With sarcasm waxing over her drawl, she says, “Oh, great, now even the customers are noticing.”

“No, just me,” I say.


On August 23rd 2023, the new all-male South Carolina Supreme Court reversed course on abortion rights and upheld the state’s strict six-week ban on the procedure. If you pull up a map of the United States, with regard to abortion rights, South Carolina is painted a light-red, denoting hostile. I live in Massachusetts, where, on the same map, the color teal means protected.

The maximum monthly cash benefit in South Carolina for a single parent raising two children, is $216. a month. That’s a buck more than in Alabama.


I have long espoused the belief that you won’t get your reward in heaven, if you get it here. That’s why I try to not tell anyone, not even William, when I do a good deed. If you really think about it, each of us own very few of those moments. Hell, we all know what even Mother Teresa did in her lifetime here on earth. Wasn’t she rewarded with sainthood and the Nobel Peace Prize?

So, I would keep this story to myself, but William already knows it because he was there. Besides, I want to tell it.


Knowing this restaurant chain is famous for its salad bar, I left William at our table, saying, “I’m gonna go check it out, see if they have different things here in South Carolina. Be right back.” That’s when I noticed them, when I was walking back to our table, the two little Black girls sitting side-by-side alone in the booth closest to the kitchen.

I’m a person who pays attention. Maybe from thirty-plus years of having to be constantly “on” in my special education classroom, totally attuned by what was going on with all of my students, all of the time. Besides, I was walking slowly since my hip hurt from sitting in our car all day. It was a long drive from Florida.

I saw that each child had a small, clear plastic condiment cup in front of her, filled with grated
cheese. I saw that the older child held between them some type of small video game console—

cartoon characters ran across the screen. I’m old now. I don’t know about these things. But, I
immediately knew that they were the children of someone who worked in this restaurant. That’s
when I noticed that the wait staff was all female, mostly Black.

At our table I told William, “The salad bar looks gross…egg salad in the tomatoes, onions in the dressings. I’m getting something else.” William said nothing. We’re old now. Being with me for many years, he knows that unappetizing food, even bad table manners, can really disgust me. Our waitress, a young, white woman named Tiffany with a thick Southern accent took our drink order.

While we waited, I told William, “There’s two little girls on the other side of our booth whose mother must work here. They’re alone,” and as I said this I watched a talk, dark-skinned woman walk up to them. She asked them how they were doing and walked away to wait on another table. I said, “Just like Rachael and me when I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken and I had to bring her to work with me.” William said nothing. He has heard the story a million times, and, besides, he was tired from driving.

When Tiffany returned, I asked her, “Does the mother of those two girls work here?”

“Yes, she’s the cook. She’s a light-skinned woman with reddish hair. Why?”

I said, “When I was young, when I worked in a restaurant, I had to bring my daughter to work with me. It was really hard. I feel for that mother and her kids.”

“I’ll point her out to you.”

I did not get the salad bar. I just ordered an appetizer—the quesadillas.

That’s when I took a twenty-dollar bill out of my wallet and put it on the table. William watched me and then took two five-dollar bills out of his pocket. “Here, I’ll split it with you.” There was no need for any clarification from me, he knew what I was thinking. Like I said, we’re old now, with years together. I put the two bills from William in my wallet.

Just then, a light-skinned woman left the kitchen. Tiffany delivered our food and said, “That’s her.”

I had finished my dinner, and we had settled up our bill, when the two little girls and the woman I now knew to be their mother walked past us and went out the back door, the emergency exit into the parking lot. “Be right back,” I said to William. I quickly rose and followed. Where did they go? I looked around and there was no one. Did I miss my chance?

Then I heard high, loud, animated children’s voices. I looked to see the three of them sitting in a small, wooden shed at the edge of this parking lot and as I walked toward them, the mother glanced up and said, “Is something wrong? Can I help you?”

“No, no, no,” I answered. “It’s just that I saw that your children were with you at work.”

She interrupted me and said, “Oh, great, now even the customers are noticing.”

“No, just me,” I said, and looked at them as they sat amongst old drip pans and fryolators. I know these things from when I worked at restaurants. That’s when I slipped the twenty-dollar bill into her hand and said, “More than forty-five years ago I had to bring my daughter to work with me in restaurants. I remember how hard it was.”

She thanked me and said, “Yeah, the girls have been here since nine-thirty this morning.” I swallowed. Seven o’clock at night. I had spent all day in a car; they, in a booth.

She told me how all the waitresses helped her, constantly checking on her kids. “I wouldn’t make it without them.” She told me that “Mae’s birthday was this month and she would be five. Keisha would be eight in June.”

Walking back toward the restaurant, I heard “Lady, lady, lady,” and I saw the child I knew now to be Mae bouncing up-and-down like she was on an invisible pogo stick. “Pick me up, pick me up,” she said. I did and I realized that it had been many years since I held a small child. With her head close to mine, I smelled some type of hair product. I thought coconut.

Back in the restaurant, I collected my purse and William. “Come on,” I said and handed him back his two five-dollar bills. “The girls have birthdays this month and next.”

William did not question me. He knew I had a reason for whatever I was doing. I watched as he handed each child a bill. “For your birthdays,” he said.

“Be good to your mother,” I said to the girls. William and I walked back to our hotel across the street.


The maximum monthly cash benefit in South Carolina for a single parent raising two children is $216. a month. That’s a buck more than in Alabama. A buck more. I know that children are precious. I know that women take care of each other.

I’m old. Besides, I know all of this because I have been there.


Barbara A. Rouillard is an award-winning writer with more than eighty-five publishing credits to her name. A recipient of a NEH Fellowship, she also earned her MA in English at the age of fifty-two. Retiring in 2015, Ms. Rouillard was a public high school teacher for thirty-two years.