SOFT AS A WHISPER
I should have known by the smell that there was a dead guy in apartment 24, but there was no way I could have guessed it was the same douche I feared was doing my wife.
I guess starting my story here probably arouses undue suspicion upon me, but if you’ll settle down, I think I can clarify that I am innocent of that crime. In fact, if there is a single victim in this sordid narrative it most certainly is me.
I worked part time for Justice Pest Control, a small-time outfit run by a racist old redneck who went by the unlikely moniker of Baby. I was doing a job at the second to last unit of a low-income apartment complex known as Piney Acres. It was late August and probably a hundred degrees and so humid that the air swirled around me like fog; my cargo shorts and the heavy polo—with the insignia of a cockroach being smashed by a gavel—were plastered to me like a second skin. I was weak-kneed and nauseated. There isn’t enough Gatorade to keep you hydrated during the summer months
within the East Texas Piney Woods. And besides, I was carrying a fifty-pound tank filled with chemicals that could burn the skin off your wanker if you forget to wash your hands with Palmolive before taking a leak.
I knocked on the front door and it swung open. I shouted, “Pest Control”, but there was no answer. It wasn’t uncommon at Piney Acres for the tenants to leave their doors
unlocked, so I didn’t think much of it. I stuck my head into the living room and I could already smell the blood; it was a familiar metallic scent like a bowl full of pennies I had
collected when I was a kid. I worked at a barbeque house when I was a teenager and I made that connection the first time they butchered a pig. I could see into the connecting kitchen and judging from the filth that was overflowing from
the trashcan and the sink filled with soiled dishes I didn’t find the stench too suspicious. It wasn’t like I was Dexter showing up at a crime scene and expecting to find . . . well, I’ll get to that part soon enough.
The first item in the living room that caught my attention was this obnoxiously large burgundy briefcase. I’d seen it once before only a week prior and the memories it conjured weren’t pleasant. I was quietly scooping leaves out of the swimming
pool behind the house and I don’t think my wife knew I was home, because a man scrambled out of the backdoor with the aforementioned briefcase clutched in his lecherous hands. It was a fair distance away, but I could see that the asshole was
pretty worked up because his hair was tousled, and his cheeks were bright red and splotchy. I get a bright red Rorschach splotch like that on my upper chest after I . . . well, after I cum, so you can imagine what I was imagining. The guy had this
ridiculous faux hawk and a thin beard that outlined his cheek line and he was dressed in green hospital scrubs, which I imagined he had slept in the night before as pajamas. He quickly moved towards the front of the house and then probably hopped on a fucking Harley or something.
It was all very depressing, but it confirmed what I had already feared. I had been waiting for my wife to bring it up, but she didn’t—and God knows I wasn’t willing to question
her about it.
Now you might be thinking there are probably plenty of other suitcases like the one I was glaring at and maybe this coincidence unfolding in front of me was actually a
misunderstanding. I considered that possibility as well, so I went over to a desktop computer that was softly humming on the dining room table and I clicked the mouse. The desktop background was of a topless woman who had a footlong hotdog shoved halfway down her throat.
I clicked on his web-browser, Internet Explorer, somehow a douchier choice than the woman deep throating the Oscar Meyer; clearly Chrome is the only viable . . . but I
digress. His saved bookmarks were a list of the most heinous of porn websites: Youjizz, Slutload, Spankbank, etc. A Facebook link was shamefully hiding between Pervclips and
Assmonster. I carefully clicked on Facebook and held my breath as I waited for the profile pic to appear.
It was him. He was straining as he curled a clearly marked sixty-pound dumbbell in his right hand while he was taking the selfie with his left hand, his cheeks flushed and
sporting that ridiculous pencil-thin beard that outlined his jaw and then crawled back up his face, forming a half circle under his nose. He was off-puttingly muscular with ropey veins and paper-thin skin. His eyes bulged like one of those goldfish that sullenly swim around in bowls and seem to be silently apologizing for their very existence. If I’m not painting a clear enough picture, then imagine if Joey Fatone from N’SYNC had an eating disorder and his mother had been Susan Sarandon. And then picture him from behind a douche-colored lens. His name is Chaz Blackburn. His Facebook status update was: Ready to be raped.
