The wind had picked up since my last smoke break. A few others were huddled in the alley, all talking about the storm, no doubt. When I returned to the office everyone was sitting, glued to their cell phones, checking the latest forecast or talking with someone. The most recent prediction showed the hurricane turning toward us. Which would be apparent if anyone dared to look over their cubicle walls and out the window. The view was pretty ominous from the forty second floor. Figuring we would get off early I quietly shuffled some stacks of paper while watching the manager’s door. It didn’t take long before Herb burst from his office, then instantly collect himself before announcing the coming storm. As planned, I was first out.
Unfortunately the minute or two saved upstairs made no difference once on the street. The sidewalks were packed with frantic people trying to get home before the hurricane’s landfall. I could see the masses heading for the subway, the aggravation didn’t seem worth it for a twelve block ride, so I decided to walk. After the first few blocks the rain started falling and I knew walking was a mistake.
After almost an hour of battling the wind and cold rain I was finally home. I’m not usually too excited going to my twenty eight hundred dollar a month rent controlled studio. When I finally did get off the elevator I felt a strong sense of relief. But for a cat the hallway was empty on my floor. I assumed the cat must be Minnie’s, an elderly former actress from the forties and fifties. She had lived in the building for nearly sixty years and had the last remaining undivided apartment. In nearly fifteen years living here I had never seen the inside of her apartment nor has anyone else I know of.
As I walked toward my door the cat greeted me, as if they knew me. I walked to Minnie’s main door and rang the bell. After a few moments of silence but for the purrs I went to her service door on the side. The door was slightly ajar when I got there. With a gentle push it opened all the way giving me my first glimpse in her apartment. The cat however was not impressed and stayed close by, rubbing their head against my leg. I started feeling uncomfortable snooping on poor old Minnie so I rang the bell again. With no response forthcoming I reached in for the door handle to close it. Before the door closed entirely I felt a tug and the door opened and there before me was Minnie. I asked if she was missing a cat?
“I don’t know” she said “But since you’re here, perhaps you wouldn’t mind helping me with a little something?”
Still confused by her sudden appearance at the door I answered without the slightest thought or hesitation “Sure!” I said.
“Could you help me cover my plants on the roof” she replied as she walked quickly toward the stairs.
Damn! Is she chipper for someone in their nineties, I thought to myself hurrying to catch up. I’d never been on the roof before, I didn’t know you could. She fumbled around a bit while we both huddled together on the small landing at the top of the stairs. Reaching behind the fire extinguisher she found the key she was looking for and unlocked the door. “Grab the stick in the corner” she said “and put it between the doorway or we’ll get locked up here.”
I did as she ordered and followed her to a makeshift potting shed behind the chimney. “Before we start perhaps a bit of refreshment” she laughed, reaching for a watering can on a shelf. Reaching into the can she pulled a half full bottle of vodka and took a plug. “ Ahh that’s refreshing.”
She then passed the bottle to me. I haven’t drank hard liquor in years, but this seemed like a special occasion. I took a small sip and passed it back.
“We’ll save the rest for later” she said mischievously. “Now grab those tarps and follow me”
We headed to the far end of the roof where a pair of perfectly sculpted azaleas danced in the breeze. The rain was now beginning to get heavy the sky graying and the hurricane appearing evident. We carefully covered the plants then ran back to the stairs, giggling like children as we lept over the puddles.
Back at the door we found the wind had blown it shut and we were locked out. I banged and shouted for a few minutes in absolute panic. Minnie just laughed and said “I think it’s time for another drink”
We returned to her bench and made a makeshift shelter with an extra tarp. Once settled in and feeling very cozy, out came the bottle. With each swig her stories became more personal and revealing.
I woke wet and cold, the sky still gray, I didn’t know what time it was exactly, but it was surely morning and we survived. Peeling the wet tarp from my stiff and hungover body I realized Minnie was gone. Did she get up early and made her way downstairs or something more dreadful. Frantically I called out to her, each syllable loudly echoing in my head. After searching every nook and cranny on that roof top I could only conclude she somehow made her way back downstairs. I went back to the door, which was still locked, but I could hear voices below. First I knocked gently as to not rattle my brain further. Then from fear and impatience I began kicking the heavy metal door and screaming for help. It didn’t take long for someone to answer. Surprisingly it was an EMT that answered. The corridor below was now bustling with activity and a horrific stench.In addition to the EMT there were firemen and police, all hovering around Minnie’s door. I asked one of the officers if anything was wrong. Before she could answer two men rushed past pushing a gurney with a zippered body bag strapped on top. “Is that Minnie” I asked.
“I believe that’s her name” responded the officer “are you related.”
“No, no just friends” I said. Then asked when she passed?
“It’s impossible to tell without an autopsy” she replied “though judging by the decomposition, I’d guess about a week, maybe less”
She then asked me several questions about our relationship and when I saw her last. I didn’t mention last night, but did admit to not knowing her well.
The odor was now overwhelming and my nausea must have been noticeable because the officer urged me to go home without asking for more information. Feeling very sick and confused I headed back to my apartment.
I fumbled with my keys a bit rushing to open the door. Once in everything looked normal except for the wet leaves and scraps of paper stuck to my window, until I saw the tiny kitten on my bed.