And my car smells of death

The businessmen rise early, dress smartly in tight pants and fleece vests. They map out their day, plan phone calls, taking care to sequence them properly. Many calls depend on prior ones, the results of previous conversations. Who reports to whom, who must know what by what time. Follow ups and proactive reachings-out. Partnerships and coaching. Performance management, accountability, a cup of coffee, earbuds in ears, laptops on lap, here in the coffee shop.

This one pulls out a nail clipper during calls, clips fingernails while sitting in the comfy chair in the corner across from me. Bounces the clipper on the leather armrest, brushing clippings to the floor, out of sight, out of mind. Another item checked off his list. Sips coffee from a paper cup soon to be discarded, buried in the earth.

My car smells of death. I left a coffin in the back too long, a red cardboard box that held the corpse. Maggie killed a rabbit, one of two babies the girls and I flushed out while trimming bushes and pulling weeds. One of them we lost track of, but the other, the one with the white diamond on its forehead, cowered in a corner of the porch for hours.

“It’s still sitting there,” I said, my finger pulling aside the curtain as night fell.

“He’s nocturnal,” my wife explained, peeking over my shoulder. “He’s waiting.”

She was right. After dark, he vanished. To the backyard, where Maggie found him first, it seems, then later my wife.

I put him in the shoebox until I could bury him. She insisted I bury him, said the kids couldn’t know.

The backyard was too rocky, too hard for grave digging, so I moved to the flowerbed in front of the house. The soft dirt opened easily, deep enough I hoped, and he landed upside down too fast for me to confirm he was the white diamond one. I covered him with dirt and mulch from the tree root we’d grinded, thought it might mask the smell, help him rest in peace. Only thought afterwards the neighbors probably saw me digging, saw the red shoebox, put two and two together. Bad move, that.

I put the shoebox in the car with the broken down Christmas boxes bound for the recycler. I was going to drop them off at the bin at the girls’ school but found the bins were gone. Their school always encouraged us to drop off our cardboard, they’d get a cut. Now I had nowhere to leave the coffin. It sat in my car while I ran errands, parked, waited in the doctor’s office, saw the doctor, came back out, returned to the smell of death rising, falling, sinking into my seats.

“That’s what you get,” said my wife. “You shouldn’t put his coffin in the recycler.”

“I didn’t,” I said, stinking of death.

“You should bury it with him.”

“I’m not burying red Nike shoebox cardboard in the ground,” I said.

The businessman leaves with his laptop in the crook of his arm like a football, coffee in hand, earbuds in, talking about someone’s performance and how to proceed. The homeless man who lives in the park by my house takes the empty seat and plugs his phone into the wall socket. I’m surprised he has a phone. His smell arrives. His order arrives moments later and the woman who brings it reminds him he can’t stay. He says okay, thank you, and leaves, unplugging his phone. The woman wipes down the chair with a rag and Lysol. She looks at me, and it seems we both need to say something but don’t.

12 thoughts on “And my car smells of death

  1. Ha ha ha…lovely to see you back! So missed reading your work here. Love all these overlapping images. All this to-ing and fro-ing. Can see it all so clearly. And empathize with the rabbits. That Maggie! Happy new year, Walt.

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  2. Not sure anyone else gives me the thrill of details that you do, Walt. I admire the desire to recycle, but what I really love is the waitress and the narrator at the end, at a loss for what to say, knowing they should say something. I feel in real life that I always try to plug those silences with stupid words. I don’t know why. Also, this story reminds me that I’ve eaten rabbit before – but won’t again. I also don’t know why that is.

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    • We fear silence, in this culture. I hear that in Scandinavia it’s not like that. You can eat a meal with others in silence and not feel the need to blow hot air the whole while. That must be nice. I appreciate you coming by, Trent. Thanks for the kind words. I ate rabbit once and yes, it tasted like chicken. I try not to eat much meat these days.

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      • I wonder if it’s just inherent insecurity on the part of people like me. Plugging the silence like it’s a problem. Maybe I should move to Scandinavia to learn some better tricks. Anyway Walt, keep writing and I’ll keep reading. I’m not much into meat these days either. I feel like it slows me down.

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        • It is an inherent insecurity born of cultural expectation. We all share this perceived need to obliterate silence. But silence is our natural state, and not at all a problem. The problem is us thinking there is a problem. I will write what I can muster up, but I’m finding I don’t have much to say of late. Meat definitely slows one down. In the East, they say it’s because of the state of the ‘meat’ just before it is slaughtered. It’s full of fear and flushed with the horror of what’s about to happen to it. Such hormones are not good to imbibe. Animals may have smaller brains, but they know what’s up. It’s like Perry Farrell said. You should be with us. Feeling like we feel.

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  3. Beautiful merging of images with a poignant end. Btw I was that ‘business man’ for too many years and if I had not retired last year I would now be buried in a cardboard box. I need more Lysol to clean away that stain….

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    • I hear you. I was sometimes torn between the part of me that aspired to be the business man and the part of me that wanted nothing to do with that. Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words.

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