That was the man whom I was fairly certain had been going into my house and . . . It was a bitter pill to swallow. And now, I was supposed to be spraying his apartment.
I was fully aware that he could be coming home at any moment. I had even considered what I might do to him. At the time, I was maybe fifty pounds overweight and had the
muscular density of denture cream. My tremors had been getting much worse and in terms of cardio, I got winded going upstairs to the second-floor apartment units. I already told you, I was lightheaded from the heat and probably halfway to suffering a heat stroke. I was also a notorious pussy who tried to disguise it as enlightenment: “I’d kick your ass, but I’m a pacifist . . . like Jesus and Ghandi.” All of that is true, but in that moment, I imagined him coming home and me squirting him in those bug-eyes with the Deltamethrine that was mixed in my tank. Then I’d slap him around while he screamed. At the end, I’d take a handful of faux hawk, pull his ear up to my mouth, and whisper, “If you as much as look at my wife again, I’ll fucking kill you.” He’d
fall into a fetal position on the floor, cry himself into a coma, and when he awakened he’d realize the error of his ways and either become a priest or turn gay.
The truth is if he had come home I’d have asked him if he’d seen any bugs, then spray the perimeter of his apartment and go home without voicing a single displeasure
or even making eye contact. Neither of those scenarios presented themselves because he was already dead in the bedroom. Turns out, he’d been dead the whole time and at
least an hour or two prior as well. I’m not sure how to place time of death.
I closed the browser and noticed a folder—labeled Spank—nestled next to the recycle bin. The tip of the footlong hotdog seemed to be pointed right at it. It was a bit curious that a guy with so much pornography already at his disposal was keeping a separate spank file on hand. Maybe it was an emergency folder, in the event that the internet was down. I’m not saying that masturbation is wrong or anything, despite the fact that, when I was eight, my grandmother told me that an angel cried every time I touched myself in that way. The guilt haunted me long after she was dead and masturbation had become mainstream cool. What bothered me is the thought of this guy being so horny that he had a whacking-off backup plan, and yet I hadn’t been able to get
an erection in over three months.
That was about the time that Dr. Sokunbi told me I had less than six months to live, but I’ll get to that later.
I opened the folder and saw that it held dozens of other folders, all named after women. The first name was Annie Banks and the last was Wanda Miller. I quickly scanned the names of the women sandwiched in between and prayed I didn’t see my wife’s name, Dare Chronister. She would have been up top, considering the names were alphabetized by first names, but I scanned all the names just to be safe. She
wasn’t on the list, much to my relief. I considered that maybe the folders contained videos of his favorite porn stars, but I kind of doubted it. My interest in pornography had never really progressed beyond Cinemax, or maybe a glimpse of Playboy. I grew up in the 70’s, so the idea of a shaved vagina was fairly revolting. Modern pornography was a turn off. I did, however, have preconceived notions about porn stars
and one of my thoughts was that, like strippers, they probably went by pseudonyms. The list of names seemed too mundane to fulfill my expectations of who could be a porn star. No one on the list was named Bunny or Nikki or Candi or Angel . . . Come to think of it, my grandmother might have been on to something.
I clicked on the filed named Becky Rodriguez; which, for the record, was a random choice. I’m not into Hispanic women . . . not that I have anything against them, I’m just
pointing out that I don’t have a fetish for them, or anything.
Before you judge me for watching the files at all, remember that my decision was not predicated on sexual voyeurism. I had the libido of a Ken doll. I clicked on the link out of morbid curiosity and a self-defeating desire to see what man had cuckolded me. I was hoping beyond hope that the obvious steroid use had shrunk his pecker down to the size of a tic-tac.
Cue sleazy bass guitar solo.
