Waiting on the Cheeto Mobile: a short story

*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “The neighborhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.”

The Cheeto Mobile

The Cheeto Mobile

The late sun bore down on his brow as he waited on the porch steps and alternated between picking a scab on his left knee and watching a ladybug inch across the peeling paint on the wooden slat between his sneakers. An early spring breeze blew through, prompting him to zip the blue sweat jacket up to his collar bones as he lowered the visor on his ball cap.

When’s he gonna get here?

He’d been sitting here on the shabby front porch forever. Well, maybe not forever, but 20 minutes felt like forever to Zach. Dad was always late on Fridays. That’s because he had to close up the shop Fridays by himself. The other mechanics got to go home early because they’d worked there longer. So said Dad. Whatever. Zach always packed his stuff and waited outside early on Fridays anyway. That way Dad could just pull up, roll down the passenger window and holler for him to get in. Better than getting him and Mom face to face and all pissed off at each other.

As he waited, he saw a cop car with flashing lights coming toward him. No sirens, though. Wonder what’s up? He always wondered why sometimes the cops used their sirens, and other times just the lights? His buddy Josh said they skip the sirens when they’re going on a donut run. Whatever.

He picked at the scab again – crap it started to bleed – and had a flashback of the motherf***er who tagged him out at home plate. He almost had it. Damn. Gotta work some more on his base sliding. As the cop car crept closer, Zach’s attention jolted back to present. It stopped in front of Ms. Pauley’s house. He looked across to the trashed out row houses – all of ’em were, including his, around this dump of neighborhood in West Philly – and saw her leaning against the door jam. Looked like she was crying. She had her hand over her eyes and her hair was all messed up, like she hadn’t combed in forever. Mom promised we’d get out of this neighborhood as soon as she got a promotion at her secretary job. But Zach doubted they’d be moving anytime soon. They’d been here at least a year, renting it from someone Mom knew, ever since Mom left Dad. He missed their old house with the back yard and rope swing. But they had to move after it got repo-ed. Or foreclosed…something like that, he couldn’t remember what they called it. Whatever.

He stood up to get a better view, then saw another car pull up next to the cop’s. Still no sign of Dad. When’s he gonna get here?

He kept looking down the street for it: the 1990 Camaro Dad had been driving lately. Dad worked on it for weeks, even put a new carburator in it. He called it his “Cherry Red Sweet Ride” but Zach thought it looked more orange. Kinda like a big Cheeto. Ha! He called it the Cheeto Mobile once but it pissed Dad off big time so he stopped. Whatever.

“Hey Zach, I need you for a sec…” he heard from inside.

He looked across the street again and saw the cop get out of the car – he looked about Dad’s age. He was a tall white guy with dark glasses and a bunch of gear hanging all over him – holster, radio, badges. He walked up the stairs toward Ms. Pauley and started talking, but Zach couldn’t hear what he was saying. Zach watched as the cop widened his stance and put his hands on his hips. Ms. Pauley started crying even harder. Her whole body looked like it was shaking. Then he saw the other guy get out of his car, a black Cadillac…

“Zachary come inside! I need to talk to you…”

He sighed. Whenever his mom used his full name he knew she had a chore for him. He already took the trash out and put the dishes away. What now?

“What? I’m waitin’ for Dad, he’s gonna be here any minute…”

“He’s always late. But that’s not the point. Come inside now Zach. I need to talk to you.”

He got up, left his pack on the porch, and swung the creaky screen door open to step inside. “What’s up?”

“Listen, I’ve told you about Ms. Pauley. You know her husband died during that big snow storm, and she can’t afford to live there anymore…”

“Oh yeah, I heard he shot himself! My buddy said Ms. Pauly found him down in the basement by the dryer.”

“Zachary! Stop it. We don’t know what happened over there. All’s I know is those jerks on her front porch won’t give her a break, and I don’t want you starin’ at her while they kick her out. She’s a nice lady.”

“I’m not starin’. I heard she’s got a bunch of sons in trouble. Josh told me one of ’em is in jail for robbing a mini-mart a couple of years ago, and another one is selling drugs…”

“Don’t you listen to Josh. That kid’s mouth is bigger than my oven. But you listen to me Zachary – I’m working my ass off so we can get outta here and one day you can go to college and be a good upstanding citizen. You hear? You need to keep your grades up and learn from what you see around here. You can’t mess up in school. I don’t want to end up like her, getting dragged out of my own house…”

“I know, I know, Ma…I would never let that happen to you I swear.”

It took her a moment to swallow a forthcoming tear. She hated getting emotional in front of her son. But he was such a good kid. Such a good kid.

Zach turned away, knowing she wouldn’t want him to see her cry. Just as he saw Ms. Pauley descend the steps with the cop, holding onto the rail, holding onto the last shred of pride she could muster, he saw his Dad pull up.

“Hey kiddo, sorry I’m late!”

Zach looked up at the sun, sneezed, adjusted his ball cap, and swore to himself that he’d do whatever his Mom wanted. Study. Chores. Anything she needed. And make sure she’d never have to wait on an ugly porch for a cop to take her away.

He looked back at her, grabbed his backpack, and waved goodbye: “Back Sunday, Ma. I love you!”

And climbed into the Cheeto Mobile.

 

 

 

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