Marcus Tomlinson judged the house to be at least a hundred years old. It was not likely to have had yard work done in living memory. Carly Whitby unlocked the front door. Marcus observed the curves of her cheap rhinestoned, black dressed, figure.
She looked back and blushed at him. “I’m sorry, I meant to do this before our date but I had to get the kids back to my ex. He’s a psycho creep, and a pain in my ass if I’m late on the custody times.”
The door opened to reveal an elderly woman by the entrance. She was sitting on an old hallway bench phone table. She had an oxygen tank and breathing tubes attached around her face. She was lifting the breathing tubes away from her nose to puff on a cigarette. Beside her was an overflowed ashtray and a rotary phone.
The staircase over her shoulder was covered in cob webs thick enough make the stairs disappear before you could see the top of them. The wallpaper was thick and yellowed. A dirty stained carpet led down the hallway. Smoke and dust, and the smell of decay filled the place. Some of it was coming from the old woman. She didn’t look at Marcus. She hadn’t taken any notice of him, or her daughter. She only stared at the front door.
“I gotta get someone to clean in here.” Carly apologized. “I got no money right now. My ex is a deadbeat, he won’t pay alimony. On the other hand, he has the kids mostly, so we don’t have to worry about them. We’ll have a lot of chances to go out. And don’t worry, my place is spotless.”
The hall felt damp and humid. Marcus took off his suit jacket and draped it over his arm.
“Do you like books? Look at this.” Carly said, waving a hand to the front dining room. It was jammed with high stack of books, floor to shoulder height. “I can’t give them away. She’s hoarder. Do you know bed bugs can live in books? Two years ago, we had to have the place fumigated. I can’t afford that again. She won’t let me get rid of them.”
The smell was getting to Marcus and he reached back and opened the front door a bit for some outside air. Carly brushed passed him and closed it again. “You got to keep that closed, handsome. She tries to run out all the time. Look at her. That’s all she does all day is stare at the door. You gotta keep it closed.”
Carly left him and went down the hall. She took something from the fridge in the kitchen beyond and he could hear her put it in a microwave. She came back with a warmed plastic tray of some frozen pasta dish and placed it on the phone table. “Mom, you have to eat. Time to eat. Come on, mom.”
She held up a spoonful, but her mother didn’t react, she only stared at the door. Carly gave up, put the spoon down, smiled and shrugged at Marcus.
“I had to unplugged the stove.” Carly explained, pointing back to the kitchen. “She was going to burn the place down. I don’t have money to put her in a home. My sisters won’t look after her. I’m the only one who cares, but I have a life, too, you know. Wait a minute.” She took one of her mother’s cigarettes and lit it. The mother took no notice. Carly puffed a few times. “I don’t usually do this, and I not going to do it when we’re at the restaurant. Well, they don’t let you anyway, but I mean, I won’t be going outside for a cigarette. It’ll just be me and you, handsome.”
Marcus nodded and waited. Carly finished in silence and then they left. Outside Carly carefully locked up the house again. Marcus noticed she had not even said good-bye to her mother.
The date ended at the restaurant when Carly began shouting. “Well, you’ve never had to look after someone! You’ve never even been married. You’ve never had kids. When did you give birth? Twice! I did it twice. You’ve done nothing! I don’t even think you had a mother. You’re one of those perfect guys who only cares about you! I’m never showing you my teeth again!!” She got up and pushed over her beer glass, but it was already empty, so she pushed over his chianti and the whicker wine bottle it came in.”
At forty-two, that was the last date Marcus Tomlinson ever went on. He was often warned by colleagues against dating a patient, but Carly was a new patient, and what’s more she had asked him and insisted. Clearly, he would never understand women or the dating process.
He would suffer reoccurring nightmares about Carly’s mother. Trapped in that house. Trapped in that hallway. Alone, as he always feared he would be. Marcus was an only child whose parents died young.
Marcus then dedicated himself to furthering his dentistry practise and saving all he could so that in his declining years he would never have to depend on others. He would never let himself be imprisoned, like Carly’s mother.
Forty-five years passed and one day the law office representing the Estate of Marcus Tomlinson sent Jakob Steves to visit The Journey Begins Retirement Home. At Reception, Jakob showed his credentials and the Power of Attorney authorization for his office. Jakob had the dog work of doing an actual in person visit to see that the home met standards. It was a waste of time. The place was a palace and cost as much. Marcus Tomlinson had well provided for himself, and made sure his representatives were to check in on his well being in his declining years.
Reception was quick to pass Jakob onto to their day time Manager, Jacqueline Dwyer. “Daily tidying, meals, cable, internet, everyone has a balcony. We have daily rotating specialty chefs. Low impact one on one exercise coaching. Various activities and clubs. A nine-hole golf course next door. Two nurses on staff. Weekly physician visits.” Jacqueline rattled the list off, almost word perfect to the brochures and the web site they maintained.
“And his health?”
Jacqueline nodded and smiled.
“Well, he was very happy in his first few years here. He was very active. He told the staff this was the kind of home he always hoped to retire to. He talked a lot about standards and agreed ours are the best. He had researched many homes before he decided on ours.”
Jacqueline thought for a moment. “Well, sometimes residents go through a downtime in their feelings about being in a retirement home. They start with the honeymoon stage where they love being catered to, but then they may begin to have regrets and reservations. They can have a hard time accepting that are no longer living independently. Their health and well being, their mental health specifically can take a turn at these times.”
“Is that what he’s going through?”
“We don’t know. He’s not… he’s stopped talking. He’s not communicating. The doctor, our doctor who visits, hasn’t found anything wrong with him, beyond usual aging conditions. But the doctor can’t explain why he is the way he is. We’re considering a referral to a specialist. Actually, we’re considering requesting an evaluation for dementia. If that was confirmed he would be moved to another wing of the home. With the same quality of care. We’d like to move him anyway, because were concerned he’s become a flight risk.”
“Where is he? Can I see him?”
Jacqueline started for a moment. “You haven’t met him? You don’t know him?”
“My office represents him. I’m asked to follow up. I haven’t met him. Can I meet him now?”
“Yes, yes. You came past him when you came in. He’s at the doors there. The man sitting, with the walker.” Jacqueline came around to escort Jakob the short distance to the doors. “Security keeps on eye on him. They make sure he stays inside. Mr. Tomlinson? Marcus? Marcus, this is Jakob. He’s come to see you. He works for you. For your lawyer.”
Marcus did not look up.
Jakob looked down at Marcus. Bald, liver spotted, and hunched over his walker. Marcus stared out the front doors. Every few moments he would touch his upper lip with one hand while his over hand reached for something beside him that wasn’t there.
“Mr. Tomlinson?” Jakob said. “Mr. Tomlinson?”
It was of no use, Marcus only stared at the doors hoping to escape.