Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 02

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I realized I’d stopped painting, and I was staring. A long drip of paint from my brush was running down the door. The little girl looked at me, almost as if she understood.

“Would you like to help?” I asked.

She looked around, as if to ask if I was talking to her.

“Yes, you.”

She shyly nodded yes. I reached over to my bucket of painting supplies and pulled out a small brush. I pointed to the inlaid panels on the bottom half of the door. “You can paint here, around the edge of the panel. It needs to be done with a detail brush like the one you have. Get into the cracks.”

She nodded, dipped her brush, and started painting straight down the panel edge, doing a good job.

“That’s perfect. Just like that.” I went back to work completing the top half, and had to work around her, sometimes leaning way over to paint above her. She saw what I was doing, and I saw the mischievous heart of a little girl for a moment when she started backing away from the door, making me lean further and further over.

“Hey!” I said in mock outrage. “You’re doing that on purpose!”

When she giggled, apparently ignoring me, and continuing with her painting effort, I felt a small leap in my heart. It was nice to hear her giggle.

“When you’re done with the painting, and done torturing me, you can paint around the edges of the two hinges and the kick-plate. If I won’t be in your way.”

Little Hannah nodded, and continued her careful painting, working slowly and deliberately around the perimeter before moving onto the hinges.

I found myself kneeling beside her, painting the bottom-half of the door, while she detailed the trim. We switched places so I could work on the side near the hinges while she completed the bottom trim.

“Not bad,” I commented, holding out a drip bucket for her to dump her brush in. I sealed up the paint can, peeled off the trim tape, and stood back to get a look at the results. A little girl stood beside me, her blonde hair a poignant reminder of all I’d lost. I took a deep breath to compose myself.

“Not bad at all. Think your mother will like it?”

I looked down at her while she thought it over. A smile slowly spread across her face. She nodded twice.

I put my hand down for a fist bump, just like I would with my girls. She shrank away for a second, then glanced up at my face for a second before making a tiny fist and bumping her knuckles against mine.

We were enjoying the last of the natural light as dusk was settling in. Paisley walked out and stood beside us, giving her approval. “The blue is perfect. Great choice Hannah.”

Hannah stopped admiring her work, looked at Paisley, and blinked like she was just seeing her for the first time. She looked up and down the block, then walked back into the house and planted herself in front of the TV.

“Ready to call it a day?” Paisley asked.

“Yeah. Best get while the getting is good.” I packed up my paint supplies and in just a couple of trips hid any trace that I’d ever been there. Except of course for the door, yard and fence. Oh, and the toilet, although that really didn’t count for much.

Back home I cleaned up and sat down pondering what I’d just done. I had mixed feelings, a little guilt creeping in for taking liberties with someone else’s house. But thinking about that little girl, and what she must be going through, made anything I could do to help worthwhile.

Thinking was dangerous. I realized I hadn’t been very nice to the people who had tried to help me. I decided to rectify that if possible, and found a new phone cable for my phone and plugged it in. Picking it up I heard a dial tone. Good.

I made a list of phone calls, and went to work. Calling, one-by-one, my friends, neighbors and co-workers, I apologized for my behavior and thanked them for their concern. To one, they blew off my boorish behavior, and promised they’d be there for me if I needed anything.

I stopped, with just a few calls remaining, wondering where those people were for Victoria and Hannah, who seemed to need it far more than I.

I picked up the phone and dialed Alice’s family. I knew it was going to be tough. I apologized for leaving the funeral arrangements to them, and thanked them for all they had done. Speaking to Dan was difficult, but my conversation with Sophie almost did me in. The time we’d spent in the hospital, watching over Alida came up,

and I had to take a break for a bit to get my emotions under control, while I listened to Sophie sob. Even after the divorce we’d remained friendly, and I was glad that we’d had each other on that fateful watch. I promised I’d stop by in the next couple of days, she insisted there was some paperwork that needed taking care of.

My last call was to Joseph, my roommate for three years in college, and best friend in the world. I had hung up on him twice that first day, and it was haunting me. He’d left more than a dozen messages on my cell-phone voicemail. Plus, I had ulterior motives.

The phone rang several times and went to the answering machine. I felt like a weight had lifted, I wouldn’t have to face him. “Joseph, David here. I’m sorry I…”

“David, I’m here, don’t hang up, I’m here. Let me turn off this damned machine. Hold on.” I heard some rustling and the echo of our voices disappearing. “Jesus, David. You’re killing me.”

“Sorry. It hit me so hard; I just couldn’t listen to one more well-wisher.”

“I understand.”

He would understand. His father had passed away while we were in our last year of college, and he took it hard. Started drinking heavily, cutting classes, and chasing anything with boobs. I took care of him as much as I could, going so far as to collect his homework and projects, even talking to his professors. He’d been slow to pull it together, but eventually came around.

Five years later, less than a year out of law school, it was his mother. I had flown out and spent a week with him. I knew it would be hard – he was an only child, and he had few relatives, and none he was close to. He came out of that funk bitter, and it cost him his girlfriend – no loss there. We’d been as close as brothers, hell, probably closer. We still were.

Joseph understood.

I opened my soul to him, and stayed on the phone for ages. I heard him send his wife off to bed, while I vented. It was a much needed cathartic outpouring that left me exhausted.

“What can I do? Anything, you know it. Should I fly down?”

As much as I’d love to see him, it had been nearly a year, he was a family man now, and it was Christmas. “No. Stay with your family. I’m doing better, and if I need to I can call.”

“Of course.”

“I also wanted to say I was sorry.”


“Sorry that I couldn’t do more for you when you lost your parents. I never really experienced losing anyone like that, and couldn’t comprehend what you were going through.”

“Shut the fuck up. You were there for me, buddy. Always. When nobody else was. I’ll never forget that. Enough said. Don’t need to be getting sappy over it.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright. By the way, there’s one other thing you might be able to do for me.”

“Anything. That’s what friends are for.”

That’s what friends are for.

* * *

The pounding on my front door was not unexpected. Ten o’clock at night might be a little of a surprise, but the knock wasn’t.

Strange charity service in the Neighborhood door – 02 will continue in the next page.

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