"Bill Collecting" by Beverly M. Stout
"Why couldn't they have just responded to the letter," she breathed. "Maybe I should just go home and send another one." But she knew if she did that, there would be no telling if she would ever see the money that was due her. Things were tight, and she needed every penny to make ends meet. Teaching piano to immigrant children at Hull House wasn't exactly lucrative, but it was a job and the best option she had at the moment. For the most part, she enjoyed it, feeling proud when their chubby little fingers correctly pounded out a Bach minuet. It was just moments like today, when she found herself standing on a less than reputable street preparing herself to be a bill collector, that she questioned her purpose.
Halfway down 32nd street, Blythe finally identified what appeared to be the house she was looking for, and it was as run down as she had expected. It was a small, two-story wooden square house. The roof was missing tiles in various places and sagged over a crumbling front porch. The paint, which must have at one time been a bright, crisp white, was peeling off in many spots, allowing large, gaping sections of weathered, gray wood to peer through.
With her hand on the small, tattered fence, Blythe paused and briefly considered forgetting the whole thing. She took a deep breath. "I don't think I can do this. Lord, help me!" She shot a prayer up to heaven and pushed open the gate. The front porch looked abandoned, unsafe, so Blythe decided to make her way around to the back entrance. Just when her courage was about to fail her again, she was discovered by a group of children hanging around the back porch, one of which was her little student, Della. Any chance of escape disappeared in that moment, for the little girl had given a small shout upon spotting her piano teacher, and had run inside to tell her mother that Mrs. Cramlet was here.
Before she knew what was happening, a very large, jubilant woman, who jabbered excitedly in a mixture of Greek and English, was escorting her into the house. Blythe had had to make house calls once or twice before in order to collect unpaid lesson fees, and usually the mothers and fathers dropped their eyes with shame and embarrassment, muttering apologies when they saw her standing on the porch, but not this time. Within minutes, Blythe had been seated in the living room, a cold soda in one hand and a plate of something she couldn't quite identify sitting on her lap.
"Perhaps they don't realize why I'm here," she reasoned to herself. But when the mother had paused long enough for Blythe to explain her purpose for coming, the woman seemed unconcerned and started rambling on about how honored they were to have little Della's teacher come to visit.
Blythe noted with surprise that the inside of the house was completely different than the outside. The rooms were clean and neat, and well furnished. Their possessions were far from being extravagant, but they were in good condition and appeared to be well taken care of. She found herself becoming a little more at ease.
After Blythe had been fed and settled into a chair, the mother randomly started telling a very dramatic story of an accident that had happened not too far away. She spoke mostly Greek, so Blythe could only make out a few words, but the woman told the story with her whole body and with such emotion, that Blythe was able to get the main gist. Evidently, a neighbor child had gotten hit by a car and was in bad condition, obviously a very tragic event, but the way the woman told the story, even breaking into tears a time or two, seemed so ludicrous that Blythe found it hard to concentrate on the seriousness of the matter. She did manage to give a few sympathetic clucks and 'oh, mys,' however, and the woman seemed pleased by her reactions.
In the midst of the woman's excited storytelling, Blythe managed to take a glance at her watch; it was already 6:30pm, and she had to be at Dr. Hagan's by 7:00pm. For a little extra money, she'd been keeping the books for a local dentist in the evenings. If she didn't leave soon, she'd never make it on time. When it seemed the woman had paused to take a breath, Blythe stood up and did her best to explain that she had to leave. With a grand smile and a tumble of indistinguishable words, the woman finally began searching about the house for what Blythe hoped was her wallet. After a large scuffle and rifling through coat pockets and desk drawers, Della's mother returned to Blythe with a couple of crumpled bills. With a series of thank yous and goodbyes, Blythe was once more escorted out the back door. The large woman, Della, and the gang of scraggly children stood in the doorway, waving as Blythe made her way back onto the street. Once she was out of view, she released a hearty chuckle and headed on her way to catch the 6:40 trolley car to Dr. Hagan's office for an evening of crunching numbers and filling out forms.