It was a Saturday. My friends started showing up a little before 6:30 pm. They were gathering at my apartment to do a reading for the web series I’ve been working on. After almost a year of delays we were getting the cast back together, along with some new additions, and I was very excited.
It’s the kind of gathering that drives my soul. Take one part creativity, five parts friends, three parts wine, and you have a tremendous evening on your hands.
As I opened the door to let my friends into my apartment I noticed there seemed to be a scent of bad cooking in the air. I am very fortunate to live above somebody who frequently cooks delicious smelling meals. However, every once in a while they have a miss and what they prepare smells less than extraordinary. I though it unfortunate that it should coincide with my reading but once in the apartment we couldn’t smell it anymore.
The reading goes tremendously. There is laughter and stories and more laughter. A couple of people take off early but we sit around drinking and talking.
At around 10:30 my buzzer rings. Through the peephole I can see police officers. I am confused because we aren’t being that loud at all. I open the door and the officer asks me if I know the person in the apartment across the hall. They point to the apartment of the guy who I’ve seen maybe twice. The guy who plays his TV way too loud.
No I say, I don’t.
He says my neighbor called them because there was an awful smell coming from his apartment. He tells me that heard us talking in my apartment and wanted to see if we knew anything. I tell him no and he wishes me a good evening.
The evening continues. We joke about the smell. We make extremely lewd jokes about it. The jokes continue as everybody files out and heads home.
The next morning, slightly hungover, but extremely satiated from wonderful time with my friends I am awoken to the sound of drilling.
I make my way to my door and look through the peephole to see my two Supers drilling into the apartment across the hall.
It is at this point that I realize the smell is much stronger than the previous night and has infiltrated my entire apartment. It’s not just bad it’s excessive. Somewhat like rotting fish but far more significant, as though this smell has the ability to reach more corners of my nose.
On my way out to get a bagel I ask my Supers what’s going on but they don’t respond, caught up in their seemingly amateur approach to opening this door. Why don’t they just call a locksmith? Wouldn’t that be simpler?
As I walk out of the building I pass my neighbor who called the police. I ask him what’s going on.
The smell is awful, it’s gotten into our kitchen, and it stinks.
Well, I’m glad you called the police then.
And then I am off to get my bagel.
I return about 90 minutes later. And since I have recommitted myself to living a healthier lifestyle, I climb the six flights of stairs to my apartment. By the time I get to my floor the smell is just as bad if not worse, and my supers are still there however they have stopped working.
Their tools are on the ground.
The lock has been pushed through the door leaving a hole no more than three inches in its place. And Raul, in his mangled English, calls to me.
Richie, look. Look here.
He points to the hole in the door. He gestures the way you might tell a child to look into a bird’s nest to see the new eggs. I lean over slightly to look through it. He urges me on again.
Hesitant I inch closer, feeling slightly like this is some sort of antique peep show where you pay a quarter to look at a strange picture inside of a box.
Bending over to peer through a tiny hole, which leads to the location of an unbearable scent makes me physically, visibly nervous. I hesitate again before getting closer, not sure what to anticipate.
But I do get closer. I bring my eyes to the level of the hole in the door. And I see it.
Lying on it’s back, visible from knees to chest, belly protruding from the shirt.
He dead Richy.
And then it hits me; the worst fear of some of my friends, something that we laugh at it when we see it in movies has come true.
Suppose nothing happens to you? Suppose you live there your whole life and nothing happens? You never meet anybody, you never become anything and finally you die one of those New York deaths where nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway.
-Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally
I’m suddenly part of an urban legend, the plot line of an episode of Law and Order. Overheard in the city. All of that. Except real. Realer than I could ever imagine.
I move quickly back into my apartment. Trembling. Shaking. I call one friend, I text another. I chat with others online. Somebody contextualize what this means. Somebody explain this.
The smell is no longer just bad it has taken on a whole new level. It haunts me. It makes me over think things. I am spooked. I am disgusted. I am terrified.
I light candles. One, two, five. I spread them around the room. They don’t mask the smell with it. They mix with it. Infuse it. I try to sit next to the window. I make phone calls. I try to distract myself.
There is nothing on the planet powerful enough to distract me from the smell of a dead body. Words flash through my head.
How long was he there? How long had he been dead? Was it drugs? Alcohol? Certainly not foul play since the door was still locked. It takes the coroner 7 hours to finally remove the body from the apartment.
In that time no less than 3 different detectives and police officers ring my bell. Two different ones ask me questions; one asks to use my toilet.
They ask me if I knew anything about my neighbor. I tell them all the same thing, only that I never saw him but he played his TV loud all the time.
And that’s when it strikes me. Of all my neighbors he was the only one I thought about every morning when I left for work and every night when I got home.
What is he watching? Why is it so loud? Why is he watching TV so early? Every day, never a change.
His body leaves and eventually so does the scent, replaced with a broken door with a duck taped over hole, and a green sticker that seals the door and reminds me that where I live, yet again, will never be the same.