What She Was Here About
a story by Tom Fillion

"Please excuse this old, blind woman," said our neighbor, Leona, who was an old, blind woman though she saw about as good as anyone else, maybe better.

We were getting ready to eat dinner, my wife and I, the baby was asleep, when she knocked on the front door. I saw the lapel pin on Leona's white blouse when I opened one side of the French door. She was out collecting for the American Cancer Society.

"I can come back, Greg," she said, plopping down in the green swivel rocker.

Greg, you better get this over with, I thought, whatever she really wanted. It wasn't about collecting for the American Cancer Society. That was a given. That was just her camouflage. Nice one there, Leona, I thought. She might be blind, but she wasn't stupid. It was about something else. The Cuban lady across the street from her. The Jehovah Witnesses next door. The gypsies next to them. The couple from West-by-God Virginia next to them. The Mafia hitman or the maybe the Baptist pest control geezer who liked to grope. Yep. That's probably what it was.

"Who is it, Greg?" Charlene asked from inside the dining room.

"It's Leona from across the street."

"Oh."

I occasionally drove her to a nearby hall to play Bunco.

"It sure is hot outside. I like the way you've fixed up your davenport here," Leona said. "I'll have to do something like this to mine. I've got the house pretty well fixed up inside and out."

"Yeah, your place looks nice. A real showcase," I said.

So that's what she was here about, I thought. Checking out the davenport.

"You know, I've been taking medication now for four weeks. I've got problems with my circulation," she said.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew about her circulation problems though she only spoke about it to certain neighbors, but everyone knew, even Carmen, the short, fat Cuban lady. They weren't talking, but that's the way neighborhoods work. The neighbors that don't talk to each other talk to the neighbors who do. Shorthand is what I call it.

So that's what she was really here about, I thought. Not the davenport. She was here to let everyone know more about her circulation problems. No problem. I'd get the word out. What's more, I wasn't a doctor, but I could drive her to one if she needed a lift. Watch, I told myself, she'd beat around the bush for a while and then just drop that in, by and by.

"The doctor doesn't know, but them pills make me feel queasy in my stomach. We had these for dinner, have you ever had them?"

"Had what? The pills?"

She held up a plastic container she carried with her for her donations to the American Cancer Society. I could hear a few coins jingling inside it. The container wasn't from the American Cancer Society though. It was from Birdseye Frozen Foods.

"You can get them in the frozen food section over at the grocery. It's frozen corn on the cob. That's the only thing that tastes good to me anymore. Ain't that something?"

Charlene walked into the room, wondering what was going on. She saw the container that Leona held up.

"Yuk. I can't stand corn on the cob. It bounces on me," Charlene said.

"I like corn on the cob, but not frozen," I said.

"Well, Greg, you gotta cook it first," Charlene said.

"I shouldn't have it either, I guess," Leona said. "You know, I'm thinking about selling my house. I haven't told him yet," she said referring to a boarder staying with her.

Leona was always taking in older men who needed a place to stay. She used to marry them, but after seven marriages boarding them was all she did now. Can't blame her there. So that's what she was really here about, I thought. Not her circulation problems, but selling her house. No problem. I'd get the word out to the neighbors who weren't talking with her. She probably wanted me to cut the yard before she put the sign up.

"I'm just waiting for him to go on another good bender and he'll be gone for a while and I can go to the Methodist apartments. You know what he told me? He told me he was going to start charging me for the work he was doing around here, and I told him right back I was going to charge him for his meals and room. Don't that beat all?"

Now, we're getting to the truth, I thought. That's what she was here about. Her boarder. She wanted to get rid of the old buzzard, and everyone knew I was friendly with the mafia hitman. She probably wanted him roughed up a bit. I could mention it to my friend.

"Yes."

Charlene nodded.

"I'm selling my house for a hundred thousand. It's worth every penny of that and more, don't you think?"

"Probably."

How should I know, I thought? I wasn't a realtor. Besides, nothing much was selling, especially with some of them, I won't mention any names, in such disrepair.

"But I'm selling it to my daughter 'cause she wants it for my grandson, Ronny. He's over there right now. But it's going to cause problems with the other children, and I don't know what to do, so maybe I'll just let the lawyer handle it."

So that's what she's really here about, I thought. Not the American Cancer Society, the davenport, her circulation, selling the house, her boarder, thank God, because I really didn't want to say anything to the hitman because he had other things on his plate, but her daughter and her grandson, Ronny, and her other children from seven marriages. I'd keep all that under my hat.

"And I have it written down that there's money put aside for my funeral and burial. I've decided to be cremated instead of being sent back to Indiana 'cause it's so expensive to fly or on the train and there's no room to ship it on the bus, and I'm going to ask that my last husband's ashes be mixed with mine. That's the way to do it, I guess. But I'm worried about the house, and maybe I should just tell him to get out.

"He hates little Ronny. He told me that and after all I done for him. We went swimming and he was out deep in the water with Ronny and all of a sudden I think the way he feels about Ronny, he's liable to drown him out there. So from now on I never take Ronny when we go to the beach. Ain't that something?"

That's what she was here about, I thought. Her boarder was trying to kill her grandson. I better get that out to the other neighbors so they could keep an eye on him. Then I thought about it for a moment. Forget it. Goddammit. I didn't know why she was here. I didn't have a clue.

"Well, I better let you all finish your dinner."

She went out the front door and walked down the steps. The first step was a killer. The cement had settled, and I had never fixed it. Leona held onto the railing and took it without a stutter step. That proved to me, once and for all, she wasn't blind.

"Say, could you just come over and visit me sometime?" she said to Charlene.

She sat out on her front screen-in porch a lot all by herself. I looked over there sometimes when I took the baby out in a stroller and felt sorry for the old gal.

"Sure."

She lumbered down the sidewalk.

"Leona, you forgot your American Cancer Society donation," I called out to her.

I had the coins in my hand, ready to drop into her frozen food box. She kept walking like she couldn't be bothered. She wasn't really here about that, but I think I figured out why she was. It was our secret though. I wouldn't let on to the neighbors. It was none of their damn business anyway.

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