At this point, there was no repairing my reputation as the neighborhood crackpot. The neighbors are avoiding me. I fear I’m the talk of the neighborhood. I think I know why.
I’ll start at the beginning. The countertop in my aging kitchen is old, gold-flecked white laminate, which yellows and stains easily. Every few months I spill a little bleach on it and, leaning over the counter, work it into the corners, then rinse it off. That’s what I was doing when the doorbell rang. My neighbor was at the door. During a brief conversation, she seemed startled, and her eyes kept nervously scanning me. Cutting the conversation short, she scurried back to her house, looking nervously over her shoulder.
“What the heck is her problem,” I thought. “Hasn’t she ever seen a woman in a bathrobe?” I looked down at my deep royal blue velvet bathrobe. It reminded me of the night sky in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” only it seemed that two bright full moons had risen over Van Gogh’s night sky.
Leaning over the bleach residue on the counter and swirling the sponge around had taken the color out of some of the robe. It was still a deep royal blue except for two perfectly round, solid white circles about six inches in diameter, one directly over each breast. “The girls” might still be covered, but they now looked like a pair of headlights coming at you on a dark country road.
I started to call my neighbor back and explain. Never mind, I thought. Let’s give ’em something to talk about. They’re probably still talking about the dead chicken incident from a few years earlier.
It happened during the steamiest of summer days. A stench began to permeate the neighborhood. It wasn’t bad at first, but over the next few days, it became gag-worthy. Something had to be done.
The men of the neighborhood gathered for emergency consultation. It was decided that a very large animal, or worse, a human, had died in the nearby woods. Like African tourists on Safari, they stalked our semi-rural neighborhood in search of any dead bodies.
Holding my nose and gagging, I walked into the yard to see if they’d made any progress. As I passed my car in the driveway, I noticed swarms of flies desperately trying to get into the trunk. I opened the trunk and peered inside, where I saw the package of raw chicken breasts I’d missed when I unloaded the groceries three days earlier in the 90-degree heat. The package was covered with flies and I could see maggots crawling on the chicken. I slammed the trunk lid and had a whispered conversation with my husband. The Safari was called off and the dead chickens were buried in the woods.
The odor in the neighborhood dissipated fairly quickly. I couldn’t say the same for my car. The stench had permeated every surface of its interior. Just a short drive in the car, which I’d nicknamed, “The Carrionmobile,” was enough to infuse my hair and clothing with the stench of decaying flesh. To counteract it, I doused myself in expensive perfume. The two competing odors were engaged in a skirmish of Gettysburg-like proportions. I smelled like a roadkill collector with a side-hustle as a high-class call girl.
I became quite defensive about my pungent aroma. In a line at the bank, I was so paranoid that I blurted out to the teller, “It’s not me; it’s the dead chickens.” I could see the flicker of fear in her eyes as her finger inched toward the alarm button.
When I tried to coax my kids to get in the car, they burst into tears and begged me not to make them do it.
Whenever I opened the car door, I sprayed suffocating clouds of air fresheners and bug killer. I placed large bowls of baking soda and activated charcoal on the seat and in the trunk. Rows of solid air fresheners were clipped to the visors. The atmosphere in the car was so saturated with assorted chemicals that a mysterious luminescent slime formed on the dashboard and it looked like it was about to rain in the back seat.
I hung on the rearview mirror one of those pine-scented, tree-shaped air fresheners. It didn’t help, so I hung another. Then another. Then another. I had a veritable forest of tiny cardboard evergreens, bobbing and swaying in unison every time I rounded a corner. It was like trying to drive through the dense undergrowth of a tropical rainforest. From the depths of the back seat, I imagined the sound of Tarzan’s piercing yodel and the primitive cries of exotic tropical birds. When I arrived at my destination, I worried I’d have to hack my way out of the car with a machete.
I was asked more than once to move my car farther away from the other, more fastidious and aromatic automobiles, for fear of contamination. I had to park at such great distances from other vehicles that I had to carry a backpack of emergency rations.
On the bright side, I could leave all the windows open, the doors unlocked, and the keys in the ignition. Who’d steal it? A carjacker who had lost his sense of smell due to a zinc deficiency?
After weeks of effort, my sensor memory told me that it no longer smelled like I had a dead body in the trunk, but it didn’t smell normal, either. It took me several days to recognize the odor. It was that first whiff of a gas station restroom that hadn’t been cleaned in the current decade. At least that was progress.
It took me years to live that down, then I had to answer the door in a robe that looked like it was the first act of a porno film. Sigh. I may have to change my name and move to another county.