“Hang on, I’m coming.”
Five minutes later, the door opened a crack and an eyeball peered out.
“Oh, it’s just you.”
Disappointment seeped out like smoke from a burning house when Old Tom opened the door the rest of the way. He tottered back inside, taking each step with care.
“I thought my daughter was coming,” he croaked.
I stepped inside behind Old Tom leaving behind the hallway of peeling paint and dingy black carpet. The equally dingy carpet in his apartment captured the imprint of many shoes and showed a well-worn path leading from the solitary bedroom to the door where I stood. It was as if Hansel and Gretel left a trail of crumbs and muddy footprints to remember how to return but decided against it once they reached fresh air and green grass.
Of course, there wasn’t much to which Hansel and Gretel might return to between the cigarette burns in the sofa, the legion of bedbugs hiding in the corners and cracks, the peeling laminate flooring or the empty cupboards. Hansel and Gretel got away, even the roaches moved on in search of better pickin’s, only old Tom wasn’t so lucky.
Old Tom worked his way directly towards a raggedy recliner chair next to folding card table with a pack of cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray on top. An inhaler, pack of matches and two batteries were also haphazardly situated on the table.
He gradually lowered himself down, one brittle and creaky bone at a time, until he finally rested his weight squarely on the hemorrhoid cushion on the chair with a sigh.
We shared a mutual relief that he had managed not to fall, picking him up off of the floor would be close to impossible. Summoning emergency responders would almost definitely result in an arrest of his neighbors for whatever illegal activity was taking place in the parking lot, front waiting area or around the side of the building. It would not help to build warm feelings between Old Tom and the residents of units 1,2, 4, and 6. There was no 3.
Almost reading my mind, he said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get myself up once I hit the floor.”
He laughed; the thought of being trapped on the ground without help like a baby bird that had fallen from its mother’s nest was somehow funny to him. The same man who was once a straight-up gangster with gold chains, girls, and endless dope was now a shriveled and sad little man in a grey sweat suit. Incontinent and overly trusting, he was getting played by the one thing he never counted on, time.