It was obviously an amateur production recorded from Chaz’s cellphone. It started off pretty shaky as he set it up, a brief view of a textured white ceiling and then a shot of a
potted bamboo tree. Eventually it was pointed at a woman who was lying down on what I thought might be a hospital bed. She was face down and her body was covered by a thin sheet. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was actually face
down on a massage table with her face buried in that donut hole at the end. Pretty convenient for him, because I’m pretty sure—with what I know now—that Becky had no idea she was being filmed. Chaz walked over to her, pulled down the sheet
a bit from the top, exposing her bra. I could see she was a fairly sizeable girl. More specifically, she had enough back fat to be distracting: four distinct rolls that were filled with cottage cheese. That surprised me because I figured Chaz probably only filmed conventionally attractive women. My wife, for one, was a knockout. Looking at Becky’s back I concluded that she was extremely overweight and in her later years. Chaz squirted some oil on her back and spent a few minutes kneading her like he could flatten her fat into a tortilla, or a pancake—I didn’t say tortilla just because she
was Hispanic. And then he murmured something into her ear and he turned and smiled at the camera as he approached it.
That’s when things got weird.
He carefully zoomed in the camera until it was a close-up on her ear. I assume he continued to give her a massage, but there’s no way of knowing because the rest of the video was just that sad droopy ear framed by dark frizzy hair littered with gray and a bit of unsightly wax nestled in the canal. More than twenty minutes of that ear before the video abruptly ended.
Next, I chose Sarah Jones. It was much the same. She had a much more attractive back and long blonde hair, but a few minutes into the video and she was reduced to a single ear. She had a diamond stud nestled in the lower lobe.
I scanned three more folders and the pattern was clear. Chaz was clearly into ears. Extreme, single shot close-ups. The skin tones differed and there was some slight variance in hygiene, but for the most part it was uniformly dull. I’ve already admitted that I’m not an aficionado of porn, but this was shocking. I tried to mentally recall my wife’s ears and was lost; I doubt I could have picked them out of a lineup. All I knew about her ears is that they were extremely ticklish and she disliked being kissed anywhere near them. Maybe Chaz knew something about my wife that I had never figured out over our seventeen years together?
If I had left the apartment with that question ringing in my ears, then everything would have turned out very differently. I would most likely be dead by now, and that might actually have been better. Hard to say. Instead, I went deeper into the apartment and stuck my head into a small bathroom that held more hair products than the third aisle
in Walgreens and sprayed a few jolts of poison behind a filthy toilet, and then I stepped into the bedroom.
The smell of copper pennies was much stronger in there. A ceiling fan above the bed gently whirred and a sliver of light shone in from behind blackout curtains and revealed a prone form on a king-sized bed that almost filled the entire bedroom.
I whispered, “Hello?” But I didn’t really expect an answer.
I flipped on the light switch.
Chaz was naked except for a pair of those obnoxiously tight shorts that professional bicyclists wear. Judging from the huge bulge stretching out his form fitting shorts he was packing way more than a Tic Tac; I like to think he stuffed them with a banana or a large cucumber, but I guess I’ll never know the truth. His bulbous eyes were open and unblinking. The sheets were wet with his blood. I stepped up to him and looked down and saw that his throat had been cut from ear to ear. It looked like someone had traced his thin beard with a box-cutter. He was as still as can be. My mind flashed to one of those frogs that gets dissected, opened up and displayed with pins. It was the first dead person I’d ever seen, so maybe my mind wasn’t ready to accept it as real. Maybe
that’s why I leaned down and put my ear on his chest to listen for a heartbeat.
That was when I felt something tickle my other ear, as soft as a whisper. Gentle as a feather. I quickly sat up and shook my head as if dismissing a troubling thought and
didn’t think about that tickle again until much later. I really didn’t have much time to consider it, because a moment later I heard someone step into the apartment. The steps were as impactful as thunder and promised violence.
