The boy crept silently through the back alley to the elderly lady’s house. It was a small bungalow with overgrown bushes all around. He liked the bushes. Great cover for getting in and out of a house at night, especially a house that wasn’t his.
He fingered his father’s gun in his jeans’ pocket. He had been to the old lady’s house just today dressed in a Boy Scout uniform and selling peanut brittle. She had to ask him several times what he was saying and then to speak up because she was hard of hearing.
He saw where she went to get her purse and noticed several 20’s when she took out the $5 to pay for the candy he had bought at Walmart for $1.99. Already he had made $3 off the her.
Tonight would be the real score, though. He figured he could gain entrance through the front door. The purse would be where the old lady got it this morning. So, he’d get that money and then he’d look around for a few other things before he lazily made his way out of the house.
He got in easy, just like he planned. Except, he didn’t see her purse in the living room. Maybe she took it to her bedroom? She probably slept like a log so he’d just peek in and check. His hand was poised on the door knob when it suddenly swung open.
“Oh my,” she said. She grabbed her duster closer around her throat and took two steps back.
The boy was surprised, too. He pulled the gun from his pocket and yelled, “On the floor, Old Lady. I’ve got a gun!”
“I…I haven’t been able to get on the floor since I was…well, a long time ago.”
He stuck the gun to her white hair and said it again only louder this time, “I said on the floor!”
The old lady seemed to ignore his shouting. It briefly crossed his mind that it might be her hearing. She moved in for a closer look at his face. “Say, aren’t you the nice Boy Scout who was here earlier today? You know you shouldn’t point guns at people.” She didn’t seem scared of him at all. Maybe the Boy Scout uniform today was carrying things a bit too far.
“Stop it! Stop talking! On the floor.” He hadn’t counted on resistance from her. This was supposed to be easy.
"My, you are a might rude. I’ll have you know I’m probably 80 years your senior. You need to call me Ma’am.”
He blew air between his teeth causing a shock of brown hair to flap up and down again in Bieber-style. “Lady, I got a gun. I can shoot you. Now, get on the floor.”
He couldn’t believe her audacity! She was standing with her back against the wall, but was not making any progress towards the floor.
“It’s my knees, Sonny. They just don’t bend any more, don’t you know? It's because I'm old. It'll happen to you one day. Mark my words.”
He threw his hands up and let out another exasperated sigh. “Look, I don’t got all night here. What money you got in the house? Where’s your purse?”
“Land’s sake, if money’s all you want, you should have asked in the first place. I can’t take it with me so you might as well help yourself. Purse is under the edge of the couch, near my rocking chair. I put it there because did you know there are youngsters, well, like yourself who break in and take things without asking? I keep wondering where their mommas are and why they didn’t teach them some manners.”
“On the floor, then, or I’ll shoot.”
The elderly woman had to look up to fix her brown eyes on his steel blue ones but she stared him down none-the-less. He averted his eyes.
“Young man, you look at me! If you are going to shoot, then shoot. I’m 96 years old but I’m younger than you by the way you are acting. I don't have many days left in this world. I don’t know when the good Lord will call me home, but if it’s today that’s just fine with me.”
Jerking her arm, he pulled her toward a chair that sat at the end of the hall. “Lady, you are a piece of work! Of all the houses to rob, I had to choose this one. Now sit down or I will shoot.”
She stood beside the chair not moving. She was stubborn, that’s a fact. He hadn’t known too many older people. No one lived to be that old in his family. His father was gone long ago. His mother turned tricks all night to make money for her next fix. His two older brothers had both been killed in shoot-outs one last year, the other the year before. Even his sister’s boyfriend was killed in a drive-by shooting just last month. He couldn’t even remember when his uncles had died. No, he had to fend for himself.
“Before you shoot me, I need to ask you one question.” She didn’t wait for his response. “If it was me holding the gun on you would you be ready to die? 'Cause I mean to tell you, the way you are living, you are going to die before me. I’m not a betting woman but I know a sure bet when I see it. The way you are going, your death before age 21 is a sure bet. Just like most of the men in your family, I suppose.”
How did she know that? He looked around to see if there beads or brightly colored silk scarves and a crystal ball. But he saw none of those, just a big painting of Jesus over the fireplace. The eyes followed him all around. It was creepy. He shuddered involuntarily.
Stepping towards him, she lifted her hands to either side of his face and patted him softly.
“Stop that. What’re ya’ doin’?” he said backing away from her.
He didn’t know why he’d even let her touch him. But her touch was nice. It was a touch of love and tenderness. He couldn’t remember ever feeling that before.
“Why, you’re nothing but a boy,” she said shaking her white curls. “You should have a long life ahead of you. But right now, Son, you are living like you’re dying.”
He dropped the gun to his side, shook his head and turned toward the door. This was taking all night. He needed to find another house or something. Where in the world was he anyway? Star Trek? That’s it she’s an alien. She’s a green, slimy alien in a pink and yellow-flowered housecoat and white wig. He felt like tugging at her hair to see if would come off in his hand.
“Wait a minute, Sonny. Come with me.” When he didn’t move, she took his hand in her wrinkled, bony one and tugged. He shook his head and sighed again.
“I won’t bite you. I’m not some kind of alien now am I?” She giggled as she saw the expression on his face.
Did she really know what he was thinking? Before he knew it, he was following her. It was like she had a spell over him or something.
She took two steps into her small kitchen. Then, reaching back behind the bread box, she opened a fat, red teddy bear-shaped cookie jar. She pulled out several hundred dollar bills and three chocolate chip cookies. How did she know chocolate chip were his favorites?
“I don’t have any need of this money or these cookies,” she said. “You take them. And tomorrow, I expect you here mowing my yard.”
The young man sank into one the faded gray vinyl-covered kitchen chairs. “Why are you doing this?” he said nervously crossing his arms on the table and then uncrossing them and putting one on each knee. His leg jiggled up and down shaking the table.
She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she reached in the old refrigerator and took out a glass bottle of milk. From the open shelf above the sink, she gently cupped a heavy clear glass and poured it full. She sat down slowly and watched as he ate the cookies and drank the milk.
When he looked up, she spoke. “You have a whole lot more living to do. Me? I’m ready to step right on over into glory and continue the real living. You are young. You can change your ways.
“Go back to school or get your GED. Then, I’m sure you can get grants and such to pay for some college or other training. You could be whatever you want. You don’t have to live this way. And you can start reading the good book. It’ll help you know how to live.
Now, let yourself out. And, Sonny…”
“I expect you here by 7 a.m. tomorrow.” With that she tottered down the hall to her original destination, the bathroom.
He let himself out, scratched his head and stood for a minute trying to decide which direction to go. No one would be home. Home was a dreary, scary place, really.
The night was warm with a soft breeze blowing. A welcoming patio lounge chair yawned on the back porch. He sat down and fell fast asleep.
The next day, she held her breath as the clock in the hallway struck 7. At three minutes after, she grinned from ear to ear.
That lawnmower engine made the sweetest sound on earth.
"I saw a valley where dried out bones were scattered everywhere. And God asked me, 'Can these bones live again?' I said, 'Only you know.' He said, 'I will put breath into them and they will come to life.' Then he commanded, 'Come breath, breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.' And they all came to life and stood up on their feet." Ezekiel 37: 2, 3, 5, 9, 10 (Paraphrased and condensed)