[CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK]
When I step into the obese old woman's apartment in Milwaukie, the smell is overwhelming and the air stifling. She has me wheel her cart of groceries entirely into the apartment so she can let the cat out of her bedroom, and I guess the animal might account for the odor.
She tells me to put the groceries on the stove, and I squeeze through rotting cardboard boxes stacked ceiling-high in order to do so. The carpet is covered in mold. As my eyes adjust to the light I notice porcelain dolls in a glass case encrusted in dust, and what looks like a walker with a child's training potty built into the seat.
"It's so horrible!" she cries. "That's why everything's packed up, I keep asking them to move, but they never let me!" I can't think of a properly consoling thing to say, and murmur something about landlords as I unload her things.
I say goodbye, and as I start to slip out the door, she yells for me to come get money. I tell her that she doesn't need to pay me, but she insists that she raised six just like me, and always paid her bills. I try to insist, but it's obviously a point of pride, so I take the money.
"Will you give me a hug?" she asks in a tiny voice.
She weeps into my shoulder as she clutches me.
"Don't you ever forget me," she whispers.
I smile, and leave.