UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION

ANDREW POST

Scavenge

Disquieting was all I knew how to describe it. The smell, I picked up immediately as soon as I set one foot in that narrow stairwell. Knowing if I went up to that apartment, the door of which

hung open with people passing in and out, that I'd be in for a sight. Mechanical, robot-talk of police walkie - talkies. The squeak of rubber-soled cop shoes. On the hardwood floor above where I stood, hesitating, I could hear them stamping around. Talking. Uncapping polystyrene cups of coffee and blowing on them. One beer-bellied cop, talking to another, used the word "Nasty" when describing the crime scene. I figured it would be better to get it done and over with, and marched up the remainder of the steps.

All of them hushed when they saw me. Skinny, narrow-faced me. Camera hanging around my neck, lens case in my hand pulling my shoulder toward the floor. Windbreaker crunching plasticky with each movement, no matter how subtle. The cop closest to the open apartment door asks under harsh florescent light, "You with the press? If you are, you might as well turn your ass around right now and head back down them stairs."

"Crime scene photographer," I said. He nodded, thumbed toward the open apartment door. The other cops, still sizing me up, stepped aside. The cop chuckled to his friends, "I hope you didn't have no breakfast, because she's quite a sight in there." They laughed, I did not.

Inside, with all of their guffaw and false bravado milked out of the air because of such thick walls, I was alone in the apartment with her smell. Doubling in intensity with each step forward, it got to the point that I had to go for my scented salve. I set my lens case onto her well-tread shag carpet in the living room and applied the cream below my nose. Immediately, the stink of death was removed for me, as cleanly as removing a stained pillowcase from around a pillow. The smell of fresh spring air, recently fallen rain, clean. I picked up my lens case and stepped further into the apartment.

She had collapsed while setting down her dinner for herself at the dining room table, apparently. There it was, the plate licked clean on the table. The cats must've eaten that first. She lay behind the table and I had to step around it to get a look at her. Under the ghostly white light that shone in through the dining room windows, through the thick layer of midsummer rainy day sky, there she was. Yellowed, bruised, fleshy and red in places, dried and shrunken in others. Her cats had been living off of her, probably upwards of two weeks before someone called the cops about the smell.

I readied my camera and took the first picture, a head to toe. I advanced the film with its severe click-click, then raised the viewfinder to my eye again. Forced, looking through the glassy eye of my camera, to look upon the face of the woman. Her mouth, hanging open, tongue looking serraded. The cats had taken little nibbles out of it, all the way around, like a child does when systematically removing the crust from a piece of bread.

Again, another picture, this time a bit zoomed in, on her face. One eye, hanging open, the other at half-mast. Dried, crusty, not shining in the least, not wet--dry. I thought of doll's eyes that haven't yet received that clear coat to make them look wet. The woman's eyes, looked unfinished. The flesh around the eyes, wrinkled with age, looked tired, exhausted from being dead.

I finished my pictures and applied another coat of salve to beneath my nostrils. The smell was starting to cut its way through ever so slowly. Back in the hall with the heckling cops, making light to make their minds avoid the horrors knocking at the doors of their memories, wanting to be remembered. The sights, the smell, the ambiance, the scene as a whole--wanting to be remembered forever. Waking up in a sweaty frenzy, pawing at the blankets, terrified of the thought of being eaten alive by your pets.

As I get back down to the street level, the world continues on its path. Cars spew exhaust, people buy lunch at the bodega, hot dog vendors. Young people skateboard by that scratch and rumble of wheels on cement. Across the street, sprung free from their domestic prison, some cats roost on the lid of a dumpster. Well fed cats, bellies bulging, hungry eyes watching everything that passes. They spot me and collectively they focus. They're thinking, Give it enough time--and he could be a meal, too. I raise the camera and commit them to film, one snapshot on the station's dollar won't break their bank. Something for the portfolio. Something to stick on the fridge as a reminder to never own anything but a fish for a pet.









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