“She’s not here.” He stood, a burly bear of a man, on the porch of my friend’s home. I had stopped by hoping to pick up her research. We were taking a course at the local community college. Contemporary Issues: it had sounded like fun, a chance to make new friends, nothing too onerous. It had been an added benefit to find Rhonda in the class and a pleasure when she had agreed to be my project partner.
“When do you …?”
“Don’t know and don’t care. I’m not her keeper.”
“Now that you mention it …”
“I’m her brother.”
I couldn’t see much resemblance except, perhaps, the crystal-mint quality of his eyes. I really like Rhonda’s eyes.
But not wanting to pry,I just nodded my head.
“Can I leave a note?”
“Sure. Tape it to the door.”
“Do you have some paper, a pencil, some tape?” I was beginning to feel strange, half angry and half sort of immature, like I had somehow become a kid.
Maybe it was the way he was talking – almost sneering with his voice and not looking at me, as if I was beneath his busy notice.
“I have no time to look for that crap. Get it yourself.” He gestured toward the screen door.
I pulled it open and walked in. I’d never been inside Rhonda’s house. But over the months we’d been friends I’d developed some pretty clear expectations. She was such a well-ordered person, so painstaking. I wasn’t prepared for the mess or for the stench. It was the stench of something dead, of something long past decay. Yet, strangely, I found the smell reassuring. If this guy was a robber or something, he might have caused the disarray, but certainly not that odor.
He followed me indoors. “Something must have died.”
“What?” He snarled the word.
“The smell. It smells like something died.”
“Oh, yeah, Rhonda figures something must have died. In the walls. A rat or something.”
“Oh! That sucks.”
“You could say.”
“My name’s Walt.” I held out my hand, which he ignored.
“Yeah.” Whatever had impelled him to explain the odor it certainly wasn’t friendliness.
“What’s yours?” He ignored me.
I started looking for that paper and pencil.
“Lock the door when you leave,” he instructed.
“When you leave. Lock the door.”
“Aren’t you going to …?”
“Got to get back to work,” he interrupted. “Just lock the damn door, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. Any idea where?”
“Naw. Look around.”
It took a while. Eventually I found what I needed – except for the tape. I wrote a note and stuck it in the door as I was closing it. It wedged above the lock, tilted to one side.
Rhonda called that evening. “Sorry I wasn’t home.”
“Yeah, well your brother said you were out.”
There was a gulp on the other end of the line. “I don’t have a brother.”
“He said he was your brother.”
“I have no idea.”
“Was anything …?”
“No, nothing missing. Nothing messed up. Just normal.”
Nothing messed up? I wanted to ask about the smell, but didn’t know how to bring it up without insulting so I described the guy. “’bout three inches taller than me, heavier set, too. Five or six years younger. He was wearing jeans and a blue shirt, not a dress shirt, something more like it was for work, but not with any logo or anything. Hair, lots of it and real dark, and messy, un-groomed, almost like he’d never been to a barber or shaved or anything. In fact, the way he looked, I wondered about him saying he was your brother. But I didn’t know what to do.”
There was silence. Finally, “I have no idea who he was, but it doesn’t matter that much. Whoever he was … I mean nothing was taken or broken into or anything. Maybe you interrupted him. Good thing you came by.” I could hear her breathing. “It is a little creepy.”
“I guess.” I was uncomfortable – didn’t know what to say. Should I offer to go over? “You’re sure nothing was taken or …?”
“No nothing. Probably just … Hell, I don’t know.”
Another pause. I couldn’t let it go. “So what do you think died?” I asked abruptly.
“The smell. He said you thought something had died – something in the wall.”
“Are you nuts? There’s no smell in my place. How long have you known me?
“About five months.”
“Right.” Her voice went up in pitch. “Well, I’ve lived in this house my entire life. It’s my family home. I was born here. My mother died here. Do you think I’d live in a place that smelled of some dead animal or something? That I’d let that happen to my home? You’ve got to …”
“The whole place surprised me. It didn’t seem like you. So messy and all.”
“Walt, are you on something?”
“Of course not.”
“Joking? If you are, this isn’t funny.”
“No. I’m serious. Look, he let me in, I found the paper and pencil, I wrote you the note. You got the damn note, right?”
“Yes.” Her voice reflected the discomfort of our conversation. “But I have no brother, my place doesn’t smell, and it’s neat as I can get it. What the hell?”
“I’m sorry. It doesn’t make sense.” I didn’t want to upset her more. I wished that I hadn’t said anything – not about the smell, not about the mess. “Maybe it was your brother-in-law. Maybe I misheard him.”
“Not likely. I’m an only child.”
“My mother was pregnant one time. I was five. It was a boy. But my parents were fighting a lot. They broke up. She didn’t … She had an abortion. It really freaked her out.
“It freaked me out, too. I found her in the bedroom all cramped up on the bed and the mess. Not just the blood, but I guess she had tried to use some towels. I don’t know if she was trying to stop it or to clean up, but it was so …” Her voice trailed off.
After a minute she resumed, “I guess that was when I got to be so … What’s the word? Meticulous. A mess in my house? A smell? You’ve got to be kidding.” A pause. “I couldn’t stand it. I really …” Her voice, filled with pain, trailed off.
I had to change the subject, but knew I couldn’t really. So I asked, “Did you ever wonder?”
“What it would have been like if he had …”
“Of course, wouldn’t anybody?”
“I don’t know. Personally, I always wanted to be an only child. I wondered what that would have been like.”
“Well, I always wondered.” I could hear a little cough at her end. “You know what really bugs me? They never even gave him a name. It was like …”
“Like he died somewhere out of sight, like he was just a dead animal …”
“Yeah, a dead animal.”
Copyright: © 2010 Kenneth Weene

Kenneth Weene is a New Englander by birth and disposition and trained as a psychologist and minister, he has worked as an educator and psychotherapist.

Ken’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications – most recently featured in Sol and publication in Spirits. An anthology of his writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions. His short stories have appeared in Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, and The Santa Fe Literary Review.

Ken’s novel, Widow’s Walk, has recently been published by All Things That Matter Press. A second novel, Memoirs From the Asylum, is scheduled for release May 20. To order Ken’s novels visit http://www.allthingsthatmatterpress.com/ or order at Amazon.

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