Summer heat distracted Maman. She was expecting her fourth baby and was miserable. When the two junior spies were finally asleep, she would let me out to go help Mrs. L., a friend of hers who also needed help with chores.
“When am I gonna paid? I must be the youngest maid since before the dam war”, I grumbled, slouching off across the back lane to the second-storey tenement.
Now Mrs L. may be a friend of Maman’s, but there was a side of her only I was allowed to keep secret. She smoked cigarettes. Everybody smoked. Not that – it was: she drank her husband’s beer and she could shoot! Mrs L. was a kind of hero.
I used to love Dale Evans, a woman who could take care of herself, even though I never saw her kiss Roy. She petted her horse, but I never saw her pet Roy. Mrs L could shoot a gun, like Dale!
That night, sitting on Mrs L’s back porch, Mrs L. had a few surprises for me. She said: “Here is a dollar for your help and here is a nice bottle of ginger ale and we are going to eat a big bowl of chips. The dollar is all in dimes, it was saved up from selling the bottles”.
She added, “Don’t tell your mom, she will tell you she needs it. Get candy for the kids.” Most likely soap and toilet paper and there goes my dollar, I thought.
“Now it’s dark” she said, “And see? They put new lamp posts across the two streets – just over the school yard?”
I nodded in the dark, crunching those lovely chips.
“Now watch the rats run across”. I stared. ”Rats? in the school??” Ugh. Wow!
Sure enough, two ran across the beam of the new lights. “Now watch this”, she said, leaning over the banister, aiming her .22.
“Wait, now here comes one more – just a second…” SNAP! the rifle shot a teeny bit of yellow light and sure enough! She had got one! What a shot! She could shoot in the dark, two blocks – well one and a half – away!
“Want to hold a rifle?” Did I? Wow! Too bad the rats had four legs and were not boys! Shows you what potential I had for criminal acts. A future actress for the TV show: DEADLY WOMEN … Dad would love this!
Mrs. L. was no fool. She carefully emptied the rifle and showed me how to hold, point, check the sights and she said: “See? one more runs across, then pull the trigger without waving the barrel around – steady!” She reloaded, we sat down, ate more chips while the friendly smell of her cigarette wafted across my face on the silent summer night breeze.
That night, I slept and dreamed I would become a sharp-shooting hero in the police, killing awful boys who had grown up to become bad guys. The ten dimes were hidden under a rip in the linoleum under the lumpy bed. Twenty-two days of secret Popsicles – payday!