Friday, December 6, 2013

The smell of rotting flesh

In hindsight, I guess I'd been smelling it for twenty-four hours or so. It was a dark, musty smell, something akin to dirty socks, only different.

I live in an apartment building that was once a hotel, famed for catering to northerners who wintered in sunny St. Pete. I live on the second floor.

My computer desk, where I spend most of my time, is right next to my bed. I haven't washed my comforter in a while. Maybe six weeks or so. Was that the smell? Could that be it? Maybe.

On the other hand, since living in Florida, I sleep Star Trek style, right on top of the bed, without covering. Every night, I put a few blankets down on top of the comforter, just in case I wake up cold in the middle of the night. Occasionally, I might crawl under the blankets. But only rarely.

Today was laundry day. I decided to do my blankets. Whatever the smell was, it was long past time to do them anyway. Walking down the hallway carrying my laundry, there it was again, only deeper. That dank, musty smell. I cringed a little. Turned up my nose.

Funny, my first thought was, I don't really know my neighbors, though not on purpose. We just seem to keep different hours. Keep to ourselves. I like it that way. I bet they do too. I might hear a door slam down the hall occasionally. But I don't know those people.

The laundry room is on the first floor. I had to go up and down the stairs a few times, to move my laundry to the dryer and then bring it back upstairs. And there was that smell. Instinctively, I knew something was wrong.  I thought about bringing it to the attention of the landlady.

On the other hand, I don't like to complain. Really, I don't. Whenever I'm renting, I try to be a model tenant. I'll put up with most anything. Who knows what the smell is? Who knows how clean people keep their houses? I decided to let it pass.

Meanwhile, as teased in my last post, I'm working on something new. I'm finally writing the follow-up to my St. Pete zombie tale, which always had a natural sequel built-in. Funny thing too, the St. Pete zombie tale is about the only thing I sell these days. A couple of copies a month at 99 cents. Not much. But something.

So (between you and me, which I know is mostly me, because hardly anyone reads this blog) it will probably be my last work of fiction.

Don't get me wrong. I love writing fiction. I think I may be good at it too, or at least, think I'm getting better. But I don't sell. I don't know how to sell. I tweet. I Facebook. I've been on Kindleboards. I've even recently bought advertising on Goodreads. Nothing. Nothing at all.

Who knows? Maybe I suck. I do recognize that as a possibility.

Sometimes, it's almost laughable. For example, lately, I've been pushing my Christmas short, to no avail, and it occurs to me, if I can't sell a Christmas story at Christmas time, then I can't sell a goddamn thing. Like I said. Laughable.

Anyway, if what I'm writing now is going to be my last work of fiction (and I'm treating it that way) I want it to be good.

And so, for the last few weeks, I've been writing about New York zombies, writing about the fetid smells and coppery aromas in the abattoirs left behind by their zombie rampages. In fact, I was writing about them just this morning, in between walking up and down the stairs to do my laundry, through that smell, when

I heard a shout from down the hallway. I recognized the voice of my landlady, who's a hot shit, by the way. We get along well. I like her. She is shouting and shouting at somebody. Is she talking to a tenant late on the rent? Not her style. And yet, the shouting continued.

At some point, I get up. She's still shouting. I peer through my peephole and see in the hallway the entire maintenance crew, people I've gotten to know in the last few years. She's yelling at them. Or is she? I don't know. I can't see her.

She's in the apartment two doors down from mine. They're in the hallway. Through my peephole, I watch one longtime maintenance guy raise his T-shirt to cover his nose, and I knew.

I open my door. The smell is powerful now, pungent, wafting up and down the hallway. I know it's because the door to the apartment is open. Still, I only hear bits and pieces of what the landlady is saying.

"All this blood . . . this is more than a few days . . . this is much longer than a few days."

I noticed then they'd opened the door to the outside at the end of the hallway. Through the sunlight filtering in it appeared almost as if there was a haze in the hallway, like smoke. Some kind of foreign presence or substance.

Behind me, my door shuts loudly. The group in the hallway turn toward me. I say stupidly the first thing that comes to mind.

"I only started smelling it today."

Dumb. But what do you say? At some point, the landlady pops her head out the doorway.

"Is that you Mr. Myers? Sorry you had to hear this."

"Don't be," I say, and mean it.

She looks after us. She really does. I've been with her when there's been an OD in the building, or when a longtime tenant passed away in the hospital. She cares. She's actually called me if she hadn't seen me in a week or two, just to make sure I was still breathing. I appreciated that. And I know for certain what she's most pissed about now is that this one went unnoticed.

I can't stay in the building. I need to get out. I need a drink. I pack up my iPad and walk down the now empty hallway holding my breath.

Downstairs, I bump into the landlady's assistant. She has dark circles under her eyes. She tells me the guy hadn't paid his rent this month. It was due on the first. He was always good about that.

On the third of the month, the landlady asked her to pop her head into the apartment (which they never do. They're good about that.) She popped her head in only enough to call out his name, look left and right, and close the door. I guess the guy was in his bathroom.

I asked if it was self-inflicted. I asked if he was young. She was circumspect. They're good about that too. Anyway, it was none of my business.

I went out and had a few beers. The smell was still in my nose.

Upon returning a few hours later, I opened the door and found the hallways now smelling of antiseptic and flowers and whatever the hell else they use to cover up the smell. It's still there, though. It's in my nose. It's underneath the flowers.

Tomorrow, or the next, I'll go back to writing my zombie tale, writing about the smell of dead and rotting flesh, which a few hours ago, I only imagined. It will no doubt be the last piece of fiction I ever write. I want it to be good.

I'm smelling it now.

And life goes on.

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