The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.
Today’s prompt: write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.
Today’s twist: For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.
The House Across the Street
Saturday is always a drag. After working all week for wages my dog should earn, I wake up on Saturday morning to face the house and all its chores. Unlike my boss’ family, I won’t be going out on the lake to escape the heat on this blaring summer day. First, it’s cleaning, then laundry, and then I save shopping for Sunday. Being single really stinks. If I had a wife, we and our kids could knock this out faster and have fun and then, on Sunday actually do something fun like going hiking or fishing or just to the park. But I, Mark Smith, am a slave on the weekend.
All this manual work gives me time to think. I have thought about work, my ex-girlfriend, philosophy, my aging parents, the state of my thinning hair, the bills, the state of the economy…I even think about the past. Today, while I was slouched over the toilet, brush in hand with the oven self cleaning, I remembered Mrs. Pauley from across the street! More or less, about when I was twelve she was evicted! That and its aftermath were a formative time in my young life.
Now I’m fifty years old and a total failure, but the memories of Mrs. Pauley haunt me.
I was 12 and it was Summer. Beautiful early Summer long before the worrying about “going back to school” starts. Saturdays were best. My best friend and I went fishing with my Dad almost every Saturday except Winter when he took us sledding or snowshoeing. My friend’s dad was a real bore and worked even on weekends and loved Saturday with my Dad even more than me.
This morning was different. I woke up and heard a sound. At first I thought it was a bird defending its nest, then I thought it was the neighbor girl and her friend playing outside. I got out of bed and shuffled down the hall to the front door in my jammies and looked out.
Old Mrs. Pauley was screaming. My parents were already up and on the porch and Dad was wanting to go over there and comfort her. There were 2 cop cars over there, and a hard eyed man dressed in his golf clothes taking her things out and putting them on the street! Mrs. Pauley just stood and wept and screamed that they could not do this: they had no right. Mrs. Pauley begged them to call her son who lived in another city now.
My father finally walked over and hugged Mrs. Pauley and invited her in for breakfast as her whole world was being put on the lawn. She was a mess and she stank. She was wearing an old housecoat, tattered slippers, and carried a sorry looking purse. Her fake red hair was everywhere.
Mom invited her into the kitchen where she just sat and sobbed. I looked up at Dad standing at the end of the kitchen and knew we would have no outing today. I would have to call my friend. But, now, we would eat breakfast and see if we could contact Mrs. Pauley’s son to help her out.
After 20 minutes of sobbing and Mom rushing around the kitchen, Mom went into her purse and brought out a little bottle and took a pill out of it. It was a pink pill shaped like a “v”. She gave it to Mrs. Pauley with water as she sat over her untouched coffee with globs of snot running out of her nose and onto the table. Mrs. Pauley took the pill and shuffled over the couch to go to sleep. We ate a silent breakfast alone the only sound being Sparky, my dog, begging for some bacon and eggs.
After that, I went to call Bill and Dad agreed we would just play in the backyard until we knew what to do with Mrs. Pauley. Instead of the backyard, Bill and I went to the front porch to watch the proceedings across the street. The cops were gone and the hired men that had shown up later had put almost everything on her lawn except her cat. Finally the cat came out and I rushed over to get it so it would not go to the pound. My big sister was away at college doing a summer internship but if we could keep the cat until she got home she would be happy. She always wanted a cat.
The pound was more than happy to release the cat to me as there were already way too many mouths to feed there. I carried Mrs. Pauley’s big fat orange and white cat to our house. Mom was not thrilled but took the cat and put her besides Mrs. Pauley’s sleeping form. The cat climbed onto Mrs. Pauley and slept too.
Us guys in the neighborhood always thought Mrs Pauley was a bit creepy, but, things had gotten worse after her husband died. After she died there were rumors passed by the adults that Mr. Pauley had left nothing for his wife, had no will, and none of her kids (there were 6!) seemed willing to help her at all. At first, concerned neighbors especially Mom and Dad and Bill’s folks were over there helping her out with things, but, after awhile, people drifted away and Mrs. Pauley was left to herself. Sometime in April, she had stopped getting dressed for the most part. She’d wander the yard mumbling and attempt yardwork but never finish.
In May, some neighbors said they saw her at the store and she had booze on her breath. She would talk to no one after that. My Dad was talking to some of his church buddies and said that Mrs. Pauley had “social security” whatever that is, but it was not enough to live on and the little she had she used on liquor and cigarettes. They spoke of putting together a fund to help her but somehow it fell through. They were going to move her into some retirement apartments or something. I guess that’s why Dad looked sort of guilty standing in the kitchen. He still walked around the house uneasily.
When I was very little, like 5 or even 7, Mrs. Pauley was different. She always got dressed and was involved at the church. She even had a job. She worked part time at the hospital gift shop. We kids, 3 of us, even got rides from her once in awhile when Mom was not feeling good. She took us to movies and even for ice cream. Then, something changed.
