matter how bad things get. I got somethin’ to prove.”

“I understand, Jimmy.” Hazel stuffed the cardboard inside one of Jimmy’s shoes to cover the holes in the sole. “I ain’t askin’ you to go to them. I’m askin’ you if I could get a second job. My job at the airport cafeteria ain’t enough.”

“I won’t hear of it. I’m gonna find work. I will.”

But seven months later, Jimmy was still looking for work. He scouted every day. But after seven months of not being able to find a job and several months of backed-up bills and mounting stress, Hazel took a second job working at night at the Clean Towels Factory.
“hi, jimmy,” hazel said when she walked in the door from working her second job the next day. She was wearing a big smile on her face. “I bought us a treat.” It had been a very long time since they had one of those. She held up the brown paper bag with the ice cream in it. When she took the ice cream out of the bag, Jimmy’s smile ignited something in her. That night they ate their dinner of pinto beans, fatback, and corn bread. Then they had their ice cream. Hazel cleared up their dessert dishes, then put the baby down to sleep. When she was done she returned to the table. Hazel pushed her chair farther under the table and sat face-to-face with Jimmy. Her smile reappeared but her heart was palpitating.

“What are you grinnin’ so much for?” Jimmy asked.

“I ain’t really grinnin’ like you think I am—I mean I’m really a little nervous.”

“Nervous about what?”

“About what you’re gonna say.”

“What I’m gonna say about what?”

“About our new baby. I’m pregnant, Jimmy.”

Jimmy didn’t speak. He just stared at Hazel. “A baby?” he said finally. “We’re gonna have another baby, another mouth to feed?” Jimmy looked down at his clasped hands. He gritted his teeth, then looked up at Hazel again. “How, Hazel? How in the hell can I be the man I’m supposed to be when you just keep throwin’ bricks in my way?”

“Jimmy, I . . .”

Jimmy pounded his fist on the table. Hazel jumped.

“I don’t wanna hear it!” Jimmy said. He got up from the table, pushing his chair so hard that it fell backward onto the floor. He stormed through the kitchen. Hazel watched his back as he walked out the room and went through the back room to the enclosed back porch.

Hazel didn’t know what to do with herself while she waited for Jimmy to come back into the kitchen. She tried to think of what she would say to him. How she could convince him that they would be okay. It was after ten o’clock when she decided to turn in and wait for him in their bedroom.
it was the chirping birds and the sunlight filtering through the shades that awakened Hazel the next morning. Jimmy still hadn’t come to bed. Hazel got out of bed and went down the stairs and out to the back porch. Jimmy was asleep on the bench. Hazel nudged him awake. “I’ll be in in a minute,” he mumbled. But by the time Hazel showered and got dressed to leave for work, Jimmy still hadn’t come into the house.

It was a sad time in the house. And money was tighter than ever. Especially when the baby was born. Hazel thought that Jimmy would be happy when she named their daughter after his brother Frank, even though she altered the spelling to suit the child’s gender. Their daughter would be called Franki.

Jimmy started staying away from home more and more. Hazel didn’t mind, though, because it gave her a chance to do what she had to do around the house and tend to the kids without getting on Jimmy’s nerves. Hazel and Jimmy used to get away from the house every now and then to visit their friends Butch and Francine, or they would take in a movie. Now they barely spoke. That was because Hazel was at work most of the time and when she did come home either Jimmy was asleep or he wasn’t home at all. That’s why Hazel was shocked when baby Franki was nine months old and Hazel was pregnant again. She was petrified this time. It took her best friend, Francine, two and a half months to convince Hazel to tell Jimmy.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Francine asked. “He can’t kill you.”

“I guess you’re right,” Hazel said, and with the little courage that she managed to muster up, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she told Jimmy. A lightning bolt flashed in both her eyes and pain spread over the side of her face when Jimmy slapped her. Hazel was stunned. She couldn’t move or speak. She stood there holding her cheek and staring at Jimmy. Her chest heaved up and down while she fought back tears.

“How could you do this! Is this what I gotta do, slap some sense into you? Huh?” Jimmy raised his hand to slap Hazel again. Hazel cowered in fear. Jimmy put his hand down and pushed her instead. Hazel stumbled backward and fell onto the living room couch. Jimmy took a couple of steps back. He was swollen with anger.

“I’m gonna go out now . . . and I don’t know when I’m comin’ back.”

When Hazel saw Jimmy two days later, she didn’t know if she smelled him first or saw him first. He was drunk and disheveled as he stumbled through the kitchen and went into the living room and passed out on the couch. Hazel went in behind him after a while. She bent down and untied his shoes and took them off of him. Then she struggled as she lifted his legs and pulled them onto the couch so that he could lie there more comfortably. This would be their routine for the next six months.

Hazel worked her two jobs, coped with the kids, and took care of herself until she gave birth. It was another girl. Hazel named her after Jimmy’s baby brother, Barry, who died right before she met Jimmy. Jimmy used to talk about Barry a lot since he missed him so much, so Hazel hoped that this would please him.

Hazel learned how to deal with Jimmy’s fits. She kept her mouth shut and agreed with everything he said. That worked for the most part but Hazel worried about her kids. She kept a stiff upper lip and she worked hard. She started to work as many extra hours as she could to earn extra money. Hazel figured that maybe if they had more space to move around in, it would lessen the tension around the house. And so it was set. Hazel had a goal in mind. She would somehow, someway, buy her family a bigger and better house. She scrimped and saved and stretched their meals. She would put wet bread and flour into the ground-beef mixture when she made hamburgers or meat loaf. She put milk or water in the scrambled eggs to make more. Every extra dime went toward her mission.
Copyright © 2008 by Teri Denine. All rights reserved.