7 minute read

Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.


I was outside the Lawsons at 4th and Sackett sitting next to the ice box outside the store when a police car pulled into the parking lot.  When the cop got out of the car, he glanced my way, paused for a moment, my heartbeat surging. I struggled to act indifferent even as a drop of sweat slid down the side of my face, causing a chill, and I shuddered, contained it, and let out a long, cool breath. 

“You okay?” the cop said. He had blond hair, a wisp of combover, and a narrow mustache. He pulled up on his utility belt, the leather groaning from newness, a nickel-plated revolver holstered on his right side.  

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

He must not have expected me to show respect, and he smiled slightly, nodded, and went into the store. 

The streetlights had come on, sky glowing with twilight slipping toward dusk. Winged insects were already flocking around the floodlight outside the Lawsons, the buzz of wings audible, an uneasy prelude to what was going to be a long night. A dog barked behind a brick building across the street, a bar on the bottom floor with a split level, steel staircase leading to a second story door above the bar’s rear entrance. I saw a woman leaning on a railing boarding a narrow landing outside the door. She was smoking a cigarette, smoke curling around her dark hair. She was wearing shorts, a halter top, and big hoop earrings that glistened in the shifting light of cars driving down 4th Street. 

I stretched my legs, nudging my brother’s bicycle laying on its side near my feet. The front tire had gone flat a few blocks from the fire station on Front Street, and I walked the bicycle to Lawsons, contemplating using some change to call someone for help, but I did not know who to call. Not my grandmother. Not my aunt. They would be mad at me, concoct some way to punish me, grounding me or making me go to work with my Uncle Todd, who owned a landscaping business. My cousin who lived a block down the street was not home, the house dark, the pickup his dad drove was gone from the usual parking space in the street. 

The cop came out of the store, looked at me, again. “Still here?”

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

“Yes, sir…”

I felt compelled to say something else, but what? What was I going to say? If I told him what had happened that day, I probably would have started crying. 

“It’s getting dark. You probably ought to be getting home.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Home to what? To blood on the kitchen floor, trash from bandages, discarded needles. I dreaded going back there, but I decided I would probably head that way before too long, since I had nowhere else to go. 

The police car pulled away and exited the parking lot, and I heard music emanating from the apartment above the bar, the young woman on the landing. 

“Hey, kid,” she said. “Come here.”

At first, I wasn’t sure she was talking to me. I looked around.

“Yeah, you with the bike.”

“What?”

“You lost?”

Well, I was not lost, but I felt that way. My home was only six blocks away, four to the north, two to the west, but it never seemed further. “I’m not lost, just hanging out.”

“You look lost.”

I felt suddenly exposed, like the day’s events had been written upon me for everyone to read.     

“Come here. I need a favor.”

I did not know what else to do. Her voice sounded friendly, and she was kind of pretty and on the young side. When I got to the foot of the stairs, she dropped a bundle of money bound by a rubber band. I held it in my hands.
“Thanks!” 

The woman laughed. “It’s not for you. I need you to buy me some things. I’m waiting on a phone call.”

She gave me a list of things to buy: some cans of soup, a loaf of bread, and some chip-chop ham. “And see if you can get a bottle of beer and a pack of Newport, menthol.” 

“But I’m a kid.”

“Tell Dave that Ginger sent you.”

“Okay?” I said, walking back to the store. 

I gathered the items Ginger told me to get, a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the cigarettes. The guy at the counter, Dave, had long hair tied back in a low ponytail. He had a splotchy, untrimmed beard and wore a red and blue striped shirt beneath a blue apron. He didn’t ask my age, just rang up the items. 

“That’s $8.52,” he said. I handed him the wad of money. He took the bills needed to pay for the items, grabbed a candy bar from a rack on the counter, a Clark candy bar. “That’s for you. On Ginger. Tell her I said so.”

Dave placed the rest of the money in the grocery sack and sent me on my way. I walked my brother’s bike with my right hand and carried the groceries nestled in my left arm. When I got back to the staircase, Ginger was still on the landing. “Come on up.”

Ginger had a small apartment, a single room with a kitchenette, a Murphy bed, and a bathroom barely bigger than a closet, a curtain of beads instead of a door. She had a shelf next to the bed, a single chair next to the door, and clothes everywhere, some on the floor, some hanging from a string strewn from the molding around the bathroom door to the corner of a single window covered by a wisp of curtain, pale purple, almost white from sun fade. It seemed she had been doing laundry in her kitchen sink and hanging the clothing to dry. The clothes on the floor were dirty. 

A phone on the nightstand rang, one of those old, black rotary dial phones. The ring sounded muffled. 

“Yeah,” Ginger answered. There was a pause, and I heard a voice on the other end, indiscernible. “I’ll be out there in a couple of minutes.” 

Ginger gathered her hair, tied it in a bun, grabbed her halter top and positioned her breasts. “Hey, kid. I got to go.”

I started to leave. 

“You got some place to be?”

I shook my head, and some tears seeped from my eyes. The realization that nobody was at home waiting for me hit me hard. 

“You’ve had a hard day.”

I had no idea what to say. I dropped my head and saw the spatter of blood on my light blue t-shirt. Dad’s blood.

She put her hand beneath my chin, tilted my head upwards. “When I get back, we’ll talk about it.”

I took this as an invitation. “You want me to stay?”

Ginger nodded. “Yeah, why not… I need someone to watch the place, anyway, and you’re a good kid.”

“How do you know I’m good?”

She winked at me. “Because you brought back all my change.”

I listened to Ginger walking down the stairway, the clang of clog sandals on metal. She went to the street and met a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, opened the passenger door, and climbed inside. I listened to the high-pitched whine of the engine as it traveled down Sackett Avenue.

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Last Updated April 1, 2022, 9:46 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor