Abby, Josie’s downstairs neighbor in the Marina gets up early Friday, at 5:00 A.M. She has a meeting with an important client and still has to catch up on her work email after a 4-day weekend in Vegas. Abby and her girlfriends stayed at the Venetian, but only spent time in it to shower and change clothes.
She looks in the mirror; the dark caves at the window of her soul are shallower, and less powder will hide them. “At least that bitch cougar didn’t wake me again,” she says to her weary reflection. “She’s due for an earful at the home owner’s meeting this month.”
She leaves the bathroom, and raises both arms above her head to stretch. She yawns, bends over to stretch her back, and returns her hands at full extension. She takes a deep breath, one, two, and coughs violently. “What the fuck is that smell?” She takes another deep whiff. She feels her throat tighten, and her diaphragm heave. She turns around and runs into the bathroom. She almost gets the lid to her toilet open in time. Her throat burns; she washes her face off in the sink and swishes out her mouth. Abby moves back to the edge of her bed. Her head pounds, her eyes water up from the burning sensation in her nasal cavity.
The scent is musky and sickeningly sweet, overpowering. Abby moves into her living room, her kitchen, and then her patio to escape it, to no avail. “What is that?” She sniffs, but not too deeply; she tries breathing through her mouth, but she can taste it as well. She imagines how formaldehyde must taste. She picks up the phone in the kitchen and punches 8 for the super. His line rings, and she draws her hand to cover her nose and mouth. A memory rushes into her consciousness; she remembers her light brown hamster, Cecil. When she was in grade school, her brother let it out as a prank one morning after she was gone. Her mother and her could never find Cecil. Four days later, her mother picked her up at school, so they could stop at the supermarket for supplies to make walnut brownies for her class’s Halloween party.
“Oh my god,” her mother said as she put the sacks down on the cabinet, and covered her nose and mouth. They couldn’t make the brownies until dad sniffed out the offensive odor behind the dishwasher. Pulling it out from under the cabinets, Abby could see maggots infesting the remains of Cecil.
Abby didn’t eat brownies that year for Halloween. She never ate them again. Brownies remind her of Cecil’s sunken eyes, and the walnuts of worms crawling out of his mouth and body. She imagines what his fur taste like, not like before when she would kiss his snout, before Cecil became an organic meal.
“Henry,” the answering machine picks up. This is Abby Gateman in apartment 202, and something or someone has died in the building. The smell is horrific.” She hangs up the message and dials 911.
“911, what is your emergency?” the operator says.
“Something has died in the building.” Abby says.
“What? Someone has died in your building?”
“I don’t know, but it smells like something has died.” She repeats.
“Ms, a pet death is not an emergency.”
“No, no, I don’t have a pet. The smell is overwhelming.” Abby says.
“I am sorry. I have to go now, Ms. Gateman. Misuse of the 911 system is punishable with a stiff fine or even incarceration,” the operator answers in a stern voice.
“I don’t think y…” The call drops. “Shit.” Abby punches 7 for the police department.
“I am sorry, but all of our lines are busy. If you know your party’s extension please enter now. If this is an emergency, then dial 911.”
“Damn-it,” Abby dials the super again, “Mr. Roberts, Henry, I know you’re there, pick up…silence then a click.” She dials again. Pickup Henry. I mean it. This is an emergency. If you don’t pick up, I am calling a meeting to fire you. I mean it. Pick up…silence and then a click.
“Hell, hello,” a voice on the other side responds in the receiver. It is a woman’s voice.
“Is Henry there?” Abby asks.
“No, he’s on the property.”
A knock on the door interrupts the call, “Hello, hello, Abby are you OK?” Henry says through the door.
“Stupid girl” Mrs. Roberts says to herself as she hangs up.
Abby hangs up the phone and opens her front door; she holds her hand over her mouth and nose. She can’t escape the odor. “It’s about time.” She mumbles as the super enters the apartment.
“What’s the problem? Are you OK?” He looks around the living room and then cover’s his mouth too. “Oh my god, what is that smell? Is your toilet over flowing?” He walks past her through her bedroom and opens her bathroom door. The smell is worse in the bedroom. “What the hell happened here?”
“I got sick from the smell.” Abby blushes as they stare at, at the remnants of her late night dinner–pork, corn, and a bites of flour tortilla.
“It smells like something has died in here.” She says.
“Uhh, I think I am going to be sick.” Henry gags and holds his hand over his mouth; he contains the heave. They turn towards the bed, and on the sheets, several murky red puddles have formed. They look up to the ceiling and around several broom handle dents, a large damp, pail brown yellow and red spot forms on sky blue as droplets add to the puddles.
“What the fu…” Abby catches herself. “That wasn’t there when I got up.”