At first, we noticed that her children and grandchildren were not coming over anymore. Mr. and Mrs. Pauley went on as usual, but, they looked way older and very tired. She stopped taking us places too. By that time, I was wanting to hang out with my friends or just my father anyway and I was the youngest. My older brother and sister had long outgrew the old woman.
Then Mr. Pauley got sick. He walked very slowly out to the car whenever he went anywhere. Later, he was in a wheelchair and wore oxygen. The adults whispered “cancer”. I was worried I had cancer for a few months. My Mom called me a “hypochondriac”. Soon he was never seen at all but nurses kept on coming and going and then one day this Spring, he died.
Us children did not go to the funeral but the adults did. My mother looked big and scary in her black suit and black shoes but her face was so sad I wanted to hug her over and over. Later, after the funeral, us kids got to go to the reception which is probably the best part anyway. That’s where all the food is. There were casseroles and casseroles and tons of cakes and cookies and chili and other things people brought for her to freeze and use later. She sat in the corner and said almost nothing. Us kids got to play with her grandkids. One of them, Gary, was close to my age. Me, and Bill, and Chuck, and Steve from school and Gary got up into our treehouse to get away from the adults.
Gary told the story why his parents and his aunts and uncles never came to visit anymore. They had always had a big Christmas and all the six children, their spouses and all the grandchildren crammed into the small 3 bedroom house. Some slept in the kids’ old bedrooms on the main floor and the one created bedroom in the basement always reserved for the oldest child living at home. I guess they had four bedrooms. Others slept on couches and even air matresses. It was a very fun time. I went once and got to help decorate the tree. There was so much laughing and joking I thought maybe our family was lacking. Plus my Dad’s prayers at meals are lame.
Well, I guess 3 Christmases ago, when I was 9, Mrs. Pauley and one of her daughters got into an argument over something real stupid like a recipe or something. Instead of the fight ending and everyone saying sorry, it got worse and Mrs. Pauley, “grandma” to Gary, lost control and started throwing things and screaming. They had to call the ambulance. I remember seeing it that day and when I asked Mom what it was and Mom said that Mrs. Pauley had fallen and sprained her ankle. That was not true.
Gary said that Mrs. Pauley and Mr. Pauley went to the hospital along with one of the sons and the rest of the family stayed behind and cleaned up and made the best of things. I watched as the cars left one by one and by December 28 they were all gone. Mrs. Pauley had not come home because they had put her in a looney bin. Some doctor said she was crazy and needed to rest awhile. Mr. Pauley was around and cheerful then and would tell us kids that Mrs. Pauley needed to rest but would be back soon.
She came home about exactly 3 years before she died and 2 1/2 years before Mr. Pauley died. The reason the family never came again is that they wanted to put Mrs. Pauley into a nursing home and forget about her as she was now crazy and also was an alcoholic, which is when adults drink booze all the time. Only her husband, Gary’s grandpa, stuck up for her and wanted her home.
Gary said he could not understand it. He said his grandma was the best ever and sweet and kind and never forgot birthday gifts. He did not understand why his folks and his aunts and uncles were so mean to poor grandma. He even tried to argue with his father over it and was told it was none of his business. Gary decided to try Dropping Eaves, or listening to others when they ain’t aware you are there.
He tried every night for a week, and kept his hiding spot well. Finally at about 11pm, 2 hours after his bedtime, the folks started to talk. Turns out grandma was not always so nice and drank a lot when Gary’s father and his sisters and brothers were kids. She yelled and yelled and even threw things, and had to go away more than once to “dry out”. She refused to do housework when on a drunk and would not even feed the kids. Mr. Pauley had to raise the kids, keep his job, and babysit his wife. He almost had a nervous breakdown himself.
One day, when Gary’s dad was in High School, Mrs. Pauley decided to go to “AA”. After than things were better for all of them until she started drinking again as an old woman. Gary then tried to find out why his grandma started up again. Turns out she had lost her job at the hospital to a younger prettier woman the boss liked and that people were treating her bad at church even though she had been there for years. He had to sit crouched in his hiding place for hours for all this. I told him he should be in the FBI and catch the bad guys. He gave me a dirty look.
His folks said she had started to talk to herself and act weird. Mr. Pauley had taken her to a shrink but he didn’t do anything. She could still fake it for awhile but then it got too much and she needed to drink to get through the day. She covered it up pretty good to her family that year even though they “smelled it” on her and were going to confront her later after Christmas had ended. The big fight ended all that.
I used a word my father likes to use and said why didn’t they “forgive” her? Gary didn’t know. I heard his mom calling him. I never saw him again.
The cat, called Baby, walked out onto the porch and rubbed against us. We pet her awhile and took her in.
Mrs. Pauley was up and showered and wearing an old outfit of Mom’s which just hung on her since Mrs. Pauley was now very skinny. She and Mom were talking about little stuff like the weather and Mom’s garden while Dad was in the other room arguing with someone on the phone. It wasn’t going well.