The floors shook and the stucco walls quivered. I froze, instinctively anticipating a tyrannosaurus rex and remembering that they aren’t supposed to be able to see you
if you remain perfectly still. I was standing above the murdered corpse of a man whom I had reason to strongly dislike, if not kill, so the more pragmatic part of my brain was
racing toward two more likely possibilities: either the intruder was a cop who was going to catch me seemingly redhanded, or worse, it was the murderer come back to dispose of the evidence. As I debated which scenario was more horrific the booming footsteps grew louder and the room suddenly turned dark and unfocused as it violently began to spin. I fell dizzily to my knees and glanced up just as a mammoth figure in a dark coat stepped into the doorway. His face was as white and inexpressive as a mask. He gripped a red gas can in one hand and a blowtorch in the other.
I fainted. Passed out. Pussed out. Blacked out. However you want to put it. I’m not proud of it, but then again that could practically be the title of my memoirs. Chapter one would be titled: At Least I didn’t Shit my Pants.
I awoke and thankfully the room had grown still, but I was extremely disoriented, and it took a bit for the synapses to start firing again. My first thought was of the monstrous
figure who had loomed in the doorway. Was he waiting for me in the living room? I remembered the gas can and the blowtorch. I struggled to my feet and contemplated running through the fiery inferno that could be erupting around me at any moment. That was when I realized that the corpse . . . Chaz, was gone. There was no indication that the body had ever been there in the first place. The bed was stripped down
to the mattress and there wasn’t as much as a single bloody stain left behind. I gingerly stepped over to the doorway and peered down the short hallway, into the living room, and saw that it was empty.
That was the first time that I truly questioned my sanity. Maybe there was no dead body or monstrous figure. Maybe I had imagined all of it like in Donnie Darko or Harvey or
some other pop cultural reference without an oversized bunny rabbit.
I must seem like a fairly unreliable narrator at this point and I don’t even blame you if you think I’m a bullshitter at best or a lunatic at worst. I’ve been called far worse.
Hopefully I can convince you that I really hadn’t imagined any of it, despite the fact that in that moment I would have wagered that my brain was Swiss cheese and the holes
represented the parts of the brain that regulate reality. It was frightening, but by then I was already so low that it seemed par for the course that my last few days would be spent lost in delusion.
I stepped into the living room and glanced at the computer monitor and saw that the young lady with the thick red lips was still choking on a foot-long hotdog. I didn’t have
the heart to check out the files to see if they contained ear porn or if that was something my decaying brain had constructed along with the corpse and the murderer who looked like he could have stepped right out of a bad 80’s slasher film: he was as big as leather face and his white mask looked like the lovechild of the mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movies and the distorted mask from
I was so terribly tired. Obviously, I wasn’t just physically beaten, but also mentally and spiritually. Dehydrated and deflated and disenchanted. I carried a horrible secret that I
had only shared with my psychologist, Dr. Angela Chod. Just a few months prior I had gone in to see my primary physician, Dr. Kegle, in order to offer up my butthole for
prodding and to have my blood drawn so that it could be confirmed that my cholesterol and blood pressure were still dangerously high.
I felt compelled to admit to Dr. Kegle that I had recently begun to develop additional symptoms that were indicative of a lifetime of poor decisions. For one, I had become so
forgetful that I would frequently be driving to a job and suddenly realize that I had no idea where I was going. Or worse, I would drive home and not realize my mistake until
my irate manager, called me and asked why I hadn’t showed up at the client’s home. Secondly, there were the intense headaches that made my previous bouts with migraines pale in comparison. I had also developed a horrible tremor that
manifested in my hands and forced me to stuff them in my pockets or tightly clench my fingers, or risk looking like Michael J. Fox 2.0. Finally, I came to the inevitable
conclusion that I was an alcoholic and quit drinking less than a year before, and I think I somehow justified the poor health as my body’s continued rejection of my day-at-a-time approach after two decades of almost daily over indulgence. Dr. Kegle told me that my withdrawal symptoms should have been long gone and he was concerned that I might be suffering from chronic meningitis.
