Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 01

It had been two weeks since the accident. I’d lost more than 10 pounds, and really just wanted to crawl in a hole and die. But Paisley wouldn’t let me. She made it her personal mission to cheer me up, get me to respond, bring me back to life.

Then one day she let me have it with both barrels.

She walked up to me and slapped me across the face. Hard. “Damn it David! Snap out of it! Life is hard. And it isn’t fair, but as bad as you have it, there’s always someone who has it worse. Often in your own backyard if you have the eyes to see it.”

“What do you know about it?” I snapped viciously. “I notice your kids are alive.”

“I know my mother died when I was six, and my father left when I was thirteen, leaving Mike to raise my sister and me. He was seventeen years old. But he manned-up and did the job the best he could. That’s what I know. Life is hard.”

“Life is hard. Life’s a bitch and then you die. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When God closes a door he opens a window. If I hear one more God-damned clich√© I swear I’ll kill something,” I growled.

“David, you got a raw deal. You had two perfect little girls, and now they’re gone. Your past is shattered. Your little bit of immortality is lost. And as bad as you’ve got it, I’d remind you others have it worse, and they just press on. You need to as well,” Paisley told me, kneeling beside me and holding my hands.

The woman barely knew me. A middle-aged mother of three with grown kids, and a workaholic husband. Her life was her home, keeping it immaculate and decorated for every holiday and season. Now it seemed I was her newest project. Why should I matter that much to her? Couldn’t she see I didn’t want her help?

“Sure, starving Ethiopians, children in Nigeria dying of aids, Tibetan monks martyred, it’s a tough world. Boo hoo.”

“You don’t have to look as far as Ethiopia or Tibet. There are people right here, right on your own block that are really struggling. Open your eyes. If you don’t like the unfairness, do something about it. Even up the odds a bit. Make a difference somewhere. Get back to living.”

Something she said must have gnawed its way down to my subconscious. I spent my usual 14 hours or so in bed, but when I awoke I was thinking about her constant comments about someone in my own backyard that had it worse.

I cataloged each person on my block, in my head, and nobody really had it that bad. Sure, Neil, three doors down had lost his job, but his wife was still working, and he was looking.

The Harris’s on the corner had a boy in Iraq, but as far as I could tell he was still Ok, and they had three more at home. The Martins, one down from the corner, fought all the time, and even had the cops called in on them once but they were still together. What did Paisley mean?

I expanded the radius of consideration to include the blocks surrounding us. Then it hit me. Across the alley in back, two houses past Paisley’s own. Six months ago. Barry Morrison had driven into an empty field behind the local middle school and eaten a bullet. I didn’t know much about the family – I just knew there was one.

When Paisley came over, I had showered off the top two layers of grime and sweat, and was drinking a Coke in the living room.

“Good morning, David, beautiful day outside. Why don’t we go out on the porch?”

“The Morrisons. Tell me about them.”

She placed her mug of tea in the microwave, warming it up, then walked out my front door and sat in one of my rocking chairs out front.

Irritated, I followed, and sat in the chair beside her. “The Morrisons?”

“Victoria and her daughter Hannah. You won’t see much of her; she’s working two jobs trying to keep the house over their heads. They’re still fighting with the insurance company overpayment. Suicide clause won’t pay under two years. He had insurance for years, but just around two years ago he changed the terms. She’s been trying to sell the house, but it’s underwater, and nobody’s buying.”

“How’s the little one?”

“Hannah’s not doing so well. She’s seeing a counselor twice a week, and hardly speaks anymore. The school’s talking about holding her back,” Paisley explained. She sounded sad.

“Do we know anything more about why he did it?”

“No crimes, he wasn’t fired, no embezzling, it’s not clear what it was about. Apparently he’d been depressed for quite a while, but the underlying situation is still a blank as far as I know.”

“Harsh on the family, going out like that,” I told her, finding the whole idea hard to grasp.

“To say the least. The poor woman is worn to a frazzle.”

“And how does this all matter to me?” I asked.

“It doesn’t. It doesn’t have to matter to anybody. They’re on their own. Alone.”

“No family help?”

“Not that I know of. If they’re around, we don’t see much of them, that’s for sure.”

“Paisley, how the hell do you know all this stuff?” I had to ask.

“People just like to talk to me. I’m a very good listener,” she told me with a big smile.

We sat quietly enjoying the crisp air, finishing our drinks.

“You’re a good neighbor too, Paisley. Thanks,” I said softly.

“That’s what neighbors are for,” she said, reaching out and patting me on my arm.

That’s what neighbors are for.

* * *

Paisley brought me dinner again and I realized I was starving. She beamed at me when I finished the whole platter.

“Let’s go for a walk, David. You could use a stretch of the legs.”

It had gotten chilly, and we bundled up a bit. She took the lead and we walked down the block and turned up the neighborhood. We headed back up the next block and she regaled me with the entire history and habits of the inhabitants of each place we passed. She might have been a good listener, but I had to wonder when she ever was quiet long enough to hear anything.

It was obvious when we got to Victoria Morrison’s place. The “For Sale” sign was a dead giveaway. The unkempt yard and overgrown bushes indicated a lack of care for months. It couldn’t help with the sales prospects. The door paint was faded, and there were no Christmas lights or decorations set up. I thought the Realtor wasn’t earning their commission, letting the place show like this. Through the window I could see a desktop Christmas tree, maybe two feet tall, lit up all in white.

Strangely, Paisley stopped speaking before we got to the house, and didn’t speak again until the end of the block. “Sad,” was all she said.

We took a round-about path back to my house, and our conversation had returned to the safety of weather concerns, community issues, and such, carefully skirting any discussion of the Morrisons.

I was feeling the chill after the walk, and invited Paisley in for a cup of coffee, Irish fortified if she so desired.

We drank our coffee in front of my gas fireplace, warming our old bones. Damn that neighbor of mine, and her good intentions! She’d not only gotten me to think of something other than my own misery, and the unfairness of it all, but she had me thinking about those poor girls behind me, and what they must be going through. Damn it! It wasn’t fair.

I guess I still wasn’t ready for pleasant company. Angry at the world, I threw my mug at the wall, shattering it, and leaned over with my head in my hands, doing my best to hold back the tears. Big boys don’t cry.

Paisley stood and ran her fingers through my hair for just a moment before leaving out the back door. Kind enough to leave me alone to wallow in my misery a little longer.

* * *

December 22nd. Just three days until Christmas.

When Paisley came over that morning, I was already up and dressed. I had my working duds on and coffee and bagels ready.

“You’re up early,” she commented, helping herself to the java.

“It’s almost 10,” I reminded her. “Not so awfully early.”

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