Tiffany’s loved her small, beautiful house. It was just big enough to fit all her books and old magazines dating back thirty years that littered her oak coffee table even filling the storage shelf underneath. The floor was decorated with shaggy, cranberry carpeting that had many discolorations from food stains and accidents her cats had as kittens. Her five cats splayed out all around her on the couch that was also covered in fun items such as her knitting needles and thread spools. Her dining room was unusable due to the boxes underneath and on top of the table. Tiffany wasn’t sure exactly what was in those because they were from many years ago in her life but she knew they would bring her joy, all her things do. There also stood a large cabinet with glass windows displaying her beautiful antique china and glassware all stacked upon each other like dishes when a magician pulls out a cloth from underneath. Her treasures took up the space on the bed and the kitchen at the back of the house was the only room she didn’t enjoy because it was quite empty. It was usually the only place she would allow guests after leading them in through the back door. The sliding glass door’s lock had collected dust, which would fall onto the tile floor at times and the sink had collected so much rust that the silver had turned almost completely orange and brown and began peeling off in flakes she would sometimes find in her food. The microwave still sported the dark splotches from the chocolate cake that had exploded in there weeks ago and scared the cats but she had found hilarious. Tiffany’s coat hanger was a walker that the doctors had told her she needed after a bad fall at the supermarket and the sight of it bothered her. It didn’t deserve to be among her happy space here with all her precious possessions.
As she scratched behind the red furred cat’s ears and smiled at it’s purring, the doorbell rang and she nearly screamed in surprise. She peered through the viewfinder to see a young man, around her son’s stature standing on her porch. It wasn’t her son. She sighed. This man must be lost.
“I’m sure you have the wrong house!” She hollered through the door.
“No ma’am I just moved in next door and I wanted to say hello!” He smiled into the hole he knew she was looking at him through.
Ah, yes, how annoyed she had been when the Gardeners had decided to move out. Why on Earth go through all that trouble at this age? And now she had to deal with peppy new neighbors. She unlocked the chain and bolt and partially opened the screen door.
“Hello ma’am, I’m Brian. These here are my kids.” Three young boys had run up to him, grabbing his shorts with their nasty little hands. “David, Ben, and Sam. Their mother is Julia but she just ran out to the store. She’ll stop over later.”
Lovely, Tiffany thought, a second visit. “Nice to meet you all. I’m Tiffany. Sorry I must be going now I have to feed my babies.”
They seemed puzzled and she clarified, “My cats.” One of the young boys snickered and she shot him a dirty look before locking the door once more.
It’s past time to move to an assisted living community, she thought. I should have gone with the Gardeners. It’s just so much of a hassle with all my things. She glanced over all her cherished possessions. I wouldn’t give them up for the world.
There in the middle of her immaculate, vibrant green lawn was a plastic water gun no doubt belonging to one of the new neighbor boys. Tiffany was very pleased with the new landscaping service and now her property was a mess. She unlocked the door and hurried out into the yard, slowed by the intensity of the sunlight. Once she was near the gun she slowly bent over to pick it up feeling discomfort in her lower back. Those rascals! She ached to get back inside, but shuffling back to the door caused her to trip onto her front steps.
“Aggh,” She screamed. She heard many quick footsteps and Brian was soon at her side.
“Those kids! They left their toy in my yard and now I’m hurt. Oh, I want the Gardeners back.”
Brian lifted her up. “Go inside now!” He sternly yelled at the boys who dispersed immediately. “I’m so sorry Tiffany. I will make sure that never happens again. What is hurt? Should I call an ambulance?” The panicky look in his eyes comforted Tiffany.
“No. No, I’m fine. I’d just like to go inside now.”
“Are you sure? Is there anything else I can do for you? I’ll absolutely have a talk with the boys. I already forbid them to enter your yard so I am very sorry that happened.”
“Okay, alright. Just let go of me.”
“No, please really, I don’t want you to fall again.” She had a slight limp so Brian ignored her protests and carried her inside.
“No! Stop! I don’t want you in here! Put me down!”
That night in bed Brian and his wife discussed what happened. After a firm talk with the boys, he thought he finally got through to them that it wasn’t okay to go into her yard because she was old and could be seriously injured very easily. He had planned to make them apologize but after her anger at him today he thought against it.
“That place is unlivable,” he said to Julia. “It’s unreal how much stuff is in there and I couldn’t even see the whole place from where I stood. She even kept the boys’ water gun she had been so upset about. That’s insane.”
“But you can’t do anything about it, honey. I know it’s odd but what can you do? We’re new here anyway, we don’t want to be making enemies right off the bat.”
“I know. And I agree. She can live however she wants to I wouldn’t interfere with that but something must be done at least for the sake of the cats. We should call anonymously to animal control or something.”
“Brian, you know how I love that you always want to help people but people don’t always want your help. Remember last time? Your meddling is the reason we moved here. I think we need to leave her alone. She’s old. She just wants peace and quiet. The cats are fat aren’t they? As long as they’re fed I don’t think it’s our responsibility to take action here.”
“God, I just wish you could’ve seen it. There’s open food everywhere, piles of documents that tower over my head, the carpet is stained everywhere, even her couch is covered in sewing supplies and quilts. I hate to imagine what I didn’t see.”
“Forget about it, bothering this woman isn’t going to make you a good Samaritan, let’s go to bed. Goodnight.” She yawned and snuggled up next to him.
