“Riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg, riiiinggggg,” The sound of my hubby’s phone interrupts our supper preparation on this Saturday. I feel that twitch of annoyance but then sigh. This has always been my life for almost thirty years of being married to a self-employed electrician. This time it is our tenant who rents the apartment above Gordon’s shop.
“Could you come and fix the garage door opener? It doesn’t work and I am going to have weight-loss surgery on Tuesday and won’t be able to lift it afterward,” she implores.
When Gordon returns an hour later, he indicates that he has not been successful in diagnosing the problem, “Can you call an overhead door company on Monday? She said her surgery was on Tuesday, so we need to get it fixed before then.”
Monday afternoon finds me guiding the overhead door repair technician to the vexing garage door. I push it up by hand and step inside the garage. Whoa! What is that putrid horrible smell? The lady tenant has lived in our above-the-shop apartment for almost twelve years. Neither my hubby nor I have been in the actual apartment in many years. For just a fleeting moment, a thought crosses my mind, what if she dies while having this surgery done, what will we find up there in that apartment. I quickly dismiss that notion. That’s not likely.
The tenant has communicated to me that she expects to be back on Saturday. I toy with the idea of going up there while she is gone and seeing just what is going on. Gordon and I have suspected that she now has a dog. She had a cat when she moved in. And how does one care for a large dog in an upstairs apartment when one can hardly get up and down the steps themselves? I quickly dismiss my desire to investigate as we have not informed her of any intent to enter the apartment as is legally required.
Thursday morning, I receive a call from my husband. He sounds distressed.
“Sally died in Mexico!” He blurts out.
What??? My premonition is disturbingly slapping me in the face. I exhale a short laugh. “I was not really expecting that, but I am not too surprised,” I tell him.
“Her brother called,” continues my husband, “and said that she died. I didn’t know she was going to Mexico for her surgery. He is going to contact us later about removing her possessions from the apartment and cleaning up. I gave him until the end of December to get everything out.”
“The end of December!?” I repeat, my heart sinking.
My stomach has clenched into a tight knot and a wave of weariness slides over me. She is gone, just like that. Guess it is time to go see exactly what the condition of the apartment is. I knew a day of reckoning was coming. I just wasn’t expecting it quite yet. But denial of the signs- the glimpses of a dog, the smell – only works for so long.
The rancid smell touches my nose as soon as I push open the front entry door. Behind the door is a package of doggie training pads and cardboard laid out on the cement landing. The seventeen steep steps to the apartment are a little dirty but not bad. Both latches on the final entry door have been busted out. I gingerly push open the door. I gasp at the sight that greets my eyes, followed by total breath holding. The stench is overpowering. Covering the floor in the dining area are rumbled blankets, dog poop, and urine stains coated with cat and dog hair. My stomach has started to churn. I tiptoe carefully around piles of dog excrement as I explore the bedroom, living area, kitchen, and finally the bathroom. I touch nothing. I am repulsed. I cannot believe anyone would want to even sit on the toilet. I am about to gag, and I make a hasty escape from this dungeon.
I wonder where the dog and cat are. The tenant’s brother informs me in a phone conversation later that day that he picked up the dog from the local kennel before flying to Mexico. He insists however, “Sally left the cat in the apartment because she wasn’t going to be gone that long.” I am puzzled as I look around on my second trip to investigate this claim. There is a big bowl of water in the middle of the kitchen floor but no cat to be seen, no cat food visible and no litter box. I text the tenant’s brother with this information. I finish, “The cat could be hiding so I have decided to take some cat food today and see if it disappears.” I also suggest that maybe she boarded the cat with someone at the last minute.
“I just don’t want a cat to starve to death in the apartment or destroy the property,” he expresses his concern in return.
I chuckle sarcastically to myself. This man is clueless about his sister. “I appreciate your concern for the property,” I text, “but it is too late for that.” I want to cry. The hardwood floors are totally ruined. But he is still in Mexico and trying to deal with his sister’s body. I assure him that I will feed and water the cat until he can come if it is there and alive yet.
I drive home on this Saturday and collect a small bag of cat food and a dish. This time I don an N95 mask and some gloves. I don’t really think there is a cat here, but this will be the litmus test. I leave a small dish of food. I gather up my courage to climb those steps into the cesspool again on Monday morning to check the result of my experiment. The bowl is empty. OK, something ate it. I fill the bowl again with cat food and decide to drive home to get a litter box. I am not sure it will be of much help at this point but maybe it will prevent a couple of dumps into the already toxic mess. When I return in just under an hour, the food again is gone. That smothers my doubts. Somewhere in here is a cat.
Each day, I make the trip to put out food which disappears by the next time I come. On Thursday, I spend a few minutes quietly standing and looking around.
“Meow, Meow,” I hear the soft sound. And there she is, a thin silver-gray colored kitty. She approaches tentatively and finally allows me to pet her. It is time for me to go and as I close the door behind me, the cell phone rings.
“I would like to come this afternoon and see what the situation is,” begins the voice of the tenant’s brother, “and maybe if we can catch the cat, I will take her.” In the background, a harsh loud meowing reverberates over and over through the door. Well, the cat has had enough of being alone. Maybe there is hope of catching her today.
