As I approach, they let go of Bobby so 911 can show me—I’m responsible for him!—the legal paper that says that Bobby’s tin can now belongs to Social Services. “To defer the cost of Bobby’s mother’s nursing home,” explains 911, like I’m an idiot. Or a child.
I look around at all the empty trailers: the Erie Mexicans are gone. They were illegal. The Erie Jetts are being evicted and that’s five trailers, and Bill, across Erie Drive, moved because Bobby’s mother drove through his living room.
“Who is going to pay Slumlord the lot rent?” I ask, looking at all the tender young plants and the children playing.
Social Services will pay for the empty trailer. It belongs to them now.
911 tells Bobby that Adult Protection has services for him and he can be institutionalized with other handicapped people not far from his mother.
Char spits at 911, “You’re insane!”
911 feels intimidated. I know. “So where do you want to go, Bobby? Cause you can’t stay here.”
Bobby stands straight, looks at me. “This way.” He points.
On the day he is discharged, TJ has to be out of Mercy Hospital by noon, an hour longer than a hotel gives you. His brother, Dusty, picks him up, since he’s the only one with a car and a license and insurance. He says he has a license and insurance anyway, although Char says he doesn’t.
Now TJ and Dusty stand in my living room and face each other: Dusty raises his palm toward his brother who suffered a heart attack fucking his wife. “How,” Dusty says.
TJ returns the gesture. “How.”
I think about how thankful I am to Dusty’s girlfriend, for saving TJ’s life. I’ve never met her, but I know she’s an Erie.
Welfare Fraud Lady, henceforth referred to as WFL, rides in from the West in a beige Caddy, so expensive that, if she ran into my 1972 tin can with a veranda, I’d have to pay her damages. Irritating scraping sound of underpinnings meeting the speed bump. No one escapes Erie Park with a muffler.
There is a flash of lightning. An urgent rumble of thunder clouded out by dread. This is the end, I know.
WFL wears a dress. It’s scary. Allaurha and Baby mob her before she even manages to get out of the Caddy. On stork legs and high heels, she makes it through the mud to the front of the car.
“Hey kids! It’s the Welfare Fraud Lady!” I yell. In the distance, many children are headed this way, each with a needful thing that the authorities have been so helpful as to remove from TJ’s trailer. It is free.
Allisha Stump arrives first staggering under the weight of a pentagon-shaped table big as her arm span. “Grandmama, can I keep it?”
Allisha is in contest with me to be badder—and when I was her age, I shot Rockefeller, the Governor of New York, in the ass with a peashooter. He was giving a speech in Public Square. Now Allisha drops the table and shoots WFL in the ass with a mud ball.
WFL talks condescending to the kids mobbing her. Baby gives her a hug and is expecting to be carried. WFL grabs the railing and then gets all excited. She wipes the purple paint from her hand to her dress.
Many pinwheels of different colors and sizes whirl madly in the wind, which is insane. Now the clouds burst with icy rain as WFL approaches me in my rocking chair on the deck. She’s soaked and her bleached hair is wild (free). When she is close enough to make eye contact, she flashes a clipboard and pen like a badge. Allanha, Allenha, Allaugha, and Allibamha race past her and into the inner confines of the downsized Nut Bin.
Allisha hops in place in front of WFL and announces, “Hey Grandmama, it’s some strange lady!”
WFL quickly explains that the Cop, 911, who said I could get a hardship waiver, must be new to the job. “I consulted with my supervisor. There is no such thing as a hardship waiver!”
WFL goes on: “If conditions are as bad as you claim, and you can’t pay back the $10,000, because your roof is leaking and you don’t have enough to eat, and you have flesh-eating disease, my supervisor says Jacob should be removed.”
WFL is unaware that Allaurha is sneaking mints from the purse she swings from her shoulder. WFL is oblivious that a wind chime whirligig, turning in an illusion of eternity from the porch ceiling, has wrapped into her uncivilized hair at the crown.
I watch WFL’s eyes dilate as she reads from a paper attached to her clipboard. “Jacob’s counselor scanned Jacob for abnormalities. He didn’t pass prosociety.”
Jacob, my heart, walks past WFL as if she isn’t there.
“They scan all the children. And he’s abnormal.”
“I am not familiar with prosociety. Does it mean he isn’t compassionate? Is he violent?” I hit myself in the frontal lobes with my stump, like I’m an idiot, as it comes to me that she is using politically-correct to say that Jacob is antisocial. He’s Erie.
The rain lets up for a moment, and I see him join several children, a gang led by Allfalha Stump, who has a rocket device that they are attaching to a spark plug inside the engine of WFL’s Caddy.
It will happen in the future, like an Erie Lake Effect: a long whistling siren leading to a fountain of sparks and a harmless explosion as WFL leaves.
(This will happen after the end of the story.)
As WFL takes an aggressive step forward, the caught lock of hair in the whirligig is pulled from her head; WFL is partially scalped. In pain, she does a war dance, while I beat my palm against my mouth and give a whoop.
I quickly lead the nuisance WFL, followed by a swarm of children, inside the dark hall dotted with pink plastic garbage bags attacked to the ceiling to catch the rain. Her steely blue eyes smudged with makeup take me in like I’m a small furry creature caught in a trap of her snap judgment. “And your hand. Let’s see your hand.”
She means my stump. I give her the finger.
She whirls around. I stop her in the hall to look inside Jacob’s room, which had been an addition. The skylight exposes pelting rain lit by lightning. “Jacob’s roof doesn’t leak,” I say. “So you can’t take him away. Now, Allisha, if you want her…”
Allisha is directing a failed attempt at getting a purple sleeper sofa through the side door. I call to her, “Go tell your dad a couch has come. He’ll help you move it.”
“There’s a chicken,”WFL gasps, pointing at a hen just laying an egg. Coincidence?