I live in Downtown Covington, Ky., and Patsy lives in my apartment building on the second floor. I don’t know her well enough except to say hello when I see her in the hallway or out on the sidewalk. She’s a pretty young girl — tall and thin with long black hair and blue eyes. She has a bit of a southern accent.
She’s friendly, but her boyfriend isn’t. His name is Ernie. He’s also tall, but his hair is blond and short and too often I hear him yelling at Patsy as they make their way out of the building. “Fuck you!” seem to be his favorite two words to say to his girlfriend. To me, he offers no words at all, just an icy stare.
Patsy looks too young to have a small son. In fact, I didn’t know she did. I met him one afternoon two weeks ago. I wasn’t supposed to meet him at all, but I’m glad I was the one who was here to look out for him when he found himself with no family members around.
I can see the street from one of my side windows when I’m working at my desk. I watched a car pull up. Without turning off the motor, an older lady got out of the car. Walking around to the passenger door, she opened it and a little boy got out. The lady bent over and talked to the boy for a few seconds, then the boy started walking up the front steps to the apartment building. The lady got back in the car and took off.
A few seconds later, I heard knocking on the apartment building door. I knew it had to be that little boy. I went to open it.
There he stood with black hair and freckles all over his face. He was wearing a yellow T-shirt and tan shorts with black tennis shoes. He wasn’t exactly dressed for winter weather.
“Hi,” I said. “Who are you looking for?”
“I’m here to see my mommy,” the little boy said.
“Who’s your mommy?”
“You know what apartment she’s in, right?”
“Yes,” he said.
He started walking up the steps to the second floor. I decided to stay in the hall and listen to make sure he got to her apartment OK. I heard him knocking on a door. A minute passed. The little boy knocked again, this time louder.
I heard no door opening, heard no voices. I put two and two together. Patsy wasn’t there.
I walked up the first flight of stairs and yelled out to the little boy.
“Hey!” I said. “Come downstairs and wait with me until your mommy gets here. Maybe she’s running late or something.”
I heard little steps come back down the stairwell. The boy looked a little scared. I was scared myself. What was going on here?
He sat down in the chair at my desk. I asked him his name. It was Joey. He told me his grandmother dropped him off to spend time with his mother, Patsy. She’d be back in a couple hours to pick him up. I asked him his age. Joey’s 5 years old.
I started to feel panicked. Where was Patsy? Joey’s grandmother had dropped him off. Surely she must have known Patsy was home waiting for her son, or did she? None of it was making any kind of good sense.
Kneeling down next to Joey, I went on my computer, went to YouTube and found some cartoons for him to watch. We would wait it out for a few minutes to see if his mother, Patsy, would show up. I was worried.
Maybe ten minutes went by. From out of my side window, I saw Patsy running up the sidewalk and steps to the apartment building. I was no longer worried. Now I was angry. I walked out of my apartment to open the door to the building. Patsy was out of breath. She looked frazzled.
“Joey’s with me,” I said. “He’s OK.”
“Thank god,” Patsy said. “I got here as fast as I could.”
“I missed my bus,” she said. “I had to wait for the next one.”
Patsy entered my apartment and hugged Joey. He didn’t seem all that interested in seeing his mother. He was more interested in the cartoon he was watching.
“Can I talk to you in the hallway for a minute?” I asked Patsy. When she walked out of my apartment, I closed the door halfway.
“Are you a stupid mother?” I asked Patsy in a low voice.
“No!” she replied.
“Why would you have your son dropped off when you knew there was a possibility you wouldn’t be here?”
“I meant to be here!” Patsy said. “I missed my bus. I thought maybe Ernie would be around to let him in.”
“Apparently not,” I said. “Why didn’t you call your mother to tell her you were running late?”
“My cell phone is out of minutes,” Patsy said.
“That’s pretty lame,” I replied. “Find a payphone. You had a stranger watching your little boy. You don’t me; don’t know what kind of person I am. Why would you put your child in danger like that?”
Patsy stared at me and said nothing. I opened my apartment door and walked over to Joey.
“Nice meeting you, Joey,” I said. “You can go with your mother now.”
Joey got out of the chair and took his mother’s hand. I watched them walk up the stairwell. I could feel the anger in my body start to leave.
I don’t know which one was dumber — the mother for not being here to meet up with her son or the grandmother for dropping a child off not knowing for sure if the mother was here. The reality is they’re both dumb.
While on the subject of “dumb,” so is Patsy’s boyfriend Ernie. He can’t be much of a role model for Joey with the attitude he displays when it comes to his mother. Speaking of Joey, I’m pretty sure he’s not living with his mom — don’t know what that’s all about — but I feel sorry for this little boy who has such stupid grown-ups around him.
I’ve seen Patsy and her boyfriend Ernie since. Neither one is talking to me, so they’re both unfriendly now. That’s fine with me. I’ve seen Joey, too; I have watched his grandmother drop him off to visit his mother from time to time. Now, his grandmother is walking up to the door with him to make sure Patsy’s home. That’s what grandmas should be doing.
Maybe my little talk with Patsy did some good. For Joey’s sake, I hope so.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org