From time to time when the wind shifted at the back door I caught the unmistakable whiff of rotting flesh. It was but the faintest hint, like a long-gone lover's perfume, gently nudging a memory to life but not stroking long enough for arousal. I'd get yanked backwards out of the Internet, look up from my laptop and coffee, scrunchy-faced and think, That smells like... must be something under the greenhouse... and then the wind would shift again and it would be gone.
Just as quickly I'd be back to work, some slowly submerging part of my mind figuring it would either get dramatically worse or nature would just kind of sort it all out.
Repeat at odd intervals for weeks, and then dolly-zoom on yesterday:
We're in the backyard grilling and I catch the scent. That submerged memory rises and bursts in my mind like a viscous swamp bubble. Something under the greenhouse. I wander over to the far corner where it meets the fence and the neighbor's wild growth of enormous greenery and get socked in the head by the odor. I bend down to look under the greenhouse and the stench abates. I rise and the volume cranks back up to breakfast-wrestling. Puzzled and nauseated, I cast about, homing in on the epicenter of—
There are moments where you see things so painfully clear, it's like God's Own editorial cartoon, where an enormously fat man in a diaper wrestling with two hookers on a pile of money somehow encapsulates 30 years of socioeconomic history in a few deft strokes of the pen. A maximized fullness of understanding rendered with the absolute minimum of material and effort.
Momentarily stunned, I say aloud, without turning, "I have to clean up something truly horrible." I do my best to convey you don't want to know with word-choice and tone. I don't move, shielding the eyes I know will be summoned to my back by my voice.
My wife hesitates, words and tone doing the trick. "What—is it?"
"You don't want to know." Then, "I'll take care of it." I turn and stride into the house trying to figure the best—and quickest—way to handle it. Garbage bag, no, two, double-bagged, like a giant glove, gonna have to be hands-on, lift slowly, don't pull...
I am suddenly jerked backwards to The Night of the Great Pooting, where the dog was extremely excited about something in the dark but returned almost instantaneously and with a great stink. It billowed and rose through the house, waking all within and making us fear for the amount of de-stinking labor we'd have to suffer before sleep take us again. Luckily, the dog appeared to have been merely grazed, somehow dodging the shot, at the edge of the cone of stink rather than at the center. At the time I thought it a great boon of luck (and not caution or skill on the part of the dog) but now I knew that it was only because the dog was not the target. The thing had pooted at Death itself in a vain attempt to drive the Grim Reaper off.
The possum had been traversing a mildly treacherous section of fence, one where a hand-span gap narrowed to nothing in a long V that terminated, unfortunately, more than one possum-body length above the ground. Here, human enterprise, entropy, physics and a primitive brain all conspired to do the poor beast in. With footing lost, he fell head-first into a puzzle he couldn't solve, at least not before Death would have him. So he hung by the neck at the bottom of that V, scrabbling and pooting, pooting and scrabbling, then menaced by dogs as he pooted every last ounce of poot he could muster.
What was left, weeks later, demanded to be photographed, at least by those at a safe remove; but for me and the requirements of the task at hand taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. I wanted it over with, and now.
It looked, felt, sounded, smelt and tasted exactly like you'd think, only knobbed up beyond 11.
I can still see the cartoon stink lines.