This is an excerpt from my latest short story (maybe a novelette. . . we’ll see), The Stain.
A lonely and dejected crime-scene, cleanup worker is headed to find love in a very weird place. This is one case where what you do for a living can maybe not be so good for your love life, or maybe this is exactly what love is in the end: finding the “right one” in the dodgiest of places.
Anyway, this story will give “emotional merging” a whole new meaning. Let me know what you think in the comments. :)
[Excerpt, The Stain]
Gödel Spvvak scraped up the last bits of hair fused with the linoleum and wet vac’d the remaining puddles of fat and viscera pooled between the hallway baseboard and the floor. These were the final remaining pieces of a life that he gingerly placed in the bright orange biohazard bag ready at his elbow. Abel Sidwell, or what used to be Mr. Sidwell, had dropped dead in his hallway between the bathroom and bedroom of his small one-bedroom apartment. Gödel chuckled to himself how this was so often the way of it. Going to or from the bathroom was where the majority of people died in these cases or sitting on the toilet in a soup of their own filth and bloody excrement.
In this case, Abel had the polite sense to follow the bell curve, rather than be an outlier. Abel had been a shut in, a quiet one, a man no one ever noticed or asked about or gave a passing glance to in the well-lit apartment building corridors. Dogs never barked at him, no one ever offered to help him with his groceries, and there were never any complaints about Abel Sidwell to the building manager from his neighbors. It was no wonder then that it took seven weeks to discover the body.
Abel Sidwell died as he had lived: alone. He was an accountant with a nice downtown firm for 35 years. Retirement was his undoing. He withdrew week by week until his human footprint on this Earth was washed away by the waves of time. No family, no pets, no one to mourn his sloughing off of the coil. The one and only complaint ever lodged against Abel was by his next-door neighbor, Ethel something, an elderly, fastidious busybody with a sensitive nose. The bacteria had been working over Abel’s remains with the vengeance of a hundred-trillion tiny piranhas, liquifying his tissues and diffusing his body mass into a spreading stain that stretched from where he had lain through the full length of the apartment hallway. It was this festering mess of biomass and bacterial waste that met Ethel’s nostrils and the alarm was sounded.
Then the call came into Sterifresh Extreme Cleaning, of Red Bank, New Jersey, from the landlord. “We clean up life’s accidents,” was Sterifresh’s marketing catch phrase—with its underlining subtext—". . . along with its murders; suicides, kidnappings gone wrong; and all manner of biohazardous, cadaver-stinking crime scenes.” What followed the call was a well-orchestrated dance of Sterifresh clerks working closely with the local Coroner’s Office, Police, the building’s HOA board of directors and lawyers. The apartment was sealed, forensics and the Coroner removed what was left of Able Sidwell and that’s when Gödel got his call.
“Gödel, cleanup in aisle nine. Call for details,” the matter-of-fact text message came over his phone. To the untrained eye this might look like a cruel joke or callus gallows humor, but it was in fact company code for: big mess, nobody wants to do this, we need you now. Gödel was a one-man phenom. He’d been doing “stain management” for years and there was literally nothing in the human condition of death that he hadn’t seen.
“Stain management,” was a nice Madison Avenue phrase that left clients with images of wine stains from tipped over glasses spoiling nice white carpets, or pet accidents left behind by abandoned dogs and cats trapped in houses and apartments cutoff from backyards and litter boxes. Nothing so unmanageable that a jumbo-sized, supermarket-bought spritzer of Zout or a cheap commercial-grade wet vac couldn’t handle with enthusiasm and a little elbow grease. That was the Sterifresh marketing copy. That was the sales pitch. Gödel knew better.
What started out as paying his dues to move up the corporate ranks, turned into a specialty. Gödel possessed an almost savant-like genius for knowing the most efficient way to sanitize an incident site. His coworkers were more than happy to step aside and give Gödel a wide berth to apply his craft, none of them had the stomach for it. Over time, however, stepping aside turned into evasion, and then avoidance, and finally outright shunning.
That was okay with Gödel, he preferred working alone. It suited his nature and his temperament. And it allowed him the freedom to explore the private lives of his—friends? He often thought of the dead ones this way. He grew to know each of them as if they were family, perhaps distant relatives but he knew their histories, their personal finances, their legal troubles, their sexual peccadilloes, and any host of secrets and unspoken indiscretions. All the things that people stuffed into the backs of bedroom bureau draws or deep into the dark corners of closets or hidden away in shoeboxes atop dusty and long forgotten attic shelves were his golden treasure.
Gödel aways found what he was looking for: letters, diaries,, journals, scribblings on the backs of boxes or printer paper. The dead never left without talking to their world in some way and giving up the forbidden things they could never have spoken out loud in life. Why now? Why them? Why this way? All the hard questions friends and family would never get answered, Gödel would know because he took the time to learn, listen, and know the person that was. And he kept those missives; they were his trophies. He had boxes and boxes in his apartment of desperate voices, raging voices, and repentant voices. So many confessions, even more regrets, and buckets full of I’m-sorries.
It was like that with Abel Sidwell. He left behind all manner of intimate reveals exposing the soft, white underbelly of his true self for anyone patient enough to piece it all together. Abel had a massive pornography collection stashed under his mattress, along with an old Sony Wv-h5 Hi8 VHS Video Deck. Magazines, scanned prints, and video tapes of impossibly large-breasted women in flagrante delicato with other enormous, plus-size women, “plumpers” was the porno lingo. There was also a dresser drawer jammed with brightly colored jock straps, sized XXXL, pressed into the back so no one might accidentally stumble upon them. He was overdrawn in his checking account by several hundred dollars, as his checkbook scrupulously indicated (he was an accountant after all), with the last check written to one “Double-D Hooters Magazine” for three-hundred and seventy-seven dollars and eighteen cents.
But the items that bonded Gödel to Abel Sidwell were his final scratching on a set of randomly placed Post-it notes distributed throughout his apartment on walls, upon the shiny surfaces of appliances, in the pages of his porno mags, and on mirrors. On three-by-three yellow squares of paper, Abel did what all the others in his circumstance have done, still do, will always do; he slowly told himself the truth and accepted his fate. Note by note denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. So human; so familiar.
It was in those Post-its, and within the secret places where Abel secluded his deepest desires and pleasures, and in the ignoble reality of his putrid end that Gödel found a connection as right and true as any living friendship. He knew Able Sidwell, and Gödel would hold his secrets tight from the world, as any friend would, as any real friend should.