I Can Smell the Bodies Rotting

In a Minneapolis library a homeless woman parked her mess two seats from my station. Her skin surmised a story in my brain. It showed five years on my frame but by dress and dirt she seemed locked inside a different life. I dicked around on a laptop but unpopped my earbuds as something was off. From sight I knew her to be unhoused but soon disturbed rants arrested my attention. Messages from a hell realm burning through her brain.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting if the actual core of a satanic hell was here and it was so big you’d need a missile to kill it?”

This and offshoots of its ilk made me wonder what elements composed the jumble in her head. How long they’d lived there. Her screeds went further than the idiosyncrasies of those displaced or dumped on streets. I’m used to an unwell bum screaming at a trash can. Checking the time on a statue’s watch. They’re fucked and gone but harmless. Notable but not noteworthy. This woman and her mutterings were something more. Words so weird I had to write them down.

I popped open a doc and hammered at keys, failing to keep up. I just wanted to capture her words. Ones so odd I couldn’t let them wither. Transcription imbued each utterance with life. The ephemeral made immortal.

“The Indian who smokes crack. I saw him walk across the street and come back with a jacket full of money.”

She said this to me but I didn’t look her way. The message wasn’t for me anyways. I registered as little more than the body beside her. She’d started not long after sitting here. Found her corner then got to talking. Would’ve done so with or without me. No external prompts needed.

I thought of one of the first dates I went on in this Midwest city. How I took a beautiful art gal out for a sandwich and stroll through Uptown, the same neighborhood I sat in now. How I started our date by telling her of the first time I jacked off. How she laughed at my absurdity. How we talked to a young bum who told us of his seven inch dick. It was fun and made for good fodder.

Six years later I was back to this city, now homeless myself. Living out of a 20 year old car just blocks from here. Sleeping in a trunk in the cold Midwest winter. I reflected on how things had changed. How life shifted in unexpected ways. A slow shuffle down, down, down.

I wondered where this woman started. If she’d lived a normal life like I had. Had a family and friends. A mind built on bedrock. I felt thankful to know that no matter what I’d never slip to her level. That my baseline cemented itself in reality. That at some point she sunk beneath that. That now she pounded at the ceiling, our floor, as the world trudged above. Her screams no more than creaks in the floorboards.

Our spot looked out to the street. To the marquee of a historic theater. To people walking snowy cement or slinking downhill to one of three lakes. None knowing that this building is where people like me escaped the cold for they had no home. That beside me sat someone poked and puppeted by the entity in her head.

A well-fashioned elder, book in hand, nestled into a chair behind us. She said something to the babbler about quieting down. This gentle admonishment had an opposite effect. Induced unceasing anger.

It rumbled low then grew to a five minute monologue of devil ranting incoherence. This little spark to her fuse was all she needed to never stop. A mountain laced with dynamite, each charge inducing avalanche. She turned to the old woman and verbalized the violence inside her head.

“You spread your legs and then you die. I can smell the bodies rotting.”

The old woman cried. Pointed her face to what she read but tears leaked from eyes to cheek. It seemed she was saddened to see someone so disturbed. Or perhaps a natural response to the vile spew from one who couldn’t help themselves. I knew our presence didn’t matter. That we acted as little more than audience to an ever-present monologue.

I shifted and stared their way, feeling little about this scene. Didn’t see it as personal. Just a break from the sludge of existence. I studied the rambler’s gesticulations. They grew from small to wild as she started thoughts in her head then finished them aloud.

“…the bitch who sucked your dick and fucking gave you AIDS.”

I thought of my acclimation to cities. The insanity in their streets. How I grew up on a rural farm five miles from a town of 300. When I first spent time in metro areas people like this seemed an unnatural aberration. TV come to life. It was stark and startling to pass those dying on the street. How we just stepped past a man on a sidewalk in winter.

On the farm this would be a sight branded upon my brain for eternity. In cities it was just the way the world was. A jostling but expected occurrence. I didn’t feel some great sorrow but took great notice. Then over time even that wore down.

Novelty dripped ’til I took no notice. Death blended into background. Fucked folks pounded at their ceiling but all I heard were muffles. Just another part of the tapestry. No hardening of my heart. Just a flattening of the brain waves.

Now my mind only lit the circuits when it was up close and personal. So insane I couldn’t ignore that before me. Even living in a car in the cold barely brought more notice. It took this ranting woman to shake me awake, if only for a moment.

She caught me typing in my phone then said I stole it from her. I flashed the screen to show it was mine. She seemed to forget this thought of theft. Instead asked a question. Her eyes placed upon me. Head locked into place. There was no mistaking who she now spoke to.

“Do you want to explain to me how an unarmed woman is supposed to stop a man from teleporting to someone’s bedroom in the middle of the night?”

I sat there stooped, unable to answer. Unable to crack the floorboards and let her crawl out. Wondering all the while if there was a level above me. If what I thought of as a ceiling was just a floor to the rest.

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