The Neighbor Lady
The world always seemed like a less than sturdy place to Addison. He never really found that, day by day, anything stayed very constant. The jobs his mom went to were always changing, right along with the men she brought home. Some were nice and some weren’t, both jobs and men, but none lasted very long. The friends he made, what few he could make at his dark and sort of dangerous school, came and went. When they went it was often to juvenile hall, or the special school for kids with problems. One girl had gone to live with her aunt, and no one would tell Addison why, or why she came back a year later, seeming sad.
The neighbors came and went too. No one moved to this end of town because they wanted to, and they got out as soon as they could.
Except for Mrs. Pauley. She’d been there a long time before Addison and his mom had moved there. According to some of the kids he’d met the first week there, they were all gone now, she’d always been there. Addison didn’t really see much of her. Sometimes he’d see Mr. Pauley putter around the garden, but then he died and wasn’t there anymore. Her sons had come around a lot for a month or so after that. One of them showed up with a moving truck, and Addison was sure that Mrs. Pauley would be leaving then. The final constant in his little life, shattered.
But she hadn’t left. Instead, she’d had a very loud shouting match with her son right in front of the building. “The presumption!” she screamed, “To think that you can just drag me out of my home, because you think I can’t be trusted left alone to my own devices! I am your mother, Anthony, and I took care of you for twenty two years! I guess I can take care of myself for just as long as I want to hold on!”
“Ma, don’t I know you took care of me for twenty two years!” the son named Anthony yelled while Addison watched from his bedroom window. “That’s why you ought to let me take care of you, now!”
Addison didn’t know what sort of reaction Anthony had wanted from that, but the one he got was for his mother to break a dish over his head. Word must have gotten around to the other five brothers, because none of them dared try that trick.
So old Mrs. Pauley stayed, while the only other constant was the pusher on the corner. Addison like this pusher. He wouldn’t sell to kids, and he didn’t harass the girls as much as the last one. Addison hoped he stuck around for awhile, but he didn’t think he would.
Time passed. Mom got a new job, then a new boyfriend. The new boyfriend soon resulted in the loss of the new job. The loss of the job soon resulted in the loss of the boyfriend. It didn’t seem to matter much to Mom, and it sure didn’t matter to Addison. He hadn’t even bothered to remember the man’s name.
The new pusher stuck around. He was there the night the cops showed up at Mrs. Pauley’s place.
Addison was outside, covering the cement steps with chalk. The rain would come and wash it away in the night, but that was the one thing Addison didn’t mind changing, because he could make it all new again once the cement dried.
The officers came, and Addison knew there was trouble when he saw Mrs. Hubbard with them. “The old bitch,” was what his mom called the woman who owned the whole block, including the buildings that Addison and Mrs. Pauley lived in.
He watched as Mrs. Hubbard marched up to the door, looking very much like she thought well of herself in her fake pearls and cheap cardigans, and hammered on the door.
Mrs. Pauley answered. She, Addison thought, really did look like she had reason to think well of herself, though Addison had never thought of it that way before. Perhaps it was just the stark comparison between the two women. Mrs. Pauly stood straight, wearing a sweater and slacks that were no double older than Addison himself, but so well cared for, so as to not need replacing with money that Mrs. Pauley would have preferred to spend on her children.
“Can I help you?” Mrs. Pauley asked, clasping her hands together in front of her.
“Don’t act like you didn’t know we were coming,” Mrs. Hubbard snapped, shaking her head. “You haven’t paid your rent in three months. I send you letters telling you that this was coming.”
“I told you, I have to wait for Mr. Pauley’s life insurance,” Mrs. Pauley said. “I don’t have any money until then.”
Mrs. Hubbard crossed her arms over her cheap cardigan. “I’m sorry, but that’s not my problem. Everyone’s got bills. I’ve got taxes to pay on this building, and I’ve got to pay for the upkeep.”
“But you’ve never spent a dime on the upkeep of this place, not since the day you inherited it from your mother.” Mrs. Pauley said. “And she never paid a dime for the upkeep since the day my husband and I move in. When the pipes burst in the winter, my husband fixed them, and paid for the supplies. When that crazy man upstairs shot through the wall, my husband patched the hole for you.”
“I never asked him to do that,” Mrs. Hubbard said, but she looked a little pink.
“No,” Mrs. Pauley said, standing taller that Addison would have thought her five feet would allow. “You didn’t have to. I didn’t think I would have to ask you for some patience now.”
Mrs. Hubbard seemed to swell up. She turned to the officers, and said, “Aren’t you going to do your jobs?”
An officer tipped his hat to Mrs. Pauley. “I hate to do this, Ma’am, but she’s within her rights. You ignored the letters she sent, and she’s got them registered. I’m going to have to ask you to come with us.”
“But this is my home,” Mrs. Pauley said, “It’s always been my home.”
One of the officers set a hand on her arm. It wasn’t a stern hand, but it was insistent. It seemed to say that he would be as gentle about doing his job as Mrs. Pauley allowed him to be.
“Hold up,” the pusher called from the sidewalk, and ran over to them.
Addison held his breath, and the officers put their hands on their pistols. The pusher held his hands up, and walked up the stairs. “Grab my wallet out of my back pocket,” he said to one of the officers. The man did so, flipped it open, nodded, and handed it back to the pusher.
“Mrs. Hubbard, I think you need to give Mrs. Pauley some time,” the pusher said. “In fact, if you don’t want anyone to know about some of the ‘tenets’ you keep in the the rooms above your bar, the ones who seem to have a lot of guests who only stay for an hour every night, you should wait just as long as it takes her, Madam.”
Mrs. Hubbard blushed. Addison smiled, and went inside.
Not much was constant in Addison’s neighborhood. Just the pusher on the corner, and Mrs. Pauley.