A few hours later as the tenant’s brother, nephew, and I climb the stairs, they are shocked by the state of affairs that we find, “I can’t believe that she was living like this. I had no idea.”
At first, there is no sign of the cat. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” I call. In a few minutes, she appears from one of the open kitchen cabinets. She still is not sure about all these strange people and stays just out of reach. Nephew reaches down and strokes her face hesitantly. “I don’t want to get bitten,” he wavers. He does finally pick her up but as she struggles to get away, he releases her. My heart sinks. I can just see her escaping back into her secure hiding place. She doesn’t look too wild or dangerous to me. Once she calms down, I pick her up again and hang on when she attempts to flee. Soon she calms down and allows me to hold her and stroke her back.
Nephew looks around for something to contain the cat in for transport. There is a Tupperware storage container between the living room and dining area that looks promising.
“See if you can empty that and we can put her in there,” I suggest.
He lifts the lid and peeks in. Quickly, he slams it back shut. “Un Uh!” he says.
“Well, what is in there?” I question.
“Poop,” he answers.
Oh dear. Really? The poop storage container!!!
The decision is eventually made to take Kitty without a carrier. I just hope she doesn’t disappear in their vehicle or escape. Good-bye Kitty.
On Friday, I drive by the apartment building and notice that the dumpster is full. They are not losing any time in tackling this project. I am relieved as there is nothing quite so depressing as being faced with such a mess.
I text Brother on Saturday to let him know that all the appliances are to be left with the apartment. I forgot to inform him of that.
“Okay, thanks,” He responds, “We got a start yesterday, but the real work begins on Monday. I am renting a dump trailer and planning on having the apartment empty by Tuesday evening. Wish us luck.”
“I do wish you luck,” I answer, “And thank you so much for taking care of this.” I feel a huge sense of relief that Brother is diving right in and taking on this overwhelming, gross task. I am afraid that if I were in his shoes, I would have thrown my hands in the air and just walked away, leaving the mess for the landlord. I think he is being overoptimistic with his time estimation but every step forward that he makes is one less that I have to navigate.
I climb the steps to the apartment on Tuesday evening. The stench has decreased significantly with the emptying of the contents of the building. It is still filthy but so much better. I look through cabinets, the closet, and various nooks and crannies. Most everything is gone with the exception of two things. The carpet still rests on the living room floor. That grimy piece of dirt infested threads needs to go too. I peek in the refrigerator. He must have forgotten that. It is still plumb full.
“I will be back on Friday,” he informs me when I contact him about his further plans.
“Could you carry the carpet down to the dumpster when you come back?” I ask. “And by the way, the refrigerator is full yet.” I think he may have forgotten.
I am hopeful that those final two items will get taken care of in addition to the emptying of the garage downstairs when he returns. Then we will be ready to hire a commercial heavy-duty cleaner.
I have been so impressed with the work that this gentleman has done so far that I have allowed myself to be overly optimistic. On Friday, I receive his final text, “I’ve gone as far as I’m going to go. I did not empty the refrigerator. I just don’t have a stomach for it.”
OK so I guess emptying the refrigerator is my job. He did not say anything about the rug, so it is time to investigate just what is left. On Sunday, we stop at the shop for my hubby to check on some supplies. I peek in the dumpster. There is no rug in it. That means it is still upstairs. Well, I guess that is our job too. Next, I head straight for the garage below the apartment. As I open the overhead door, I am jolted. I was expecting an empty garage. Instead, it is half-full of discarded computers, a monitor, printers, a 64” TV, 4 various vacuum cleaners, a couple of brand new looking handicapped accessories, and various other miscellaneous pieces. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff? They are all items that need a cash outlay in order to discard. Great! Just great! I guess he got tired of his non-paying non-productive task and just decided he was done. I can’t say I blame him, but I am disappointed that his great start just petered out and flopped.
I return to the apartment on Monday with a couple of tasks in mind. I want to try all the devices that Brother has left and see if any of them work. I want to take down the curtains to wash them and I need to empty the refrigerator. I begin with the curtains. Ugh, they are dirty. Well, so much for my idea of washing them. I cringe at the filth then stuff them in a garbage bag. As I traverse the laundry room removing curtains, I decide to give the clothes dryer a spin. It responds quite promptly and begins to turn. Clunk, Clunk, Clunk…. It sounds like it is running on scorched bearings. I shut it off immediately once the burning smell reaches my nostrils.
It is time to move on to the refrigerator. The freezer is stacked plumb full of frozen single serve meals. It seems a shame to throw it all away but even it emits a nasty odor. The main cooling compartment contains curdled milk in a jug and various leftovers in different stages of disintegration. Four large garbage bags fill as I pull out container after container. I peak in the bottom drawers and discover an inch-deep layer of mold. Ick! My last discovery is on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Box after box of the medication insulin for diabetes touches my fingers. What a waste! It all gets heaved into the dumpster. I let out a sad mournful sigh. The apartment is empty, and this is the end of one life here on earth. Now it is time to move on to the cleaning.