Why is Phoenix taking the long trip to town?

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Phoenix Jackson is making the long, and somewhat dangerous, trip to town in order to procure some medicine for her grandson.

A couple years prior to the beginning of the story, the little boy swallowed lye. Lye is a rather volatile ingredient that is used to make soap, but it can burn our skin, and, when ingested, it burns the esophagus and can even cause death. Phoenix's grandson will never heal from his burns, but the medicine she goes to get from the doctor in town at least soothes his raw esophagus and makes him feel better.

The doctor has told his staff that, as long as she can make the trip to come and get the medicine for her grandson, she will be allowed to have it at no cost to her. And, because Phoenix is the only family member that her grandson has in his life, it is up to her to go for the medicine; there is, simply, no one else to go on this errand. This is why this little old woman who can hardly see must face all kinds of natural dangers, as well as frightening racism, to make the trip to town.

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