No one in the neighborhood had seen Mrs. Pauley’s sons since the funeral three months earlier. No one was very surprised either. I’d heard Mama talking to Ruthie next door while hanging the laundry about what a shame it was. I didn’t really understand why it was a shame. Now her sons – they should be ashamed. At least that’s what Ruthie said.
Bright and early that first day of summer vacation I crossed the street and knocked on Mrs. Pauley’s door. I was hoping she’d let me mow her yard today rather than wait for Saturday. Danny said his dad was talking about a camping trip over the weekend and I wanted to be able to go along.
Mrs. Pauley opened the door, smiling when she saw me. But she looked different somehow, sort of shrunken.
“Hello Timothy, is it Saturday already?” Her voice was as pleasant as always though and I quickly forgot my first impression.
“Aw Mrs. P, you know it’s Wednesday,” I joked back.
We chatted a bit and I explained my request.
“Of course you can mow the yard early; we can’t have you missing out on a camping trip!” Her eyes got this faraway look they sometimes did when we talked. “My Benny loved the outdoors too,” her voice faded away on that thought. Then she gave herself sort of a shake and she looked back at me.
“I’ll have your lemonade in the kitchen when you’re ready for a break.”
“Thanks!” I ran around to her tool shed to get started.
When I was finished mowing and edging her lawn I went inside and we shared some lemonade – the real stuff, not the mixed kind. Mrs. Pauley had also baked some fresh ginger snaps. We munched a couple of those and when I was leaving she handed me her cookie jar.
“Take these on home for your little brother and sister,” she instructed. “Be careful with the jar now. Your mama always loved that jar.”
It seemed odd to take her cookie jar when she usually just gave me a zipped plastic bag but I knew better than to argue with her. Mama wouldn’t like it. And I really wanted to go camping.
At home I placed the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, pausing to grab one more since Mama wasn’t around. After shouting upstairs that I was going to Danny’s, I went out the back door cringing, when the screen slammed. That was going to cost me later, but it was the first day of summer vacation and freedom called.
Hours later I rode my bike into the front yard, dropped it on its side and ran indoors. After grabbing a cold soda I went back out to sit in the late afternoon sun. It had been a great first day of summer! And Danny’s father was going to call my folks tonight to get permission for me to go with them to the lake! Life couldn’t get much better as far as I was concerned.
I was trying to picture the campsite and lake when the black and white patrol car pulled up to the curb in front of Mrs. Pauley’s house. A moment later another car, this one a fancy new model, pulled into Mrs. Pauley’s driveway and a man got out. Something about his expression made my stomach hurt. It wasn’t that he looked evil. I don’t know how to describe it really. Oh, wait – he looked like he wasn’t there. His eyes were empty and his smile looked like it hurt.
Two policemen stepped out of the patrol car and joined the man in the driveway. They talked together for a short time and then moved toward Mrs. Pauley’s front door where the man knocked.
When the door opened I expected Mrs. Pauley to smile as she always did when she welcomed people. But Mrs. Pauley wasn’t smiling; there were tears on her face. She listened while the man spoke, nodding the way you do when you’re trying to be polite, and all the time the tears continued to fall.
Mrs. Pauley nodded one last time and I saw her say something before closing the door. The three men started to turn and I thought at first they were leaving, but they stood near the porch rail waiting. A few minutes later the door opened again and Mrs. Pauley came out. She was wearing her good cardigan, carrying her good winter coat and pulling along one of those rolling suitcases.
The hurt in my stomach got worse. What the heck was going on? I was suddenly afraid and before I could think about what I was doing I jumped up and ran across the street.
“Mrs. Pauley, can I help you with that bag?” I asked, ignoring the men.
She kept walking slowly toward the patrol car and I walked beside her.
“Why thank you Timothy, but I have it.” Her voice was only slightly raspy from the earlier tears. “If you could do something else for me I’d be very grateful.”
“Anything Mrs. P,” I replied, eyeing the cop who had moved ahead to open the back door of the car.
“Tell your mother I said goodbye.”
“Goodbye? When will you be back?”
“I won’t be coming back.”
“But why? Where are you going?” The stomach ache was spreading; I could feel my eyes growing wet and I blinked hard. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the men but something about this felt very, very wrong.
“Please just give my message to your mother Timothy. She’ll explain everything.”
“I don’t want you to go!”
“And I don’t want to. You know, I always hated it when my parents told me I’d understand something when I was grown up but sometimes it’s true.” She paused, handing her suitcase to the other policeman, who loaded it into the opposite side of the car’s back seat.
“Timothy, go on home. Tell your mother she can keep the cookie jar and that I said goodbye. I’m sure she’ll explain it all. I will miss you Tim.” For a moment she placed her hand against my cheek and my tears came. She smiled again and the cop helped her into the car.
None of the men had said a word. The empty-eyed man climbed back in his shiny car, backed out of the driveway and sped off. Both policemen looked after him and I got the impression they weren’t happy. As they got into their car I watched Mrs. Pauley looking through the window. When I followed her gaze I could see she was staring at her house and tears once again filled her eyes.