Bill and I went to the door to listen and the cat almost gave us away. Sparky was in the basement barking and barking. It was like a “madhouse” my Aunt Polly would say. A one sided conversation with angry sounding peeps on the other end was going on:
“We could move her into Wild Oaks with some help from you,”
“I know she has problems, but they have social workers on staff,”
“Of course she’d need to be hospitalized awhile. She has insurance.”
“What do you mean not one penny?”
“Can’t you be the big son and just forgive? She’s in a weak condition now”
“What about all her things?”
“Just throw them away?”
“Mr. Pauley, what do you intend to do?”
“The state home?!”
“She will never last in there!”
“Mr. Pauley had no will and spent down to his last 500 dollars with his cancer.”
“Your father worked hard all his life. I’ve lived in this town 50 years.”
“He was NOT a loser.”
“Just try and be Christian about this,”
“I guess we will have to try and help her.”
“He hung up!!!!”
Bill and I ran away before Dad could see us.
The next few weeks at our house was crazy. Dad and Mom and Bill and I and Bill’s Dad went through Mrs. Pauley’s stuff to see if anything was salvageable. Most of the stuff smelled and was dirty and needed to be thrown away. Dad found a few dollars she had hidden behind a wood panel and put it into an account for Mrs. Pauley. The landlord’s cleaning men came to clean up the house and were rude to us but we persisted in getting anything good out of the mess on the lawn for Mrs. Pauley. One day a truck came and took the rest of the junk away.
Mrs. Pauley was very nice at first, even helping around the house and even going shopping with Mom. Dad got Mrs. Pauley’s, whose real name was Trina, old car to work and we parked it in front of our house. She got better and better. Soon she started to wear makeup and jewelry and even looked like the Mrs. Pauley I knew growing up. Then she got strange a couple of months later. Dad had poured out all the booze at her house and hid ours so no one knew where she had gotten it. She had been “dry” for 2 months but no longer. She got way drunk and pitched a rage and started trashing our house.
Mom gave her one more chance and even took and drove her back from AA meetings. Another month later “Aunt Trina” which we were calling her was found dead drunk in the backyard talking to herself. She ended up in the home after all. She didn’t yell or fight. She knew it was all over for her then.
The State Home was 200 miles away. She was silent when we drove her there despite Mom’s promises of outings and visits. Dad looked as if he could cry as if he could have prevented it from happening.
I watched as the nurses led her away. She never looked back. We drove in silence for 4 hours not even stopping to eat or use the bathroom. I had to get my own dinner that night as Mom and Dad were talking quietly and did not want to be interrupted.
In the morning, Dad sent me to the mailbox with a letter for Lance Pauley. After I put it in I went to play with Bill and Steve and when I got home things were normal again.
A month later we decided to go visit “Aunt Trina” at the home. Mom packed all kinds of clothing and sweets for her and even a TV. She threw in a homemade quilt she had made when I was young as well. The staff had agreed for us to come and visit but not for an outing.
When we got there we walked on back this time. The whole place smelled of pee and something else I did not know but did not like at all. I wanted to run. Aunt Trina’s room was at the very end of the hall. Her roommate was up in an easy chair knitting and Aunt Trina sat in a wheelchair looking blankly out into space, drooling. Then I noticed the restraints. They had tied her to the wheelchair. We all started talking to her taking turns but no response. Then we just sat there for an hour. She never looked at us. When we got up to leave after promising her to come back, she finally moved and used her arms to turn her chair around and put her back to us.
We had another silent drive home with occasional sobs from Mom. Mom went to bed that evening early but seemed OK the next day. After that, my parents started talking to my grandparents about arrangements when they grew older so a disaster never happened to any of them. My grandparents are still pretty healthy and don’t need doctors and all that yet and there are no drunks in our family.
I went to bed early one night about a month after our visit. I got up all weird and dizzy in the dark to hear the phone ringing. I knew what it was even though I didn’t get the phone.
This time the funeral reception was at our house. None of the Pauley’s came but lots of Mom and Dad’s friends from church did. My dad bought her a stone. We decided to go on vacation because school would start soon and we all needed a break. My big brother and sister were home by now and helping to take the load off my folks and me.
Now it’s Fall. School has been in 3 weeks. The leaves are just turning all sorts of colors. One of the red leaves reminds me of Aunt Trina’s hair. I am riding my bike around. Bill is busy with band practice and my other friends are all busy too. I have probably rode far out beyond where my Mom lets me ride. I just turned 13 and my folks took me to an adult restaurant to celebrate instead of McDonald’s. I have grown 3 inches and my voice does funny things when I yell. I think a new girl in our school is cute.
I see the graveyard. For some reason, I decide to go in. It didn’t take much looking. I found the stone. It was large and had flowers carved into it. It said “Loving Wife, Mother, and Grandmother, Christina Pauley, March 25, 1907-August 22, 1977. I stayed for awhile and then left, speeding all the way home because Mom was making Spaghetti.
Baby sat meowing for me at the door. Now I’m her mommy.