I stood at the window in the front room, looking across the street. Mrs. Pauley was standing on her front step, her chin in the air as she tried find the sweet spot to read the paper though her bifocals. She always looks funny when she does that, I thought, like she’s looking down her nose at whatever she’s holding. She said something to the old guy and he shook his head. She turned to the cops, fishing a tissue from her sleeve and lifting her glasses to wipe her eyes as she listened to whatever the smaller one was saying.
“Mom? I called, “What’s going on at Mrs. Pauley’s?” My mother came in from the kitchen to stand behind me, drying her hands on a tea towel and looking over my head at the scene across the street.
“Oh, my,” she whispered, “I didn’t know it would happen so soon.” She looked down at me and before I could ask, she continued. “When Mr. Pauley died, she found out that he’d let his life insurance lapse. Couldn’t make the payments, I guess. He didn’t leave much money and she hasn’t been able to pay her rent. I think they were already a little bit behind.”
“So? Can’t she get a job or something? Maybe one of her kids could help.” The Pauley boys were all grown and had moved away. Four were married with kids and living in Toronto and the other two were in Vancouver.
“She can’t work. Her health isn’t good and she hasn’t had a job since she was a girl. She’s not trained for anything. As far as I know, she hasn’t told the boys about this. I don’t think she wanted to trouble them and its not as if any of them could afford to pay it for her.”
She stood for a minute longer as the drama played out and then said, “I’m going across the street to see if she needs anything. I may be a little awhile”
I turned back to the window. The cops and the old guy were getting back into their cars. Mrs. Pauley, tears running down her cheeks, held the screen door open as Mom walked across the grass.
I felt confused. I understood what Mom had said and knew enough about money to appreciate Mrs. Pauley’s predicament. What I didn’t get was, how could her family not know and why weren’t they helping her? I wondered if the rest of the neighbourhood knew about this. Maybe they could get together and help her out. I knew that a lot of folks were out of work and times were tight but this was important. The Pauley place was like a second home to many of us kids. There were always a few friends of the boys’ around the yard or in the converted garage. Even the younger children were welcome to step in for a cookie or a glass of water or just to say hi. Many of us had spent time at her kitchen table sharing a tale of woe and getting in return a soft shoulder and a dose of common sense. Once the last of their boys were gone, Mr. and Mrs. Pauley had kept the garage open as a kind of clubhouse. We spent a lot of time there.
After I raided the fridge, I started on my homework. Mom came in about an hour later and began preparing supper. “How is she?” I asked.
“Not very well,” she answered, “she has to be out by the end of the month and she’s already started packing. Do you think you could go over after school tomorrow and on the weekend to help move boxes and furniture around?
I was glad she’d asked me. “Sure, I’ll ask Hamid if he wants to help. Where is she going to live?”
“Robbie and his wife are making room for her.” Mom gazed at me with an odd expression and I realized that she was a little afraid. This could happen to us, I thought with a shock. Mrs. Pauley’s life had been shattered out of the blue. You can’t be sure of anything.
The next evening I went over to Mrs. Pauley’s and helped her pack boxes and brought some things down from the attic. We didn’t talk much and I heard her crying once from the other room. I didn’t know what to say. The next day was Saturday and as I opened her front door I saw that the house was buzzing. It seemed as if every kid in the neighbourhood was there. They were dragging things from the closets and the basement and half filled boxes were scattered across the floor. The air was full of chatter and laughter and in the corner Kerry and Macy were arguing about something. It was bedlam. Mrs. Pauley was standing in the middle of it all with a jug of lemonade in her hand. She was crying again, but this time a broad smile lit her face. ©