The next day Tiffany knew there was going to be trouble. The neighborhood was throwing a block party, which was her single least favorite thing. She hated children running and screaming. She hated parents trying to bring her dishes of food like she was incapable of walking to the street if she wanted to. They never thought that maybe she chose to stay inside, away from the smoke from the grills that made her cough, from the bees whose stings were deadly to her and from the social setting itself. She didn’t want to make small talk with people that would stand there bored, probably poking fun at her life with her cats behind her back. She didn’t want to make friends who might someday want to come over to her house. Now she especially didn’t want to answer the rapid-fire questions or inhale the judgments she knew Brian would throw at her. Her house was her sanctuary. No one could ever hurt her in here except phone calls from her son, who only wanted money she didn’t have. She had to cats to take care of, after all and they didn’t ask her for much.
She watched the party out the window scowling at the happy people. Suddenly, Brian walked outside towards the party and glanced at her house. She tried to pull the curtain over her face but was too late. He rang the bell.
“I’m not going to the party. I am not feeling well.” She said once again through the door.
“Okay, I just wanted to see if there’s anything I can do for you. Is your leg feeling better from yesterday?”
She didn’t respond. Just leave. Go. She shouted commands at him in her mind until he gave up and walked across the street.
Later that night in bed, Brian began another conversation with Julia. “Look Jules, I’ve got to call animal control. At least they’ll check it out and if they say it’s unfit they’ll rescue them. If they say it’s fine then I’ll drop it but don’t you think they should just check in?”
She sighed. “I think you should leave her alone. But if it’ll make you feel better you can call. She’ll know it was you, you know that right?”
“I know. But when I went over today she acted like she didn’t like me anyway. I don’t feel like I’m losing much of a relationship here.”
“She seems quite grumpy.”
“She never leaves her house so you won’t ever run into her, it’ll be fine. I think we’ll all feel better knowing it’s taken care of. How do you sleep at night?”
His phone already had the number punched in and he hit the call button. “Hello, I would like to place an anonymous call about the lady at 114 S. Northbrook Lane. She is a hoarder and she has many, many cats. I’m just not sure if it’s a safe environment.”
“Yes sir, we’ll check it out, no problem.”
Brian waited a few days. To his disappointment, no animal control van showed up. Julia had grown sick of hearing about it.
“You get so stuck on problems that have nothing to do with you. Snap out of it. Sam got in a fight at school today focus on that. Focus on talking to Ben about this cheerleader he likes at school. David joined the baseball team. “
Brian did just that. He forgot all about Tiffany until one day a few weeks later a van showed up. He watched the man in a grey uniform walk up to the door. There’s no way she’s going to let him in, Brian thought. He watched the man peer through the side window then go back to knocking more violently at the door.
“Ma’am, please open up.”
Tiffany sat on the couch clutching her babies to her neck. The black cat with a white spot on its right eye scratched her cheek and leaped away for she had clutched it too hard. This sprung her into action as she tried to move as much as she could into the bedroom. I could say it’s an extra room I use for storage, she thought. She pulled box after box form the dining room and stacked them in the hallway. She piled all her documents in the sink and they spilled over onto the floor. The books were too heavy for her. She had barely made a dent in the room. She came up with another plan. No one could take her babies away.
She opened the door. The animal control man must have been shocked upon viewing this old, frail woman who was heaving, drenched in sweat and had a large red gash across her face. He stepped inside and made his way into the living room.
“I just don’t want to lose my cats. Please!” She burst into tears. “They’re everything to me!” She closed the door and walked over to the couch, sitting with the cats.
The man was obviously uncomfortable by her tears for his began shifting his weight and nervously running fingers through his hair. “Ma’am I really do feel terrible about this and usually I don’t because most people we see are cruel and uncaring. I can tell you are not. Unfortunately, there’s no way we can allow you to keep custody of the animals right now.”
“No they don’t get hurt! They scratch my face, see?” She was screaming now pointing at her gash. Tiffany imagined Brian’s child’s snickering when she said she owned cats and imagined Brian smirking at the cat’s removal. I can’t let them be taken from me. The man walked out to the van to get the cages. I just want to keep my cats, Tiffany thought. There must be some way I can keep them here. The symmetry of all my things will be thrown off…unless…Tiffany knew what she had to do.
The man was too far away to hear the bolt slide into place. She grabbed the cats starting with the black cat with the white-eye patch and then the red furred cat, white cat, and the two brown ones. She piled them all into a plastic garbage bag and pulled the string tight. They pawed the bag instinctively to try to break through but she had had all their nails removed as kittens so they could not puncture it. She put them into the trashcan and piled some trash on top.
Tiffany unlocked the door, shuffling quickly back to the couch when the animal control man walked in. “Where’s the cats?” He was speechless. “What happened?” Tiffany was silent as he searched the house. He eventually lifted the trash can lid. They were lifeless. When he turned to look at Tiffany, a single tear dripped from her eye.
When Brian returned home that day, he saw flashing lights and CAUTION tape around Tiffany’s house. He pushed through the boundaries to the police officers on the scene.
“What happened?” He shouted. “She’s my neighbor!”
“Look sir, she’s alright. She’s in custody right now. She’s probably not going to be back anytime soon.”
“What happened? Did she do something? Where are the cats?” Brian’s mind was weaving its way through all the nooks and crannies of stuff inside the house and piecing it all together. Julia’s voice ran through his mind saying, “You get so stuck on problems that have nothing to do with you…”
“Calm down, buddy. It’s okay.”