12244 Stoppat Street, the long curved loop of a neighborhood. Like a rope, or a snake, curled tongue to tail, with houses all along the outside and the inside, across the street from each other. Entering the suburban street, houses on both sides, you drove until it started to curve right, and this was where the apartments were, strangely mixed in with the houses; if you kept driving straight instead of curving right with the road, you'd head down an incredibly steep driveway (where I once busted open my knees and arms over the front of a chubby friend's bike as we stupidly attempted to fly downhill on 40$ of thin metal and plastic handlebars) into an underground parking structure. The parking structure was both jail and playground for all the neighborhood children, a place where bullying and terrorizing could happen as easily as hide and seek and Doctor.
Along the right hand side of the street was an embankement that went uphill of trees we kids used for climbing, swinging, breaking arms, making forts. I once lost my stuffed Tiggy there for two horrible days, before I found him and swore never to take him out in the neighborhood again. ( I didn't, and I still have him.) After the curving loop to the right, on the left hand side there were more apartments, where we began living, my mom, dad, sister and I. This was where Mrs. Whilshey lived, a bitter, miserable old lady who probably looked much older than she was due to her constantly pinched and dissaproving expressions, and penchant for overlarge dark clothing and reading glasses. She lived alone, and I always thought of her as the kind of woman who might have poisoned any unfortunate husband with arsenic in his tea, after he left his trouser belt laying on the bed one too many time, or left the sugar lid off again. Mrs. Whilshey could not stand the clamorous and numerous neighborhood children, and my sister and I went out of our way to stay out of her way. We bothered her in every aspect, our playing in the sprinklers in underwear over the hot summers disgusted her, our laughter and screaming infuriated her,
our toys in the common lawn angered her, our obvious lack ( to her ) of appropriate parenting and discipline confirmed her low opinion of us.
She had to pass our small beige apartment to get to her car, and everytime her black pratical shoes slapped by us on the pavement we could feel the radiation of her dislike lapping over our backs like a nuclear pulse. She sniffed and snotted, curled her mouth and curdled her already curled face even more, to be sure we were fully aware of her feelings. We slunk a few feet away and kept playing. One afternoon, I had left my silver wheeled roller skates on the path, alongside my Green Big Wheel, and she knocked like the Wicked Witch on the door, three sharp raps. RAP RAP RAP, my mom was having coffee with the Indian neighbor who was attending medical school alongside her husband and who left their small son Armound in my mom's care while attending class. I stood behind my mother as Mrs. Wilshey spoke.
' Your children are leaving a MESS everywhere. Did you know they were out in their panties
earlier, in the water, and left water everywhere? ' ( Can you leave water when playing in water?
Were we to suck it dry with our mouths? )
' Mrs. Whilshey I'm sorry they left their toys on the walk. I'll- '
' I know, Maam, what you will do. It is what you won't do that concerns me. '
' So? '
My mom crossed her arms. ' Mrs. Whilshey? Don't ever come to my door again complaining
about my children unless you would like me to file a complaint with managment about your
continual harrassement of the neighborhood children, which I'm sure the other parents would
be happy to sign. '
Mrs. Whilshey colored sour red, turned, and left.
The next day I sat in my room, flushed with summer heat and bored. I thought of Mrs. Whilshey's mean face, her constant harping, her words to my Mom. I took out a notepad and pen, and began to write:
Dear Mrs. Whilshy
You are a men lady. You are men to all of the kids and we dunt like you. Go away frum
all of us and be a quit persun.
I put the note in an envelope and took my 5 year old self over to Mrs. Whilshey's door as stealthily as I could manage. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, I slipped the note under her mat, and ran.
That evening, there was Mrs. Whilshey's distinctive knock on the door. RAP RAP RAP
My mom sighed, put down the wet dish to dry her hands, and opened the door. Mrs. Whilshey stood, sour red again, trembling with strange delight.
' Do you know what your child has been up to, do you? That one- ' she said, pointing at me, behind my mother again. I felt sick.
My mother said nothing, and Mrs. Whilshey pulled out a small envelope from which she pulled out a small, badly written note. ' Your child has been writing hate mail! ' She crowed triumphantly.
Mom looked back at me, face unreadable. ' I apologize. ' What? Why was Mom so sure I did it?
Wasn't she going to argue, defend me? ' I'm sorry, Mrs. Whilshey, and we will talk to Maggie and punish her. Thank you. ' and she shut the door firmly.
She turned to me. I looked up at her. ' I didn't do it, Mom! '
' Maggie, ' she sighed. ' You used your Dad's stationary. It has our name and address printed right on the top. '
Years passed, and I was in 4th grade, living in an entirely different neighborhood and part of town, where a small old woman lived down the street, in her small decrepit house, alone. I walked by her house often, the front overriden with climbing vine and weed, dirt on the pathway, her windows shut. Occasionaly I would see her come out of her house and open the chipped mail box to retrieve her mail, then head back in. I watched her. I thought of her.
One day, I wrote her a letter.
I get really lonely sometimes and I am very sad, you don't know me but I am. And it looks like
you might be sad and lonely too and I wanted you to know that you are not the only one. If you
are mean I'm sure it's because you are just too sad. I hope you feel better and open your windows.
I left the letter with some flowers in her mailbox.
image by Gabriol via Flickr
story by Maggie May Ethridge March 29 2009