Short Story Prompt: “Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament” by Willa Cather
They were like bookends, the two Pauls. One on each end of my block.
Paul A. was a sixteen-year-old kid who lived with his single mother, Phyllis, in the red brick, two-bedroom house. This Paul never smiled. He wore a sullen look on his face like it was a suit of armor, his clothes rumpled as if no one in the house knew how to care for clothes. Not him. Not his mother. Most of the time he seemed angry. And there was a darkness about him.
Paul S. was at the other end of the block. He lived with both his parents and his three sisters in a two-story white house with a well trimmed lawn and a white picket fence. A curly blonde-haired kid, always smiling, eyes bluer than the sky on a clear blue sky day. A yes-sir or no-sir when I threw a question at him. Like playing catch with the kid, only with questions. Real polite, and likeable as the day is long.
Needless to say, the two Pauls did not run with each other. Paul A. was as much of a loner as anybody I have known in my seventy years. Only a couple of times did I see him with some boys. They had thug written all over them. Paul S. lived in a world where everybody was his friend.
Now the Good Book says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I try to follow that old saw best I can. It was hard though. If Paul A. passed my house, I would give the boy a smile and a good day. All he did was grunt and move on in a hurry like he had someplace to go.
It was a hot summer day. An August day I believe. My air conditioner had gone out early that morning. It would be the next afternoon before a technician could get over to check it out. It was ninety degrees outside, eighty-five inside and getting hotter. I had the windows open for what there was of a breeze and sat in my living room with the overhead fan on.
I went out to the kitchen and stuck my head in the freezer to cool off. How refreshing that was. I was giving a good amount of thought to running myself a cold bath and soaking. Then I thought that maybe I should drive down to the senior citizens’ center. Thing was that they closed at six and I would have to come back to the house and sweat.
Oh, what the hey. I’d gotten way to use to living with all these modern conveniences. Why when I was a kid, we had no air conditioner. And there’d been times when the weather was hotter than this. So what was it with this doing without. “C’mon, man up,” I said to myself. “You’ve gotten too too soft.”
I walked out on the backporch and grabbed the cat’s water bowl. Friskers needed some water so I took it inside and filled it, then back to the porch. I looked out in the back yard. Not a bird in sight. Even the birds were not happy about the heat.
There was a breeze on the back porch. Looked like we’d get some rain soon. Then we’d get more humidity and that would make the heat sticky. For the moment I settled into my lawn chair with a glass of ice tea. Before I knew it, I was dozing off.
I woke to a crash. Coming from inside the house. Had I let Friskers inside? Sneaky cat. He always got past me. I got up and headed inside.
“Friskers, what are you in to now?”
I walked into the living room. Before me stood one of Paul A’s thuggish friends.
“Now hold on here,” I challenged him. “What are you doing in my house?” He was bringing out the former cop in me. How dare this punk come into my house uninvited.
I turned and made for the kitchen. Before I could get to the drawer and my .38, this punk had his arms wrapped around me in a bear hug. He threw me to the ground and said, “Oh, no you don’t.”
Another beefier thug came out from my bedroom, rifling through my wallet. “Just a few bucks in here,” he said to his partner.
“You bastards,” I yelled, crumpled up on the floor. “Get the hell out of my house.”
The bear hugger kicked me in the gut. I went fetal, grasping my stomach.
“Find anything else?” hugger asked.
“Just a couple of rings and some credit cards.”
“Take them and let’s get out of here before this old codger recuperates.” Hugger kicked me again. It felt like he had broken my arm.
Beefy headed for the door. But he didn’t go no further. Before him stood the light Paul. “What the hell are you guys doing?” he demanded. Then he came through the door like he was a bull running down its prey. He hit the hugger in the gut with his fist and went to do it again. Beefy’s fist came down hard on his head.
Both Beefy and Hugger went through the front door, then I heard a noise like a two-by-four splitting. “I told you no. Leave Mr. Williams alone. But you didn’t listen.” It was the dark Paul’s voice.
Light Paul picked himself up. Dark Paul yelled, “Call the cops.”
When the police arrived, dark Paul had scooted away, melting into the night as if he had never been there. Light Paul told them what had happened, took credit for my rescue. As the paramedics loaded me into the ambulance, he said to me, “Paul told me not to tell about him and so I’m not.”
Several days later, the nurse brought me home. As she walked me out of the car and into the house, I saw the two Pauls. watching from across the street, smiling. It seemed that the light Paul was now a little darker and the dark Paul a little lighter.