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The December Years
Shirley had just finished her shower when she heard the phone ringing off the hook.
She wrapped the towel quickly around her body and ran to answer it.
“Hello. Is this Shirley? This is Laura Giancarlo, the property manager at the Raintree Senior Living Center in Fairfield.”
“Oh Hi, nice to hear from you,” Shirley responded.
“It looks like I will have a one bedroom available for you but you won’t be able to move in until the first of November.” Laura went on hurriedly, “Can you handle it?”
“Wow that is close,” said Shirley, hesitatingly. She glanced at the calendar and looked at the packed boxes around her house. “Two weeks? Hmm… Sure, perfect timing. I have to move out of here by the tenth anyway. All my boxes are nearly packed and ready to go.”
“Great! I need you to come in tomorrow to sign the lease,” Laura responded with sudden warmth. “I also will need two cashier checks: one for the security deposit of $450.00 and another for $350.00 for the rent.” Laura added. “Please bring in your original birth certificate as well. That is a must!”
“Okay,” Shirley said.” “See you tomorrow.” She turned quickly with the phone still glued to her hand, stubbing her toe badly on the edge of the box she left near her desk the night before.
“Ooouuuuccchhh! Damn it! I hope I didn’t break my toe. I can’t tell if it’s broken,” Shirley yelled hopping around. “Geez, but it sure hurts.” Shirley moved across to her desk and sat down on the brown leather chair.
She immediately placed an ice cube on her toe, tears streaming down her face.
Everywhere she stepped there was a clutter of packed boxes and furniture in her way. Her living room looked like a storage closet.
Shirley always knew her living room had a lot of potential, but not this much.
She rinsed out the coffee pot and measured several spoons of coffee into the basket.
Shirley sat waiting for the coffee to perk while she nursed her toe.
She couldn’t believe her spot on the waiting list finally came up and that she would be moving in just two weeks. Two years ago she had applied to many affordable housing units and now one of them finally came through under a HUD sponsorship. She just made it too, since the new waiting list was now three to five years long.
Thankfully she was just short of being tossed out by her ungrateful son. She hadn’t even seen her new apartment yet to get the feel of it or where to put her belongings.
There was nothing plush about this six-floor building with three hundred units. From the outside it seemed alright but inside it looked shabby and dirty. She had always had her hopes set on having a balcony from where she could breathe in a scenic view. Her face bore a worried expression. Her thin lips were compressed and sullen. Shirley’s income had dwindled drastically and, after 39 years, she was forced to move. She was making a strong effort to repress her anger and aggravation. She looked like a different being from the soft and timid person that she was. She was nervous about the apartment, about her circumstances. Her son had already rented her room out. Who needs enemies when you have kids?
She still hadn’t finished packing before the stranger climbed her steps and was at the door.
“OMG! I have to call the movers to confirm the date. I hope they are available for that day.” Wrapping her fingers around the cup, she popped two aspirins into her mouth and sipped her hot coffee while she dialed their number. She loved the way the coffee warmed her insides when she swallowed it. There was nothing better than that first cup of coffee in the morning.
“What did you say?” Shirley screamed. “You can’t move me on the first? OMG! I can’t believe this. Now, what am I supposed to do?” She hurriedly washed the cup, spoon and coffee pot and called her friend Nellie. Nellie had four healthy sons. “Of course, we will help you move. The boys won’t mind.” Nellie Said.
Shirley let out a deep sigh, relieved that the problem was solved.
“Are you free tomorrow? Can you go with me to the rental office and see the apartment?”
“Sure Shirley,” Nellie said.” I know how long you have been waiting for this since your husband died. It has been tough for you. I’ll bring my tape measure to see if everything will fit.”
Shirley and her friend Nellie finally arrived at the building’s large parking lot. There was quite a distance to walk to the entrance so Nellie let her friend off at the entrance and parked her car.
Shirley quickly pressed the button that said OFFICE and with a loud buzzing noise the inner door unlocked. Shirley and Nellie quickly slipped in, closing the door behind them.
The entrance to the building led to a lobby and sitting area.
Only one elevator seemed to be working as it hung onto its last breath. “Ugh!” She murmured. The other one had been dead for two years. There was a REST IN PEACE sign in front of it. The lobby was alive with activity.
Tenants jammed the lobby area to catch the senior bus to go shopping.
A moment later the wailing of a police car and ambulance siren arriving at the building drowned everything else out. Two paramedics came rushing into the building pushing a stretcher to the elevator to pick up an emergency care patient who had fallen.
Two women pushing shopping carts full of groceries were coming from the side entrance to wait their turn to get on the elevator. One of them kept pushing the elevator button repeatedly, thinking that it would hurry up on her command.
A tenant with a dog on her way out greeted Shirley before the dog, after sniffing around, decided to lift his leg on the door, leaving a puddle.
