"Did you hear, Mom?" Danny burst into the apartment with his usual banging and clatter. "There have been fights between the professional panhandlers, you know, the ones who hang out at the entrance to parking lots, and the new poor people begging for food."
"No, I haven't heard about that," Susan looked up from the baby blanket she was crocheting for Mrs. Perkins' newest great-grandchild. Her neighbor had to stop needle-work due to arthritis, but was happy to pay Susan for the work. "I guess it's a side-benefit to walking everywhere that we miss seeing things like that."
"Apparently, at the new Walmart one of them pulled a knife out and was threatening the others. The cops had to come and sort it out." He dropped onto the couch with his legs stretched out.
"I imagine the store management don't like it. Anything that makes customers avoid coming will hurt them." Her gaze fell on his ankles which were all too visible below his jeans. "Danny, you've been growing again. New jeans..."
"Actually, what I really need are shoes or I'll have to cut the toes out," he tried to make a joke of it, but wished he could erase the worry lines on her face. "I have an idea about the jeans; since they still fit around the waist, could you take one pair and sew pieces of the legs to the others? I know it will look a bit odd, but I never cared about what I wear."
"I can, but maybe the secondhand store will have something."
"But, Mom, it will still cost money and this way won't cost anything. I'll go see if they have any shoes, okay?"
"Okay, but if there aren't take the bus to Walmart and buy new. It's bad for your feet to be squished up."
Susan switched from yellow to green yarn and considered the future for the new baby. She had been spending more time at the Perkins' apartment when she couldn't find odd jobs and the discussions had naturally turned to the economy. They were afraid lives would get much worse and stay that way for years before slowly recovering. One of the things they regretted was selling the family home when their children had moved away; now they would be unable to help provide shelter as they feared would be needed.
Honestly, Susan missed her childhood home also. Then she thought about living there with her adult sisters and shuddered; maybe this one went in the blessings column. While she pondered this her phone rang.
"Hello, Susan? This is Penny from the Food Pantry. I have you down as a volunteer for tomorrow morning, but we're completely out of food so I'm shutting us down until we get more donations."
Susan set the phone down distractedly. When she had started volunteering there, the Pantry had been very well stocked with food. To go from that to empty in a few weeks was worrying news.
The next morning she headed to the library to see what she could learn about what had caused the food emergency. It took hours of digging; searching town council minutes, county news and police reports but she figured out possible answers. While the nation was reporting 8% unemployment, her state was 12% and her county was a staggering 15%. Eyes narrowed, she wondered what the real national unemployment would be if someone tallied up all the counties instead of accepting what was released to the public.
Meanwhile, all crime was up but domestic violence topped the list by jumping 30% compared to the same time last year. Suicides and attempts had risen by 60%. "How much worse will this get?" she whispered sadly to herself.
Danny spotted the police car as he rode his bike through the apartment complex's parking lot and stopped to watch. A woman in uniform was squared off against a family in front of the next building. They were shouting at her but she didn't react until the man poked her. Suddenly her baton was out and the man staggered back wheezing and clutching his belly. The rest of the family rushed to him and the noise level notched up.
"Whoa, she's hot!" Danny grinned to himself. He watched for a few minutes more as the family began hauling belongings out of the apartment and the officer returned to her car.
Inside his own apartment he found a note from his mom that she was babysitting and wouldn't be home until late. He looked around glumly; there just wasn't anything interesting to do. The options were down to homework or going somewhere else. About the only place that didn't cost anything was the library and he had already been in the school library once today. His eyes landed on the shoes he had kicked off. Danny was a lifter at heart, but since the only ones in his size at the secondhand store were running shoes it seemed wrong not to try them out properly. Quickly changing into sweats, he jogged down the stairs and headed out, making sure he went past the cop's car on his way.
It was a few days later when Susan got the call to go clean the now empty apartment where Danny had seen the eviction happening. Unlocking the door, she stepped inside and froze, eyes wide and hand instinctively covering her nose. The room had been trashed.
Backing out, she called the landlord, "Hello, this is Susan. I'm at the vacant apartment; I think you need to see this right away. Well, what I can see from the door: a broken chair leg stuck in the wall and more holes the same size, spray paint on the ceiling and windows and it looks like a bunch of trash bags from a dumpster were emptied out all over the carpet. It smells like rotten food and diapers. Yes, I'll wait for you."
She closed the door to shut away the odors and leaned against the opposite wall, determined not to go back in there without a promise of at least a free month's rent.
"It's the last time he will delay getting the locks changed, that's for sure." Susan sipped her tea and smiled ruefully at the Perkins couple. "I still don't understand why they did it though. They hadn't paid rent in four months; did they expect to continue to live there for free? I wouldn't be surprised about not cleaning up after themselves, but to vandalize the place? You don't want to know what they did to the bathroom and all the appliances were demolished."
Mrs. Perkins exchanged a knowing look with her husband, "It's one of those quirks of human nature. I was a teacher for thirty years and the way people react and interact can be astonishing. Some people just are civilized, solid all the way through. Others wear a veneer of civilization, shiny and beautiful but the slightest pressure will cause it to crack and fall away. Then there are those who don't even try."
"To be fair," Mr. Perkins interjected. "Most people fall somewhere in between the extremes. Tell her about that one, the girl who looked you up at her class reunion."
"Oh. Oh dear. Poor Menolly." Mrs. Perkins looked flustered. "I was a young teacher and didn't recognize the warning signs at the time she was in my class. So much trouble; acting up in school, partying and drugs, running wild. All the more shocking because she was the minister's daughter. And the truth was he was abusing her at home. All the time he was a monster pretending to be a good man."
"What happened to her?" Susan asked.
"I didn't learn any of this until her 20th class reunion. She wouldn't come back to town until after he died of a heart attack. She runs a program helping runaways get off the street and safe. She took great satisfaction from putting her inheritance into her program and hiring a therapist for the kids."
Mr. Perkins' mind was wandering to the next topic already and he interjected, "Did you hear about the robbery?" Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "That big grocery store that does the deliveries, the driver got beaten up and the truck was completely emptied. No money, it was all for the food."
His wife tsked and shook her head, "What is the world coming to? Right after that was on the news they showed the mayor giving a speech on how things are looking up and what a great place this is to live."
"I'm not sure there are any great places left," Susan said sadly.
"Don't you believe it, dear. Things are changing, but we can still be happy where we are."