I smelled the dead mouse before I saw it. The sharp tang of death hung heavy in the back, but I couldn't place it. I knew something was wrong the minute I opened the office door.
It was a faint and sickly sweet smell, like rotten teeth. And familiar. "Closer," the strange odor said. "Come closer." And I did--looking and searching. Did someone leave food in the rubbish? Has something gone bad? I checked the garbage pail by the receptionist's desk. Nope.
Sharper now. I headed to the back of the office, peering into garbage cans along the way. We have seven in our tiny office. Why do we have so many? I decided to leave that question for another day.
Something in this one? No. This one? Well, nothing unusual: a few bits of plastic, a folded paper plate, gum wrappers. My eyes scanned the countertops, then the sink. Nope. Nothing in the kitchen.
Rounding the corner, I poked my nose into the weigh room and gave a quick sniff. No, only the desperate smell of pounds lost, gained and lost again. It was an interesting smell perhaps, but not the one I was searching for. What was that smell?
Only one place left. Ewww!
I recalled a member's comment the week before, "Something's a little sour in the bathroom. I think you should leave the fan on." She gave a weak smile to say she wasn't the offender.
"Okay," I agreed after getting a whiff. After the members left, I sprayed Lysol in the bathroom. Yes, I remembered the air was a little sour... but that was days ago. And now it was a lot sour!
The smell was intense. I narrowed my eyes and pulled back, a primal reflex to protect me from the stench. Then it started to eke from the open space at the bottom of the door, searching out my nostrils. Ewww!
I imagined that someone forgot to flush the toilet, leaving a gift to perfume the office for the days it was not in use. I grabbed a metal lifeline. The Lysol can felt cool in my hand as I approached the closed bathroom door. I held my breath.
I felt like a priest about to enter a demon-possessed house, armed only with a crucifix. Turning the knob, I was certain to find the offender floating in the porcelain pool. I found nothing in the toilet, but the smell in the enclosed room almost knocked me to the floor. A fresh draft raced in, mixing freely with the stale dead air. It was welcomed at first and then consumed. The stench breathed out into open office air and away from the relative confinement of the bathroom. I gagged, forgetting the Lysol. Spray! Spray for your life, you fool! Finally, something deep inside the primitive part of my brain signaled an ultimatum to spray... and spray and spray!
I turned on the overhead vent to suck some of the stink from above as I sprayed to mask it below. Why didn't I think of this earlier? Slowly, the toxic air dissipated, but my finger continued to spray. Suddenly, the rusty can sputtered. I shook it, an exhausted warrior dying in battle. Tentative sniff--clear.
I collected my senses and returned to my detective work. The smell--it was sour, but not rotten like food. Definitely organic. My composter brain sorted the clues.
Sour. My brain made a connection to an ancient and unpleasant childhood memory--the discovery of a dead animal hidden in the tall grass of our pasture. I was about seven years old and walking out to visit the horses one afternoon when I made the grisly discovery, a skunk my father had poisoned with strychnine.
For weeks the skunk had raided the chicken coop on our farm. It crept in with the blanket of night, stealing chickens one by one. My parents reinforced the coop and hoped for the best, but the chickens continued to disappear. They were an easy kill for a natural born killer--fast food on a farm.
Finally, my father laid down the law as he saw it. As judge, jury and executioner, he presented the skunk with a gift of poisoned eggs. It ate the deadly hors d'oeuvres and crawled out into the moonlit pasture to die. Rest in peace Monsieur le Pew.
In the naked light of day, I stumbled across Pepe's exposed body, covered with flies and maggots. But what I remembered most clearly was the smell. Sour death.
Now I could place the rancid odor in the office. That sharp tang I smelled when I opened the front door was the whisper of death. It was screaming at me now, full voice. Sour and pungent death. Suddenly, I lifted the skirt under the bathroom sink. A fresh wave of stench filled the tiny room. This time I gagged the taste of copper pennies in my mouth. The offender was actually a victim.
I bent and picked up a small gray trap from the floor: Victor! Catch and Release Live Mouse Trap. The trap was heavy in my hand. There would be no live release today.
Filled with sadness, I held the trap at arm's length. Outside I laid the body on the grass. Sorry friend. You should have been released on parole, relocated. Instead, you were left to rot in a small gray prison. Rest in peace Mickey.
Walking back to the office, I thought how nice it would be if Lysol made a spray to clear the conscience. Guilt, sadness, anger, war, violence, abuse--we humans torture ourselves and others. We destroy the environment and eliminate animals (and sometimes people) we deem pests. We have a lot to reconcile as a species. Yes, I think a conscience spray would probably sell well.
On the other hand, without a conscience, we cannot fully experience the true nature of suffering or compassion. A conscience is required to feel our own pulse as it relates to those around us. My choice: smell the stench, skip the spray. Sour, but honest. Rest in peace Conscience Spray.