I’ve never known Roosevelt Circle without Mrs. Pauley.  She was here ‘fore me.  I was born here twelve years ago.  Well, not here ‘xactly.  The family was livin’ here and Momma brought me home fresh from the Wellstar Hospital.  After that Mamma couldn’t have no more kids, so she called me “Li’l One.”  Still calls me that, even though I told her to stop.  “Mamma, I’m nearly the tallest in the seventh grade.” But she says it gives her great comfort to call me that, so I stopped moaning at her.

She needs all the comfort she can get.  Ain’t been easy for her, tryin’ to raise four hon’ry boys and then me, after our daddy left.  Said he heard there was good jobs goin’ out Montgomery way.  But he ain’t never come back.  An’ Mamma says she don’t care.  She said he never did a lick of work anyways and was just a bum sitting around drinking up all her hard earned money that she makes from the Tip Top Poultry.  I don’t ‘member him much cuz he done left when I was jus’ a baby.  But I heard plenty about him from Mamma and the boys to know I don’t ever want him to come back.

Sometimes I imagine him walking up our drive like some peacock puttin’ on airs.  I’d be sittin’ here on the front porch readin’ my latest library book  like I usually do and he’d come struttin’ up like he owned the place.  I’d be all cool and collected.  And when he stopped there in front of me I’d just look up at him from that book into his cock-eyed smile.  “Whatch you want?” I’d say and then I’d spit. Right on his shoes.  Mamma says spittin’ is not lady-like and she’s forbade me from doin’ it, but I think in that case she’d approve. My fantasy never went no farther than that, so I don’t rightly know what would happen next.  I don’t wanna waste my time thinkin’ ’bout it.

Mamma says I think too much.  She says I spend too much time with my head in the clouds.  She says I always got my nose in a book, which is true.  But I think she likes it, cuz she says it kinda braggin’ like. “Oh, my Maybell!  You know she just ’bout read up every book in that library.”  My teacher says I’m the best reader in our whole middle school.  I think she’s exaggeratin’ a bit.  She says I could be a writer myself someday, cuz I can tell a mean story.  She says it comes from all the stories I done read.

I could tell you some stories about Roosevelt Circle.  First of all, it is not a circle.  I would love to know who named it that, cuz it’s shaped more like a capital C.  It is stretched out between Cole Street and the Parkway.  We live on the Cole side.  Second, it is named after the second president to have that name.  I know he was the second one, cuz last year for my class project I memorized every president we ever had — from Washington right down to Obama.  Mrs. Pauley helped me learn them all. The first Roosevelt was named Teddy. Our street is named after Franklin Delano.

Used to be, Mrs. Pauley told me, families filled the houses on Roosevelt. She said the houses were built in 1958.  They were mostly all the same – three-bedrooms, one bathroom, and two porches, a big one in front and a smaller one in back.  She and Mr. Pauley done lived in number 309 for forty years.  They moved to Marietta with their six sons when Mr. Pauley got a new job in Atlanta.   By the time we moved across the street into 312 the Pauleys had already been there for 25 years.  As a matter of fact, ‘fore I was even born, all their boys had moved out.

I only ever met one of them.  Named Jasper.  He came to visit his folks once at Thanksgivin’ when I was about eight.  He’d come to tell them that he was gettin’ married (for the third time) to an Australian girl he met on some internet chat room. Said he didn’t know when he’d ever be able to come back to call.  Said he’d keep in touch.  The rest of them boys were scattered all over the place.  One was in California. One was in prison. And one had been lost in a car accident.  Momma said the Pauleys had a hard time of it.  She said boys were mostly like that.  They grew up and they went off to have themselves a good time.  She said girls were mostly different. They are homebodies.  Then she gave me a big hug and called me “Li’l One” again.

I got to know Mrs. Pauley pretty well.  Started when I was just five years old.  Mrs. Pauley has the finest garden in the whole neighborhood.  All the houses on our block are rentals and mean ol’  Mr. Granger the landlord won’t ever let us forget it.  So most of the people who live here don’t take good care of the places.  Yards are full of weeds.  Windows are broken.  Gutters falling off.  Maybe if Mr. Granger were a bit nicer.  Nobody can whack Mr. Granger, so they whack his houses instead.  Except for Mrs. Pauley.  She takes care of 309 like it belongs to her.  She plants lots of pretty flowers.  Her speciality is roses.  She told me that they are the most delicate things and need to be spoiled like a baby.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day I walked home from kindergarten with nothin’ for Mamma.  I’d been punished for pushin’ a girl at recess, so I’d sat in the corner while everybody else made cards.  I was feelin’ right sorry for myself as I dragged my feet along, until I saw Mrs. Pauley’s roses.  Right then a great idea came to me.  I didn’t need no stinkin’ card!  I could give Mamma pretty flowers!  I walked right into the Pauley’s garden and started tearin’ into a rose bush.  It was harder than I thought to pick those flowers and I had quite a few scratches on my arms for my effort.

Mrs. Pauley saw me and came runnin’ out of her house.  I knew right then that I’d done something wrong.  I froze.  But Mrs. Pauley didn’t yell at me or nothin’.  She smiled a funny smile on that wrinkly old face of hers and told me to wait right there.  She went back into her house and got some special flower scissors.  She showed me how to cut the roses off the bush and then told me how to put them in water with an aspirin to make them last longer.  We were friends from that day on.

