She found one.

The day started with a light drizzle of rain and progressed into a full-on deluge by the time I arrived at my first appointment of the day.  A streak of yellow lightening split the sky in front of me as I popped my umbrella into shape.  Fortunately, when it rains like the world is coming to a certain end, the punks of the street take cover.  Plus, it was too early in the day for most of them to be up.

So I sloshed happily down the cracked sidewalk into the front yard of my client’s ramshackle house, unmolested by the usual people of the street.

My client sat at the table picking at a microwaveable meal of gelatinous meat with a side of green mush that was representative of vegetables.

We went through the usual list of questions and finished pretty quickly.  As I stashed the paperwork into my bag, I asked, “Anything else going on?”

She slyly looked at me and confirmed that my pen and paperwork were safely tucked away.

“Don’t write this down, but the prostitutes have taken over this block.”

I egged her on, “Oh yeah?”

Nodding with a grim expression, she said, “I don’t even go out to my back porch anymore.  I’m afraid of what I’ll see now that it’s covered with condoms.”

She was stone-cold serious while I tried to figure out if this was a dementia thing or a little joke to get a reaction from me.

Not waiting for my comment, she continued, “In fact, my granddaughter took the trash out there last week and found one.”

I asked, “A condom?”

Disgusted that I wasn’t following the story, she shook her head, “No, a prostitute.”

“My granddaughter screamed at her because she’s got a real nasty attitude, she always has. I heard her in here and thought something happened.  She came back in here and told me, the prostitutes thought this was an empty house.”

“But your lights are always on and the grass is mowed and your front door is open and…” I tried to make sense of how the prostitutes could have made this mistake.

“Don’t worry.  My granddaughter set them straight, but I’m still not going out there.”

She shrugged her shoulders and returned to her meal, now cold, and started picking at it again.

“That’s just how it is,” she said, as though to comfort me.

I left certain that it might be that way today, but it doesn’t have to be that way tomorrow.   Yet, I was uncertain as to what should change: the neighborhood, her living situation, or my attitude towards the whole thing.

Sunday night dread

Sunday night, the rumor returns to me, like a punch to the gut.  It lingers on the fore-front of my thoughts and gnaws at my peace of mind.

On Monday, I am due to visit a curmudgeon of an old woman.  She usually stays in her bed with the covers pulled up to her neck and mixes subtle insults for me with complaints of her health.  There is a haughty pride in her suffering that she is only too glad to share with others.

However unpleasant, it is not the curmudgeon that concerns me.  Rather, it is the visitor who is staying indefinitely in her basement.  He’s a wanted man with a bit of a mental health issue, already a felon, holed up in the damp and cool space underneath of the woman’s home. He is quite naturally no longer taking his mood-stabilizing medication. 

The situation gives me cause to wonder how strong the fight or flight instinct might be in a person so clearly desperate to avoid capture and arrest.  Does he ever leave or do friends come to visit?  Who is providing food and water to this person of questionable character when the old woman claims to be bed-ridden and living completely alone?  How many other curmudgeons are also hosting criminals in basements and back bedrooms? 

If I allow my mind the freedom to continue to wander, the questions keep coming and a sense of fear pervades.  Instead, I’m taking control and roping in my imagination.  More than anything, I’m sincerely hoping that it’s another silly rumor and then maybe looking for a new job on my next lunch hour.  

Meant for the watchful eyes of…

“Handle goes up and then you jiggle it.  She doesn’t like people to know that she keeps it unlocked,” Tasha whispered over her shoulder to her companion, June.

“Now, we knock and pretend like she’s letting us in,” Tasha finished instructing.

June nodded in compliance as Tasha opened the door.  The two quietly let themselves inside of the home, while keeping up the required ruse meant for the watchful eyes of neighbors and bums.

Glancing back, June only saw a neighbor angrily raking leaves.  Likely, he already knew that Mrs. Landis never locked her door and had nothing worth stealing, aside from incontinence products and gospel recordings.

The wind blew and the top of his pile scattered, sending reds and oranges floating across the yard.  He continued to rake, furiously dragging his tool across the uncooperative leaves, unconcerned about the goings-on in Mrs. Landis’ home.

“Hello?  Mrs. Landis?” Tasha called out, after June stepped in and pulled the door tightly shut behind her.

The women blindly bumped their way through the front room to the voice coming from a dimly lit area with a hospital bed in the middle. “I’m in here, girls,” the voice croaked.

“Have a seat,” she offered, peeking out from underneath of a pile of blankets.  The outline of a lump, Mrs. Landis, could be barely made out on the bed, the room was so dark.   The women strained their eyes as they looked around and waited for their rods and cones to adjust.

Tasha moved quickly ahead, feeling her way to the only hard-back chair, leaving her companion to the cushioned office chair.  Rule one in training: never sit on a cushioned chair in a questionable home.  It could be filled with bugs, spills, needles, or pills.  However, it was the only other viable option in the room, other than sitting on the edge of the invalid’s bed.  Rule two in training: never sit on the side of a dirty, invalid’s bed, especially if you wouldn’t sit on their cushioned chair.

“Sit, sit, sit, you’re making me nervous,” the invalid commanded.

“Sure,” June weakly said, knowing it was a bad idea and sat, feeling immediate regret at her decision.

The seat of the chair was wet and moisture began to seep through her pants onto the skin of her legs.

Shooting back up, the invalid laughed, “Oh I guess it still wet from earlier.”

“You want some light?” she asked, without offering any further explanation at the chair situation.  She then pressed a button, bringing the room to life with a harsh, yellow light.

The floors were hard wood but cracked and dry.  There were card board boxes lined against the crumbling and cracked wall.  A massive entertainment center with speakers and a huge flat screen television was set directly in front of the hospital bed.  There were dingy orange curtains that were pulled shut with black out curtains behind them that successfully shut out all natural light.  Propped against a mirror that was set on top of a dresser was a faded photo of a woman with full lips and a beehive hairdo.

“That’s better, huh,” she declared, still mostly buried underneath of blankets and sheets.

Scooting her chair closer, Tasha gently said, “Mrs. Landis, we just wanted to come and see you to make sure everything was ok.”

“Well,” the old woman started.

She began wiggling and scooting, slowly emerging from her covers like an old butterfly from her musty cocoon.

“Now you see me,” she declared with a wide smile, exposing two golden front teeth.  Her hair was fuzzy and pulled back into two pigtail braids that stuck out from her head like black snakes.  “And now you can go.”