Durned skeeters, been itchin’ and a’scratchin’ all day long. My ankles is plumb swoll all the way ’round, little red dots all puffed and red on account’o I’m ‘llergic.
‘Course, them’d be chiggers, them little red specks what burrow down under the skin. Them there’s what I’m ‘llergic to, mainly. I can swat at them skeeters when they land, sometimes before they sink they pointy sucker into my person, It’s them chiggers you cain’t never see, much less swat at. And you sure cain’t step on ’em like crickets or beetles.
But I’ll sit here, just like she asked, ol’ Mrs. Pauley from across the way. Last thing she said to me whist she was bein’ hurried out the door by them two big fellers, she said, “Melvin?” she said, “Melvin, you be sure to watch for ol’ Mule, you hear? He’s done run off, I looked and hollered, but he ain’t come home yet.”
Then she give a hateful look to the two fellers, who done right by a’lookin’ the other way, “I got to go now, but ol’ Mule, he’ll need lookin’ after, feedin’ and waterin’ and a bone to chew on now and then. You’ll do that for me, won’t you, Melvin?”
She’d glisteny, watery eyes most all the time anyways, but this day they was a little wetter than usual. Reckon these fellers wouldn’t listen to reason, ol’ Mrs. Pauley needed to gather up her dog before she up and went away for good. They needed each other, was the way I saw it. But ‘parently that weren’t the way THEY saw it. They was a’hustlin’ her out right now, checkin’ the door, certifyin’ it was locked up hard and tight.
Ol’ Mrs. Pauley held an old green Samsonite close to her chest, and me, I figured it was purty much all she had left in this world. I sat on the curb just across the street, a’itchin’ and a’scratchin’ and I nodded. Sure. Ol’ Mule was near family to me, too. I’d keep a lookout for him, he always come home after a good rabbit chasin’ in the woods down the way.
Sure, I nodded.
See, here’s the thing. Mrs. Pauley, crippled and more’n a little poor, neglected by her boys, six I heard, and now a widder three months gone lived in the little used-to-be green house just ‘cross from me and Daddy. Lived there as long as I can remember, and I lived a durned long time, more’n a dozen years. When Mr. Pauley was livin’, they’d have us over for homemade ice cream, Daddy and me, and we never once turned them down. I assumed them boys, six I heard, once growed, left and for certain just forgot all about them two old folk.
‘Course, they had ol’ Mule, dog they raised from a pup. Ragged and ever color a dog could be, white and brown and black and gray, and ugly as the back of my dead mama’s mirror. But that dog could hunt. Brung back his own dinner mostly, rabbits and squirrels. And when he stunk from the hunt, Mr. and Mrs. Pauley made him sleep out on the front porch. He’d howl and carry on till one or the other hollered out the winder to shut the heck up. And ol’ Mule, he’d shut the heck up and sleep till mornin’.
Now, sad to say, Mr. Pauley, rest his soul, passed on near three months ago, just as school let out for the summer. Old as the hills, it was bound to happen, though I’d o’thought it’d be Mrs. Pauley who’d kick the bucket first, her being pale and frail and fra-gile-like. Ol’ man, though, took a fall from the tree out back, trying to dislodge a beehive given them fits. Broke a hip. Never came back from that, dying from immobility, I reckon. Just give up.
Kinda assumed them boys of theirs, six I heard, might come back, give grievin’ Mrs.Pauley a hand. ‘Cause if they was poor before, she alone was destitute. And didn’t nobody ever come by.
Daddy and me, we’d trim the yard, mostly weeds. We’d have her over for store-bought cookies and Coke. She liked that. But her sad eyes told a tale when she tossed a wave our way, headin’ back over to her used-to-be green house ‘cross the street. Times was hard and she was old and all she had was ol’ Mule.
Don’t it beat all, though? When it rains, well, it pours like the dickens. Just as she was catchin’ some sort o’rhythm, takin’ mornin’ walks, back to wavin’ as passersby from the old rocker on her rotten front porch, and riskin’ a half smile now and ever so often, I was just a sittin’ on the curb like I am right now, still scratchin’ and itchin’ them durned skeeter bites and them burrowin’ chiggers, when a streamline black sedan pulled up, parking dead in front.
Slidin’ out, oily like, was some feller who straightening his tie and buttonin’ his suitcoat over his fat belly, marched straight up to the porch and pounded hard, twice, on the screen door.
I recall it took some time for ol’ Mrs. Pauley to make it to the door, and ol’ Mule, he was barkin’ up a storm. Clear HE didn’t like this man. Clear I didn’t much either. Him and Mrs. P. had them some words, couldn’t hear much from ‘cross the street, but Mrs. Pauley was a’shakin’ her head, then disappeared inside. And the oily fat man oozed into the sedan and slid on down the road.
Next few days was a near parade of activity. An ancient truck from the Salvation Army come and cleared out battered chairs and a saggy couch, plus some boxes of what looked to be books and clothes. An old picture of some army fell to the wayside, stepped on and crushed by them Salvation workers, pressed right down into the dirt. Next come some exterminators, sprayin’ this and that. Didn’t near get all the bugs livin’ ’round here. Didn’t make a dent in the skeeter population.
Somebody’r other found the fusebox outside and turned off Mrs. Pauley’s power. She lit her way come nighttime with candles and a kerosene lamp. I could see ’em through the window, whist I was on the curb ‘cross the street.
Daddy, sometime sittin’ out with me, told me the old lady was bein’ e-victed, being sent out of her family home where she and Mr. Pauley and they boys, six I heard, lived they whole lives. At least all of mine, what I can remember.
Daddy said, too, she tol’ the landlord in no uncertain terms, she’d leave over her cold dead body. And that’s when that slimy pauncho so and so turned off the power, leavin’ Mrs.Pauley alone in the dark.
Daddy said was no way she was going to win. Law was on the landlord’s side as she ain’t been payin’ rent for at least as long as Mr. Pauley had been gone.
And now the day had come. A pair o’ big burly fellers, leanin’ more to fat than muscle, come to the house, lookin’ embarrassed but determined. Probably wouldn’t get paid till the deed was done. I seen ’em, from the curb ‘cross the street, knockin’ and knockin’ till finally even Mrs. Pauley couldn’t take no more. She come to the door dressed in her purtiest green sweater, near a match to her used-to-be green house, and head high, she marched out to their shiny four door, when she hollered over to me.
“Melvin?” That’s what she hollered,like I done toll. “You give him a good home, you hear?” I nodded, sure, but kept on scratchin’ my itches. Ol’ Mule, we’d take him in, sure. I nodded again, real fast and real strong. She looked at me hard, then satisfied, she tossed her Samsonite into the backseat, and after a long last look at what used to be her home, she allowed herself to be driven away. I watched ’em till I couldn’t see even a puff of exhaust.
That was this mornin’.
This is this evenin’.
Ol’ Mule ain’t come home yet, but I promised ol’ Mrs. Pauley. I’d sit right here till that ol’ dog made it home from the hunt.
Itchin’ and scratchin’, durned skeeters.
But a promise is a promise. And like I said,
I done promised.