“No… No, bad puppy dog,” the tenant said, and then continued on her way leaving the pool behind.
“Geez,” Shirley mumbled, “that’s disgusting. I don’t think I am going to like this place.”
The Janitor, in a foul mood, came out with his smelly dirty mop, cursing under his breath as he wiped away dog urine for the umpteenth time.”Screw it” same garbage every day, I’m so tired of this. Why don’t these dog owners clean up their dog’s piss and crap on the floor? I’m stuck right here, all day, working for my measly take-home pay. The janitor mumbled to himself.
A Hispanic woman quickly introduced herself to Shirley, excited for someone new to share her juicy gossip with on some of the tenants and the place itself.
“OMG. This place is an insane asylum.” Shirley said to herself.
When they reached the office Shirley knocked on the door.
“Yyyyeeeeesssssss?” Laura’s assistant responded. “Come in.”
She was sitting behind her desk wearing reading glasses and perusing a stack of papers. She seemed dedicated to her work but her lips were pressed together in a frown that told Shirley she didn’t like her job.
Shirley immediately stated that she had a ten o’clock appointment with Laura.
“She is not here right now; she should be arriving soon.” Laura’s assistant replied. She was always late. “If it has to do with apartment rental I have nothing to do with that. That’s her job. I have enough to do without adding more to my tasks.”
“Can you both wait outside? I have a couple of calls to make?” The assistant spoke abruptly.Feeling the stinging tone in her voice, Shirley and Nellie removed themselves from the inner office and waited outside for Laura.
At that moment Laura greeted everyone as she entered the room, all flustered. She awkwardly made her way to her desk. She hadn’t been in the office that early in the morning in almost a week. Laura’s assistant nodded her head in the direction of the two women sitting outside. Laura got up and went outside to welcome Shirley.
“Please come in,” Laura said.
“Do you have the checks that I requested? Oh good, I have all the paperwork here for you to sign. Did you also bring your original birth certificate showing that you are a U.S. citizen? I have your initial application. Raintree Senior Living is a state-funded project designed to assist you with your rent. I have to emphasize that you MUST be the only one occupying the unit. If you add someone else without including them in the lease we have every right to take action against you. Understood?” Laura explained.
Shirley had introduced her friend, Nellie, to mention that she needed her to see the apartment to take measurements as to where the furniture should go when she moved. There was no visible floor plan.
Shirley handed the property manager the two checks, signed the year’s lease and received the key. She immediately went to view her apartment on the second floor. She walked down the long corridor covered with sidebars, which reminded her of a nursing home.
Shirley was shocked when she opened the door to her one-bedroom apartment. She loved the largeness of her rooms. The kitchen was small. But for her it was perfect. She had new appliances and cabinets. Everything was clean and shiny, ready to move into. She was very pleased. She was expecting the worst scenario after her painful introduction to the place. After Nellie had taken the measurements they both went home to wait for ‘Moving Day.’
As soon as her son arrived home from work she immediately told him she was moving on the first of November. She was caught off guard by the surprise expression on his face. She guessed he hadn’t taken her seriously.
Nellie’s sons were all there at 9 AM on the dot. They began to load the truck, putting the larger pieces of furniture on first, and then followed it up with the smaller pieces and boxes. They expertly moved everything out of the apartment within the hour. They were energetic, organized and young. She felt a significant weight finally lift off of her shoulders when she saw them drive away. Nellie stayed at the housing complex, directing her sons where to place everything. The over-sized sofa did not fit in the elevator so they had to carry it up the stairs to the second floor. Nellie and her sons left as soon as they brought in the last of Shirley’s belongings.
Shirley was overwhelmed with the mess displayed before her, but she was resolved to make life resume with a semblance of normality once again.
She stood in the middle of the bedroom and wondered where to start. The first furniture piece that caught her eye was the empty full-sized bookcase standing in the corner of the room. Turning to the boxes marked BOOKS she began to unpack several of them, arranging and rearranging them on the shelves. ‘One bookcase down and two more to go,’ she thought to herself.
Shirley began to feel fatigue and hunger pangs and decided to stop what she was doing to shop for groceries.
As she walked from the elevator to leave the building she passed several gloomy looking women sitting in the lobby. Shirley decided to say hello to them.
The women did not respond, ignoring her presence.
Their expressionless faces were cemented in Shirley’s mind, reflecting too many stories with unhappy endings.
Is this what happens when one becomes old? One becomes abandoned by families and friends? Across the lobby were sounds of happy voices and merry laughter heard from the other tenants. It was like music to her ears.
Shirley said to herself, “will their laughter and joy eventually be replaced by a more pessimistic outlook as time and disappointment invades their daily lives?
She shuddered at the thought. Shirley decided to give up the effort to continue observing what was happening and concentrate on bracing herself for the final chapter of her life.
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