Neighborhood Watch

By Amy Marques

In the thirty years since she’d become the self-appointed guardian of East Elm Street, Pauline had witnessed five courtships, two divorces, three affairs, one broken leg (that skateboard was the worst birthday present anyone had ever gifted a child on this street), one fire (she was the one to call the Fire Department and still considered it one of the most exciting days of her life), two babies, and one run over dog (unless you count Fifi, but Pauline didn’t count Fifi because she was a yapping midget monster who had outlived her welcome and she wasn’t really run over so much as frightened into a long overdue heart attack). 

With her chair angled just so, Pauline Gortmann could sit and watch the comings and goings of every house on her block except the one next door to the east. She could wave to the children who walked past on their way to and from the school bus stop on the corner of Third Street. Kindergarteners always waved back; but by third grade most were long past being nice to “Old Ms. Gortmann”. All except little Allie T. She waved long past grade school and, even when middle school came around, and Pauline thought for sure she’d be too embarrassed, she still waved and sometimes even elbowed her friends into waving, too. 

Once, against her better judgement, Pauline ate the second half of an old cobb sandwich for lunch so her visit to the toilet was off schedule and kept her off her perch for the afternoon school bus drop off. That day, at precisely 4:17 p.m. (after her driver’s ed class), Allie T knocked on her door. 

I was worried. Little Allie (not so little anymore, but it is hard to break the habit of thinking of someone as little) explained that she had never not seen Ms. Gortmann wave to her on her way home from school and wondered if she was okay. Allie touched Pauline’s arm, then kept her fingers there, strong supple fingers lightly squeezing frail skin and bones.

And that’s when Pauline knew. She’d always wondered who would find her when she fell. Or died. She couldn’t very well be the one to find herself (although she did regret that she hadn’t yet had a chance to report a missing person or a dead body, not that she wished anybody dead and it was likely that she would be the one to die first, since most every other house had young families). Pauline knew now that little Allie would be the one to find her.

“I’m fine, dear,” Pauline said, proud of the fact that her voice didn’t tremble. It was important not to appear weak when talking to youngsters. Especially when giving instructions. Instructions are unlikely to be followed correctly when one wavers. “I’m glad you are here, though. I have a request.”

Just in time, too. 

Not a week went by before paramedics arrived to find Allie calmly sitting on the ground and holding hands with Ms. Pauline Gortmann, who lay sprawled on her bathroom floor, hair wet, but neatly combed, and aquamarine blue robe covering her from neck to ankles like a large blanket with sleeves. 

How did you know this would happen? Little Allie had asked her when she’d used the spare key hidden under the fake succulent left of the front door to come in to check on her neighbor who had, once again, missed her waving duties.

“I didn’t. Not for sure. But most falls happen in bathrooms, dear,” Pauline had said. “My greatest fear was that some handsome young paramedic would find me unclothed.” 

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Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in anthologies and journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, MoonPark Review, Flying South, Streetcake: Experimental Writing Magazine, and Sky Island Journal. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 or read more of her words at