She looked so pretty, but so frail. Tears streamed down her wrinkled old cheeks. I was young, almost too young to understand, but I could see fear in her bright eyes, even from this distance. I pushed my glasses back up my nose and screwed my eyes tight, trying to see more clearly. Yes, there was pain etched in the deep furrows on her face and I could sense her worry and despair.
I’d heard whispers and snatches of conversation as my mother and her friends gossiped in hushed tones, throwing furtive glances my way over their large glasses of evening wine.
“Poor thing,” my mother crooned, looking out the window towards Mrs. Pauley’s house across the street.
“She has nothing, you know,” her annoying friend informed her. I heard an undercurrent of glee in her simpering attempt at pity. I was young, but I knew a town gossip when I heard one.
“Yes,” she drawled. “She didn’t get a cent of his pension.”
My mother said nothing, but her friend was undaunted. This was too sweet a piece of gossip to let disinterest deter her.
“They had six sons, all gone abroad now.”
Her voice dropped an octave.
“They didn’t even come for the funeral.”
All the women fell silent at this. I guess having your children not show up for your funeral is a really big deal. The thought seemed to make my mother sad. I wish her gossip friend would find something better to do. I would never miss my father’s funeral.
Across the street, I could hear the old woman wailing plaintively, but no one ran to help her.
“Please,” Mrs. Pauley implored in a broken voice. The men in uniforms looked at her with faces of stone.
“Please,” she cried, “I have nowhere else to go. This is my home. This has always been my home.”
“I’m sorry ma’am,” the stone-faced man replied.
He didn’t seem sorry to me.
I lost something in that moment. I think it was my faith in humanity.
I cried for Mrs. Pauley.
My mother came and took me away.