My wife and I had taken to calling her “Scuz Lady.” She looked like she would have been homeless had it not been for our neighbor, Earl. Earl, about forty, had lived with his mother until she died and left him the house. Not long after the funeral, he took in Scuz Lady. And he’d share the details of their relationship with me.
I admit I wasn’t comfortable as Earl’s confessor, but whenever he saw me mowing the lawn or pulling weeds, he’d mosey over to chat. He never mentioned Ms. Scuz by name. To this day, I don’t know it. He referred to her as “she” or “her,” and often complained about how much her drug habit cost him.
“Why do you let her stay with you?”
He looked at me like I was from Mars. “The sex, man. The sex.”
All I could think of was: The disease, man. The disease.
Despite Earl and Ms. Scuz, we live in a neighborhood respectable to the point of boredom, neat brick bungalows with mowed and trimmed bushes. Mr. Rudolph, well into his eighties, shuffles up and down the street each morning, picking up trash and tossing newspapers closer to the front doors. Occasionally, he pulls a small shovel from his back pocket to dig a weed that dared grow in a sidewalk crack.
But, of course, the talk of the neighborhood was Earl and his friend, especially when it became obvious she was pregnant.
“They neuter bitches,” my elderly, churchgoing neighbor said to me one sunny morning as Scuz Lady passed by sporting bleached blond hair, a cigarette dangling from a mouth stained with cherry-red lipstick and a stomach protruding from her skeleton-like form.
My wife and I watched Mz. Scuz’s stomach grow and feared what might become of her and her child. We talked of calling the authorities, but who — child welfare? the police?
Since I had become Earl’s new friend, I was encouraged to talk to him about the danger her drug habit presented to the baby she was carrying. Though uneasy, I approached the topic one sunny afternoon.
“No problem,” he assured me. “I told her she can’t do no drugs while that baby’s inside her. I only let her drink beer and wine and smoke a little dope.” He sounded so proud of himself, I offered no more advice other than my hope that she see a doctor.
One evening, while my wife and I dozed in front of Letterman, we heard a pounding on our front door. It was Scuz Lady.
“Earl throwed me out,” she slurred. “I got no place to go. Could I stay with y’all?”
“No,” my wife said, standing between her and the front door.
“Just let me have some water, then. For the baby.”
I kept her on the front porch while my wife rattled around in the kitchen. She returned with a bottle of water, a banana and something wrapped in tin foil. I bet it was the chicken left from dinner. “This is for the baby,” she said. “But you have to go.”
When she left, my wife reached for her cellphone.
“Who are you calling?”
“911. She can’t stay out all night in her condition.”
Maybe a month later, Earl told me the baby was born premature. “The cops took it. They said it was a boy.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. It was probably allergies, but I wanted to believe it was honest emotion. “The baby’s in some foster home. That’s all they tell me. They won’t even say how it’s doing… how he’s doing. My son.” Earl coughed.
“What happened to…” I realized I still didn’t know her name.
“Oh, her? They put her in some kind of rehab psych hospital. She was crazy, you know? Stole my mother’s jewelry to buy drugs, so I kicked her out. She went back to turning tricks over on Third Street. Her pregnant and all. Sheeee-itttt.””
I had heard enough. I turned toward my house.
“That’s where I met her, you know. Third Street. Shit, I gave her a nice home and everything. I guess you just can’t help some people.”
I wanted to say something to let him know how disgusted I felt, but a tear rolled down his cheek. I made believe I didn’t see it.
“Take care,” I said.
“You too, man.”
I picked at a weed growing in a flowerpot and sought the ordered security of my home.
Wayne Scheer has been locked in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including, Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.