I was sitting on the front stoop when I saw two cars pull up in front of the house across the street. One was big and silver; the other was a dusty squad car driven by Officer Joe.
At first I didn’t notice the cars because I was reading momma’s new book, ‘Forever Amber.’ One of the things I love about momma is that we always have plenty of books around the house. This one was a real doozy, about a woman who lived in England a long time ago and who had lots of lovers. I thought I was going to have to sneak read it in my bedroom at night, but momma caught me with it and just laughed. “You’re almost twelve, Connie. I guess if you can figure out what’s going on in the book then you’re old enough to read it.”
My momma’s good that way. She doesn’t talk down to you.
When I heard the car doors opening, I put the book down and watched what was going on. Officer Joe and some old guy in a gray suit knocked on old Mrs. Pauley’s door. When she opened it, they must have asked her to step outside because that’s what she did.
Officer Joe started talking to her, and I could see that whatever he was saying was starting to agitate her. I couldn’t hear what Mr. Gray Suit was saying, but whatever it was, it must have been bad because Mrs. Pauley started shaking her finger at him, backing away. Her face was all scrunched up and she looked like she was gonna cry.
I don’t like seeing Mrs. Pauley sad. She’s always nice to me. A lot of people don’t like her because she keeps to herself and she doesn’t like boys playing stickball in front of her house. The boys call her ‘the grouch’ and say she never smiles. But that’s not so… she smiles at me. Lots of times, when she sees me sitting out on the stoop reading my book, she gives me a candy bar.
I spend a lot of time on this stoop. Ever since I had rheumatic fever, momma doesn’t like me to play with the other kids. She says my heart’s too delicate for all that running around. So I’m a watcher. I watch the other kids play, and I watch what goes on in the neighborhood. Mrs. Pauley says I don’t miss a trick, and I guess that’s true. When just about all you can do is watch other folks, you get awfully good at it.
“Connie, it’s time for lunch, come inside.”
Momma stood in the doorway, looking at what was going on across the street. “I wonder what that’s all about,” she said, wiping her hands on the dishtowel she was holding.
Before I could answer, Mrs. Pauley raised her voice. “I’m not going. This is my home. I’ve lived here all my life. You can’t make me go.”
“Oh Lord,” said momma, shaking her head. She looked at me then. “You stay here, Connie. I’ll be right back.”
Momma tossed the dishtowel my way, and hurried across the street. I watched as she put her arm around Mrs. Pauley’ shoulder. My momma’s good at comforting people, and I could see Mrs. Pauley start to calm down.
“Now, Esther, what seems to be the problem?” asked momma, pulling her close.
Mr. Gray Suit looked at momma real cold like. “The problem, madam, is that Mrs. Pauley hasn’t paid her rent in over three months. I’m not running a charity. I’ve got lots of people interested in this property – and able to pay the rent if she can’t. I want her out of here. Today.”
I know momma wanted me to stay on the front stoop, but I felt too bad for Mrs. Pauley to sit still. I crossed the street and joined momma. I stood on Mrs. Pauley’s other side, trying to protect her from Mr. Gray Suit.
“C’mon, Mr. Jamison, can’t you give Mrs. Pauley a few weeks to get the rent together? The lady has lived in this neighborhood longer than anyone I know,” said Officer Joe. “Her husband died just a few months ago…”
“That’s not my concern, Officer – or yours. You’re here to carry out the law, and the law says I can evict a tenant who fails to pay rent for three months. I want her out of here. Today.”
“Joe, can he do this?” asked Mrs. Pauley. She looked sad and confused.
Officer Joe looked down at his feet. “’Fraid so, ma’am.”
“But, Joe, this is my home. My home! Joe, you’ve known me since you were just a boy!” She looked at momma then, and tears started running down her face. “Me and Al… we lived here all our lives. I was only nineteen when we moved here. We raised six boys in this house. I can’t leave here. This is where my life is.”
She turned back to Joe. “Please, Joe… can’t you help me? You’ve known me all your life!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Pauley,” he said. He didn’t even lift his face.
“Today,” said Mr. Gray Suit. “I mean what I say. The painters are coming tomorrow. You make sure she’s out of here today.”
Gray Suit walked away, heading back to his big silver car. He gunned the engine, and then he was gone. In the quiet that followed, I could hear Mrs. Pauley’s soft crying.
My momma hugged her. “Esther, come home with me. We’ll figure something out… we’ll call those boys of yours. We’ll get things straightened out.”
I watched momma lead Mrs. Pauley across the street to our house. I had a funny feeling in my stomach, a kind of hurting. I’d never seen Mrs. Pauley cry before. It made me feel like things were upside down. Wasn’t it kids who were supposed to cry?
“Christ,” said Officer Joe, his voice quiet. “Sometimes I hate this job.”
When I looked up at him, I saw he had tears in his eyes.
I put my hand on his sleeve, but he brushed it away. “Don’t be nice to me,” he said. “For the love of Christ… don’t be nice to me.”
Then he turned and walked away, and my stomach hurt a little more.
Author’s Note: This story written in response to DailyPost Writing 101 Prompt: The neighborhood 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. Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.