He came shambling in and all drew back. Here was a man who obviously thought hygiene was just a greeting.
“My ma’s not talkin’ none and she ain’t moved in a coupla days. Can you come with me to figger it out?” he asked Susan, the desk sergeant.
Ted was a well-known character around town, avoided from a distance. It was generally conjectured that he was behind the door and down the passageway when IQ’s were handed out.
She looked over at Jon, who shrugged. “Better go and check it out.”
Ted shuffled outside, Susan and Jon following at a respectful distance. They all knew where he lived, the ramshackle house was an eyesore but imposing fines and levying taxes made no difference to the old woman and her son.
Ted opened the front door and motioned them in. A strong odour immediately assailed Susan’s nostrils, so strong it killed all other senses. Cats lined every surface. And like all cats they had mastered the art of their catliness – the innate arrogance, the ability to nab every comfortable nook and cranny, everything it seemed, except one important ability, the use of the litter box. Mrs. Johnson had come over chronic cats, an affliction that generally hits those who have gone round the bend, up the hill and are now legging it for the horizon.
Jon and Susan tip-toed carefully and pointedly into the spaces between the more incontinent cats’ presents. Ted was not nearly as careful. “Ma’s back here.” He called as he stomped down a narrow, dimly-lit passageway.
The stench of ammonia was overtaken by another, newer smell as they left the confines of the living area to the back bedroom. Susan wondered how many other houses were built in the same style – cramped front room spanning the width of the house, with one passageway leading to the rear, with doors coming off it, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a room that must be a bathroom unless toilets had become haute couture in the closet arena. Her thoughts were cut short at the sight of Mrs. Johnson, the late (the very late) Mrs. Johnson by the looks of her. Jon sagged at the sight and turned a pale shade of sick.
Ted stood in the doorway calling, “Ma, ma.” He turned anguished eyes on Susan, “Why won’t she answer? I tried feeding her some, but she don’t want any.”
“Come with me,” Susan took his arm, holding her breath against the violent smells assaulting her senses. Her head felt like it was about to levitate, or at the very least explode. She led Ted outside to the fresher air, well semi-fresh at least, she still had to deal with his funk. His bloodshot blue eyes tracked aimlessly, looking for something to hold onto. “What am I gonna do?”
As Jon staggered from the house, pulling in deep gasps of non-cat filled air, Susan steeled herself to say the words she wasn’t even sure Ted understood. “Ted. Your ma is not coming back anymore.”
“Ma’s not coming back? Whadda mean? She’s in her chair, I just seed her there.”
“What I mean Ted, is that she is in a better place.”
“No. she can’t be – her place is here with me.” Ted’s eyes filled with tears and he rocked back and forward on his heels, arms wrapped protectively around his body as he cried silently.
Jon moved to Susan’s side, still pale but composed. “We gotta do something, Sue. We can’t let him back in there. I’ll call for back up.” He hauled out his radio and talked frantically while Susan walked to the house again. Poking her nose around the door, she held her breath, surveying the space. Poverty would feel rich here. But who knew? Mrs. Johnson had had her pride, obviously that was all she had. Susan’s eyes filled with tears, not from the ammonia, but because she had gone by this house every day on her way to work, and yet never once considered the people behind the peeling door.
Hygiene or no, Ted needed her help right now. Taking a deep breath she strode across the tattered grass to his side. “Come on big guy. Let’s get you to the station. You’ll feel better with a good cuppa tea inside you.” Ted took one last look at the house he had called home his whole life before taking her hand. The distance between them narrowed as she led him down the garden path.
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