A lizard crawls along the sidewalk It isn’t in a hurry to get wherever it’s going.
Afternoons in the summer are always quiet. Everyone’s too full from lunch and it’s too hot outside to do anything. This year, a lot of the kids in the neighborhood aren’t around either. The Dorsey girls are at camp, Eric and Libby are at their grandma’s for two weeks, and Willie’s in summer school. Poor Willie. He could never catch a break.
I’d gone over to Eli Fletcher’s house in the morning. We played some games and swam in his pool. Then he had to go for a doctor’s appointment so I came back and decided to hang out on the porch. Sometimes it’s fun to sit in one place and watch the world move around.
Our next door neighbors, the Gundersons, are both at work. They’re a nice married couple, probably in their 50’s, but they don’t have any kids. I think that’s kinda strange but Mom says it’s not so unusual nowadays. The lizard slithers into their yard, heading for Mrs. Gunderson’s vegetable garden. She’s not gonna be happy about that when she gets home.
Mr. Tanner walks past reading something, a list of some sort. He’s wearing a hat and a long coat, in spite of the weather, silver rimmed glasses perched on the tip of his nose. His forehead’s all crinkly, which means he’s thinking hard about something.
Kathy Harmon’s out walking her two dogs, one beagle who kinda looks like Snoopy and a shaggy terrier of some sort. They’re both wagging their tails as they sniff everything in sight. Kathy’s our regular babysitter, though I don’t like to call her that anymore. She’s just a girl that watches over me when my parents are out. She smiles at me with perfect white teeth, chestnut hair framing her face, and waves. I wave back, getting a funny feeling in my stomach.
Mrs. Pauley’s over in her garden, pulling out weeds. She lives across the street from us, pretty much always has. Mom says the Pauleys were some of the first people to move into this neighborhood, and the only ones that never left. It’s just been Mr. and Mrs. Pauley here for as long as I can remember, but I heard they have six sons who’re all grown up and living with their own families. Mrs. Pauley also has a sister named Mabel who visits sometimes. She always hands out ugly sweaters to people when she’s here. I got a vomit-green one last Christmas. She’s a weird lady.
Mrs. Pauley’s nice. She’s smiling whenever I see her. Her eyes are very blue, and look like they see right through you, but they’re always twinkling. Or they used to, anyway. I remember she used to be very chatty. Often, she’d have long conversations with my mom or ask me about school.
Mr. Pauley was nice too, and sometimes came over to help my dad with yard work or to play ball. But he died three months ago and then Mrs. Pauley got quieter. The funeral was nice. It feels weird to say that, but it’s true. Everyone was there. The Gundersons, the Allens, even Eric and Libby’s grandma had come up to pay her respects. There was a lot of crying and a lot of big speeches about what a great guy Mr. Pauley was. I kinda miss him.
Things haven’t been too good for Mrs. Pauley lately. I heard Mom and Dad talking about it the other day. She doesn’t have any money now. Her kids are busy with their lives and don’t speak to her as much. Only one of them showed up to Mr. Pauley’s funeral. I think they could still send her some money though. But they didn’t. She couldn’t pay rent this month. It’s weird. I always thought people who lived in houses owned them. But turns out you can rent them, just like apartments. That’s what Mr. and Mrs. Pauley did. Mom and Dad said she’d probably going to be evicted soon. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.
A car pulls into the driveway. I look at the license plate: GRH 1517. Adding 5 and 1 makes 6 and 1 more makes 7. I like it when the numbers on license plates add up like that. A fat man in a dark blue suit gets out of the car. It’s Mr. Finnick, Mrs. Pauley’s landlord. He takes a deep breath and his shoulders droop a little. He looks tired. Mrs. Pauley looks upset.
Two more people in dark suits get out of the car. As one of the men adjusts his jacket, I see something glinting. A badge pinned to his belt. The police? Looks like Mrs. Pauley’s in trouble. Mr. Finnick starts talking. I can’t really hear what he’s saying, but he’s speaking in the kind of voice my mom used when I was younger and she wanted me to eat some broccoli. The two police officers stand around, arms crossed.
Mr. Finnick pulls out some papers and shows them to Mrs. Pauley. I can see the tears running down her cheeks. She shakes her head, sobbing. Mr. Finnick is speaking a bit louder now, saying something about regret and necessary actions. Mrs. Pauley shakes her head again and yells, “I’m not going anywhere!”
I almost fall off the porch. It’s the first time I’ve heard her yell.
Some of the neighbors come out of their houses to watch. Mr. Finnick looks around and lowers his voice again. I can feel the sweat running down my back, but it’s not cause of the heat. Things are going to get bad.
Kathy’s dogs start barking. Mrs. Pauley’s still yelling and crying, her face bright red. Mr. Finnick’s trying to stay calm, but his voice is rising too. More people gather. The officers look tense.
The neighbors start asking questions, demanding to know what’s going on. The officers try to keep them back, but there’s not much they can do. It’s not against the law to help your neighbor. At least I hope not. There’s a lot more shouting now, voices trying to speak over each other. My heart’s pounding its way through my shirt.
A few people, like Mr. Allen and Mr. Holson, stand in front of Mrs. Pauley, shielding her. They pay no attention to the officers, who are telling them to stay out of it. Mr. Finnick’s done talking now and stands with his fists clenched. Everything goes quiet. Even Kathy’s dogs aren’t barking anymore. Only Mrs. Pauley’s soft sobbing fills the air.
Another car pulls up near Mrs. Pauley’s house and a man with sandy blond hair gets out. He hasn’t shaved in a few days and looks a bit scraggly. It’s Mrs. Pauley’s son, the one who was at the funeral. He marches over to his mother and talks to her in a tone that’s so calm it’s almost spooky. The two of them have a long discussion. I wish I could hear what they’re saying. Everyone else stands there in silence, waiting.
Mrs. Pauley gets agitated again. From what I can tell, it looks like Mr. Pauley Jr. wants her to move out of the house. I think he wants her to live with him. But she refuses. She’s not going to leave. Finally, the officers step in and tell her she has to go. Mrs. Pauley looks really scared.
My dad comes home from work just then. He asks one of our other neighbors about what’s happening, and walks over to Mrs. Pauley’s yard as soon as he finds out. He asks the officers to wait a few minutes and takes some of the neighbors aside to discuss something. A little while later, they all nod and go up to Mr; Finnick, saying that they’ll all pitch in to pay Mrs. Pauley’s rent. They’ll figure out something more permanent later. After even more talking, everyone agrees. Mr. Finnick and the officers leave. Mr. Pauley Jr. stands around awkwardly, then says bye and leaves too.
Mrs. Pauley stays in the exact same spot in front of her door, still crying. But there’s something different. It’s not a sad kind of crying. All the neighbors gather around and comfort her. It’s pretty amazing.
The Pauleys have been in this neighborhood for years. They built their family here. But I guess a family isn’t just the people that live in your house or that share your name. Anyone that cares about you, that shares your happiness and sadness, that laughs with you at your jokes and cries during your tragedies, is your family. This whole neighborhood is Mrs. Pauley’s family.
The next day, Mrs. Pauley smiles when she sees me. It’s the first time in months that I’ve seen a smile on her face. She calls me over and gives me a hug. Now, I’ve kinda grown out of my hugging phase, and I get squirmy when people hug me. But I don’t struggle when she does, and I hug her back. I’m glad she’s still here.