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 six 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 fifty years.
Even from across the street, I can see them go in through the front room to the one that opens out to the side garden. That is our school room or was till a year back. Back then, it used to be full of bawling kids with snot covered faces-till Mrs. Pauley came in from supervising Mary in the kitchen and wiping her hands on her starched apron. Her apron with the tiny red flowers was always clean, as her house was and that is how she wanted us children to be when we came to study for three hours each weekday.
I wipe my nose with my sleeve and swinging my legs in a way that maddened Mrs. Pauley quite a bit, lean to the left to watch the two policemen stride out to the little garden and our playground all those years. Mrs.Pauley is in her rocking chair, dozing in the late afternoon sun. I can see all this because the sun streams in from the garden at this hour and how well I and Rob know this because we would peep in the window to check if Mrs. Pauley were dozing. Then we would climb the fence to the adjoining house to pluck apricots. Rob would look at the girls going to the market while I had juice running down my chin and shirt front.
Rob did get into trouble with Mr. Pauley. I could hear the shouts across the street to this stoop outside my own door. Then he got sent away for walking with a girl in the trees yonder. Like three of his brothers. The younger two I liked, for they wore jaunty clothes which were the most fancy we got to see in this mining town. Buck and Cliff had clean hands; no blackened nails, which alone put them in a class above us. They worked in shops in the town. Shops! Shops! And all we had here were shacks!
Mrs. Pauley has been woken gently by one policeman. The landlord is red faced and looking at her in that wild eyed manner of his. The scoundrel! He was the cause of girl trouble and it all got onto one of the boy’s heads. And how could we forget the day he got the school closed? Taking all those rowdy little ones out, holding their hands, Mrs. Pauley did show her love, after all. Only then, we were happy to be getting to sit outside on the fence, playing hopscotch and rough handling some of the cowards. It was later that Mrs. Pauley went around, asking about her students. Most drifted away to the mines, some to the town.
I spit on the ground and feel around for my stick to walk across. Better have one last look at the school room. I am not at work because of my short leg, damn. They think I am lazy. I don’t want to do no work. Mother died coughing and I could get no water.
As I enter the house, there are no cakes in the oven, no food smell. What does she eat now that Mary has gone? I stumble out to the garden where Mrs. Pauley is talking to the policeman with a stern yet pleased look reserved for the ones she has taught. The landlord cowers. Mrs. Pauley looks up to see me and smiles at me with the short leg and him in the uniform.