Turns out my sobriety had nothing to do with my symptoms. Sober or perpetually drunk I was in some very deep shit. To determine how deep, Dr. Kegle sent me to a
specialist in Tyler who took a CT scan and then quickly sent me to a more special specialist in Houston who took an MRI and then quickly sent me to the most special specialist in Dallas, an Indian man who put me through a painful spinal fluid test that confirmed the worst possible results. Dr. Bhaskar spoke with such a thick accent that his nurse had to translate much of the findings. I’ll give you the cliff notes version: I was diagnosed with CJD, or if you want to be fancy, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. The translated words that the nurse laid on me that made the biggest impact were:
incurable, swift, and fatal. By swift they meant that I’d be lucky to live six more months and that a few of those months would be so painful that a morphine drip would provide
about as much relief as an aspirin.
Turns out only one in a million people get CJD, so it was almost like I had won the lottery. Symptoms are lack of muscular coordination, personality changes, impaired
memory, judgment, and thinking; and impaired vision. In addition, I had won insomnia, depression, and the potential for unusual and frequently painful sensations all over my body. I would likely soon go blind and quickly lose the ability to move or speak. Eventually I’d go into a coma and then die. Some people refer to it as mad cow disease for humans.
I understand my condition, so you can see why I doubted the legitimacy of what had happened in that now empty bedroom. Nightmarish hallucinations weren’t specifically on the list of symptoms, but they weren’t excluded either. I locked the door behind me, skipped the last couple apartments, and went to the main office to turn in my master
key. The woman working the desk, Sloan Douggle, was a middle-aged woman who might have been attractive if she wasn’t perpetually pissed off. She kind of looked like Sandra Bullock if she was playing one of those Housewives of New York, or Atlanta, or wherever, only she had lost her wealth and was forced to work a minimum wage job to make ends meet.
I’m too much of a feminist to refer to a woman as a bitch, so I’ll just say that she exemplified every quality that society would ascribe to a bitch without any notable rationales or discernable positive results for such behavior. My wife once told me that Kristen Stewart from those Twilight movies suffered from RBF. I thought maybe it was a disease or something, but she clarified that it stood for Resting Bitch Face. I looked up the term and found that urban dictionary defined it as: a person, usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to,
despite the fact that she is actually really sweet. Sloan had RBF, but she wasn’t sweet. When I stepped into the office she regarded me like a turd that wouldn’t flush and said, “You look horrible.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I don’t feel very—”
She waved her hand dismissively and asked, “Did you spray all of the apartments?”
She repetitively tapped on her desk with inappropriately long fingernails that had been French manicured with black hearts. She seemed to be spelling out something in Morse code; probably: eat shit, eat shit, eat shit. She stared into me like she was questioning my sincerity, a look I had often seen in the faces of others. After more tapping and intense scrutiny, her forehead wrinkled and she asked, “Did you
“I told you I did,” I said. “Every single one.”
She sighed. “Okay. I think I need to speak to Mr. King about your services.”
She regarded me with extreme RBF. “Your boss. Don’t you know the name of—”
“You mean, Baby,” I interrupted. “That’s what he goes by.”
She shook her head. “I refuse to refer to a grown man as. . . Baby. For God’s sake, he’s as old as my grandfather.”
I shrugged. “It’s what he goes by. I assume if he didn’t like it he would change it.”
“Regardless,” she said, “I need to speak to him. Just so that you know, because I’ve never been one who is catty enough to speak behind someone’s back. I’m going to tell him
that we are no longer comfortable with you servicing the complex. On months that you spray we get far more complaints. At least one tenant suspected that you have been
drinking . . . ”
“I’ve been sober for months.”
“So you say,” she replied.
Now that would have been a golden opportunity to tell Sloan to run backward through a field full of dicks. That’s the retort that I eventually settled on hours after the confrontation. At worst I could have decoded her Morse code and told her to eat shit. She deserved it, and even the staunchest feminist would have supported me. The problem was that I resisted confrontation at any cost, even if it meant
the loss of my pride or self-respect.
I quietly turned and walked away from a woman who had just told me my hard-fought months of sobriety were bullshit and that I was a liar. She was going to tattle on me to my boss and try to have me fired. Maybe I would have fought her harder if I wasn’t certain that I only had a few months left to live anyway. What did my pride matter once I was buried and forgotten? At best I’d be an anecdote she would tell her catty
friends over wine spritzers.
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