Mamma works late shift at the chicken factory.  When I was five my oldest brother had already graduated and moved out.  Not one of the rest was interested in spendin’ time with the “Li’l One,” so I was bored out of my mind every afternoon.  Mrs. Pauley must’ve been lonely too, because she started invitin’ me over to her house.  She told me stories about growin’ up in depression and about wars and presidents and roses.  She made me cookies and gave me milk to dunk them in.  She helped me learn to read and then when I got better at it I started readin’ stories to her and Mr. Pauley.  She taught me how to crochet and we made a blanket for my bed in all colors of the rainbow.

One mornin’ about three months ago, a few days after Mrs. Pauley and I’d put on a special birthday party for Mr. Pauley’s 80th, he didn’t wake up.  I’d just walked out the door on my way to school and I saw the ambulance.  It drove away and there was Mrs. Pauley standin’ in her front door way, both fists up to her mouth and tears runnin’ down her face.  She was watchin’ the ambulance go down the street and didn’t see me.  I went right over and spent the day with her.  In fact I didn’t go to school the rest of that week until after the funeral.  “Oh, Maybell,” she said.  “What am I gonna do without him?  What am I gonna do?”  I didn’t know what to say.

I was wantin’ to spend more time with Mrs. Pauley, but  she kept tellin’ me that she was just so tired she couldn’t think straight.  “I hope you don’t mind, Maybell.  I’ll just lay down for a little while.  You come back over in a few hours, okay?”  So I’d find myself on the porch readin’ by myself.  I’d think a lot.  I’d think about Mamma and how she always has a smile no matter how hard life gets.  I’d think about Mrs. Pauley and all them boys who disappeared and never came back.  I’d think about how long she’d lived at 309 and all the stories and stuff she’d told me.

Then yesterday, as I was half-readin’ and half-thinkin’ on our front porch, one of them big yellow Hummers came drivin’ down the road.  We don’t get much through-traffic and nobody ’round here drives that kinda car, so it caught my attention.  It pulled up outside of Mrs. Pauley’s house.  Right behind it was a small black car, blue lights on top and “COBB COUNTY POLICE” written across the doors.  I stood up as men got out of the cars.  I watched them take the steps up to Mrs. Pauley’s porch two at a time, one guy from the Hummer and two policemen.  The Hummer guy was first.  He banged on Mrs. Pauley’s door and yelled her name.  “Cynthia Pauley!  Cynthia Pauley!”

I dropped my book and ran across the street.  “Whatch you want?”  I asked.  “Mrs. Pauley’s sleepin’.  She’s tired.”

The guy at the door turned and looked at me.  He had greasy dark hair and was wearing RayBans.  “Go away, little girl.  This doesn’t concern you.”  He banged on the door again and yelled.

The policemen looked at each other, one standin’ with his arms crossed, the other with his thumbs hooked in his pockets.  The taller one said, “Listen, Mr. Granger, it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Pauley is able to receive us now.  Let’s come back in an hour or so.”

Mr. Granger!  The landlord.  “No, dammit,” Mr Granger said.  “I came all this way and I’m here now.  I’m getting my money or she’s getting out!”  Mr. Granger banged on the door again.  But no one answered.  “Okay,” he said.  “If that’s how she wants it, we’ll just go in and get her!” and he stuck his hand in his pocket and took out a key.

“Wait,” I yelled.  “You just can’t go bargin’ in to someone else’s house.  She’s sleepin”!”

Mr. Granger turned around to face me.  “I told you to go away.  This is none of your business!”

“Let me go wake her up,” I said.  “I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“That’s a good idea, Mr. Granger,” the other cop said.  “It’ll give you a chance to calm down.”

“I don’t need to calm down!” he yelled, but he handed me the key.

I opened the door and walked softly to Mrs. Pauley’s room.  I was shakin’.  I didn’t know if it was cuz I was angry or afraid.  Maybe both.  I knocked quietly on her door.  “Mrs. Pauley,” I called.  “There are some people here to see you.  Mrs. Pauley?”  Her door opened a crack.  I saw her laying on her bed.  Her arms were wrapped around her body, like she was huggin’ herself.  There was a smile on her face.  I walked over to the bed and touched one of her hands.  It was ice cold.  “Mrs. Pauley?”  My voice was kinda shaky.  “Mrs Pauley?”

“Mrs. Pauley!” a hard voice, Mr. Granger’s voice, sounded behind me.  They’d followed me in.

I turned and glared at Mr. Granger.  “She’s gone.”  Tears started comin’ down my cheeks.

He pushed past me and shook Mrs. Pauley’s body.  “Where’s my money?” he yelled.  Both cops rushed up and grabbed Mr Granger away from the bed.  He shook himself loose.  “Dying in MY house.”

“Let’s go, Mr. Granger.  We’ll call Emergency Services and they’ll come take care of the body. There’s nothing you can do here now.”  One policeman walked out the door and the other pulled Mr. Granger by his arm.

“Stupid old woman!” Mr Granger mumbled.

I filled my mouth with spit and let it fly.

 

********************************************************************************************

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 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.

Today’s assignment:  Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.
Today’s twist: For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.

Advertisements