Red-faced

It was the worst start to a summer ever. My friend Julie and I were supposed to make a movie together, this summer, but instead, the month before school got out, I found out that my mom lost her job so, right after school, we had to move in with my grandmother. I begged my mom to let me live with Julie instead, but she was so caught up in her own stuff she didn’t seem to care that she was ruining my life.

Mom and Grandma were always sending me outside “to play,” like I was some kind of little kid. There wasn’t even anything to do in Grandma’s neighborhood. There was nobody my age. Mom wouldn’t let me off the block Grandma lived on without her, because she said I didn’t get what it was to be a city kid, but she never had time to do anything. The best I could do was bounce a ball against the step and think about how much I was missing out on.

I ended up spending basically every day waiting to hear from Julie and hanging out on the steps of my grandmother’s place. Her neighbor across the street, Mrs. Pauley, had this son who looked like he was about 25, and sometimes would stop by. He rode this great motorcycle, and never wore a helmet. I thought he was probably a jerk, until the day he caught me staring at him, grinned, and waved. He always waved at me after that, and even though I didn’t want to like him, my breath caught in my throat when I heard his bike turn onto our street.

Grandma said Mrs. Pauley had lived there forever, just like she had. Mom had grown up with and even dated one of her older sons, before she met my dad. I wondered if Mrs. Pauley’s son looked like his younger brother. I wondered if he would have left eventually, the way Dad did. Maybe Mom just had that effect, on guys.

I guess Mrs. Pauley’s husband had died a couple of months before we got there, and Grandma said they were going to throw her out. I guess I thought that, when you lived somewhere that long, things like that didn’t happen to you.

Grandma was always sending me over with baked goods or a hot dish.

“Grandma, I don’t think she’s eating this stuff— she’s always crying and sitting in the living room. She never has room in the refrigerator, when I bring it.”

“Hush, Jennifer. This is what you do.” Grandma would hurry back to the kitchen.

“Maybe we should collect money— there’s a sign on her door that says she’s not paying her rent.”

“You don’t understand, honey. It would embarrass her to know that we were even thinking about that.”

“Isn’t it kind of dumb to worry about being embarrassed? She’s going to lose her home.”

My mother entered the room. “Sweetheart, we’re barely scraping by ourselves. This is the best we can do.”

It didn’t feel like much, on the day that the sheriff came to evict her. I couldn’t sit on the steps that day. I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t sit across from her while she waited for her sons and cried softly into a hankie. Even the sound of the motorcycle didn’t stop my heart the way it usually did. I peeped out from the front window, from behind my grandma’s lace curtains.

I remembered what it felt like, to leave my own house, only a few weeks earlier. I had clutched the potted plant from the kitchen. I didn’t even really know why— I just couldn’t imagine life without it. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you where it even was, at grandma’s. Mrs. Pauley gripped the handle of an old-fashioned brown suitcase, and a photo frame from her living room that had fancy gold curlicues all along the edge and a faded black stand on the back. She gripped them tight like they were all she had in the world.

A couple of her kids came and got her, and the few things she had piled on the steps. I was kind of sad at the thought that I might never see her again, or feel the breathlessness and my face get red when her son turned with a knowing grin and waved. He didn’t turn and wave that day.

It was pretty much the worst start to a summer ever.

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