Short entry tonight: how I earned the name “gullible Rose.”
While we lived in the dumpy little house on Elmstreet, hanging out outside took up the free time that was left to me after school. When I wasn’t playing football with Kenny and the boys or browsing through my Pokemon collection at Noel’s place, I was standing out in the yard or on the porch that belonged to a little old lady. Her name was Evelyn, and she lived in a house on the street behind my house, but I usually just referred to her as the “little old lady.” The little old lady Evelyn loved chatting with me, and she also loved bringing a box onto the porch that contained all of her preciously old jewelry. She encouraged me to take whatever I wanted; to this day, I still have a golden pendant that the little old lady handed to me on one warm, Florida afternoon with a smile.
Noel would accompany me to Evelyn’s house sometimes; we’d walk the short distance from my house to hers or we’d ride just hop onto our bikes and ride there. Once we arrived, it was typical for us climb her big Oak tree and break dead branches off from it, tossing them to the ground and sticking them into big, black trash bags. Evelyn would sit watching us from her porch; smiling, looking from us to the occasional car that sped past her row of houses.
“I see one there,” she’d prod us, pointing with her finger and squinting her eyes.
We’d follow with our eyes and it was always rewarding when I could pinpoint which dead branch she had her attention on. It was a job we did for free; Evelyn liked keeping her tree looking nice and young but she was too old to do it herself. Plus, our young, adrenaline-propelled bodies enjoyed letting off the energy that made us tap our feet, twiddle our thumbs and kick our legs around. It was also just fun work.
One day, when the job took longer than usual and we had worked up a sweat, we watched as the little old lady rose from her chair and disappeared into the house. She returned a few minutes later, clutching her pocketbook and motioning us forward with her hand.
We lowered ourselves from the tree and walked across the lush, green lawn, coming to a stop on the first and second steps to her porch.
“You two worked so hard today,” she commended us, smiling, “so I wanted to give you this.”
She produced a five dollar bill and held it out, still smiling.
Noel fidgeted a little. “Five isn’t very much for us to share,” she said bluntly.
My mouth dropped a little. I stood there, speechless, sticking my hands into my pants, awkwardly. The little old lady pursed her lips and nodded. “Very well,” she responded quietly, “I want to be fair to you girls.” She replaced the five dollar bill into the clutch and pulled out a ten instead.
“Is this more fair?” She asked Noel honestly.
“Yeah,” Noel agreed, taking the ten dollar bill from her, stuffing it into her back pocket and smiling. I smiled weakly and thanked Evelyn for being so kind. We tied off the black trash bags and set them by the edge of the road, about a foot or so away from her mailbox. We waved goodbye, mounted our bikes and peddled off. When we were just a few yards away from my house, Noel looked over at me suddenly.
“Hey,” she said nervously, “I think I lost the ten.”
“What?” I responded. “I’m sure you didn’t… you put it into your back pocket, right?”
She paused in the road, straddling the bike between her legs and setting her feet on the ground. I watched as she reached her hand behind her and felt in her back pocket for the ten dollar bill.
“No,” she reported with a worried expression, “it isn’t there!”
We retraced our steps. We returned to the little old lady’s house and searched the porch, the yard, the grass by the mailbox and trash bags… nothing. We pushed our bikes along the path we had ridden on moments before and found nothing but a few empty coke cans and one single penny. The money was gone.
“I’m really sorry,” Noel made a frown.
“No, it’s okay,” I said quickly. “The money wasn’t important anyways.” I smiled.
Noel nodded and started looking kind of strange; uncomfortable.
“Hey listen,” she cut in quickly, “I’ve gotta go home.” She raised one of her feet to where it was resting on a pedal and secured her grip on the bike’s handlebars. “I forgot about some homework thing I have to do.”
I nodded understandingly and waved goodbye as she pedaled away.
I mentioned the unfortunate happening to my mom once I had gotten home and she apologized. “That’s a bummer,” she said sympathetically, making a sad face as she poured a blue box of Kraft macaroni noodles into a boiling pot of water. I guessed that Bobby must have requested macaroni and cheese for dinner that night; one of the few meals he really enjoyed.
Years later, it occurred to me that Noel probably hadn’t lost the ten dollar bill at all; she probably just thought that ten each would have been more fair than five, and unfortunately, we had only been given a single ten. My gullible self just believed her when she said that it was gone.